Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
Sermon Theme: A life of integrity in Christ is the best defense against the attacks of evil.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Nathan Kuperus, Trenton, ON
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
We are real people. We have real faith. And we have real problems. We need real help in our situations in life. As Paul was writing the letter we are looking at today, the letter to the church in Thessalonica, he is not just putting down some general doctrines. Paul is a pastor who is writing to real people. He is writing to strengthen their real faith. And he is writing to address real problems or issues that need to be confronted in the congregation. So, before we look at our passage, let’s remind ourselves of what situation these Thessalonian Christians are facing.
The first thing we should remember is what the city of Thessalonica was like. It was in the region called Macedonia which is part of modern day Greece. Thessalonica was a booming city; it was the largest in the area and was a thriving economic center. Two things contributed to the wealth of the city. It was a major port city on the Mediterranean Sea and it had one of the major roadways of the Roman Empire going through it. The road was called the Via Egnatia. With access both by land and sea, this city flourished economically. It eventually became the capital city of Macedonia.
From the book of Acts, in chapter 17 we find out that the congregation is benefiting at least somewhat from that wealth. Acts says they had converts from Jews and Gentiles and among them were, “not a few prominent women.” This means there were some powerful and wealthy women who were part of the church. Acts tells us also of a wealthy person named Jason who probably hosted the church in his house. There may have been other classes of people in the church as well, but we know at least a portion of the church had substantial wealth.
So we see that the wealth of the city affects the makeup of the church. The next thing we need to ask is, “what is Paul’s relationship like with the people of the church?” If he has a sour relationship with them, we might expect the letter to sound like Galatians where Paul calls the Galatians foolish.
How should we hear the passage for today? Is Paul angry with the people of the church? It doesn’t sound like it. Let’s take a look at 1:7. It says, “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia- your faith in God has become known everywhere.” Here Paul is praising them for what they have done in the area.
Perhaps if Paul were writing a similar sort of letter to our church, he might write, “People of ___(church name)_____, you are known all over this city and the cities all around. You are known because of the awesome witness you have to our Lord Jesus Christ. Your work with everyone from children to seniors has rung out all throughout this region.” You see, Paul loves what the congregation has done in Thessalonica. That means the tone of the letter is going to be supportive and loving.
But if everything were just fine, why would Paul write the letter? You don’t have the Post Office to deliver your letters for you. You have to send it on foot with someone, and that’s after getting all the materials necessary to even write the letter. You don’t just send a letter without a real purpose for it. Let’s read our passage and try and understand what problem Paul is trying to address and how he deals with the problem. Listen to the message as if Paul is writing to our church today.
--Read I Thessalonians 2:1-16.--
One of the reasons Paul needs to write this letter is because he is being personally attacked in Thessalonica by people who are outside the church. They are passing rumors. “did you hear what that guy Paul did? He collected money for some church on the other side of the Mediterranean. I’m sure he just pocketed the money himself. He’s such a greed scoundrel. All those Christian leaders are just looking for money and fame.” These people are making attacks against Paul and against Christian leadership, so Paul sets out on the defense. He knows the people of First Church in Thessalonica are good Christian people. But he is worried. Some of these Christians might forget what they saw with their own eyes. They might forget how much Paul cares of the Thessalonian Christians and how he worked day and night to serve them. He is worried and he sets out to defend good Christian leadership.
But, how could this have anything to do with today. Aside from a few incidents of abuse and big televangelists taking advantage of people and their money, people don’t have too negative a view of church leadership, do they? Well, we shouldn’t say that too quickly. Often our culture says, anyone who is eager to tell people about Jesus Christ is just concerned about getting more people into their church doors. Or people say they are trying to force rules and religion on other people. Some people out there say those who have power in the church are unaccepting hypocrites who are only looking out for their own interests. Our world tells us that people who have leadership roles in the church must only be looking out for themselves.
We need to see the danger in this for each of us. Who is it that has power in the church? Who ministers in our congregation? Would ministry happen at all at our church if the only people doing anything were those who are ordained, the pastors, elder, and deacons? No way! At our church we all have a piece of the ministry here. We all have ownership of a portion of this ministry. We all are leaders in this congregation. Some may have positions of decision making, but we all are leaders in the ministry that this church is all about.
That means we all are being attacked by the misconceptions of the world. For having part of the ministry of the church the world considers you to be a judgmental, self absorbed, greedy church leader. We have two options. We can either let ourselves get walked over by these wrong ideas. Or, and we’ll like this idea much better, we can stand up for ourselves. We can defend Christian leadership.
The theme of Paul’s message to the church people in the city of Thessalonica is that a life of integrity is the best defense against the attacks of the world. A life of integrity is the best defense against the attacks of the world. He explains this theme using three important pictures of Christian leadership. Looking closely at them today will help us all to be better Christian leaders, Christian leaders of integrity. These three leadership pictures show us how our lifestyle can defend us when the world thinks we are self-centered, greedy, and hungry for fame.
When Paul defends himself he says these three things. First, “I’m not self centered, I was as innocent as a child.” Second, “I am not out for fame, I was as nurturing and giving as a mother.” And third, “I am not a burden to anyone, I cared for you like a father who encourages and motivates his children.” The people who are a part of the Body of Christ must be as innocent as children, as nurturing as mothers, and as encouraging as fathers.
Let’s look together at the first leadership picture Paul discusses in this passage. We must be as innocent as children.
Unfortunately, our NIV translations don’t make it very clear where Paul calls himself a child. The newer translation of the NIV caught what the NIV missed, so let me read from that. If you follow along in your NIV you can see how different they are. This is from verse 6: “We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives. Instead we were like young children among you.” Paul is saying, don’t listen to those gossipers around you. Remember we were humble and worked hard for the sake of Christ. We are as innocent as children.
Let’s walk through the attacks made against Paul to which he say, we were as innocent as children. In verse 1 we see the word failure. Actually the sense that comes along with that is that people were saying Paul came for empty reasons. In verse 3 someone has said his ministry comes from wrong and impure motives. In verse 5 someone has accused Paul of using flattery, being greedy, and looking for fame.
We can see Paul’s responses to each of these. In verse 2 Paul says, “Don’t believe them when they think I came for empty reasons. I have suffered all kinds of persecution for the message of Christ.” Would a person with empty reasons let himself be persecuted over and over again for preaching? No way! Paul’s reasons for coming are genuine and innocent. In verse 4 he says, “Some think we had impure motives. Well, the message we brought is from God himself. There is nothing more pure than that.” Paul was pleasing God, not his congregation, with his message. And finally in verse 6 and 7 he says, “don’t believe those people who say we were greedy. God is our witness that we were not a burden to anyone. Our motives were so pure, our reasons were so good that we are like children. We are innocent little children, just trying to do what is right.”
Do you think we may have to be as innocent as children as we try to follow what ever vision God has for our church? Don’t you think we will need to be as innocent as children as we try even harder than ever to welcome people from the community and spread the word of God? If there is anything that people may jump on us for, it is being more visible in the community. “They just want to get into our wallets. All they are doing is trying to show how good they are at being a church. They all claim to love God, but all they really love is themselves.” If these accusations against us come, we must be innocent as children in our motivation. We have to be sure that our being more visible among unbelievers is because we love God and want to impress God most of all. If we are people of integrity we will be able to say, “we brought the message of God to you so that God would be praised by all the people in this city. It’s not for us to be praised.” We just love Jesus so much. That’s all.” We are innocent as children.
The next leadership picture Paul gives us is of a nurturing mother. In verse 7 Paul defends himself. “We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” Now our English translation gets some of the picture, but it is not quite as potent as Paul makes it. He actually says he is like a wet nurse who is nursing her own child. A mother caring for her own child is a nice image. Artists have dedicated their whole careers to painting women with their infant, but this picture is of a wet nurse caring for her own child.
Now in our culture we don’t really have such a thing as a wet nurse any more. To get the picture, a wet nurse is a woman whose job is to breastfeed other people’s babies. She had one of the most tender, gentle, caring tasks. But she would have to do it for everyone else’s babies. So there is something incredibly different when she is finally nursing her own child. There is a closeness, an emotional connection. She is not just caring because it is part of the job. She is caring because this is her own flesh and blood. This is the child she carried in her for nine months. This is the child she sees a future for. This is her child.
Paul says leaders in the church need to be like a wet nurse breastfeeding her own children. Let’s look back at verse 8. He says, “we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” Paul says Christian leadership, which we all are a part of, must not treat people as children in a large daycare center, but as a mother caring for her very own child. We must nurture in a way that gives up our whole self.
Some of you here, especially the parents of young people know what it is like to have a house full of your kids’ friends. Often times they come over and hang out and play games and they eat all the food in the house. Now I am just guessing here, but just because you feed all the kids that come over for a night, it doesn’t mean that you care for each one of them equally. Sure Johnny’s friends can eat their fill of frozen pizza, but you still care for your own children more than the others. Paul’s leadership picture is saying the best way to maintain good Christian ministry and leadership is to care and nurture everyone as if they were your own children.
For our church, I think of the outreach ministries of the church and the education ministries. This is one way we nourish all kinds of people, and many of them are not the long time members of our congregation. In Friendship group, you have the opportunity to nourish someone else’s child. In Sunday School you have the opportunity to care for another person’s child spiritually. If you go to Coffee Break you have the opportunity to reach out to some people who are unchurched and need to be spiritually feed like an orphan child. You can be a spiritual mother to that person. Are these people just members of a ministry, or have we made them our own children in the way we care for them? Do we look forward to their future? Would we give up our lives for any of these, our own spiritual children?
So, with Paul’s leadership pictures we see we must be innocent little children. We must also be a nurturing mother to our community. And finally, Paul shows us the importance of being like an encouraging father. Look back in your Bibles at verse 11. “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his children.” But now this is a little surprising. The view of fathers in Paul’s day was as an authority figure. The father was the person with the power in the family. But what does Paul say? “We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Paul doesn’t say we should be heavy-handed fathers who order their children around. Some people think the best way to make people come to faith is to scare them completely with the thought of hell. Obviously Paul does not believe in this sort of heavy-handed evangelism. Paul’s pastoral sense is that he must be a father, an authority figure, who surprises everyone at how encouraging and compassionate he is. Paul lovingly urges people to love God and live lives that are worthy of God.
The main point Paul is making here is that he has acted as an authority figure who has not lorded his authority over anyone. He has been an encourager. This is especially an important idea for the office bearers of our church. Yes, we are all called to be leaders in the church, but the elders and deacons of this church are called to a position of authority as well. And that position of authority is not one that lords it over the congregation. Those in authority in the church must be the prime encouragers and comforters.
But, again it is a message to all of us. If someone is stumbling in their faith walk or in some other area of their life, it is so easy to talk to everyone else about it, but we must be ready to encourage the person who is stumbling. Or when someone has a death in their family, do we just offer prayers? Or do we offer sincere comfort during the time that people are hurting? Or if someone is just simply ignoring God and blaming the church and Christians of hypocrisy, do we just ignore the problem? Or, do we act like a good father? Do we take our authority and continue to urge them to live a life worthy of God?
So we can see clearly from our passage for today that we ought to have integrity as Christian leaders. We have three very good and applicable pictures for leadership. We must be as innocent as little children in our motivations for the ministry of the church. We must be as nurturing and compassionate as a wet nurse feeding her own child. And we must be as encouraging and comforting as fathers. To be anything less than this leaves our congregation and Jesus Christ himself open to attacks from those who would like to put the church down. We must live lives of integrity so no one can attack us. Let’s work together to be the pictures of perfect leadership in the church of Christ.
This is God’s will from his word. And all God’s people say… AMEN.
Father in Heaven,
You have called us all into your church. You call us all into ministry in your name. And, we ask, Lord, that you will help us in the task you call us to, the task of being leaders of integrity. Only by your Holy Spirit can we truly become like the pictures of leadership in your word. When our world is skeptical of our message, help us to be innocent as little children. When our world is full of hatred and strife, help us to be a loving like a mother to those around us. And when our world is dedicated to climbing the ladder of power and status, help us to be a humble and encouraging like a father. Help us to be people of integrity. May our lives preach the message that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. This we ask, Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. AMEN.
Order of Worship
PH 547 Fill Thou My Life, O Lord, My God
PH 555 Lead On, O King Eternal
PH 495 1,2,4 I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace
Silent Prayer concluded with singing
SNC 49 Create In Me a Clean Heart
Song of Illumination
PH 420 Breathe on Me, Breath of God
Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
Sermon: “Pictures of Christian Leadership”
Prayer of Application
*Songs of Response PH 440 1,2,4 Children of the Heavenly Father
PH 571 Jesus Loves Me
Share and Prayer
Closing Song PH 539 1,4,5 Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns
Doxology PH 633 He Is Lord
Passing the Peace (greeting and handshake)