An Upright Ministry   --  Gil Rugh

An Upright Ministry

Gil Rugh

Copyright © Indian Hills Community Church, Lincoln, Nebraska

GR1118  -  1st Thessalonians 2:1-4

The following text is taken from sermons preached by Gil Rugh, Senior Pastor at Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, NE. The text has been edited and condensed by IHCC staff and may contain some material from adjacent sermons in the series.

Review 1 Thess 1:6-10

In our last study we examined 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10. Paul called the believers at Thessalonica to pattern their lives after his own. In verse 6 he said, "You also become imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit." Paul exhorted them to mimic his own life because he was mimicking Jesus Christ.

Paul then reminded the Thessalonians that, although they experienced "severe pressure" and "persecution," the Holy Spirit would bring "joy" to their lives. Because of the "joy" displayed by the Thessalonians, they "became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (vs. 7). They had patterned their lives after Paul, and now they were the example that all the other believers in Greece were to follow.

It was evident that the Thessalonian church was an elect church because the testimony of the Thessalonians themselves demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Paul said, "For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything" (vs. 8). The Thessalonians were proclaiming the gospel, both in their words and lives, and the result was that the Word of God spread to other regions of the world. Many travelers would come through the city, see and hear the difference in the Thessalonian Christians, and tell people in their homeland what they had seen and heard. This verse proves the importance of living our lives for Christ. If the Thessalonians had simply proclaimed the gospel with their mouth, but lived their lives like everyone else, they would not have had such a great impact on those they encountered.

Paul continued to illustrate the impact of the Thessalonians in verse 9. He said, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God." These travelers from other cities and countries would pass through Thessalonica, hear the testimony of the Christians there and tell their fellow countrymen how Paul preached the gospel, and about these Thessalonians whose lives were transformed by the power of God.

Two things were accomplished when the Thessalonians "turned to God." First, they came "to serve a living and true God." Secondly, they had an expectation and anticipation that Christ would return. Paul said, "and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come" (vs. 10). Serving the Lord, and waiting for Him to return go hand in hand. We can't sit back and forget to work as unto the Lord, while at the same time, we cannot serve so much that we forget about His coming. The two must balance each other out.

As believers, our lives are to be characterized by our service to the Lord, and our anticipation of His coming. When we live our lives in this manner, patterning ourselves after other strong believers, we will have "sounded forth" a testimony that will glorify the Lord.

Introduction 1 Thess 2:1-4

For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not (come) from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts.

In chapter 2, Paul finds it necessary to defend himself against those who are trying to discredit his ministry. Satan often attacks the servants of God, trying to taint their character and the character of their ministry. It is interesting to note how often in his letters, Paul is driven to defend himself against such attacks. Paul was accused of being greedy, arrogant, and immoral. One can imagine the burden this would be to Paul. It seemed that after he established a church, and left that city with everything in place, he would have to write letters or send a messenger back to straighten things out, and reassure the people that these things which they had heard about him were not true.

1 Thess 2:1

How does Paul defend himself! He reminds the Thessalonians of his ministry with them. He implores them to stop and think about the focal point of his ministry. In 1 Thess 2:1 he says, "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain." Paul's ministry centered around the Word of God and the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the reason he had no problem saying "our coming to you was not in vain." Was Paul really motivated to glorify God? Was Paul really pure in his approach? Was Paul doing it for personal gain? All of these questions are answered by what was accomplished through Paul's ministry.

Paul says, "For you yourselves know, brethren... ." This verse is connected to vs 1:9, where Paul said, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God." He addresses the Thessalonians as "brethren" to remind them of the close bond they have together in Jesus Christ. They have been joined together in the family of God.

He reminds them that "...our coming to you was not in vain." The word "vain" means "hollow." Paul's message was not hollow, or void of content or power. This is a parallel to vs 1:5; "for our gospel did not come to you in word only." Paul didn't come to Thessalonica just to preach a bunch of words. His ministry was used by God in incredible ways to bring people to Himself.

One can see that Paul's concern is that the Thessalonians understand this point. He mentions it again in vs 3:5, where he says, "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should not be in vain." Whatever else Paul did, he did not want to have a futile, empty, ineffective ministry. This was the factor that controlled Paul. He evaluates everything on how it will affect the impact of the gospel that he is preaching (Galatians 2:2, Philippians 2:16) and how the Thessalonians live their lives will be a testimony to his ministry. His concern is that Satan will be effective in turning them away from his ministry and the Word of God. If that were to occur, Paul says his ministry would have been "in vain. "

Paul addressed this truth in 1 Corinthians 15:58 as well; "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." When we are working and serving the Lord it is for a reason. It is not a ministry that is empty and "in vain." This is the attitude that we must exhibit. While it is true that God is in complete control of the results of our ministry, we need to minister in such a way that the Spirit takes the Word and transforms the lives of those who are exposed to our ministry.

1 Thess 2:2

Paul draws the attention of the Thessalonians back to the circumstances surrounding his coming to them in verse 2. He says, "but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." Acts 16 records the events of Paul's second missionary journey that took him through Philippi, and then to Thessalonica. Paul says that they "suffered and had been mistreated in Philippi. " This refers to the fact that they were flogged, or beaten. This term doesn't just mean that they were paddled or slapped. A flogging involved a beating so severe, that the back was lacerated and laid open. Afterwards, they were put in stocks in the inner prison. Not only this, but they were also humiliated in public ("mistreated"). They had been arrested unjustly, stripped naked of their clothes, and treated like dangerous, vile criminals (Acts 16:23,24).

Why is Paul telling them all of this? He wants to get across the point that he didn't have to proclaim the message of the gospel. In fact, the natural reaction of most people, after being treated as they had been, would be to leave the area and never proclaim the message again. But what did Paul do? He says, "...we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God... ." Paul had the freedom and confidence to preach the gospel without restraint. The point is, rather than coming to Thessalonica in a spirit of timidity, Paul came with boldness and confidence to preach the message of Jesus Christ. This word "boldness" is always used of the preaching of the gospel. It is the supernatural work of the Spirit of God that gives us boldness and confidence when we are proclaiming the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that Paul was human. We tend to think, "Well, Paul could proclaim the gospel because he was an apostle, but I can't do that." We think that Paul and the rest of the apostles were super humans that never felt fear or timidity. That is simply not the case. We have the ability to be just as bold as they were through the power of God. This is the kind of boldness that Paul is referring to in verse 2. He has boldness because it is the gospel that comes from God, and it is God who gives him the words to proclaim the gospel.

This truth is seen in Galatians 1:11,12 as well. Paul says, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." This was the focal point of Paul's ministry. His life was riveted on his ministry to proclaim the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the kind of single-mindedness that we need in our own lives. Whatever else we are known as, we must be noted for the purpose of sharing the gospel of Christ.

Paul went from one battle to another. At the end of verse 2 he says he preached the gospel "...amid much opposition." The word "opposition" is the word we have for "agony." It is an athletic word that signifies the intense struggle and conflict that is occurring. Paul had that kind of situation in Philippi and Thessalonica. In fact, he expected this situation wherever he preached the gospel.

Paul tells Timothy, "Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12). This is the same kind of "fight" he is referring to in 1 Thessalonians 2:2. The fact is, wherever the truth of God is being proclaimed, there will be intense struggle and conflict. Paul knew this, and that is why he challenges Timothy to "fight the good fight."

In like manner, Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." From the time Paul was converted on the Damascus road, his life was one battle of faith after another. Why? Because he proclaimed the gospel of Christ wherever he went. Thessalonica was no different. The impact of the gospel was tremendous, but there was much opposition and persecution.

As we know, Paul expected a battle at every city he entered. But what was his attitude? 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 says, "But I shall remain at Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries." Somehow our idea of an open door has become twisted over time. We think an open door is when someone walks up to us and says, "Hi, will you share the gospel with me?" But Paul says we are to expect opposition and persecution wherever God has opened a door for ministry. Sometimes we fail to realize that we have done some of our greatest service for the Lord in the midst of our fiercest battles.

1 Thess 2:3

In verse 3, Paul shares the fact that his motive in ministry is proper. He says, "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit." The point is that Paul's teaching did not originate with "error". He is saying, "I was not deceived. I am not teaching a lie."

Paul also says his teaching did not include "impurity." It is interesting to see that Paul had been accused of being impure, or immoral. In Revelation 2:20, it is made clear that immorality characterizes false teachers. So it would be natural that those who want to discredit Paul's ministry would attack his morals. But Paul defends himself. He says his teaching "does not come..." from such motives.

Furthermore, Paul did not teach using methods of "deceit." This word originally referred to the bait that was used to catch fish, and it came to mean something that was cunning or deceitful. But Paul says he did not resort to tricks or craftiness to gain converts.

Paul had to deal with the same types of accusations in 2 Corinthians 4. He says, "but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God." One of the most difficult things to defend yourself against is someone who says your heart is full of impure motives. No one can see your heart, so you can't say, "These charges are not true, just look at my heart." And these people were accusing Paul of twisting the Word of God so more people would accept it. They were saying he used crafty and deceitful methods to get people to follow him. But Paul says his ministry stands on the fact that he proclaims the "truth." He asks the people to evaluate him in light of God's revelation. If they cannot show that he is bringing in false doctrine from the Word of God, they cannot challenge his motives.

In like manner, Paul says, "But be that as it may, I did not burden you myself; nevertheless, crafty fellow that I am, I took you in by deceit" (2 Corinthians 12:16). Paul is being sarcastic. He is saying, "Oh OK, you're right. The real reason I didn't take any money from you, and the real reason I functioned the way I did was so I could trick you. I didn't want you to see my real motives." No, he is pointing out how ridiculous their accusations are. They were no longer evaluating him on his faithfulness of the proclamation of the Word, and instead were sucked into these false accusations.

1 Thess 2:4

Paul continues in verse 4. He says, "but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts." The word "approved" means to be "put to the test" like coins being tested for pureness or full weight. As it is used in verse 4, it implies a testing that will be satisfactorily completed. God chooses His messengers, and he tests them before putting the gospel in their charge. Paul is saying, "we stand approved."

The result of Paul's approval is that he has been "...entrusted with the gospel. " This is a reminder to the Thessalonians that they need to be careful. God has tested Paul and has chosen to entrust the gospel to him. Something is wrong if God approves Paul, but the Thessalonians do not. This is true of every believer. We no longer receive direct revelation as Paul did, but we have the truth of the Word of God committed to us and entrusted to our care. God has approved us to be entrusted with the gospel. What an awesome responsibility we have to be faithful in proclaiming the truth in a way that will be pleasing to Him.

Paul has been "approved by God", and "entrusted with the gospel" so he speaks "not as pleasing men but God... ." Since we have been approved by God, and entrusted with His gospel, the motivation of our ministry is to be pleasing to Him because it is He who "examines our hearts." The word "examines" is the same word used for "approved." God is constantly putting our hearts to the test, if you will. He is constantly approving us. So even though God had approved Paul to be entrusted with the gospel, God continually examines His heart. This is the reason that we must serve God only. Other human beings cannot examine our hearts. They are left to evaluate our ministry based on the question "Does our preaching and teaching remain true to the Word of God?"

Only God can see into our hearts, and know our true motives. No matter what your area of ministry, God and only God knows why you are involved. Are you seeking self-glorification, or are you remaining true to the Word of God?

We need to be careful in judging the motives of other believers. We cannot know the motives of someone's heart. We can't say, "well, I know he teaches Sunday School, but I know what his real motives are." When we do that, we have become just like some of the Thessalonians who were judging Paul's motives. The only question that must be answered is "What is that person's ministry like in light of God's revelation?" We must leave the examination of one's heart in the hands of God and God alone.

Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977. All quotations used by permission.

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Permission was received from Indian Hills Community Church for the posting of this file on Bible Bulletin Board. Our gratitude to the Holy Spirit for leading Pastor Gil Rugh to preach/teach messages that are bold, and doctrinally sound—they are so needful to this generation.

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