Monday, January 19, 2015

The appeal we make (Ministry in Thessalonians #8)

"For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives,
 nor are we trying to trick you. 
On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel." 
- 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4a

I love the connecting words of Scripture. The "fors" and "therefores" and "buts" and "so's" teach me so much spiritual truth.

These verses tell me that Paul's boldness in sharing the Gospel "despite strong opposition" (see v. 2) didn't come from a desire to prove a point or a human-centered approach to outreach that put all the burden on the messenger. Instead, he was able to "dare to tell" the Gospel because of the very nature of the appeal that he was making. The Gospel, and the call to speak it, became a source of empowerment to fulfill his calling. Consider these observations:

  • Paul was convinced of the truth of his message. The appeal - the Gospel - did not "spring from error". This is the starting point for any authentic evangelism. The messenger must first of all preach the Gospel to himself or herself - to be convinced it doesn't not spring from error. If you are facing any doubts at all in this area, go back to the basics. Read the Gospels and the book of Romans again; take your questions to God; renew your faith. 
  • Paul was convinced of the purity of his motives. Paul knew his team was in Thessalonica for the right reasons. Interestingly, Paul didn't focus much on the motivations of others. In fact, to encourage a church that was concerned about ministers taking advantage of Paul's imprisonment he wrote "The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached." (see Philippians 1:15-18). However, Paul's example and his emphasis here on the purity of his motives tell us that motives do matter. The overall teaching of the New Testament makes it clear that leaders are held to a higher standard. The more we can be sure of the purity of our motives, the greater our boldness in sharing the message. There are many possible impure motives, but what is a pure motive? Paul himself defined it to the church at Corinth: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 2 Corinthians 5:14). We should be filled with Christ's love, and it will overflow in love toward others. When we are convinced of His love and are walking in love toward Him, then we will have His heart toward the world. Since He doesn't wish for any to perish, His love will compel us to someone who needs to hear the message. 
  • Paul was convinced of the rightness of his methods. His team was not trying to trick anyone. There was no bait and switch. They were clear about why they were there, and they were clear about what the message involved. They didn't hide difficult truths. One of the contrasts of Christianity to the gnosticism of the first century is that there was no "higher level" of knowledge for those who were in the faith's "inner circle". In fact, there was no "inner circle" as the world perceives it. Those called to lead most visibly suffered the greatest, and the church preserved the words it was taught for all to hear. We still enjoy that straightforwardness every time we open the New Testament. 
  • Paul recognized God had entrusted them with the Gospel. God had "approved" them - the word refers to being approved after having been tested. God knew they were ready for the responsibility of taking the message to others. The word "entrusted" should be encouraging for anyone called to share the Gospel, whether to a friend or in a church or at an evangelistic meeting. It's the word "pisteuo" and is a form of the word "faith"! God had faith in them, after testing them, and He demonstrated it by giving them the Gospel message. Anytime God calls you to share the love of Christ with someone, you can be sure He's first tested you and entrusted you - He has faith in you! The focal verse of this blog, 2 Corinthians 4:7, tells us that when God entrusts the Gospel to us, He knows He's putting them in this earthen vessels - these jars of clay - and that the whole reason He does it is to show that the power comes from Him and not us. 
One of my favorite book series includes the story of a young man who unknowingly inherits over a million dollars. His adoptive father is charged with telling him about the inheritance "when he is old enough to bear it with dignity." We could consider the Gospel message a "trust fund" that God entrusts us with when He has made us ready (see Gal. 1:15-16). Unlike most earthly trust funds, though, this treasure is one we're not to keep to ourselves. In fact, the nature of the treasure makes us long to share it with others! As we grow in Him, He tests us and then begins to entrust us to share that treasure with others. Maybe just one or two ... maybe a whole congregation ... maybe millions on television. It doesn't matter. The message is always the Gospel, the motive should always be love, and we should always share it openly and freely.

The appeal we make comes from a heart that God has entrusted. We can trust Him to empower us to complete what He trusts us to do!

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