Thursday, January 15, 2015

Transparency (Ministry in Thessalonians, #7)

"You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel despite strong opposition." 
-1 Thessalonians 2:1-2

As I've meditated on Paul's letters to the Thessalonian believers, I've been drawn by the number of times he tells them they "know" something, either about him or from him. Ten times in eight chapters he reminds them of something they already know. 

The church in Thessalonica knew: 
  • What type of men Paul and his team proved to be while among them (1:5).
  • Their visit to Thessalonica was not a failure (2:1). 
  • Paul and his team was persecuted in Philippi before coming to Thessalonica (2:2).
  • The team did not try to flatter the Thessalonians, nor were they greedy (2:5). 
  • They dealt with the church in a paternal way (2:11). 
  • Paul's team was destined for trials (3:3). 
  • The persecutions Paul prophesied while in Thessalonica came to pass (3:4). 
  • The instructions Paul gave them (4:2) 
  • What is restraining the man of lawlessness at this time (2 Thess 2:6)
  • What it looks like to imitate Paul & his team (2 Thess 3:7)
How did the church know these things? The message of the books is clear: These are all things that Paul either told them, or they observed while watching him. To me this shows a remarkable degree of transparency. 

Consider just one topic: Persecution. Paul wasn't in Thessalonica very long. We don't know at what point he shared this information, but we can assume it was very early in the life in the church. How tempting it could have been to soft-pedal the realities of life after choosing to follow Jesus. But no - Paul shared what had happened to them in Phillipi, told them more was was coming, and described it as his team's destiny! Based on what happened in Thessalonica, the new church quickly learned to practice what Paul had preached! 

Paul also lived openly before them. Their lifestyle and approach to ministry were on display for all to see. They made their teaching clear. There were no secret lessons, no "super-spiritual" attitudes to establish unrealistic standards. There was simply transparency in all matters. This transparency was not our modern "tell-all" approach that tends to glorify our sins and emphasize our flesh. Instead, it was an authentic godliness, borne out of deep love for them and firmly grounded in the word of God.

One of the most important ways Paul's team was transparent is tucked into 1 Thessalonians 2:2: with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel despite strong opposition. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. He was already well-known throughout the empire - but he makes it clear that after what happened in Philippi, it was only "with the help of our God" that they kept the message going. I don't know about you, but in that portion of a sentence I hear the voice a man who passed through fear and landed firmly on the ground of faith. I hear a supernatural boldness that came after time on his knees. I hear a holy stubbornness to take chances - not just to whisper but to "dare to tell you His Gospel". Paul never pretended that the strong opposition was easy. He taught them how desperately they needed "the help of our God." 

As we grow in transparency, we are also increasing what those who look to us "know". We are equipping them to walk out their faith when we're not around. We're making an investment that, like Paul's, will not be a failure but will result in a church that can be an example to others.

Ministry challenge: Identify a way that you can be more biblically transparent to those who look to you for leadership.

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