23th Sunday After Pentecost November 4, 2012
1 Thessalonians 2:8-13
447, 493, WS 780 (TLH alt.493), 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
We know from the Bible that the tool God uses to convince hearts to trust Him, to turn people from unbelief to saving faith and to strengthen them in that faith, is the Word of God—particularly the Gospel message concerning what Christ has done in freeing us from sin and death. It is important then for that message to be proclaimed by the likes of pastors, teachers, missionaries, and evangelists in the public ministry and also by Christians who do not serve in the public ministry, that is, lay-people sharing God’s word with neighbors and friends.
The trouble is that as we wait for that Last Day when our Lord will come again in glory, we notice that any number of false teachers have arisen who distort the Word of God, or use it selfishly for their own advancement, or who try to deceive others by it, or who live lives that bring it into disrepute. This comes as no surprise because in the letter to the Romans (16:18) we are told that there will be some who preach not to serve the Lord Jesus, but to serve their own desires and they “by smooth talk and flattery…deceive the minds of naïve people” (Romans 16:18 NIV). And the Apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy saying, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NIV).
Things have not improved since the days those words were written. Now, perhaps as much as ever, it is important for the Church to have faithful preachers and teachers who communicate accurately what God has written, so that His Word can go forth in power and accomplish what He desires.
God has indeed blessed His people with faithful ministers of the Word down through the centuries. The Old Testament prophets are examples of good ambassadors for the Lord God. They spoke His Word faithfully even when that Word was not popular, even when it included words their audiences did not want to hear. Last Sunday when we celebrated the Reformation we remembered Martin Luther and others who faithfully preached the Word.
In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he reminds the congregation that while he was among them he had served them as a faithful servant and taught them God’s Word plainly and truthfully. He did not say this in order to “beat his own drum” or “toot his own horn” but to silence the unbelieving who had spoken against Him there and to encourage the Christians at Thessalonica that God had provided for His Word to be preached among them faithfully. All glory be to Him!
In describing his ministry among the Thessalonians, Paul gives us a pattern for ministers of the word to follow. In the first place, he tells of the great love he had for the people of Thessalonica while he worked among them. He showed them the extent of this love by taking on another full-time job in addition to the work of the ministry so that the church would not have to support him at all. In love he gave them not only the Gospel message, but he gave them his “life” as well.
Secondly, he lived a life that brought honor rather than dishonor to the Word of God. He explained that everyone could see that he and his fellow ministers were holy, righteous and blameless while they worked among the Thessalonians. Obviously, Paul did not mean by these words that he never sinned, but rather that he lived the life of a repentant Christian, trusting in Jesus for forgiveness, and he did not publicly despise the Word he was preaching by careless or reckless living.
Thirdly, he ministered to each person as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging them to live lives worthy of God. A father deals with his children compassionately and with the welfare of those children uppermost in his mind—all of the time. He is constantly thinking, “What is going to be best for them.” This is how the apostle was as he shared God’s Word with the flock of believers.
Paul also worked with the people according to their individual needs. When they needed to be reminded of God’s will for them, when they needed to have their sins exposed in the light of the holy Law, that is what he preached to them. So that they would have the strength and motivation to leave their sin behind, he comforted them with the words of the Gospel. He showed them that their Savior had paid dearly on the cross to release them from the punishment their wickedness deserved, and he urged them on that basis to lead godly lives—out of love for Christ. A good minister does not just show right from wrong and stop there, but preaches the powerful good news of Jesus and the atonement—news which can actually move hearers to want to resist temptation.
Above all, the center of Paul’s message had been the good news of Jesus. He had shown the congregation how God had called them into His kingdom and glory. As he said to the Corinthians another time: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). That was the attitude with which he approached his ministry among the Thessalonians too. Jesus must be at the heart of it all. If the preaching does not direct the hearer to see his sin, show his need for the Savior, and put that Savior front-and-center, then it is not good preaching. The central message—the primary theme—that God would have us learn from all of the Scriptures is that we were lost, dead in our trespasses, deserving of eternal condemnation in Hell, but Jesus changed all that. He accepted the sentence that was ours. He satisfied the Heavenly Father by offering Himself as the Lamb of sacrifice for sin. We are forgiven. We are freed. That is why we preach and that is what we preach. That was Paul’s message and it is the message that all Christians have on their lips.
The kind of minister that Paul was is the kind of minister we want and need in our midst too. We’re not just talking about pastors, but others too who are engaged in the public teaching and administering of God’s Word, using the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to forgive or retain sins, presenting the Law and the Gospel: Sunday School teachers, Vacation Bible School teachers, congregational elders, missionaries that are sent out on behalf of our church body, and others.
We pray that God gives His Church faithful workers. We pray that 1) they would have a love for souls like the Apostle Paul did, 2) that they live lives that show honor and respect for God’s word, 3) that they deal with those in their care as a father deals with his children, and 4) that they keep the message of Christ at the heart of all their teaching.
When this is done, then “the Word of God may have free course and be preached to the joy and building up of Christ’s holy people” as we pray often at the close of our service (TLH Collect for the Church). We simply want to be “relays” for God, passing along the Word just as we have been given it. We pray that God would work powerfully in us, forgiving our sins and fixing our mistakes, for we don’t want the successful spread of His Word to be hindered by our unfaithfulness.
Pray for me, your pastor. Pray for our Sunday School teachers. Pray for our missionaries. Pray for all that they might be bold enough to speak the right words of God in the right places at the right times. Pray for them and encourage and support them.
When God’s Word gets through to the hearer and it is received and believed, that is our greatest joy as Christians. The Apostle Paul was more than a little excited when he thought of the way in which the Thessalonians reacted to the message he shared while he was among them. He said “we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” [v.13]
Sharing the message of Scripture is not just sharing any message. It is not like reciting passages from the latest best-selling novel. It is not like telling a friend about the plot of a hit movie that came out last month. The Word of God is living and active. It has the ability to penetrate deep into the hearers heart. It has the ability to adjust one’s thinking, attitudes, and actions. Look at what it did for the Apostle Paul. He went from being a famous persecutor of Christians to being the world’s greatest missionary.
This is because the Word which we proclaim is not the merely the word of men. The message about Christ shared by faithful pastors, teachers, and other Christians is not a message that was conceived in some human mind and you can tell! This message changes people. It is the very Word of God.
This is our goal: that others too can hear our message and receive it as it is—the Word of God. So we pray for faithful hearers too, that the Lord would continue to use His Word to bring people to faith so that they too might have the joy of salvation. To see the Holy Spirit create faithful hearers is our greatest happiness and it is shows off God’s great glory in brilliant light. Pray for faithful hearers of the Word.
In these last Sundays of the church year, our thoughts turn toward the end times, the end of the world, and the second coming of Christ. We know the days now are evil and they won’t necessarily get any better spiritually. More and more the Devil will try to upset the faithful. It will be more and more important in every generation for the Lord of the Church to raise up faithful preachers and hearers. Pay attention to the Word of God when you hear it, and trust it to the very end. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.