Model Ministry

Audio Player

How do we know God is at work in and through us here at HTG?  What are the signs of God at work?

We're looking at 1 Thessalonians, a letter from Paul to a fledgling church in the Greek city of Thessalonica.  As Rob told us last week, Paul, Silas and Timothy visited Thessalonica for probably less than a month before being run out of town by some Jews who rejected the gospel.  That's such a short time.  Not the classic church planting technique: 'tell people about Jesus for a few weeks and then leave them to it'.

So the Thessalonians could be forgiven for wondering if there was any truth, any reality in the gospel.  Was it just a flash in the pan?  Could this message, brought by such weak men, rejected by the Jews themselves… could this message be God's message?  Could this work be God's work?  Is God really at work in us?

So in chapters 1-2 Paul wants to encourage them: yes, God really was at work when we visited you, and is still at work in you now by his word. In chapter 1, Paul wrote that the gospel, the good news about Jesus, came to them powerfully, bearing the fruit of changed lives, and resulting in the further spread of the gospel in the whole region.  And in chapter 2 he looks to build on that encouragement by giving them some more indicators that this was God at work. 

The key verse for this chapter is v13:

     13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

God was and is at work in you by his word.  That's where our main idea for tonight comes from.

The word of God does the work of God in the people of God.  

I've got three points:

Gospel ministry is driven by God

Gospel ministry imitates the love of Jesus

Gospel ministry generates opposition

But what do I mean by gospel ministry? 

The gospel is simply the great news that though we are by nature rebels dead set against God, he sent his own son Jesus to take our death sentence for us, so justice might be done for our sin, but in a way that means we can be right with God, more than that, welcomed and adopted by him, made into his people, as he designed us to be, looking forward to a time when we will be with him forever. 

Gospel ministry is a term I'm using to mean telling people about Jesus, calling them to turn to God through him and receive forgiveness and new life, helping them to do that.  In our passage that's by public preaching and by more personal work.  In our passage Paul mainly describes his own work among the Thessalonians but I think he sets an example that's there to be imitated, with imitation a real theme in the letter. 

So as Paul encourages them that God is at work in them then, we can think about God at work in us now, and as Paul sets an example as a worker for God, we can prepare to take notes for our own gospel ministry, our own sharing of the gospel.

1) Gospel ministry is driven by God

Let's work our way through v1-6; look down at that.

     2.1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.

I don't think that the Thessalonian Christians really thought that Paul's visit was a failure, but perhaps that's what some of their friends and family were saying in their ears… You're not really buying this, are you?  I mean, that guy Paul and his mates weren't up to much.  This gospel isn't going to last long if they're the top guys.  You know that our visit was not a failure…

2We had previously suffered and been insulted inPhilippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.

The opposition, the violent reaction against the gospel might make it look like the whole thing is a mistake, but in fact the opposite is true.  The opposition meant that it was only with God's help, literally with boldness in God, that we dared share the gospel with you. V3:

3For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Opposition didn't put us off because the gospel is truth and we are honest.  How might Paul have tricked them?  Well he might have downplayed the cost of following Jesus, like the persecution that came their way.  Paul says 'We're not like other profiteering itinerant speakers.  We're not the guys who will tell you what you want to hear so that we gain a following.' V4:

4On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

God has given us this task and he has given us the gospel.  Being entrusted with the gospel means it's not ours to chop and change depending on what goes down best.  Our job is not to please people and figure out how to become popular.  Our job is to please God by doing the job he's given us.  He tests our motives. V5:

5You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.

But how could Paul have flattered them as he shared the gospel?  He could have downplayed God's word about sin and judgement.  But, he says, you know we didn't flatter to deceive or line our own pockets.  God is watching.  It's his praise we want, not that of new converts or anyone else.  We're building his kingdom, not our empire.

And it's worth recapping what God is said to be doing in these verses.  If you're ever struggling to understand a passage of the bible you can always make headway by noticing what God is doing. V2: God supplied help, or boldness, to Paul to talk about Jesus. V4: God approved his messengers and entrusted them with the message.  He tests their hearts. V5: He witnessed their methods.

Gospel ministry is driven by God.  For Paul and co that meant a radical approach to their motives.  No errors, no tricks, no popularity, no flattery, no greed.  Gospel ministry is driven by God. 

What about at HTG?  For one thing we never use flattery in our preaching at HTG – you're all so clever you'd see right through it.  Seriously though, who should be copying this?  On the one hand Paul talks a fair bit about preaching, so maybe this passage is for the staff.  But he's not referring to some time when he came to preach a series of expositions in the book of whatever.  He's talking about sharing the gospel of Jesus.  He's talking about evangelism.  So this is for all of us as we look for ways to tell people about Jesus.  This isn't a preaching seminar, it's an evangelism workshop.  So share the gospel to please God, not to win praise from other people.  And share the gospel to please God, not being put off by other people.

So how can the Thessalonians know that God really was at work when Paul, Silas and Timothy visited them and shared the gospel with them?  Paul points first to the motives of those sharing the gospel.  That ministry of the gospel is driven by God.  Next he points to the manner of those sharing the gospel.

2) Gospel ministry imitates the love of Jesus

Let's work through v6-12; look down at that.

     As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you [that was a unique authority they had but declined to use], 7but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 

What an astonishing claim for Paul to make about his ministry among these strangers, people he got to know over just a few weeks.  We cared for with the gentleness of a caring mother – literally a nursing mother, a breastfeeding mother.  What is that like?  Total, undivided attention and commitment to this tiny child.  Caring that costs back-ache and other pain, caring that costs time and energy.  It takes newborn babies about 6-8 weeks before they'll smile for you.  Up until that time it's all one way.  Paul says that's what we were like, and you know it, you remember it. V8:

8We 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.

We're building that picture of the love of Jesus now.  Gentle, loving, sharing not only the news of the kingdom of God, but his life as well, even giving up his life.  Paul was deeply involved with these people he was trying to persuade about Jesus. V8:

9Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

Toil and hardship, working day and night to earn his own living while preaching the gospel.  We remember from elsewhere that Paul wasn't a professional apostle but a tradesman.  He was a tentmaker.  We know fromActs 17 that Paul preached for three Sabbaths in Thessalonica. 

But what was he doing the rest of the time, the other six days of the week?  He was making tents, working hard to pay his way, v9, while we preached the gospel of God to you, or to put it another way, preaching the gospel of God to you. 

Isn't this a picture of evangelism in the workplace?  There in a hired workshop or other space, working beside others, dealing with wholesalers to purchase skins and threads and frames, talking to customers, talking to nearby traders, preaching away all the time, all the time telling people about Jesus.  This preaching in v9 isn't what I'm doing now so much as it's what you will have the chance to do this coming week in the office, on the ward, after classes or lectures or appointments or shifts. 

     10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

The story is told of a church DIY day, lots of members coming along to the church building to get to work cleaning and building, putting up shelves and all sorts.  And one man never left the minister's side all day, even when that meant he wasn't being particularly useful.  When the minister asked why he wanted to spend all day with him, the man replied, "I want to see what you say when you hit your thumb with that hammer."  Those sharing the good news about Jesus are proof that it's genuine good news, news that can change hearts and lives.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

I don't know if I look holy and blameless right now.  I don't know if you look at my face and think: righteousness.  I think it was the old Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon who taught his students about preaching, "When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with a heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell–well, then your usual face will do."

Well, I don't know how you would rate the preachers and teachers here at HTG on holiness, righteousness and blamelessness.  I admit it's another sobering thought in a long line of sobering thoughts in this passage.  But again this isn't just about church preachers.  It's about that witness at work and at college and at school and in the home and with friends and family.  The gospel changes hearts and lives – the proof of our message is in our conduct.  Will people you interact with this week see that?  Paul's not arguing how great he is.  He's arguing how great the gospel is.  It's the gospel that changes hearts and lives, and that should be evident in anyone seeking to share it. V11:

11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Fathers are supposed to raise their children well.  They are to think about the men and women their children should become, and then raise them in that way, encouraging them when they're making progress, comforting them when they're hurting, urging them onward.  That's what Paul was doing.  Encouraging the people he met as they understood the gospel, comforting them with the grace of Jesus in the face of their sin, urging them to repent, to turn to serve the God of all creation who at the same time is calling them to himself.  They sound like verses about pastoral care of Christians, and they're good for that, but this was still part of Paul's evangelism, his dealing with non-Christians and very recent converts.

I can't help but think about the way Jesus cared for the disciples, with all their misunderstandings and sinful attitudes.  He was there encouraging, comforting and urging them.  Will you do that with anyone this week?  I trust parents will do this with their children at the very least.  Who else can you get alongside this week and urge to live a life worthy of God through the gospel of Jesus?

Paul's manner maximises the gospel appeal he makes.  Really he is imitating the love of Jesus – gentle, caring, patient but purposeful, God-centred and God-glorifying. Will you encourage those of us who preach and teach here at HTG to minister like this, to imitate Jesus like this among you?  And will you conduct yourself like this as you share the gospel in your circles?

How can the Thessalonians know that God really was at work when Paul, Silas and Timothy visited them and shared the gospel with them?  Paul pointed first to the motives of those sharing the gospel.  That ministry is driven by God.  Next he pointed to the manner of those sharing the gospel.  That ministry imitates the love of Jesus.  Finally Paul points to a much less positive indicator.

3) Gospel ministry generates opposition

Look at our key verse, v13

     13And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

The word of God does the work of God in the people of God.  It wasn't the word of men that you accepted; it was the word of God, the gospel, the good news about Jesus, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. V14:

 14For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

As in chapter 1 Paul points to their suffering.  We saw last week in Acts 17 that the Jews were hostile.  They ran Paul, Silas and Timothy out of town and made a lot of trouble for their host, a guy called Jason.  More than that, on a national level, the Jews have a record.  They killed Jesus.  They killed many of God's Old Testament messengers.  Their aim, v16 is to block the gospel from the Gentiles.  They rejected and killed Jesus and then they deliberately opposed evangelism. 

Think back to the Big Invite.  Imagine a group of people had complained to the Council about us knocking on doors.  Imagine they came and heckled during the talks, or poured water on the barbeques or stood at the gates and threatened people who wanted to come in.  Or think of a colleague or a classmate or a patient who files a complaint when you talk about Jesus, or family members or friends who not only reject the gospel, but reject you and try to prevent you talking to others in the family or friendship group about Jesus.

Paul says that's what happens.  That's what you should expect.  And it's not just the Jews; v14 says your own countrymen, in other words the Greeks.  This is what happens.  The world hates Jesus, so it hates his followers and his gospel and anyone who might be receptive to it.  Opposition to the spread of the gospel is an outworking of rejection of God, displayed in the rejection of his son. They heap up their sins to the limit, not only rejecting Jesus but actively opposing him too, and we can think of well-known examples, especially atheists, who often have a surprisingly passionate view about these things.  Paul says the wrath of God has come upon them at last.  There are plenty of opinions about that phrase, but I think it means that God's wrath is hanging over those who reject Jesus.  Those who rejected Christ are themselves rejected, which will be fully realised when he returns.

Gospel ministry generates opposition.  Far from a reason to doubt that God had been and still was at work in the Thessalonians, their suffering was another indicator of exactly that: God at work. So expect opposition from people who oppose God.  Expect opposition as you yourselves are changed by the gospel, as the Thessalonians were.  Expect opposition as you share the gospel with others. But, be encouraged that even severe opposition against both the people sharing the gospel here, Paul and co, and against the people receiving the gospel, the Thessalonians, didn't and couldn't stop God's work.

How do we know God is at work in and through us here at HTG? 

In this letter Paul shows us some of the sign that God is at work.  In chapter 1 lives were changed and the gospel rang out. In this passage gospel ministry, receiving and sharing the good news of Jesus, done by all of us in our own circles, is driven by God.  That means our motives are genuine, we're bold and not easily put off, and we don't sugarcoat the message to make it more appealing. 

Gospel ministry imitates the love of Jesus – as we grow together in the gospel and as we share it with the world, we do it with supernatural love, love like that of Jesus.  It's hard to measure that.  I hope you know that love as we care for each other.  I hope we're praying and working towards loving unbelievers more and more. 

And gospel ministry generates opposition.  Again, not the easiest to measure.  We think of the launch of the church, when the council refused us a banner on the A184 footbridge nearby.  We think of people who haven't wanted to speak with us when we've gone knocking on doors.  And most of us will have had invitations to church turned down.  Perhaps you've even known some opposition or discrimination at work or school or with friends or family because of Jesus.  Don't worry and don't stop.  God is at work. V13 again to finish:

     We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 

Back to top