This is the next message in my series on 1 Thessalonians, which was recorded during the UK Covid-19 lockdown. The message was entitled, “The true Christian ministry” and was a huge challenge to me personally as a pastor.
As usual, I have reproduced the notes that I sent out to those without access to the internet, which you can read if you do not have the time to watch the whole message.
This passage describes true Christian ministry. Yet it is useful to all believers as to what to look for in godly ministry.
There are sadly many people, who profess to be pastors and leaders in the church, who do not teach the truth and use ministry for their own gain. So we need to know what true Christian ministry looks like. A person on a screen can look good, but what you read in 1 Thessalonians 2 is the real deal – this is the definition of true Christian ministry.
Pastors and elders (myself included) fall far short, but these are things that they should be striving for. So this passage also shows us how we can pray for our pastors and elders.
I) The desire (v1)
That their visit to Thessalonica would not be in vain (NIV: without results). The word “vain” here is not primarily about results, but content or quality. They didn’t come to them with empty things, but they came with truth. It wasn’t entertainment or feel-good platitudes; they brought things of eternal worth, with the power to change lives.
II) The priority (v2)
The reason Paul could be confident that his visit would not be vain or empty is because they came to preach the gospel. Despite:
- Trouble in their previous outreach in Philippi (beating without trial and prison). Yet they still carried on and came to Thessalonica. We can get so discouraged if one person turns against us, but Paul’s example encourages us to keep going.
- In the midst of much conflict (see Acts 17:1-11). Even though people believed, the opposition continued, but they carried on preaching. The word also suggests inward conflict also, perhaps spiritual attack. Even that didn’t stop them. What a challenge this is to us! Let’s be faithful even in the midst of this trouble.
How were they able to preach?
- “We had boldness in our God.” They were able to speak freely, with liberty. “In our God” shows us the of that boldness: knowing God.
- The gospel of God. They were convinced, not only of the Lord Himself, but that the message was His gospel – it was His good news of salvation. It was not one truth among many, but the truth.
III) The motivation (v3-6)
Love. Appeal (v3) means coming alongside to speak. This was not shouting at them, these are not numbers; these are real people that Paul loved enough to tell them the true gospel.
- error, or wandering from the truth.
- impurity, uncleanness, sin.
- attempt to deceive – cunning, fraud (idea of bait to catch a fish).
While the first may be accidental – there are pastors who teach in ignorance due to a lack of proper Bible knowledge – the other two are deliberate: manipulating others for sinful pleasure and tricking people with things that they know are not true. This is what false teachers do.
- In response to God’s call. Approved and tested by God. A call is not simply a feeling, but is something that God demonstrates in a life, and is confirmed by recognition of the local church. Paul was called, his life was transformed, he was also tested by suffering, by a life of preaching, by time laid aside and by the call of the church in Antioch. Avoid self-appointed and self-promoted leaders.
- Entrusted. They were given the gospel. He has given it to them on trust, so it is not to be tampered with. “So we speak” – he speaks according to the trust given Him. A true Christian minister will preach the gospel without compromise and without alteration.
- To please God and not man. God tests our hearts (same word as “approved” at the beginning of the verse). The minister is accountable to God. This does not give him freedom to do what he wants, but binds him to obey God and preach the gospel as it is. We must pray for all who preach the gospel that they would recognise their awesome responsibility before God.
Not (emphatic – not ever) (v5-6):
- Flattery. Ministers can easily fall into the temptation to gain followers (and increase offerings) through being nice and not talking about sin. Flattery deceives and sends people to hell.
- To make money. Not a cover up in order to take your wealth.
- Glory from people, being praised by them. Of course, encouragement is a good thing – it is important to refresh and encourage the pastor. There is a right degree of respect for godly leadership and the ministry of the gospel. However that must not be the minister’s motivation. A ministry where the focus is on the minister and not on God is not a Christian ministry. The glory must go to God alone and the motivation must be to please Him.
IV) The manner (v7-8, 11)
V7: “gentle” like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, the mother would care gently, tenderly, feed and nurture, clean up, protect, provide, teach and guide.
Notice, not a childminder (own children). In Paul’s time, many women had a wet nurse who fed the children. But Paul says, like nursing your own. Very different. Not what can these people give me, but how can I serve them. Of course, there need to be safeguards to prevent the minister from being worn into the ground, but…
v8 – “we were ready to share with you our own selves.” The ministry involves the heart – “you had become very dear to us.” Cherished. The heart of gospel ministry is loving service.
It is not always easy – but what a thing to be under a ministry like this! What a thing to pray for your pastor and elders to be like this!
This is not something that you can get from a TV screen. Although we’re all forced to watch screens (or read notes) at the moment, this is still different to much so-called Christian television. The person on that programme is not like a nursing mother caring for her own children; he cannot say, “you have become very dear to me.”
But this video is prepared primarily for the people of Lansdowne Church, those who know Lansdowne and the people of West Norwood. It is personal, and prepared out of love.
If you don’t go to church, “Christian” TV cannot be your pastor. While it is good to seek out sound Bible teaching, a screen cannot care for you “like a nursing mother.”
In v11-12 Paul changes the picture from mother to father. So we have gentleness and tender care alongside loving firmness, training, encouragement and discipline. The pastor can’t always be gentle; he also has to be firm and sometimes warn you and tell you that you are wrong but, at the same time, bring the comfort and encouragement of God’s grace to you and encourage you to do right.
All of this is a huge calling. Whatever church you are in, please pray for your leaders.
V) The means (v9-10, 12)
In verse 9, Paul reminds them that he chose not to receive financial support from the believers, but worked for a living. That was important in Paul’s day because so many visiting teachers took money from their followers, got very rich and then left.
In a settled church situation, it is right that those who have been set aside for “full time” ministry should receive financial support so that they are able to devote themselves fully to the care of the church. But the principle remains that ministry involves hard work and sacrifice. A pastor must not be lazy. A pastor must work at the preaching, and must seek to grow in wisdom and understanding to care for the flock.
He must be godly. Not perfect, but seeking to live godly in order to serve the people and to adorn the message.
Teaching (v12) – this is why the teaching of the word is so essential to the life of the church – exhort, encourage and charge. Different translations have a different word order, but the point is the teaching of the word that stirs up, brings comfort, and urges (bearing witness to the truth of how they should live).
VI) The aim (v12)
That they would not only be saved but that they would walk worthy. We can become so focused on numbers and we rightly want to see many people in church. But we need to see those who are saved growing in godliness. In fact that will attract more people. So the pastor’s heart needs to be more than “look how many people” but “how can I teach and challenge and encourage and show by example so that all of God’s people live in a way that brings honour and glory to the Lord?”
What’s the relevance – most of us are not pastor/elders?
- shows you what ministries to avoid.
- shows you what to pray for.
- shows the importance of church life. Most of what Paul is saying here cannot be done if we’re simply a collection of individuals doing our own thing. Although we are separated for a while, we are still the church of Jeus Christ. Let’s make sure when this is over, we gather as a congregation. Let’s not miss out on services, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Let’s throw ourselves into church life.
But finally, the high calling to be church and the high calling for church leads us, reminds us that we are still sinners who fall short. But, we can turn our eyes upon Jesus who is the perfect leader.
All ministers and elders are just under shepherds of the great shepherd. He is the One who laid down His life for the sheep. His teaching is not empty – He is the truth. He came to this earth to suffer and die that you would be free. He never makes a mistake, He is completely righteous, He will never deceive you. He is approved by God because He is God and He lived the perfect life. He didn’t just preach the gospel, He is the gospel. He didn’t come to earth to please man but to please His Father by dying for mankind and purchasing salvation. He doesn’t flatter, He is not greedy – He speaks the whole truth to us in His word.
Although He is mighty and the Lord of the universe, He is like the mother hen who longs to gather her chicks. He is the greatest Shepherd of all, He is our elder Brother and our Friend. He is the one that brings us to the Father. He’s the One who has supplied His Spirit in order that we may live lives worthy of God.
He has called us to His own kingdom and glory and He will take us home.
You are perfectly safe in the hands of your Great Shepherd. Your Lord, your Rock, your Redeemer, your treasure, your good, your defender, your strength and your shield, your Saviour – who lived and died and rose and is coming back again. So, may all my days bring glory to Your name.