EFFECTIVE MINISTRY 1 Thessalonians 1–3
“We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We 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” (1 Thes. 2:7–8).The way we relate to others authenticates the Gospel’s message of love.
Paul praised God for the Thessalonians’ steadfastness (1:1–3) and evidences of their true conversion (vv. 4–10). He reminded them of his very personal ministry there (2:1–12) and encouraged them in their suffering (vv. 13–16). He spoke of the love which moved him to send Timothy to visit them (v. 17–3:7) and his own joy at Timothy’s good report (vv. 8–13).
Understanding the Text
“Work produced by faith” 1 Thes. 1:1–3. The Thessalonians were remarkable as a truly committed church. They not only received the Gospel—they acted on it! What is so surprising is that Acts 17 seems to suggest Paul’s missionary team was in this city of 200,000 only a few weeks or at most a couple of months before riots and rumors forced them to flee to Berea. Even so they left behind the nucleus of a strong, vital church, which remained faithful despite persecution. What a challenge to us, who may have known the Gospel much longer, but may display less evidence of its grip on our lives. What was the Thessalonians’ secret? They had faith that produced work, love that prompted labor, and hope that inspired endurance (v. 3). No one who truly lays hold of the Gospel’s message of faith, love, and hope can remain the same. “You welcomed the message” 1 Thes. 1:4–6. Verses 4–10 describe a total response to the Gospel message: a response that preachers everywhere yearn to see in their congregations, and we yearn to see in those we love. The very first element in that response is, “You welcomed the message.” God’s people in Thessalonica did not hesitate, or hold back, or cluck critically. They were excited and enthusiastic when they heard the Word of God. Some years ago Joe Bayly wrote a classic little book called The Gospel Blimp. It told of some enthusiastic Christians who decided to bombard their town with tracts, and figured that a blimp would be great. They could drift over backyards and drop tracts on everyone! It’s hard to imagine that folks would really “welcome” Gospel bombs detonating in their yards. Certainly Paul had a better way. He shared the Gospel personally “with deep conviction” and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit, not the Gospel Blimp. And Paul “lived among” the people he tried to reach, so that they knew him and his way of life. If you and I want others to welcome the Gospel, Paul’s approach is essential. “The Lord’s message rang out from you” 1 Thes. 1:7–9a. The old saying is still true. Shepherds don’t have lambs. Sheep do. It certainly was true in Thessalonica. Paul was forced to leave the city after riots were stirred up by Jewish opponents. But the church kept on growing, spiritually and numerically. Awhile ago I was talking with a Chinese friend just back from mainland China, who was telling me about the quiet revival going on there. In the ’70s when religion was proscribed, the church was forced underground, and leaders were stifled or imprisoned. Yet now, just 15 years later, Christmas church services are swamped as millions openly profess their faith in Christ, and many more millions take part in a dynamic house-church movement. The shepherds were taken away by the state. But it didn’t matter. It is sheep who have lambs, not shepherds, and the ranks of Chinese Christians continue to swell. Wherever average Christians are willing to become imitators of the Lord, to serve as models for others, and to sound forth the Word, the Gospel will continue to thrive. “You turned to God from idols” 1 Thes. 1:9b-10. The sequence here can never be reversed. Some try to reform a person before or without conversion. Some say, “I’d like to come to church, but I have this habit. As soon as I break it, then.” What’s wrong is that we don’t turn from idols to God. We turn to God from idols. We have to turn to God first, because only God’s power will enable us to break the chains that bind us. So don’t think, “As soon as I get my life straightened around, I’ll come to God.” Come to God, and let Him straighten your life around for you. “You know that we never” 1 Thes. 2:1–6. Paul had two gifts to offer the Thessalonians. These are the same two gifts that you and I have to offer others. The Gospel and ourselves. Both the gifts can and often will be misunderstood. But you and I as persons are the most vulnerable to criticism. What a grand way to attack the Gospel. Ignore its message of God’s love, and suggest that the messenger is greedy, or deceitful, or is trying to trick people. It really does hurt the Gospel when something like this proves to be true, as in several celebrated televangelists’ cases. But think what a great opportunity you and I have to adorn the Gospel by being honest and loving! Paul said, “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” The really significant words here are “you know.” Paul developed a close enough relationship with the Thessalonians, even in the brief time he knew them, that he was sure they knew his inmost motives and self. By living openly and honestly with others we guard not only our own reputation but the integrity of the Gospel as well. “Like a mother caring for her little children” 1 Thes. 2:7–9. When Paul tried to describe the relationship he developed with others as he shared the Gospel, only family images would do. It would have seemed funny to strangers, to hear Paul, described in early documents as a wizened little man whose large nose almost met his chin, speak of himself as a “mother caring for her little children [infants].” But it wouldn’t seem funny to the Thessalonians, for they would have felt just that quality of tender, protective love, flowing from the great apostle. Love isn’t a matter of how we look, or how much money we have, or how much education. Love is simply the overflow of a deep concern for the welfare of others. If you have that love, nothing else matters. If you do not, nothing else counts. “We dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children” 1 Thes. 2:10–12. Paul continued to use family imagery. Again, nothing else quite conveys the kind of relationship that fits the Gospel (see DEVOTIONAL). This time the key words are “each of you.” My sons, Paul and Tim, had the same parents, grew up in the same house, went to the same schools—but are very different from each other. Each needed to be treated as an individual. That’s what is so impressive about Paul’s reminder here that, like a father with adolescent children, he dealt with “each” of the Thessalonians as an individual. Those who needed encouraging, he encouraged. Those who needed comfort, he comforted. Those who needed urging—what we might call a good kick in the pants—Paul urged. His goal was the same in every case: to help them “live lives worthy of God.” But how he worked with others toward that goal took individual differences into account. If we’re to minister effectively to others—even members of our own families, we must come to know them as individuals and respond to each according to his or her characteristics and needs. Loving doesn’t just mean letting others know us and our motives. It means getting to know others, individually, and well. “The Word of God, which is at work in you” 1 Thes. 2:13–16. Frank was a young convert in our Brooklyn congregation. The jolly, heavy-set 20-year-old paid a high price for his faith. His mom and dad, traditional ’50s Catholics, saw his conversion as apostasy. They tried to bribe him with a set of drums he’d longed for. Finally they threw him out of the house. Frank suffered intensely, but he kept faith with what he thought was right. And all of us young people in our church hurt for him. Paul knew the ambivalence that must come when someone becomes a believer and suffers persecution as a result. But Paul reminded himself and the Thessalonians that you “became imitators of God’s churches in Judea.” There’s a long tradition of suffering linked with Christian commitment. Things don’t automatically get better. They may get worse! When those we love suffer for their faith, we can hurt with them. But we must remember that suffering is nothing new. What is new is the fact that God’s Word is at work in us. And in this we can rejoice. “Our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory” 1 Thes. 2:17–3:13. When the very elements that make up this universe dissolve in fervent heat, only human beings will remain. Paul had chosen to love people, rather than things. When Christ comes again, Paul’s hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing will be present with him, preserved for all eternity. Paul was forced to leave these very precious people when the rioting began in Thessalonica. No wonder he sent Timothy to visit them as soon as he could (3:1–5), and was filled with joy when he brought back a good report (vv. 6–13). Let’s make others the focus of our concern, and the touchstone of our values, so that they become our joy.
Home, Sweet Home(1 Thes. 2:1–12)
I suppose I had many reasons for taking the bus home from college so many weekends. I did bring back bags of dirty laundry, like most college guys. But the real reason was that nothing felt quite like home. Nothing was quite as comfortable as Mom baking bread in the tiny kitchen, or Dad smoking his pipe on the front porch. Nothing felt quite so “right” as watching Dad wash the dishes while Mom dried, or sprawling in an easy chair while Mom read aloud stories and articles from the Saturday Evening Post. Home was warm, comfortable, a place where I was welcomed and loved even if I was a college man now, and out on my own. Home had a climate all its own. Paul understood this as well as anyone. He knew that home is the one really effective climate for evangelism and for spiritual growth. So Paul not only brought others the Gospel in word, he created a sense of family by the way he loved every member of the Thessalonian church. What people need today, perhaps even more than in other times, is that climate of warmth, intimacy, and caring that marks a loving home. The church that provides this climate will be sure to grow. And its members will become mature.
Build your church as birds build nests—one tiny twig of love at a time.
WE EXIST TO PROVIDE LOVE AND CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER . . . through sharing each other’s needs, burdens, and joys through serving each other in a sacrificial way through learning how to love and be loved. God in His grace, has given us to each other. An integral part of our life as His body is caring for and supporting each other.—From the Mission Statement, Crossroads Community Church