Model ministry - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I wonder what you think a model minister might be like. What do others think?
For some, it might be the vicar of Dibley. A generally quite nice person who gets involved in the local community and has lots of meetings about social issues.
For others the model minister should be spending a large chunk of the week visiting all kinds of different people.
Others would expect the model minister to understand the felt needs of the congregation and then seeks to meet them. And still others think that Bible teaching and evangelism are the main thing. So as well as spending hours in the study preparing quality sermons and training others to teach the Bible, he would be running evangelistic course like CE as well as building relationships with non-Christians and therefore modelling personal evangelism.
And we mustnít forget spiruality and wisdom. So for some, the model minister should have super-spiritual wisdom to know how to respond to all kinds of feedback. Sometimes he receives positive or affirming feedback; but often the feedback is critical, because the only perfect minister, of course, was Jesus himself. But the model minister must be able to judge between constructively critical feedback when he gets things wrong, and the negative criticisms from those who are consciously or subconsciously opposing the Gospel.
Link to Thessalonica
And that brings us quickly back to Paul in 1st century Thessalonica. So if youíre not already there, turn back to 1 Thess 2 on p[1102/ 1838] and look with me at v2:
2We 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 in spite of strong opposition.
Last week in cpt 1, we saw that Paulís ministry was strongly opposed. Heíd arrived in Thessalonica from Philippi where heíd been given an illegal beating for preaching the Gospel. Heíd only been in Thessalonica a few months, when he was hounded out of there by rent-a-mob. By a mob whoíd been whipped up by those whoíd rejected His message. And so Paul had had to leave this baby church. A baby church under intense persecution.
And the pressure wasnít just external violent persecution? No, perhaps the worse kind of pressure is more subtle. Because, as weíre going to see, whatís Paulís doing in these verse is defending himself against a barrage of criticism. Complaints and criticism about Paul, but aimed at the young Thessalonian Christians. This Paul is well dodgy they were saying. Heís a slimy hit and run religious salesman. And youíve been duped haven't you? Donít tell me you actually gave him some money? You mug. He dashed in from Philippi, spent a few months here, and then heís off. He doesnít care about you. Heís simply playing a numbers game. You know, bums on seats and money in the plate. Thatís the name of the game.
In 1st C Greece, there were loads of travelling religious teachers. Because the Greeks loved to listen to the latest religious ideas. And 1st centaury travelling religious speakers expected to be paid by their audience. Just like buskers or other street performers today. At the end of their talk, they passed the hat round. And people coughed up. And if the speaker was good, they could make a decent living out of such speaking. But if you were a travelling religious teacher and you had to work in Tesco part time to pay the gas bill, well you canít be any good then. That was the perception in 1st C Thessalonica.
And Paul was simply another travelling religious salesman. Heíd been, said his piece, been paid and gone. Youíre not meant to take it seriously. Itís just another piece of religious entertainment. But youíve been duped havenít you. You actually believe this stuff Paul was going on about. This stuff about there being another King called Jesus. Indeed, another God more powerful than Caesar.
Because remember: you can believe whatever religion you want, as long as it doesnít affect the way you live; youíre allowed to believe whatever religion you like, as long as Caesar is still Lord; indeed as long as Caesar is the most important God. Come back to the synagogue. Come back to Caesarís temple. We wonít mention Paul or this Christian thing again. Letís just forget this embarrassing little episode ever happened and get on with life in the real world. The exciting world of 1st century Thessalonica.
Thatís the kind of subtle pressure the
church was under. That's the kind of criticism being dumped on Paul.
And so after Paulís given thanks for the Thessalonians in cpt 1, he defends
himself in cpt2. He defends his ministry and in the process outlines
model ministry. And as we go through these 12 verses, weíre going to
see that model ministry involves 3 Is:
Instruction in the Message
First of all then: instruction in the message; instruction in the message. Look with me at v1:
1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.
Literally it says that our coming to you was not in vein. Iím not a waste of space says Paul. And neither was my message. It had results; concrete results; you, the church. Those who responded to the message. What was Paulís message then?
Well in v2 he says literally that heíd had boldness to tell them the Gospel of God. The Gospel of God. And thatís a phrase thatís repeated exactly in v8 and v9. The Gospel of God. And back in v4, he mentions simply the Gospel. And the Gospel of God is implied in verses 3 & 12 as well. So in every other verse in this passage, we're reminded of the message: and the message was the Gospel of God. Not Paulís Gospel, but Godís. The Gospel isnít something Paul made up in the bath one day. No itís Godís Gospel.
And the word Gospel, as we were looking at in the CE course on Wednesday, means Good News. Godís good news. Whatís the good news then? Well every chapter of the book concludes with a reference to the second coming; to Jís return. But as weíll find out when we get to cpt 4, for lots of people that will be bad news. Because when Jesus returns winds up human history, the whole human race will be judged. And the pass mark for Godís judgement is perfection. And if you donít pass, if youíre not perfect, then as the end of cpt 1 put it: youíll be facing Jís wrath; for those who havenít perfectly obeyed Godís laws, they will face a just eternity of Godís wrath in hell.
And although itís good to know that there is ultimate justice in this world, good to know that evil doers wonít get away with it for ever, actually itís bad news for all of us too. Because none of us are perfect are we. None of us meet Godís perfect standards. And so, left to ourselves, weíd all be facing Godís just wrath against our sins. And so the real good news is at the end of cpt 1 as we saw last week. The gospel of God is that, for those who accept the offer, for Christians that is, and Christians alone, Jesus rescues us from that coming wrath. He took the punishment we deserved so that we donít have to. Thatís what the cross is all about. Thatís the good news about Jesus. Thatís the Gospel of God. And that was Paulís message. Indeed thatís what Paul spent his life doing: preaching and teaching the Gospel. Letís look at the verbs he uses to see the point:
8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well
The implication here is that Paul is sharing the Gospel in casual setting; one-to-one and the back of the proverbial fag packing the pub; or in small groups, perhaps in someoneís home. Paul shared the Gospel of God in the context of relationships with individual people.
we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you
Paul preached the Gospel of God. And the word preach has sense of public preaching to large group. In the synagogue, on the streets or maybe in Jasonís house which may have become an impromptu house church building. Paul preached the Gospel.
Do you see the point? One-to-one, in small groups and in large congregational setting, Paul told, shared and preached the Gospel of God. He appealed to their intellect, he encouraged exhorted and urged them to respond with their emotions as well as their minds. Paulís ministry priority, just like Jís, was preaching and teaching the Bible. And thatís the first mark of Model ministry then: Instruction in the message. Instruction in the message.
And secondly, in v3-6a, we see that Paul had integrity of motives and methods. Remember the mud being slung at Paul. Paul the dodgy money-grabbing TV evangelist. Well look with me at v3, which literally says: For our exhortation doesnít come from error, impurity or deceit. In other words, the message I preach is correct: itís Godís gospel after all not mine. Iíve preached it clearly and plainly. Iíve not used manipulative techniques or psychological pressure. Yes Iíve urged you very strongly to say yes to J;. Why? Because without Jesus youíre heading for hell. But Iíve been straight with you. My methods have been above board and pure. Iíve not been into flattery he says in v5 and Iím not in it for the money. No; Iíve simply engaged with people and answered their questions. Iíve not forced anyone to become a Christian.
On the contrary he says in v4:
4 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. [because in v6: ] 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.
Approved by God means tested; tested in the sense of refined in the fire of Christian ministry. Remember Paul had been flogged and imprisoned in Philippi. Heíd been hounded out of town by rent-a-mob. In his ministry, Paul had faced every imaginable discouragement and persecution. Heíd been shipwrecked, stoned, flogged, imprisoned and ridiculed everywhere he went. Paul was not in the ministry for an easy life. So why did he do it? Why did he keep going back for more and more hassle? Because heíd been commission by God, heíd been approved and test by God and he had a message from God that people needed to hear. And so he would try every legitimate method to persuade, people; but if people still rejected the message, then that was part of the deal. He wasnít building his own ecclesiastical empire; he wasnít seeking peopleís approval, although he was human no doubt he was encouraged when people did express their appreciation of his ministry. But ultimately peopleís opinions didnít matter. What mattered was Godís approval. Because in Christian ministry, the motives and methods need to match the message. And thatís the second mark of Model ministry: integrity of motive and method.
And that brings us onto the 3rd mark of model ministry: intensity of relationships in v6b-12. Remember the criticism. Paul the hit and run evangelist. He doesnít care about you. Heís only after the money. And so Paul refutes these criticisms one by one.
First of all the money issue. As ministers of Christ, Paul Silas and Timothy who has helped him plant the church remember, all 3 of them could have been a burden to the Thessalonians. Burden here not in a negative sense, bit in the sense that they had a right to be paid by the Thessalonians for the Gospel work they were doing. As Paul explains elsewhere in the NT, the general principle is that full-time Gospel workers should be funded to allow them to get on with the job. And we were thinking about subject of Christian giving a couple of weeks ago at our Thanksgiving service. And if you remember from the budget presentation, a large proportion of the giving here at [SF/ Riverside] pays for our staff.
But in Thessalonica, Paul gave up that right. The right to be paid. So why? Well remember the travelling religious teachers of the day. Paul gave up his right to a church salary to put clear blue water between himself and the charlatans. Look at v9: by trade, Paul was a tent maker. So by day he preached the Gospel, and at night he made tents to pay the bills. Why? So he could stand up and say; Iím not like them. Iím not in it for the money. So we have Paul the model minister. Paul the model Christian indeed. The one who gives up his rights for the sake of the Gospel. Doesnít stand on his rights, if the exercise of those rights would damage the progress of the Gospel. What an example for all of us! What rights do you need to sit lighter to for the sake of other; for the eternal sake of others perhaps?
That was the money issue. But what about the hit and run issue. Well in v8 Paul declares his love for the Thessalonians. Yes heíd only been there a few months, but he loved them dearly. And he used to the picture of a mother and father to demonstrate the depth of his love for them. Back in v7 he says that he was gentle, like a breast-feeding mother with her newborn baby. Thatís how he sees himself; as a spiritual midwife bringing baby Christians to birth. And then as a breast-feeding mother feeding theme with the pure spiritual milk of the Gospel: the Gospel of God remember. And as that baby Christian begins to develop and grow, in v12 heís then like a devoted father. A devoted father who exhorts, encourages and urges his children. Those baby Christians have matured a bit,. theyíve moved on from just spiritual milk to more solid Bible teaching. And indeed he does some more of that in cpts 4 & 5 which weíll be looking at later in the term.
But do you see the main point? Paul is no hit and run evangelistic. He doesnít treat people simply as evangelistic targets. He doesnít treat Christians simply as pew fodder. Heís not after their money. No Paul teaches the Bible in the context of relationships. Paul doesnít teach the Bible. He teaches people the Bible. And so should we. Model ministry is ultimately about people, not programmes. Model ministry is relationships not statistics. Model ministry will involve an intensity of relationships. But those kind of relationships donít develop overnight. For those kind of relationships to be real, it will take time. And in our frantically busy world, time for building quality relationships is in short supply.
Summary and Application
And that brings us back to the beginning. Whatís your definition of model ministry. What do others think? Because according to Paul, Model ministry is about:
1. Instruction in the Message
2. Integrity of motives and method; and
3. Intensity of relationships
Paulís main aim was to defend his own ministry in the face of intense criticism. But in the process heís given us a model of ministry. How does my ministry as a pastor-teacher match up to Paulís model. And as Iíve prepared this sermon, Iíve been reflecting on that. [Application slide 1]
But Christian ministry is not just about the minister. The Bible teaches us that as Christians, weíre all ministers. Biblical ministry is every-member ministry. [next slide] And so Paulís model of ministry applies to you if youíre a Christian. Yes there will always be visitors and non-Christians coming into church, and thatís great; more than we want to encourage that. But there are no passengers among the members of the church. Because, God calls each and every one of us to ministry in some form. It might be a supporting ministry like being of the refreshments rota. You might be a prayer warrior. But whatever your calling, weíre all ministers of the Gospel. And so the question is, how do you measure up again Paulís pattern of model ministry. A model that is based on
1. Instruction in the Message
2. Integrity of motives and method; and
3. Intensity of relationships
Because itís as every-member ministry is shaped by this model, that ministry multiplies. Because model ministry is a multiplying ministry. So as we close, letís have a few moments of reflection. How do you measure up to the model? How do we as a church measure up to the model? And what do we need to change to become more like the model minsters weíre called to be? Letís pray.
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