Tonight I want to have you turn to another portion of Scripture and talk about leadership. This morning was kind of the negative side dealing with the problems and disappointments and suffering that comes along with living in a fallen world and ministering there. But tonight I want to look at the positive side of ministry and have you look with me at 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church. We have been for so many, many years in the gospels for a long time. It was Luke, and then it was Mark. And we finished Mark, it was John, and we’ve been in John now for a number of years and heading toward the great culmination of that gospel. But it’s been awhile since we actually looked at the epistles of the New Testament, and they are equally inspired and equally precious to us. And this is a refreshing time for us and for me as well, to go back to some of these wonderful letters of the apostle Paul in particular.
Paul has always been my ministry hero. When people say to me, “Whose the model of ministry you follow?” I would have to say first and the foremost the apostle Paul. I’ve tried to view ministry the way he did, both from the personal standpoint and from the doctrinal standpoint. From the standpoint of taking care of yourself, looking to yourself and to your doctrine, as he says to Timothy. Those two things have always been the concern of my own heart, to understand what God required of me and what God requires of the ministry that He has given me. Those are the two aspects of ministry life.
And going back to the epistles of Paul, because we have thirteen of them, and because we have the book of Acts, we have so much to learn from this amazing man. He sets the pace for me and always has, and I am still a student of his, a learner, looking at the Word of God to find out everything I can possibly find out about his life and ministry.
This morning we looked at the fact that he was a man who suffered profoundly. He suffered more than any other person that is identified in the New Testament, with the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it was out of that suffering that he became powerful, because God’s power is perfected in weakness, and he was an illustration of that. The world looked at him and said he’s weak, he’s unimpressive. But God looked at him and said he’s powerful, and God made him powerful in his weakness; we saw that.
But as we look at 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2, we’re going to hear again Paul talking about himself and talking about his ministry, but talking about it in a very interesting way; talking about it from the standpoint of the exposure that he had to his congregation in Thessalonica. I think there’s a recurring reality in this particular book that you might easily overlook; and I don’t want you to do that, so I want to remind you at the very outset of a phrase that he uses again and again.
In chapter 2, verse 1, he says, “You yourselves know.” In verse 2, in the middle of the verse, he says, “As you know.” In verse 5 he says again essentially, “As you know.” In verse 9 he says, “For you recall.” In verse 10 he says, “You are witnesses.” In verse 11 he says, “Just as you know.” In chapter 3, and verse 3, “So that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” In verse 4, “So that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know, again, that we are going to suffer affliction. We kept telling you in advance, and it came to pass, and now you know.”
In chapter 4, again, in verse 2, “For you know.” In chapter 5, again, in verse 2, “For you yourselves know full well.” If there ever was a commendation for a man’s ministry, it would be that he could look at a congregation and say, “You know all this. Some of what you know is what I’ve taught you.” But most of the ways in which he uses this expression is to define what he did. “You know truth concerning the day of the Lord, because I’ve taught it to you. You know the commandments, because I’ve given them to you.”
That was in chapters 4 and 5. But here in particular, in chapter 2, and even going on into chapter 3, the couple of references to that that I mentioned are all about what they knew about him, what they had experienced with him. So here is a man who is demonstrating integrity at its highest level. He’s going to define for them the character of his ministry and then say to them, “And you know all this. You know this, because this is what you saw in me.”
Spiritual leadership is a very, very challenging responsibility. To say it’s difficult is a severe understatement. It is so difficult as to be virtually impossible in our human strength. Think about what is required of a pastor, a spiritual leader, an immense responsibility to preach the gospel for the conversion of the unbelieving and ungodly sinners in the world. And then to gather the converts into solemn assemblies in ordered churches for the worship of God. And then to teach the congregation by expounding clearly and powerfully, and applying pointedly the Word of God, and then to stand between the people and Christ, subservient to Christ as if you are some kind of priest mediating between your congregation and the Great High Priest, being devoted to pray for their well-being, to seek the face of God on their behalf, to be their public and private intercessor, and then to administer the ordinances in such a way as to lead people to renew their covenant of obedience and confess their sins.
And then to oversee the church and governance life, including the rebuke of the disobedient, the strengthening of the weak. And then to train and appoint teachers and workers for every believer so that no one is left behind in the responsibility of biblical counsel, and example, and instruction, and encouragement. And then to find a path to resolve for all the congregation their doubts, their weaknesses, their difficulties, and to lead them away from their sins, and their fears and anxieties. It’s to be the physician who runs the hospital, who cares for all the people with all their various infections, leading them away from heresy and iniquity, leading them to healthy, whole, sound doctrine and sound living. At the same time, to be the tender shepherd who cares to see that all needs are supplied, and that there are helpers there to distribute all the resources of that assembly to those who need it, to publically champion the truth, to defend the truth, and to be a model of what Christ requires for a Christian. This is the ministry.
And for all of that, to realize that one day you will give an account. Hebrews 13:17, “You will give an account.” We’re even warned, “Stop being so many teachers.” Theirs is a greater condemnation.
And this leads us to ask the question that basically Paul articulated in 2 Corinthians 2 when he said, “Who’s adequate for these things? Who’s adequate? Who’s qualified? Yet here we are.” That may be why there are so many who come to a Shepherds’ Conference, because they understand the vastness of this calling: the breadth, and depth, and height, and length of their responsibility.
And, oh, by the way, if you’re called into this it’s for a lifetime. And if you’re called into this, it’s in all kinds of circumstances and with all kinds of people, and you’re having to overcome the weakness of your own flesh and your own ignorance, and you’re being scrutinized to see how successful you are at it. And then it’s necessary for you to somehow separate yourself from the thieves and the robbers and the frauds and the unfaithful who appear successful while you being faithful appear unsuccessful. And in all of this, be joyful, be joyful.
So how do you find a path to this kind of ministry? How can it be all that it should be? Paul is the best one to turn to, because he is so transparent. And in reality, I could have probably gone to a dozen different passages and sorted out the same realities, because they come out in his writings again and again. But they’re wonderfully and cogently connected in a brief fashion in this 2nd chapter of 1 Thessalonians. So let me read it to you, at least down through verse 12.
“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated I Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation doesn’t come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with the pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek glory from other men, either from you or others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection 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 very dear to us.
“For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Verse 10 says, “You are witnesses of this, and so is God. You are witnesses, and so is God. You know the character of my life and ministry; God knows.” They had been exposed to it; they had experienced it. And here in those wonderful verses, he gives us the marks of a faithful ministry, the marks of a faithful ministry, the standards of true, spiritual leadership, that guarantee God-blessed ministry.
Now the tone of this writing here is definitely polemical. In other words, it assumes that he’s answering some kind of critic, because he keeps saying, “You know, you know, you know,” which presupposes that somebody – as was usually the case – was assaulting Paul before the Thessalonian Christians. The world was full of false prophets, false apostles, false spiritual leaders. Obviously accusations were being made against the integrity of Paul and his companions Silas and Timothy. It would be relatively easy to believe those accusations because the world was so full of self-seeking, money-hungry charlatans.
So Paul wants to sort himself out from and apart from the false, and he doesn’t just appeal to his own perspective on ministry, but to their experience: “You know. You know.” He says it again, and again, and again. Just look back at your experience; that’s how he begins the chapter, “For you yourselves know, brethren; you know.” This is a general statement in verse 1. His defense is going to be their testimony. His defense is going to be their testimony. He’s just going to remind them of what they know. “You yourselves know, it is self-evident. I don’t have to prove it to you. No one needs to tell you; you know.”
It even got beyond them. Verse 9 of chapter 1, verse 8 starts by, “The word of the Lord sounding forth from you, and it’s into Macedonia, and it’s into Achaia.” This is the testimony of this church. “It’s everywhere, in everyplace, your faith toward God has gone forth so that we have no need to say anything.” The testimony of the church is everywhere. “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you.”
So not only did the Thessalonians know, but everybody that has heard the Thessalonians testimony knows. The word is widespread about the character of Paul’s ministry. They heard it; they know it. You lived it. You lived it.
“Brethren – ” chapter 1, verse 4, he calls them “ – brethren beloved of God.” There’s a tenderness in all of this. He’s simply calling on them to look back at their experience: “You know that our coming to you was not in vain. It wasn’t empty; it wasn’t useless. It mattered, and you know the character of it, and the impact, and the affect.”
In verse 2 he adds, “But after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you.” Well, you may remember the history. They had been in Philippi before coming to Thessalonica, which is about a three-day journey; and the experience in Philippi was very difficult. You can go back to Acts 16 and you can read about what happened there. Paul simply says, “We suffered and we’re mistreated.”
Suffering could refer to physical abuse. You remember in Acts 16 in Philippi they were arrested. They were also put in stocks. You also would go back and remember that not only were they arrested and put in stocks, but they were mistreated. That is to say they were sentenced without a trial; there was no justice; they were abused. The word after it could actually be although: “Although we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you.”
The word “mistreatment” here means to treat shamefully, to insult. It is a reference to outrageous treatment in public calculated to insult and humiliate. Public degradation, public mockery, physical pain, physical abuse was heaped on Paul and his companion in Philippi. “In spite of that, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you.”
He doesn’t say, “We learned our lesson in Philippi; we altered the message. Because of what happened in Philippi, we decided not to be so bold. Since we offended so many people and got into so much trouble, and eventually had to be basically escorted out of town for safety’s sake and the ministry came to a screeching halt, we decided to kind of redesign the ministry approach, maybe make it a little less offensive.”
He doesn’t say that. He says, “In spite of that, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” That’s how it was everywhere, everywhere. You read through the book of Acts and you read about this opposition in the life of the apostles, and in particular, the life of Paul.
The tone, by the way, of Paul’s statements makes it clear that confident preaching does not lead to popularity, but conflict; and conflict requires courage and boldness. The preacher’s objective is not to minimize the conflict, it is to generate the conflict, to expose the symptoms and the causes and the residence of sin, to confront the fatal condition of the lost, and then offer a cure for their wretchedness and the divine sentence of God to eternal hell. “You know that when we came to you – ” back to verse 1 “ – our coming was not in vain. We came, we preached the gospel.”
The phrase “in vain” really is one word, kenos, it means empty, useless, pointless, fruitless, futile, to no purpose, void of any affect, inconsequential, without impact. “No, our ministry to you is not a failure, not a failure by any means, it’s just the opposite.”
Go back to chapter 1, verse 3. He’s thanking God, making mention of them in prayer. And this is how he describes them, verse 3, “Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of God our Father, knowing, brethren beloved of God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia; and from you, the word sounded out.” And, no, that was not an empty ministry, that was a powerful ministry.
In chapter 2, verse 13, the verse right after the text I read, he says, “We thank God that when you receive the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” This was a highly successful ministry.
An almost ideal church is planted in Thessalonica. This is the church that Paul wrote to without any criticism. It’s been an amazing ministry. This is a church that has turned to God, chapter 1, verse 9, from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead – that is Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come. He preached sin and wrath to come. And then he preached the gospel that rescues sinners from the wrath to come. And that ministry was not empty, it was full; powerful ministry, powerful.
So Paul says, “Look, if somebody is calling into question the integrity of my life and ministry, all you have to do is look at yourselves. Take a look. You know, you know. You know me. You know the ministry. You know how the truth was preached; you know how it was received. But let me just remind you of the necessary components of an affective ministry.
First of all, Paul expresses confidence in God’s power. Let’s go back to verse 2. He expresses confidence in God’s power. “As you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” He was confident in God’s power. And I like to think, if you’re looking for some words that you can kind of write down as a little outline, this gave him audacity, this gave him audacity. He was audacious. He was bold, that’s what that means essentially. He confronted sin, he preached judgment, he called for repentance, and that always produced violence, opposition to some degree. There was no lessoning of the impact of the message. In the midst of much opposition; agony, agony – struggle, conflict, fight, “As you know.” It was an agonizing experience in Thessalonica, as it always was, to confront people with the gospel.
If you go back, for example, to the 17th chapter of Acts, you read this about his arrival in Thessalonica. “The Jews becoming jealous, taking along some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar, and attacking the house of Jason, they were seeking to bring them out to the people. When they didn’t find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have upset the world have come here also; and Jason has welcomed them, and they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things. And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea: ‘Get out of town.’”
This is a death struggle ministry. There’s always pressure to compromise to avoid that, to not offend, to soften the message, to make it popular, to sugarcoat what you say, to find a way to make it acceptable to sinners. But I just remind you, the mark of a great minister, the mark of a great leader is not how little it takes to start him, it’s how little it takes to stop him. That’s the mark of leadership.
And there was no stopping Paul, none. “We had the boldness in our God.” There was an audacity in his ministry. This is the source of his confidence – not in his flesh, not in his strength, not in his knowledge, not in his experience, not in his wisdom, “but in our God.” He found power in God. He trusted in God and in God’s power to do whatever God deemed His will.
In 2 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 7, he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels – ” speaking of himself like he’s a clay pot “ – so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” And it’s what we were saying this morning. A powerful minister of Jesus Christ is not himself the explanation for his power; God is the explanation for his power. You may look at him and see weakness on the human side, but that is exactly what God empowers.
Writing to the Ephesians, Paul said in chapter 3, that “it is because of Christ Jesus our Lord that we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him,” boldness because he was infused with the power of God. He boldly preached the gospel of God. I love that phrase: “The gospel of God.” That’s a phrase that he likes to use, “The gospel of God.”
God is the author of the gospel. We often think of the gospel of Christ, but it is the gospel of God; verse 8, the gospel of God; verse 9, the gospel of God. It originates with God. It is about God. And, consequently, it starts at the highest point, sovereign God. It is not subject to our alterations, our adjustments. It is from God Himself. No matter what the opposition, our response has to be faithfulness and boldness.
And as you know, the prophets in the Old Testament were killed, the apostles in the New Testament were killed, including Paul; and through the years and even up into the very present time, those who preached the gospel are subject to death. No matter what the opposition, no matter what the price to pay, they counted the cost, they trust in the power of God, and they are true to the message.
Paul’s ministry was effective because he was confident in God’s power, and that gave him the necessary boldness, the necessary audacity to say what had to be said. You must preach the law, and sin, and judgment, and hell before you can preach the deliverance of the gospel. His ministry was not in vain because he was committed to the power of God no matter what the opposition.
Secondly, and this is obvious, he was committed to the truth of God, verse 3: “Our exhortation does not come from error.” Right off the starting point. “What we told you was not wrong.” He’s not only marked by audacity, you could say he’s marked by fidelity. This is a clear concise denial of accusations that must have been thrown at Paul that he was preaching something that wasn’t true, that he was a deceiver, that he and his companions were hypocrites.
But he says, “Our exhortation,” refers to the preaching of the gospel with an urgent appeal, to respond in faith and escape judgment. “Our preaching, our appeal, our exhortation does not come from error,” out of error, ek planēs. The word for “error” here is the word we connect to “planet,” something wandering and roaming. This is not something unconnected, disconnected, wandering around by itself. This is the truth of God, nailed down tight by God Himself. He is not a deceiver, he is not a shooting star, he’s not a wanderer, he is no false teacher.
On another occasion, in 2 Corinthians he said to the Corinthians, “Oh – ” sarcastically “ – I took you in by deceit. Right? That’s what you’re saying?” Second Corinthians, “I took you in by deceit. Is that what you believe? You believe I lied to you?”
In 1 Timothy 2:7 he says even to Timothy, “I tell you, I lie not.” Paul faithfully taught truth, never error. He was a faithful guardian of the treasure of the truth. And, of course, that significantly is what he communicates to Timothy. In 1 Timothy 6, verse 3, he’s telling Timothy, “If anybody comes along and advocates a different doctrine and doesn’t agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; and he has a morbid interest in controversial questions, disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicion, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
Chaos and confusion abound when you have people who pervert the truth. And so he says to him at the end of chapter 6 in 1 Timothy, verse 20, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” That’s the truth. “Guard the truth. Avoid worldly empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and gone astray from the faith.” All through Paul’s ministry he was always holding up the truth. “Preach the word,” he said to Timothy. “Preach the word all the time, in season, out of season – reprove, rebuke, exhort with all patience. They will always be wanting to heap to themselves teachers with itching ears who say what they want to hear. Teach the truth.”
Second Corinthians, chapter 2, he says, “I’m not a kapēlos, I’m not a huckster, I’m not a con man. First Corinthians, chapter 4, he says, “It’s required of stewards that a man be found faithful – faithful, first of all, to the truth.” He was committed to God’s truth.
False prophets, spiritual frauds, religious fakes were everywhere in the ancient world, and they’re everywhere today, everywhere. There may have been a lot of them in Thessalonica: philosophers, magicians, astrologers, cranks, crackpots, robes, and swindlers clamoring for people’s minds, like there are today. Paul said, “When I speak to you, I don’t speak from error, I speak the truth, I speak the truth. And there was plenty of evidence; you know that. You know I spoke to you the truth.”
How would they know? Because it had done its work in their life, chapter 2, verse 13, “When you heard the word of God, you received it for what it is, the word of God and not the word of men, which performs its work in you who believe. You know I spoke the truth, because the truth went to work in your life.”
What marks faithful ministry? A commitment to the truth and a commitment to the power of God. When you trust in the power of God there’s an audacity in your ministry. When you’re faithful to the truth, there is a fidelity in your ministry – a veracity, if you want another word similar.
There’s a third thing that marks his life and it’s referred to in a very brief way, verse 3: “Our exhortation doesn’t come from error or impurity or by way of deceit.” Impurity, akatharsia, could be meaning doctrinal impurity. But that particular word often refers to sexual uncleanness. Most often it has sexual connotations. It was part of the deceit of false religions, that they featured sexual perversion.
You want to have a popular religion? Feature sexual perversion. It still works today. Many of the Greek cults in ancient times were associated with sexual perversion, and ritual prostitution was part of it. Temples were filled with temple prostitutes, and having a relationship with a temple prostitute was a form of religion, a form of worship, if you will, a form a transcendence by which you would commune with the deity. False, wicked religious leaders would seek converts for the purpose of having a sexual encounter with them, because the leader would be the representative of God. It’s like the polygamist Mormons.
Orgies were common, because that’s how you communed with a deity, in a drunken stupor. The supposed leaders of some of the sects that really came out of the mystery religions were the link to the deity, and the link came through intercourse with a leader, or his representatives, the temple prostitutes. Intimacy with the gods was achieved that way. Strange twist of this is the idea that began in the ancient church that virgins were encouraged to dedicate their bodies to a union with Christ in a mystical marriage, and that’s why there are nuns.
So we can readily imagine that some people would say about Paul that he’s probably doing what all the other religious leaders do, he’s probably immoral, religiously immoral. Paul says, “No, I’m no filthy dreamer; I’m not motivated by that. I’m not marked by impurity and the deceit that goes with it.” Deceit is actually the word “fish” or “decoy,” trap. Greek false teachers would go to any length with their sorcery and their trickery and their magic, juggling theatrics to gain a convert for their money and sexual favors.
Paul’s ministry was not like that. It doesn’t seem to be too long between the times when we hear about some other religious leader, even in our day, who has fallen to some moral scandal, or has been exposed as having lived that out for a long duration of time. No, this is his integrity. He preaches the truth, he’s bold in preaching the truth, and he is pure. He models the truth he preaches. He has audacity, he has fidelity, and he has integrity.
And there’s a fourth component in verse 4: “But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak. Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak.” He had authority. He had authority. He didn’t teach error; he wasn’t impure. He was bold; he was faithful to the truth. His life was pure, and he had a commission from God. He had been approved dokimazō, to approve as worthy after testing, perfect tense, meaning he had been approved with lasting consequence. He’s saying, “I’ve been tested and I’ve been approved by God; I’ve been authorized.” What he’s saying is, “I’m not self-appointed.” That is a very, very serious issue in the church today – self-appointed ministers who answer to no one; simply appoint themselves, elevate themselves, put themselves in positions of power, say they’re called by God, and the only validation of that is their own personal testimony.
Paul had been chosen by God and it was pretty clear. Damascus Road, Act 9; remember? He was divinely commissioned. Colossians 1 he said he was made a minister, he was made a minister, he was chosen. He says in the book of Acts, “God called us to preach.” In fact, he said, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
To the Corinthians in chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians, he says he is “someone, who by the mercy of the Lord, is trustworthy.” And because he is trustworthy, he has been entrusted with the gospel. He’s been entrusted with the gospel.
It was the Lord who called Paul. But after that, when Paul established how men would be set apart for ministry, he gave that responsibility to the elders of the church, and he even says with regard to Timothy, Timothy belongs in the ministry because he was set apart and ordained by the laying on of the hands of the elders. He was entrusted with the gospel because he was a proven man in the eyes of the leaders of the church and the church as well. He says, “I don’t speak on my own. But because we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak.” Literally, “So we are speaking.” I love that. He’s saying, “I speak with the authority of God, as one who’s been approved for ministry.”
I remember going way back in my youth and just having graduated from seminary, and I couldn’t really minister anywhere until I had gone through an ordination. And I had to stand before 200 pastors in the event that I was in – I don’t know why there were so many there – 200 pastors, who questioned me on everything, down to naming the pre-exilic, post-exilic prophets, outlining books of the Bible, who asked to hear testimony from other pastors who knew me as to whether or not there was any evidence at all that God would have gifted me and called me to ministry. There was a lot of preparation for that event, and some of it was study, but most of it was God’s preparation.
Paul told Timothy, “Look, when you teach, command.” He told Titus, “When you teach, rebuke with all authority, and don’t let anybody circumvent that.”
He says in verse 6 here, “I have a right to assert authority. What I say comes with authority; it’s not my authority.” It’s the same kind of authority that the Jewish people saw in Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount when they said, “He speaks as someone with authority.” That authority is based upon the authoritative Word of God. Here was a man who had audacity, who had fidelity, who had integrity, who had purity, and had authority. That kind of ministry is not in vain.
And then in verses 4 and 5, we have to add something else. He had a compelling realization of God’s omniscience. He was compelled by God’s knowledge. He says, “We have been approved by God, entrusted with the gospel, and so we speak.” But then he adds, “Not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” This is the highest degree of accountability.
When he was passing the mantle to Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4 he says, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing in His kingdom preach the Word. You’re accountable to God and to Christ.” He says, “I don’t do this ministry to please men. I wasn’t commissioned by men; I wasn’t called by men; I wasn’t gifted by men.”
In 1 Corinthians 10:33, he says, “I want to do whatever I need to do to reach men.” He says that 1 Corinthians 9 and 10. “I want to be whatever I need to be without being disobedient to the Word of God, whatever I can be culturally. Whatever I can be to step into somebody’s world and have an audience, I want to be that and do that. But I am not a men pleaser.”
When he opened up the book of Galatians, he opened it with such thunderous rebuke that he says at the end of the first onslaught, verse 10, “Am I now seeking the favor of men or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I’m still trying to please men I wouldn’t be a slave of Christ.” We all know this in ministry; we are answerable to the one who examines our hearts.
First Corinthians 4, Paul says, “It’s a small thing to me what men think of me. It’s a small thing to me what my reputation is. But the one who knows my heart, He’s the one that concerns me. Someday I’ll stand before Him.”
Simple statement he makes in verse 5: “God is witness. God is witness. We never came with flattering words, flattering speech. As you know, never came with a pretext for greed. We didn’t come greedy and hiding it. We didn’t come because we were in ministry for the money – ” which characterizes all false teachers, all of them. Scripture says they’re all in it for the money. God is witness. Everybody in ministry has to remember that: God is witness.
First Chronicles 28:9, “The Lord searches all hearts. Revelation 2:23, Christ said, “I am He that searches the heart.” It’s not just what we do, it’s why we do what we do, and who we are in the doing. “I didn’t come with flattery.” The word in the Greek has the idea of exploitation. By the way, flattery is always a bad thing. It’s always a bad thing.
Proverbs 29:5 sums it up. Listen to this: “A man who flatter his neighbor is spreading a net for his steps.” Whoever flatters you is trapping you for his own personal gain.
Psalm 12: “They speak falsehood to one another; with flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.” And then this: “May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that speaks great things. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips.” Proverbs 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth works ruin.”
Flattery is based on the sin of ego, sin of pride. People love to hear good things about themselves, so you call them into a big auditorium, say you’re a preacher, and say all kinds of good things about them. Scripture says your lips should be cut off. You say that as a ploy, that’s a ploy to gain their interest for your own promotion, for your own elevation. To gain power over people, you flatter to gain power over people. There are preachers today who exercise that flattering power very successfully. But that was not Paul. He did what he did, realizing that he did it only for the Lord his God, and that marked him with accountability.
Look at the end of verse 5 – I’ll sneak a couple more in here: “Nor with a pretext for greed, nor with a pretext for greed, to gain money, possessions, hiding one’s real intent.” A pretext is a cloak, a covering for the sake of appearance: you’re in it for the money.
No, Paul was just the opposite. He says in Acts 20, “I’ve coveted no man’s silver, no man’s gold, no man’s clothing.” In fact, he says, “I worked with my hands to provide my own living and the living of everybody with me.” In fact, what marked him was generosity. You can add that to accountability. He was the opposite of greedy, he was generous. He spent much time traveling in Asia to collect money to take back to the poor saints. He never wanted money from anyone; coveted no man’s silver, no man’s gold, no man’s clothing. This is a man marked by generosity.
And then in verse 6 – this is kind of the pinnacle – he was also consumed wit God’s glory, and that marked him with humility. “Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
He didn’t want honor, he didn’t want esteem, he didn’t want praise, he didn’t want cathedrals named after him or cities. Present active participle: “We don’t seek glory. We don’t seek honors, awards, laurels, strokes, appreciation, accolades, applause, prestige. The only thing that we seek, the only thing that we seek is God’s glory; not ours, just God’s.”
Over in verse 12 he kinds of sums up the whole section by saying his desire is that the people he ministers to “ walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” All he wanted to do was walk in a way that brought glory to God. The only glory he ever sought was eternal. That was the only glory he looked forward to.
He could have asserted himself because he was, after all, an apostle. He could have thrown his apostolic weight around, but he didn’t. So here is a man, amazing, confident in God’s power; committed to God’s truth, to doing God’s will; accountable to God who saw and knew everything about him; devoted to a pure life with no interest in personal gain; seeking no glory from men, even though as an apostle might have asserted his authority.
And then he just closes it out with one final brief section – and I’m just going to comment ever so quickly on it: He was compassionate toward God’s children. He was compassionate for God’s children. He had a deep down heart for those who belonged to Christ and had been put into his trust, verse 7: “We prove to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection 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 very dear to us.”
Here is a man who knew the power of God, was committed to the truth of God, lived a pure life, obedient to the will of God, accountable to God, seeking only to please God. But everything wasn’t all heavenward. Eventually, that defined how he dealt with people. He was compassionate toward the children of God, gentle among you, nēpios – mild, kind, implies compassion, patience, tenderness, love.
How gentle was he? As a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. A nursing mother? Why? Because he had a fond affection. The word means “to long for someone.”
By the way, that word that is used here – having a fond affection – is found on gravestones in the ancient world to describe parents’ sad yearning for a dead child. “Deep affection, compulsive affection, to the degree that we – ” he says; and he’s always including Silas and Timothy and those who are faithful gospel ministers with himself “ – to the degree that we were well-pleased – ” verse 8 “ – to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
“We love you.” That’s from agapētos. “We love you.” This is the mark of a man who is powerful and effective in ministry. He has the loving compassion of a mother, as well as the steel hardness of a warrior and a soldier. This is a simple testimony, but a profound model for all who serve the Lord to follow. Could say more, but time is gone. Let’s pray.
Father, we know that the end of all of this is stated in verse 12, as we read. People we serve would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. It is on the heart of Paul to be all of this, to please You, but also to see the people in his care walk in a worthy way.
Father, we thank You that You have called us to ministry. We may not all be pastors or preachers or spiritual leaders, but this is a model for all ministers, because ministers need to be a model for all Christians. We all need to have the same kind of spiritual integrity. We all need to be characterized by boldness, purity, faithfulness to the truth. We all need to be selfless. We all need to maintain accountability to You, submitting to Your will joyfully, thankfully. We all need to demonstrate that our lives are given over to the glory that belongs to You and not to anyone else. We all need to demonstrate that wonderful compassion and loving care toward each other that should mark the body of Christ.
So here is ministry. Here is this amazing example of a man who as strong as a man could be in Your strength, and as tender at the same time as a man could be, we pray, Lord, that You will raise up such men: selfless, faithful, compassionate, bold, courageous, unselfish, generous – all these things we’ve seen in him. And, Lord, we need to know again and be reminded that You’re concerned about who we are and what we teach, not the results.
Take heed to yourself and your doctrine. Get your life right. Be the man you should be, be the woman you should be, and proclaim the truth; and we leave the results to You. It’s faithfulness that You bless. It’s faithfulness that You honor. And You’re the one who knows, and we rest in that. And may we all live as Paul did, boldly saying, “As God is witness, I serve for His glory.” Thank You for the richness of this text tonight, in Christ’s name. Amen.