This is the second in a series of articles on 1 Thessalonians that appeared in The Evangelical Magazine
There is a sort of preacher likely to succeed with God's help. Preachers, all who pray for them and all who witness should know what they are like. Paul was very successful in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13 we read how.
Preaching can make little impact. We may think it will never succeed. Let's try something else! But what happened in Thessalonica? Paul reminds them. His visit was not a failure. Previously, in Philippi, he and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. Every convert was hard won. No doubt it was tempting to be discouraged on coming to pagan Thessalonica. But with God's help (that is important) they boldly evangelised despite strong opposition. They kept preaching regardless and did not tone it down. We must be bold, not letting opposition deter. Look to God and evangelise. Let people know. It is their only hope. Only certain preachers will succeed, like Paul in Thessalonica.
1. Avoid error, impure motives, trickery Paul avoided deceit, impurity or tricking people. There are apparently successful preachers who are false, impure in motive, mere tricksters. On the contrary, we must be true, genuine, honest, preaching God's Word. It is one reason expository preaching is important - to be sure it stays true. Preaching must not be motivated by desire for applause, money or merely winning the argument. Gimmicks are a distraction. The best preaching, the sort God most often uses, is straightforward, unvarnished, plain. That is what pleases him. Successful preachers see they are stewards entrusted with God's Word. They want not to please men but God, who tests our hearts. They seek his approval. Like the best translator they aim not to show off or add anything but to give the true meaning. Pray for such preaching. The ASA expect adverts to be legal, decent and honest. Try to be true, genuine and honest when you witness. Pray preachers will do the same.
2. Avoid flattery, selfishness; humble people It is good to identify with an audience but flattery is inconsistent with faithful preaching. Somehow preachers must spell out the bad news – our utter sinfulness, our hopeless state without God. Born in sin, we are totally depraved and, religious or not, outside Christ, without hope. Preaching must not be a cover up for greed. Never think of what you will get out of it. Faithful preachers seek the good of their hearers. To adapt Kennedy's words - “ask not what you might get out of evangelism, ask what you can do for others through your evangelism”! We need preaching that exalts God and humbles people. Paul did not look for human praise, he was not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. Inner sincerity is vital. The late Bob Sheehan, as a student out preaching, was once told “if an old man at the back leaves in the last hymn, don't worry Dr Lloyd-Jones always does that”. How unnerving! But Bob thought a bit and saw the real challenge is to preach before God. That is who we should be most conscious of. Pray for that sort of preaching. Preach Christ without flattery or selfishness; for God's glory, not to please men.
3. Have a lifestyle that backs up the message Paul goes on to speak of his lifestyle. He compares himself to a mother (literally a nurse, perhaps with her own children) and a father. He explains (6-8) how he and his team avoided being a burden and were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. He refers particularly to his decision not to expect financial support. Admittedly, it was only a short time but he acted from concern for the people. He showed motherly gentleness and care, not wanting to burden them. Preachers must preach and live like mothers, who have God-given authority over their children but are tender and gentle. Faithful preachers must not be harsh, frightening away those who are genuinely interested. They should be winsome. Children, especially when afraid, run to mothers not from them. Paul tells them further he loved them so much that he was delighted to share with them not only the gospel …. but his life as well, as were others, because they had become so dear to them. So it is in successful, God wrought preaching. A bond builds between preacher and people that cannot be easily broken.
4. Be holy, righteous, blameless At the same time, like all faithful preachers, Paul was a father. He reminds them (9-12) of his toil and hardship, how they worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached … For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children … His life was marked by holiness, righteousness and blamelessness. Part of this desire not to burden them made him careful to be pious, upright, faultless in his approach, fearing to do anything burdensome. Often unbelievers hearing the gospel are sceptical, ready to seize on anything to oppose the preacher and deny his message. Paul would not allow that but worked hard to avoid it. Then there is his fatherly encouraging, comforting and urging all to live God-worthy lives. In a fatherly way, he did all he could to encourage and comfort, to urge them to lives worthy of God, who calls such people into his kingdom and glory. Again he piles up words. He got alongside them, doing all he could to help them, promoting a life worthy of God, calls people out of Satan's kingdom of darkness into God's glorious kingdom of light. Again, it is the gold standard but we need such preachers. Pray God will raise them up. Pray to be like it yourself.
5. Pray it will be received as God's Word Finally, Paul says he thanks God continually (13) for how his message was received - not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. Here is the piece de resistance. The Thessalonians had never heard anything like it. They knew it was not man's word but God's at work in them by his power and grace. That is the amazing thing about this sort of preaching. We hear so much bad preaching and preach so many bad sermons we doubt if it can be effective but how wonderful when the Word comes with power and people see by faith it really is God's Word.