Last week, in chapter one, we learned the faith of the Christians in the Thessalonian Church was a witness to not only others within the city of Thessalonica, but in the entire region around them. The truth of the gospel was lived out in their lives, and the words of Jesus’ truth was heard and accepted by many because of the holy witness these Christians bore with them. Because of this, Paul can speak with assurance when he says the gospel he sowed in Thessalonica did not come up hollow or empty, but was fruitful and made full in them and through them.
Throughout this passage Paul speaks to the people of the Thessalonian Church explaining to them not only is the work of the gospel not void or empty of purpose, he then goes on explaining how he came to them. What he did as he lived his life among them and the way in which we brought the gospel to them. Although it is believed Paul writes these words as a way of defending himself against people, who are lost to us due to the distance of time, but who would have been well known to these those to whom he wrote. The influence of those, whom we believe were working to discredit Paul, were enough of a disturbance that Paul felt he needed to remind the Thessalonian Christians how he brought the gospel to them and the methods and the means he employed or did not employ, which allowed them to hear and receive the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Christians, like Paul, we are all entrusted with the message of the gospel, to bear it with us where ever we go. To further the kingdom and bear witness to the love, grace and forgiveness found in Jesus Christ to those within our influence; our friends, our family, our neighbors, the people with whom we interact on a regular basis. This is the calling of each and every Christian. We are called to share the love given to us, the truth we know and to live lives which speak of Christ’s love, forgiveness and salvation in all we do, as well as sharing the truth of the gospel with our words.
Although it would be easy to set Paul’s words aside, believing they are perhaps only for those who are called specifically to the work of an evangelist, or perhaps they are directed more toward, our missionaries, our denominational leaders, and our preachers, than to the average Christian worshiping a pew or joining us online this morning, this in truth would not be the right thing to do. These words Paul used to bring the truth of the gospel, the salvation of Jesus Christ to the people of Thessalonica about the means and methods he use when he brought the Gospel to Thessalonica can teach us about how we too can be faithful witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ to those we encounter in our own lives.
Paul begins by explaining he came to them with courage. As much as we can all accept bearing witness to the truth of the love, grace, forgiveness and salvation of Jesus Christ is the calling and the role of every Christian, it does not come easy to any of us. Sharing our faith is scary, especially when it seems so many in our world are loath to hear it. For so many reasons, many around us are often antagonistic to hearing the truth of the Gospel. Perhaps in the past you attempted to share the gospel. Perhaps it did not go well, your efforts were rejected, you were hurt by that rejection, it stung or the harsh words spoken to you bore down deep into your soul like a parasite sapping you of the boldness you once had.
Paul is no stranger to rejection, violent rejection at that. Paul was chased out of one town, had to be smuggled out of another town in a basket, was imprisoned and would ultimately die, all for sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone who would listen. Paul is well aware, sharing the gospel takes courage, especially after you have been hurt and rejected for doing so. Yet, Paul reminds us, even after all that he had endured prior to coming to Thessalonica, he declared to them the truth of the gospel with courage and boldness anyway.
The Courage and the boldness Paul had, did not come from within himself, for if it was his own strength and power with which he bore witness, it would be nothing, but he relied on the courage afforded him by Jesus Christ. Whenever we find ourselves immersed in the fear which can come upon us when we think about sharing our faith, we can rely Jesus Christ to give us the strength, the boldness and the courage we need, just as Paul had to each time he bore witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Secondly Paul tells us he did not share the gospel with impure motives. He did not employ any means of trickery. When I was younger trickery was actually a method of drawing people into the Church. I cannot remember exactly how it was used but the phrase I remember was that we were “to bring them to Jesus either by hook or by crook.” The person went on to explain a sort of bait and switch program to bring people to the church and hopefully get them saved. It was a “the ends justify the means” sort of plan, where as long as they come to Jesus it did not matter what methods we employed.
By proclaiming this was not a method he used when he brought the truth of the gospel to them, we can conclude that trickery of any kind is not a proper way to draw people into faith in Jesus Christ. It may seem obvious to say, but I will say it anyway, the manner and the methods we employ when sharing the gospel cannot be themselves be un-Christ-like.
Jesus Christ never attempted to trick or fool people. Those we the methods of those who were seeking to work against Jesus, never the methods of our Savior. If Paul’s words are not enough to discourage us from any kind of “crook” method of bearing witness to the love of Jesus Christ, the ways Jesus himself taught should be the example. Bringing people to Christ using any means which are in themselves dishonest, is not to be used by people who are seeking to follow the model of Jesus Christ.
Paul did not come to them with trickery, nor did he come with words of flattery. He did not come seeking to sway them with honey speech that was sugar and sweetness and held no substance. He gave them the truth of the gospel plain and simple, nothing more, nothing less and most especially he did not sugar coat it to make it more palatable. It is the difference between a hearty healthy breakfast and a sugary sweet one. When I think of the difference, I think of the “farmer’s breakfast” Mike makes for worship brunch (Oh worship brunch . . .when will it ever be safe for us to do something that like again?), you know the dish, eggs, and bacon, and cheese, and potatoes and peppers. It is so good (it is my mama’s dish btw). That is a good breakfast!
Then you have donuts. We recently went apple picking and bought apple cider donuts, now apple cider with apple cider donuts is an enjoyable breakfast. Who does not love apple cider donuts? But it is not hearty, nor is it in any way shape or form healthy. The way I see it is you can have apple cider donuts for breakfast, or you can Farmer’s Breakfast. One is all sugary sweet and full of calories, the other is full of protiens and nutrients and all sorts of things (now we can argue over the healthiness of the cheese and the bacon, but I think you get my meaning). When we come with the gospel we need to give people the hearty, warm, healthy meal, not the donut.
Whenever Paul preached the gospel there was only One whom he was attempting to please. He preached, he taught, he gave witness and shared the truth of the gospel to gain the praise of God and God alone. He did not bring the gospel to them in hope of earning the praise of others. He was not hoping to please any human being when he shared the gospel, not his parents, not his fellow apostles or others who were teaching and preaching alongside of him. He was definitely not seeking to gain the praise or adoration of the local leaders, in the city or the synagogue, and most especially not the praise of the governing bodies of world around him. They were after all what would eventually put him to death. Giving witness to the love of Jesus Christ cannot be done to gain the approval or praise of others.
Finally, Paul lets us know that did he come for any selfish reasons such as greed, hoping of gaining support from them so that he may profit. I would hope that none of us would ever resort to sharing the gospel for selfish gain. On the surface of it actually sounds kind of ridiculous. I mean, I know I am not getting rich doing this. And I am sure it has never occurred to any of you that bearing witness to the truth of the gospel would result in any kind of profit for you, but unfortunately the world is full of people we can point to who have used the sharing of the gospel and the truth of Jesus Christ to benefit themselves, either fulfilling their lust for power or lining their pockets with the donations of devote people who trust them.
Now that we know exactly what Paul did not do when he bore witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, he explains to us the manner in which he did come. He came to them with gentleness, like a nursing mother tending to her children, with deep care and concern. As a mother myself, this metaphor, which Paul uses here resonates with me.
I can think of very few moments that the mere memory of invokes more tender care, more gentleness and deep concern as the memory of nursing my own daughters. Nothing is more tender, more honest, more sincere than the love and care felt between a mother and a child in the deeply intimate, vital and inherently life giving act of nursing.
The way we bear witness to the gospel to others should be like that! When a mother feeds a child in this way she is literally giving of herself to that child to nourish them and sustain them. Our giving, our sharing of the gospel should be that kind of self-giving, (self-emptying dare I say) love, done out of tenderness, out of deep care.
Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is an act of investment in the life and well-being of the one with whom we are sharing. It is an act of intimacy that is best when done with one with whom we are in relationship. The kindness and the deep concern for the other comes from knowing the other, from being in a mutual relationship of trust, where the act of sharing the gospel comes naturally out of the relationship. Bringing the gospel to one with whom we are in relationship will then, not be done selfishly, or with trickery or even words of flattery, but will be done with sincere concern and love for the other.
Build relationship, real relationship with others, enter into life with them, care about the things they care about. Laugh with them, celebrate with them, sorrow with them, bear their burdens. Walk with them and as you do so, live so that they see Christ in you. As you do so, speak so that they hear the love of Jesus in your words. And show them with your kindness and your gentleness and your love, the love of Christ. Share with others with whom you are in relationship the truth of the gospel. Tell them how Jesus is transforming your life, your attitudes and actions. Let them know your struggles and your victories as you are becoming the Christian God is calling you to be. Be like a mother, giving of herself to her children when you are walking beside them. Tell the truth, give them a good breakfast, but do so with the loving tenderness of a mother feeding her children.