Lot’s message to his sons-in-law was clear and urgent. “Up! Get you out of this place: for the Lord will destroy this city.” His message, however, was not compelling because the messenger was corrupt. “He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14). Why listen to a man who has spent his life accommodating the Sodomites for material advantage? Why pay attention to the warning of one who is willing to give his two morally pure, unmarried daughters to wicked men for them to abuse at their pleasure? Why pay attention to the one who was mentored by Abraham but seems not to live out any of the lessons he was taught? The message was fine, but the man was flawed. There is more to the message than the message itself.
E.M. Bounds said, “It takes twenty years to make the message because it takes twenty years to make the man.” Who the man of God is is as important as what he says.
The church at Thessalonica was a model church. After spending just three Sabbath days with these people, the Apostle Paul left behind a group who were “ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Acacia.” The manner in which he dealt with them in 1 Thessalonians 2 teaches us much about our responsibility as messengers of God.
The content of the message
Paul’s message consisted of “the Gospel of God.” In other words, his message was from God. It was from the Word of God. It was not Paul’s philosophy, Paul’s idea, or Paul’s belief. It was God’s truth delivered on God’s behalf by God’s servant to those who were to become God’s followers.
A famous preacher once told me personally (and on more than one occasion also stated publicly) that it was not always the preacher’s job to preach the Word. He quoted 2 Timothy 4:2 and said “Sometimes, the preacher is to reprove. Sometimes he is to exhort. Sometimes he is to rebuke, and sometimes he is to preach the Word.” I was thirty-five at that time and said to this well-known preacher, “That works well for you, but at my age and my stage in the ministry, I need the authority of the Word of God behind me when I preach.” Now, more than two decades later, I still need the authority of the Word of God behind me when I stand up to preach.
It is interesting to note that the verse he quoted begins with “preach the Word” and ends with “doctrine.” In other words, all our reproof, all our rebuke and all our exhortation are to be done with a foundation of the Word of God.
Paul always applied the message to the listener. He had as his goal that the Thessalonians would “walk worthy of God who hath called you into his kingdom and glory” (verse 12). A message which is not applied to the listener is not Bible preaching. There are those who love to have a clear outline with intriguing insights into Scripture and who, in a pleasant fashion, lay the truths out for their listeners.
Preaching is more than that. I am told that the Greek word for preach is the word for “the king’s herald.” The king’s herald, when he came, called the people to action. He might want them to get out of the way so the king could pass through, or to gather together so the king could speak to them, or to pay their taxes because the king had required that they do so. But some decision was required as a result of his message. Bible preaching applies the truth of God’s Word to the lives of the listeners and brings them to a point of decision.
The character of the man
Paul knew his good character was important in order for the Thessalonians to receive the message. He reminded them in 1 Thessalonians 2:10, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.”
The word unblameably indicates that there was no legitimate criticism which could be leveled against him. Those of us who wish to be used of God to produce Christ-like followers of the truth must emulate the Apostle Paul as he holily and justly and unblameably committed the truth to his Thessalonian converts.
The clarity of the motivation
Paul was not interested in pleasing men. He wrote, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts…. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:4, 6).
How easy it is for the preacher to base his opinion of the message’s effect on the response of the listeners. The more “amens,” the better the sermon must have been. The more compliments, the more God must have used it. The more people at the altar, the more effective it must have been. The truth is that some of the most important messages we preach may have some of the least visible positive response.
Paul’s true motivation was to please the Master. He recognized it was God who would try his heart.
The communication of the material
Even the way in which Paul preached was authentic. “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile” (verse 3). When Paul preached, he was bold, which means “Frank in utterance and confident in spirit.” He didn’t use deceit to manipulate the Thessalonians. He did not have a hidden agenda. He was not using what he preached to justify the wrong behavior of himself or others. He was simply, honestly, straightforwardly giving them the truth.
The compassion of the messenger
Paul’s genuine love backed up his message. “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (verse 7). What a picture! The visual we have in our minds of a preacher is often quite correctly a man of God, holding his Bible firmly, , bullets of sweat flying off his face as he thunders the judgment of God. Of course, this is scriptural. It is also just as scriptural to be gentle as a nursemaid with a baby.
It is clear that Paul deeply loved and cared about those to whom he ministered. He even told them, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.” Were these not inspired words, I would wonder if Paul was not gilding the lily. But here and elsewhere, he is instructed of the Holy Spirit to tell us that he was willing to suffer the loss of eternal salvation himself for the sake of his listeners. What a sacrificial attitude he displays!
The conduct of the minister
Paul worked hard for the Thessalonians. “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day…” (verse 9). This seems to be a reference to the fact that Paul supported himself by making tents and so worked two jobs, one for his physical survival and the second for the spiritual progress of his followers.
Paul labored for this reason: “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children” (verse 11). The goal of the Apostle Paul was not to have followers for himself but to build those who would faithfully follow God.
Dr. Don Sisk preached the funeral of a dear friend of his and mine who had taken his own life. After many years of fruitful, profitable, faithful ministry, it was shocking and disconcerting that such an event had taken place. How in the world would you deal with such a situation? Dr. Sisk, in a word, dealt with it perfectly. He asked early in the message, “What happens when a believer takes his own life?” and answered by saying, “The same thing that happens when any of us sin.” He proceeded to give extensive Scripture supporting his statement. Later in the sermon he honored the good parts of our brother’s life and extended comfort and sympathy to those who were hurting. Dr. Sisk embodied the spirit of the Apostle Paul in that sermon (as he does in all of his ministry). He exhorted and comforted and charged as a father does his children.
Our ministry does not consist of gathering followers so that they may support us, encourage us, or help us in any way. Our goal is to help people walk worthy of God.