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1 THESSALONIANS 2:1-12 - Not In Vain

Real Gospel for Real People  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:26
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The Gospel belongs to God; we must proclaim it on His terms, not ours

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When you read the Apostle Paul’s letters, it seems as though the prospect that he was wasting his time in ministry was something that weighed on him. In 1 Corinthians 15, he writes
1 Corinthians 15:1–2 (ESV)
1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
And in Philippians 2 he exhorts the church in Philippi to
Philippians 2:16 (ESV)
16 [hold] fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
The prospect of laboring in vain is much on his mind in Galatians—he says that he went to the other apostles in Jerusalem to have his understanding of the Gospel evaluated by them “in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain” (Gal. 2:2). And in Galatians 4 he writes
Galatians 4:11 (ESV)
11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.
And in 1 Thessalonians he describes his anxiety over the prospect of laboring in vain that compelled him to send Timothy to visit them:
1 Thessalonians 3:5 (ESV)
5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
I think sometimes we have an elevated view of men like Paul—an Apostle of Christ, with spiritual authority and power, inspired by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. We tend to think that men like that strode through life with ironclad assurance that everything they did in ministry would be inevitably successful. But we can see here that Paul regularly considered the possibility that his ministry might not succeed. (I think this is part of what Paul is writing about in 2 Corinthians 11:28 when he is listing his sufferings and says that “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”)
So let me ask you, Bethel Baptist Church—if the Apostle Paul considered that he might be ministering in vain, what does that mean for our ministries here? If Paul realized that all his labors might go for nothing, then what assurance do we have that we’re not wasting our time in our labors?
Consider again the first verse of our text this morning:
1 Thessalonians 2:1 (ESV)
1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain(!)
So here in this passage, Paul says he is confident that his ministry to the Thessalonians was not a waste of time; that his labor among them was not in vain! He knows it was not in vain because of the good report Timothy brought back:
1 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV)
6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you...
So here in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 we have an example of what ministry that is not a waste of time looks like—a ministry that results in people who bear good fruit of holiness in their walk with Christ. And so I want us to delve into this passage together so that we can see what that looks like—so that we can evaluate our ministries here at Bethel in light of how Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians here in these verses.
And I believe the key to this is found in the way Paul refers to the Gospel in this passage—see if you can pick up on it:
1 Thessalonians 2:2 (ESV)
2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
1 Thessalonians 2:8 (ESV)
8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:9 (ESV)
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Now, the phrase “the Gospel of God” can either mean that it is the Gospel—the Good News—about God, or it can mean that it is the Good News that belongs to God. I think that it is appropriate to read that phrase both ways, but for our time together this morning I want to take it in the sense that reminds us that God is the Author of the Gospel—it is His message that He has entrusted to us. And when we remember that, then we are on track to have a ministry that is not a waste of time.
So the way I want to say it this morning is:
We will not minister in vain when we REMEMBER that the Gospel BELONGS to God, not US
We are never in greater danger of wasting our time in ministry than when we begin thinking that we have the right to minister this Gospel message in the way that suits us best—according to our own preferences or our own ideas. That we can alter it or re-tool it or dress it up according to our own whims or tastes, or that the way we live our lives as Gospel-bearers is inconsequential.
But if the Gospel belongs to God, then we have no right to tamper with it or change it or use it to serve our own ends—if we do that, we will find that we have labored in vain.
The first example comes to us in verses 1-2 of the chapter:
1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 (ESV)
1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
We are tempted to avoid confrontation, or seek the path of least resistance—but

I. The Gospel will not be INTIMIDATED by anyone (vv. 1-2)

Consider what Paul and Silas had been through in Philippi in Acts 16—falsely accused of crimes, flogged and imprisoned in violation of Imperial law. Philippi was their first introduction to ministry in Greece—you would think they could be excused for wanting to “take it easy” and not go so hard when they got to Thessalonica.
But that’s not the way God’s Gospel is meant to go forward, is it?
It is accompanied by BOLDNESS (v. 2; cp. Acts 4:31)
Paul and Silas didn’t hold back when they got to Thessalonica because of the treatment they got in Philippi, did they? They had boldness in our God to declare God’s Gospel message. Notice that this boldness didn’t come from their own hearts, did it? It was “boldness in God” that gave them their courage. We see God doing the same thing for Peter and John and the rest of the Apostles in Acts 4 after they were arrested for healing the lame man at the Temple:
Acts 4:31 (ESV)
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
God’s Gospel isn’t intimidated by anyone; He gives His people boldness as they declare it.
God’s Gospel is accompanied by boldness, and
It accepts CONFLICT (v. 2; cp. Matt. 10:34-36)
Note that Paul says in verse 2 that they had boldness to declare the Gospel of God “in the midst of much conflict”. Our natural tendency is to avoid conflict and turmoil. We don’t want to ruffle feathers, we don’t want to cause arguments. And surely that’s not a bad thing—you don’t want to be the person who always initiates arguments and friction.
But at the same time we need to understand that conflict and friction caused by declaring the Gospel isn’t a bug; it’s a feature! It is an inescapable fact that the Gospel divides. That’s what it does. This is precisely what Jesus was saying in Matthew’s Gospel when He said
Matthew 10:34–36 (ESV)
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
One of the great victories that the secularists have won over Christians in our day is to say that they are being mean when they talk about the Gospel. That when you declare to someone that they are guilty before God and that their only hope to escape His eternal wrath in Hell is the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the Cross, and that they need to repent of their sins and call on Him in faith—that’s mean. It will hurt their feelings. It will cause them emotional trauma. Don’t be mean to people!
And so all too often, because we don’t like conflict, and we don’t like being called “mean”, we find ways around those parts of the Gospel message that might be considered “hurtful” or “judgmental”. Instead of the Gospel being our escape from the wrath of almighty God we say that it is “the key to human flourishing”. Instead of the hideousness of sin, we talk about “bad choices” or “mistakes”. Instead of telling people to flee to the blood of Jesus Christ to escape the wrath of almighty God in eternal torment, we say that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
But we do not have the authority to re-define the Gospel. It is not our message. It is God’s.
We are tempted to soft-sell the Gospel, but

II. The Gospel does not MANIPULATE anyone (vv. 3-6)

Look at what Paul says in verses 5-6:
1 Thessalonians 2:5–6 (ESV)
5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
When you remember that this Gospel message does not belong to you, you
Refuse to be a PEOPLE pleaser (vv. 5-6)
One of the surest ways to labor in vain, beloved, is to take God’s Gospel and water it down so that it doesn’t “offend” anyone. A Gospel that offends no one is a gospel that can save no one. We live in an age that loves to be flattered; Paul would have none of that. We live in an age that loves to get glory for ourselves; but Paul had no time to try to find some kind of fame for himself as he declared this Gospel. If it caused him to be ejected from polite company, if he “lost his place at the table”, if he got “cancelled” for his uncompromising declaration of the salvation of sinners by the blood of Christ, so be it. Paul refused to bend or twist or dilute the power of the Gospel, because that message didn’t belong to him.
We will not labor in vain when we remember that the Gospel belongs to God—we will not be people pleasers, but we will
Insist on being PLEASING to GOD (vv. 3-4)
1 Thessalonians 2:3–4 (ESV)
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Paul was acutely aware that he had been “entrusted with the Gospel”—and so he understood that he would answer to God someday for that trust. He was on guard against error as he declared the Gospel. Doctrine matters, getting the Gospel right matters, our personal holiness matters, honesty and transparency matters in our evangelism, because we will answer to God someday for what we have done. If we are careless about the truth of the Gospel, if we declare the forgiveness of sins while letting sin run rampant in our own lives, if we are willing to bring people into our ministries under (if not false) then inaccurate pretenses, then we will answer to God for that someday. If we manipulated people’s emotions, if we played on their greed or their pride or their laziness in order to attract them to our church, with contests and prize drawings and concerts and special events, and then when they come in we water down the Gospel to some feel-good moral platitude (if we mention it at all), then we will have to answer to God for that manipulation.
But we will never labor in vain when we remember that the Gospel belongs to God—and He has revealed in His Word how it is to be proclaimed. The Gospel is not intimidated by anyone, it does not manipulate anyone, and

III. The Gospel draws us to DELIGHT in everyone (vv. 7-8)

Look at verses 7-8. Paul says that they did not come to the church with flattery or manipulation or lies or greed,
1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 (ESV)
7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
The word translated “affectionately desirous” (Gk. homeiromai) appears only here in the entire New Testament. Paul doesn’t describe his love for any other church in this way; it carries the idea of longing for them, deeply missing them, wanting to go back and see them again. I think there are two characteristics of Gospel ministry we can draw from these verses. Paul describes his conduct among them as being like a nursing mother taking care of her own children—among other things, that kind of love means that
We will LOVE without CONDITIONS
Is there any more unconditional love in this world than a mom’s love for her children? Even on the days when they are driving her all kinds of crazy, a mom would still give her life in a heartbeat for any one of them. No matter what they get into.
Paul says here that the way he declared the Gospel to the Thessalonians was driven by that kind of unconditional love. And this is instructive for us to remember, because the truth is that this Gospel message is so dear to us. This Gospel is our life; we love this message! This Good News is the most precious treasure we have—and when you show someone your greatest treasure and offer it to them and they say, “No—that’s stupid!”, our temptation is to push them away as a result: “They rejected the Gospel when I offered it to them; they’re not worth my time!”
But when we love people without conditions, it means that we will love them even if they reject the Gospel—we can still enjoy our friendships with them, still give them a special place in our affections, even though they do not respond when we share the Gospel with them. Because it is not our Gospel, is it? It is not us that they are rejecting, is it? And so what better reason to keep loving them, keep enjoying them, keep delighting in them with unconditional love?
We’re tempted to cut people loose if they reject the Gospel because it hurts when someone rejects the very message that you love most of all. But when we remember that the Gospel belongs to God and not us, we will accept the possibility that we might be rejected--\
We will RISK being HURT
Paul did not put up walls between himself and the people he ministered to—he did not only share God’s Gospel, he freely gave his own self to them!
That’s a hard thing—putting not just the Gospel on the line, but your own heart as well. Ministering to people can’t be done with a forty-foot pole: Nudging them this way and that way to keep them on track. Gospel ministry is an essentially intimate endeavor. You will always be giving away little pieces of your heart to people who may very well turn their back on you—or stab you in the back. One of ht saddest places to see this sort of thing is in some pastors’ gatherings where someone has given his heart away so often to people who have gone on to spurn and reject them that they become embittered and calloused. They no longer trust anyone, they have built walls to protect themselves from ever doing what Paul said he did with the Thessalonians—they will never share their own selves with anyone ever again.
But if it is God’s Gospel you are proclaiming, then you cannot simply refuse to give of yourself when you minister. You cannot simply wall yourself off from the risk of being hurt—this Gospel of God came to you at the expense of Jesus’ own broken heart! If He was despised and rejected of men so that He could work this salvation for you, then He will surely see and remember all of the heartbreak you suffer as you share His Gospel!
When we remember that the Gospel belongs to God, we will never labor in vain—the Gospel is not intimidated by anyone; it does not manipulate anyone; it drives us to delight in everyone, and see in verses 9-12 that

IV. The Gospel drives us to HONORABLE conduct (vv. 9-12)

1 Thessalonians 2:9–12 (ESV)
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Even though Paul was not a “people pleaser”, he still demonstrated that it is important
To be known for HONEST LABOR (vv. 9-10)
Notice how over and over in this passage Paul calls the Thessalonians to recall how Paul and Timothy and Titus behaved when they were with them. It is wrong to be a flatterer or a manipulator, always testing the winds to see how to ingratiate yourself to the people you want to minister to. But at the same time, how you behave does matter when you bring the Gospel! God’s Gospel cannot be accompanied by laziness or mediocrity in your work. Face it—if everyone else at work is always taking up your slack or cleaning up your mess or burdened with more work on their plate because of your carelessness, don’t be shocked when they don’t think much of your Gospel!
Let your conduct be blameless, Paul says. Not perfect, but free from accusations of laziness or carelessness. As we saw earlier, don’t try to share the Good News of forgiveness of sins in Christ while you are letting sin run rampant in your own life. The surest way to labor in vain is to call people to repentance for their rebellion against God while at the same time being full of pious pride over your Christianity! Of proclaiming freedom from captivity to sin while you are bound up in gossip or greed or bitterness.
The Gospel of God drives us to honest conduct—it drives us to be known for honest labor, and it drives us
To seek EXCELLENCE that SURPASSES us (vv. 11-12)
Look at verses 11-12:
1 Thessalonians 2:11–12 (ESV)
11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
As Paul compared his delight in the Thessalonians to a godly mother’s unconditional love for her children, so he compares himself here to a godly father’s exhortation to his own children. The ancient Greeks had a saying to the effect that a son is the only man that a father is willing to be surpassed by. Nothing makes a good father happier than to see his sons (and his daughters) go farther than he ever did, become wiser and more skilled than he ever could.
There is no surer way to labor in vain than to be a ministry leader who always has to be the smartest person in the room—that can never admit that someone else has a better understanding of the Scriptures or a deeper walk with Christ or a better idea for an outreach. There is no quicker way to kill a ministry than to be the person who has to get all the credit, who has to be recognized all the time, who wants to make sure everyone knows it was their idea to pursue a particular work.
Paul wasn’t threatened or intimidated by the good report that he heard back from Timothy about the Thessalonians’ growth in their faith, any more than a dad is threatened because his son passes his high school athletic record or gets a bigger buck or lands a better paying job than he did. A godly dad is delighted to see his children go further than he did, and the Apostle Paul was delighted to know that his children in the faith were growing and maturing in their walk with Christ. Paul wasn’t worried that he would lose his status among them as they matured in their faith; he rejoiced to see that his labor among them was not in vain.
Beloved, if we would be free from the anxiety of whether we are wasting our time in ministry or not, we must begin by remembering that this Good News is God’s Gospel—He is the author of it, not us. We don’t have the right to change it or adapt it or water it down in order to suit an unfriendly age. Even if it creates conflict, we must not abandon it. Even if it makes us unpopular, we must not try to soften its message. Because while it is the Good News that comes from God, it is also the Good News about God!
The Good News is that the infinitely holy and righteous God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, the God who has commanded His will in His Law, the God who sees and remembers every time you have broken that Law and who has promised that His wrath will surely fall on everyone who has broken His Law, the God Whose promises can never be broken, the God who has prepared eternal punishment for everyone who has broken His Law and rebelled against His word--
This God has prepared an escape from His wrath by sending Jesus Christ, God Himself in human flesh to take your punishment in your place! The Good News of God is that He offers you forgiveness! The Good News about God is that He has promised that all of your sin will be cancelled out by the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross! The Good News of God is that He is not condemning you as your Judge but calling you as a Father! This Good News of God is that no matter how you got here today, no matter what you have done, no matter where you have been or what has been done to you, no matter what shame or guilt or corruption has consumed you, you can be free of it today! As stewards of this Gospel, we are compelled in our joy to offer it to you this morning: Come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Jude 24–25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.


What are some reasons so many people view Christians as phony or fake? How does our misunderstanding of our relationship to the Gospel message contribute to that bad reputation?
How does reckoning that the Gospel belongs to God change the way we think about the conflict that comes from faithfully proclaiming the Good News?
Why is it so difficult for us to face the risk of someone rejecting the Gospel when we share it with them? How does Paul’s example here in this passage instruct us?
How does Paul compare his relationship with the Thessalonians to mothers’ and fathers’ relationships to their children? What can we learn from His example that will guide our attitudes towards those we share the Gospel with?
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