Leading with Love (1 Thess. 2:1-6)
While in college, I worked at a drive-thru coffee shop in Southern California. I remember one particular night when our phone rang. I answered and a man said in a panic that he'd lost his ring. He was trying to retrace his steps and asked me to go outside and see if it had slipped off when he had come through our drive-thru. I took the handheld phone and went outside to look around. A man was standing nearby and asked what I was doing, so I told him I was looking for a ring that someone had lost. Imagine my surprise when he slowly opened the palm of his hand and showed me a shiny diamond ring! I told him I was on the phone with the owner of the ring, but the man said it belonged to him now; he wouldn't turn it over. I asked him if he could wait until the owner returned, but he said he was a grocery truck driver on his way to Arizona, and had to leave immediately. I explained the grim situation to the man on the phone, and he said the ring was very important to him. He asked me if I could just pay for the ring somehow, and then the owner would pay be back, along with $200 extra for the trouble it had caused me. When I asked how much it was worth, he said $1000. I said, "I don't have that kind of money!" Then he asked, "Couldn't you just take it out of the register?" Suddenly, I got a gut-wrenching feeling. It occurred to me that things may not be as they seemed. I apologized and said there was nothing more I could do to help, and hung up the phone. As the "truck-driver" walked away, I decided to watch him from a distance to see where he went. About 200 yards away, I saw a car pull up, pick up the man, and speed off. The whole thing had been a scam.
Things are not always as they seem. Con artists and identity thefts abound. We must all stay on the alert. In the same way, there are false teachers prowling about, looking for their next victim. On more than one occasion, Paul had to deal with these false teachers.
But in some churches, there was a surprising twist. Enemies of the gospel would accuse Paul of being the false teacher and the con artist. "This man was no apostle," the false teachers would say. Otherwise, why did he leave town so fast? And why was he asking for money?
This week and next week, I'd like to talk to you about leadership. In this passage, we see a description of biblical leadership so that we will know what kind of leaders we need at our church as well.
Let me share with you this morning THREE LAWS OF LEADERSHIP from our text...
Lead with Boldness
1 Thessalonians 2:1–2 says "For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 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."
On his second journey, God called Paul to leave Troas and sail over to Neapolis, which was the port, and then go inland just a short distance -- maybe about 10 miles -- to a large city called Philippi. Paul and Silas were in Philippi. This is described in Acts chapter 16. It says that God "open the heart" of a lady named Lydia. I love that description God "opened the heart." We should pray for our unbelieving family and friends, "God, would you open the heart of somebody that has a closed heart right now?" Those who have been rejecting the gospel seem hardhearted, but God can open their hearts to make them receptive, to make them open to the truth. And that's what God does for Lydia there. Lydia shares the gospel with her household, and her entire family is saved and baptized.
It says that Paul and the missionary team are preaching the gospel in the synagogue and in the community there in Philippi, when lo and behold a slave girl begins to taunt and ridicule and to say, "These men are servants of the Most High God." You'd think this is good thing but it's actually a distraction to their ministry. So Paul gets fed up with this girl disruptive and confusing and he actually just says to the demon "Get out of this girl!" Paul rescues this the slave girl from demonic possession, but the slave owner wasn't so happy about that because this girl had been a fortuneteller. She had been using Satanic powers to tell the future, and the owner was making a good profit off of it. Now suddenly, the demon is gone, the girl is just normal again, and she's in her right mind and the owner is outraged. So he begins to spread all kind of hatred and bitterness and the whole city erupts over these newcomers who come into town and are causing all kind of disruption. Everything was fine until Paul and Silas show up!
So the mob arrests Paul and Silas, they strip off their clothes, they take rods, and they begin to beat them over and over and over again. Then, when they have no more strength, they drag them into the prison - into the inner dungeon of the prison - of Philippi. Friend this was not a place you want to be - dirty, disgusting. Already they are bruised and bloodied, barely breathing at all, and now they're inside of the cell having no idea what could happen next. For all they know, they will be executed tomorrow morning. But you remember what it says in Acts 16? Silas and Paul in stocks, began to sing "It is Well...With my Soul." OK, well that song hadn't been written yet, but they were singing praises to God while in chains and shackles and stocks! And then there about midnight, there was an earthquake. The whole jail was shaking, the chains break off, Paul and Silas can go. And you remember there's this jailer in Philippi who takes his sword out to slice off his head or kill himself. "Wait sir!" They yell. Were still here. We haven't gone anywhere. He ask, "What must I do to be saved?" So they share the gospel with the Philippian jailer, he believes, and they share the gospel with his family. The next day, they leave the city.
I give all this background because there's been some great setbacks but there's also been some great victories. And a church has been planted, starting with people like Lydia and her family and this jailer and his family. And all of a sudden you have a core group to start a new gospel work in a new city that had never heard about Jesus Christ before.
There was a lot of persecution that next day Paul and Silas had to leave Philippi and it says here in verse two that they were "shamefully treated" at Philippi. They were not treated as Roman citizens. They didn't even get the rights that they had legally. They were shamefully treated at Philippi.
But as they rode out of the town of Philippi, Paul and Silas and the other missionaries didn't have a conference and say, "Okay guys, we've got to rethink our strategy here. What can we do to be more appealing to the crowds. Maybe we need to rethink this. Maybe we can we can spice it up and dress it up a little more so that people will be more welcoming to us. No. What they did is they went into the next city and they preached the gospel again and they started all over again with the message of the cross. So on the map, you can see they move from Philippi, briefly going through Amphipolis and Apollonia, and the look at this next city over here to the west: Thessalonica.
Just a few days after leaving Philippi, with all the memories fresh with their wounds literally still scabbed up and healing, they go into a new city and they start the preaching all over again. It says that "though they suffered already as you know we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict." And yes, there was conflict in Thessalonica, just like there had been in Philippi before that.
"Boldness." I like how the NIV translates this, "we dared to tell you the gospel." Sometimes sharing the gospel is a very daring and dangerous thing to do, but they were faithful. They were bold. And what does it say they were bold to declare? The gospel. They were bold to go back to that same message that everybody needs to hear: that we were created by God perfect, loving, obedient, in fellowship with God. But that man and woman in the Garden sinned against God, and rebelled against God, and all of us now are unrighteous. All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. All of us deserve God's punishment because He is a good, and a holy, and righteous God. God has to judge and punish us for our sins. We need to be reminded of what Ryan prayed a few moments ago: that we deserve God's judgment. We were blind and in darkness without hope. And yet God sent his son Jesus Christ to come into this world and rescue us from our sin to pluck us out of the wrath of God, and to give us eternal life, that all would believe on his death on the cross and turn from their sins and see that Jesus rose up on the third day. If you would believe that friend, you can have eternal life. All of your sins erased! All of the goodness and righteousness of Jesus now put upon you - credited to you - by simply believing. Not by doing good things, but by believing in Jesus Christ and His death, His burial, His resurrection.
Paul and Silas shared this wonderful message with the Thessalonian church even in the midst of much conflict. They were faithful and they were bold. Oh, how we need bold men of God.
Sometimes it's easy to do the right thing. I love those days when it's just easy to do the right thing. There's no pressure on you. Everybody else is doing the right thing and you're cheering one another on. You're all moving together in the right direction.
But there are other days when it is hard to do the right thing. In fact, it would be much easier to just compromise... just cave in a little bit to get somebody off of your back. But Paul and Silas didn't do that. The real test of leadership is when the right thing is difficult to do -- maybe when it's unpopular to do, when it's maybe even dangerous to do. Godly leaders do not cave in. They do not compromise. They are bold. And those are the kinds of leaders that we want to have here at First Southern Baptist Church. Men of God who love the Lord and have a passion for the gospel to see people saved. Men who have a burden for the lost, and a jealousy for God's glory. Right now, God is not being worshiped by most people in our Basin.
We need men who would say, "I will love for God, and for His name and His reputation and will care for the lost and will care for the sheep in our church." Men who would be bold and courageous regardless of what Satan tries to throw at us. To know that God is there with us. And if He is with us, who can be against us? We need to leave boldness.
Lead with Integrity
Secondly, we need leaders with integrity. In verse 3, Paul again continues to defend his credentials as an apostle - that he's the real deal. He's not a fake.
He says in verse three "For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 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."
I wish I could say that every pastor, and every elder, and every deacon, and every committee leader, and every church has the right motives. But that simply is not true. You know that. I know that. We see it on the nightly news. We see people, we hear stories, we've been in churches, where people have betrayed us and let us down. And why would Paul even say this except for the fact that he was being accused of these things? There are people who unfortunately are out there doing the "ministry of the gospel" so to speak, but really doing it from error and impurity and an attempt to deliberately deceive. There are people unfortunately who act that way.
The word "error" means "wandering," to be "led astray." Paul was not mistaken in his ministry. He hadn't made a miscalculation. He'd been radically saved on the road to Damascus! He knew the power of salvation to Jesus Christ, right? He'd been an enemy of the cross, and then one day, Jesus Christ spoke audibly out of heaven, the light blinded his eyes, he said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am calling you to go out into the Gentiles to reach them with the gospel." Paul knew the power of salvation. He knew the transformation power of the gospel. It wasn't out of error. It wasn't a mistake. Their ministry wasn't built on bad information. Don't ever second-guess yourself. If you trust the word of God, and if you search the Scriptures to make sure all the things are so, then be confident in the things you learn in Life Groups, in our Sunday morning worship service, that you read on your own, and that you listen to on the radio. Be discerning, but let it be said of us that we don't speak out of error. We know we have confidence, that this word is true, that we can trust it, and that we can't just somehow lose our mooring to be tossed every direction because somebody else says it's wrong. Let me tell you what's really right: trust the word of God. We know that this is the word of truth, and that we're sanctified by God's truth.
The apostles didn't speak out of error or speak as he says in verse three, "out of impurity." The idea here is "uncleanness," Whether it's sexual impurity, or impure motives like money or glory or fame or power, they weren't attempting to deceive anyone. You that's how the world wants to portray Christianity. A number of years ago some of us read the book or watched the movie by Dan Brown The Da Vinci Code. The whole premise was that the Christian church for the last 2000 years has been part of a master cover up to deceive people, and that the holy Grail was actually the wife of Jesus Christ known as Mary Magdalene! We can go to the word of God and see that that's not the case. Jesus Christ is full of light. He is the way the truth and the life. He's reliable. He's trustworthy. His word is trustworthy, without any error or mistakes in it. We have no error if we trusting in God, in his Son, and in His Word. And we as leaders in the church, we want to be people who do not spring out of error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but those who spring from truth and from purity an attempt to clarify - an attempt to focus people more on Jesus.
Deceiving and drawing people away are the tactics of the devil. Error, impurity, and attempt to deceive - those are Satan our deceiver and our Adversary's kind of tactics. Those are not the tactics of Jesus Christ. And I love how it says in verse four what motivates us here: "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 - and noticed this - God who tests our hearts. What was the ultimate motive for Paul and Silas and for the missionaries and for us as leaders? Ultimately, it wasn't him pressing to please someone else. It was to please God.
Friends, we can put on a show for an hour and half on a Sunday morning. Any of us can can dress up and stay on our best behavior for an hour half a week. But a better test of who we really are is how we live this afternoon, what we do tonight, how we speak tomorrow, how is our relationship Thursday - later on in the week when things get difficult and nobody else is necessarily watching except for God himself.
You know there's a difference between character and reputation. Reputation is what other people see about you, and what they think about you. It's good to have a positive reputation. But character is something even deeper. Character is who you are when nobody else is looking - nobody else except for God. It's who you really are beneath the surface. And that's what Paul says really matters.
We read earlier this morning from Jeremiah 17 that the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it? And the answer is: "I the Lord search the heart. I test the mind even to give each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds." Only God's opinion really matters. Other people may let you down. Other people might even slander you. But in the end, you are accountable to one person: God through Jesus Christ our Judge. You will stand before Him.
Perhaps you have been misrepresented by other people. Perhaps you've been mocked. Perhaps even been punished for things you didn't even do. But in that day, you will stand before Jesus who searches your heart and knows your mind - every thought that you've ever had. Every deed that you ever committed. And you will stand before Him, and He will judge you based on truth. Let's be pleasers of God who are concerned not so much about what other people think as we care about what God thinks.
In Galatians 1 Paul says in verse 10, "For I am now seeking the favor of men or of God? Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." Paul had a fork in the road to take. He could choose either to please and impress men (which is essentially what he was doing in his old life before Christ. All the Pharisees and the Sadducees loved the work that this young Saul was doing to persecute the church. He had all kinds of respect and honor.) But when he trusted in Christ, he decided, "I'm not going to please man anymore. I'm going to please God." And when Paul became a bondservant of God, he took that step to worship God and trust in God, no matter the consequences in this life.
Are you a people pleaser or God pleaser? I think we all struggle just from day-to-day. We want people's respect. We want peoples praise. We want them to the trust us and to like us. But we've got to be very, very careful. Whether it's the teenager who is being held by the peer pressure of friends all around them to just give in and do things the way to their friends are telling them to do it because everybody else is doing it. Or whether it's an employee in the office or out in the field and other people are talking about certain things and joking about certain things and making little ethical compromises. It's so easy to just cave in because we don't want to ruffle peoples feathers. We don't want to stir up the water. But you are accountable to God - not other people. Trust in the Lord. Know he is there watching. And when you obey, even when other people might put you down and persecute you, God smiles with pleasure because you've been obedient and honored Him.
Ed Welch deals with this issue of the "fear of man" in his book When People are Big and God is Small, He asks some penetrating questions...
*Have you ever struggled with peer pressure?
*Are you over-committed?
*Do you 'need' something from your spouse?
*Is self-esteem a critical concern for you?
*Do you ever feel as if you might be exposed as an impostor?
*Are you always second-guessing your decisions because of what others might think?
*Do you get easily embarrassed?
*Do you ever lie?
*Are you jealous of other people?
*Do other people often make you angry or depressed?
*Do you avoid people?
*Do you compare yourself to others?
These are all signs of an unhealthy fear of man. But let's join Paul and be God pleasers - men and women leaders who are willing to stand up and do the right thing even if nobody else joins us. Why? Because we know that we're accountable to God who tests our hearts.
Well, we've seen the importance of boldness and integrity. Let's look lastly this morning at sincerity.
Lead with Sincerity
Paul says down in verse five, "For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed - God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Jesus Christ."
Paul says here they didn't come with "words of flattery," talking highly about other people to to get in a little bit extra, to be able to find a little bit more favor.
The University of Texas did a study a number of years ago with the headline, "Sucking up is a Good Way to Get Ahead." In other words, say the right thing to the right people, and it may advance you a little bit in your career. They said in the study if you want to be successful in the business world, you may want to consider using "ingratiatory behavior." That's the term they use, "ingratiatory behavior." What does this look like? Flatter your superiors. Do personal favors. Frequently praise the CEO for their opinion, or your spouse, or other people in the church.
Encouragement is a good thing, right? Encouragement is a godly, biblical thing. We should encourage one another, lift up each other. We need to find those who are faithful and thank them for what they're doing. Pull somebody aside after the service today and thank them for their ministry. Look for those unsung heroes who are serving week after week, year after year, and perhaps are not in the limelight. Drop a card in the mail this week and just thank someone. Praise them. Give them a word of encouragement. I've got a box with several cards I received early in my life and my ministry - one from a friend when I was just a college sophomore. I started teaching a college Bible study, and I didn't know what in the world I was doing yet. But there was a student who said, "I see a lot of potential in you. Keep on doing what you're doing. The Lord is using you." It meant so much to me and helped me to persevere. You have no idea how God might use that to help and keep pressing on.
Encourage. That's good. But don't flatter. Just trying to get in a good word and say the right thing to the right person, doing little favors. We want to also be willing to critique when necessary because I can actually build people up in a gracious and a humble way. "Have you thought about maybe doing it this way instead?" Or "I appreciate what you're doing here, but this part concerns me." Or "Could we do this a little different?" Or have you ever thought about this?" Just talk with people. Discuss with them. Approach them humbly. Don't flatter me or other leaders in the church. We don't want to hear flattery, that everything we're doing is perfect. Be honest, encouraging, but also critical, certainly never say something just because of what you want to get in return for what you say.
"No pretext for greed," Paul says here. Greed unfortunately is a common motive many people's ministry. I like how the King James translates that word "pretext for greed." It says a "cloak of covetousness." A cloak or garment is covering up, and really the motives inside are full of covetousness - wanting more, more, more. What can I get? Why else would Paul write in 1 Timothy 3 to this young pastor "Be free from the love of money?" And all elders need to be free from the love of money. Why else would Paul in Ephesians 5:3 say "But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you as is proper among the saints." We've got to be careful friends. And we want men of God who are in the ministry, serving the Lord not out of flattery or out of greed or out of something that we can get in return, but simply out of our love for Jesus Christ, of faithful servant leadership.
Paul says the goal is not to get glory. As it says down in verse six, not to seek glory and fame and praise from other people, but simply to give all the glory to God. John the Baptist said, "I need to decrease and Jesus needs to increase. And if he gets more fame and more glory and more followers then our job has been a success." In a sense, John's whole purpose was the work himself out of a job, to preach and teach and then baptize until everybody was following Jesus instead of following him. And when his ministry was completed, he was able to step off the scene. It was in a violent way, but he stayed faithful to the Lord to the end. He was actually beheaded after being imprisoned. But John the Baptist was faithful. He viewed himself as a friend of the bridegroom, helping prepare the union of God's people with their bridegroom Jesus Christ. It gave him joy to see people coming to faith in Jesus. We're also making way for the coming of the Lord. We also shouldn't give glory to ourselves, but to God.
The lesson here I think is that we are never to seek or abuse the authority the God is given to us for selfish gain. We need instead to lead with sincerity.
In these verses, Paul has said what he didn't do. Next we get to look more at what he did do. Hear his encouragement in verse 7: "We were gentle among you like a nursing mother." And I love verse 11: "For you know like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you." Next week we'll look at how he approached his church as a mother does caring for her children and as a father does training, exhorting, and cheering them, on helping them grow in godliness. We'll look at that aspect next week of leadership.
But this week, we've been challenged that we need to be men and women of boldness and integrity and sincerity. We as deacons have been praying and talking and watching, and we have two men we believe fit this criteria that we want to present to you for consideration for next year. But don't think that there's just a higher standard for leaders. This really should describe every one of us, right? We all in our day-to-day lives need to be men and women of boldness - who live with integrity whether people are watching us or not. That we would be pleasers of God, and people of sincerity who are not just trying to suck it up to others and get in a little bit further but to be able to be transparent. To be those who are open, and honest, and sincere in everything we say and do.