Thessalonians Series: Characteristics of Effective Ministers (1 Thess 2:1-12)
Characteristics of Effective Ministers
For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you—it has not proven to be purposeless. But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition. For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness—nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe. As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (NET)
How can we become effective ministers?
After founding the Philippian church and being persecuted in that city, Paul and his companions moved to Thessalonica to minister. While there, Paul preached in the synagogues for three Sabbaths and a small number of Jews and Greeks began to follow Christ. However, the Jews there became jealous of the following Paul gained and consequently started a riot to get him out of the city. Because of the danger, Paul moved on to Berea for ministry, later Athens, and finally Corinth. He wrote the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians from Corinth. However, while Paul was away from Thessalonica, the Jews there began to slander him and his ministry to turn people away from Christ. In 1 Thessalonians Chapters 2 and 3, Paul confronted the slander. He reminded the Thessalonians of his character and ministry while with them. Though we’re not directly told what was being said about Paul, we can tell by his comments about his ministry. Essentially, they were saying that Paul was a religious huckster trying to make a profit off them. Since Thessalonica was a popular travel destination, many religious charlatans passed through seeking a large following. They commonly manipulated people to gain money, power, and sex.
Though Paul could have simply remained quiet and let God defend him, he didn’t. In order to protect the gospel and the people in Thessalonica, he addressed the slander head-on by detailing his brief ministry in Thessalonica. In verse 1, he says, “For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you—it has not proven to be purposeless.” His ministry was not a waste of time. It was effective as many people came to Christ. Therefore, in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, we learn principles about effective ministry. God has called us all to minister not only to the church but also to our family, friends, co-workers, and people we come in contact with in general. We are called to make disciples of all nations. As we consider Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, we learn how to become more effective ministers and disciplers.
Big Question: What principles about becoming effective ministers can we learn from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Expect Opposition and Discouragement and Faithfully Serve Despite Them
For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you—it has not proven to be purposeless. But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
In recounting his ministry to the Thessalonians and its effectiveness, Paul started with his ministry in Philippi. In Acts 16, while Paul ministered in Philippi, he cast out a demon that allowed a young lady to prophesy. Consequently, her handlers, having lost their means of income, riled up a crowd against Paul leading to him being flogged and imprisoned. After a night in prison and ministering to the jailer there, Paul and his companions left for Thessalonica. However, as mentioned, Paul’s ministry there didn’t fare much better. After preaching for three Sabbath days in the synagogue with some success, another riot was started over his ministry, and Paul was forced to leave again (Acts 17). In 1 Thessalonians 2:2b, Paul described this when he said, “As you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.” The word “opposition” can also be translated as “struggle,” “conflict,” or “fight.” It was an athletic term used for life and death combat. Paul experienced great opposition towards his ministry in Thessalonica that even threatened his life.
When looking at Paul’s ministry both in Philippi and Thessalonica, they might seem like failures, and Paul might have been tempted to think they were. In fact, he was so worried that his labors were in vain with the Thessalonians, he sent Timothy back to check on them—to make sure they were being faithful after his abrupt departure and the persecution they were experiencing. In 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul said, “So when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter somehow tempted you and our toil had proven useless.” First Thessalonians is his response to Timothy’s positive report. They were continuing in the faith, and so were the Philippians who supported Paul financially while he was in Thessalonica (Phil 4:16). Both of these churches were continuing in the Lord, despite Paul’s abrupt departures and the persecution they were facing (Phil 1:29, 1 Thess 2:14-15).
With that said, we learn our first characteristic of an effective minister. Effective ministers must expect opposition and discouragement and continue to faithfully serve the Lord when they happen. In fact, opposition is often a proof of a ministry’s effectiveness. If we become a threat to the kingdom of darkness by ministering to others, being a light in a dark place, or even attempting to start a needed ministry, opposition will come. Any attempts to advance God’s purposes will be met by sharp attack from the enemy. Sometimes that might show up through criticism, anxiety, depression, physical sickness, family problems, or even conflict with others. Sometimes these attacks come from the world, but oftentimes, they will come from fellow believers. In many of Paul’s letters, he addressed attacks from within the church. In 2 Corinthians, Paul responded to people within the church who were attacking his apostleship and ministry. Here in 1 Thessalonians, it was probably primarily people outside the church who were attacking him—most likely some of the Jews that stirred up the riot in Thessalonica—but, no doubt, some believers had been deceived by them and started to doubt his motives and ministry as well. They probably asked themselves, “Was Paul just another false preacher trying to make money off them? Why did he just leave instead of staying here to suffer with us?” As mentioned, in Chapters 2 and 3, the heart of Thessalonians, Paul responded to these attacks for the sake of the gospel and the faith of the Thessalonian believers.
Again, if we are going to be effective ministers, we must expect opposition and discouragement in serving the Lord and continue to faithfully serve anyways. Many Christians get involved in the church or some ministry, get hurt, and never serve again. Some even leave the church altogether. We must remember that Christ experienced opposition from the spiritual leaders of Israel throughout his ministry. His disciples abandoned and denied him in his greatest hour of need. He was crucified on the cross by the those he ministered to. Likewise, Demas forsook Paul because he loved this present world (2 Tim 4:10), and everybody in Asia deserted him during his second imprisonment in Rome (2 Tim 1:15). In the end, like Christ, Paul was put to death by those he was trying to reach. At those times, with both Christ and Paul, their ministries looked unfruitful and ineffective, and no doubt caused some level of discouragement. As mentioned, we’ll also not only experience opposition but also times of great discouragement in ministry—times where we’ll feel like a failure and consider quitting. We’ll start a small group or a ministry and there might be initial enthusiasm as people start to attend, but eventually, they stop coming which brings discouragement. Or our step of faith might never get off the ground in the first place, and we’ll question whether God ever called us to start it or if we’re gifted enough to serve. We’ll step up to lead because nobody else would, think we’re doing our community a favor, and yet get criticized. We’ll try to evangelize our friends and family, but the only result will be conflict and a seeming greater distance in our relationships. All of this will lead to bouts of discouragement and at times feeling like quitting, at least in the sense of serving. This is the lot of effective ministers. Because of seasons like that, Moses and Elijah both prayed for God to just take them—they both were ready to turn in their prophetic mantles (Num 11:15, 1 Kings 19:4). Therefore, we should expect seasons like that as well, and yet, by God’s grace, continue to faithfully serve.
Application Question: How can we continue to faithfully serve God and others when experiencing opposition and discouragement in our ministry?
1. When experiencing opposition and discouragement, we must remember that Christ told us that following him would not be easy.
In Luke 14:26-27, he said:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Following Christ will often cause conflict with those we are closest to, including family. To follow Christ means to turn against Satan and his purposes for us and the world. It means to turn against cultural expectations and pressures. Consequently, the more we serve God, the more we will experience attack, temptation, discouragement, and even bouts of loneliness. Following Christ and serving him was never meant to be easy. We must remember that. We must willingly carry our cross, just like Christ did.
2. When experiencing opposition and especially discouragement, we must remember that the fruitfulness of our ministry is up to God and that we’re just called to be faithful.
In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow.” Many get greatly discouraged when their leadership, ministry, or serving efforts seem to fail or not be appreciated. Again, we must remember God’s role and our role. We plant and water, but God produces the fruit; therefore, we must pray for fruit and trust God with our acts of service and the results. However, whether we ever get to see fruit or not, we must faithfully serve—leaving the consequences of our ministry to the Lord. In John 4:38, Christ said this: “I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor." With the disciples, they reaped where they had not sown. They were bearing fruit from the past prophets’ labor. It was God’s will for the prophets to faithfully labor while being rejected and seeing little fruit, and yet, the disciples would see thousands come to Christ, even more than their Lord. When experiencing opposition and discouragement, we must remember the fruit of our labor is up to God.
3. When experiencing opposition and discouragement, we must remember that both are typical of being in a spiritual war but so is victory if we don’t quit.
If Paul had given up after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, then the people in Thessalonica would have never heard the gospel. The same would be true of the people in Berea, Athens, and Corinth which is where he went after those ministries. And in Berea, Athens, and Corinth he experienced both opposition and discouragement as well. Yes, there will be opposition and discouragement in serving God but there will also be victories, if we don’t faint. In John 15:20, Christ said: “Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too.” Both persecution and obedience are part of this war, as we follow Christ. With that said, the ultimate victory will be hearing Christ say to us at his return, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21 ESV). In serving the Lord, there are discouragements but also great victories if we do not give up. Consequently, Galatians 6:9 says, “So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.” Amen, Lord, help us be faithful!
Application Question: Why will opposition and discouragement always accompany serving God and taking steps of faith? In what ways have you experienced opposition and discouragement in the midst of serving God and others? How did you handle it? How is God calling you to better handle both opposition and discouragement so you can faithfully serve him and others in the future?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Be Gospel-Centered
But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition… but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts… with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:2, 4, 8-9
In verses 2, 4, 8, and 9 Paul mentioned his preaching of the gospel four times. When he visited the Thessalonians, this was his central message. By teaching them the gospel, he taught a worldview that was totally contrary to what they had heard and believed. Every religion in the world teaches a works-centered salvation. If one works by giving to the poor, keeping the law, or doing some other type of good work, they can merit heaven or favor in the afterlife. For the Jews in Thessalonica, they believed they were saved by keeping the Mosaic law. For the Gentiles, they sought to please their plethora of gods by sacrifices and various other acts of worship. However, only the gospel teaches that we cannot be saved based on any merit of our own. This is because God is too holy and just. Because God is so holy and just, one evil thought deserves eternal punishment. In Matthew 5:28, Christ taught that if we lusted after a person that was not our spouse, we had already committed adultery before God. In Romans 6:23, Paul taught that the wages of sin is death. We have all earned death, which in that context, referred to separation from God’s blessing to receive his wrath eternally.
Stewardship of the Gospel
Therefore, when Paul entered Thessalonica, he shocked their system with this teaching. He called it the “gospel of God” three times in verses 2, 8, and 9. This reminded them that the message he taught was not of human origin. Paul did not make up the gospel. It came from God. In verse 4, he said that he and his companions were “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.” The word “entrusted” was used of a steward. Paul saw sharing the gospel as both a privilege and a sober responsibility. As a steward, he had to protect the gospel from tampering. People are always trying to add works as necessary for salvation, remove the need for repentance, or even the need to follow Christ as Lord at all. Some teach that we only need to believe the elements of the gospel but not necessarily follow Christ as Lord—as though intellectual belief alone is salvific apart from a willingness to follow and obey Christ. Paul not only had to protect the gospel from tampering but also from being lost altogether. If the gospel is not continually shared, eventually it will be lost as generations of believers eventually die off. As a steward, Paul realized that one day he would need to give an account of how he used the gospel, and that is true of all believers as well. First Corinthians 4:1-2 says, “One should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful.” Therefore, since he was a steward of God, his concern was not primarily the approval or disapproval of humans but the approval of God. Again, in verse 4, Paul said he shared the gospel “not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.” Likewise, in Galatians 1:10, Paul said, “Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!” Paul saw himself as a steward of the gospel who would be examined by God for faithfulness, and we must realize the same is true of ourselves as well. We are all called to be stewards who protect the gospel and share it with others.
Herald of the Gospel
In verse 9, when he said, “We preached to you the gospel of God,” the word “preached” was used of a king’s herald. The herald would go from town to town declaring the words of the king. He couldn’t change it or add to it. He could only say exactly what the king said. Sometimes, people got mad at the herald as he spoke, but even that could not deter him because the judgment of the king would be worse than that of the people. That’s what Paul did when he proclaimed, “the gospel of God.” Paul saw himself as both a steward and a herald of the gospel of God. Effective ministers realize the same. Therefore, they must clearly know the gospel in order to share it accurately.
Interpretation Question: What are the exact elements of the gospel message?
There are at least four elements to the gospel message. They include:
1. Every person is a sinner, who has failed to live up to God’s holy standards. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
2. Every person is under God’s judgment for his or her sins and, apart from salvation, will spend eternity separated from God’s blessing and grace in a place of torment called hell. Romans 6:23 says, “For the payoff of sin is death…” Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire.”
3. Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty of every person’s sin and rose from the dead, as God accepted his payment. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 10:9 says, “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
4. Every person must respond to the message with repentance for their sins and faith in Christ, so that they will be saved. Acts 20:21 says, “testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Sometimes Scripture only mentions our need for faith or belief in the gospel to be saved. John 3:16 says, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” But also, Scripture at times only mentions our need to repent in order to be saved. In Luke 24:46-47, Christ said this to his disciples after his resurrection,
… “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Likewise, after Pentecost the apostles taught this in Acts: “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). “Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (3:19-20a).
Both repentance and faith are needed for salvation; they are like two sides of the same coin. In order for a person to trust in Christ (faith), they must first commit to turn from their sin (repentance). It’s similar to a marriage where two people commit to each other for life. When they commit to each other, they are committing to each other alone and therefore turning away from other potential marriage partners. In that commitment, there is a form of repentance—a turning away from others so each person in the union can love the other without distraction. This is what happens when someone is truly converted and experiences salvation. They repent of their sins and put their faith in Christ.
This is what Paul, as a faithful steward and heard of the gospel, proclaimed repeatedly to the Thessalonians. The Jews in Thessalonica had to repent of their works-based salvation. They could not be saved by being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic law. Only Christ could save them. Romans 4:5 says this: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Likewise, to the Galatians who believed that they could be saved by keeping the Mosaic law and believing in Christ, Paul said, “Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all!” (Gal 5:2). The Jews needed to repent of their works-based salvation. In Hebrews 6:1, the writer called this, “repentance from dead works.” Good works cannot save anyone. To put faith in any work other than Christ’s work is not salvific. Certainly, we must teach the same to any, even in the “Christian faith,” who believe that baptism, giving, taking the Lord’s Supper, or simply going to church leads to salvation. Only faith in Christ saves. Therefore, we must repent of our dead works and put our faith in Christ. However, Paul also needed to preach repentance of sins in general when speaking to the Gentiles who lived very sexually permissive lives full of idol worship (cf. 1 Thess 4:3-5). In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, he said this:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
When we repent as part of the gospel, we do not become perfect, but we choose to turn from our lifestyles of sin to God. The word “repent” actually means “to change one’s mind.” One chooses to turn from living for self, sex, idols, money, family, and anything else other than God. They choose to turn from these to Christ. The actual turning is not repentance. It is the fruit of repentance. In Matthew 3:8, when John challenged the Jews, he said for them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Repentance is a change of mind, just like faith is. However, the actual turning and the good works that come after are the fruits of repentance and faith. Though we are not saved by turning from sin or doing good works, true repentance and faith in Christ will always lead to turning from sin and a life of good works. That’s why somebody who lives a life without repentance—continually living in sexual immorality, dishonesty, stealing, or even idol worship—probably has never been truly saved. As Christ said to those who called him “Lord, Lord,” in the last days in Matthew 7:22-23, their lifestyle of “iniquity” proved that they never truly knew Christ and were not saved.
Therefore, Paul, as a steward and herald of the true King, went into Thessalonica with the King’s message—"the gospel of God”. If we are going to be effective ministers, this also must be our central message. It must be the message of our lips and our lives. We must preach repentance and faith, but we must live it as well. We must live lifestyles of faith—as we continue to believe in Christ and his work—but we also must live lifestyles of repentance—still repenting of sin as we follow Christ. We must live it, and we must preach it to others.
As it did with Paul, sharing this message will bring tremendous antagonism towards us from others because people don’t like being convicted of their sins and don’t want to turn from it. They don’t want to turn from sexual immorality, homosexualism, alcoholism, idolatry, and the love of money to follow Christ. They also don’t want to believe that Christ is the only way to salvation. “What about Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, the Bahai faith, or those with no faith? What about those who live good lives?”, they question. In John 14:6, Christ simply said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ is the only way, and as heralds of the true King, we cannot soften his message. We must preach the truth while knowing that this message may cause us to be hated, called bigoted, persecuted, and even in some places killed. However, we are just speaking for the King, and one day, the King will return to judge those who reject him and reward those who were faithful. We just want to be faithful.
If we’re going to be effective ministers, we must be gospel-centered. We must preach this message to nonbelievers so they can be saved, but we also must preach it to believers so they can live out this message. True believers are still believing in God and still repenting of sin. We never stop living the gospel message. Salvation starts with faith and repentance and continues with it till Christ comes or he takes us home.
Are we gospel-centered? Are we still living in repentance and faith? Are we still sharing this message with others? Even as Paul reminded Timothy who was a pastor to do the work of an evangelist is in 2 Timothy 4:5, we often need to remind ourselves to do the work of an evangelist as well. We need to make sure we are still sharing the gospel with others—friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances. We also need to remind ourselves to keep living out the gospel and protecting it in an antagonistic world. We must continue to believe in Christ’s death and resurrection for our sin even though it’s unpopular, and we must continue to repent of our sins as we follow Christ. To be effective ministers, we must be gospel-centered.
Application Question: What is the difference between faith and repentance? Why is repentance often not emphasized in most gospel presentations? What is the most difficult part of evangelizing? What are some wise tips to implement to help evangelism become easier for us and part of our lifestyle?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Be Above Reproach in Our Life and Ministry
For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, … For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness—nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others,
1 Thessalonians 2:3, 5-6
Apparently, Paul’s critics were slandering him, declaring that he lacked integrity. However, Paul responded that his appeal or exhortation, as he preached the gospel and God’s Word, “did not come from error” (v. 3). As mentioned previously, the gospel’s origin was not man-made, it came from God. Also, his teaching was in line with Scripture. Maybe, the Jews were declaring that Paul was abusing the Old Testament when he taught that Christ fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. On the contrary, Paul rightly divided God’s Word and handled it accurately. In addition, the critics declared Paul’s motive in ministry was “impurity” (v. 3). This probably referred to sexual impurity. In many of the ancient pagan religions, committing sexual acts with the leaders, including the priests or temple prostitutes, was a way of experiencing intimacy with the gods. And since Thessalonica was a popular trade and travel destination, there were many preachers of pagan philosophies and religions in the city who were using their ministry to take advantage of susceptible women. Peter actually warned about false teachers in the church like this. In 2 Peter 2:14, he said, “Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children!” Unfortunately, there will always be teachers in the church who use their position and influence to manipulate young ladies. With that said, Paul declared there was no impurity in his ministry. He appealed both to God as his witness and also the Thessalonians. In verse 10, he said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.” Likewise, in our ministry, we should live such transparent lives when it comes to our teaching and relationship with others that we can say, “Ask anybody, I’ve kept no secrets!”
Furthermore, Paul’s critics apparently said his ministry was full of “deceit” (v. 3). The word “deceit” literally refers to a fishhook, trap, or trick. Like a fisherman putting a worm on a hook to trick and trap fish, they declared Paul was tricking his converts. Since false teachers during that time commonly used sorcery and magic to gain converts and manipulate them, the critics were probably declaring that Paul was doing the same. If Paul healed people and cast out demons during his ministry, as he did in other cities, the Jews probably declared that the miracles were works of Satan or allusions meant to deceive. In Matthew 12:24, the Pharisees said the same thing about Christ’s miracles. They said, “He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons!” They declared Christ was empowered by Satan himself. No doubt, Paul’s critics were slandering and gossiping about his ministry in similar ways.
In verse 5, Paul also said that he did not use “flattery.” This means he did not flatter people, telling them how great they were or inflating God’s promises for them to deceive or control them. Flattery is often used as means of manipulation. However, that was not Paul’s method of preaching publicly or discipling privately. In verse 5, he also said that he never did ministry "as a pretext for greed.” In fact, in 1 Timothy 6:5, Paul warned Timothy about this common tendency in ministers. He described how false teachers “suppose that godliness is a way of making a profit.” Certainly, those who serve the church by preaching God’s Word full-time should be financially supported. However, they should not do ministry primarily to make a living. They should do it primarily to honor God, reach people, and fulfill God’s calling on their lives. Likewise, we must be careful about becoming hirelings where everything is about profit, how much we will receive. We should aim to provide for our families and live modest lives, so that we cannot be accused of doing ministry for money. Apparently, while Paul ministered in Thessalonica, he did not accept any pay at all. He supported himself financially by tentmaking and offerings from other churches, like Philippi. In verse 9, he said, “For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.” He preached the gospel to them free of charge; no doubt, he did this since the Thessalonians were extremely poor (2 Cor 8:1-5), but also probably to not hinder the Thessalonians’ reception of the gospel. Many people were leery about traveling ministers and their motives. When Paul went to Corinth, he also did not accept money from them to not hinder their acceptance of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9:12, he said, “If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ.”
Finally, in verse 6, Paul said that he did not “seek glory from people.” Paul’s aim was not to be well-known and popular. As mentioned previously, he aimed to faithfully discharge his duties as a steward and herald of the gospel and to honor God through them. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul said, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” He aimed to honor God, not himself or others. With that said, this is certainly something we must keep in mind with the widespread popularity of social media. Today, for many people, including ministers, instead of seeking to glorify God with our eating and drinking and everything else, we tend to glorify ourselves by catching every significant moment to post on social media for all to see and admire—our eating, drinking, serving, preaching, and praying. It’s not that using social media is wrong for a minister. It can actually be very helpful in spreading God’s name, glorifying him, and helping others. However, it can also turn into a place for self-glory, where we seek to glorify ourselves, our activity, and our ministry at every turn. We have to be very careful of this. In Matthew 6, Christ taught that when we pray, fast, and give that we should practice secrecy instead of pursuing publicity to not lose our reward before God. Certainly, we should be careful of this with the use of social media. Again, there is nothing wrong with it in itself; however, because of our sinful hearts, it can often change the motive of our good works to being about glorifying ourselves through the number of likes, mentions, and views we get instead of glorifying God. It seems people were accusing Paul of that; however, he clearly teaches that was not his motive. Likewise, with Christ, when he healed somebody or did a miracle, he often told them not to share it with others. He was not interested in attracting crowds that were just showing up to see a miracle or get something to eat. He was interested in glorifying the Father by saving people and changing people’s lives.
Again, when Paul was accused of error, impurity, deceit, flattery, and glory-seeking, he denied these accusations by pointing both to God’s witness and the Thessalonians’ memory of his visit (1 Thess 2:10). None of these things were true about him. He sought to live above reproach, so false accusations, rumors, or even a potential failure would not hinder his ministry to God and people. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3, when Paul gave the qualifications of an elder, the first and therefore summarizing qualification of a potential elder is being “above reproach.” In 1 Timothy 3:1-2 says,
This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher…
Then in the same context, Paul said this in 1 Timothy 3:6-7:
He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.
If the minister is not above reproach in his lifestyle, it can lead to pride, punishment from God, disgrace from unbelievers, and being caught in the snare of the devil. The devil is always trying to attack and destroy those in ministry. He realizes that when one strikes the shepherd, the sheep will be scattered. Therefore, if Satan can cause a minister to fall into sin or be unwise, he can stir up slander and gossip which will spread throughout the church and the community and hinder God’s work. In addition, if Satan cannot get ministers to stumble in sin, he will spread false rumors, as he did with Paul and Christ. Only a life that is above reproach can withstand those attacks. When a person of integrity that we know is accused of doing something wrong, we naturally give the person the benefit of the doubt because we know his or her integrity. That’s why Paul appeals to his ministry in Thessalonica in Chapters 2 and 3 because the Thessalonians would remember his chaste life and conduct to combat the lies being said about him. We must live above reproach as well, so we can have an effective ministry.
Application Question: What are some wise principles to help ministers be above reproach in their life and ministry to protect them from Satan’s attacks?
1. To be above reproach, we must stay away from doctrinal error by working hard to properly understand and teach Scripture.
As mentioned, apparently, the critics tried to charge Paul with was error in his teaching of the gospel. Again, in response, Paul said, “For the appeal we make does not come from error…” (1 Thess 2:3). Paul aimed to have absolute integrity in his study of the Bible and teaching. By teaching error, he would be partnering with Satan in leading people astray, so he aimed to rightly understand and teach God’s Word. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul said this to Timothy, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” “Make every effort” can also be translated “Be diligent” or “Do your best.” We must do our best to properly understand and teach God’s Word to others. Also, in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul said this to Timothy,
I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the message, be ready whether it is convenient or not, reprove, rebuke, exhort with complete patience and instruction.
As Paul shared with Timothy, our ministry of the Word should always be done in view of God’s judgment. One day, we will be judged based on whether we preached God’s Word or not. Did we work hard to rightly interpret it and apply it to our lives and others? Did we soften it out of fear of what others would say? God is watching all those things, and some will be approved by God and others will not. In fact, in Matthew 5:19, Christ said this:
So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Though our life and teaching don’t determine whether we’ll go to heaven or hell, as a believer, it will determine our reward or loss of reward. There will be reward and loss of reward in heaven based on our living God’s Word and our sharing it properly with others. Those who are unfaithful with both will be called least in God’s kingdom. James 3:1 said that those who serve formally as teachers will receive a stricter judgment, no doubt, from both God and people. Consequently, Paul did his best to rightly understand and teach God’s Word to the Thessalonians and the other churches as well. He aimed to be above reproach in his handling of Scripture and so must we.
Are we doing our best to study God’s Word so we can accurately share it with others? Laziness in reading and studying Scripture leads to misinterpretation, the misleading of ourselves and others, and ultimately judgment. God will judge us all for our faithfulness or lack of it with his Word. If we are going to be above reproach in our ministry, we must stay away from doctrinal error by working hard to properly understand and teach Scripture.
2. To be above reproach, we must practice accountability and transparency in our life and ministry.
Again, when Paul was slandered and gossiped about, in verse 10, he could say, “You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.” He could only say this because of the honest and transparent lifestyle Paul lived before the Thessalonians. With many ministers, everything is secretive. Because they are the leader, they don’t feel like they need to indulge or share anything with anybody. Consequently, when accusations come, those they minister to don’t know if it’s true or not. We should practice transparency and accountability with finances. There should be a clear record of how ministry funds are being spent so church members can see. Because of this, many congregations commonly post their yearly budget, including expenses for the congregation to see and at times approve. In addition, when ministering to others, especially those of the opposite sex, it’s ideal for others to know about it, especially one’s spouse and probably other ministry partners. In decision-making, Scripture seems to encourage a plurality of elders ruling the church instead of one-person rule. When talking about the leaders of a local church, the plural form of the word elder is almost always used if not always. In Titus 1:5, Paul called Titus to appoint “elders” in every town, not one elder in the town. In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter calls for the young men to submit to the “elders” in their churches. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul told Timothy that the “elders” who provided effective leadership and teaching should be given double honor by being paid. By having a plurality of co-equal leaders in a church, even if there is one who is first among them, that provides accountability and transparency to protect the church and its leaders. It can help deliver them from abuses of power which are so common when there is a one-person rule that is unchecked. It will also help protect our leaders from other temptations.
3. To be above reproach, we must be especially careful of our relationships with the opposite sex.
This was mentioned briefly in the previous point. However, more attention should be given to it since sexual immorality is probably the biggest reason people are forced out of vocational ministry. With the elder in 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul said that he must be “the husband of one wife.” This literally means a one-woman man. It actually has nothing to do with one’s marital status. Like Paul, Timothy, and Christ, pastors can be single. The phrase means he is a one-woman kind of man. If he is single, he is not a lady’s man. He is not flirting with all the different ladies. If he is married, he’s committed to his wife and opens no doors with other women. Likewise, if our ministry is going to be above reproach, we must be especially careful in our relationships with the opposite sex. We don’t want to lead them on or tempt them in any way. We must be careful about drawing attention to ourselves from the opposite sex by the clothes we wear—staying away from clothes that are too tight, short, or revealing. We must be modest in our clothing. With Timothy who was a single man, Paul said this in 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father. Speak to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters—with complete purity.” He was to treat the members of the church like family. This especially applied to young ladies. They should be treated like sisters with absolute purity. If he wouldn’t do it with his sister, he shouldn’t do it with the young ladies in the church. This is a great principle for any single person, including when in dating/courting relationships. If they wouldn’t do it with their natural brother or sister, then they shouldn’t do it with the person they are dating. They should be above reproach by practicing absolute purity with members of the opposite sex.
4. To be above reproach, we must wisely give up certain rights and privileges for the benefit of others.
As mentioned, while Paul was preaching in Corinth, he chose to not accept pay though it was his right as an apostle and preacher. In 1 Corinthians 9:11-12, Paul said this:
If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you? If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
Because accepting money might have hindered people’s acceptance of the gospel, he chose to not accept money while in Corinth. He also seemed to do the same while in Thessalonica. According to 1 Thessalonians 2:9, he worked “night and day” so he wouldn’t be a burden to the church. After being forced to leave Thessalonica and experiencing slander which said he preached the gospel as a “cloak for greed” (v. 5), his decision to forgo receiving pay was clearly wise. In both cities (Corinth and Thessalonica), traveling preachers deceived and manipulated people for profit. Paul did not want to be associated with them and risk people rejecting Christ because of his receiving pay, which he had a right to do. Likewise, there are many freedoms in Christ, we may need to wisely forego, even if only temporarily, to not cause others to stumble. In Romans 14:21, Paul said: “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Though eating meat and drinking wine were not sinful, in certain contexts it would be unwise and harmful to take advantage of those rights. Many of the early Jewish converts struggled with the concept of pork being clean and therefore OK to eat. When other believers indulged in that freedom, there was a risk of pushing the young Jewish believers away from Christ or simply hurting their conscience. Also, in many markets, food that was originally offered to idols was sold. Paul taught that it was fine to eat food offered to idols in certain situations. However, many Gentile Christians who had been delivered from idolatry were offended when other believers ate it. It hurt their conscience and tempted them to go back to idols. In those contexts, Paul taught it was wise for the believers to give up their rights in order to protect weaker believers. As Christians, the greatest commandments are to love God and others, not love ourselves. We’re never commanded to love ourselves in Scripture. In Philippians 2:3, Paul said, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” For that reason, we should never proclaim our rights to drink alcohol, watch certain movies, or wear certain clothing, if those things are offending others and causing them to stumble in their relationship with God. We should love them more than ourselves. By doing this, we will help keep ourselves above approach and therefore not hinder our ministry. Paul was above reproach when it came to using his freedoms. He gave up his freedoms to not hinder the gospel from being accepted by others. Unfortunately, many young Christians are not above reproach in their freedoms. They often only care about practicing and defending their rights and freedoms instead of giving up their rights and freedoms in love for God and others. For the young in Christ, they often focus on what is right and wrong, which is a great start. However, a higher level of thinking in ministry is knowing and practicing what is wise and best, and not just right or wrong.
Are we willing to give up our rights to better love God and others? This is one of the ways we practice being above reproach in ministry.
Paul was above reproach in his character and ministry, which allowed him to be an effective minister, even while being persecuted, lied about, and slandered. We must aim to be above reproach in our character and ministry as well.
Application Question: What principles about being above reproach stood out most and why? Should people minister to the opposite sex, and if so, how? What are characteristics of healthy accountability relationships? What are some rights and freedoms that one might need to consider giving up in certain ministry contexts? In what ways have you had to give up certain rights or freedoms to better minister to others?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Incarnate to Reach People
although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children,
1 Thessalonians 2:7
When Paul says, they could have imposed their weight as “apostles of Christ,” since Timothy and Silas are never called apostles elsewhere in an official sense, Paul may be using the term generally—meaning “sent ones.” Paul, Timothy, and Silas were sent by churches as missionaries to spread the gospel to other lands, including Thessalonica. In fact, as mentioned, the Philippian church was sending money to support their ministry (Phil 4:16). Paul, of course, was an apostle in the official sense, as he had seen the resurrected Christ and was an witness of that in the early church. When Paul says they “became little children” among the Thessalonians, there is much debate over this passage because of a textual variant in various ancient manuscripts. The oldest manuscripts have the Greek word “nepioi” which means “little children” or “babes,” while other manuscripts have the Greek word “epioi” which means “gentle.” The difference is the letter “n” which a copyist either mistakenly added or left off. The NET, NIV, and NLT versions say, “little children,” while the ESV, NASB, and KJV translate it as “gentle.” With that said, though both readings are certainly possible, the strongest evidence is for “little children” since that’s the reading in the oldest manuscripts. With either reading, it demonstrates how Paul and his companions voluntarily submitted to the Thessalonians, even though as apostles, they deserved special treatment.
Of all the metaphors Paul used of himself, he never called himself a baby or little child. He at times used the metaphor in a derogatory way, as when calling the Corinthians little children (1 Cor 3:1). This is, in part, why some scholars think “gentle” is the more likely reading, in addition to the fact that “gentle” seems to be a better contrast to the authority of the apostles. With that said, if “little children” is the correct reading, it’s clear he referred to how they practiced incarnational ministry to reach the Thessalonians. Consider Paul’s words in verse 7 again: “we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children.” In the same way, a mother humbles herself to use childlike language and play children’s games to love and minister to her child, Paul, Timothy, and Silas did the same with the Thessalonians. They became like the Thessalonians in ways that were not sinful, such as culturally in the food they ate, how they communicated, dressed, served, and worshiped to better relate to them and share the gospel with them. This was a normal ministry strategy of Paul’s, which has been adopted by many missionaries. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, Paul said:
For since I am free from all I can make myself a slave to all, in order to gain even more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law. To those free from the law I became like one free from the law (though I am not free from God’s law but under the law of Christ) to gain those free from the law. To the weak I became weak in order to gain the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.
This takes a lot of wisdom and humility to do. It means studying a local culture, understanding the ways and customs, and being willing to adopt nonsinful aspects of them to better reach a people. This is where many missionaries, especially short-term ones, fail. They go into a local culture to preach the Word of God, which is the most important thing, but while there, they, sometimes inadvertently, show disdain for the local culture. They complain about or simply reject the food and lowly accommodations. They make no attempts to pick up the language or other customs. And because of their inability to humble themselves and incarnate to another culture, they push the locals away. They are not necessarily rejected because of their message but their mannerisms in giving it.
In addition, Paul did not just become like a child by adapting to the Thessalonians’ customs, but also in his teaching the basics of the faith. He taught them the gospel, creation, the need for holy living and evangelism, and eventually moved on to deeper doctrines like eschatology which seemed to be something the Thessalonians really gravitated to. The second coming is mentioned at least once in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians and is a major feature of 2 Thessalonians as well.
Certainly, we must develop this ability if we are going to be effective ministers. Ministering to toddlers is different from ministering to elementary-age children. Ministering to elementary-age children is different from ministering to those in high school and college. Ministering to the elderly is different from ministering to young newlyweds. Ministering in Korea is different from ministering in Africa. In each scenario, the effective minister will not just be the one who preaches God’s Word, but also the one who is able to incarnate—to understand the people and their culture, relate to them, and adopt aspects of that culture. That opens the people’s hearts and provides a bridge to preach God’s Word in a relatable way. Personally, when I was a young youth pastor, my ability and desire to play sports with the youth, go to their music recitals, and hang out with them, gave me a door into their lives to love them, befriend them, share God’s Word with them, and mentor them. As I’ve gotten older and my interests and abilities have changed, it would be a lot harder to incarnate to reach them as I once did. However, effective ministers do this, not just with the young or the aged, but even across cultures. Paul humbled himself to reach people who were different than him. In studying the culture, he certainly rejected any cultural aspects that were sinful or might lead to temptation, but he adopted others which might be a helpful bridge to reach them. We must do the same.
As mentioned, to become like a child, an adult, or someone in a different culture takes humility. Some are ineffective at ministry because they are not willing to become like a mother speaking baby sounds and playing children’s games to come into a person’s world and love them. We must remember this is exactly what Christ did for us. In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul challenged the Philippians to be like Christ in his incarnational ministry. He said:
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name, that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Are we willing to humble ourselves to reach others? God blesses those who do. Sometimes, congregations with older members may have to implement more contemporary worship or other strategies to reach the youth. We may have to give up some of our preferences on nonessentials to help others understand and respond to the gospel. Paul said that he became “all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some” (1 Cor 9:22). We must humbly do the same. Lord, help us to be like our Savior!
Application Question: Why is incarnational ministry so important for reaching different demographics and people groups? In what ways have you done or experienced incarnational ministry? What makes this type of ministry so difficult? How can we practice becoming incarnational in our daily lives with family, at work, at church, or on the mission field?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Care for Others Like a Loving Mother
…Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9
After using the metaphor of becoming like a child to reach the Thessalonians, Paul focuses specifically on the metaphor of being like a mother. This is not the first time that Paul has used this metaphor. In Galatians 4:19-20, Paul said this to the Galatians: “My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you.” This pictures how Paul, like a mother, gave birth to the Galatians as he led them to Christ, but also compares his discipleship of them to birth pains. There was pain in reaching them for Christ and pain in their discipleship. Paul uses the same metaphor for the Thessalonians. He birthed them by leading them to Christ but also was like a nursing mother by loving and caring for them. The word “cares” he used in verse 8 of a nursing mother literally means “to warm with body heat.” As a mother would warm a child by squeezing him next to her chest, Paul was intimately involved with the Thessalonians, as he cared for them. He continues, in the same verse, saying, “with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” Paul and his companions did not just teach the Thessalonians information, like a mother, they gave their very “lives” to disciple them. “Lives” can be translated “souls.” Paul gave all of his being to help them grow into Christ’s image. He then continued to describe all his hard labor in ministering to them. In verse 9, he says he “worked night and day” to not be a burden as he ministered to them. Though he doesn’t mention how he provided for himself, we know that according to Acts 18:3 that Paul was a tentmaker by trade. So instead of taking money from the Thessalonians who were extremely poor according to 2 Corinthians 8:1-2, he probably worked as a tentmaker by day and taught by night in discipling them. All of these were ways that he cared for them like a nursing mother.
Application Question: As seen in Paul’s description of his ministry to the Thessalonians in verses 7-9, what are some practical ways we can care for maturing believers like a nursing mother?
Certainly, we can apply our need to be like nursing mothers in discipling believers in various ways. Here are a few:
1. To care for maturing believers like a nursing mother, we must understand the often slow and difficult process of spiritual growth, be patient with them, and help them through the process.
With little children (babies to toddlers), they cry, wet themselves, spill their milk, make a mess, scream, and throw tantrums. They are difficult, and wise mothers understand this and are patient with them. They don’t expect a little child to act like a mature young adult. If they did, they would be frustrated all the time. Likewise, discipling a young or new believer is a lot of work and frustration. Some new believers will have relatively little baggage. Maybe, they came from a Christian home or religious background, and so before they were born again, they lived a rather moral life and maybe were even familiar with the Scriptures. That moral or religious background might have kept them from many of the sins they could have gotten into—making the transition to following Christ and Scriptures’ teachings easier. However, with others, they may have opened the door to sexual immorality, drunkenness, drugs, lying, and other vices, which makes their transition to following the Lord more difficult. With some believers when God saves them, there is a dramatic break from their past lives. But with others, it is a slow process of getting free. They take steps with the Lord, stumble, start to walk again, stumble again, go backward, come forward, and so on. With some, it’s very difficult to develop consistent routines of reading the Bible, praying, going to church and small group which greatly slows their spiritual growth process. Because of all these realities, those discipling young believers must have a lot of patience; otherwise, they will be frustrated all the time and even give up on them. Like being a nursing mother, discipling maturing believers is not for the faint of heart. For nursing mothers, some babies are easier. They sleep well, eat well, and poop well. But other babies are colicky, don’t sleep, and cry all the time. To disciple maturing believers, we need to know and understand that there will be differences with each person we disciple based on their background and the measure of grace God gave them. We must be patient and understand the process of sanctification, so we can walk with them through it. Proverbs 24:16 says the righteous fall down seven times but get back up. In fact, with discipling new believers, we often have to help them understand this process, so they don’t accept the condemnation of the devil when they stumble, get frustrated with themselves and God, and quit (cf. Rom 8:1). Even Paul said in Romans 7, “The things I would do, I don’t do, and the things I wouldn’t do, I do. Who can save me from this body of death?” (paraphrase). Growing from spiritual childhood to adulthood is often a slow and difficult process. Like a nursing mother, we must understand it, help those we mentor understand it, and patiently help them through the process.
With all that said, one of the things that will help us be patient with others when they repeatedly fail is remembering our continual process of sanctification. We may not struggle with the same sins as others. But we’ve all had habitual sins whether that be lust, pride, lying, complaining, being judgmental or angry, etc., that we struggled to get over. Remembering our past failures helps us be patient when others fail, even if it’s in a different way than us.
Are we patient like a nursing mother with those who repeatedly fail in the sanctification process?
2. To care for maturing believers like a nursing mother, we must spiritually feed ourselves so we can feed others.
A nursing mother eats, her body transforms the food into milk, and then the mother feeds the baby. The child grows based on the consistent feeding of the mother. But the child can also become ill as a negative reaction to something unhealthy the mother ate. Likewise, effective ministers must feast on God’s Word and seek to properly understand the full counsel of Scripture so they can apply it to a young believer’s life. They must help a young believer learn how to pray, read Scripture, and attend church and small groups as regular spiritual disciplines. They also must teach him how to turn away from various sins and make wise decisions for his life. On the reverse, if we have unhealthy doctrine, we will lead those we disciple into wrong paths for their lives. Consequently, we should be very sober about this ministry. James said that those who teach others will receive a stricter judgment (Jam 3:1). And, in Matthew 18:6-7, Christ said that it would be better for a millstone to be put around our neck and to be drowned in the ocean than for us to cause a young believer to stumble. God takes very seriously the discipleship of his children. Christ, when restoring his chief disciple, Peter, to the ministry, commanded him to focus on feeding the lambs, the baby sheep (John 21:14). That would be one of the ways that Peter demonstrated his love for Christ. Therefore, we must be very careful and wise in our training of young believers, even as a nursing mother is with her infant.
Are we eating healthy by studying the full counsel of God? Apart from that, we can’t feed others, or we’ll feed them an unhealthy understanding of Scripture which will lead them to sin and us to God’s discipline. In using the baby metaphor, Peter said this in 1 Peter 2:2, “And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation.” We must crave God’s Word and study it deeply from Genesis to Revelation to raise healthy spiritual children into young adults and then into spiritual parents themselves.
3. To care for maturing believers like a nursing mother, we must unselfishly and sacrificially love them by working hard, even towards exhaustion, for their well-being.
In verses 8-9, Paul said,
with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
For Paul, as mentioned, discipleship was not simply transferring information like a teacher, though that was part of it. Like a mother, Paul and his companions taught Thessalonians but also gave them their “lives,” or their “souls” to them (v. 8). Many mothers briefly forfeit their careers to raise their young children. In addition, when the child is a newborn, mothers essentially forfeit their independence as they are totally on the baby’s schedule. When the children wake up, the mothers wake up as well to feed and comfort them. When the children sleep, the mothers catch up on work and try to sleep as well. They give all they have to their children. When they feed them, they literally give their bodies to them. It is exhausting, and there are not many tangible, immediate rewards. With a very young baby, he can’t smile back at you or say thank you. The mother feeds, cleans, and changes the child with no expectation of an immediate return. When the infant gets older, it is a tremendous encouragement when he starts to smile, laugh, and interact with the parent. It makes some of the exhausting labor feel worth it. But early on, there is none of that. There is only a giving with no return. That’s how Paul describes his ministry to the new believers in Thessalonica. He loved them, gave his life for them, and worked “night and day” to not be a “burden” to them (v. 9). As mentioned, Paul apparently did not take any money from the Thessalonians. He worked as a tentmaker during the day to provide for his needs and that of his companions. Like a nursing mother, he did not receive anything. He just gave expecting nothing in return, especially in the short-term. He just wanted them to be spiritually healthy, to prepare them for the difficulties ahead, including potential persecution, and to help them walk in their calling (1 Thess 2:12). In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4, he said this:
so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened, as you well know.
In Paul’s short time with the Thessalonians, he explained to them that they would be hated by the devil and the world. By following Christ, the Thessalonians had adopted a worldview and lifestyle that was antagonistic with the worldview of their family members, friends, and society in general. This would lead to persecution. Paul sought to train them Scripturally and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. Mothers do the same. It’s been commonly said that when a child is young, you worry about them—their eating, drinking, health, friends, schooling, future, etc. And when they are old—you continue to worry. To have children is to worry, serve, and seek their best for the rest of their lives. Even after Paul left, he worried about the Thessalonians. That’s why he sent Timothy to check on them and strengthen their faith (1 Thess 3:1-2). Then, he wrote the two Thessalonian letters in response to how they were doing and to continue to help their faith. As mothers serve and disciple their children in infancy, adolescence, and adulthood, effective disciplers do the same.
In verse 9, Paul described his motherly labor for them with two words “toil and drudgery” (v. 9). If there is a difference between the two words, “toil” refers to the weariness and exhaustion that came from the work, and “drudgery” refers to the hardship and difficulty of it. No doubt, Paul got up early to study God’s Word and to pray for God’s kingdom to come, including the maturity of the Thessalonians. He then worked as a tentmaker to provide for his needs. Then he would meet with the believers in the evening throughout the week to disciple them and especially on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. At times, he would counsel and disciple them one-on-one, especially with the potential future leaders, as he needed to prepare elders for the infant church (cf. 2 Tim 2:2). He knew eventually he would leave, and the faithful among them would need to be equipped to provide leadership in his absence (1 Thess 5:12). As mentioned, the word “cares” he used in verse 8 literally means “to warm with body heat.” Paul was intimately involved with the members of this church. He was not a theologian who simply stayed in his office with his books, nor was he a CEO who only worked with the leaders to execute his plans. He was intimately involved with the members, caring for them and loving them. Even though he was only there a few months, his short ministry was extremely effective because of his sacrificial, hard labor and loving, intimate care for the Thessalonian believers. Likewise, we must sacrificially love others like a nursing mother by working, even to exhaustion at times, for their well-being.
The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible gives a touching illustration from the mission field which illustrates our need to be like nursing mothers in our discipleship of others. It said,
Rev. Ira Gillett, missionary to Portuguese East Africa, tells the story of a group of natives who made a long journey and walked past a government hospital to come to the mission hospital for treatment. When asked why they had walked the extra distance to reach the mission hospital when the same medicines were available at the government institution, they replied, “The medicines may be the same, but the hands are different.”
Is the care we give the members of our church and the people God surrounds us with different from the care the world offers? The world puts themselves first instead of God and others. If we’re truly putting God and others first, then our counsel, teaching, and help will be extremely different from others’, and people will notice it. As with Paul’s ministry, many times it will resemble only what a nursing mother can offer. Is our ministry to others patient with their failings? Is it biblical from feeding on God’s Word and sharing it with them? Is it sacrificial and loving as we work hard to promote their spiritual growth and well-being? In the same way mothers are absolutely essential to a child’s well-being, so are effective ministers to the health of believers within the church. Lord, let this be true of us!
Application Question: In what ways have other believers cared for you like a nursing mother and how did that affect you? What are some of the implied difficulties of caring for believers, especially young ones, like a nursing mother? What are some of the implied benefits of this type of ministry (cf. 1 Thess 2:19)? How is God calling you to grow in showing this type of intimate care for others?
To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Care for Others Like a Concerned Father
You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe. As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:10-12
After describing his ministry to the Thessalonians as being like a mother who gently and lovingly cared for the members, he said he was also like a father. This was not an unfamiliar metaphor for Paul’s ministry. He said the same thing to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 4:15, he said, “For though you may have 10,000 guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, because I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” He was a father to Corinthians and the Thessalonians in that he led them to Christ but also sought to lead them to spiritual maturity. By using both the illustration of a mother and father, Paul demonstrated the need to be balanced in our ministry. We must be gentle, patient, and loving, but we also must be firm and uncompromising in our discipleship.
Observation Question: As demonstrated through Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians, how can we care for others like a concerned father in our ministry?
1. To care for others like a concerned father, we must set a godly example.
Paul’s godly example in verse 10 seems to be connected to his illustration of him being like a father. Verse 11 can be translated, “For you know” as in the ESV and NIV. The conjunction “for” connects verses 10 and 11. Paul saw the example he set for the Thessalonians as part of his paternal duty. He needed to be godly in everything he did because his spiritual children were watching and learning from his example. In verse 10, he said, “You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.” “Holy” or “devoutly” (NASB) seems to refer to his relationship with God. He was devout and faithful to God. No doubt, the Thessalonians could see he was a man of God’s Word, prayer, and worship. This would inspire them to be the same. “Righteous” seems to refer to his conformity to God’s law which is summed up in loving God and others. He treated the Thessalonians lovingly and righteously. He never broke any of God’s laws. He kept a clear conscience. His yes meant yes and his no meant no. He was a person of extreme integrity. If “holy” referred primarily to his relationship with God and “righteous” primarily to his relationship with the Thessalonians, “blameless” refers to his reputation with others. Though he was persecuted in Thessalonica for his Christian witness, he was blameless in his actions. His only fault was that he sought to obey God, even when it was in contrast with secular expectations and laws. But even his willingness to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness was a godly example for the Thessalonians to follow. With the Corinthians and the Philippians, he directly called them to follow his fatherly example. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, he said, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” And in Philippians 3:17, he said, “Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example.” They were to imitate him and also others who set a godly example.
With many things in life, learning is better caught than taught. A child learns to walk and talk by watching his parents and siblings. Likewise, lessons on how to evangelize, counsel, and teach are great, but even greater is simply watching others who do those well and then attempting to do the same. As Paul set a godly example in spiritual disciplines, hard work at a “secular job” as he made tents to provide for his needs, his faithfulness to go to the synagogues on the weekend to evangelize unbelieving Jews, and his willingness to suffer for righteousness was a tremendous example for the Thessalonians. In some ways, they may have gained much more from his example than his teaching. In fact, his godly example proved the authenticity of his teaching and inspired them to follow in both his teaching and footsteps. It was said of one preacher when he was in the pulpit, nobody wanted him to come out of it. But when he was outside of the pulpit, nobody wanted him to return. His daily conduct took away from the power and effectiveness of his preaching. Likewise, as effective ministers, we must set a godly example in our faith, work-ethic, family-commitment, and even our recreation. Some people are extremely devoted to the church but neglect their family. Others are diligent at work but neglect church and spiritual disciplines. We must set a godly example in all that we do because others are watching, both believers and unbelievers. Certainly, this is especially true of biological parenting as well. If our instruction isn’t matched by godly lifestyles, it can be hazardous for our children in many ways. It essentially teaches them hypocrisy or pushes them away from us and whatever we profess to be true. In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul said this to Timothy, “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Timothy needed to give great attention to both his life, referring to daily conduct, and his teaching to save both himself and those who were following him. We must do the same.
Are we setting a godly example for others in our diligence at work, devotion to our faith, commitment to the church, and prioritizing of our family? As a spiritual father to the Thessalonians, Paul set an example worth modeling in his holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness. We must be the same.
2. To care for others like a concerned father, we must minister to them individually.
In verse 11, Paul said he treated “each one” as a father treats his children. The phrase “each one” tells us that Paul was not just lecturing at church or small group; he cared for the Thessalonians as individuals. He met with people individually for counseling, instruction, and friendship in general. When Christ said he was the good shepherd in John 10, he said that good shepherds know their sheep by name and lead them (v. 3). Christ knows us individually, including our gifts, talents, feelings, dispositions, struggles, and successes. In the same way, if we’re going to care for others like a father, we must get to know them individually as much as possible. This means spending time with them, not just when things are bad, but also when things are good. We must spend time with them to talk and get to know them. Unfortunately, a lot of fathers may be physically present but emotionally and personally absent. They provide shelter, food, clothing, and occasional direction, but don’t really take time to know their children and spend time with them, as though that’s only the mother’s job. Paul as a father took time to know his people. No doubt, he especially cared for the sheep that were hurting and the faithful ones to prepare them to shepherd others (2 Tim 2:2). If we’re going to shepherd like fathers, we must get to know people in our church, small group, or ministries in intimate ways, including knowing them by name, their struggles, successes, and prayer requests. Obviously, this takes initiative, like asking somebody out for coffee or inviting them over for dinner, inquiring about their background, family, and faith, sharing transparently with them, and seeking to serve them in practical ways. As we get to know people, it opens the door to better minister to them. It’s been said that people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.
Is our church or faith community just a crowd of people we worship with or are they individuals we’re seeking to know individually and mutually build each other up? Certainly, we can’t know everybody with the same intimacy. No doubt, that was true of Paul and his fatherly ministry in Thessalonica. Even Christ had twelve amongst all his disciples he was most intimate with and with three even more so amongst twelve. That’s normal. We can’t know everybody equally, but that shouldn’t hinder us from taking steps of faith to reach out to individuals. Paul saw this as part of his fatherly ministry, caring for individuals and not just shepherding the crowd or being part of the crowd.
3. To care for others like a concerned father, we must instruct them according to their needs.
In verse 12, Paul said: “exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.” Paul mentioned three ways that he instructed the Thessalonians based on their needs—exhorting, encouraging, and insisting. No doubt, he used Scripture with each of these forms of instruction. When they were lacking motivation, he exhorted them and gave them direction—challenging them to keep following Christ. In Galatians 6:9, he said this to the Galatians, “So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up.” If they just kept serving and didn’t give up, there would be a harvest, transformation in their lives and probably the lives of others. Also, in Romans 5:3-4, Paul said, “Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope.” Certainly, when people felt like giving up, he reminded them that God was using their endurance to create character and help them hope in God more. Like a father, he exhorted and directed them to keep going.
When they were discouraged or sad and maybe felt like God abandoned them, he encouraged and comforted them. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; he delivers those who are discouraged.” Psalm 56:8 (ESV) says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Surely, Paul reminded the discouraged that God was not far away, though they felt that way in their difficult circumstances; but that he was even closer to them in their struggles. God would never ignore their midnight tossings or their tears. He kept the tears in a bottle and recorded their tossings in his book. They were precious to God and could never be forgotten, and he was moving in their circumstances, somehow working things out for the good, even if they couldn’t see it immediately (Rom 8:28). When they were sad or discouraged, Paul comforted and encouraged them with God’s Word. The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible gave a helpful illustration about sandhill cranes to show how we as church members should always encourage one another. It said this about sandhill cranes and the church:
These large birds, who fly great distances across continents, have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle turbulence. And then, all during the time one bird is leading, the rest are honking their affirmation. That’s not a bad model for the church. Certainly we need leaders who can handle turbulence and who are aware that leadership ought to be shared. But most of all, we need a church where we are all honking encouragement.
Like a concerned father, we need to continually encouragem those around us and those we disciple specifically, especially when we discern that they are sad or emotionally disturbed.
In addition to exhorting and encouraging the Thessalonians, he “insisted,” “urged,” or “charged” them, probably when they were rebelling against God or tempted to. “Insisted” refers to an urgent challenge and implies a warning as well. No doubt, he at times reminded them of the consequences of sin, how it would negatively affect them and others. But he also probably pointed to God’s discipline. Hebrews 12:5-6 and 8 (ESV) says,
… “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” … If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
God will not allow his children to walk in rebellion towards him. He will first rebuke them through his Word, including through the counsel of godly friends, mentors, or even a sermon (Heb 6:5). If they don’t respond, he will chastise them, which means to whip (Heb 6:6). He will bring various trials in their lives to turn them back to God. If professing believers can live in sin and not experience God’s discipline through repeated rebukes and trials, then they are not true children of God—they are illegitimate (Heb 6:8). They are not saved. No doubt, Paul as a father would urge and warn those who were living in sin or tempted to. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he said this:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
A lifestyle of unrepented sin and lack of God’s discipline would only prove that one is not truly saved. He urged and warned the Corinthians of that, and he, no doubt, did the same with the Thessalonians as a concerned father.
The word “urge” can also be translated “testify.” It’s related to the word martyr, those who died for testifying about their faith. This may imply that when Paul was urging those in rebellion or who were tempted to rebel, he also used his own testimony. He shared his past and present flaws and how God set him free or was setting him free. He shared that the things he wanted to do, he often didn’t do, and the things he hated, he often did (paraphrase of Romans 7). Paul was transparent with those he discipled. He didn’t act like he was perfect. He used his testimony and failures to help those who were caught in sin or tempted towards it. We must do the same. We must testify to God’s goodness and deliverance but also our own weakness and propensity to go astray.
This is also how good biological fathers train their children. They use various strategies to instruct them based on their needs. Each child is different and therefore may need one strategy more often than others. Some are prone to lack motivation and will need continual exhortation. Others are prone to discouragement and need a lot of comfort. Some are prone to independence and rebellion and need a lot of urging and warning. In the same way, each child is different, so is each believer. And the wise minister, like a father, will get to know each person and use various strategies to build that person up.
As we consider these three different forms of instruction based on a person’s needs, we must ask ourselves if we use them all, which we are most prone to, and which we are most prone to neglect. Are we always exhorting but never comforting? Are we always comforting but never warning? Are we always challenging but never being transparent, sharing our own current or past struggles to relate to others and to help them become faithful? Unbalanced instruction can lead to an unbalanced disciple.
If we are going to care for others like a father, we must get to know people and instruct them in a variety of ways based on their needs.
4. To care for others like a concerned father, we must help lead them into God’s calling, including actively waiting for and expanding God’s kingdom.
Again verse 12, Paul said, “exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.” As a father, Paul instructed them to walk worthy of God, his kingdom, and glory. The word “calls” is in the present tense. It means to “continually call.” This means it does not just refer to God’s effectual call at salvation, when the Thessalonians began to believe in Christ. This call began at salvation but continues throughout eternity. God’s call of the Thessalonians to salvation included them becoming like Christ and building his kingdom on earth. Christ’s kingdom has both a present aspect and an eternal aspect. God’s kingdom is the place of his rule. It includes all those who believe in Christ throughout the world and submit to his rule. Therefore, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians towards holiness and to spread the gospel throughout Thessalonica and the world. His instruction included the reality that Christ was coming again to set up his kingdom on earth. Those who were faithful with their gifts and Christ’s calling would be rewarded (cf. Matt 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents). Our life is not just about our seventy or eighty years on the earth, if God allows, it is primarily about eternity, serving in God’s kingdom and sharing in his glory. While Paul was with them, he helped pry their hands off an earthly lifestyle to an eternal one. That’s why both 1 and 2 Thessalonians’ primary theme is eschatology—the study of the end times. Paul was not trying to raise up good Christians who prospered in society and were well-liked by all. Like a spiritual father, he aimed to raise up Christians who were prepared for eternity by living righteously, spreading God’s kingdom through evangelism and missions, and looking for their Savior to return soon. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, he said this about the Thessalonians:
For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.
When God called the Thessalonians, they turned from sin to serve the true God and they were actively waiting for Christ’s return and kingdom, as they suffered persecution for their views and lifestyles (1:6).
Certainly, we must aim to do the same as spiritual fathers. As the world becomes increasingly antagonistic to the biblical worldview, Christians will increasingly be persecuted and tempted to fall away from God. If our hearts are more attached to the comfort and prosperity of this world, we will not last. We must aim to walk worthy of God who called us out of darkness into his kingdom. And like spiritual fathers, we must help others walk in God’s eternal calling as they actively spread and wait for God’s coming kingdom.
If we are going to be effective ministers, we must like fathers set a godly example for those we serve, get to know people individually and instruct them accordingly, and help lead them into God’s calling, including actively waiting for and expanding God’s kingdom.
Application Question: What principles about caring for others like a concerned father stood out most and why? How can these principles be applied both to discipleship and parenting? Which of the three forms of instruction (exhorting, encouraging, and insisting) are you most prone to when ministering to others and most prone to neglect? What form did you most commonly receive from your parents and spiritual leaders? How is God calling you to grow in ministering to others like a concerned father?
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his ministry to them to put to rest the false accusations against him from the Jews. He declared in verse 1 that his ministry there had not “proven to be purposeless” (NET) or was “not in vain.” His ministry there was effective. Therefore, the description of his ministry gives us a wonderful picture of how to be effective ministers or disciplers.
1. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Expect Opposition and Discouragement and Faithfully Serve Despite Them
2. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Be Gospel-Centered
3. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Be Above Reproach in Our Life and Ministry
4. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Incarnate to Reach People
5. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Care for Others Like a Loving Mother
6. To Be Effective Ministers, We Must Care for Others Like a Concerned Father
Application Question: What principle stood out most and why?
• Pray for God to give us grace to not grow weary in doing good, including when experiencing opposition and discouragement.
• Pray for God to give us grace to share the gospel more faithfully with others and that he would give us strategic evangelistic opportunities.
• Pray for God to give us grace to be above reproach in all aspects of our lives, our work, recreation, family, church, and other relationships.
• Pray for God to give us grace to practice incarnational ministry to better reach people who are different from us.
• Pray for God to give us grace to intimately love others like a nursing mother and wisely instruct them like a concerned father.
• Pray for God to protect and strengthen persecuted believers throughout the world.
•. Pray for God to equip us to be more faithful ministers to God and others.