Keeping it Simple
(1 Thessalonians 2: 1-13)
In all the different careers I’ve had there was a basic approach and job description. One that thankfully didn’t involve any math other than counting by tens, twenties, and hundreds. Policing was pretty basic. Answer your radio when called, take a report, conduct a basic investigation, and forward it to the detectives for follow-up. If an arrest was made the case was forwarded to the prosecutor’s office who would determine the best charge based upon the strength or weakness of the investigation and if all the elements were met. The trick was not in overcharging the case, making it into something it wasn’t in spite of the protestations and desires of the complaining witness or victim who may be seeking something more than justice. I found that being honest, upfront, and firm with my witnesses as a prosecutor worked best and developed trust in the process preparing them for the unpredictability of a jury. From a defense perspective you had to be realistic with your client who hoped you could pull a rabbit out of your hat and get them out of their legal jam just like on tv. Right from the first meeting I would tell them their options; jury trial, plea bargain, or plead without an agreement and see what the judge would do. This was usually followed by a litany of excuses and reasons for why they did what they did and why they shouldn’t be held accountable, which I would tell them was really not a defense or evidence of anything relevant. If anything, it might mitigate punishment but there had to be an acceptance of guilt first. I learned that in all of these instances people appreciated simple and straightforward honesty. Sure, as a prosecutor you wanted to come off as a “law and order” prosecutor they would support in the next election rather than telling everyone who would listen that you were soft on crime. And, as a defense attorney, you really wanted their business and didn’t want them to go to another attorney so you had to resist the temptation to sugarcoat their case, telling them what they want to hear, and reassuring them that everything would be okay. Keeping it simple and giving them the God’s honest truth, built trust and confidence in the final outcome.
And keeping it simple and openly telling people the God’s honest truth is what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our Scripture reading for this morning. The church in Thessalonica was a relatively new church that was established during Paul’s second missionary journey around 51 A.D., and, in Paul’s absence, it was experiencing some theological difficulties. There were some people, charlatans if you will, who had infiltrated the church with a hidden agenda and were casting dispersions upon the gospel message Paul had brought them when he planted the church. Paul feels compelled to answer several of these accusations that had been leveled against him and his companions and lays the foundation for his argument when he reminds his readers that his previous visit to them wasn’t a waste of time. On the contrary, he says, we had the courage through God to speak God’s good news in spite of a lot of opposition, although we had already suffered and were publicly insulted in Philippi, as you know. This tells me right there that Paul and his followers ran into resistance at the outset of their church plant. Apparently, someone else saw an opportunity to establish their own church with an eye towards building something that benefitted them more than it benefitted God’s people, if at all. Paul reminds them that his appeal isn’t based on false information, wrong motives, or deceptions. Rather, he says, we have been examined and approved by God to be trusted with the good news, and that’s exactly how we speak. We aren’t trying to please people, but we are trying to please God, who continues to examine our hearts. Paul says a mouthful here. He’s not telling people what they want to hear. He’s telling them what they need to hear, the plain unvarnished truth. It reminds me of the time a lady got up in the middle of one of my sermons and went home. I contacted her later to see if anything was wrong, like if she was ill or something, and she told me she didn’t like the message that morning and that she came to church to feel better about herself. That same sermon got some pushback from another couple, and I told them that if they could find anything in what I said that wasn’t supported by the scripture, the gospel, or our Book of Discipline then to point it out to me. Sometimes the plain and simple God’s honest truth is hard for some people to take. The Apostle and his followers refused to be ingratiating out of a concern to please humans, to put bodies in the pews and coins in the collection plate and kept to their sole desire to please God preaching His truth. Paul’s statement suggests that the approval from humans, or at least seeking their approval, excludes approval by God, or matters more.
Paul continues by reminding his Thessalonian readers that he and his followers never used flattery and that God was their witness that they didn’t have any greedy motives. He says: We didn’t ask for special treatment from people—not from you or from others—although we could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles. He reassured them that he was motivated by the sole desire to nurture, with a recognition of the weakness and vulnerability of those to whom they ministered. And he reminds them that they were as gentle with them as a nursing mother caring for her own children. He says that they were glad to share not only God’s good news with them but also their very lives because they cared that much. They were careful to tailor their ministry so as to give the Thessalonians exactly what they needed to fulfill their destiny to live lives worthy of the God who is calling them, which is what he meant when he said: you know how we treated each of you like a father treats his own children. We appealed to you, encouraged you, and pleaded with you to live lives worthy of the God who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory. Paul closes out this portion of his letter by his constantly thanking God for the fact that when they accepted God’s word that they heard it from them, that they welcomed it for what it truly is. Instead of accepting it as a human message, they accepted it as God’s message, and it continues to work in them who are believers.
The Apostle Paul was an “out-there” kind of guy who was not easily intimidated, if at all. When he wrote this letter he had just been released from prison, which, if anything, proved to him that he was on the right track. What Paul wants us to understand is that if God wants us to do something, He will give us the strength and courage to boldly speak out for Him despite any obstacles that may come our way. And he understands that people become involved in ministry for a variety of reasons, most of them good, but unfortunately not all of them are well-intentioned or pure. They may be self-serving or have a hidden agenda contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and when those bad motives are exposed for all to see all of Christ’s work suffers. It’s all over the internet, it’s on the six o’clock news, and our detractors gleefully revel in the embarrassing moment lumping us in with the church that has fallen short of the glory of God. When we do get involved in ministry, we do so out of love for Christ and others. Plain and simple.
Paul’s message to us is that as Christians we should not be flatterers, telling people what they want to hear. As disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we have a special obligation when we proclaim God’s truth to be responsible, honest, and sensitive to the needs of others. And when we actually witness for Christ in what we say or do, our focus should not be on the impressions we make. As true ministers of Christ, we should point to Him, not to ourselves. What we do gives glory to God, not us. It’s our Christ-like gentleness that is our love in action, being considerate of others, meeting their needs, allowing for the other person to talk and ask questions, and being willing to learn from them because they have a story to tell and want to be heard. In doing so, we’ll be helping these new Christians become strong enough to influence people within their own sphere of influence for the sake of the gospel. Others will want to know what they have and where did they get it, especially if it is simple and the God’s honest truth.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, how we long to know your truth, the plain and simple gospel of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. And how grateful we are that you so willingly take the time to walk with us, talk with us, and tell us that we are your own. Move us through your Spirit to keep our minds open to your truth and give us the ability and discernment to recognize those who are twisting and misinterpreting your word for their own selfish purposes to the detriment of your vulnerable children. We pray that in all we do in your Son’s name that we keep it as simple as it was always meant to be. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.