Priorities for Pastors: Approved by God
1 Thessalonians 2:4
1 Thessalonians Lesson #027
June 5, 2018
“Father, we are thankful we can come together to be refreshed by Your Word, to be encouraged in our study of 1 Thessalonians, and to dig into the things that you would have us to learn to think about. How the Apostle Paul faces the opposition that he encounters to the gospel and how he handles the slander, the lies, the distortions, the attacks that have come his way, which is what we see in this first part of chapter 2. Help us to understand how these principles apply in our own lives as we may face the same kind of opposition. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”
We are continuing our study in 1 Thessalonians. We are in the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians I have taught on the first three verses, but this is a reminder that this is not a normal series where I taught it week after week after week. What happens is that I am teaching this as a series to use when I am out of town, when I’m sick, when some situation arises when I just can’t be here, maybe at the last minute, and I need to have Bible class. So, this is not a continuous series. In fact, the last two lessons that I taught were taught in December 2015. So now it’s May 2018, so it’s been 2-1/2 years. So, I’ll do a little review before we get started.
I’m entitling this lesson Priorities for Pastors: Approved by God. Ultimately a pastor is accountable to God. When we think of this word that is used here, twice forms of this word used in verse 4 having to do with being approved by God and Paul using that as a criterion for his ministry. This is fundamental in terms of his accountability, that he is accountable to God and therefore that is what undergirds his integrity as an apostle, his integrity as a minister.
That has great application for all of us because ultimately, we are not to live our lives, we’re not to work at our jobs as men pleasers. We are there to serve the Lord by serving in that capacity—the same thing is true for pastors. So ultimately it is not the pastor’s job to seek approval from the sheep but approval from God. So, we’re going to look at this with first a little bit of review in 1 Thessalonians 2:1.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2, we read, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”
The first thing I want to point out in terms of our review is that in this first verse of chapter 2, Paul asserts that they themselves know that their coming, which implies their teaching and proclamation—they’re not on vacation, they’re not just traveling—they are coming to teach the Word of God, to proclaim the gospel. This is made clear in the current exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 2:3, that it was not without meaning, purpose, or result. It had borne the root of their salvation and their spiritual growth.
If you look at 1 Thessalonians 1:9, he writes, “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” So, he’s really emphasizing what is happening in their lives and that there’s been a transformation in their lives, and that is part of the evidence of the credibility of the apostolic ministry.
With this first line, he says, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain,” 1 Thessalonians 2:1 That word [“vain”] is the word KENOS and it is used a number of times by Paul. It refers to something that is meaningless, it’s empty, it has no value, it has no worth. It’s the opposite of a word that means something that is significant, important, something that is full. It could refer to, for example, an empty wineskin or a full wineskin. It can be referred to the opposite of something being filled with the word PLEROO, which would be the opposite.
This is something that is meaningless and has no value. It has no significance whatsoever and has no result or impact. So he is emphasizing this and this is true for anybody who is a pastor or a Bible teacher or minister who is legitimate, who is focused on teaching the Word, because we know that the power is in the Word of God. We have to understand what the Word of God says because it is the Word of God that is being breathed out by God. It is the Word of God that has power, and so we teach the Word of God. If a pastor is teaching the Word of God, there will be three results that will be obvious in any group.
First of all, people will be saved; people will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. It may be a few, it may be more. It just depends on the culture, the congregation, the background, things like that. I have had over the years a number of people who have come and who have been saved, and I had no idea until maybe some years later when they told me that. So, it is the Word of God though that presented accurately, has an impact in saving people spiritually.
Second, it will produce spiritual growth. People will learn the Word and they will grow spiritually. I always enjoy receiving emails from people that tell me how much certain lessons have impacted them and how they have grown and matured under this ministry. That is a great source of encouragement.
The third thing that results from the teaching of the Word is spiritual service. Spiritual service is not the cause of spiritual growth. It is a natural consequence of spiritual growth. That is, people grow and mature, and they want to serve the Lord, and here there are some opportunities to serve the Lord: teaching in Sunday school, other people serve the Lord just in terms of some administrative things that they do volunteering in different aspects, other people serve the Lord singing in choir. Some people serve the Lord going, for example, to Camp Arete serving there during the summer, and I hope sometime that we have opportunities to take groups on short-term missions trips. But that’s one of the ways in which of the Lord is served as a result of spiritual growth. We see those through three results: salvation, spiritual growth, and spiritual service.
Now Paul has seen these consequences. Whenever you see these consequences, when the Word of God is having an impact in people’s lives, then one of the things that frequently happens is opposition, especially if you’re going into a new area where there’s never been the truth there and the angelic conflict gets focused at that point. There are those who are holding to the lies, holding the false doctrine, worshiping idols.
This is what has happened in Thessalonica—they have turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God. This angered a lot of people. It angered Gentiles who were idol worshipers. And on the other hand, it angered as we know from the background studies in Acts as we looked at, it angers the Jewish community because they had made an idol out of the Law, out of the Torah, which is still very much part of Judaism today.
So, they attacked the messenger. They attacked Paul, and they had many false charges against him.
They accused him of doing it only for money, that they were just trying to become wealthy off of this, that they were deceiving people. They had all these different charges brought against him, and this is not new for Paul. He had to defend his apostleship to the Corinthians in both the first epistle to the Corinthians and in the second epistle to the Corinthians.
So, we ought to look at this in terms of solving a problem. We have our spiritual skills that we talk about. Otherwise they’ve been referred to as problem-solving devices or problem-solving skills that God gives us.
Paul is facing a problem of people testing in opposition to the Word, opposition to the truth, and these lies that are told about him. Often what happens if we’re victims of gossip, we’re victims of lies and slander, that we take it personally. But I want you to notice, that’s not what Paul’s doing here. Paul is so focused on the gospel; what matters to Paul is its impact on the gospel presentation, its impact on the gospel truth, and whatever the consequences of that might be are really his focus. He is not really focused on the fact that his feelings have been hurt or that he has been treated unjustly. It is always all about the gospel.
One of the things that we have to learn is how does Paul deal with this. What are the doctrinal methods that we’ve studied in terms of spiritual skills that are brought to bear on his opposition as he’s dealing with that? One of the things that he does in these first 12 verses is he brings people back to his life as he was serving among them. What is important about that is that it brings into perspective two words that we see used.
Actually, it’s these two words that are used in chapter 4. They’re forms of the root word, and the root word comes from the noun DOKIMOS or DOKIMAZO is the verb. It has a couple different forms here, but what it refers to is approval. Whenever we see these words it immediately should bring to our mind that there’s future accountability to God—we’re serving God. Ultimately the way in which we handle any kind of opposition—slander, lies, and everything—is to bring it back to the to the gospel and that eventually there’s accountability at the Judgment Seat of Christ. And so that’s what Paul is going to be bringing out here.
As part of this he refers to the way in which he served them. See, he’s serving them at that point because of his long-term understanding of God’s destiny for them, so that’s a form of our personal sense of eternal destiny. I want you to notice as you read through these 12 verses how many times Paul refers back to what they witnessed in terms of his ministry, what they knew about his ministry, his personal relationship with them.
For example [referring to 1 Thessalonians 2:1–11], in verse 1, he says, “As you yourselves know.” In verse 2, he says, “As you know,” then in verse 5, again, he says, “As you know,” then in verse 5 he says, “God is witness,” and verse 6, he said, “We did not seek glory from men or from you or others.” He’s appealing to them and to remember that we weren’t there to glorify ourselves, we weren’t trying to gain attention for ourselves. In verse 7 he says, “We were gentle among you.” See, he keeps going back to their frame of reference of his ministry when he was there. Verse 9, he says, “For you remember,” verse 10 he says, “You are witnesses,” and then in verse 11, again for the third time, he comes back and says, “As you know.”
So, he is constantly referring back to that testimony that he had when he was in their presence and was ministering to them. He’s telling them and reminding them that that his ministry and their witnesses of it was not in vain, it wasn’t worthless. We see the use of that word KENOS several times in the New Testament. It has this idea usually of just a wasted time, a wasted life, something that had no impact and no significance.
For example, Paul uses it [KENOS] three times in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Now, remember 1 Corinthians 15 talks about the resurrection and the significance of the resurrection to the Christian life; it’s a great resurrection chapter. In 1 Corinthians 15:10 Paul says, “by the grace of God I am what I am,” and His grace toward me was not in vain. See, it’s the same idea—God’s grace has an impact. It’s not empty. It transforms our lives, and so that’s what Paul is referring to.
The grace of God was when Jesus appeared to him when he was on the road to Damascus, and at that point he clearly understood the gospel. Jesus said in Acts 9:5, “Why are you kicking against the goads?” In other words, why are you kicking and constantly resisting all of the gospel presentations, all of the testimonies that you’ve heard and witnessed? Why are you constantly resisting that? Then Paul responds and states, God’s grace wasn’t just emptiness in his life, and he refers back to what he’s done, Before that he labored more abundantly than everyone, but that didn’t count. It was God’s grace, which was with me, that made the difference.
In 1 Corinthians 15:14, he talks about the content of our faith and the foundation of our faith, and that is the Resurrection. That without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. It is the Latin phrase sine qua non, it is without which nothing, and it refers to something that is indispensable, and if it’s removed, then you just don’t have anything. So, the Resurrection is central to our proclamation, and that word refers to proclamation of the gospel, and then if there’s no Resurrection, then our faith is also empty.
Then in the third use in 1 Corinthians 15:58 where he says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” That is referring to your spiritual service, that it is not something that is just empty and meaningless. But if we are steadfast in our spiritual walk, staying in relationship with the Holy Spirit, growing to spiritual maturity, then whatever we do counts for eternity. In 2 Corinthians 6:1, he says, “We then, his workers together with him, also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” So, don’t just ignore it, or receive it in a way and believe the Scriptures and then you will go forward.
This is what is being said in 1 Thessalonians 2:1, “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.” It produced a transformation that was caused by the content of the gospel.
He uses the word again in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, he says, “For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith.” He sent a messenger. He had left Thessalonica; he was only there for two or three months at the most, and he left and he went from there to Berea, as its anglicized. He goes to Berea, and then he went down to Athens, and then he has to send back because he left his coworkers Timothy and Titus back there in Thessalonica. He wants to find out what’s happened because he basically got run out of town because there was such opposition from the Jews in the synagogues to what he was what he was doing. So, he sent to know how they were doing.
They were young church, young believers. How have they survived since he last left? Had they fallen prey to the tempter who is the devil? He says, “I sent to know your faith … lest by some means, the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain,”1 Thessalonians 3:5. But it was not, and they were growing, and they were maturing, and they had questions for him to clarify their faith. All that is just a first review that Paul had had a significant impact in the ministry there.
Then we come to verse 2, “But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict,” 1 Thessalonians 2:2. Here he refers to the suffering, the persecution, the arrest that had occurred when he was beaten in Philippi. But he says despite this opposition, the hostility. the persecution, and the physical abuse he said, “we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”
The second thing is that he reminds them that they had endured. That is Paul and Silas, had endured tremendous rejection, hostility, and suffering as they proclaimed their message, which they would not have done if they had been frauds. They would not have stayed in that ministry and gone through all of that suffering if they would have left much earlier.
So, this goes to his appeal to their character and their ministry. The reason that they are ministering is because he has his eye on the long game—not only their eternal salvation, but their future destiny to rule and reign with Jesus Christ. So that’s why I say that what is motivating his ministry is his understanding of the long game, that is our spiritual skill or problem-solving device. That is what will come into play whenever we are facing opposition in our spiritual life.
Just to remind you, we have this map here of Greece. Achaia is the lower area; Sparta is down here in the south. Achaia is the central area and then in the north, we have Macedonia and the yellow line that you see going from east to west horizontally is the Ignatian Way. This is a main east-west thoroughfare that Paul would have traveled. If you go to Greece, you can still see sections of this that are still there. It’s about six feet wide, and it’s stone at the bottom. It’s pretty rough now, but it would’ve had to have been much smoother earlier to have wheeled vehicles.
We see that both Philippi and Thessalonica are on this Via Ignatia, the Ignatian Way. Thessalonica is about 40 miles to the west of Philippi. On that second missionary journey Paul had come in and he’d gone to Neapolis and actually had his ministry. This is Acts 16, where he’s arrested in Philippi, and from there he went to Thessalonica.
He talks about that, they were bold to have confidence that even despite opposition, they continued to proclaim the Word and to teach the Word.
The third point that he is making here is that his life was an example to other believers on how to face life challenges with spiritual courage and boldness because they understand what that eternal destiny is. So, whether the opposition is some sort of overt organized persecution, or whether it is just people who are slandering and lying about you, keeping your eye on the end game—your eternal destiny—allows us to live with joy and happiness today and proclaim the gospel with courage and boldness. But it’s dependent upon having the Word of God in our soul. So, Paul faces the situation with humility and has grace orientation.
In Philippi he is imprisoned, but I want you to notice that he just doesn’t roll over. He’s not becoming the doormat for those who are in opposition. He just doesn’t sit there with this pious look on his face and just, you know, “do to me what you will”. He is a very strong individual, and he is going to go to the Lord in prayer. He is going to have great joy as he and Silas are in the jail. They’re going to sing hymns to the glory of God while they are in the jail overnight and then God miraculously is going to deliver them.
There are a couple of lessons that we learn from that. You might want to turn with me in your Bible to Acts 16, and we will just review briefly what happened when they went, when they were arrested, and they were put in prison.
In Acts 16, the first thing we notice as we look at this episode is that Paul’s focus is on the gospel and his Christian testimony, that he is not focused on the opposition in terms of his own personal suffering. He’s not whining personally, he’s not angry, he’s not in a mode of retaliation. He is relaxed because he knows that God is in control, and he is applying the Word to his life. He understands God has a plan and purpose for him, so he can relax in the situation.
We see him thus stating the principal in 2 Corinthians 10:17–18, the same way he has been rehearsing some of the various types of persecution, suffering, hostility that he has met in his and his apostolic ministry. And at the end, he says, “But he who glories let him glory in the Lord.”
That’s our mental attitude—we’re not glorying in ourselves. The ministry is not about me, it’s not about my success, it’s not about how many people that the Lord gives me, how few people, how large a church, how small a church, whatever; it is to faithfully serve the Lord with whomever the Lord brings in my life. If there’s going to be opposition and persecution, then that means that the Lord has a testimony that He’s developing in me and for some reason and some purpose. So, it’s not for me to glory in my ministry, but to glory in the Lord. For Paul, as he points out, it’s always ultimately about the Lord.
Then in 2 Corinthians 10:18, he says, “For not he who commends himself is approved.” So, if you’re always focusing on how great your ministry is, how large it is, talking about all the positive things that God is doing, then in a way, you’re commending yourself as opposed to the Lord.
The issue here is his approval, and that brings in the word that we’re going to see in 1 Thessalonians 4, and that’s the word DOKIMOS, and that supports the verb form DOKIMAZO, but here it’s DOKIMOS. It’s an adjective and it means approval, or something that is excellent, or something that has passed inspection, and therefore, it is accepted. “For not he who commends himself is approved,” and that usually refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ. At the Judgment Seat of Christ, this will not accrue to gold, silver, and precious stones to rewards, but only to a loss of rewards. The one who is approved is the one who the Lord commends because of what the Lord is doing in their life. So, we see the hint of where we’re going.
The second thing that we see here is that Paul doesn’t take advantage of the miraculous release that occurs when the angels appear, the chains come off, and they are freed. This is described in Acts 16:25, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” So, this is a great testimony.
You ought to ask yourself, how many hymns could you sing if you were thrown in jail? How many hymns could you sing from memory? I always remember reading a book about a Vietnam War era prisoner of war talking about how the men in the prison, the Vietnamese prison camp, would piece together the bits and pieces of verses that they could remember. They figured out codes where they could use like Morse code to tap out things. One guy would remember part of a verse, another guy would remember part of the verse that would put things together and the same thing for hymns. So, Paul and Silas have learned hymns. This is part of walking by the Spirit. We should know our hymns; we should be able to sing hymns without our hymnal because we know them.
Suddenly there’s a great earthquake, the foundations of the prison were shaken. Immediately the doors are open and all the chains are loosed; all these prisoners could escape. Paul doesn’t take advantage of that, but he extends grace because he knows as they all leave the prison, the jailer is going to be held accountable and face the death penalty.
That was what the situation was in the Roman Empire. So, the keeper of the prison is awakened in the midst of this, and he runs to make sure the prisoners haven’t escaped. He just knows they’ve escaped, so he’s going to kill himself. But Paul stopped him in Acts 16:28, and then the keeper of the prison calls for a light and went in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
He’s scared to death because he knows that his life is in danger. He cries out to them and says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30. Then we have Paul’s succinct answer in terms of the gospel, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household,” Acts 16:31. In other words, all your family can be saved, and then they spoke the Word of the Lord, and they explained the gospel to him.
The gospel is succinctly just believe. It’s not believe and have works that are consistent with your belief. It is simply believe. At the instant of faith alone in Christ alone, we are saved, and we immediately are born again; we immediately are a new creature in Christ; we immediately receive the imputation of righteousness. God declares us justified, and we have eternal life that can never be taken away from us.
But, the succinct gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” So, after he believes, he takes Paul and Silas to his house. They treat their wounds from having been whipped and flagellated. Then he and his family are baptized. We don’t know where they were baptized. We do know there’s a small river that runs through Philippi. It could have been right by their house, and they just went right there and were baptized. Then the next day they’re going to wait.
This is what’s so interesting is how Paul handles this. He doesn’t just say, “Okay, we’ll leave town.” He is going to force the issue in a gracious way, but he’s going to force the issue because he wants the opposition to know that they just can’t walk all over them and just take advantage of him because he indeed is a Roman citizen.
One of the laws related to Roman citizens is they are not to be whipped. They are not to be flogged/ And so, the next day, the magistrates, having awakened, know about the earthquake during the night, send officers and they were going to just let him [Paul] go. They figured they learned their lesson, and were going to let the men go.
But the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace,” Acts 16:36. Paul says in Acts 16:37, “They’ve beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly?” Basically, what he’s saying is they’re not going to get away with this; there has to be accountability.
So, he says, “Let them come themselves and get us out,” Acts 16:37. When the officers were told this in Acts 16:38, they were afraid when they heard they were Romans. They just didn’t listen. They didn’t give them the opportunity to defend themselves at all the night before. So, they came, they pleaded with them and asked them to depart from the city.
So, this is the suffering that Paul is referring to here, but he treats even his opponents with grace, but he holds them to accountability.
Now the third thing, or point c, that I’m bringing out here, is that by application, we can find ourselves mistreated, we can be legally mistreated. We can be legally held accountable and that could very well happen in this country with the rise of such hostility to Christianity, especially in some of the very, very liberal parts of this country. There are many people, even in government, that don’t know any evangelical Christians. You say, “Christians”, and they’ve never known them.
A number of years ago, now it’s been about 12 years , we were on our first trip to Israel, and there was a film crew along with us. They were all from Boston, and they just simply made the comment that they wanted to film Christians and understand their support for Israel because in their lives, they didn’t know any conservative, evangelical Christians. This was a major issue at the time when George W. Bush was president.
But that’s the point, there are these enclaves of people in liberal bastions in California, in Washington state, Oregon, mostly along the coast of New York, Boston, Connecticut. They have no contact with anyone that is a Bible-believing Christian. And so, they just have believed a lot of lies and misrepresentations and caricatures of Christians, and as a result, they’re prone to even increasing that slander.
We may eventually, even in this country, face legal persecution. That’s happened with some people that have taken stands in their business against serving cakes or being photographers at homosexual “weddings”.
We may be personally defamed. It may be family members who are hostile to us as Christians. So, how do we handle that? We have to understand our personal sense of our eternal destiny—where we are headed eventually—and we handle this opposition with grace and humility so that brings to bear two of those spiritual skills: grace orientation and a personal sense of our eternal destiny. As they apply that, as we see Paul and Silas apply this, there’s no anger, there’s no retaliation that takes place. Everything is oriented to ultimately the message of the gospel and the salvation of those who may be around. As a result of that, Paul had a tremendous opportunity to give the gospel to the Philippian jailer and to his family. And there were probably many others who through the witness of the Philippian jailer and his family, also came to know and understand the gospel.
So, when we handle this opposition on the basis of grace, humility, and personal sense of our eternal destiny, it opens the door to opportunities to give the gospel. If we retaliate in anger and bitterness, then we feel pretty foolish if then we get the opportunity to give the gospel, because we discredited ourselves already. So, we see a positive example here with Paul.
Now the fourth thing in terms of review, in the second part of 1 Thessalonians 2:2, it points out that their past failure, their past suffering, didn’t minimize their boldness and courage. Even though they faced this opposition in Philippi, when they came to Thessalonica, they weren’t hindered. They didn’t say, “Well, we don’t want to upset the ruling class. We don’t want to upset the Jews. We don’t want to create a problem. We will just back off a little bit and maybe just going into people’s private homes.” They didn’t do that at all.
They went to the synagogue; they taught at the synagogue. Then there were those Jews who became hostile to them and kicked them out, but there were others who believed and they developed a ministry to them. So, they continued to be bold because they understood God’s plan and purpose for their life.
So, this leads us into 1 Thessalonians 2:2 where he says, “But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.” They don’t water it down. This is what happened in Galatia; this is what all of Galatians is about. The Judaizers, who were Jews who were hostile to the gospel, wanted the Christians to obey the Law for salvation as well as for sanctification, and so they wanted them to water down and change the gospel. But Paul’s not going to water down, or change the gospel, or make it any less offensive to those who might take some form of offense. They are bold, but it is in conflict, and that is something we should expect as Christians, that when we take a stand for the truth, take a stand for God’s gospel, that there may be opposition and there may be great conflict, especially as we see where our world is headed today.
Then we look at 1 Thessalonians 2:3 where Paul reminded them of the basis for what he taught. He says, “For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.” The word that he uses here for exhortation is the word PARAKLESIS from the verb PARAKALEO, allow to be encouraged, to comfort, to encourage. But here, it has a broader sense, and it’s related to the message that they had brought, the message of the gospel. Their exhortation was to challenge people to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation, and that is what the pastor is supposed to do.
Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy that he’s to do the work of an evangelist, that although the pastor doesn’t have the gift of evangelism necessarily, he is to present the gospel all of the time; he is to do the work of evangelism. It doesn’t come from a place of mixed motives. He’s not teaching error. He’s not teaching some sort of false doctrine. Uncleanness has the connotation in some passages of some sort of sexual impurity, and it’s not deceitful. He is to be open and honest and clear on the gospel and not compromise it in any particular way at all.
Now if we look at 1 Thessalonians 2:3, at least in the English, at least in the New King James Version, verse 3 ends with a period. The sentence doesn’t end in the Greek text. It’s clear—the Greek text doesn’t have punctuation—modern Greek text has punctuation, but the original did not have punctuation like we do. But we can punctuate it because of the way Greek grammar works, so you can tell where the sentence breaks are. One of the characteristics of the King James Version when it was translated, was to try to make every verse a standalone sentence. Now some places they just couldn’t do it, but they try to break these complex sentences of Paul down into single sentences.
Actually, in the Greek text, 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4 are the same sentence, and Paul is explaining how they were bold and why they were bold in the gospel. In 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4, he says, “For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit, but as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.” So, the positive statement that he is making is in 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
Here’s sort of a phrase breakdown of 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4. In verse 3, he is talking about what wasn’t part of their motivation, and we see these words “not,” “nor,” “nor,” and so he is saying it’s not from deception, nor from impure motive, nor from deceit, but as we’ve been examined by God to be entrusted with the gospel. That’s the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
He says, “So we speak.” Then again, we have a negative, “not as, those who please people,” but now expressing the positive, “those who please God, the one who examines our hearts.” So, the positive statement that he is making is that we have been entrusted with the gospel as members of the body of Christ, followers of Jesus, those who have trusted in Him for salvation, have been entrusted with the gospel.
This takes us back to an understanding of what is called the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20, where Jesus commissions the apostles to make disciples by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Baptism is what was normally done after people got saved. We just saw it in Acts chapter 16. As soon as the Philippian jailer believes, he, as a Gentile, is baptized and it happened right then.
So, baptism signifies evangelism. So, part one is we witness; we explain the gospel. People respond, they’re baptized; that doesn’t save them at all. It is just a visual aid for understanding positional truth,. Then the second thing is like teaching everyone to obey all that I command. That’s the Great Commission: evangelism and teaching. The lion’s share of the ministry to believers is about teaching the Word. This is the foundation here—we’ve been examined by God to be entrusted with the gospel.
This idea of exhortation would be not only inclusive of the gospel, but also of what came afterwards.
And it didn’t come from error; they’re not distorting anything. It’s not some sort of a personal con job that Paul’s involved with in order to fool many people and get their money, but nevertheless they got opposition. We have got a couple of verses here to show you how many times Paul has faced opposition.
In 2 Timothy 1:12, he says, “For this reason, I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day.” He writes this when he’s in the maritime dungeon in Rome, and he is a prisoner for the gospel. He is in chains for the gospel and that’s what he is suffering. So, he’s now at a point where he’s facing opposition from Nero and the Roman government.
In 2 Corinthians 2:17, Paul says, “For we are not as so many, handling the Word of God.” This is something that came up quite a few times as Paul would be accused of doing this for money, and often he would go to places because that was the claim, and he would work for a living. He was a tentmaker; he would organize some other tentmakers, and they would go into business, and he would work at that so that he would not be dependent on a church. There’s a whole chapter in 1 Corinthians where he defends that, but he says others do it a different way.
There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong, in fact, he says in 2 Timothy that a workman is worthy of his hire, and that a pastor is worthy of double honor. The word that he uses there is a word that referred to pay, to income, and that a pastor who labored well should be paid twice as much as anybody else—that was the standard that he set. But he chose not to be a burden to the local congregation. He said this in many places.
2 Corinthians 4:2 and following, he is also emphasizing this, he says, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame …” In Corinth, the Corinthians were constantly attacking the credibility of Paul and his legitimacy. He was constantly having to defend himself to the Corinthians. But he doesn’t do it out of a personal motive; he does it because he wants the gospel to be clear, and he doesn’t want anything to detract from the gospel ministry.
There he says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully.” See, he’s saying, “we are honest in the way we handle the Word of God. We’re not trying to deceive anybody. We’re not trying to take advantage of anybody financially, but we believe that just manifesting the truth commends us to everyone and your conscience will understand that.”
It’s very interesting because an example of this occurred just yesterday here in Houston. It’s in May 2018, and we just had a runoff in a primary between two Republican candidates. There was a political action committee for one of the candidates that was funding a tremendous amount of attack ads on the other candidate. Now this candidate who was the source of these attack ads on the other guy had actually accumulated the most votes in the primary, and this was a runoff. His claims against the other candidate were just getting outlandish, and he accused him of some of the most extreme things, and it got to the point where people just didn’t believe that anymore. If you said a few things, maybe people would believe you. But day after day, you just got these attack ads in the mail, and people realized that he didn’t have any credibility because as they heard the answers from the other guy without maybe taking a directed attack on his accuser, people understood that the guy doing the attacking was lying.
That’s the idea that Paul has here, if we just teach the truth, then your conscience will recognize that and will validate it and understand that we’re not doing it for our own gain. And that’s what happened. In fact, the guy who was making all of these false claims and these attack ads didn’t get half of the votes that he got in the original primary, and he lost by almost a vote of three to one. So, it became obvious to more and more people that these attacks just couldn’t be true. They were made up. He lost all his credibility. See that’s what Paul is dealing with here is that if you just focus on the truth, then it will be evident to people.
In 2 Corinthians 4:3–5, it says, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age is blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves …”; it’s not about us, “… but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” It’s all about Jesus; it’s all about the gospel. It is not about us. That’s his focal point.
In 2 Corinthians 12:16, I read verse 17 earlier, he defends himself, and says, “But be that as it may, I did not burden you,” financially I didn’t come and ask you for money. “Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!” There he’s being sarcastic. “Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?” 2 Corinthians 12:17. See, wasn’t I smart? I was so cunning, I didn’t ask you for money. I didn’t ask you to support the people I sent to you, Timothy and Titus. They didn’t take advantage of you. They just taught you the truth—wasn’t that crafty? That’s the sarcasm that’s there. So, he was being accused of that. What this does is it emphasizes that that we are to focus on God’s approval. This is the focal point of the growth in the in the church.
Ephesians 4:14, the goal of teaching in the in the local church is, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” That’s what the false teachers were doing, and Paul is showing that he doesn’t follow that mentality.
So, in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, it says, “But we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.” The noun form, I just put over here on the left side so you would see that; that’s the word that we saw earlier in 2 Corinthians chapter 10. But the verb is used here twice, the first time as “we have been approved”. It’s a perfect tense verb which means it is action that occurred and completed in the past. When did God do this approval? He did this when they were commissioned as apostles when they are to begin a teaching the Word. They had been approved at the beginning to be entrusted with the gospel; that was part of their mission going back to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19–20.
But they’re entrusted with the gospel, “even so we speak, not as pleasing men,” 1 Thessalonians 2:4. See, he’s not there to have all the great sermons, the oratory, the rhetoric is not to entertain people. This is just what happens in so many churches today, and that’s not the point. In fact, that just shows if they’re not false teachers, for some of them to get the gospel right and some of them as shallow and superficial as they are, it’s still basically true. It’s just that that they’re pleasing men. They are not pleasing God. They are not carrying out the tasks that God has assigned to the pastors, and that is teaching the gospel, and teaching people to grow to spiritual maturity.
So Paul says, we’re not to speak as pleasing men, “but God who tests …” and there’s that second use of DOKIMAZO. It’s a present active participle. It’s a relative clause. God is characterized as the One Who proves, Who tests, Who evaluates our hearts, our thinking. He understands our motivation. He understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and that is to serve Him.
The noun is used in passages like 1 Corinthians 11:19, which I always thought is a very interesting verse, that there should be factions among you, there should be divisions in the church. Why? Because it shows who are approved, it shows who are true, who are honest with the Word. 2 Timothy 2:15: We are to be diligent to present ourselves “approved unto God,” evaluated and commended by God.
James uses the word in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures testing; for when he has been approved”—when he passes the test—“he will receive the crown of life.” So all this approval always focuses on the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future.
The verb is used in Romans 12:2, that we’re to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind that we may prove”—that we may test, evaluate—what the will of God is. It’s long-term, in its focus. 1 Corinthians 3:13 is the key one because this talks about the Judgment Seat of Christ, that at the Judgment Seat of Christ, it’s only for believers; it’s not for unbelievers. “… each one’s work” —that is our service to the Lord—“will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test ...” That’s our word DOKIMAZO again. It’s a positive term. It’s to reveal what is positive, not to expose what’s negative and so it’s always oriented to that which is productive and going forward. That’s the Judgment Seat of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:4, our passage, emphasizes that this is looking at something in a long-term evaluation by God.
It’s related to self-examination. The verb is used here in 2 Corinthians 13:5 for self-examination, “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” That’s not talking about are you a believer that is, are you walking consistent with the Word of God and the doctrine that you have learned? We are to constantly examine ourselves to make sure we’re walking in the truth. Galatians 6:4, “But let each one examine his own work.” So, we are to be involved in using the Word of God to self-evaluate.
Now we’re to test all things. That’s discernment, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test all things;”—not to seek what is bad, but to seek that which is good, and to “hold fast what is good.” And in 1 Corinthians 11:28, at the Lord’s Table we’re to examine ourselves. That leads to confession if necessary before we partake of the Lord’s Table.
Ultimately, what we learn when we look at this is for the pastor, as Paul talks about for the apostle, we are to be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that they build a large church. Is that what it says? No. That they should become wealthy in the ministry? No, it doesn’t say that. That they should be leading hundreds of thousands of people to the Lord? It doesn’t say that. “Moreover, it is required in stewards that they be found faithful,” 1 Corinthians 4:2.
God has given every pastor, every one of us some finite amount of ability, and we’re to be faithful with the talents that God gave us and how He has gifted us in order to serve Him. When He evaluates us, He is going to evaluate us in terms of have we been faithful. He’s not going to say, “Well you only led 10 people to the Lord, but somebody over here led 10,000, so you don’t get anything.” Are you faithful with what God has given you?
For pastors and teachers, that is the mission—to equip the saints for the work of service and building up or edifying the body of Christ. That is the pastor’s mission. Ephesians 4:12.
Next time, we’ll come back and further develop what Paul says about the ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8.
“Father, thank You for this time that we may be challenged and understand the pastoral priority, that we are to be faithful in our service to You, and that means faithfully teaching Your Word, for that is the only way in which believers grow and mature. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”