The Lord's Day Morning
May 27, 2012
“Living in Light of Jesus’ Return: A Gospel Attested by Conduct”
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn to Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, the first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 2, and we're going to be looking at verses 1 to 12 this morning. I want to bring to your attention this aspect of what Paul is doing in chapters 2 and 3. Paul is defending his ministry to the Thessalonians church from charges that are being brought against him, maybe by the very people that caused him and his church planting team to have to leave town. They’re saying a whole variety of things trying to undermine his credibility to the Thessalonian Christians, and you can actually pick up on what they’re saying about him by what he says in defending his ministry.
PAUL EXPLAINS AND VINDICATES
HIS MOTIVES, CONDUCT, AND AIMS
Now the way he defends his ministry is interesting. In these chapters, he recounts, describes, and then explains his ministry. He recounts and he’ll say, “Do you remember what I did when I was there?” And they go, “Oh yeah, I remember you doing that.” And then he’ll say, “Well let me describe to you what I was doing. This is what I was doing.” And then he’ll say, “Now, let me tell you why I was doing that. Let me tell you what my goal was in doing that.” And in doing this he is defending his ministry to them, whereas there are people in Thessolonica who are trying to undermine his credibility. He says, “Well now, if they’re saying that about me, let me just remind you what I did. Remember that?” The Thessalonians say, “Yes, I remember that.” “This is what I was doing; this is why I was doing it.” And then the Thessalonians go, “That makes sense. The charges being brought against you are clearly untrue, they’re slanderous. I can see exactly what you were doing.” He's going to do this in these two chapters. Now there's a sense in which that's material I need to preach to myself because in describing his ministry and explaining his ministry Paul is actually providing me and other ministers with a philosophy of ministry. He's saying, “This is what I did and this is why I did it.” That's philosophy of ministry. And so there's a sense in which these chapters provide pastors with rich material for reflection on what we're supposed to be doing as we minister in the church of God. So today I want to concentrate especially on what Paul exhorts the Thessalonians and all of us, you and me, to do, and that's especially in verse 12.
So that I do not ignore all of the rich material in verses 1 to 11, I want you to be ready for how to benefit from it as you work through this passage as you hear it read out loud. Here's what John Stott says about this passage in particular:
“Paul's critics took full advantage of his sudden disappearance. In order to undermine his authority and his Gospel, they determined to discredit him so they launched a malicious sneer campaign. By studying Paul's self-defense, it is possible for us to reconstruct their slanders. ‘He ran away’ they sneered, ‘and he hasn't been seen or heard since! Obviously he's insincere, impelled by the basest of motives. He's just one of those many phony teachers who tramp up and down the Ignatius Way . In a word, he's a charlatan. He's in his job only for what he can get out of it, in terms of money, prestige, or power, so when opposition arose and he found himself in personal danger, he took to his heels and ran, and he doesn't care about you Thessalonian disciples of his. He's abandoned you. He's much more concerned about his own skin than your welfare.”
Now in light of that, which Stott has just drawn from sort of reading this passage in the reverse, just be on the lookout for these things. For instance, when you get to verse 1 in the reading and he says, “Our coming to you was not in vain,” behind that is probably the accusation to the Thessalonian disciples that they had believed what Paul had taught them in vain. And so he says, “Actually, my coming to you was not in vain.” And then if you look at verse 2 where he says, “We had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi,” you know, behind that is the charge, “Look, as soon as the going got tough, Paul got out of town.” And Paul's saying, “Now folks, I'd already been beaten up in Philippi. If I were a guy that didn't want to get beaten up, I would have looked for another line of work. I'd already been beaten up at Philippi.” In fact, he goes on to say in verse 2, “I came to you knowing it was going to be conflict. You know, if I proclaim the Gospel here I'm probably going to get beaten up again but nevertheless I came in boldness.”
And then look at verse 3. “Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive.” So you can read that in reverse and see, what were they saying about him? That what he taught was in error, it sprang from his own immorality, and his intention was to deceive the Thessalonians. And so he responds, “Actually, no, what we taught you was true, it wasn't in error. It didn't spring from base motives. It actually sprung from a heart that had been changed by the grace of God and I didn't intend to deceive you. In fact, I said some things to you that I knew that you weren't going to like to hear but they were true and I told them to you anyway. So if you read through the passage that way you can at least get some kind of a feel of what people were saying about Paul. But here's the beautiful thing — Paul doesn't just spend his time defending himself here, he actually describes for us what faithful ministry looks like. So that's another way you can benefit from hearing this passage read. You can hear, “This is what faithful Gospel ministry looks like.”
So let's pray before we hear God's Word read and proclaimed.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this, Your Word. Help us to hear it with humble and discerning ears and then, O God, by Your Spirit, apply it to our own hearts and our own situations, our own circumstances, our own desires, our own inclinations, our own sins. Root out sin in us. Help us to know what it means to lives as Christians. Glorify Yourself in us even by our hearing and embracing of the Word. We ask it in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word, hear it, beginning in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 1:
“For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
PAUL POINTS OUT THAT HE EXHORTED THEM
TO THE VERY HIGHEST STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
All of us who are communing members at First Presbyterian Church, no matter when we joined, had to answer five questions. And the third of those five questions goes, “Do you now resolve and promise in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes followers of our Lord Jesus Christ?” And that idea of resolving and promising to live a life that becomes or is becoming of or fits or is appropriate to being a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, that idea did not originate with Presbyterians. That idea goes all the way back to the New Testament and it's all over the apostle Paul. When I ran across that phrase in our passage, “to walk in a manner worthy of God,” I started thinking, “Hold on, Paul uses that language in various places.” And so one of the things that I've done over the last couple of weeks is I've kind of traced that language around Paul's writings in the New Testament. By the way, Paul's not the only one who uses language like this. You’ll find language like this in the third letter of John in the sixteenth verse. But what I want you to see is that this idea of living a life that is fitting for a follower of Jesus Christ or fitting to someone who has been called by God or which is appropriate to the Gospel of God or which corresponds to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, that language is all over the apostle Paul. And so as you look at 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 12 and you see this phrase, “to walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory,” Paul is using that phrase to call you, as a believer, to live a life that is worthy of the God who calls you. And that is very important to him.
And let me demonstrate to you how important it is to him. He talks about this all the time. So turn back with me in your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 4 verse 1. You remember, Ephesians could be sort of outlined: chapters 1, 2, 3 — doctrine; chapters 4, 5, 6 — duty. Chapters 1, 2, 3 — faith; chapters 4, 5, 6 — practice. Chapters 1, 2, 3 — theology; chapters 4, 5, 6 — ethics or behavior. In other words, Paul teaches truth and then he shows how we ought to live in light of that truth. Well Ephesians 4:1 is the beginning of that section where he starts doing that. And listen to what he says there. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Heard that somewhere before? Okay, his first letters, probably 1 Thessalonians, here he is writing to the Ephesians, same phrase. Did you notice three things in that phrase that are absolutely like what he said in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 12? The idea of walking; it's a metaphor for living. You know the Christian life is a journey. We’re on a pilgrimage. We’re taking a long walk together, and so walking is a metaphor for how you live, so you walk — what? “In a manner worthy” — what does that sound like? It sounds like 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 12, “Walk in a manner worthy.”
And then notice this — “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Does that language in Ephesians 4:1 find a parallel in 1 Thessalonians 2:12? Yes it does. Listen to 1 Thessalonians 2:12 again. “Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” So the idea of walking, the idea of a worthy manner of life, and the idea of calling, you meet it again in Ephesians 4:1. This is clearly very important to Paul.
Turn forward to Philippians and you’ll meet this same phenomenon. In Philippians 1:27 which begins the center section of that letter, Paul begins with a great exhortation. And in Philippians 1:27 he says, “Let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Notice again the idea of living a life that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ. So whereas in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 we're told to “walk in a way that's worthy of the God who calls us,” and in Ephesians 4:1 we're told to “live in a way that is worthy of the calling to which we've been called,” here in Philippians 1:27 we're told to “live in a way that is worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” Paul is clearly, in all of this language, setting very lofty goals for our Christian behavior. But it doesn't stop there.
Turn forward to Colossians chapter 1 verse 10 where Paul says this — Colossians 1:10, “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” So now to the Thessalonians, the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians, he's using similar language as he exhorts them to live the Christian life. And guess what? He doesn't stop doing it with the Thessalonians. Turn to 2 Thessalonians. In 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, twice — in verse 5 and verse 11 — he comes back to this language again. 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 verse 5 — “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering.” And then look at verse 11, 2 Thessalonians 1 verse 11 — “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power.”
All of these phrases are ways in which Paul exhorts us to live a life worthy of the God who has called us, to live a life worthy of our Lord, to live a life worthy of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now what does that mean? It means to live in such a way that our living fits what we believe, what we have been called for, and who has called us. We’re to live in such a way that our lives fit those things, they accord with those things. People would look at what we say we believe and the way we live and they’d say, “Yes, those go together. I can see how what that person believes and the way that person lives fit together right. There's no hypocrisy there. These are people who are living out sincerely and with joy and zeal what they believe, who has saved them, what He's called them to, the Gospel by which He's called them.” It's a way of exhorting believers like you and me to live the Christian life, to live Christianly.
Now what does that mean then, specifically? Let's keep drilling down. What does it mean to live a life worthy of the God who calls you? Well I think the two words that Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 verse 12 tell you what he's getting at. Look at that verse again with me, 1 Thessalonians 2 verse 12. “Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” What are the two words? Kingdom and glory. Live in a manner that is worthy of the God who calls you into His kingdom. What's Paul saying? He's saying, “Live life knowing who your King is. Live life knowing who your King is. You've been called out of this world and into His kingdom. You are under His Kingship now. He is Your King and Lord.” What was one of the early Christian confessions of faith? “Jesus is Lord.” Now what similar saying would they have heard all of their lives in the Mediterranean world? “Caesar is lord.” And Paul's saying, “No, actually Jesus is Lord. He's the King. You’re in His kingdom.”
Now what practical impact would that have had on the Thessalonians? Well for one, it would have gotten them ostracized and eventually persecuted. Why? Because in the Roman world there was something called the Emperor Cult and at various civil, public ceremonies, sacrifices would be offered to the living spirit of the emperor, and people would have worshiped the emperor as god. And Christians, because they believe there is only one King, He is God, the Lord Jesus Christ is the King of His Church, Christians would not participate in those ceremonies. And it got them ostracized and eventually persecuted. But it was an act of their fidelity to their King that said, “We can't do this.”
Think of it. This is Memorial Day weekend and all this weekend, haven't you already been seeing it, I've been seeing it on Facebook, beautiful tributes to the fallen soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines who gave their lives so that we could worship in freedom so that we could live in this amazing land. Wonderful tributes have been going on around. They’re continue. Probably most of us will look at some specials tomorrow and they’ll be great old American music and all sorts of memories will flood into our hearts. It will be a very, very special few days as we not only spend time with family and enjoy maybe a day off, but we also remember the enormous sacrifices that people have made in order for us to have freedom. Well what if, as Christians, we couldn't participate in that? What would people say about us? They’d say, “You’re not patriotic! You don't love your country! You don't appreciate the sacrifices that people have made so that you can live in this great land!” That is exactly what the Thessalonians faced but they faced it because to participate in those kinds of ceremonies would have required them to worship a god who is not God and worship a king who is not their King. And because they believed that they had been called into God's kingdom, they said, “We cannot worship Caesar. We cannot go along with these things.” And it got them persecuted.
You understand, we all face that challenge as believers. This last week I got to spend time with John Yates who was the pastor of the Falls Church, Anglican, in Virginia. Now understand, Falls Church is the church where George Washington worshiped, the church where he was a vestryman. The church had been in — in fact, the town is named after the church. Falls Church gave its name to the town. The church existed before the town. It's two hundred eight-seven years old. Now John Yates, the pastor, is a wonderful evangelical man. He has a high view of Scripture, a high view of the Lord Jesus Christ, and is faithful to the Gospel. He has four thousand members in his congregation. And two weeks ago the Episcopal diocese of Virginia and the courts turned that congregation out of their own church and locked the doors and changed the locks behind them. And they walked away because John Yates and ninety percent-plus of his congregation were not going to worship any other god but Jesus and they were not going to have any other rule but the Word of God directing how they did ministry and what they preached the proclaimed. And they lost everything.
And let me tell you, just thinking about that made me wonder how I would respond if that were the case here. I mean, I love every brick of this facility, every brick. And if you told me that I was going to have to walk away from it because either I was going to follow King Jesus or I was going to be able to stay in that building, it would be an enormous thing to walk away from. But that congregation walked — they’re worshiping in a middle school this morning. I got to talk with John Yates this week and I said, “John, how are you doing? What was that like?” And he said, “Ligon, I counted it a privilege to be able to lose something dear to me for my Lord.” And he said, “I felt like I had just a tiny inkling of what it must be like for so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who really know what it is to be persecuted and really know what it is to lose things because of their allegiance to Jesus.” I only got to talk with John for five or ten minutes this week but you know what? It was worth the whole week long. It filled me up. Because there was a believer with joy in his heart but with bold firmness of purpose and principle that refused to let anybody tell him, “No, we tell you here how you live and minister.” No, he said in response, “No, Jesus tells us how we live and minister. Nobody else gets to do that but our King. And if it means we lose the building that my congregation has been in for two hundred eighty-seven years, so be it, because Jesus is King here.”
You know, we face those kinds of things all the time where anybody, whether it's the government or whether it's a denomination, tells us that they get to decide how we live and minister. The only response we have as believers is, “Um, no you don't. Jesus tells us how we live and minister and out of fidelity to Him, we will live in a manner worthy of the God who called us into His kingdom.” But let me say, most of the fights we fight are not somebody from the outside telling us that they want to be king; most of the fights we fight come from the inside where we're saying we want to be king. You know it's usually us who want to be king instead of Jesus, rather than somebody on the outside wanting to be king rather than Jesus. You know, we get up to hard things in our lives that the Lord has called us to do. It's very clear in our Word that we're called to do them, but they’re hard and they hurt and we don't like them. And a lot of professing Christians do what when they run into that? They say, “Well, I'm the exception to the rule. I don't have to do that. We want to make up the rules as we go along. We want to be our own king.” It can happen on Friday and Saturday night, it can happen at recess, it can happen at the fraternity or sorority house, it can happen in business, it can happen in our marriages, in our families where we run into hard things that we know that the Lord has called us to do or to not do and we know that it's going to cost us if we do them or don't do them and we're really tempted to change the rules. In other words, we want to become king instead of Jesus.
You know G.K. Chesterton a long time ago said, “Some people think that Christianity has been tried and found lacking and therefore they've moved on, but in fact,” he says, “I think Christianity has been found hard and not tried.” And we do find things in the Christian life that are hard and sometimes we want to change the rules, but if we really understand that we are called to live according to the God who called us into His kingdom, that we're to walk in a way which is befitting the God who called us into His kingdom, in every aspect of life we're going to say, “It is our purpose to live under the kingship, under the kingdom of God. God is my King. I am not my king; nobody in the world is my king. God is my King and therefore I'm going to follow Him.”
LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOD WHO CALLS YOU
But also look at the other word, “glory.” We’re told here, “Walk in a manner worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Now that's interesting because Paul has already mentioned that word in this passage. Do you remember where it was? Look back at verse 6. Apparently, one of the things that was being said about Paul was that he was using his followers to get something out of them. And look at what he says in verse 6. “Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others.” Now what that must mean there is that the charge was being made that Paul was trying to get his glory out of people. Now whether that means money or prestige or power or influence or what, I don't know, but the charge is being made that he was trying to get his glory out of people and his response was, “No, we did not seek glory from people.” But it probably also indicates that Paul's preaching regularly referenced the glory of God so that his accusers were saying, “Oh yeah, he talks about the glory of God but what he's really interested is in getting glory out of you.” And Paul says, “No, no, that's not right. We didn't seek glory from you. In fact, we didn't ask for you to provide certain things that would have been perfectly appropriate for us to ask you to provide because we weren't seeking to get something out of you, we were seeking to give glory to God and give something to you.”
And then down here in verse 12 he says we're to live, how? “In a manner worthy of God who calls us into His glory.” In other words, Paul is saying, “You need to live knowing where your glory is. You not only live knowing who your King is, you have to live knowing where your glory is.” That is, you have to know where your real treasure in life is. Is your real treasure in life getting what you want, when you want it, how you want it, or is your real treasure in life the glory that God has called you into? And Paul, in addressing those questions — who your King is and where your glory is — is helping us to understand what it means to live life in a manner worthy of the God who has called us into His kingdom and into His glory. That question of where your glory is, is really the subject of the hymn that we sang, “Be Thou My Vision.” The whole point of that hymn is, “Lord, help me not to love anything else more than I love you. Help me not to worship anything else more than I worship You. Help me not to treasure anything else more than I treasure You.” And that's kind of what Paul is saying here in verse 12. Know where your glory is. If you’re looking for glory in this world from people, you’ll end up worshiping something in this world or those people more than you worship God. But if you’re looking for the glory that is in God, you’ll worship Him alone. Now that's what Paul is calling us to here – to live a life that fits the Gospel; to live a life worthy of the God who has called us. He's called us into His kingdom and therefore we need to live in such a way that we always remember who our King is. And He's called us into His glory so that we remember where our glory really is.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Work it into our hearts by Your Spirit, we pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now if you’ll take your hymnals and turn with me to number 495. We’re going to sing the fourth and the fifth stanzas, the last two stanzas of “No, Not Despairingly.”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.