Mar 15 2020 - 1 Thess 2 - How to Respond to Opposition
15th March 2020
As we go forward, we will be following our governor’s instruction (for large group meetings).
Thank you for all your support and prayers over the past couple weeks – we are blessed that you have been so concerned.
1 Thess 2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 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.
Just like what Sue shared (it ties in so well I can skip part of my sermon!) and this ties together.
Paul talks about courage – not only to preach the gospel, but how to live in the world in a time like this.
There are things to think about how to demonstrate our Christian testimony in a time like this.
A lot of blogs and people have been talking about this. Scot McKnight has compiled a list at Jesus Creed - things we need to think about in times like this.
First – Love your neighbor – first – at a social distance. There is a responsibility to remain living as Christians. Sue talked about fear and anxiety and handled that very well. Throughout history, as there have been plagues, Christians did not fall away, but engaged and ministered. Now, we have better medical technology today and we know a lot more, but we still have the obligation to go IN to the world – to minister safely, and if things were to get really bad, to keep the courage – to continue to minister to those in need.
A couple other things – I won’t belabor this –
Use grace and don’t blame in this time. It is easy, living in this world – especially as we get back to what Paul is going through here:
Paul is beginning to experience opposition – in Thessalonica and in Philippi – and Christians are concerned about growing opposition to Christians in our world today. But the problem – we can tend to respond wrong to that and react to it – that is never the right way of doing things – to react and to be alarmed. No need to be alarmed – Paul says, in Philippians, in no way alarmed by your opponents.
It could be easy to take that same approach to blame. But what is needed now is a theology of enemy love. Jesus is clear in teaching that we are to love our enemies. That is radical and the greatest witness we could ever have!
Jeff mentioned this as we were talking about what to do in talking about the service and stuff – but use this crisis as an opportunity to witness. God will be providing us, in this time, all kinds of opportunities to share our faith and to live our faith. I encourage you to look for opportunities to bring Christ to people who are in fear, living in anxiety, or in need.
Back to Thessalonians – and here are some things to consider, as we think about growing opposition to Christianity and the church.
First – we are not, in our current situation, anywhere close to the level of opposition which the early church experienced – we’re not even close! And for that, we should be thankful! We should be thankful for all the freedom we have - We have had more than anyone has ever had – so we should live our lives, thankful.
Second, we have brothers and sisters all around the world who are experiencing the opposition that Paul and the early church experienced – right now – and for them, we should pray – make them the object to our prayers.
Third – as we face opposition – don’t be alarmed.
Paul had courage to face opposition – where did it come from? He preached the gospel of God. It was not a message to promote himself, his religion – or anything like that – he was preaching God’s message, and that is what people need to hear. The message is that Jesus Christ, God, became human. In His life, He revealed God to us. John says – the Word became flesh – He has revealed Him to us. In Christ we see who God is and what He is like. He suffered and died – was buried and rose on the third day –to new life and ascended into heaven to take His rightful place on the throne as Lord of all. That is what Paul preached. Don’t bring anything else into it. Don’t pollute it with your opinions and feelings!
Second – He was not living for this world, but for an eternal kingdom. So often, when crises come in, we are focused on maintaining our way of life. I love our way of life, I love our freedom, and hope to never lose it – but it is not to be our focus, hope, goal, or purpose. Our focus must be on the advancement of God and then we can be thankful that we are as blessed as we are.
3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness.
So these people came in and were causing problems after Paul left. They would begin spreading rumors that Paul had ulterior motives, teaching a false message with selfish motives and trying to manipulate them. Accusing Paul of being a snake-oil salesman – or a televangelist! He had to defend himself to the Thessalonians – Tricking and flattery – manipulation. What he does in chapter 2 is demonstrating in chapter 2 that he had a completely different approach to leadership. In the world, it is all about power and manipulating. Sometimes it is overt and sometimes subtle and hard to detect. But as Christians, we can do the exact same thing – we can use our power or influence – and you don’t have to be a leader – but as Christians – in subtle ways we use our power to get our way. And it can be couched or baptized in God language. We believe this is what God wants, so we use it to manipulate (maybe it is what God wants, maybe it is not!) We need to realize that if we think God has spoken to us about something – doesn’t mean he has spoken to others about something or has spoken in the same way. Leaders think they are building God’s kingdom, but maybe they are building their own kingdom. There is a balance – it is a fine line. That doesn’t mean we don’t lead and do what God calls us to do. Paul uses careful language – to describe his concern about not being manipulative. This is a radical way to be a witness, not looking like anything we see in the powers of this world. So in verse 6, he says this:
6 We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; (thrown our weight around)
Here is what I say to that – WOW - We live in a celebrity world where people are looking for praise – their ten minutes of fame. But Paul was only looking for the praise of God. He was playing for an audience of One.
although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; (thrown our weight around)
Here is my Bible geek moment. The NAS is a little confusing – and it gives the impression that Paul is using some of his authority – but rather, as I’ve studied this out - yes, as an apostle he has authority – but he did not ‘throw his weight around’ – he never used his authority as an apostle, or took advantage of it, to get his way or for his own gain. He had leadership responsibility – but never was that used for his own personal gain or to get his own way.
Then, he gives a description of his leadership approach in the statements that follow.
Here is another technical Bible thing: 7 Instead, we were like young children (gentle) among you.
Older translations have gentle – Many believe that the term young child or infant is a better translation - but every time that word was used – it was like an infant. Gentle like a nursing mother or gentle, we were young children among you… and then starts a new sentence:
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you.
Either way works – but he is using family dynamics in this passage to communicate a couple things
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
God was creating a new family image for them – Thessalonica was a primarily Gentile church, and they were rejecting their family idols – so as they gathered together as a church, God was creating a new family for them, because they had lost connection with their former relationships. They needed a whole new thing.
In our church, and in our world, there are many who have moved away - because of mobility – and are now alone in the community in which they live because their kids have moved away... There are so many examples of this – Holiday times – thanksgiving, Christmas – and those folks gather together on those holidays because they are in that boat together and go out for dinner or to the movies together – and become this family. Paul is saying that is what the church needs to be.
Second, Paul is contrasting his leadership style – with the world – saying they are radically different. The Roman world was based on gender and class – men were fully in control – not only in society, but in the family as well. It was a world that was dominated that way. Women and children were second class citizens. When Paul compares himself to a child (I was like a child toward you – or, I was like a nursing mother among you) – it was radical – to portray a male authority as a nursing mother was unheard of, unacceptable, and scandalous. Paul is not afraid of that. He has shown - his way is wholly different from the world’s leadership.
Jesus said the same thing – the way of the world – they lord it over, but it is not so among you. But if you want to be great – become the least – the slave of all. And that is what Paul is doing here.
Paul is saying (whether becoming a child or gentle like a nursing mother – either way) – I am imitating Jesus in my leadership – humility and vulnerability – Jesus was the ultimate authority – He was God – laid aside His rights and privileges - and did not throw his weight around, but became a baby – in humility – that is leadership – and that is the style of leadership Jesus portrayed, and He wants us to do the same.
In our world – CEOs – and I have nothing against CEOs – but their salaries are often so far above the people who work on the line – that there are some who are cutting their salary back (this is not a political or economic statement) – but Paul is saying that his leadership is like the CEO of McDonald’s earning the same as the person handing out the fries! That is Jesus’ kind of leadership.
We have infant, mother…. – and in Verse 9,
9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters,
Covering the entire family! We think of equality – in this together -
our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.
When we think of righteousness and holiness, we tend to focus on the things we aren’t supposed to do and NOT doing those! But Paul is talking about relational righteousness – which is the largest aspect of righteousness in the Bible, and that relates to our love for, attitude toward, and service to others. That is where true righteousness comes from – not just in not doing that which we should not do.
11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
And then he looks at the father – and there is this unique balance – he talks about the father teaching, encouraging, comforting, and correcting. Some perspectives on fathers can be positive, or negative = or anywhere in between. Oftentimes, fathers lean one way or the other – corrector or teacher – maybe encourager – but Paul gave a balanced approach – filing all of the responsibilities there.
In some ways, that is where God would have us go also.
Young Children (Infants) 2:7
Nursing Mother 2:7
Brother and Sister (Sibling) 2:9
Relational leadership – his leadership was relationally-based. He knew these people and loved these people. When we talk about relationships – we know it takes communication – personality and how to understand one another, you talk about love languages – and those things are important – but those things never replace an attitude of love, commitment, and sacrifice. That must come first. We serve through presence – being there for people. We serve by energy – doing things for others – and we serve by encouragement – giving people joy.
I’ll close with this.
My dad had been my mom’s 24-hour caregiver for about the last ten years – he was very active – until he had to start taking care of my mom. He used to run/walk/golf – very active – until having to take care of mom. What really struck me – your whole life going to that for so long, he could have felt like something was taken from him – but what was amazing – how much that caused his love for mom to grow. Our love for people grows when we serve and sacrifice for them. More than, yeah, we need to learn to communicate better, but when we serve and sacrifice for people, our love for them grows.
Let’s pray: Lord, we thank You for technology, and the opportunity to, in this situation, to be able to come together virtually. Help us in this time to love, serve, and witness. In Your name we pray!