Bible Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Integrity in Leadership
9 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. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 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.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Effective methodology is about the people you are reaching and not yourself.
Leadership sacrificially seeks to give life to others.
9 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. 1 Thess 2:9
A lot of times we connect Paul’s use of the words for labor and toil either to enduring persecution or to the hard work of ministering to people’s spiritual needs (which is exhausting.) But what Paul is talking about here refers to the fact that he worked a job. Likely as an independent businessman amongst the Thessalonians.
Many times when we think about the life and ministry of Paul we like to romanticize it and think that he was free to go wherever he would like and not have to think about the things that we think about daily such as “what am I going to eat today? Who is going to feed me? How much is that going to cost? Where should I travel? How am I going to get there? Where am I going to stay? What is the cost involved?
Paul was not tied to any one particular methodology about how he would support himself and his ministry. There were times when he gladly received gifts from Christians so that he could devote himself fulltime to the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. For example, when Paul made the choice to appeal his sentence to Rome, he had to have known that there would be significant cost involved in that choice. Being under house arrest meant that he wouldn’t be able to work. Therefore we know that Paul wasn’t opposed to receiving provision from the preaching of the Gospel.
But many other times, such as in Thessalonica, we see this Paul and his team taking this astounding tactic for the sake of the people to whom they would be preaching the Gospel- they would work with their hands in a tough, labor-intensive job so that there would be no stumbling block for people hearing the message.
The occupation of tentmaker was actually a really tough, dirty occupation. It probably involved working with a lot of leather. Now there are a few artisan leather workers in America today, but for the most part I have seen the most leather work being done in places like Brazil and India where labor is cheap and people are more willing to take dirty jobs. This is what Paul did for a living.
Remember that Paul is not a twenty-something year old young man who has unlimited stamina for work. Nowhere are we told that Paul was one of these guys who just had a macho thing for doing the toughest, dirtiest job because he found it to be fun. Some of you are like that. I totally respect you for it. But when Paul went to work it was always for something greater than his own enjoyment. 1) Paul never wanted to be open to the charge of pagans that he thought he was somehow above hard manual labor to provide for his own needs and the needs of the poor 2) The Marketplace was the place in the culture where most people would go to hear people talk about new ideas and things that mattered to life.
Because of technology (and the fact that very few people are faced with the choice working hard or not eating), we live in a culture that in many ways has lost a lot of its connection to hard, hot outdoor manual labor (but not all of us). But the idea is still the exact same that the primary place where we can impact the most people by living and teaching the Gospel is our workplace. Every single one of us ought to wake up on Monday morning with the mindset that we are going to work not to simply make widgets or perform a service (that should be a given that you do that well). We all have a greater purpose that our jobs brings us into contact with lost and hurting people who are in need of Jesus. Jesus has commissioned us to be the ones to bring them Good News.
The act of preaching is inherently not about the preacher.
“while we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God.”
“The gospel preacher is not at liberty to substitute his view of the need of the moment for the God-given message of the cross.” Leon Morris
You see in a lot of modern preaching that there is a self-centeredness not merely in the methodology, but in the content of the preaching. It’s very subtle, but it is nonetheless disqualifying. A preacher comes and preaches not the plain words of Scripture, but his own interpretation of what he believes people need more of— self-esteem, happiness, rules, positive thoughts…etc.
The task of proclaiming/preaching/teaching is that you simply pass the message as it has been delivered to you with all of the accompanying weight/emotion/honor that the message deserves.
Hardship, toil and labor for the sake of the Gospel brings about a credibility in the eyes of others that is sadly missing in the culture of celebrity Christian leadership today.
This is something that has really stuck in my craw lately, and I think it’s relevant to the example of Paul, Silas’ and Timothy’s ministry. If you want a better articulated version, read John Cooper from Skillet’s letter to apostates that he wrote a year ago.
Sadly, the American church lives in an entertainment/celebrity/Jesus for profit that is at least as bad as the culture outside of the church. Christian “leaders” tend to young, hip, cool funny people who are extremely entertaining or influential on social media. Now I’m not against social media, being funny, or entertaining, but that is what has set the stage for what seems like a monthly thing now. When some young Christian musician, megachurch pastor, or recently a comedian “comes out of the closet” as someone who was thought of as a Christian leader, but now says they are atheist, agnostic, or “confused” (the most popular terminology). Typically this is someone who doesn’t like something about the church, the Bible, or some “mean” thing that God said or did that they don’t like.
Now I am not criticizing people so far as they may be saying what they actually believe. But, when you have a young adult working out his core belief systems from a “leadership posisiton” in Christianity it is very clear that the church has misunderstood the definition of leadership.
For Paul, there was never much of a question about whether he believed the message he preached. God is sovereign creator, Jesus is his son born of Virgin, dead buried, resurrected for the forgiveness of sin and salvation from hell for all who believe. Paul had the whip marks on his back and the callouses on his hands that stood as a testimony that his faith and belief structure were a lot more that some childhood fairy tale or passing fad.
We in the church need to seek to be and follow the kind of leaders who aren’t known by our “hip” factor. I believe we are in need of some seasoned dudes and seasoned women who been faithful in season and out of season and paid a price in blood sweat and tears for the things that they are saying. That is the type of leader who has trust and credibility that what they are teaching is worth staking your life upon.
Because the focus of the ministry methods of Paul’s missionary team is on the long-term benefit of others and not what is good for the preachers, it follows that!
Effective methodology lives what it teaches
10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 1 Thess. 2:10
“You are witnesses” there is implied a relationship when you are seeking to lead others to changed lives. Relationships are the proving ground of leadership.
There are two relationships in view that serve as witness to the fact that Paul, Silas, and Timothy have practiced the very things that they are teaching to the new believers in Thessalonica. They have a relationship with the believers as well as an actual relationship with God.
The key word for what Paul is teaching people to do is discipleship. Now certainly a part of Christian discipleship is to gather in large groups of people and listen to the preaching of the Bible. (more on that next week.) But it’s been a little bit disconcerting to hear some preachers in America say that their entire effort in making disciples is to stand on a stage (or TV screen) once a week and deliver a message. This is not the type of relationship that would allow people Paul to say “you are witness……to our conduct.”
Think about the people that you can speak with some authority as to how their character is demonstrated by their actions. Who are the people for whom you would stake your own reputation on the fact that they are genuine in their conduct towards others? These would be people who you 1) live under the same roof 2) work with on a daily job 3) share meals with 4) hang out with at the ballfield 5) do things with because you actually like one another 6) attend small group with more than once in a blue moon when it’s convenient.
Moreover, it’s disconcerting how much of our strategizing about church today, what is passed off as “leadership”, completely ignores the basic things that Christians are supposed to do to feed their relationship with God.
How often do you actually pay attention to 1) your prayer life 2) the time you spend in the Word 3) the condition of your heart in regards to money and giving 4) the quietness of your soul to actually listen to God 5) the idea that if someone asked you how to know God if you would actually have anything to say to them?
Paul is making a bold a confident statement that “God witnesses our conduct also.” For Paul there is a daily awareness that God is constantly present in the most mundane conduct of everyday life.
Methodology that practices what it preaches is “holy, righteous, and blameless.”
These are three words that basically describing the same life. This is a life that is focused on pleasing God. Holy refers to the attribute of God that sets him apart from all else in creation. He confers holiness upon people who have set their hearts and hope in him.
Righteousness is that quality of action that there is nothing set between a person and God. Blamelessness is that no charge can brought against the conduct before God.
It can certainly be said that Paul’s conduct was not for his own benefit…it was for the benefit of the people of Thessonica. Ultimately, however, Paul lived as a servant of God. His conduct at all times was meant to reflect that.
Your teaching may be true, it may be well presented, but for many people it will never have any effect unless you are living the proof that it makes a difference in your own life. That implies a certain kind of relationship in which two people actually can impact each others’ lives.
Effective methods teach to transform, not simply to conform
“For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 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.”
We first see what kind of relationship the teachers had with the believers.
“Like a father with his children.”
Paul was not indifferent to the church at Thessalonica. He did not preach with an arrogance that said “Here’s the Gospel. Here’s the way to live. Do it or don’t do it, I don’t care because I’ve already arrived.”
A father with his children has everything at stake when he sets out to teach them something that is important for them to know. It’s deeply personal to him that he passes on the faith to the next generation.
Illustration: I’m reminded of when I took driver’s ed back in high school. The driver’s ed teachers were nice men, but they were coaches who were close to retirement and really weren’t all that interested in making sure that we became safe and experienced drivers. The teachers went over the information in the drivers’ manuals, they made sure to test us on the rules of the road and signs of the road, but the class usually started with about 30 minutes or talking and surfing the internet, and maybe eventually they would get around with taking groups of students on the road….or maybe not. Even though it was a 90 minute semester-long class, I only had 2 days of driving in a group of three with the teacher after school.
Now compare that to the time I spent with my Dad learning how to drive. He had a lot more at stake in making sure I was a safe driver. I was driving HIS car. HE would be a passenger with me for the first 6 months of driving. HIS life, HIS car, HIS insurance premiums, the future of HIS family was at stake in making sure that I knew how to drive. How much of a different approach do you think my dad took than the professional teachers? Do you think that Dad was simply interested in me knowing the rules of the road, or was he also offering encouragement, caution, and confidence?
We see that the method of a father is specifically designed to change the lives of the children.
There are three words that describe the method of the father: “we exhorted, we encouraged, and we charged”
Exhorted- the Greek word here is parakaleo which is the same root for the word Jesus uses to describe the identity of the Holy Spirit. The word means to come alongside somebody to summon, to beg, to comfort, to strengthen, or to teach them. Think about it. Paul was doing the very thing that God himself does through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He was taking time to personally step into the world of the Thessalonians to drive alongside them in faith.
Encouraged- paramytheomai. This word is very similar to exhorted and has the same idea of coming alongside somebody. But whereas exhorted can sometimes be like a coach getting in your face to tell you to do better, encouraged always carries the connotation of calming or consoling.
Charged- martyromai. This comes from the root word used for witness. Literally martyr. Paul is bearing testimony to what he has seen and experienced himself and has a solemn charge that it must be passed on and obeyed by the Thessalonians.
Given how Paul has compared himself both to a nursing mother and to a father we can see that Paul’s goal was to persuade his listeners to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” If the believers needed needed to hear from an older hand who had spent decades walking the path, he was there to provide assurance. If they need gentle kindness, he was there to encourage. If they needed a pep. A “WAKE UP, STAND UP, GET GOING” then Paul was willing to provide it. Like a father, he was willing to go any any length he could to present his kids as a success in the all -encompassing goal of walking worthy of the God that we have been called to follow.
Now this is exhorting Christians…the people who have already been called according to God’s kingdom. This exhortation has little impact on somebody who has not already been awakened to life in Christ.
Conclusion: To bring this passage into our world today. Many of us are parents or grandparents, or we are still seeking to learn the way of faith from someone who is like a spiritual father or mother to us.
What is the role of the father in exhorting, encouraging, and charging?
It’s to present you children to walk in a manner worthy of GOD, not just in a manner worthy of you.
A lot of you grew up with a bad taste in your mouth over preacher kids….one mistake many preachers (or any parent) can make is that they tell their kids not to embarrass them…and don’t teach to walk in a manner worthy of God.
That’s not exclusive to preachers, it’s just often exhibited in the lives of preachers who may feel….even if they don’t say it….that there is pressure for both them and their children to “perform” at church. This is a tremendously detrimental and unhealthy way to live. The church in particular ought to be a place not of performance, but of actually being who we are.
As a pastor, I have the duty to extend both the same expectations…and grace…to my own children that I extend to every other person in the church. My children need to have the freedom to grow…which means times of success as well as times of failure…that we all know that every other child will have.
And ultimately, in the same way that Paul never made his ministry about himself, I should never make my children’s relationship with Christ about me. The conclusion of verse 12 shows us “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
As a father, I believe and pray for God’s call on the lives of my children individually. I can’t call them into the kingdom, I can only make them aware of what God is doing. They have follow Jesus on their own, not on my coattails. I need to constantly make their lives not about me, but about Christ. When they sin, their sin is not ultimately hurting me, but hurting God. When they do something awesome, it’s not about something awesome I did, but about the grace that God has given to all of us.
The motivation to please me is only as good as I am….and I will and have disappointed by children. But when the motivation is to walk worthy of God, that is the greatest call that could ever be issued…and with the greatest grace and the greatest blessings that come with it.
How are these principles applying to way that you are leading your own children?
What is the sense of urgency if you are a father and your child is deciding whether or not they are going to kill themselves. The encouragement that you will use is not done with a take-it-or leave-it laissez-faire attitude, but with the urgency of life or death. There is a burden in delivering the word to others.
Is your leadership of other people about yourself and your own pride or is it genuinely focused on leading others to the joy and blessing knowing Jesus?