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Midnight Meditations on 1 Thessalonians 1-2

by Joe Pursch on September 30th, 2011

Gathered Thoughts

Paul always began his letters to his beloved churches with a variation of the same wish, “Grace to you and peace.”  It’s as if he knew that the most important thing they needed was the depth of the knowledge of God.

1:5 . There are two ways in which the gospel comes to a people. It can come in word only, or it can come in power.

1:6 So you want to have a ministry like the great apostle Paul? In order to imitate him, all you have to do you is live in virtually constant affliction. But in the bargain you will have the same joy in the Holy Spirit that he had.

1:7. There are two ways to become a well-known church. One is through your activities and achievements, which is the standard process today. The other is to become known for your example of living under affliction for the sake of the Gospel with joy. That was the way the Thessalonian church became well known. It’s the way in which the church in the suffering Third World today is becoming well-known here in the West.

Pastor, Welcome to the Good Fight

2:1ff Anyone who is going to be involved in pastoral ministry, particularly in evangelism, needs to learn to live with conflict. Paul describes the suffering he went through at Philippi, but he affirms that this did not draw down his reservoir of boldness in God. He came on ahead to the Thessalonians and began to declare the Gospel to them in the midst of much conflict. A lot of that conflict came from false accusations laid against him by religious leaders who were losing their turf to Paul’s ministry. They criticized Paul’s character and credentials, probably seeking to divide his audiences. But Paul did not preach based on the endorsement of any religious group, or any set of established leaders. He believed that he had been approved by God Himself to be entrusted with the gospel, and so he only had to please one person, the Lord. He knew that there was One judge who would test his heart. And what would he be tested for? Boldness, courage, security, and faithfulness.

Perhaps you’re reading this and you have experienced the loss of the approval of other people because of suffering in your ministry, or even because of outward failure. You wonder if there’s any place for you to be used by God because so many people disapprove of your qualifications. My charge to you is to discover anew if God is still with you in your ministry by stepping out in faith and performing whatever ministry He has placed before you, no matter how humble it might be. If you’ve not disqualified yourself on moral or doctrinal grounds, then I see no reason why God would not want to step up and use you in a powerful way to touch others for Christ. Jesus Himself said that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few; what room is there for you to take yourself out of the work?

Lord, It’s All About You…And Yours

In this second chapter, Paul defines and defends his ministry by describing his relationship with his churches in very intimate and unusual terms. While his detractors talked about their abilities, achievements and qualifications, Paul described himself as a nursing mother taking care of her own children. He also described himself as a father exhorting and encouraging his children as they learn to walk with God. In fact, from his words you almost get the image of a father gently helping a toddler learn to walk across the kitchen floor. He ends the chapter by saying that the Thessalonians themselves were his glory and joy, not anything that he had achieved through his own strength or saw reflected in his own person.

I guess another way to put it is that when Paul looked at himself in ministry, what he had achieved didn’t matter; it was all about the flock. So there was very little room in Paul’s life for comparisons with other leaders. That was a pointless conversation for him, because the issue was not comparing himself to other leaders in terms of greatness or achievements. No, the issue was the flock and the flock’s welfare. When Paul described his ambition in ministry, his was an ambition built around the idea of his passion for the greatest level of growth in the lives of his people that he could possibly imagine. Again, it was all about the flock, not about him. In this age of Internet ministry stars and inevitable comparisons that we make with our ministerial peers, this is an understandingthat is very much worth getting a real grip on.

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