Model ministry - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Apparently after 2000 years the perfect minister has been found. He is the leader who can please everyone.
He preaches for exactly 20 minutes and then sits down.
He condemns sin, but never steps on anybody's toes.
He works from 8 in the morning to 10 at night, doing everything from preaching sermons to sweeping floors.
He receives per week, gives a week to the church, drives an old car, buys lots of books, wears fine clothes, and has a nice family.
He is 36 years old, and has been preaching for 40 years.
He is tall on the short side, heavy-set in a thin sort of way, and handsome.
He has a burning desire to work with young people, and spends all his time with the senior citizens.
He smiles all the time while keeping a straight face, because he has a keen sense of humour that finds him seriously dedicated.
He visits 15 church members a day, spends all his time evangelising non-members, and is always found in his study if he is needed.
He always remains amiable, even when some jovial person says, 'What a job you haveone day a week!'
Unfortunately this perfect minister burnt himself out and he died at the age of 32.
Those light-hearted but rather pointed words raise the question of what we should expect from our ministers. Maybe I shouldn't be the person to be asking that question but it is important for people with my role as well as the rest of us that from time to time these things are addressed.
What are the priorities of ministers? What should we all encourage them to do? What are the tests of genuine ministry?
We're continuing our series looking at the 'Model Church' from Paul's 1st letter to the Thessalonians.
Chapter 2 (p1186) reveals to us the eg of Paul in his ministry as an Apostle and the model ministry he sets out certainly addresses ministers & full time church workers but also it can shape & inform all of us as we're involved in serving God by helping other Christians & those who as yet haven't responded to Jesus.
What are we to see as the hallmarks of genuine Christian ministry in our neighbourhoods, at work or university, in our families, & our church? How should we serve others in formal responsibilities like teaching in Children's groups or leading music or Home Group, & informally how can we 'pastor' or shepherd people for Jesus' sake, in an effective way?
The Apostle Paul had been the main agent in planting this young Thessalonian Church only shortly before he wrote this letter & he shares 3 pictures of Christian ministry or service; Christian helpers are like stewards entrusted with the gospel, they're like mothers caring & loving & like fathers in working hard & teaching.
1)Model Ministers are stewards of The Gospel v1-4
This section of 1Thess is famous for it's insights into the caring pastoral dimension of Christian service but it's interesting how many times in this chapter Paul talks about his message or the gospel.
The good news of the gospel had been the reason for Paul wanting to help these people in the 1st place. We saw last week in Ch1 that they had been Pagans, worshipping idols. They had been outside of the rescue that God offers in Jesus & therefore still liable to judgement (cf1;10). But v2 Paul 'dared to tell God's gospel in spite of strong opposition'.
When we're thinking of helping people we can automatically think of the gentle, caring aspects of pastoral care, & as we'll see this is crucial, but Christian ministry has a wide extra dimension to the helping we might receive from those who don't follow Jesus & try to live his way. Christian service has a content; the good news & it has a motive; the good news.
This 1st image of Christian work is closely bound up with the content of Xn work. V4 'speak as man approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel' Christians have been given the truth of the gospel to steward on God's behalf. Like a line manager in the workplace responsible for a budget & a staff but under the authority of the MD or Chief executive, we're to handle the gospel responsibly knowing it doesn't belong to us but to God. (P).
Paul had been given the gospel from God to communicate, but as is often the case, Paul the faithful Christian worker had to deal with some false accusations being made against him & the gospel message he had delegated responsibility for.
Now if you're like me the prospect of outsiders causing problems is not too difficult to handle - you'd expect those who aren't Christians to, at times, make life difficult for Christian leaders. But sadly so often opposition comes from within the church either locally or from wider denominational structures.
Problems in a congregation can be so damaging so its worth being reminded that if we've grievances the best thing is to go & talk to the person don't just grumble to others. So often division in local Ch's comes about because people don't address the issue with the relevant people & it develops in their thinking out of all proportion to reality. A vicar was once asked how many active members there were in his Church. 'They're all active' came the reply, 'half of them are working with me & the other half are working against me'! Thank God that's not our exp at St John's but it's always a danger to be aware of & avoid.
Equally sadly, opposition can come from the institutional denominational level. Many of us are aware that there is a battle going on currently in many quarters over the issue of sexual morality. In the world-wide Anglicanism many 3rd world bishops have been clearly standing for the truth of the gospel & its implications in the world. Now you might think that's what bishops should do!
But some like the radical liberal Bishop Spong of Newark New Jersey has attacked some of these men who have lived out the gospel amidst persecution & poverty as 'Uneducated & superstitious'. He opposes them because they are resisting the spirit of the age he seems to love so passionately. The truth is, faithfulness often brings with it opposition even from surprising sources.
The unfair accusations levelled at Paul included the charge his message v3, was 'in error' but he knew it was God's gospel. Some said he had 'impure motives' or that he was using trickery, but he made no attempt to con people into becoming Christians or deceive them by making false promises.
Changing the message, for dubious reasons like personal advantage & employing methods that bring results whatever the price, are temptations open to all Christian workers. However for Paul he told it as it was with pure motives & he used methods that were open & above board. What was his secret?
He had grasped the principle of being a steward of the gospel. God had 'entrusted' him v4 'with the gospel' & he adds; We are not trying to please men but God'.
His secret was he knew whose message he was a steward of & so whom he wanted to please.
In this primary task of helping others by sharing with them the gospel, stewards of the gospel are supremely accountable to God.
It's very easy to want to please people. We can do that by accommodating the gospel message to what people want to hear & not to teach & apply the hard truths, which say that we are all helpless sinners & dependant on God's mercy for our salvation. In pastoral care it's easy to affirm sinful attitudes & lifestyles rather than bring the challenge of the gospel to bear.
It's very easy to want to be apparently more successful, even if it means using underhand methods. But when we're wanting to please God such options aren't open to us, we're accountable to him.
This is a key in all Christian service. We should aim at pleasing God, not people.
This is daunting (God's standards are very high) but it's also a relief because we can never please all of the people all of the time & God is gracious & indeed fairer than any person or group. He is the best master to have.
So, for Paul, his ministry, his service as a steward of the gospel, was based on & inspired by God's gospel that he'd been entrusted with & inspired by.
2) Model Christian Ministers are like mothers v5-8
In these verses we get a very revealing idea of the work & ministry of Paul. Over the years, perhaps because what he says is challenging & near the knuckle, some have misrepresented Paul as being austere & demanding but that's a misunderstanding of one, who like Jesus, taught with clarity & authority as God's Apostle entrusted with God's good news. Interestingly though, here we also see Paul's heartfelt concern & love that he has for these Christians.
But before he can develop the imagery of mother-like love Paul has to again deal with his critics. They accuse him of 3 things that he mentions in v5,6. These things are not true, but they are traps for ministers & all of us in our Christian service.
There is Flattery; Flattery is the art of getting what you want by telling somebody that they are better than they really are, so they feel good about themselves. The gospel is almost the direct opposite of flattery. It tells people the awful truth about themselves so that they realise their need of a saviour. Then it offers them that saviour.
Hypocrisy, pretending to serve but really wanting personal gain; as Paul expresses it 'putting on a mask as a cover up'. There is also the lure of the desire for compliments, looking for praise from people rather than God. The bottom line is that Christian serving can be perverted into doing things in order to build ourselves up rather than the people we appear to be serving.
Now Paul was aware of this danger. As an Apostle he explains that he & his group could have been a burden to the Thessalonians. He could have demanded respect or issued orders but instead he behaved like a mother. V7 'were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children'.
Paul's love was such that not only did he share the gospel he & his team also shared their lives.
Anyone who has had children or observed mothers with babies knows that the child (particularly early on) needs an enormous amount of time. So much so that life seems to revolve around them. Maternal love has to reach great hights of commitment, patience & devotion.
This week in the Brailsford household has been pretty demanding for the mother of the family! Today is our oldest, Joanna's 4th birthday & there have been seemingly enormous preparations for a very exciting party with friends, but also this week our youngest, Sarah is being potty trained. I wouldn't have believed the stress involved for Sheena as a mother at this strategic time of life there have been little puddles everywhere as Sarah learns the hard way & mum has to clean it all up!
Being a mother involves patiently & gently giving of your whole self to another as you cope with broken nights, change endless nappies, endure persistent crying - not to mention (so everyone tells me) the really demanding time when children reach their teens!!
When you think of a little child, such a helpless creature cannot be used for our own ends, it needs our gentle love & care for its very survival.
In Christian ministry & all Christian helping this kind of self-giving service is to be our model, avoiding the kind of self-serving that Paul was falsely accused of. The supreme eg of this is of course Jesus himself as we read Jn13 he, the one who 'knew that the father had put everything under his power, & that he had come from God & was returning to God' was yet the one who 'got up & washed the disciples' [filthy] feet'.
The servant heart of Christian ministry is powerfully illustrated by the caring mother.
Is this our motivation as we serve? Do we encourage it in our ministers? Christian service involves being like a mother in committed care.
3) Model Christian Ministers are like fathers v9-12
Paul not only likens his ministry to a mother but also to a Father, v11; 'For you know that we dealt with you as a father deals with his children'.
There is lots of talk of what fatherhood means today. Some of it seems perverse turning over the God given significance of the role making us dads feel either incompetent or embarrassed. But as Paul wrote in the 1st C, fathers were known for their hard work on behalf of their families, & for the significance of their eg & teaching on their children.
For Paul his tender Mother-like love for these Christians had real practical outworkings. It was not only a feeling of affection it involved great effort like a father's work for his family.
v9 shows some of the implication of this; Christian ministry for Paul meant 'toil', 'hardship' 'working night & day not to be a burden'.
Paul it would appear was so concerned not to make his ministry an unbearable difficulty to the Christians that he made tents to pay for his everyday expenses even though as he taught elsewhere it is right that 'Those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel' (1 Cor9;14).
For the sake of those we serve, Christian ministry today involves hard work & it requires long hours.
It means wrestling with the Bible trying to understand it & apply it to those you're seeking to lead, it means sacrificial disciplined prayer for those for whom you have responsibility, it involves having to deal with disappointments as people turn away from the gospel or fail to live up to their early promise, it involves trying to hold people together in the common cause when challenges & temptations might break you apart, it means your own time is restricted & things you'd like to do have to be left as demands come your way, & it means (as we've seen) receiving criticism & opposition often quite unfairly.
Apparently young ministers often visited the great mid 20th C preacher G. Campbell Morgan to ask him the secret of his success. Morgan said, 'I always say to them the same thingwork; hard work; and again, work!'
A father also has to be a good example. And Paul was v10 'holy, blameless & righteous'; pleasing God, pure in personal & public relationships. We all know how influential our parents are on us for good & bad - when we're young what they say & do has a strong authority, we learn what is right & wrong from them. Young children particularly don't question their parents eg it is just the way it is, it's the norm.
Similarly our Christian leaders in particular are an eg. This is a great challenge to any of us in leadership positions but all of us particularly where we influence other younger Christians are examples too. I remember as a new Christian watching older Christians & thinking if they said something or did something it must be right!
We see as well here that a father is also a teacher. I can still remember many things I learnt from my own father, mostly informally but often deliberately.
This is a reminder of the distinctive nature of the minister's task. It is primarily one of teaching the gospel. On wed eve we're going to be studying in HGs that great passage in Ephs 4. In Paul's teaching there what we often call a minister is termed a 'pastor-teacher'. The two are linked together. Pastoral work involves instruction from God's word so as 'To equip God's people for works of service'. Ministry of the word is given to enable all Christians to minister in their role.
This teaching task involves 3 dimensions for Paul; v12 'encouraging, comforting & urging'.
The Christian life is not easy & we all need encouragement. This is a strong word, it's not just soft kind words but an exhorting, literally help that puts courage into another. Most of us appreciate such encouragement being given sensitively & with tenderness, something Paul calls a 'comforting' & 'consoling' work.
Yet Father-like instruction also needs a sense of urgency. Paul 'urged them to live lives worthy of God'.
There is a demanding standard expected of the followers of Jesus & like in any family there are times when serious things have to be said for the benefit of all. The teaching aspect of Christian helping involves a sense of urgency that can at times be uncomfortable, but a discomfort that has positive intentions.
So, Christian model ministry is based on the gospel; being stewards of the message, it involves being like a mother in loving care & a father in hard work, setting an eg & teaching.
As we've seen these pictures challenge us all in our different ministries because there is no Christian who is not a minister of the gospel. Every believer has a desire and a responsibility to tell others about Jesus & serve their fellow believers so the church works properly. But I do hope they will also inspire us particularly to pray for those with a full time leadership role here at St John's. We all need it!
We've seen what's required of Christians is demanding, so it's good that the passage ends by drawing us back to God. v12 It is 'God who calls you into his kingdom & glory'. In all our serving, leading, teaching & helping it is God that we're dependent on, & it is him who gives us confidence & hope.
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