Sermon for Sunday, February 19th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Pro 11:1-8 ESV] 1 A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight. 2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. 3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. 4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. 5 The righteousness of the blameless keeps his way straight, but the wicked falls by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. 7 When the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too. 8 The righteous is delivered from trouble, and the wicked walks into it instead.
New Testament reading:
[1Th 2:1-16 ESV] 1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 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. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 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. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 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. 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. 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
[Jhn 1:1-18 ESV] 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
So far in the book of 1st Thessalonians we’ve seen the greeting of Grace and Peace, and we’ve seen the good example of the faith of the Thessalonians in a virtuous cycle which benefitted many. Now we come to chapter 2 where Paul, Silas, and Timothy speak of their own work among the Thessalonians and of the power of the Gospel in converting the church in that place.
The main idea is that their work was Honest Gospel Work and through this work the Thessalonians heard and believed the word of God.
I. Proclaiming The Powerful Word of God.
We find that their Honest Gospel Work is to proclaim the “Word of God.”
And maybe this has happened to you: a person once challenged me for speaking of the Bible as the Word of God. This zealous person contested that the “Word of God” was NOT the Bible, but is only Jesus Christ.
You might think of John’s Gospel, the first chapter, where it explains of Jesus “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And where it says “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
No doubt that Jesus is the Word of God.
But in verse 13 of our sermon text today, we read the following:
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.”
Of course, there is a sense in which Jesus is to be “accepted” by us.
But in this verse it says that this “word of God” was something that the Thessalonians “HEARD from us.” The word of God here is Christ’s doctrine, specifically the message of the Gospel. And if what Paul, Silas, and Timothy told the Thessalonians can be called “the word of God” than certainly the Bible itself can be called the word of God.
All this to conclude that both Christ and His teachings are “the word of God.” They are inseparable. We know Christ, and we know the mind of Christ, because of the Bible.
The word of God is the mission of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
They do Honest Gospel Work. The proclaim the Word of God.
Now, you might note that I often say “proclaim” the Gospel. This is a good translation of the New Testament Greek to say “proclaim.” It isn’t wrote to say “preach” the Gospel, but unfortunately the word “preach” has taken on negative connotations; to be preachy. You’ll also hear the term “share the gospel,” which isn’t a Biblical phrase per se, and can be a bit confusing or out of place, because the main definition of “share” has one give up part of something and keep another part. Yet in proclaiming the Gospel we keep all of it and give all it. But, I suppose, it is not altogether wrong to use the phrase “share the Gospel.”
I found an article in Christianity Today from 2019 titled “The Apostles never ‘Shared’ the Gospel, and neither should we.” Subtitled “why it is time to retire our favorite evangelistic phrase.” The author contends that this “sharing” implies a form of charity where we only give the gospel to willing recipients. He likens it to a baseball coach saying “toss the ball” rather than throw or pitch. “Sharing” “fails to convey the right attitude, approach, and authority necessary for the act itself.”
I prefer “proclaim the Gospel” because that idea is true whether or not the message is accepted. And the proclamation of the Gospel is important in God’s plan; even for those who don’t accept, the proclamation of the Gospel to them adds to their guilt when they don’t accept it.
The Gospel was and is a message of great power.
Our chapter starts off with the explanation that Paul, Silas, and Timothy did not come in vain. They knew that God was powerful and that His word would not return void. That is, they were preach the Gospel, and God would, by the Holy Spirit, convert the hearts of many who heard.
And the power of the message is confirmed that we read that the Thessalonians received the word of God and accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God.
The message is so powerful that it must be “proclaimed.” It is weighty and with much power and authority.
II. Working Through Suffering
Their Honest Gospel Work was done even though they “suffered and were shamefully treated at Philippi.” (vs. 2)
What happened there?
The book of Acts tells us in the 16th chapter that in Philippi, Paul and Silas were followed by a slave girl who was possessed of a demon. And she kept crying out “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of Salvation.” That message is good in itself, but apparently she (or the demon) was trying to get Paul and Silas in trouble. So Paul said to the spirit “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But her owners could no longer benefit from her abilities so they went to they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the magistrate saying that they were disturbing the city. They beaten and put in jail. Though they later got of out jail, they remembered their shameful treatment and sufferings.
Yet they continued in their work. The importance of their Honest Gospel Work overshadowed the sufferings.
So they came to Thessaloniki proclaiming the Word of God.
And it was, as they say, “not to deceive” but to please God. Not to please man, but to please God.
They preached the Gospel.
This is like what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
[1Co 2:1-5 ESV] 1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
In doing Honest Gospel Work they preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News of Salvation by God’s grace through Faith in the crucified and resurrection Christ. Though they themselves were examples to the churches, ultimately they pointed to Christ and wanted all to have faith in Christ and the in the power of God.
III. Not Upon the Backs of Others
And to prove that they were not seeking gain, like the paid Greek Sophist’s of old who went from town to town teaching for money, the evangelists labored day and night that they might not be a burden on anyone. They worked hard with their hands.
This makes at least three reasons now why their work was Honest Gospel Work. One, it was the preaching of the Gospel, the very word of God. Two, it was done through suffering and despite suffering. And three, they paid their own way with their own work.
So they preached the Gospel AND worked physical work. We know elsewhere that at time Paul was a tentmaker. He literally made tents. Today we call this bivocationalism, having two jobs or vacations. And, I think, many pastors and missionaries would look down on such an arrangement, but I think it has many advantages. We see that the honest hands on work of the evangelists must have strengthened their reputation among the Thessalonians. And it went to evidence the truth of the Gospel. It showed that this was a get-rich-quick scheme, but a life-and-death message that they felt obligated to proclaim.
Christian ministry is not an escape into a monastery or cloister, but is among the people, working aside them and proclaiming the Gospel in turn.
IV. What is Honest Gospel Work?
Well, what then is Honest Gospel Work? What does it mean for us to do the same?
First, Honest Gospel Work must have the Gospel! Let us do away with the idea of “showing Christ” without speaking Christ. Do away with such timidness. The Gospel is a message that must be conveyed by language, spoken or written. Paul was not arrested and beaten for being a nice guy, but for preaching the word of God.
Then, Honest Gospel Work is not for gain. Not for financial gain anyways. I hope that it is clear to all that most if not all of the televangelists are not doing honest Gospel work. There is little Gospel there, and there is much financial gain there. They certainly don’t match up to Paul, Silas, and Timothy who suffered (without pay) for the Gospel. It is not wrong to be paid to be a pastor or a missionary or to accept money from the church for services rendered to it. But it is wrong to have that as one’s primary motivation.
Just the other day I saw a national news story of a women who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars over a number of years from the Catholic church where she was the treasurer. And she took the money for vacations to gambling casinos! Pretty hard to defend that! It is hard to think of a more egregious crime.
Honest Gospel Work is persistent. It continues through suffering. Rome was not built in a day, and neither is the church. Praise God for revivals, but praise Him all the more for sanctification, that sometimes slow process by which God makes us holy. That process by which he teaches us to give up self-aggrandizement and care for others. That process, frankly, of maturity. It is the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in us that leads us day by day and leads us in sanctification.
Honest Gospel Work is loving. Loving as a mother or a father. Interestingly, but mothers and fathers are mentioned in our passage. Paul, Silas, and Timothy note that they were gentile among the Thessalonians, gentle like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So we are called to be gentle in our Honest Gospel Work. Then also, they were “like a father with his children.” Not so much gentle but with encouragement and direction. They say “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.” Both of these things then are part of the Honest Gospel Work: gentleness and encouragement. And this not only to our own children, but to one another.
How may YOU do Honest Gospel Work?
It is good and right that we work. The Scriptures says that “he who does not work shall not eat.” We should work hard to provide for ourselves and to provide for others, family, church, and charity. Even if you’re not able to actively proclaim the Word of God, you are doing Honest Gospel Work in your hard work and support of others. But where you can proclaim the Word of God (in words) that is far better.
Teach your children the Word of God through even all of the sufferings that that will entail. You will spend much time and require much patience. It may necessitate private or home schooling which will cost you financially. But such is honest work.
We live in an age of memes, those short phrases usually accompanied by a picture, sometimes comical. And there is one of these, well known, regarding honest work. It has a picture of a farmer in overalls and it says “It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.” Sometime it might feel like that with honest work. It might not feel like much, but it is something. We press forward, through difficulties, doing hone work. Your work is not in vain.
How else may You do Honest Gospel Work? Continue to come to church seeking ways that you may benefit others.
Also, recognize that your pastor, elders, and deacon (like many others in many churches) work for others through suffering. Consider this if you have any interested in such positions. If you seek to be an elder, you seek a good thing, but know that it is full of challenges.
And all that we do, in Honest Gospel Work, we are promised that it is not in vain.
The work among the Thessalonians was not in vain, for many of them came to believe. And Paul’s work in general was not in vain.
[Phl 2:14-16 ESV] 14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Let us pray that our work is not in vain, trust in God in all things. Let us pray.