Trustworthy (Part One)
Thessalonians 2:1-16 – “Trustworthy” (Pt. 1)
Leonard Sweet, writing in his book Aqua Church: Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture, tells the story of what happened to the prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, when he was sentenced to life in solitary confinement called “The Place of the Skull.” The prince was given one book to read the entire time: the Bible.
“With only one book to read, he read it hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After 33 years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls.
“The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.
“This individual spent 33 years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time. Yet he could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia.”
This story is an extreme example of a fact that is very pertinent to us on this Bible Sunday: you cannot be saved by becoming an expert in the Bible. Instead, you use the Bible to meet its Author, God. By having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, you receive an eternal home in His presence.
Put your trust in the Lord by following His word, the Bible.
1. Trustworthy messengers declare the truth. (1-12)
Declare the truth impactfully. (1) By his testimony corroborated by their experience, Paul’s first visit to them was not a FAILURE in the sense that he brought the message and there was a godly response. He was so concerned about having helped them, in 3:5 Paul wrote that he’d sent Timothy to them to find out if their faith was still strong. While it is possible to be too results-oriented, we must expect that the preaching of God’s word will accomplish something.
Declare the truth boldly. (2) Paul’s sufferings before and during his time in Thessalonica. BEFORE - in Acts 16:19-24 we read about how Paul SUFFERED in the city of Philippi, being BADLY TREATED there (he and Silvanus were both publicly beaten with wooden rods and jailed). DURING – in Acts 17:5-9, we read about how the Jews in Thessalonica started a riot against Paul and the local church, resulting in their arrests. Paul refers here to experiences he shared with Jason and other leaders of the church. Paul referred to these experiences as GREAT OPPOSITION (agoni, fierce athletic competition) to the Gospel. OPPOSITION did not deter Paul from preaching the truth because God gave him COURAGE to DECLARE HIS GOOD NEWS BOLDLY.
Declare the truth purely. (3, 5-6, 10) PREACHING (paraklesis, “appeal,” 2 Corinthians 5:20) is not merely an intellectual exercise, but also speaks to our emotions. It implies a gentle form of persuasion. Look at the words Paul used in v. 12 to characterize his preaching – PLEADED, ENCOURAGED, and URGED, all emotional words. With that in mind, Paul gave ten indications of the pureness of his heart as he preached the Good News to them.
- Without DECEIT. (3) We can’t tell God’s truth by using intentional falsehoods. We must tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
- Without IMPURE MOTIVES. (3-4) The preacher cannot expect God to bless messages that have selfishness or evil at their core. Neither can preachers appeal to selfishness or evil in one’s listeners. As God EXAMINES THE MOTIVES OF OUR HEARTS, there is no chance of fooling Him.
- Without TRICKERY. (3) TRICKERY is cunning, fast talk, twisting words designed to give an impression more than convey the honest truth plainly. You can’t trick people into heaven. They must make an honest response to the truth. Robert L. Thomas wrote, “[Paul] made no empty promises and followed no humanly devised schemes. In seeking intelligent decisions from his hearers, he presented facts in their true light.” (Thomas, p. 252)
- Without FLATTERY. (5) Like DECEIT and TRICKERY, FLATTERY attempts to get a favorable response by twisting words. It involves appealing to a person’s pride, which is not a suitable reason to be saved.
- Without pretense. (5) Confident of the purity of his motives for ministry, Paul called on God to WITNESS he was not pretending to be their friends. In v. 10, he would also call on the Thessalonians to be WITNESSES to the fact that His friendship and with them was genuine. In our increasingly fake world, people hunger for something real. Our witness to them will have great appeal if it is directly connected to who we really are.
- Without greed. (5) Paul wrote about money frequently. He maintained that church workers deserved fair pay, but to prove he was not motivated by money, he worked to support himself. (See vs. 7-9.) We’ve all seen examples of people whose ministry brought them wealth. Using God’s word to create wealth frequently causes one to water down the message or to use flattery to entice one’s listeners to give.
- Without vanity. (6) Jesus reserved His sharpest criticism for Pharisees and other hypocrites who did religious things to be noticed and praised. He called them “hypocrites.” Preaching and all other religious acts – no matter how biblical they sound – that are aimed at pleasing oneself are not pleasing to God. While we all appreciate and need praise for doing right, it must never be our motive. We do right to please God, not ourselves.
- Devoutly. (10) To be devout is to be concerned about holiness more than happiness. In contrast to hypocrites, a devout person lives to please God by obeying His word. This word emphasizes good religious conduct while HONEST refers to good moral conduct. Together with FAULTLESS, Paul describes a proper conduct of ministry that proves God approved of them (4).
- Honestly. (10) The virtue of honesty is supremely important when telling others about God. A plain and obvious way to ensure honesty is to be devoted to the actual words on the pages of the Bible. We are to repeat them as printed and add our interpretation as necessary to make the meaning of the words plain and apply them to our lives.
- Faultlessly. (10) This does not mean that we have to be morally perfect or flawless, except as God forgives our sins and cleanses us. It means we are to avoid all compromise and excuse-making. We must keep God’s standards in public and in private. We must be faithful to the Bible and not misuse it in any way that enables or excuses sin.
Whenever we use the Bible, we are to declare the truth with divine authority. (4) As Paul wrote, WE SPEAK AS MESSENGERS APPROVED BY GOD, who are therefore TO BE ENTRUSTED WITH THE GOOD NEWS. That is claiming a lot, when you think about it. This is an example of the kind of humble boldness a believer can have when they follow God’s lead to speak God’s words, as directed by the Holy Spirit. There is no emphasis on self, the whole effort is focused on God. That focus is what makes a messenger of God’s word trustworthy, not their communication skills or any other power they have within themselves.
Declare the truth without demanding your rights. (7-9) People love to talk about their “rights.” The more you hear of that, the more you can be certain the speaker is focused on self. As he refers to their relationship in these verses, Paul reminds them he could have insisted on his rights as an Apostle.
His focus was on pleasing God, so he chose not to exercise the right to receive financial support (1 Corinthians 9:3ff). Instead, he gave his ministry of the word to them as an act of love.
Paul worked hard with the church, to share the word of God and also to support himself, so he would not BURDEN them financially. This was also the practice of those who ministered with Paul. (See 1 Corinthians 9:13-15 and 2 Corinthians 11:7-11.) The word TOILED (kopon, “labor”) emphasizes the fatigue they suffered by expending themselves in self-supportive work as well as ministry to the church.
Paul used both mothers (7) and fathers (11) as examples of self-sacrificial service. Good parents will, as appropriate, deny themselves to care for and train their children. Completing the familial analogies, he also referred to the conduct of himself and his people as childlike in their innocence.
Put your trust in the Lord by following His word, the Bible.
When civility disappears from public discourse, the temptation is to join in the anger and raise a stink. However, God calls us to do the opposite; to leave a pleasant, appealing and truthful impression with people that will attract them to the Gospel. Paul put it this way; “Now [God] uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for a task such as this?” (2 Corinthians 2:14b-16, NLT).
The obvious answer to Paul’s question is “Nobody.” None of us are able, in our own strength and wit, to be Christ-like to any great degree. Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us to live as Jesus did, to do, in every situation, what Jesus would do. When that happens, we release the provocative scent to which Paul referred. Whenever we use God’s words in this world, we can be sure the way people react to it will demonstrate what is already in their hearts: faith or denial.
The Leonard Sweet quote was retrieved from https://thepastorsworkshop.com/sermon-illustrations-on-the-bible/ on 19 July 2023.
Philip W. Comfort, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 16, 1 Thessalonians, 2008, pp. 342-350.
Robert L. Thomas, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 11, 1 Thessalonians, 1978, pp. 249-261.