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Online Text Sermon - The Apostle's Sincerity, 1 Thessalonians ch.2 vv.1-6

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Apostle's Sincerity
Text1 Thessalonians ch.2 vv.1-6
Sermon ID289

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"For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ" (1 Thessalonians 2, 1-6).

The apostle Paul is reminding these Thessalonian Christians in northern Greece of the way in which he first came to them to preach to them the Word of God. He makes a reference to his first coming to them. He stirs their minds to remembrance as to the circumstances which had just recently occurred before he himself came to their town of Thessalonica and announced to them, for the first time in history, the good news concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. He puts it like this, "You yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you." Then he makes this reference to the town where he had just been preaching before he got there. If you want an illustration, you could say he had been preaching in Edinburgh first, and then he came to Perth; or if you like, he had been preaching in Dingwall first, and then on foot he had travelled along to this place Inverness. That was the situation which he had in view. And he has a reason for relating the circumstances of his first coming to preach the gospel to them. It was because, he says, when he had been in this other town of Philippi he had been disgracefully treated - you see that in verse 2, "after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated" (text), or treated, as we say today. I will remind you what that shameful treatment was. It is recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles, that when he and his companion preacher had come to the town of Philippi, in northern Greece, and preached the gospel, that they had been arrested and imprisoned, stripped of their outer garments and beaten, denounced as men who were bringing new customs which it was not lawful for the people of Philippi to observe. They were thrust into the inner prison and all this they had suffered for no greater crime than preaching the truth of God.

Well now, he brings this reference concerning his first approach for a very good reason, and I explain now what that reason is. It is because he wanted to make clear to them that though he had been in prison, he had committed no crime worthy of imprisonment. Though he had been shamefully treated, there was no just or justifiable reason why he should have been so shamefully treated. Though he had been treated like a criminal, he was no criminal but an honest man and a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He emphasises this for the very important reason that a minister's reputation is most essential for him to maintain. A minister must have a good reputation, and that is his concern. You see these people of Thessalonica had heard of the treatment that he had received, and of course it was altogether possible they would believe the lie and imagine that this man was guilty of these things. So the apostle clears his own reputation and affirms and asserts that he was not guilty of those things which were alleged against him at Philippi. 'Quite the contrary,' he says, "our exhortation [or our preaching] was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile" (text).

Well now, this brings before us a most important subject which the apostle Paul is dealing with as he speaks and writes to these young Christians in Thessalonica. Here is the point: it is that every preacher of the gospel of Christ must be a godly man, and he must have a reputation for being an upright and a godly man. A preacher of the gospel is not an angel, and he is not a perfect saint yet, but every preacher of the gospel must be careful of his reputation, both in public and in private. That is how the apostle Paul comes to vindicate himself and to assert. He says "We were shamefully treated, it is true, imprisoned, it is true, beaten, thrust into the inner dungeon, but in spite of all that", he says, "we did not come as men who were criminals to you. We come with an honest Christian character and with straightforward Christian motives, and I must clear with you, Thessalonian Christians, that my reputation, though sullied, was unjustly sullied, and that the aspersions and imputations made against me were not based on fact."

I say again, therefore, that every gospel minister must come with an honest and an open and a godly reputation. Why should this be the case? It is not the case with any other profession. A man might be a politician and yet he may live a private life which is far from beyond reproach. There are many politicians, and we know them, and we could name them if we had the opportunity to do so, and we know very well that their public life is one of great importance and great honour, but their private life is something which we had better not speak about because there are things in their private life which are dishonourable and, in the sight of God, sinful and wicked. They justify this, in political circles, by talking about the 'public face' and the 'private face', and they say that "my own private life is my own business; I'm here to do a job, and as long as I am doing the job efficiently and successfully, nobody has the responsibility of pointing a finger at my private life." That is the way people are in politics. They are the same, of course, in the medical profession - doctors are often the same - not all of them of course, but some, and so it is also in other walks of life, professional walks of life.

But... the ministry is different. A minister must not only be a man who preaches truth soundly, but whose life is consistent with his message - it must be. And so, the apostle Paul is very jealous here to guard his own reputation. You see, in these early verses of chapter 2, how often he does this. Let me point out to you some of the verses before us. Take verse 3, first of all: "For our exhortation was not of deceit," he says, "nor of uncleanness, nor in Guile" (text). And he says a similar thing, at the end of verse 4: "God," he says "which trieth our hearts" (text). God is the one who is looking upon our lives, upon our hearts, upon our motives, upon the reasons why we behave as we do, as the ministers of Christ and the preachers of the gospel. And again a similar thing is found at verse 5, "Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness" (text). Notice that appeal again to God. God is the witness. We don't live one style of life before you, he says, and a different style of life in secret. We don't have a public face and a private face. Our private life is not our own; our private life is an open book. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to say, "You can write my life story across a blue sky, I have nothing to hide." Now, that is the way the gospel minister must be - not to say there are some things he doesn't blush to think about, of course he has many such things, many mistakes, many blots, many foolish words and foolish actions, things that he would far rather he had never said and done - but the fundamental current of a minister's life must be in terms of truth, and righteousness, and godliness, and honourable living. The apostle affirms this, and he is not blowing his own trumpet, he is not making out himself to be some painted saint, but he says, "My reputation, however sullied and however misrepresented it was at Philippi, my true reputation is one of an honourable man of God," he says. My dear friends, this is absolutely essential for a minister because half of a minister's work is not so much what he says, but what he is. A minister is his own best sermon. It was said of dear M'Cheyne, when he came into the pulpit people were weeping before he opened his mouth at the very sight of this godly man coming before them with a message from heaven. He was so full of the Spirit, and his own best sermon was not simply what he said but what he was.

That is how it should be and that is how it must be. This of course is very relevant to our own times. We know very well as Christian people in the generation in which we live, that times are not what they used to be, and the older people in this church, or any other church, could say very readily, "There were better days when I was younger." If you ask the reason why there were better days when they were younger, the answer is, very largely, because the ministers were better men when they were younger, and there was more godliness among them, in the pulpit and in the pew, when they were younger. And the cause why the Lord Jesus Christ's workers declined so much in our time is closely related to the fact that there isn't the same careful walk with God on the part of those who are the ambassadors of Christ.

We don't have to search any further than this. Here is therefore something that you and I, and all of us, need to come back to: that real Christianity is not simply being sound in our creed, though it is that of course, but it's being sound in our life, and sound at home, as parents and children. Sound, not only in the way we talk and our theological language, but sound in our attitudes to everything in life, that we love God and love the people of God, and love the truths of God, because He is holy. We cannot serve a holy God without a holy life. All due allowances made, of course, for the shortcomings which we are all heirs to. Nobody is preaching the doctrine of sinless perfection in this life; it isn't to be found, not even in the apostle Paul it isn't to be found. Not even in M'Cheyne and Rutherford and these great heroes of old it is not to be found; but substantial, honest, godliness is what we are expecting, in the pew and in the pulpit, of those who are the ambassadors of Christ and those who listen to them.

So, dear friends, this is the way the apostle Paul sets his own reputation before his hearers, so that they might realise that the message he brought to them was a message which he did not bring in some merely professional way, like a public lecturer who was employed to give some sort of message to the multitudes. No, no, he preached this message because he himself believed it, and loved it, and lived it out. It was his life as well as his message; it was the way he thought and wanted them to think; that they, together with him and all believers, may enjoy the favour upon their lives. It was because this was so that these Thessalonians had turned from their idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He had raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath and curse of God to come.

That's the one point, then, with which he brings his own reputation before these Thessalonians. But in the course of doing this, as you will notice, he implies that it is possible to be a minister of the gospel, so called, without having these things - this godliness, and this sincerity, and this purity of life - and he shows us here, by implication, how careful we have to be in all those whom we listen to, who bring us some sort of religious message. Let me show you some of the evidence now, beginning at verse 3: "Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile" (text). Isn't that amazing, that the apostle Paul would say such a thing as that? "Our preaching, our message was not with these things," he says, "deceit, uncleanness, guile." He is implying that there are preachers and ministers whose lives are characterised by these terrible blemishes and weaknesses and sins. Some men's preaching is wonderfully impressive but there is a deceit in it, that's what he means. There is a deceit in it and the deceit is that although what they say sounds good, yet their own personal lives and their family lives is a lie. Their preaching may not be a lie, but their lives may be a lie because there is no consistency between the one and the other. ...uncleanness, guile and deceitfulness.

And then at verse 5, he puts this before them, "Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness" (text). It is perfectly possible for a preacher to use flattering words to try to ingratiate himself with the people, to say smooth things to the people so as to gain on their personal affections. But that is something a preacher must never do. He must not flatter the people with smooth-tongued language; he must address them as sinners, and not as men and women who are to be given smooth talk. Those who give smooth talk always have an ulterior motive. It is in order to make themselves popular with their hearers. He says that that is something he refused to do. "We did not come," he said, "with flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness" (text). That is an interesting expression; I wonder what you make of that? '...a cloak of covetousness'. Covetousness means self-interest, doesn't it? It means a desire to get something for ourselves. The cloak is a very powerful illustration: you have a cloak to cover up, do you not? The covetousness, therefore, is there but it is masked over so that it is not very visible for the audience or the congregation. What you really want is something for yourself, but you cover that up with a cloak of religious talk. It sounds impressive; it may be fine sounding words or something else, but really what you want is something to gratify yourself, usually money, like that strange preacher in America who said to his audience that if they didn't subscribe a million dollars, the Lord was going to take him home by death. Immediately the people wrote cheques and he got his money. You wouldn't get it in this country but you certainly would in America, and he did! You see, that is possibly something of what we are talking about. We cannot read men's motives, we don't know exactly why this man said this, but it has the appearance, at any rate, of this very thing - a cloak of covetousness - wanting something for ourselves. "Well", says the apostle Paul, "we don't deal in such a matter as that; we don't deal in deceit; we don't deal in covetousness; we don't deal in pleasing men."

Then he says something like this. He says in verse 6, "Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ" (text). That is a description of his apostolic authority. He was an apostle of Christ. He could come to a congregation and say that we are the immediate apostles of Christ; we are sent with all authority to preach to you the Word of God. "But," he says, "we didn't come with that high authoritarian tone." It contrasts very severely with the tone of some bishops and archbishops, and cardinals and popes, who seem to throw their authority in your very face. He didn't do that. "We didn't attempt anything like that," he says. "We did not come being burdensome to you; we didn't seek glory from you; we didn't seek praise or expressions of flattery from you. We came to bring you the simple message of repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This was our burden. This was our concern: to live a godly life before you; to be sincere in the message we brought so that your faith may not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

He is not ashamed to say to the Corinthians in a similar way, in his first letter, that when he came to them, he did not come with excellency of speech or of words. "No," he said, "we came with fear and with trembling, and even with tears." He came because he did not intend them to regard him as an impressive speaker; he came to show them the way of holiness, and the way to God, and the message which can save their souls. In so preaching he intended to rescue them from the wrath of God to come.

Well, my friends, we must take notice of these things because, as you know very well, there are such preachers as the apostle here exposes. They do come with guile. There are those that knock on your doors and they try to win your favour over to some false form of Christianity. Those that go from house to house deceiving men, and not only from house to house but in pulpits there are those who try to gain, with flattery, the favour of their audiences, but all the time they have no desire to root them and ground them in the truths of God's Word, but to do something else.

There is something therefore which flows from this as a practical outworking of what the apostle Paul is saying. Because a minister's reputation is so precious to him, and to the gospel, and to the people that hear him, it is to be expected that there will be many attempts made from various sources to damage a minister's reputation. The devil makes it his principal business in this world to endeavour to dent the reputations of ministers - that is the devil's principal occupation. If you were to say to me: What is the devil doing, from day to day and from week to week, and from century to century? I will tell you. Principally, it is to blacken the reputations of the servants of Jesus Christ. Because, of course, he is shrewd enough and wise enough to know that the credibility of our message as ministers depends upon the credibility of our persons and our reputation goes in tandem with what we are saying to people. If he can blacken our reputation, he can therefore steal away our credibility. He spends much of his time doing that very thing.

Another way in which the devil does this is by casting a slur upon us. "We were shamefully entreated," he says, "we were made out to be criminals when we were at Philippi; we were thrown into the dungeons; we were treated like dirt, whereas we were the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ" - shamefully treated. This of course is the devil's doing, and if the devil can do that in the days of the apostles with these great men of old, he can certainly do it with the people of God today and with the servants of God today - and he does. i will say one of the ways in which the devil is expert at casting a slur upon the characters of God's servants is by using nicknames. One of them is this: 'fundamentalist'. I happened to be in a meeting the other day, and some of you were there too, in which the candidates of this constituency were being interviewed and questioned as to their views on certain political and religious issues. A minister of this town asked of these candidates: Would they, if they got into power, promote the idea of Christian radio broadcasting? One of the men who was a candidate said no, he wouldn't do so at all. "Certainly not," he said, because he was afraid of what would happen if we got Christian radio in this country similar to the Christian radio in America. He said he wouldn't like that to happen because Christian radio in America, he says, has all these strange voices, some of them promoting weird ideas, and many of them making great money out of it. He didn't stop to think, by the way, that every radio switch has a knob on it and if people don't want to listen to it, all you have to do is switch it off. He didn't say that, but he said, "No, no, we don't want Christian radio in this country, because if we get Christian radio in this country then it's going to be like Christian radio in America."

That is the way in which you see the slur is cast upon the gospel. Just because there are some bad apples, it doesn't mean to say that all the apples in the barrel are bad. There are bad preachers in America like other places, but there are very good preachers in America, excellent programmes in America, and why shouldn't there be excellent programmes in Great Britain? You see the slur? - didn't want these fundamentalists. That's a slur, and that is the way the devil casts a reproach upon the reputations of good and godly men who are doing the work of Jesus Christ.

Another of these labels is the word 'traditionalists'. If there is one thing the devil is good at doing, it's putting this label upon conservative Christian ministers: they are 'traditionalists' and therefore, the implication is, they are old-fashioned and not 'with it'; they are 'yesterday's men'; they have got 'one foot in the grave'; nobody in their right mind would waste their time going to listen to them - they are 'traditionalists'. Another way, is by calling these people 'antinomian', or usually the reverse and calling them 'legalists' because they require a holy life, and a strict life, and a careful walk with God.

My very dear friends, these things have to be said; the apostle Paul spent much of his time preserving his own reputation. He had to do this for the gospel's sake, and he does it here, and again at the end of 2 Corinthians. If you care to read chapters 10 to the end, you'll see he has to do the same thing again. He talks about having to glory in his own infirmities, and to become a fool in glorying, but he has to defend himself against the attacks of those who in his generation were striving to overthrow the message and to undermine his authority as an ambassador of the Word of God.

another way in which this is done of course, in this world, is less obvious and yet just as dangerous. One of the ways in which men and women can undermine a minister's reputation is by gossip. I don't need to tell wise people like you this. You have probably seen it many times done. It is still done, and it is done with devilish and diabolical effect upon the progress of the gospel - gossip. Somebody says something unkind about some minister of Christ, and then before long it is in everybody's mouth. You know how it works: it goes from mouth to mouth. People don't think, people don't use their intelligence, they simply repeat what other people have said, and the effect of that is that gossip can absolutely destroy the credibility of a minister's reputation. It happens time and time and time again. Mr Still humorously used to say that congregations often had roast minister for lunch, and it's true; and it does great harm; and it undermines the authority of the message, especially when this is done in the hearing of young people. We should be extremely circumspect what criticism we level at religious leaders when it comes to the presence of young people because, of course, they are very quick to pick up the vibration, and any good which may be done by what they hear is likely to be lost by the damaging insinuations made.

The apostle Paul here then in this passage is jealous of the reputation which he has, and must have, as a preacher of the gospel of Christ. Of course, the reason for that is his own credibility, his own authority with the people. If the people can't respect a minister then they can't respect his message. It's as simple and as obvious and as plain as that. We are living in a day and generation where I think there are two things that are doing great hurt and great harm everywhere to undermine the progress of the gospel in this country. Everybody knows that the gospel has gone down badly in this country. I am trying now to suggest an analysis of it. What are some of the reasons for it? Well, the most obvious reason of all is that ministers themselves, in many cases, have let themselves and their gospel down by failing to watch and pray, by failure in their own personal lives. They become too interested in drink, or too interested in the opposite sex, or too interested in playing golf three days a week, or too interested in going on fishing excursions when they should be reading their Bible, and indicating to other people that they are enjoying life in this present world instead of living a holy, circumspect, careful life - on their knees. It was said about the old ministers that they used to wear out the knees of their trousers; and of the younger generation, they wore out the seat of their trousers. One generation was on their knees, the other was sitting down. Well, that's just an illustration of it, but this is what we need to get back to, and we need to encourage one another in this: holiness of life, obedience to the commandments of God, a living for God's glory, being separate from the world. My friends, worldliness is what has come in everywhere, and it has dragged down the reputation of Christ's cause.

Another thing which has done very much the same is a want and lack of prayer for ministers. No wonder the apostle kept saying to his audiences, "Brethren, pray for us! Brethren pray for us!" Because the devil will do all he can to undermine the ministry, and to undermine the minister, and to damage his reputation, to catch him off his guard. The apostle therefore was very jealous for his reputation as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, "When we came to you we did not seek glory from you, nor from others when we might have been burdensome as the servants and the apostles of Christ." And his meaning is, therefore, they are to be held in love, and lifted up in prayer.

Where the New Testament gospel preacher is in his proper place, the apostle Paul points out there are four things here that are to characterise his ministry, four things before I close, and the first one is found in verse 2, "But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention" (text). "We were bold." That is the first thing, my friends, that the gospel minister must have: he must be bold; he must give the audience the truth; he must speak plain language to the people; he must not gloss over his message nor, as it were, mumble it like a bumble bee in a jam jar. He must give the message of the truth. Sinners are to repent and turn to Christ, and they are to live a life of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do. If a man's own personal life is not a godly life, he cannot be bold. No one can be bold in preaching holiness unless he loves holiness himself. It's impossible. That is why M'Cheyne said that "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness." This is why M'Cheyne said again that a holy minister is a powerful weapon in the hand of God. Boldness is the fruit of a good conscience towards God, and there is no boldness possible either in prayer or in preaching unless we have the life which has commended itself to God - not of course self-righteousness but the righteousness which is of God by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So therefore, boldness is one of the things that the gospel minister must strive for.

The second of these four things is in verse 4, "As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God" (text). "Not as pleasing men, but God." Preaching is not to please men. Indeed it does please men where men and women are spiritual. It delights them, it satisfies the soul. But that is not the meaning. The preacher doesn't aim at pleasing men. He doesn't say things because they are fashionable; he is not there as somebody who is 'user friendly'; he is not there to accommodate his message to the times in which he lives; he is not there to smooth out the rough things of the Word of God. He is not there to please men, but God.

The third thing that he tells us about the faithful New Testament ministers in verse 6, he says, "Nor of men sought we glory" (text). "Nor of men sought we glory." Of course, everybody who is in public life, naturally, instinctively desires to have a certain amount of praise. We all love it, as sportsman love it when they are clapped on the field, when they are shouted and roared at because they have done something with a ball. Everybody loves that, we all love our own praise. The book of Proverbs says that: "As the fining pot for silver... so is a man to his praise" (Proverbs 27, 21). We love to be praised! The danger, the danger obviously is that the preacher preaches in such a manner that he knows the people are going to praise him for it. "Wasn't he good today? Wasn't he saying the things which we love to hear today?" Well there is a sense in which that is good, of course, provided he doesn't fall into the trap of seeking praise for himself rather than for God. No, no. "We are not to seek glory from men," he says.

The fourth thing he says, in verse 6, is: "We might have been burdensome" (text). A gospel minister must never be burdensome - financially it means. I remember once being in a meeting where money was talked about, salaries of ministers. It was a few years ago when we seemed always to be in deficit, and the monthly record was forever telling us how much of a deficit we had this year. Was it a hundred thousand or was it two hundred thousand? We had a speaker came along for this meeting that I attended, and he told us that we must tell all our people they need to give. "Give," tell them. Tell them to give more! "Well," I said, "there is another way of solving the problem. Let all the ministers take a drop in their salaries." Well, there was very nearly an earthquake! "Well", I said, "that is a simple solution; if we're not getting enough money in, let the ministers have less, and that will solve it at once. We mustn't be burdensome to the people. If they can't afford it then drop the salary; we will have to eat less or eat yesterday's bread instead of todays; we have to do it somehow." That was a totally unacceptable suggestion. However that is the way a gospel minister must be; he must never be burdensome financially to the people, or in any other way at all.

My dear friends, here in our text is the way the apostle Paul presents the work of the gospel ministry to his people - these young Thessalonian Christians. He came to them, really you could say, as a man. He was a plain man speaking to plain men. He wanted them in heaven. His desire was for their salvation, for their souls' good. He wanted them born again. So do I want you all born again. It doesn't matter to me whether people provide for my salary or not. It doesn't matter to me about anything else. I am not interested in golf or fishing or anything. I want your souls to be saved! I want you to believe in Christ! I want you to know what it is to be delivered from the wrath of God to come. Because, make no bones about it, there is a Judgment day, my friends, and we have to believe in Christ as our only Saviour. There is no other way. So I leave you with this question: Are you right with God today? If you are going to die tomorrow, will you go to heaven... or not? There is the great question. Make sure you have Christ in your heart.

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