An Audience of One
Many of you have heard or read my story of an opportunity to share my faith at a bar I used to attend in my earlier years. I have shared this story on a number of occasions because it was a unique opportunity in my life where I felt I had to do something I thought I never could do and that was preach the truth in love in an environment that was hostile, indifferent and apathetic towards Christ. If you haven’t read my story go here. I still look back on that evening nearly 25 years ago with fondness because I responded to God’s nudging in my life. It was a time where I felt I needed to obediently step out of my comfort zone and share God’s story, the Gospel, with a group of people who could care less about God’s love for them. In my obedience the Lord brought at least one person into the Kingdom of God that I know of. By some standards this could not be considered very successful but by God’s standards it was a 100% success rate, because he got who he set out to get.
This obedient response was not easy at all. I remember the feeling when I stepped up on the stage to speak. I was scared. I was unsure of what I would say. I was afraid that I might offend someone. In spite of me the Holy Spirit took over and I am glad I that I was obedient. What is strange for me is that it sometimes difficult for me to boldly proclaim the truth in love because of my fears of offending or potentially losing friends and loved ones. I am glad I have the Apostle Paul to look at as he always offers encouragement and insight in his writing and in the life he led.
Today’s passage is in 1 Thessalonians 2 and it is perfect for inspiring and encouraging all of God’s people to go out and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Vs 1 – 3: Paul has never shied away from preaching the Gospel nor did he ever try to hide it or act like it didn’t impact his life. He boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of where he was. I wish I could say the same about me. I use excuses like I don’t want to come across as pushy, I don’t want to be made fun of for my faith or I think that for some ridiculous reason that I will come across as overly righteous. I think it is important to know and learn from Paul… in proclaiming the Gospel that we have nothing to be ashamed of. The Gospel is full of hope, joy, peace, love and freedom. The Gospel is our foundation and it is everything we hold on to as followers of Jesus Christ.
The word Gospel is derived from the Greek word Euaggeleion (Yoo-ang-ghel-ee-on) which means good tidings or good news. The Gospel proclaims the good news of the kingdom of God which has come and is still to come through Jesus the Messiah. It is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to those who believe. It is the good news of the death of Jesus Christ and how he has reconciled (or made peace) with God. It is the good news of the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. He rose again for our justification. It is the good news of his return in all majesty and His coming Kingdom. This good news needs to be proclaimed boldly.
Vs 4 - 7: Speaking the truth in love. Saying what needs to be said is often difficult. I feel that speaking the truth of God’s Word from the pulpit is one of the joys and curses of being a pastor. I have had moments in ministry where I knew that speaking the truth might offend. There have been times where I felt I needed to speak about something that was sensitive subject matter and I had to determine in my heart... do I speak what God wants me to speak or do I skirt the subject and go on to something else? When I face these situations I am reminded of the words written by Paul to the Thessalonians, "So we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts." (vs. 4)
I/we need to be reminded often that proclaiming the Gospel (in the pulpit or in everyday life) is not intended to please people or make people feel good about themselves. Hopefully the words I do speak from the do bring hope to people not because it was spoken with eloquence or creativity but because the truth was proclaimed and received. The gospel message is offensive to many and if pastors and believers continually proclaim it they will eventually offend. Since this is the case we cannot let this affect the message we proclaim. We have the great privilege to proclaim God's Word because we are "approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel."
This does not, however, give us permission to be abusive or manipulative in the words we speak. We are to be "gentle" in our delivery and let the Word of God speak for itself and penetrate the hearts of those to whom we proclaim it. Our job is to deliver the Word of God to the people in love and if it offends some, realize it's not because of you. They are offended by God and there is nothing you can do about that.
Vs 8: There is a myth in Christianity where people believe that the Christian walk is a private matter. They have the attitude that their faith is all about Jesus and me. They think (and sometimes say), “I don’t need anyone as long as I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” If you know me well enough you have heard me say, “There are no such thing as ’Lone Ranger’ Christians” and this is true (and I have even been lovingly corrected because even the Lone Ranger had a companion in Tonto).
The Gospel of Jesus is the core of our faith. As Christians we are to share the “good news” of Jesus. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were ready to share it with them. Then he says (and I am paraphrasing), “We not only want to share the Gospel but we want to share ourselves with you because you are like family to us.” You see as disciples of Jesus we are called to community and not seclusion. We are to share ourselves with one another. What does this really mean though? I believe Paul is telling his dearly beloved readers in Thessalonica that as Christians we need each other. We need to share one another’s burdens, joys, trials, concerns and so on. We need to share ourselves with one another so we may be able to edify and build up the body of Christ. We need to share ourselves so we can pray for, encourage and give hope to one another.
We all have trials, concerns, troubles, health issues and etc. We are human and these all come with the human territory. Don’t you think we can weather these storms when we have loving brothers and sisters to support us? On the other hand, when something fantastic happens and you see the hand of God in action in your life, don’t you want to share it with someone? As a Pastor I DEPEND on the prayers of a congregation. I thrive on celebrating little victories with others. When I am down-trodden and beaten up I lean on the support of fellow believers who are there to support me. The simple truth is, we need one another. The Christian faith is a journey that we walk and we cannot walk it alone.
Vs 10: I am in awe of the confidence and boldness Paul has in his conduct and faith. I came across this quote, “If the best sermon is a holy life, Paul was a great preacher.” You and I have the great joy and burden of not only proclaiming the Gospel but also in living a godly life. It’s not the “job” of only Pastors to preach and live a holy and upright life; a holy and upright life is the call of every follower of Jesus. Jesus says, in John 13:35, “By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Our character and our conduct speaks volumes about who we serve. For example a selfish, unloving, and greedy person shows that he serves self. A selfless, loving and giving person points to the Jesus she serves.
Paul lived a life that was honorable among the people he ministered to and the God he served. I pray one day I will be able to stand before all the people I have served over the years and say, “As you and God are my witnesses I have lived a holy, righteous and blameless life by the grace of God.” Notice I did not nor does Paul say “sinless”. To live a holy life means to live your life set apart for God. You aim to please the Father through your life and you live with him as you God and King. To be righteous means you live a just life or aim to be in right standing with God. To live a blameless life means you have lived a life (or strived to live a life) where nobody can make accusations of you living contrary to what you believe. In other words as Christians we must live our lives to please God. We cannot live to please God in our own power. Each one of us must depend on the Holy Spirit to help us live holy, righteous and blameless lives. This is why I make it a point to pray often “Lord help me to live the life that will bring honor and glory to your name. I can’t do it in my own power so I depend on your Spirit to live it through me.”
What is the take home for today? I want to challenge you to do as I wrote about in my last post and strive to be imitators of Jesus. In doing so there are three action steps from todays passage that we can take with us.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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