Pleasing God[1]

I Thessalonians 2:1-12

November 16, 2014

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

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            One night a surgeon was called out of a sound sleep to the emergency room. Unshaven and with tousled hair, he encountered two physicians, both neatly attired in clean white lab coats. One physician turned to the other and said, You can always tell the surgeons by their absolute disregard for appearance.

            Two evenings later, the same surgeon was at a banquet when he was called to the hospital for yet another emergency surgery. He arrived at the hospital attired in his banquet tuxedo and happened to encounter the same two physicians in their clean white lab coats.  One physician turned to the other and said, Sure is sensitive to criticism, isnt he?

            Have you ever been criticized by someone else? Of course you have.  It happens to all of us. No one is exempt. The Gettysburg Address is considered the most eloquent oration in U.S. history, and yet, the day after the address, the editor of the Chicago Times ridiculed Lincolns speech.

            Sooner or later all of us have to deal with criticism.  Sooner or later people say  negative things about us, some of them true and some of them far from the truth, and of course, the Apostle knew what it was like to be criticized. In fact, in the first twelve verses of this second chapter of First Thessalonians all Paul does is answer his critics. 

            Of course, this is nothing knew.  Most of Pauls letters were written in response to  one of two things: one, to respond to some attack that has been leveled against him or two, to correct some error in a local situation and in our verses for today, Paul moves into a direct defense of his conduct and ministry in Thessalonica.  So as I read our passage for today, think of it as listening to one side of a phone conversation, specifically Pauls side, and note the accusations leveled against him.  Ready?  I Thessalonians 2:1.

 

            You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in spite of great opposition.

 

            Note Paul does not mention the exact nature of his suffering, the exact nature of his mistreatment in Philippi, but given the mistreatment one would excuse Paul and his companions if they had decided to enter Thessalonica with great caution. Given their mistreatment in Philippi we would understand their adopting a more modest approach, a more toned down approach in the next city, but that didnt happen.  Im reminded of the former football coach Herman Hickman who said, If they are chasing you out of town, get up front and make it look like a parade.  Thats what Paul and his companions did.  They led a parade out of Philippi with their next stop being Thessalonica, and they did not take their foot of the gas.  When they came to Thessalonica they continued to boldly and courageously proclaim the gospel. Lets continue on, and as we do, well note the accusations Pauls critics were making against him.  Verse 3.

 

            For our appeal does not spring from deceit of impure motives or trickery, (thats accusation number one that Paul had used questionable methods, dishonest methods, hoodwinking people into accepting Christ) but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals but to please God who tests our hearts.  As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or others, (thats accusation number two, buttering people up for financial gain), though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ (thats accusation number three, being somewhat of a dictator).  But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.  So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. 

            Next comes the fourth accusation, that they were fleecing the Thessalonians, somewhat like roofers who sweep in from out of state after a storm.  Verse 9,

 

            You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed the gospel.

 

            Paul supported his ministry by making tents and he continued his tent making wherever he travelled so he wouldnt be a financial burden on young, struggling congregations.  Then finally, accusation number five having a questionable character, after all, he had just been released from a jail cell in Philippi.

 

            You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers.  As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

 

          Reading this reminds me of the recent political campaign ads.  Accuse your opponent of everything imaginable, hoping something sticks.  Pauls opponents accused him of everything they could think of hoping something would stick, and in defending himself, Paul states something extremely important.  What he states is an antidote to criticism, or if not an antidote at least a pain reliever or a muscle relaxer when it comes to criticism.  It comes in verse four where he says, We speak, not to please mortals, but to please God …”    

          If our primary audience is God, if our primary goal is to have God say at the end of our life, Well done, good and faithful servant, then what difference do the false things people say about us make in our lives?

          Now, how do we live to please God?  Well, Paul gave us a two-fold answer here in his words and in his life.

          First of all, to please God, we need to live a life of integrity. Thats what St. Paul did. He says to the church at Thessalonica, For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives, or trickery (verse 3) As God is our witness we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed (verse 5).  In other words, he led a life of integrity.

          A writer for a newspaper in Toronto, Canada undertook an investigation into the ethical practices of auto repair shops in his town. He took a sparkplug wire off of his engine, making the car run unevenly. He took the car into different shops and asked them to fix it. Time after time people sold him unnecessary repairs or charged him for repairs that were not done. Finally, he went to a small garage. A fellow named Fred came out, popped open the hood, and said, Let me listen to that thing. After a few seconds, he told the reporter, I think I know whats wrong. He reached down and grabbed the wire, announcing, Your sparkplug wire came off. And he put it back on.

          The reporter asked, What do I owe you?

          Im not gonna charge you anything, Fred replied. I didnt have to fix anything; I just reattached the wire.

          The writer then told Fred what he was doing and that he had been charged all kinds of money by mechanics looking at that same wire. He asked Fred, Why didnt you charge me anything?

          Fred said, Are you sure you want to know? I happen to be a Christian and believe that everything we do should be done to glorify God. Im not a preacher and Im not a missionary, but I am a mechanic and so I do it honestly. I do it skillfully and I do it to the glory of God.

          The next day in the newspaper was a headline that read, Christian Mechanic, Honest to the Glory of God.[2]

          In the fourth round of a national spelling bee, elevenyearold Rosalie Elliot, a champion from South Carolina, was asked to spell the word avowal. Her soft Southern accent made it difficult for the judges to determine if she had used an a or an e as the next to last letter of the word. The judges deliberated for several minutes and also listened to tape recording playbacks, but still they couldnt determine which letter had been pronounced.

          Finally the chief judge, John Lloyd, put the question to the only person who knew the answer. He asked Rosalie, Was the letter an a or an e?

          Rosalie, surrounded by whispering young spellers, knew by now the correct spelling of the word. But without hesitation, she replied that she had misspelled the word and had used an e.

          As she walked from the stage, the entire audience stood and applauded her honesty and integrity, including dozens of reporters covering the event.[3]

          Do we want to please God?  Live a life of integrity.

          Second: live a life of love. Paul writes, So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

          The reason Paul had such impact on the churches he served was that the people knew he genuinely cared about them. As has been often said, People dont care how much you know until they know how much you care. Paul cared.

          In 1821, a young lawyer named Thaddeus Stevens took on the case of a slave owner whose slave, Charity Butler, had run away. Stevens argued successfully for the prosecution, and Butler was returned to her slave owner. Case won. According to the standards of his profession, Stevens should have been elated. Exactly the opposite was true, however. Historians believe that this case affected Stevens deeply. He knew that he had been successful in an unjust cause. This didnt cause him elation, but shame. As a result, he became a passionate advocate against slavery. He went on to serve seven terms in U.S. Congress, and was the driving force behind the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection under the law and giving slaves who had been set free the right to vote. In 2002, while excavating parts of Stevens property, archeologists discovered that Stevens also had beneath his home a hidden passageway, most likely used to hide runaway slaves escaping by way of the Underground Railroad.[4]  Thaddeus Stevens deeply cared about the welfare of slaves.

          A preacher named Tony Evans said it beautifully: We need to wake up each morning and ask, How can I make God look good today?

          Its incredibly simple and incredibly difficult.  Live a life of integrity and live a life of love.  Amen.         



[1] Thanks to King Duncan and his sermon Living to Please God on sermons.com.

[2] Tommy Nelson, The 12 Essentials of Godly Success (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), p. 148.

[3] Gods Little Devotional Book for Graduates (Tulsa: Honor Books, Inc., 1995), p. 159.

[4] Digging into a Historic Rivalry by Fergus M. Bordewich, Smithsonian, February 2004, pp. 96-107.