Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1337
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus February 11, 2018 1 Thessalonians 2.1-12
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
"Sharing the Gospel and Your Life"
1 Thess. 2.1-12 (8) 2 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.
The Gospel in Times of Conflict
One of the things we know about the apostle Paul is the great deal of suffering he encountered in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and much more, and from this letter to the Thessalonians, we know that he suffered and was treated harshly. But none of those sufferings deterred his resolve to preach and teach the love of God in Jesus Christ. At different times and in various places since Paul’s time, Christians have suffered similar treatment. There has seldom been a place of time where no opposition was present. Perhaps we might think that we have had it easier than most places in the history of our nation with the promise of religious liberty and the foundational premise of a Judeo-Christian ethic. Levels of suffering range far and wide, from being frowned upon all the way to death. Every nation and place has different opportunities and struggles. In Turkey right now, one of our EPC missionaries has been imprisoned for over a year. For us, there is only a less than friendly reception, but that is not even always the case. We hear stories of home Bible Studies being broken up because of some city ordinance, or businesses threatened because of faith practices, or public areas being stripped of any Christian symbols or Commandments. But we don’t really have much suffering in our proclamation of the Gospel.
So, why then, don’t we spend more energy and take more opportunities to do so? Why is it so difficult for the church in America to do more evangelizing? I want to explore that a little bit today. I’m not going to challenge you to go out two by two and witness to people door to door, not that that is a bad thing. I’m not going to encourage you to wear a sandwich board signs and walk around Kroger and WalMart parking lots yelling out the end is near. I’m not going to try to convince you that you should sell all you have and buy a plane ticket to the far reaches of the world to become a missionary in a hostile land. Not that any of these things are off limits for us, but I do want to start thinking about evangelism in a different way than we may have envisioned it.
Evangelism has sometimes been seen as a larger than life topic. Jesus said, after all, to go and make disciples of all nations. That sounds like we are all given the role of covering the world with the gospel and we almost treat it like it is an impossible burden, as if each one of us has to reach the whole world. We have done that through our missionary work, funding those who do feel called to go into the whole world, or at least to a remote part of it. We might think we have thus done our part for the cause.
We might feel insecure about our ability to share the gospel. We might be intimidated or think someone will ask us something we do not know or we might say something wrong, there are a host of reasons why we might not take advantage of opportunities to share our story and God’s story. All of these reasons, outside opposition and inside fears, present us with a conflicted situation.
Jesus also lived in a time of great conflict, one of the bloodiest times in human history by some accounts. Our world has not changed much, still conflicted. The world and the Gospel will always clash. But Jesus did give us a command to share the gospel, to make disciples. Disciple making requires two things, 1) converting people to the faith, 2) nurturing the converted to maturity of faith. Those are simple and we could probably add much more to it, but let’s keep it simple for now. Convert and mature.
What I want us to see first in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 is that the gospel was preached and taught in times of conflict.
Entrusted with the Gospel
The second focus in 1 Thessalonians 2:4 is that we have been entrusted with the gospel. We have been entrusted with the greatest story ever told. We have been entrusted with the message of life and salvation and hope and love and grace and forgiveness and peace and abundance and mercy and judgment and the beginning of all things and the end of all things! Think about this. I said a moment ago that we have been given this huge command to make disciples of all nations and now we see that we have been entrusted with the gospel of God! God’s world and God’s word are in our hands!! How in the world can we even think about tackling these enormous thoughts. It’s like the Psalmist in 139:6, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. It’s too much, Lord.
Well we can tackle the world and we can share the message entrusted to us, one step at a time. We know the old Chinese adage a thousand mile journey begins with a single step. I want us to scale evangelism down to a single step. Think about sharing the gospel as a step by step process that begins in our own homes, among our own families, with our own friends, and perhaps on occasion with acquaintances or even strangers. Step by step. We have been entrusted with the story of God that is also our story with God.
Think of it terms of the Bible. When we think about approaching the Bible, one of our first thoughts is, it’s big! There is a tremendous amount of narrative to work at and we feel intimidated by the sheer magnitude of learning the Bible. So we try to read it all in one year and we come out feeling accomplished and yet we know we have not gained much more than the fact that we can say we have read the entire Bible. I am not trying trying to discourage anyone from reading the entire Bible, go for it. If that is your goal, go for it. But, if our goal is to gain knowledge and understanding in the way that helps become a better disciple of Jesus Christ and to help others become mature in the faith, then I think we need to take another phrase in approaching the Bible, “one text at a time”. What does that mean? Instead of reading eight chapters in a week so you can knock those off your reading chart, spend a week in eight verses every day. Integrate that singular text into your life. It may be one verse, it might be ten, but it is a segment, a passage, a verse or verses that enable you to grasp something of God and ourselves. One step at a time, one text at a time so that the task becomes less enormous and more nurturing, less intimidating and more joyous!
Here is one way to look at evangelism, one by one. Take one person in your life that you can encourage in their journey of faith. Sometimes we are privileged to be at the first step of their journey, conversion. Sometimes we might be at the last step as they face the time they go to be with Christ. But most of our times are spent in between the first and the last steps. We are meeting people along their journey somewhere and at sometime when we may have something to offer them in Christ that they need. Or, they may have something to offer us that we need. We are entrusted with the Gospel to meet those kinds of needs. It might look like a verse you read one morning about how we are called to accept God’s grace and be thankful. You could be encouraging to someone who needs to give thanks. And you may not even have to say to be thankful, but just show that you are thankful.
This is how the Gospel spread the most in the Bible, one person telling another about what Jesus said or did (see Acts 13.49; Matthew 4.24; 9.27-31; Mark 1.28). I tell you something, you tell someone else, they tell another. Michael Henderson has written about this in a book titled One Conversation at a Time. He speaks of Jesus’ activity with us as we tell one person at a time, that Jesus is praying for us, interceding on our behalf, and Jesus is at work growing the kingdom just as he did when he walked this earth. Yes, we are called to make disciples and be entrusted with the Gospel, but we are not left to our own strength or energy or creativity to do this alone. Jesus is with us.
So, our context is conflict. Our word is the Gospel. Jesus goes with us.
Pleasing to God
The next point for us today in 1 Thessalonians is also in verse 4, we evangelize in order to please God. There are numerous ways we can go about this discipline of evangelism which are pleasing to God. Some people love to go out and talk to strangers about Jesus. They have such a gift. It’s not that easy for most of us. We have the ability to talk to friends and to people we my be beginning a relationship with, or someone who is seeking answers from us, but we are less likely to feel compelled by the Spirit to walk up to someone we do not know and easily turn a conversation to Jesus.
Why not begin with the people closest to us? Why not evangelize, that is make disciples, help those closest to us to grow stronger in the faith? Think of it this way, Facebook evangelism. I do not know all the friends of my Facebook friends, but if I could help one of my Facebook friends walk more closely with Christ, then he or she could reach out to do the same for their friends and the friends of theirs who they do not know might also be touched. That’s how the gospel spreads. That’s how it spread over 2,000 years ago, word of mouth. Word of mouth is still the best advertising, it is still the way we share good news, even if that word of mouth is over some social internet format, it is still word of mouth. I can tell you that when one of you shares something over the internet, be it Facebook or twitter or some other means, I am more apt to trust it because I know you. (But, I also know that some of us buy into too much of what is spread across the internet, so we still have to beware.) But the Gospel, the conversations that truly matter, are pleasing to God. God will take what we might say and use it and spread it. What is pleasing to God is that we share Jesus and that we do it in spite of conflict and trusting that He will take whatever is shared and nurture another disciple.
A Gentle Approach – Gospel and Life
We live a conflicted world, we are entrusted with the Truth, we seek to please God alone. Next up is one of my life verses, 1 Thessalonians 2.7-8. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 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. This is the evangelism that I want to promote today, one some have called friendship evangelism. These days the younger folks might stick with Facebook evangelism. It is the type of evangelism that begins at home, our part of the world. We make disciples of those we are very dear to us sharing the Gospel and our lives with them. This is how we evangelize the world. I tell you, you tell a friend that I may not know, that friend tells one of their friends, and on it goes. In so doing you have taken a part in the command to make disciples of all nations, one conversation at a time.
Walk in a Manner Worthy of God
The final focus for us in the passage for the day is to walk in a manner worthy of God. This is making disciples. This is nurturing to maturity. This is helping one another become like Christ. This is building character and faith. Look at verse 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. Making disciples is about bringing people to Christ and then helping them to walk in a manner worthy of God.
It’s Deuteronomy 5.33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
It’s John 8.12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
It’s Galatians 5.16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
This is what we are doing when we obey the Great Commission, we are making disciples of the people around us, with us, and they are helping us, and every bit of that help and work is the work of the Holy Spirit. Every time we encourage or exhort another believer we may be helping another and another and tens and hundreds as that word spreads its way from friend to friend. It is part of what Jesus means when he tells us there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend (John 15.13). To share the Gospel and you life is to lay your life down at someone’s feet. To be vulnerable enough to risk the Gospel and your life – for their life and another life.
But how simple is this compared to the thought of reaching the whole world. Let’s start with reaching our small part of the world and let that Gospel and life we have in Jesus Christ find its way into many more lives without our even knowing how far it reaches. Let the Holy Spirit take it and run with it, or walk with it as we all seek to walk in a manner worthy of God. Amen.