Speaking Of Life 2048 | Ministry With Jesus Jeff Broadnax Samuel Logan Brengle was an influential spiritual leader for the Salvation Army early in the 19th century. He was once asked, “What are the greatest temptations you face in ministry?” After a moment of reflection, Brengle responded with this insight: “There is really only one temptation in ministry. If we succumb to it then it opens the door to all the others.” That one temptation, Brengle described, was the temptation to do something for God before spending time with God. Whether you serve in a formal ministry capacity within the church, or if your ministry is carried out in the context of your daily routine; this is a temptation we all face. Especially in our busy, fast-pace society where task or doing can edge out relationship. Maybe we should go one step further with Brengle’s insight. Not only should we place priority on spending time with God before doing ministry for God, but we should see ministry itself as another way of spending time with God. This is how Jesus talked about ministry when he said, Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. John 5:19-20 Jesus and his Father are still doing ministry today by the Spirit, and Jesus invites us to participate. He doesn’t need us to get some task done for the Father. Rather, he wants us to come to know the Father’s love as he knows it as we participate in his ministry. Like a friendship, we come to know the other best as we share life together. Ministry should not be a task that interferes with our relationship with the Father. Rather, it is another way of participating in that relationship where we come to know the Father’s love for us and the whole world. What a difference it makes to move from doing ministry for Jesus to participating in ministry with Jesus. I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 • Deuteronomy 34:1-12 • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 • Matthew 22:34-46
This week’s theme is shared ministry. In Deuteronomy we witness Moses passing the baton of leadership to Joshua accompanied by a call to worship Psalm that reflects on life’s transience while calling on God’s compassion to the faithful. The New Testament lesson comes from First Thessalonians, where Paul recounts his own ministry and preaching in Thessalonica providing a pattern for ministry and a window into the Father’s heart revealed in Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel reading in Matthew provides Jesus’ own teaching concerning God’s great commandment of loving God and neighbor followed by Jesus teasing out his identity as the Son of David.
An Approved Messenger of Faith, Hope and Love
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NRSV)
Today’s text comes from what may be the earliest document in the New Testament. Paul and Silas had spent one month in Thessalonica telling people the good news about Jesus, which resulted in the first church community in Thessalonica. The church was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers. It didn’t take long before this group of believers who worshiped King Jesus instead of the local favorite, Caesar, got the attention of the community and local authorities, leading to intense persecution. The persecution eventuality ran Paul and Silas out of town. 1 Thessalonians is a letter written to this church plant as a way for Paul to reconnect with his beloved new church. He writes a letter of thanksgiving, encouragement and exhortation.
The portion we have for our text today will provide us with Paul’s account of his own ministry among those in Thessalonica. But Paul is not just walking down memory lane or patting himself on the back. He links how he ministered to them as an example of how they are ministering to one another, which is linked to how Jesus ministers among us by the Spirit. Paul states in his introduction of his letter, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord…” and he adds in chapter 4:1, “Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.”
Although Paul is the founder of the community, he sees his ministry as a “participation” in Jesus’ ministry. In this way, we can look at this passage for insight into how Paul and his gospel partners in Thessalonica were doing ministry, and ask how we should be doing ministry in our own Christian communities as we participate in King Jesus’ ministry among us. We are also planted and called to participate in the ministry of Jesus to those in our community and beyond. But even more important than this, we will use this passage to help us see a little more of who Jesus is in his ministry to us. Just how does the Father relate to us in Jesus by the Spirit? The way Paul and his early church conducted themselves in ministry tells us a lot about the God they worshiped and believed in. So with that in mind, we will proceed by looking at some characteristics of ministry that are laid out in this passage by dividing it up between Paul, ourselves, and Jesus.
Let’s start from the top.
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. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NRSV)
Paul: The first characteristic we see in Paul can be described as fearless faith. Paul’s courage was in God and his word to us in Jesus Christ. Paul had plenty of reasons to be fearful of proclaiming God’s word in his day. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, where allegiance and worship of the Roman ruler was an expected social norm, proclaiming the coming of another king who is Lord of Lords would certainly invite trouble. Paul had already experienced suffering and shameful mistreatment on account of proclaiming the word in Philippi. But Paul was bold in coming to the Thessalonians with that very message and he was confident that the message of the gospel “was not in vain.” God’s word to us always gets a response. As with the Thessalonians, it was a response of faith and repentance. But it also got a response of rejection in the form of persecution by the onlooking cultural bystanders.
Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then fearless faith will undergird all we do in ministry. We will put our full trust and weight on the Word of God spoken to us in Jesus Christ. We may not live under the rule such as the Roman Empire, but we still have many other “gods” our culture expects us to endorse and worship. Many of these gods run counter to the true Lord and King of all, and there can be no compromise. It may be a fearful thing to reject such cultural positions and even more scary to speak a word that amounts to God’s righteous judgment against them. But as we come to know more and more God’s Word in Jesus, we come to see that Jesus is the only Word that is “not in vain.” He is the one who gets the final word. Every other word is passing away. Perhaps you and your church community have already experienced some suffering and shame by standing firm on God’s Word. Paul indicates that this is more of the norm than the exception. But we do not have to fear because Jesus is the true King, the final word and the only Lord and Savior.
Jesus: Jesus is our fearless faith. Just as Paul’s “coming” to the Thessalonians “was not in vain,” Jesus’ coming to us in the Incarnation was not some isolated event in history that made no difference for us in the present or for the future. Jesus brought his fearless faith in the Father to be unleashed in our world held captive by fear, guilt and anxiety. Jesus did not back down from his own suffering and shame at the hands of our evil and sinful resistance of him. In fearless faith in the Father, Jesus went all the way to the cross to speak a final word of reconciliation and redemption. His word did not go unheard but was answered by the Father in resurrection. Now we who believe can participate in his fearless faith shared with us by the Spirit.
Let’s go a little further now and look at two more characteristics Paul lays out for us:
For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 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 from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-7a NRSV)
Paul: The second characteristic we see in Paul is uncompromised hope. Paul begins by listing a few things that were not characteristic of his preaching that indicate being “approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel.” The message of the gospel is a message of hope. This changes the orientation and motive of preaching to point away from one’s self in the direction from which that hope comes. Notice the first three things Paul lists—“deceit, impure motives and trickery.” All three indicate that the real aim of the preacher who is not “approved by God” is not the gospel message of hope but how they can twist that message in hope of getting what they want. Paul will add to this list that he did not come to “please mortals” or to flatter out of “greed.” Paul is contrasting himself with the widespread religious and philosophical charlatans operating in the ancient Mediterranean. These deceivers would travel around using their polished oratorical skills to either line their pockets with money, take advantage of women or to gain personal popularity. Paul’s hope is in the gospel message. He has already suffered greatly for it, which is proof he is not like the charlatan preacher seeking self-promotion. His aim is to please God by an honest proclamation of the gospel, not to please mortals by distorting the message for self-interest. He is motivated to share the message of hope out of concern for others rather than manipulating them to his own ends. He is not deceiving or mispresenting to become popular in public opinion but rather, he proclaims the gospel out of the hope that flows from God’s approval.
Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then an uncompromised hope will establish our motives in ministry. One challenge for churches is to test and discern whether one is being “entrusted with the message of the gospel” in a vocational calling. This should come by much prayer and deliberation, as the consequences or benefits are not slight. This may not be an easy process, but a proper discernment will place people of hope into positions of proclamation. But even outside of vocational ministerial calling, each member in the body of Christ is called to proclaim through word and deed the message of hope found in the gospel.
Do we make gospel proclamations with an uncompromised hope? Can we point to Christ for the sake of others even if it costs us popularity and favor? What if not compromising on Jesus’ word to us means we will face persecution by being passed over for that job promotion or by being branded as a “goody two shoes”? Will we compromise or will the hope found in Jesus motivate us beyond self-interest?
When we interact with others inside and outside the church, do we see them as children of the Father whose true hope lies in Jesus, or do we see them as obstacles or tools to manipulate for our own self-promotion? As we do ministry with uncompromised hope, we will be free from trying to manipulate others for our own gain or preservation. Hope in Christ releases our grip on our desire to control and manipulate others. We can be secure that all we need and want and are made for is richly provided in Jesus beyond our wildest imaginations. In this sure hope we can boldly point others to Christ, who is their true hope as well.
Jesus: Jesus is our uncompromised hope. All that Jesus did in his ministry among us was done in hope. As you read through the Gospels, you will encounter Jesus as unwavering in hope. How often did Jesus speak boldly in the face of intense opposition? He never placed his hope in others or in himself. What a wonderful Savior we can lean into! We can trust that Jesus and the Father do not deceive us or trick us. They are secure in their relationship as the Triune God, so there is never a thought of “using” us or manipulating us for something that is not good for us. What a wonderful and freeing truth to know that God does not manipulate his people! In Jesus we see exactly who God is. No tricks. No gimmicks. No distortions. The Father is the same God we see in Jesus Christ who walked among us. Jesus didn’t manipulate or trick anyone, and he didn’t twist the Father’s words for his own gain. His entire ministry was to the Father for the sake of the world. He was the hope of the world and he never compromised himself in that proclamation. Now we who believe can participate in his uncompromised hope shared with us by the Spirit.
Paul wraps up this section by providing one more characteristic of his ministry that informs ours while pointing to Jesus.
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. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NRSV)
Paul: The third characteristic we see in Paul is shared love. Paul uses a domestic picture of a “nurse,” the nanny used in the elite households of his day for bringing up children. These nannies did more than just babysit. They were involved in most major decisions for the child’s upbringing regarding clothing, food and education. Their influence affected the child’s entire life and future. The “nurse” was intimately involved with the children as if they were her own. That’s how Paul related to his “children” in Thessalonica. He was “gentle” with them and did not tower over them with his apostolic authority. He was not harsh and heavy handed with them but instead treated them as if they were his own dear children. He did not love them in word only. His love was a shared love. It’s one thing to say you love someone, but to put your own life in active demonstration of that love is something else altogether. For Paul, sharing the gospel wasn’t just in word only but equated to a real sharing of their “own selves.” There was no true gospel proclamation detached from personal sharing.
Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then shared love will fuel our actions in ministry. If we say we love someone but have not shared life with them, then our love is devoid of knowing them for who they are. Love outside of personal knowing becomes shallow and anemic. It’s like the husband who buys his wife a fishing boat because he “loves” her, even though she hates fishing. Our love for others will shape our actions to fit the particularities of the people we serve. Love reaches its goal by being shared.
Whether we are involved in some church-directed ministry or in the personal ministry that comes with all our interactions with others, we aim to know the other person for who they actually are and not for who we want them to be. This does not mean we treat them less than they are. We love them with the same love the Father has for them. He loves them according to his good purposes for them, and that should shape our love for them as well. So, who they are in Christ shapes our love for them. This means we don’t just love them by “loving them just the way they are” but we love them by sharing with them in a way that fits who they are becoming in Christ. Notice, Paul said his deep love for them determined for Paul, Silas and Timothy to share both “themselves” and “the gospel of God.” The deep love of the Father will not settle for one without the other.
Jesus: Jesus is shared love. If we want to see what shared love looks like, we look no further than Jesus Christ. Jesus came among us, born into our flesh and blood, to share life with us. He shared in our humanity, coming to know us from the inside out, from birth to death. In this sharing he opens a way in himself to share his own shared life of love with the Father by the Spirit. It’s in Jesus that we are given a share in the shared life of love that has existed for all eternity as Father, Son, Spirit. When we see Jesus born into our chaotic darkness to share in all its suffering and sorrow from womb to tomb, we are confronted with the very love of the Father for his children. The Father has moved heaven and earth together in his own Son in order to have shared love with his children. The Father does not coerce his children into relationship with him. He is gentle towards us in his Son Jesus. He calls us to himself as the children he created us to be. He does not relate to us in word only but in word and deed in the life and work of Jesus Christ.
In our survey of this passage we come to see a pattern of faith, hope and love in the ministry of Paul as a pattern for our own ministry, which flows out of participation in the ministry of Jesus, who is our fearless faith, uncompromised hope and shared love.
Small Group Discussion Questions
From Speaking of Life
- Can you think of examples of the temptation to “do something for God before spending time with God”?
- Discuss the difference between doing ministry for Jesus and participating in ministry with Jesus. Is this a new understanding of ministry for you? What are some implications?
From the sermon
- The sermon identified three characteristics seen in Paul’s ministry. The first was fearless faith. How might fearless faith be expressed if we are to “imitate Paul and the Lord”? Can you think of personal examples from the past? Can you anticipate the need for fearless faith in the future?
- The second characteristic was uncompromised hope. Discuss how uncompromised hope will establish our motives in ministry. How does uncompromised hope inform our proclamation of the gospel, whether in preaching or personal evangelism? When our hope is compromised, can you think of ways we cease to point to Christ and point elsewhere?
- Discuss ways our hope in Christ releases our grip on our desire to control and manipulate others.
- The third characteristic was shared love. The sermon claimed that “love” outside of personal knowing becomes shallow and anemic, lacking strength. Do you agree with this? Can you think of examples? Discuss.
- The sermon located each of the characteristics of ministry, fearless faith, uncompromised hope and shared love, in Jesus himself. How did this make you think about these characteristics? Share how it moved your understanding of faith, hope and love from being characteristics that we must develop, to being a sharing in Jesus’ character of hope, faith and love.