The Secret Of Paul's Success As A Servant Of Christ

Bible Book: 1 Thessalonians  2 : 1-12
Subject: Christian Conduct; Love; Character; Servant of Christ

A businessman happened to be staying in a hotel where a group of ministers was holding a conference. The next morning was very cold, and as the businessman approached the dining room he noticed the ministers gathered around a blazing log fire in the dining room. He was very cold and tried to get close to the fire, but the ministers blocked the way. The businessman sat for a few minutes shivering in the cold. Suddenly he shouted, "Last night I dreamed I was in hell." "Really," said one of the ministers. "What was it like?" The businessman replied, "Not much different than right here. I couldn't get near the fire where all the ministers were in the way." I feel like those of us who are preachers are sometimes stumbling blocks to others.

That was not the case with the apostle Paul. His ministry was full of power because of his own personal credibility and character. I came across a statement this week, which I believe is applicable here. It is a statement by Peter Kuzmic: He stated, "The problem today is not that we lack a credible message, but rather that we so often lack credible messengers whose lives are irrefutably in harmony with the gospel, and who are thus able to carry it with authenticity and power." In our lesson for tonight we're going to discover that the apostle Paul had great credibility practically everywhere that he went, and that was especially true in the city of Thessalonica. Let's look at the conduct of this man of God, the apostle Paul.

I. Paul's Conduct was Characterized by an Unselfish Love

Paul had great success in Thessalonica, partly because of the way he related to people. I think most of us long for success today in relating to people, but yet we so often fail in doing so. Let us learn how to relate to people for Christ's sake. Let us learn how to reach out so that the lost can be convinced of our sincerity. Let us make every part of our church a means to win others to Christ. Let us be especially committed to making our Sunday School classes our outreach centers, where we reach out for Christ's sake as well as reach in to those already in the class.

Ralph Nabor says this in his little book, Witness, Take The Stand! -- "When a class lets a full year pass without reaching a single person for Jesus Christ, it has forfeited its excuse for existing." The Scripture tells us that in relating to others, reaching out to others must start with love.

The key to Paul's approach is found in verse 8 where he says, " had become dear to us." The word "dear" is a translation of the Greek word "agape -- God's love." This chapter describes the vital nature of love. Now the first thing that we notice is that Paul had a love for the Master. Do you know how I know that? I know that because no matter how much Paul was persecuted, he continued to demonstrate faithfulness to God. In verse 2 of our text you discover that before coming to Thessalonica Paul had been in Philippi where he "had suffered" and where he was "spitefully treated." Actually, Paul is understating the case at this point, because he had suffered insult and mockery by being stripped of his clothes in public by order of the magistrates in Philippi. His Roman citizenship had been ignored. Even when freed by an earthquake, he was summarily ordered out of town by the authorities. And yet he went bravely on to Thessalonica, knowing that the same thing could happen there. What was the thing that compelled Paul to continue under such circumstances? Do you remember what he said in II Corinthians 5:14? He said, "For the love of Christ compels us."

When Jesus encountered Peter by the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection, do you remember what Jesus asked Peter? He said, "Peter, do you love me?" He did not say, "Do you love sheep?" Nor did He say, "Do you love to feed sheep?" But Jesus said, "Peter, do you love me?" You see, folks, the key to loving sheep, and the key to loving to feed sheep, is loving the Shepherd. If we love Jesus enough, we will continue to demonstrate that love in spite of dangers, toils, and snares.

But I want you to see something else as we think about the fact that Paul's conduct was characterized by an unselfish love. He not only had a love for the Master, but he had a love for the message. Notice in verse 3 that Paul says, "For our exhortation did not come from error...." Here he assured them that his message was true. This message of Christ's death and resurrection is a true message, and is the only true gospel. Paul received this gospel from God, not from man. It is the only Good News that saves the lost sinner.

As some of you know, last month Martha Jean and I had an opportunity to go to Hawaii. February is not a bad time to go to Hawaii because that happens to be the time when the humpback whales arrive. Humpback whales are about 40 feet long at maturity and weigh about one ton per foot. They carry a thousand pounds of barnacles. And when they jump, or "breach," they extend themselves totally in the air and then free fall back into the ocean. You can see the splash five miles away. During our stay we went out on a whale-watching boat. As we watched the whales jump and play, almost within our reach, our guide told us that the whales come down from Alaska every year to calve in the warm Hawaiian waters. Year after year, each family comes back to the very same place around the islands. When the calves are born they weigh about five tons, and they are born breach -- or tail first.  If they were born head first these air-breathing mammals would drown during the birth process. As a baby whale is born another humpback whale comes alongside and pushes it up to the surface to help the baby take his first breath of air. Our guide also told us that the humpback whale sings a "song" that can be heard more than 50 miles away under water. In fact, the captain on our boat put a microphone in the water and we could hear the whales sing. Every one of these whales sings the same song. Each year the song changes slightly and every humpback whale in the world will sing that year's song. Amazing! Incredible! What a display of the wonderful creative power of our God!

Joseph Stowell, who is the president of the Moody Bible Institute, went to Hawaii and went on one of these whale watches. And this is what he said: "We discovered all of these wonderful facts about whales. And then our guide said that if we had been here 50,000 years ago we would not have been able to see the whales because they had not yet evolved from land animals. I could have wept. As I had watched those denizens of the deep, I marveled at what a great and wonderful Creator I have. Those whales showed the glory of God, but our guide, not having read or believed the word of God, had made up her mind and was sadly wrong about the world she saw. How did I know about the great Creator who had made those whales? The Word of God taught me that all the wonders I see are of God and exist for His marvelous glory.

Even greater, the same Word has communicated that God loves me personally and that He has made it possible for me to know Him." The Word of God teaches us. That's how He changes our minds. Through His Word He teaches us truth about who we are, what we should be, and the world around us. He teaches us to change the way we think and conclusions by which we operate. And He teaches us that it is only the Good News that saves the lost sinner. And do you know something else? Paul did not use guile or trickery to win converts. In I Corinthians 2:4 he said, "And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom."

In a rap session on a university campus, the question was asked, "Who is Jesus?" And one young theological student said, "He is the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma in which we find the ultimate meaning of our inter-personal relationships." Well, you just don't find Paul explaining Jesus in those terms. He was profound but simple in his proclamations. But there is no doubt that he had a love for the message. And then I want you to see that he had a love for the ministry. Look in verse 4 (read). Paul not only loved the message, but he loved the ministry. This is proved by the fact that he had been approved of God over the years.

You see, God's purpose is to entrust the gospel to people who are committed with all of their souls to presenting the gospel. God does not distribute His word through an untested vessel. And God found in Paul a vessel that was fit for His use. He found in Paul someone who loved, not only the Master and the message, but the ministry as well. Now, ministry involves both joy and pain.

But I want to give you an illustration of the joy that comes as the result of the ministry. Some years ago I took on Bob Cloud as a project. Bob and Carolyn Cloud and their two children were neighbors. They lived just a few streets from where we lived. The Clouds were a church-going family, but Bob Cloud was not a Christian. He did not profess to be a Christian. But he was a good man, one of the most moral men that you would ever want to meet. He was a family man. He loved his wife and his children with a steadfast love. He attended church regularly. In many ways he was a Promise Keeper, but he had never made a profession of faith in Christ. So I just took on Bob as a project. We would go out to eat about once a month. We sat together at ball games. He began to become more and more vulnerable, and more and more receptive. We were having a capital fundraising campaign in our church and someone gave us 20 acres of land. Bob was a land appraiser and he and I took off to Issaquena County to appraise this land. We spent the day together. The last half of the day we spent talking about the Lord, and before we got home that evening, Bob Cloud prayed and invited Christ to come into his heart. The following Sunday he walked down the aisle of our church to make his public profession of faith. That was one of the most glorious days that I can remember in my whole ministry.

So let me just share with you some of the reasons why I love the ministry:

A. Profound Gratitude

Because of the profound gratitude of those who come to Christ and/or to spiritual maturity.

B. Satisfaction of being Obedient

The satisfaction of being obedient to God's will.

C. Knowing Eternal Issues

Knowing that you're dealing with issues of eternal significance.

D. Important Life Experiences

Intimate involvement with individuals and families in their most important life experiences.

E. The Level of Friendship that you can Experience
F. The Joy of Serving People
G. The Continual Challenge that Draws out the Best in the Servant of God

II. Paul's Conduct was Characterized by an Unfailing Labor

But now let's move on. We not only want to consider the fact that Paul's conduct was characterized by unselfish love, but now we want to consider this next important truth.

Now, as we think about his unfailing labor, I want to say three things. First of all, he labored in selflessness. He did not have an ulterior motive. And so, according to verse 5, he did not have to use flattery to win converts. Today many teachers are appealing to our egos or to the macho instinct in us. Paul abhorred flattery. David also hated this sin. In Psalm 12:2 he said, "They speak vanity every one with his neighbour; with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak."

The newspaper cartoonist H. T. Webster once amused himself by sending telegrams to 20 acquaintances he selected at random. Each message contained just one word: "Congratulations!" As far as Webster knew, not one of his friends had done anything special for which to be complimented, yet each person was so flattered that they immediately wrote him a letter of thanks. All 20 assumed they had done something worthy of a congratulatory telegram. This just illustrates the deceptive nature of flattery, or the desperate need so many of us have to be complimented.

But Paul did not try to win friends and influence people by appealing to their egos. A true ministry of the gospel deals honestly (but lovingly) with sin and judgment and leaves the unbeliever with nothing to boast of in himself. But now as we think about the fact that Paul labored in selflessness, not only was his labor free from flattery, but it was free from covetousness. Paul did not seek from his converts anything unfairly. You see, in verse 5 he says, "…neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak of covetousness...." Paul would have nothing to do with this type of appeal. In fact, he refused to accept financial support from the Thessalonians, and he earned his own way as a tentmaker. He concentrated on giving them what they desperately needed -- the message of the gospel -- and he supported himself until they had received it.

Today, unfortunately, there are preachers who have used the platform of the ministry to exploit people and fatten their own pocketbooks. I was conducting a revival in the Mississippi delta several years ago, and I went to visit this man who is lost. His wife was a member of the church and she had requested that the pastor and I go by and pay him a visit. When we got there he was at home. He invited us into the house, but he was very cool and unreceptive. And in the course of our conversation he began to vent his emotions. And we discovered that he had sent a considerable amount of money to Jim Baker and to Heritage USA. It had just been reported that Jim Baker had been arrested for bilking people out of millions of dollars. Jim Baker's ostentatious lifestyle was revealed, the palatial home that they lived in; the kind of cars that they drove; the kind of clothes that they wore; and the fact that they even had an air-conditioned dog house. And this man had just discovered what his money had been used for, and he had absolutely no interest in the gospel whatsoever.

The apostle Paul wanted to make sure that his ministry was free from flattery, and that his ministry was free from covetousness. And then notice also in verse 6, he wanted to make sure his ministry was free from self-glory. He says "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others...." Paul never looked for the praise of men. Paul's only interest was in bringing glory to God. He labored in selflessness. But as we think about Paul's conduct as being characterized by unfailing labor, we want to say that he not only labored in selflessness, but he labored in gentleness. Look in verse 7 (read). Paul and his helpers were gentle, not authoritarian. He was like a loving mother who cared  for her children.

Is there anything tenderer and more gentle than a mother's love? Occasionally you will hear of a mother or a father abusing their children. And I would say this: any father who would abuse his children ought to be tied to a wagon wheel and horse whipped. There is no excuse for that, and there is no punishment too severe for that kind of behavior. But when I think of the gentleness of love, I  think of the love of a mother for her child. It is a beautiful thing to behold. It takes time and energy to care for children.

Paul did not turn his converts over to baby-sitters. He made sacrifices and cared for them himself. Children do not grow up instantly. They all experience growing pains and encounter problems as they mature. Paul's love for them made him patient, because "love suffers long and is kind." Paul also nourished them. We see that in verse 7 of our text.

A nursing mother imparts her own life to the child. You cannot be a nursing mother and turn your baby over to someone else. That baby must be in your arms, next to your heart. The nursing mother eats the food and transforms it into milk for the baby. The mature Christian feeds on the word of God and then shares its nourishment with the younger believers so they can grow. A nursing child can become ill through reaction to something the mother has eaten.

The Christian who is feeding others must be careful not to feed on the wrong things himself. But Paul not only labored in selflessness and gentleness, but he labored in willingness. Look in verses 8 and 9 (read). He had not been coerced into the ministry. He was not serving the Lord grudgingly. He was not fulfilling his ministry out of a sense of duty. It was not a burdensome obligation. It was a liberating joy. As was said of Amaziah, the king of the Old Testament, Paul "…offered himself willingly unto the Lord." There was no holding back of anything. And he asked the Thessalonians to remember that he worked night and day in order that he could support himself and his party financially and give the gospel to them without charge. His passion was to get the gospel to people everywhere, and he did it willingly. So we see that Paul's conduct was characterized by an unselfish love, and his conduct was characterized by an unfailing labor. He labored in selflessness and gentleness and willingness. But then we notice...

III. Paul's Conduct was Characterized by an Unspotted Life

First of all, we see the excellency of Paul's life in verse 10 (read). "Holily" or "devoutly" refers to Paul's conduct in relation to God, "justly" refers to Paul's conduct in relation to man, and "unblameably" or "blamelessly" refers to Paul's conduct in relation to himself. In other words, Paul lived his life in such a way that he felt good about his relationship to God. He felt good about his relationship to his fellow man. And he felt good about himself spiritually. His upward look was good. His outward look was good. His inward look was good.

I was reading about a pastor who is only 35 years old and he ministers to more than 10,000 people every Sunday morning. And I was interested in what he had to say about maintaining his spiritual vitality. Every morning he sits at his desk and writes across the top of a sheet of paper the letters A, C, T, S. And I know that some of you use that acrostic in your prayer life. I know that some of our single adults do that.

The A stands for adoration
The C for confession
The T for thanksgiving
The S for supplication.

Well, this minister, under the letter A, writes down all that he can think of about the majesty, the greatness, and the glory of God. He does what Jesus teaches us to do in the Lord's prayer - to turn our thoughts to God first, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." Then he contemplates the majesty of God, the greatness of His being, the love of His heart, the mercy He has manifested toward him, and the young man lists all those qualities. That is what the psalmist did: "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:2).

Then he turns to confession under C. And he said, "I write down the sins that I am aware of committing yesterday." He said, "If it is Monday morning and in my preaching Sunday I exaggerated in an illustration - I said it was a nine-car pileup when it was only a six-car pileup, I do not write that I exaggerated, but that I lied to the people. If I inadvertently kept some change that was given to me by mistake, I do not write down that I kept some money yesterday. I want to be hard on myself. I want to put it down in the worst possible way so that I will face in myself these tendencies, and I write, 'I stole some money.'

"Next," he said, "I turn to thanksgiving under T and I begin to give thanks that I am forgiven for these sins. One by one I cross them out and write 'forgiven, forgiven.' And then under supplication, S, I pray and ask God for the strength not to do it again, but to be honest, careful and thoughtful." No wonder that young man is being greatly used of God. My heart was delighted that such a young preacher would have such integrity.

That's what we see here in Paul, thorough, ruthless honestly - the excellency of Paul's life. Then we also see the exhortation of Paul's life. Look in verse 11 (read). The word "exhort" means to "call to one's side to encourage." It does not mean that Paul scolded them. Rather, it means that he encouraged them to go on with the Lord. And this is what a father does with his children, for children are easily discouraged. And new Christians need someone to encourage them in the Lord.

Warren Wiersbe, who used to the pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, had a radio broadcast. And he said that he received a letter from a radio listener thanking him for the encouragement of the messages that she had heard. And she said, "When we go to church all our pastor does is scold us and whip us, and we really get tired of this. It's refreshing to hear some words of encouragement." And along with that encouragement, Paul provided comfort. This word carries the same idea of "encouragement," with the emphasis on activity. Paul not only made them feel better, but he made them want to do better.

A father must not pamper a child, rather he must encourage the child to go right back and try over again. Christian encouragement must not become an anesthetic that puts us to sleep. It must be a stimulant that awakens us to do better.

And then in his exhortation we find that Paul charged them. This word means that Paul "testified to them" out of his own experience with the Lord. It carries the idea of giving a personal witness.

Sometimes we go through difficulties so that we may share with new Christians what the Lord has done.

And then finally we see the effectiveness of Paul's life. What was the purpose for this fatherly ministry to the believers? His aim was that his children might "walk worthy of God." We are to walk worthy of the calling we have in Christ Jesus.

You know, today, even in the ministry, there seems to be an emphasis upon credentials over character. I have a lot of ministers who want me to recommend them to a church, and they send me their resumes. And I have in my files some of the most impressive resumes you have ever seen in your life. These resumes list their credentials. But when Paul talked about walking worthy of the vocation wherein you're called, I do not think he was talking about credentials. He was talking about character. I mean, Paul said concerning his credentials, "I was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." And he said, "Nobody could have more confidence in the flesh than me." But then he said, "You know, count all those things but garbage, but refuse that I may win Christ and be found in Him, that I might know Him in the power of His resurrection."

You see, Paul's emphasis was not upon credentials, but it was upon character. Consider the story of the good Samaritan. When the question was asked, "What does it mean to love your neighbor?" Jesus told the story of a man who was ambushed by thieves and left in a ditch. Two religious power brokers walked by the victim that day -- a Levite and a priest -- religious people who possessed buckets of power. They walked by clinging to their power and refusing to empower him. They had credentials, but what good was their credentials. And then in contrast, along came a Samaritan. Who knows whether he had any credentials or not. But the fact that he was willing to stop and help someone else indicates that he was a man of character.

When I first came to Eastside several well meaning pastor friends said to me, "Well, Gerald, you really took a step up." But no, there are no "steps up" in the kingdom. It is a vast vineyard and we're  all servants sovereignly assigned to our places in His field. I guess some people could look at my resume, maybe even think it is somewhat impressive, and perhaps the most impressive thing is that I'm the pastor of this wonderful church.

Success is not measured in credentials, but in the character of Christ revealed in our lives. It is measured in our servanthood. It is not in our power or position, but in how we use our power and position. It is not in what we have, but in how well we serve with what we have.

So we have been talking about how character lends credibility to our communication. People will listen to our Sunday School lesson; they will listen to our witness; they will listen to our testimony; they will listen to our sermons if we communicate from the platform of a changed life, and if we demonstrate that we're far more concerned about character and integrity and authenticity than credentials.