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Oct 27, 2013

Successful Sojourning

Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: sharing christ, gospel, outreach, sojourning, missions


This message looks at how Paul and his companions carried out their initial ministry among the Thessalonians, what made it so successful in just 3 weeks time and how it teaches us to bring the Gospel into the lives of unreached people.


Successful Sojourning

Empowered Expeditions Part 2—I Thessalonians 2

October 27, 2013


[Video Testimony of singer—from Hope for America by Billy Graham.]


Personal stories of how Christ has changed us are powerful. It’s been that way ever since the first Christ-followers had their lives turned upside down by Jesus.

So…did anyone share a part of your story with Christ with anybody this week? How did it happen?


CONNECT question: In groups of 3 or 4, tell about someone who had a significant spiritual impact upon you early on in your spiritual journey…or right now, if you’re relatively new in your spiritual journey.


Well, we’re into our second week in the book of I Thessalonians. Last week we looked a bit at how this amazing church in Thessalonica got started through just 3 weeks of Paul’s ministry among them. If you want to read the back story, go to Acts 17. We saw how the word of God combined with the word of their own testimonies and lives was a powerful combination that caught the attention of quite a few people in Thessalonica.


In the first couple of chapters of I Thessalonians, Paul is pulling the curtain back on how he, Silas and Timothy were actually able to plant a thriving church in just 3 weeks. I think any church planter would agree that such a feat is truly miraculous. The Holy Spirit was definitely doing something amazing with this group of people to get them to be the kind of church that began infecting whole regions and communities around them.


This morning I would like us to explore what the components were that made those few weeks so strategic spiritually for the this city. They are the very same things that can make God’s people spiritually significant to anyone in our lives looking for God…even if they don’t know it’s God they are looking for.


Up until that first day in Thessalonica, Paul & Co. didn’t know a soul in the place called Thessalonica. They came into a town where they were total strangers and, when they left in less than a month, there was a new, vibrant city church. That’s amazing. Most of us have trouble just learning the names of all our neighbors on our street in the first year we move into a new place! J


So we pick it up today in I Thess. 2:1.

You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.”

The New King James version translates it, “You yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.”

How many of us just love to waste our time?

  • Don’t you love going shopping only to find that the store is out of what you needed and it was a complete waste of time?
  • If you’ve ever lived in another country, chances are you had to spend an inordinate amount of time going from one government office to the other, weeks or months on end, just to have the wonderful privilege of getting permission to live there. How many times would I say to Sandy, “Well, that was an exercise in futility!”

Spending a few minutes that feel like a waste of time is bad enough. But spending months, even years, of your life… wasted… “in vain”…that would be tragic. How can you know that you are not wasting your life, living it “in vain”?

In I Cor. 15:58, Paul uses this same word “in vain” but in the negative when he speaks about serving the Lord. This is what he says:

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” This is an amazing promise. We can spend our lives on things that, from the eternal perspective are dust that blows away in the wind of time. OR we can spend our lives living every part of life for the glory of Christ and know, without a doubt, that what we are doing will never be called “a waste of time.” Going to school, working out, holding down a job, gardening, living in a neighborhood or apartment building—all of it can be “the work of the Lord”, filled with meaning IF it is done “in Christ”, for the glory of Christ and for HIS priorities and purposes.


So Paul’s sojourn for just a few weeks in Thessalonica was a kingdom success. It wasn’t in vain. Which leads us to the critical question for today: What are the MARKS of a “successful sojourn” with people spiritually speaking?  What is it that turns regular, normal, even mundane life and relationships into a spiritual sojourn with someone that now has eternal implications?

Paul is going to point to internal stuff in the messenger that no one can see and external stuff that everyone can see.


First¸ “successful sojourning” with people involves courageous boldness. Look at vs. 2.

“We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.”

            Just what was that “outrageous” treatment in Philippi? Well, in Philippi Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. Not Paul. Not the early church. It’s almost as if there is a corresponding relationship between the level of persecution one faces for the gospel and the level of boldness Christians demonstrate in sharing the Gospel.

Anyone here been physically beat up for sharing Jesus Christ? I’ve never in 48 years of knowing Christ seen anyone beat up for sharing Christ. I’ve heard about people that have. I’ve met some who were imprisoned for their faith in Jesus. But I’ve never experienced it here in America. And I’m so often timid as a mouse about it! Why is it that where the opposition seems most violent, God’s people seem to be so amazingly bold…and where the opposition seems so benign, our witness is often so tepid?


When the NIV says, “with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel...,” it sort of misses the strength of the original words. I prefer the way the New English Translation (NET) puts it: “…we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.” The ESV says, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.”

            Brothers and sisters, something needs to change for most of us when it comes to speaking about the Gospel. We need a “courage in our God”, “a boldness” in Him that doesn’t care what people say or do in response to sharing Christ.

This is a definite spiritual battle. How else do you explain that we can talk about anything and everything with people—politics, money, sports, marital issues, sex, health…just about anything—but we get a golf-ball in our throat when we know God is nudging us to talk about our relationship with Jesus?


APP: I’ve got an idea. How about we all make it a daily prayer to ask God to “give us courage/boldness in God”…every day…for the next year…and see what happens? Deal?


From courageous boldness in sharing the Gospel, Paul moves onto the issue of RIGHT MOTIVATIONS for bringing Christ to people in vss. 3-6. Here is where every one of us needs to do a little soul-searching.

           People can smell motives. They can tell if what we are doing is all about us or about them. It’s kind of the difference between talking with a used car salesman (no offense intended, John), and say, a doctor. When I visit the doc, all his questions are about me—how am I feeling? What’s wrong? Where does it hurt? His job is to bring healing and help, not to sell me something he wants to move off his office shelf. He knows we’re going to have an ongoing relationship, perhaps for years, about some really important things in my life and perhaps some of the members of my family.

            But when I go to the used car lot, I feel like it’s usually all about the salesperson. It’s about getting me to exchange my hard-earned cash for some car on his lot. There is no sense that we are going to have an ongoing relationship for years to come. In fact, he probably doesn’t want to see me again until I need another car, right?


Well, if you and I can sniff out the difference in motives between simply a doctor and a car salesman, how much more can people sniff out our motives when we bring the Gospel either out of love for them or out of something selfish we think we stand to gain? Let’s read the passage. Vss. 3-6


“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”


When we make the bringing of the Gospel about us, here’s what will happen.

1.)    What we present will “spring from error”. The Word of God is not the only book on earth that contains truth. But it is the only book that is ALL truth. It is the only book that speaks hard truth about how people can be reconciled with God. And when you or I or anyone else try and water it down in any way in an attempt to “make it more palatable” or “less offensive” or “more culturally sensitive,” we’ve become more concerned about ourselves than about the glory of God. There is no sugar-coating the Gospel. It demands an acknowledgement of personal sinfulness. It calls for a commitment of a person’s entire life. It requires belief in Jesus Christ, not other supposed messiahs or teachers. It is a narrow road that leads to reconciliation with God despite the fact that sinners have always preferred the broad road that leads to destruction. When we water-down the Gospel, we’re making it about us, not God.

2.)    “Impure motives”: Paul isn’t just talking about sexual impurity here, though that could also be included in this phrase. He’s talking about such personal evils as “ambition, pride, greed, and popularity.” Again, those motives would be self-focused. God wants the sharing of the Gospel to be first Him-focused and then people-focused. The messenger is just the pipeline for the Gospel. But like pipes that are rusty or made of bad material, the water picks up the taste of the pipe. So, too, with the Gospel. We can have the best, sparkling clean, refreshing message in Jesus Christ. But if we, the pipeline, have self-centered motives, people are going to react to the “taste.” Trust me…and them…on this one.

3.)    Third, Paul’s ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word “deceit” (or “trick”) was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a lure. It’s presenting something that looks really good for the recipient but has a hidden “catch” in it. That “catch” becomes all about what the recipient of the Gospel can do for the messenger, not vice versa. Secular Greek literature also used “deceit” for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an inebriated person. Here’s another danger when we share the Gospel—watering down the full-strength version. Sharing Christ should never be about salesmanship. Don’t promise a “happily ever after” version of life. Becoming a follower of Jesus may bring more challenges. BUT the presence of God in our lives and the challenges of life totally changes the equation.

4.)    Now skip over vs. 4 for a moment. (We’ll come back to it.) Let’s pick up the other problems with making the Gospel about us. In vs. 5, Paul says he “never used flattery….” This has the sense of using insincerity as a means of getting someone to do something we want them to do for our benefit. Dale Carnegieonce said, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.” This is one of the harsh realities of the Gospel—telling people what they don’t want to hear—that they are sinners separated from God apart from a gracious work of Christ in their lives. But without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the Gospel, there will be no genuine repentance, no change of direction away from God towards God. Jesus always loved people, even the ones who walked away from him. But he never failed to address the sin in their lives either. (Woman at the well; woman caught in adultery; tax collectors, religious Pharisees, etc.)

5.)    Again in vs. 5—“nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed….” I wonder how much “Christian ministry” is done for financial gain rather than love of God? ILL: When Sandy and I lived in Portland, someone put her on a mailing list for “Brother Al.” Every couple of months, Brother Al would send out some appeal letter with some amazingly creative but horribly hokey “blessing.” But it was only a blessing IF you chose to support his ministry. I think the best one was one of those hospital paper booties you have to gown up in if you are doing surgery. Brother Al called it a “prayer slipper.” I think the instructions were to put it on your right foot, face east (towards Jerusalem, of course), and take so many steps (steps of faith, of course), all the while praying some ridiculous prayer asking God to bless you. Then you were to take the slipper off and write the biggest check you could to Brother Al’s ministry and send it in. Al, in turn, would pray over your slipper and God would surely bless you 100 times over. In retrospect, we should have sent him back one of those surgical masks and the reference of I Thess. 2:5… “a mask to cover up [his] greed!”

But if I’m going to be hard on Brother Al, I should be at least as hard on myself. Too often in ministry I think that a sort of sick co-dependency develops between paid pastors and their people. Put crassly, people can think that they give money to the church so the church can hire a pastor who will do the “ministry stuff,” you know, preach, teach, counsel, run good programs, plan good services, etc. It sort of takes you off the hook for doing the work of the ministry that God has called you to do. And for our part, we paid pastors all too often value our paycheck more than your participation in the ministry. After all, what will happen if you actually find out how rewarding it is to disciple people in Christ and work me right out of a job? What if we developed churches that didn’t require hired pastors to run because the people had been trained to do everything that was really needed for a vibrant, reproducing fellowship?

(By the way, I’m not too worried about what I’ll do if all of you start leading Discovery Groups that disciple your friends and neighbors into transformational relationships with Christ. The church will grow…and so will the needs… and so will the opportunities for me to coach an entirely new level of leaders to keep the process going. BUT, I do wish that 35 years ago, when I was in college, that I had picked up a trade or profession in which I could truly be a “tentmaker” ala Paul. It probably would have been in education or business.)

6.)    The final danger Paul identifies when we make the Gospel about us has to do with praise…not of God, but of ourselves. Vs. 6—“We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.” It is the truly Christ-like person who is able to do things in this life totally apart from the responses they get from other people. We all want to be praised, to be noticed, to be admired by friends and peers. Pastors are some of the biggest glory hounds around. I sometimes think the very nature of the profession as it has been defined in America today attracts people with huge egos or huge holes in their hearts for affirmation and praise.

Pastors, unfortunately, are not the only people afflicted with this disease. It is truly the mature brother or sister in Christ who will do ministry, week after week, year after year, without noticing whether people notice them. Gratitude is a wonderful thing for all of us to learn to express more. But when the failure of other people to notice what we are doing in ministry and to praise us for it causes us to pull back from doing the work of the ministry that God has called us to do, then we are doing ministry for the praise of people.


Now let’s look at the other side of the equation. What goes on in OUR hearts when we make the Gospel, not about us, but about GOD? For that, we’ll have to go back to vs. 4—“On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”

            Notice first that Paul talks again about how the Gospel is spoken. He said, “We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.” I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but the Gospel must be spoken. It can be through our verbal testimony. It can be through sharing the Word of God. But living even like Mother Teresa will not bring salvation to anyone if it is not combined with the WORD of the Gospel. That’s one reason I often ask us to share things with each other here on Sunday mornings. If we don’t share what God is doing in our lives with each other, in the safety and security of people who are rooting for us, how will we ever learn to step out of our comfort zones and into a world that will sometimes be hostile towards what we have to share of Christ.

            But the real motivation for both speaking and living the Gospel should be because we long to please the God who has already “approved” us to be Gospel-carriers. Notice that we’re not trying to win God’s approval by sharing the gospel with other people. We already have His approval. The proof of that is that God has entrusted every one of his children with the gospel of Christ. Our failure to share that gospel with others may not “please” our Heavenly Father or make him happy. But it will never result in God revoking our “approval status.” Every one of us has that “seal of approval” to be God’s ambassador on this earth the moment you understood and embraced the Gospel yourself. At that moment, you knew enough to lead someone else like you to that same response to Jesus Christ by faith. You probably didn’t have all the answers or know all the theology you wished you did. But you knew enough to respond by faith to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. And as such, you knew enough to be “approved” by God as a new proclaimer of His love and truth.


But what of this “not trying to please men but God” business? Simply put, we will either be people-pleasers or God pleasers. The unfortunate reality in a world of sinners in rebellion against God is that we will rarely, if ever, be able to make people happy while making God happy. Over and over again we will have to choose who we are going to disappoint…and thus, who we are going to please.

ILL: This is true, even in the church. I remember relatively early on in ministry, I had to learn something that was very difficult for a natural people-pleaser like me to swallow. I would have to choose, virtually every day of ministry life, who I was going to disappoint. Sometimes it would be another staff person who wanted more time with me. Sometimes it was my family who wished I wasn’t gone that evening. Sometimes it would be someone in the church who had a crisis that they felt needed my immediate attention.

            Life is too short…and the demands too tall…to be able to “please” everyone all of the time. But there is just enough time, just enough energy, just enough crises and family members and needs in any single day to PLEASE GOD. The question should always be, “Lord, what will please YOU right now in the competing demands placed upon me right now?”

            The ancient usage of this work in Greek usually had to do with “being at peace” or “making peace” with someone. It is possible to not be at peace with anyone around you and yet to still be at peace with God. In fact, doing the will of God, seeking first to be right with Him, will often mean that we won’t be at peace with other people.

            Paul uses this word about a dozen times in his letters. When he does, like here, he is not telling us to make life difficult for other people. He IS telling us to deny ourselves in order to be pleasing to God. That is what God the Father was so pleased about in God the Son: he was always laying down His life to show people the love of His Father. He was always speaking what the Father wanted communicated to people. He was always doing what the Father was doing.


When we live our lives in a way that is “pleasing to God”, the people around us will experience a beautiful balance of spiritual parenting. Here is how Paul stated in beginning in vs. 6b.

“As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”

“For you are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”  


Do you see the two-parent dynamic operating here? Just as it takes the presence of both a mother and father to give the full, God-ordained complement of masculine and feminine parenting that every child ideally needs, so there are “masculine” and “feminine” elements to spiritual parenting as well.

Let’s look at that two-sided coin, starting with the “mothering” qualities every one of us who wants to please God and bring the Gospel of Christ to others must develop.

  • “…we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”
  • “We loved you so much that we were delight to share…the gospel of God [and] our lives as well.”
  • “…you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone….”

Sounds an awful lot like parenting little babies and children to me! You know, before Sandy and I had our first child, we thought we were pretty self-sacrificing, generous, other-caring young adults. That illusion got stripped away within about 48 hours of Joanna’s birth. Nothing had prepared us for the kind of sacrifice that would be required to love that cute, crying, pooping little bundle of demands that God had blessed us with. It was exhausting. It was demanding. It required that Sandy, particularly, die to herself every day in order to share that gift of life with first one, then two, then four and now six children.


You know why so many people today don’t want to have kids? More and more Americans who have more and more stuff than any people or nation of the world has ever had are less and less willing to die to themselves. If you don’t want to die to yourself, don’t have kids…and don’t have spiritual children either! But expect to miss out on the most amazing experiences of life—the greatest highs and the most horrible lows—all the while bringing joy to your heavenly Father.


Without a doubt, parenting has been THE richest experience of Sandy’s and my life. Yes, it has tremendous challenges. Yes, it is relentless in its demands that you just keep growing up as adults. But it has had by far the deepest joys and happiness of anything we have undertaken in life.

            The wonder of Gospel is that God has given to US, his children, the means by which He becomes a Father over and over and over again. Unlike human families where it is the parents’ decisions and actions that determine who and when children are added to their family, in God’s family it is US, the children, whose decisions and actions become the means of the Heavenly Father adding more beloved children to His family. And our heavenly Father always has more room in his heart and home for more children.

So here are a couple of things we need to wrestle with before we leave this passage today.


1.)    Are you ready to drive a stake in the ground today and say, by the grace of God and with His help, I will choose to please the God whose approval I already have by making the sharing of the Gospel more important to me than the praise and approval of people around me? That doesn’t mean we will do it perfectly or every time. But it does mean we will consciously choose bringing joy to God rather than seeking to please people when it comes to sharing the Gospel of Christ. [Show of hands?]

2.)    To be a “successful sojourner” in spiritual terms in this world of people God loves will take some decisions to be part of the spiritual parenting process. We’ve been called to live among people God has chosen to die for and call into his family. You and I may not be called to drop everything, become missionaries and travel to Thessalonica. But God has placed each of us close to people he’s calling to Himself. Probably the first step in joining Him in that grand adventure is to identify the people God has placed us among or wants to place near.

So take the post-it note and write down the names of people God brings to mind as I mention certain spheres of people God has place you in. Your sphere will be unique to you. No one will have the exact same group of people you do nor will anyone have the same spiritual impact you will have on them.

Here are the “spheres of spiritual influence” God has placed you in. You supply at least 1 or 2 people who might need the Gospel from you in each sphere of contact.

  • Your immediate family: spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandchildren.
  • Your extended family: aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins.
  • Your neighbors who live within a 1 block radius.
  • People who work/go to school with you.
  • People who work/attend school near you.
  • People you share a hobby or sport with
  • People you do business with—restaurants, stores, offices (post, medical, bank, etc.)
  • Now let God bring to mind areas I haven’t mentioned but in which He may want to use you to bring Christ—some downtown ministry, parent’s group, extended neighborhood.


Put that note in your Bible…or on the bathroom mirror…somewhere where you will see it and pray about it every day. Choose one name each day…or for a whole month…and PRAY.


3.)    Invitation to accept Christ.