The Hallmarks of Authentic Christian Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:9-13)

Have you noticed that when a new hotel or commercial building is being constructed, the architects will invariably install large mirrors in the lobby? Ever wondered why? Apparently, we complain less when we’re looking at ourselves. We all get distracted by our reflection at times, don’t we?  We all want to be seen, to be recognized, to be accepted, affirmed, encouraged, appreciated, valued. And that’s OK. It is instinctive to want to be loved. As long as we are not obsessed with ourselves and with what others can or should do for us.  But like the mirrors you sometimes find at amusement parks, our self-perception can so easily become warped or distorted when we view ourselves through the eyes of other people rather than God.  It is bad enough when this is tolerated in a community and remains unchecked. But it is much worse when religious leaders exploit their followers. Then it becomes abusive and manipulative.  

Spiritual abuse ranges from the relatively benign to the lethally toxic. But it usually stems from a misuse of authority. Regardless of the degree, it is always destructive when there is manipulation or coercion. However, it may arise in more insidious ways when likeable, even lovable, charismatic individuals take advantage of their positions to exploit those they allegedly care for. In our gospel reading we encounter Jesus confronting religious leaders who were abusing God’s people. Jesus shows us how to identify religious abuse and inoculate one another from abuse.

In our Epistle reading from 1 Thessalonians 2, the Apostle Paul illustrates this by emphasizing his motivation. He compares himself to a parent in caring for their nurture and. We can divide these verses into three:

The Pattern for Ministry: Parental Transparency and Integrity 

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, 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.  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.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9-11)

Paul uses the image of a nursing mother (verse 7) and a loving father (verse 11) to describe his pastoral heart for these believers. In both he appeals to their knowledge of how he cared for them with transparency and integrity in putting their needs above his own. How does a father deal with his children? A good father will put his children first. He will toil and suffer hardship for them. He provides for them. He protects them. He nurtures and trains them. These are the attributes we need to identify in prospective pastors as well as those already in positions of leadership. Academic credentials and impressive CV’s are really not essential and can actually become a substitute for Christ like character.

A colleague Bishop in Rwanda will not ordain a person until they have planted a church. They must demonstrate their calling as a pastor by demonstrating their ability to grow a church family. Functional leadership should always proceed positional leadership. Paul modelled servant leadership. The Pattern for Ministry: Parental Transparency and Integrity. 

The Purpose of Ministry: Living Lives that Glorify God

“encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12)

Paul reminds them that he never stopped loving them, encouraging them, urging them to do what? Live lives worthy of God, who called them into his kingdom and glory. You see we were born to reproduce. Who was it that had the most influence in your spiritual growth? Hopefully because they were like a mother or father to you? And what of those you may have an influence over? Are you encouraging them, praying for them, providing resources for them, like a parent, to help them grow to maturity?

This is why the church is described as a family, not an organisation or a business. A family of spiritual grandparents, parents and children, growing up, growing together and growing out to welcome others to join the family.  The Pattern of Ministry: Parental Transparency and Integrity. The Purpose of Ministry: Living Lives that Glorify God. But how do we live lives that will glorify God? By the grace of God as we engage with the word of God. In verse 13, we see:

The Process of Ministry: Transformed by the Word of God 

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

The word of God was received from the Apostles. It was recognised as inspired by God, revealed by their changed lives.

J.B. Phillips, the Bible translator, once compared his role to an electrician, rewiring a house while the electricity was still on. It frequently gave him a shock because it is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12). That is kind of what Paul is saying here. He is thankful not only because the Thessalonians received the teaching of the Apostles as the word of God, but their transformed lives and relationships provided vivid proof of the living word of God at work.  In this passage from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians we have seen Paul’s pattern of ministry, his purpose of ministry and his confidence in the process:

The Pattern: Parental Transparency and Integrity. 
The Purpose: Living Lives that Glorify God. 
The Process: Transformed by the Word of God. 

We have the faith – God’s word in us. We have a family – God’s people around us. We have a future – God’s glory before us.

Back in the Middle Ages, in the years 1014-1035, England was ruled by the Danish King Canute. Apparently, he grew tired of hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and his invincibility.  One day he ordered his throne to be set down on the seashore. He commanded the waves not to come in.  But as you know, the waves did not obey him but soon lapped around his chair.  One historian tells us from that day on, he never wore his crown again. Tradition says, he hung it on a statue of the crucified Christ. When we are tempted to exploit our position or abuse our relationships, I wonder what we need to hang on the cross?