Dear Radio Friends,
Today in many areas the church institute has become big business. The gospel it preaches has become commercialized. It has become a commodity that many church institutes and para-church organizations sell. To use the words of the apostle Paul, “they make merchandise” of the gospel of Christ. Under the guise of saving souls, evangelistic movements have become multi-million-dollar organizations. Under the aura and excitement of moral and social revival, the church and her leaders have lined their pockets with wealth. It is little wonder that the political and economic sectors of our country have begun to scrutinize and audit many a religious organization—including the institute herself. The apostle Paul strikes a blow to the roots of all such merchandising of the gospel in I Thessalonians 2:3, 4. We read there, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”
We consider these verses today. God has given His church and its ambassadors the task to preach the gospel. The trend of much of modern day Christianity is not so much to give the gospel as it is to sell the gospel.
The instruction given in the verses we consider today follows upon what we have considered in the last two broadcasts. We noticed that Paul gave his greetings to this church and commended her for her work in the gospel. As a congregation she was not afraid to witness concerning Jesus Christ, despite such strong opposition. As a result, the Word of the Lord was spread throughout Macedonia and Achaia. She had exhibited a strong, exemplary faith in Christ. By faith these saints had become followers of Paul and his companions—and in doing so they had become followers of Christ. In the first several verses of this second chapter, Paul reflects back upon his labors and the labors of his companions in Thessalonica, to show just how it was that these saints had become followers of him. He preached the Word of the gospel there. Besides, he and his co-laborers also lived by that gospel. In this way they became examples to the Thessalonian saints. By doing so, however, they followed Christ Himself. So, we consider for a few moments the labor in the gospel of which Paul speaks.
ENTRUSTED WITH THE GOSPEL
I. A Divine Trust
While addressing his own labors, Paul gives solemn and important instruction to every preacher of the gospel. Verse 4: “we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” That this instruction is given for the benefit of every preacher of the gospel and not merely for the apostles can easily be shown from the text itself. Just as in chapter 1, so also in this chapter, when Paul writes “we” in the plural, he refers to himself together with Timothy and Silas. All of these men were bold in God to speak the gospel unto God’s saints. These three men were fit representatives of three different offices that were still prevalent in the early new dispensation: that of apostle, prophet, and preacher. Paul himself was an apostle, that is, one who was directly commissioned by Christ personally to preach the gospel. The apostles were the original 11 disciples who were chosen by and followed Christ during His earthly sojourn. Paul was chosen by Christ a little later—”as one born out of due time,” Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15:8. These apostles of Christ were commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel. To them was entrusted, therefore, the word of salvation.
Silas, on the other hand, was not an apostle but represented a number of men who were slowly disappearing, to be replaced by the preachers of the gospel. These were yet called prophets. To these prophets, God gave the gift of special revelation. For example, Agabus prophesied that Paul was going to be bound in prison, and that there was going to be a famine in Jerusalem.
Now, it is rather difficult to discern whether special revelation was given to Silas as well. What was happening is that the office of prophet slowly was filled by those officially called by the church as preachers. And these preachers were at first called prophets. That is quite natural too, since the preacher of the gospel comes as a fulfillment of the office of the prophet in the Old Testament. Whatever the case concerning Silas, he too was commissioned to preach. The third type of person called to whom was entrusted the gospel was the preacher himself. Of this type of men Timothy was representative. He was a preacher, a minister of the gospel. This is evident from verse 2 of I Thessalonians 3, “And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith.” So, it ought to be evident that when Paul writes in our text about himself and his coworkers, he is writing a word that applies to every ambassador of Christ who is called to preach the gospel.
Of these Paul writes in verse 4, “we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel.” Before getting into what is involved in the preaching of the gospel, every preacher ought to understand the full impact of this statement. God does not give the task of preaching the gospel to everyone. It is true that God requires of all of us to be active witnesses of His Word. But God does not give the official work of preaching to everyone. There are only certain men that He deems worthy to be entrusted with the gospel. That is what this phrase of verse 4 means too. Literally we would read, “we were approved of God to be trusted with the gospel.” Paul was conscious of that fact, and he labored under that conviction. God had chosen him, had approved of him—and as a result God had entrusted Paul with the gospel. That awesome reality ought to sink down into the heart of everyone who dares to claim that he is a preacher of the gospel. Let us not forget what the gospel is. It is the good news of salvation in Christ! It is the news that God has provided a way of escape from hell and eternal condemnation for sinners. It is the word that comes to those who are persuaded in their hearts that they have sinned against the most high majesty of God and therefore are liable to punishment. It is a word that comes to those who in sorrow over sin truly seek to be restored to favor with God and again be received into His presence. This Word of the gospel is good news. It tells those who look for forgiveness that in the cross of Jesus Christ there is to be found a way to escape punishment and to be received once again into God’s favor. The gospel commands men to repent of sin and believe, and to those who with sincere hearts do so, God will in no wise cast them out. That is the gospel. That gospel itself is a serious matter. It reveals that salvation is found in the cross of Jesus Christ alone. There is no other way. It speaks of the death of Christ as a ransom for sin and as a cleansing from sin. The gospel is Christ!
God entrusts the preaching of that gospel only to those whom He approves—and to no one else! Let that false prophet beware! God does not give to him the gospel, though he claims to be sent from God. Let the true preacher of God, called and sent by the church, beware as well! God has chosen and approved of his place in the church. God has! Now God bestows on that preacher the sacred trust of the gospel of salvation—the good news that comes to sinners. Let God’s servants never desecrate that sacred divine trust that is given to them, but may they faithfully discharge their office, and may they faithfully proclaim God’s Word alone! That is their calling. This they must fulfill by speaking that gospel to others, or by exhorting others in that gospel.
These are the two terms Paul uses to describe the preaching of the gospel: speaking and exhorting. Actually, the term for “exhort” means “to call near,” or “to summon.” In the speaking forth of the gospel, God’s people must be exhorted and admonished in their sin. They must learn through the preaching what their sin is in order that they might bring it to the cross in true sorrow. The preaching of the gospel must also comfort and strengthen. It must lead God’s people to the cross of Jesus Christ for plenteous pardon and forgiveness of sin. The preaching of the gospel must summon God’s people to hear instruction in righteousness: how to live a life of holiness and spiritual separation from the wicked world. All this must be included in the faithful execution of the calling of those to whom God has entrusted the gospel. If it is not, then one is unfaithful to that trust that God has given Him. If this gospel is diminished or ignored, then a preacher betrays the trust given him with respect to the gospel itself.
II. A Pure Exhortation
Paul was fully aware of this in all his labors. He was aware that God had deemed him worthy to be entrusted with the gospel. For that reason too, he knew that his exhortation, his speaking forth of the gospel, must be pure. “As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, so speak we!” Of what must every preacher of the gospel be aware when he preaches the gospel? He must preach not to please men. When I read that phrase of our text, I was reminded of the prophet Jeremiah. As a prophet he could not help but speak the words God placed upon his lips. But it was a word that did not please the wicked rulers of Judah. He spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem as judgment upon her sin. He was then beaten and thrown into prison because he spoke God’s Word to the rulers of Judah. Once more they called him from prison in the hope that he would speak peace to them when there was no peace. Again he spoke God’s Word and again he was thrown in prison and even into a pit. But he spoke God’s Word. He was called to do this in order to please God. Whether it pleased men or not made no difference at all. Such is the calling of the minister of the gospel. He must preach to please God and not men. Often when preachers do this they are ignored or scorned, because the Word of the gospel is not pleasing to men. No man likes to hear what he does wrong. No fallen, sinful man likes to be told that he is nothing in himself, but that he must find his all in someone else. Proud man does not like to hear the fact that he is not good, but needs salvation from himself and his sin. This gospel is exactly what caused such persecution against Paul and the saints in Thessalonica. When one preaches the gospel therefore, it is not to be men-pleasers.
This is where many who have been entrusted with the gospel today have strayed from the instruction of our text. Many preachers today have chosen to be men-pleasers. They do this in order to gain glory to their own name. They compromise, or accommodate, or are non-committal, because they know that this is the popular thing to do. But there is more too. Read verse 3, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.” Paul did not preach out of deceit, uncleanness, or in guile. Paul was not deceitful. He did not lead his listeners astray. Paul did not teach error or falsehood. He spoke the truth. He revealed the truth about sin, salvation, and a call to holiness. He did not attempt to lead these saints away from the truth of the Scriptures and into a lie. How many do exactly that today—all in the name of Christianity—all in an attempt to gain a following. They promote the lie, that which is clearly contrary to the Word of God, all in order to please their listeners and gain a following to themselves.
In the second place, Paul’s preaching was not of uncleanness. What is meant here is “out of unclean or impure motives.” Paul did not exhort in order to gain to himself luxuries, or a means of high living. Many popular preachers today make merchandise out of the gospel. They use it to become rich or to become famous and influential. As enthused as they may seem on the outside over their particular cause, it does not take much to see that the underlying motive is uncleanness, that is, impure motives.
In the third place, Paul’s preaching was without guile. This term refers to one who baits or lures another into following what he has to offer—much like the advertisements we can see and hear. Much of modern Christianity today hawks the gospel, offers it as a commodity, much like McDonald’s would their hamburgers. It is said that to gain numbers the church must be willing to lure people to the gospel by means of slogans or popular methods. In fact, I heard it said not so long ago that if Jesus were alive and busy today, He would be using all the different methods used today. Methods such as the super bowl, skits, plays, and movies, big-time singers, all in order to lure or bait people to adhere to the gospel.
This was not the type of preacher Paul, Silas, and Timothy were. Of that we can be certain! Paul says “our exhortation was not of deceit, uncleanness, or guile.” We did not come with flattering words, we did not come to seek glory from you, we did not come in a veil or cloak of covetousness after your goods. We wanted nothing of this. When we came preaching, there was one thing alone that motivated us: we wanted to please God! That is of the essence! That is what distinguishes the true preacher of the gospel from the false! God gives to His ambassadors the gospel. He entrusts its keeping into their care. And He gives the command to them: preach that gospel. Call men to repentance! Make them to know their sin. Make them to know their utter depravity. Their blindness of heart and darkness of thought. Then call them to repent of that sin and seek for salvation in the cross of Jesus Christ. Nothing less will do. Do this not because this gospel becomes a means to another end, but do it because the gospel is an end in itself. Preach the gospel for one reason: to save sinners!
That is the one great concern of the true preacher of the gospel. He is not interested in fame and fortune. He is not interested in what people can give to him or can be gained from people. The true preacher of the gospel is interested in one thing: preaching—nothing more! It is the power God uses to save His elect people. It is the power God uses to call His saints out of darkness and into light. The sincere preacher of the gospel preaches because necessity is laid upon him by God. Being called into the ministry of the gospel, it does not matter if the preacher receives nothing for his labors in the gospel. It does not matter if he receives a little or a lot. He is called to preach, and preach he must—no matter what the consequences! If there comes a day that the church is unable to pay their minister because of persecution or such like, that does not mean that the church will be without preachers. Necessity is laid upon the preacher to preach that which God has entrusted into his care, because he is concerned with the salvation of God’s people and nothing more!
III. A Divine Witness
God is our witness to that fact! This is what Paul also says concerning himself. Paul writes in verse 5 of I Thessalonians 2, “God is witness.” Again in verse 10, “Ye are witnesses, and God also.” That same point Paul makes at the conclusion of verse 4, “God trieth the hearts.” God tries the hearts. God examines closely, scrutinizes the hearts of His servants to whom is entrusted the gospel. God approves or disapproves of their work. If it is done out of deceit and guile or as a cloak of covetousness, God will judge. His judgment will be harsher than any that man can meet out. If a preacher builds upon the foundation of the truth wood, hay, or stubble, his work will be made manifest in the judgment day. Fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
But God also rewards. If a man builds on the foundation of the truth gold, silver, and precious stones, his preaching will also be made manifest in the day of judgment. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:14, “If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” In that knowledge the preacher of the gospel labors. He does not need money. Money perishes. He does not need popularity. He does not need to have influence. He does not need earthly fame and glory. What he needs is God’s divine approval. When that is given, then the preacher of the gospel knows that life eternal is his. In that he glories. That is incentive to preach. May God give to His church such preachers of the gospel. In this way His cause will indeed prevail!
Dear Radio Friends,