A Pastor's Character

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

17 January 1999

Greyfriars Church


If you've listened to watched or read the news lately you will have been bombarded with the salacious details of sleaze scandals amongst leaders and politicians: the recent revelations about Robin Cook; Peter Mandelson and his so-called "cronyism"; Bill Clinton's dissembling about his sexual misdemeanors, and so on and so forth. And it's not just the current lot, these things have been going on for years, centuries even. It's clear that we expect a lot from those who lead us, that's why people make such a fuss about these things. If we expect exemplary behaviour from our mere earthly leaders, how much more should we expect our spiritual leaders to be free from scandal, those who lead us in the name of God himself.

So what's this got to do with our passage tonight? Well, it looks very much as if Paul himself was having to defend himself in his very own sleaze scandal. Throughout the passage he seems particularly concerned to make a defence for himself and Silas and Timothy, and of their conduct whilst they were in Thessalonica. He starts off, in verse 1, by claiming that their visit to the Thessalonians had not been a failure. Well, on the face of it must have looked very much like a failure: in Acts 17 we're told that they provoked a riot in the city, eventually having to flee in the dead of night like criminals on the run. You can imagine how the enemies of the gospel were milking this: accusing Paul of being a charlatan, a conman, trying to take advantage of the gullible Thessalonians, perhaps for immoral gain—what about all those women who were converted, eh?—, perhaps for monetary gain. And surely the manner of their departure confirms this, fleeing just as they were about to be found out!

It seems that the enemies of the gospel were trying to slander Paul and Silas and Timothy in order to discredit their ministry and to discourage the church. They were not the first Christian leaders to be attacked in this way: indeed, Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. Perhaps all Christian leaders can expect to come under this kind of attack at some time or other, and this passage is a superb example of how to conduct oneself so that none of the mud that is slung will stick

As Paul gives his defence of their ministry, we are given a lovely and moving glimpse into the heart and motives of a pastor. Although Paul uses the plural throughout: we did this, we did that, referring to Silas and Timothy as well as himself, for simplicity I'll often just refer to Paul himself, it'll be a bit easier that way.

Section 1: 1-6a - A Transparent Ministry

Have a look at the first paragraph, verses 1-6, where Paul seeks to set the Thessalonian's minds at rest by reminding them of his priorities: his one aim in life is to please God; he's not the least bit interested in worldliness, or merely pleasing people. And he makes here a couple of strong arguments as to why the Thessalonians should believe him.

The transparency of the minister

First of all his ministry was completely transparent; everything he did was seen by others, and could be judged by others; he was totally open. In these verses Paul repeatedly reminds the Thessalonians that they have seen him in action and can judge him for themselves. (verse 1) You know, brothers...; (verse 2) we had suffered, as you know; (verse 5) you know we never used flattery; (verse 9) Surely you remember...; (verse 10) You are witnesses...; (verse 11) You know how we dealt with you.

All the Thessalonian believers had to do to see the falsity of the accusations against the trio was to cast their minds back to the time they had spent in the city. This little church knew that they had never used flattery, nor did they put on a mask to cover up greed.ref They just had to remember Paul's conduct whilst he was with them to be sure that the appeal they made did not spring from error or impure motives, nor were they trying to trick themref.

This kind of transparency characterises the ministry of a Godly pastor or minister of the gospel. This total openness to scrutiny is of incalculable value. Of course we are always under God's scrutiny, as Paul readily acknowledges, reminding the Thessalonians that it is God who tests our hearts. But as a gospel minister he wisely went further and opened his whole ministry to the scrutiny of the church; in the light of that the accusations of his enemies didn't have a hope of sticking. As Jesus put it,

It is the one who does evil who hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.ref

Do you remember that seedy business about the Nine-O-Clock service in Sheffield a while ago? By all accounts the set up had become very secretive. Chris Brain, the minister in charge, was not accountable to anyone. Only those in the inner circle could find out what was going on. It's easy to be wise after the event, but these were clear warning signs that something was seriously wrong. Like Paul and the others, a minister of the gospel should not only do the right thing, but be seen to do the right thing.

As a positive example of this, I've recently read the mammoth autobiography of the evangelist Billy Graham, all 760 pages of it. Throughout the book I've been impressed with his constant striving to be beyond reproach in any way. For example, he writes this about his organisation:

(p677) Several years ago, we asked one of the largest and most distinguished law firms in America to assess our organization and its affiliates in every possible detail. After a two-year study, they reported that they had rarely found any organization, secular or religious, with higher standards or better financial controls. The Internal Revenue Service has audited us exhaustively and each time has commended us for our carefulness in financial matters. Our annual audited report (done by a major national accounting firm) is made public every year to anyone who desires it.

Another example: Billy Graham would never meet with a woman alone, apart from his wife. Once the wife of a president asked to meet with him for some counselling; but even then he stuck to his rule and refused to meet with her alone. In the end they met for lunch in the middle of a busy restaurant.

As with Paul, Billy Graham is a man who is determined not only to do the right thing, but to be seen to do the right thing. For a Christian minister this is essential; only with integrity and openness like that can a pastor be sure that no mud will stick when the enemies of the gospel get start going.

The suffering of the minister

So the Thessalonians should believe Paul because they had seen how he lived among them, but they should also believe him because he suffered so much. In verse two we see what their lives were like: they suffered, were insulted, endured strong opposition. The fact that Paul was prepared to suffer so much was clear proof that he was telling the truth when he said, we are not trying to please men but Godref. If he was really trying to please men, to gain influence, to make his fortune, frankly he wasn't making a very good job of it!

No, the only explanation for why they put up with this is what Paul says in verse (4), We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.ref, and again in verse (6), We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.ref Their sufferings confirm to the Thessalonians both their sincerity, and their commitment to the gospel ministry with which they had been entrusted. They were clearly not trying to take advantage of the Thessalonians.

It's true that our readiness to suffer for a cause shows our sincerity about it. For example, I've been saying for a while now that I should lose some weight. But, frankly, I find that I'm just not prepared to suffer for it. My insincerity about losing weight is shown by the fact that I won't turn down puddings, or go out and do any exercise; I just don't care that much. On the contrary, Paul was prepared to suffer for the gospel, which clearly demonstrated his sincerity to the Thessalonians.

An aspiring Christian leader should be well aware that no true ministry is without its sufferings. Anyone who truly sets out to please God and not men is going to get all sorts of flack for it. It will bring you into direct conflict with the enemies of the gospel, of whom there are many. If a Christian leader is trying to avoid suffering, then perhaps it's a sign that he or she is not taking sufficient care to please God and not man; worldliness and compromise are very tempting options, but must be resisted at all costs.

So, to summarize this section: it appears that the trio, Paul, Silas and Timothy had become the targets of various sleaze allegations designed to discredit them. However, because they had taken care to make their ministry completely transparent, the church at Thessalonica could see both their integrity (because of their behaviour) and their sincerity (because of their sufferings).

Section 2: 6b-12 - A Sharing Ministry

In the next section, verses six through to twelve we see that not only did they have a transparent ministry, but they had a sharing ministry as well.

It looks as if the accusers were saying that Paul and Silas and Timothy had just taken from the church; taking advantage of them. But, in fact, the opposite is true, they had given and given.

The apostles had had every right to be supported by the church. As Jesus had said to his 72 evangelists, the worker deserves his wagesref; advice that Paul repeats to Timothy on another occasion. However, in this instance the apostles had refused to be a burden on the little church and had given and given to them.

In a lovely metaphor Paul likens the little church to his very own family: verse 7, we were gentle among you like a mother caring for her little childrenref. And again in verse 11: we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own childrenref.

In a functional family the parents are not a burden on the children, on the contrary the parents give their lives for their children. It's an enormous responsibility.

Likewise, the apostles shared their lives with the church (verse 8). They were not aloof and distant leaders, but members of the family, sharing their meals, their money, their time, their sorrows and their joys. There is no more intimate relationship than that between family members in a well functioning family. That is how Paul and Silas and Timothy had been with the little church at Thessalonica.

Also, they toiled for their family, verse 9: Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyoneref. Like any good parent they worked for their children, giving everything for them, enduring toil and hardship so that the children might have the very best.

Third, they taught the church as any parent teaches their children: verse 12, encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives worthy of God.

They did all this because of their love for the church, just as parents love their children.

Perhaps you've come across the standard model for the Anglican clergyman? No? Well here it is: it's someone who is six days a week invisible and on the seventh incomprehensible! What a contrast with Paul's model for the Christian ministry: leaders who share their lives with the church as their own families; leaders who work to support their church as they support their families; leaders who teach, encourage and comfort the church as their own children. This is just like Jesus' life with his disciples: sharing, giving, teaching.

Section 3: 11-16 - A Powerful Ministry

So far Paul has reminded the Thessalonians that his ministry among them had been a transparent ministry, they could see how he'd lived his life among them, and it had been a sharing ministry, he'd lived among them like a parent in the family that is their church.

And now he reminds them that his ministry had been a powerful ministry. Verse 13:

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.ref

The word of God was at workref in them. It had the power to change their lives. The Thessalonian church had tried the apostles' product and found it genuine, so how could they accept the accusations that Paul, Silas and Timothy were charlatans and conmen. The accusation flies in the face of the facts.

This underlines how essential it is for a pastor to preach the word of God. A pastor's business is not to preach his own thoughts and opinions, but the very words of God; if a pastor is gospel and Bible centred then his or her ministry will be a powerful ministry; lives will be changed. Paul sets us an example by being gospel centred: teaching the good news about Jesus was his life's business. Verse 2: with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel; verse 4: we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel; verse 8: we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well; verse 9: we preached the gospel of God to you. Paul knew that the gospel is the word of God.

We see also that a congregation's business is to accept the word of God, to believe it and to obey it. Is the word of God at work in us? Is it changing our lives day by day? If not, why not?


So Paul's defence of his ministry to the Thessalonians was that it was transparent, it was sharing and it was powerful.

What is to be our response to this? Well, my first response whilst preparing this sermon has been deep, deep gratitude to God for the leaders he has given us here. Now, Jonathan is away today, so I can't be accused of boot-licking, and William, perhaps you would close your ears for a moment!

Our leaders

God has gifted us with leaders here whose clear priority is to serve Him. Their lives are open to our scrutiny, and they share their lives with us: they and their families opening their homes and their lives. And we know that they toil on our behalf. Moreover they are committed to teaching God's word to us, for they know it's power. They are not a burden to us, so let us not be a burden to them, and let us thank God for them with our whole hearts. OK, William, you can open your ears again now.

It would be nice if I finished this sermon there, wouldn't it? And not just because time's getting on a bit! It's a nice high note; we can go away feeling pleased with ourselves; and best of all, the focus is away from us, the spotlight is elsewhere.

But, as we heard, the word of God is supposed to change lives, our lives, so what can we learn from the ministry of Paul, Silas and Timothy?


First of all there's a word here for parents. Perhaps there aren't too many parents here this evening, but I bet there are a lot of people who will be parents in the future, so listen in! Paul has wonderfully likened the gospel ministry to parenthood, but the converse is also true: if you are a parent then you are a front-line gospel minister to your children. Your children will probably learn more about the Christian life from you than from any other source during their lives.

I have no experience yet, but it must be very tough to be a Christian parent. Children don't have to get very old before they develop minds of their own, and they are under no obligation to believe what their parents believe. I think a lot of parents struggle with bringing their children up in the faith.

In this passage Paul gives Christian parents a model to follow as they seek to bring up their children in the faith. His transparency of life before the church is an example to us. Children will spot and resent the slightest hypocrisy they detect in their parents. The antidote? A completely open and transparent life.

Also, Paul gives himself completely for the church out of his love for them. Parents who are models of loving sacrifice will, by their example, teach their children the most fundamental aspect of Christian living: sacrificial love. It is an illustration of the love our heavenly Father has for us, his children.

Finally Paul's dealings with the church revolve around the word of God; the gospel; what we have as the Bible. If family life is suffused with Bible living, and Bible teaching—and let us not forget prayer, although it's not mentioned here—then God can use that to make our children not just our physical children, but our spiritual children as well. This is something that all Christian parents must long for.


But, of course, ordained clergymen and parents are not the only gospel ministers around. In fact, every single one of us who is a Christian is a minister of the gospel to those around us: friends, neighbours, colleagues, families and so on.

I once asked a group of students how they had come to know God, and in every case it had been through their parents or through a friend who is a Christian. The particular friend who brought me to Christ never actually told me the gospel message himself in so many words, but by the life that he led he was a gospel minister.

Like Paul, then, all of us should have ministries that are transparent, sharing and powerful. It is as we let people into our lives that they will see how our priorities differ from theirs. It is as we give ourselves for others that they will see God's love in action. It is as we share the word of God with others that their lives will be changed. These things are a wonderful antidote for the lonely culture around us where a person's privacy is almost their most prized posession

Once people have become Christians, how then shall we disciple them? Well, again Paul is our model: with our openness, with our giving of ourselves, with our teaching of the word of God. On no fewer than six occasions in his letters Paul says a rather striking thing. He says that people should imitate him; imitate him as he imitates Christ. We saw an instance of this last week in chapter one of this book. Paul imitates Jesus, we imitate Paul, others imitate us. Christian discipleship is spread by intimate contact with other Christians. Open lives; sharing lives; lives changed by the word of God.

As I finish, may I suggest a test for each of us of how we stand in the light of this teaching? Let us imagine that we are in some way being slandered for the sake of the gospel. What could we say in our defence? Could we in all honesty say, with Paul, "come and look at my life; come and share my life; come and listen to my words, then you will see my priorities" ? That's the goal we should all be aiming for.