Integrity and Purpose in the Ministry

Dr. Brian Allison

The basic theme of 1 Thessalonians 1 is the power and the effect of the Gospel. Chapter 2 addresses a related theme: the nature and character of the Gospel ministry. According to the internal evidence, the purity of the apostle Paul's motives, as well as the integrity of his conduct, had been maligned and challenged. Hence, with chapter 2, Paul takes up a defence of the ministry. And I suggest that the apostle Paul was not self-motivated to vindicate himself, nor did he have a self-centred concern for his image. But rather, he was concerned about the faith of these particular believers to whom he wrote. He did not want them to have a negative evaluation of him, a servant of the Lord, and thus view the Gospel message with suspicion and disdain. The apostle was not a charlatan, but rather a sincere minister of the Gospel.

In writing to the Thessalonians, the apostle affirmed, "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition" (1 Th. 2:1,2). With this statement, the apostle continues the thought first introduced in 1:9 which reads, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception [the term 'reception' is the same term, in the original language, that is translated 'coming' in 2:1, which, of course, suggests the connection] we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God." This term 'reception' or 'coming' is an interesting and unusual term. It can simply be translated 'entrance'. For instance, a visiting preacher 'enters into' a congregation to minister the Word; he is not a member of the group, and yet he aligns himself with the group for a season by coming on to their 'turf'.

Public knowledge of Paul's entrance

Paul's particular entrance among these Thessalonians was a remarkable and effectual one, as 1:9 clearly indicates – "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you." This entrance among these Thessalonians had become public news; it had been broadcast near and far. Yet, this effectual entrance had not only become public news, but, as we read further, the Thessalonians themselves had first hand knowledge of it – "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain." Now, notice that the apostle Paul appeals to the personal knowledge of the Thessalonians in order to establish the point or truth of the matter. He refers to their own knowledge as a valid source of a correct assessment of the kind of coming or entrance that took place. They could personally vouch for his extraordinary ministry.

In appealing to the Thessalonians' personal knowledge of his ways (and conduct), Paul implies that his life was an open book, and that he had done nothing that he regretted or of which he was ashamed. Notice the emphasis of his language in chapter 2 – "For you yourselves know" (2:1a); "As you know" (2:2b); "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know" (2:5a); "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship" (2:9a); "You are devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers" (2:10); "Just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you" (2:11). What a powerful strategy he used in stating his case in order to persuade these believers about the serious issues at hand. There is no counter-argument when one appeals to another's own knowledge of circumstances as confirmation of the truth. One cannot deny what he or she personally knows. In effect, the apostle says, "Consult your own knowledge concerning the truth about me. There may have been some who have maligned my character, slandered my name, gossiped and spread lies about me, but you personally know the truth concerning my ways and conduct. You do not really need to be convinced." So, he appealed to their personal knowledge of him in order to defend the purity of his motives and the integrity of his conduct.

The apostle appealed not only to the personal knowledge of the Thessalonians, but also to God's own knowledge. Paul saw himself as one who always stood before God. So we read, "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness" (2:5); again, "You are witnesses, and so is God" (2:10a). This statement is highly audacious, yet deeply sober. Do you see the practical point? Paul was willing to subject the quality and the morality of his conduct and ministry to the court of public and divine scrutiny. He had no fears; he had no reservations. Paul apparently lived in such a way that the character of his behaviour and lifestyle was public knowledge; and the propriety of that behaviour and lifestyle was such that it could be tested and affirmed by the fires of public assessment. He lived in such a way that people could not point the condemnatory finger at him and say, "You are the man!" Do you find that astounding?

Simply put, according to his own testimony, Paul lived with a conscience void of offence. He lived in such a way that he could stand before God and before the bar of public conscience and allow both God and public conscience to be his judge. Consider the account of the apostle Paul standing before the Sanhedrin in order to give a defence. We read in Acts 23:1, "And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, 'Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.'" What do you think about that statement? He does not say "an okay conscience," but 'a perfectly good conscience'; and I do not think that the apostle Paul was exaggerating or being presumptuous here. It is possible, my friend, to live blamelessly. On another occasion, Paul defended himself before governor Felix. We read, "[Paul said] Having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men" (Acts 24:15,16). The apostle Paul highly prized a conscience void of offence. Again, we read in 2 Corinthians 4:1,2, "Therefore, since we have this ministry [having the privilege and honour of being called by God to be servants in order to preach the eternal Gospel], as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

The apostle lived as one determined to behave with integrity before God and before people, and that is how we are to live. We are to live our lives in such a way that the finger of accusation and blame cannot be pointed at us, regarding any aspect of our behaviour or conduct. Recall the exhortation, "And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Pe. 3:16). We should be people who keep their word, who fulfil their commitments, who are ruthlessly honest.

Paul's entrance was purposeful

So, these Thessalonians personally knew the kind of ministry that Paul and his companions had performed. It was a ministry that had had an extraordinary impact. Again, we read, "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming [our entrance] to you was not in vain" (2:1). Now, this qualifying phrase – 'not in vain' – refers more to the character of Paul's ministry, rather than to its fruit. His coming was not pointless, was not inconsequential. The same term is used in 3:5, "For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labour should be in vain [i.e., pointless]." This coming of Paul and his companions to the Thessalonians was not some fly-by-night matter. It was not a mere ordinary happening, but rather, as mentioned, it was an eventful coming; it was a momentous coming; it was a productive coming, resulting in radically changed lives.

Again, the exact nature of this coming is described in 1:5 – "For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." Simply put, Paul came with confidence and resolve to preach the Gospel. His ministry was not one of indifference or non-direction. It was purposeful, defined, and focused. Accordingly, we too need to assume a posture of purposefulness and determination in ministry, whether it be official or unofficial in nature. We need to be very clear on what our vision and goal are. It should not be a hit-and-miss situation, entertaining the attitude: "Well, let's just see what happens. Let's just get together for fellowship, and let's just take things in stride."

Rather than having his ministry characterized by indifference and non-direction, Paul states specifically how he came to these Thessalonians – "But after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition" (2:2). There was a single purpose for the apostle Paul; the nature of his coming was clearly defined. The only purpose for Paul was to make the Gospel known, regardless of the obstacles and opposition. He was committed to evangelism, regardless of the consequences; and for the apostle, these consequences entailed suffering.

People naturally resist the Gospel, they naturally react to preaching. Paul had suffered in Philippi. Recall that he was flogged, imprisoned along with Silas, and had his feet put into stocks. He was thoroughly humiliated as a Roman citizen. And yet, having endured that horrendous experience, the apostle could say, in effect, "But we were focused, we did not allow the suffering to deter us. Though experiencing injury and insult, we had the boldness to preach to you the good news of Jesus Christ." Rather than cowering and recoiling, he stood tall as a man. He was not concerned about the possibility of experiencing pain; that apparently did not even figure into his thinking. There were higher spiritual issues at stake.

Do you notice the context in which Paul showed this strength of resolve and commitment? – "We had the boldness in our God." Paul was not bold in himself (you won't last very long if that is your context), nor in others (the arm of flesh will fail you), but in God. God was his source and means of real courage in the face of horrendous, malicious opposition. That term 'boldness' is a very interesting one. It really should be translated "to speak without reserve" or "to allow the speech to flow freely without strain or stress."

Practically, Paul seemingly was emboldened through, and in, the worship of God. While being subjected to much suffering in Philippi, we read, "But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25). In the presence of God, praising God and worshipping Him, Paul (and Silas) received courage and strength to minister. It is only in God's presence that true courage may be secured against evil. It is there that we find trust. And some reading this message need to quickly seek out God's presence because they have lost their trust in God. It is there that we rediscover our dependency upon Him, recognizing that He is everything and we are nothing in ourselves. Some reading this message are in bondage because of anxiety and stress, and it is killing them. There is release only in God's presence. Paul discovered that release and freedom in the worship of God; it is God Who strengthens. He is pleased to give strength in order for us to minister the Gospel, for ministering the Gospel honours Him, and glorifies His name.

Paul's entrance entailed suffering

The Gospel which Paul brought to the Thessalonians is the 'Gospel of God' – "to speak to you the gospel of God." Paul was emboldened to preach the Gospel that comes from God, that belongs to God. And because it is God's Gospel, the honour of His name is at stake; and Paul knew that. When the Gospel of God is preached, fallen and sinful human beings naturally react to it in rebellion to their Creator. Preaching the Gospel invites adversity. Of course, this need for boldness or courage presupposes adversity; and often God is pleased not to remove the adversity (which is a reaction to the preaching the Gospel), but to give us strength to handle that adversity. Often we must minister in the face of much conflict – "To speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition."

Thank God for the 'much opposition'. The opposition reveals our utter weakness and need. It is in our weakness and need that we discover afresh the wonder of God's strength. It is in our weakness that His strength is perfected, and we come to encounter the living God again, and we worship. Our circumstances may be horrendous, but our hearts shall rejoice in the praise of His name. That is the paradox. It is in the midst of suffering that we find God afresh. It is in the midst of tribulation that we discover Him more deeply; and we realize that God is God, and that He is our God, and we worship. The suffering and opposition of life thus pales into insignificance in the light of the wonder of His presence which utterly overshadows our circumstances.

My friend, often in the ministry, we go from the frying pan into the fire, from one bad situation to another bad situation; but praise God, because it is in that bad situation that we find Him and He finds us, and we know peace. Satan is constantly at work. It is interesting that this term translated 'opposition' may be translated 'conflict' or 'agony'. Paul affirmed, "We preach the Gospel of God in much agony – agony arising not only from external circumstances, but from internal experiences." The ministry involves struggle and pain. That is why ministers of the Gospel, those engaged in Christian service, are called 'soldiers'. Soldiers engage in battle. For instance, 1 Timothy 6:12 reads, "Fight the good fight [same term] of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses;" and again, 2 Timothy 4:7 reads, "I have fought the good fight [same term], I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."

Interestingly, this term – 'opposition', 'conflict' – describes the nature of the Christian life. We read in Hebrews 12:1, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race [same term] that is set before us." Often it seems like we are going down for the ten count and knock out on the mat; but before that last count is uttered, God is pleased to come with His strength, and we get up again. And you may ask, my friend, "Lord, I have been hit so many times; how many times can I get up?" And God inevitably answers, "One more time." Are you on the mat, my friend, and the count is nine? I want to suggest to you that this is not a bad place to be because that is where you will find God again. That is where you will discover His strength being perfected in your utter weakness.

So, we can be encouraged. We need to persevere as we live our Christian life which is a fight, a struggle. Let us persevere in hope and in confidence, as the apostle Paul did, knowing that God enables and strengthens. He will help us. My sorely tried and beleaguered friend, God is for you; and if He is for you, who can be against you. He is your God, and He loves you. Oh, love Him in return!