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Lesson 6: Effective Discipleship, Part 2 (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

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August 28, 2016

My college physics professor began every class in the same way: “Class, I’m going to tell you what I told you yesterday. Then I’ll tell you what I’m going to tell you today. Then I’ll tell you. Then I’ll tell you what I told you. Then I’ll review.” He knew that repetition is the key to learning. So he’d go over and over the same content until it was drilled into our heads.

The apostle Paul also repeated himself, which he does in our text. My message today is very similar to last week’s message because Paul makes the same points again. He wanted to equip these new believers to be solid disciples of the Lord so that they could disciple others. He holds up his example as a model for the Thessalonians and us to follow. Every Christian is a disciple, a follower of Christ. And every Christian is to be involved in the process of making other disciples, which means, deliberately helping others to be more like Christ.

Greg Beale (1-2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 76) gives a helpful overview of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12:

Paul’s witness among the Thessalonians was effective (2:1) because it was based on his bold proclamation of the truth of the gospel (2:2). The two motives undergirding and inspiring this testimony were that Paul wanted to please God (2:3-4) and wanted others to please God in order to glorify him (2:5-12).

Keep in mind that in chapters 2 & 3, Paul is defending himself against critics who were attacking his motives. During his time in Thessalonica, these enemies of the gospel had stormed the house of Jason, a new believer, trying to find Paul. When they couldn’t find him, they dragged Jason before the city authorities, accusing him of harboring a man who was proclaiming another king than Caesar. Jason had to post a bond, but then the believers thought it best to send Paul and Silas away by night (Acts 17:5-10).

Now these critics were saying things like, “This religious huckster ran away suddenly and hasn’t been heard from since. He’s just like many others in the religion business, a charlatan who uses religion as a cover so that he can get your money, seduce your women, and exalt himself in power over you. He’s not sincere. When he thought he’d be exposed, he ran away, showing that he doesn’t care about you.” (Modified from John Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians [IVP Academic], p. 46.)

So Paul is defending his motives and objectives, not so that he would look good, but because he knew that if these critics succeeded in undermining his integrity, they would also undermine the gospel that he proclaimed. Last week we saw that effective discipleship is built on a godly message: the gospel of God; a godly manner: evident love for others; and, a godly motive: pleasing God from the heart. Those same themes are woven through our text for today. We can sum it up:

Effective discipleship is founded on the gospel proclaimed in love through people of godly integrity with the goal of disciples who walk worthily of God and His glory.

In verses 7-8 Paul pictured himself as a nursing mother, tenderly and affectionately caring for her own children. Now he shifts the metaphor to that of a loving father who trains his children.

1. Effective discipleship is founded on the faithful proclamation of the gospel of God.

Paul keeps emphasizing the gospel of God (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:2, 4, 8, 9; 3:2; 2 Thess. 1:8; 2:14) because the gospel is the foundation for everything in the Christian life. If a person’s life is built on a faulty gospel, like the house built on the sand, it will not stand up when the flood waters hit (Matt. 7:26-27).

Paul says that he “proclaimed” to them “the gospel of God.” “Proclaimed” means to proclaim or announce as a herald. The job of a herald in that day was to go from city to city with the king’s message and tell people exactly what the king wanted them to know. He wasn’t free to modify the message or to add to it. If it was an unpopular message, he might get attacked, even though he didn’t originate the message. But he couldn’t soften the king’s message. He had to proclaim it just as the king had given it to him.

As we’ve seen, by calling it “the gospel of God,” Paul is emphasizing that the gospel comes from God. It wasn’t a message that Paul thought up on his own. It doesn’t come to us from the collective wisdom of religious thinkers down through the centuries. It comes to us from God Himself. It is the good news that God has provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to know Him, and to spend eternity with Him after we die.

But that good news invariably stirs up opposition wherever it goes because to accept the good news, you’ve also got to accept the bad news. The bad news is that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). We all love the darkness rather than the light, because our deeds are evil (John 3:19-20). We all would like to think that our good deeds will qualify us for heaven (Luke 18:11-12). But God has to open our eyes to see that all our righteousness is worthless in His sight. We need perfect righteousness to live in God’s holy presence and that perfect righteousness can only come to us when we put our trust in Jesus Christ as the one who died and rose again in our place (Rom. 3:21-26; Phil. 3:4-9).

Satan has always attacked the gospel, because it is foundational for the entire Christian life. During my 39 years as a pastor, I’ve seen the gospel attacked by the health and wealth heresy, which teaches that believing in Christ will cure you of every disease and bring you financial prosperity. Robert Schuller’s Self-Esteem: the New Reformation [Word] redefined the gospel by saying that we should not fear pride, we should trust in ourselves, and we should stop thinking of ourselves as sinners. He said (p. 68), “To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image—from inferiority to self-esteem, from fear to love, from doubt to trust.” Hint: That’s not what the new birth is!

On another front, the so-called “free grace” movement came out of the seminary where I studied. It redefines repentance to mean merely a change of mind with regard to Christ, not to a change of behavior where we turn from our sin. It teaches that saving faith is a decision to agree with the facts of the gospel, not a reliance on Christ that stems from God changing our hearts. John MacArthur has confronted this error in several of his books, such as The Gospel According to Jesus [Zondervan] and Faith Works [Word]. I have heard him say that when he began in the ministry, he never expected that he would spend a large part of his time defending the gospel; but in fact, that’s what he has done.

So make sure that your gospel is the gospel that comes from God as revealed in His Word of truth. Proclaim that gospel to others and make sure that they are clear on it. It’s the only solid foundation for effective discipleship.

2. Effective discipleship takes place through people of godly integrity.

We saw this last week, but Paul continues to emphasize his godly motives and behavior when he was in Thessalonica. We learn three things about godly integrity here:

A. Godly integrity is handed off through our example.

Note how Paul repeats, “For you recall, brethren” (2:9); “You are witnesses” (2:10); “just as you know” (2:11; cf. also, 2:1, 2, 5). He is appealing to his own example. We mainly influence both our physical children and our spiritual children through our example. As James Baldwin wrote (Reader’s Digest [1/86]), “Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

There is a story (author unknown) about four pastors who were discussing the pros and cons of various Bible translations and paraphrases. The first minister said that he uses the King James Bible because the old English is beautiful and produces the most reverent picture of the Holy Scriptures. Another man said he prefers the New American Standard Bible because he feels it comes nearer to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The third pastor said his favorite is the paraphrased Living Bible, because his congregation is young and it relates to them in a most practical way. The fourth pastor was silent for a time as he thought about it. Then he said, I guess when it comes to translations of the Bible, I like my Dad’s translation the best. He put the Word of God into practice every day. It was the most convincing translation that I’ve seen.”

Paul already referred to his example of not being deceitful or impure. His motive was not to please men, but rather God, who examines our hearts. He said that he never came with flattering speech to manipulate people for his advantage. He was not motivated by greed or personal glory. Rather, as a gentle, loving spiritual mother, he showed his tender affection for these spiritual children. Now he compares himself to a loving father who trains his children by example and by verbal instruction. So godly integrity is passed on both at home and in the church by our example.

B. Godly integrity means not taking advantage of people in any way, including financially.

Paul says (1 Thess. 1:9), “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” He is referring to the fact that he worked hard making tents so that he didn’t have to take any support from the Thessalonians while he was planting the church there. He didn’t even eat anyone’s food without paying for it (2 Thess. 3:8). He didn’t want to give his enemies any occasion to accuse him of preaching the gospel so that he could make money off of his converts.

Elsewhere Paul taught that it is legitimate for the person who labors in the gospel to be supported by the gospel (1 Cor. 9:1-15; Gal. 6:6). In the local church, he instructed (1 Tim. 5:17-18), “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” “Double honor” refers both to the respect that is due to faithful pastors who teach the Word, and also to financial support, as the Scripture citations show.

As an apostle, Paul had a right to be supported by the gospel, but he chose to give up that right so as not to cause a hindrance to the gospel (1 Cor. 9:1-15). While he was ministering in Thessalonica, more than once Timothy brought financial support to Paul from the Philippian believers (Phil. 4:16). So he would take support from other churches, but to avoid the appearance of taking advantage of new believers, Paul wouldn’t take support from the church where he was currently serving.

If you’re a Christian businessman and you’re discipling a younger man, be very careful about any business dealings with him that might make you a profit. In the church I served in California, one of our members got involved in Amway, where you work your way up the pyramid by getting others under you to sell Amway. He told me that he had a goal of meeting five new people at church each week. But the reason for his goal was not so that he could help these people grow in Christ, but rather to recruit them for Amway. When I confronted him about this, he insisted that he was helping these people spiritually because he was helping them become financially independent. He refused to admit that he was being friendly to them so that he could make a profit through their joining his organization. But getting people signed up to sell Amway is not discipling them!

C. Godly integrity means moral integrity, beginning on the heart level.

Paul is repeating what he has already said (2:3-4) when he adds (1 Thess. 2:10), “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” He calls the Thessalonians as witnesses because they had observed his outward behavior. But he calls God as witness because God examines our hearts (2:4). In other words, we need to walk with reality toward God beginning on the heart or thought level if we want to disciple others effectively. We can’t live one way in secret and then put on our godly mask in front of others.

Paul may pile up these three adverbs (“devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly”) to show the necessity of right conduct for believers (Leon Morris (The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians [Eerdmans], p. 82). These words are somewhat synonymous, but “devout” may refer to being pleasing to God; “righteous” to dealing rightly with others; and “blameless” to our reputation in the world (Stott, p. 53).

Almost 30 years ago, Leadership [Winter, 1988, p. 24], a journal for pastors, reported that 20 percent of pastors admitted to viewing pornography in some form at least once a month! And that was before the internet and smart phones made that filth easily available! How can such men disciple others when they themselves are not “devout, righteous, and blameless”? Jesus wasn’t subtle in His warning about this. He said (Matt. 5:27-30):

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Integrity before God has to begin on the heart or thought level. If you don’t kill your lust on that level, Jesus says that you are headed for hell! I wouldn’t have said it so strongly, but Jesus did! You can’t effectively disciple others unless you have moral integrity before God on the heart level. Effective discipleship is founded on the gospel and takes place through people of godly integrity.

3. Effective discipleship requires loving, personal exhortation and encouragement.

1 Thess. 2:11: “just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children ….” Paul taught the entire church publicly, but he also met individually or in small groups for further instruction with the men he was discipling. “Exhorting, encouraging, and imploring” are somewhat overlapping, but there are nuances of difference. There is not a “one size fits all” approach. Rather, a wise spiritual father discerns where each spiritual child is at and tailors his approach accordingly.

Some need exhortation, which refers to challenging or appealing to others to live as they should as Christians. Encouraging has the nuance of comfort and consolation. Paul uses this word in 1 Thess. 5:14 when he encourages the church leaders, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” The fainthearted don’t need to be admonished; they need encouragement. Perhaps they were discouraged because of the persecution that they had come under as Christians. To them, Paul spoke tender words to comfort them, while urging them to be faithful. The third word, imploring, means “testifying.” It’s the strongest of the three words, implying a loving warning that a course correction is needed.

Paul uses the analogy of a loving father to convey how he used these different approaches. Every sensitive father knows that his children are different. Some need a stern word or they won’t even hear you. But if you give that same stern word to a more sensitive child, she will dissolve in tears. But every father should be loving and tender (Ps. 103:13), seeking to help each child become all that God wants that child to be. Effective discipleship requires loving, personal exhortation and encouragement.

So effective discipleship is founded on the gospel proclaimed in love through people of godly integrity. But note the goal:

4. Effective discipleship aims at disciples who walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls us into His kingdom and glory.

1 Thess. 2:12: “so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Note four things:

First, a worthy walk requires walking. (Duh!) Paul often uses “walk” to refer to our way of life (it’s in the Greek text of 1 Thess. 4:1, 12; 2 Thess. 3:6, 11). It’s an apt metaphor for the Christian life. A walk is a step by step process of making steady progress toward a goal or destination. Day by day a believer is to walk with God, even as Enoch of old did (Gen. 5:22, 24). Our goal is to make progress in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If you’re not spending frequent time alone with God, you’re not walking with Him.

Second, a worthy walk is the highest conceivable standard. There can’t be any higher goal than to walk worthy of God, who is absolutely perfect and holy! Elsewhere Paul exhorts us to walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1), worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27), and worthy of the Lord (Col. 1:10). We represent God to others!

Third, a worthy walk is a response to God’s effectual call. God’s call refers to His effectual call to salvation. It happened in the past (Gal. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:9), but Paul here describes God as the one who calls us in a timeless sense (1 Thess. 5:24; F. F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians [Thomas Nelson], p. 37). This verse shows us that God takes the initiative in saving us, but we are responsible to walk with Him. We don’t earn salvation by a worthy walk, but a worthy walk is evidence that we are truly saved.

Fourth, a worthy walk takes place in the sphere of God’s kingdom and glory. God’s kingdom is His rule, which begins now and is culminated when Jesus returns. We walk in submission to our King now. When He returns, we will see His glory and share it with Him. As Paul writes (2 Thess. 2:14), “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” John explains and applies this (1 John 3:2-3), “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Conclusion

So in this repeated lesson, Paul shows that effective discipleship is founded on the gospel proclaimed in love through people of godly integrity with the goal of disciples who walk worthily of God and His glory. I conclude with the two questions that I began with last week: Are you a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ? If not, that is your main need! Trust in Him as your Savior and Lord before you face His wrath! He offers you mercy, forgiveness of all your sins, and eternal life as a free gift. Take it now! Are you discipling others (deliberately helping them to become followers of Christ)? If not, make that your aim! Ask the Lord where you should begin. That is the culture or climate that we want to cultivate in this church.

Application Questions

  1. Can you state the gospel clearly in sixty seconds or less? If not, write it out succinctly with the necessary Scriptures.
  2. Where is your major battle with godly integrity on the heart level? Devise a biblical plan to win the war.
  3. How can we discern whether a person needs exhortation, encouragement, or imploring (v. 11)? What guidelines apply?
  4. How would you help a new Christian begin a daily walk with God? What are the essentials?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Discipleship

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