By John R. Gibson
No one should ever begin to preach the gospel without an awareness of the responsibility involved. In his letters to Timothy, Paul seeks to impress upon his young friend the importance of guarding both his life and his doctrine from reproach (1 Tim. 4:11-16). Are those of us preaching the gospel today examples in word, in conduct, in love, etc.? Do we know what qualities characterize such a man? In seeking to take heed to myself and my doctrine, I have been helped by a consideration of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Specifically, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 reveals characteristics of a good preacher (or Bible class teacher, personal worker, etc.) which all of us would do well to consider. Please take the time to read these verses before proceeding further.
Opposition and adversity must not silence the preacher of God. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that before arriving in Thessalonica he had been beaten and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16). Did persecution produce in Paul a hesitancy to preach or a watered down gospel? By no means: “We were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.” Let us all preach and teach with the same boldness, for “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Certain Of His Convictions (2:3)
Paul could be bold in the face of opposition because he was certain that his exhortation did not come from deceit or error. Here was a man certain of what he believed and why he believed it. There is great danger when a man begins to preach without being certain of the source of his convictions. Many a pulpit has been filled by one whose faith was his father’s and whose sermon was straight from an outline book. Godly parents are a blessing and outline books can be helpful, but it is imperative that our convictions come from God and not man. That necessitates studying the word for ourselves and thereby developing a faith that is our own (Rom. 10:17).
Without Guile (2:3)
Paul makes a claim that some gospel preachers could not make he claims that he did not try to use trickery, deceit or guile to make converts. If not careful, we may become so number conscious that we use ploys designed to have people baptized before they realize what is happening. Converts must be taught of God (Jn. 6:44f) and not tricked by a slick salesman.
Not A Crowd-Pleaser, But A God-Pleaser (2:4)
Paul always behaved himself properly when working with brethren (1 Thess. 2: 10); he was willing to forego his rights for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9); he urged the brethren at Rome to be tolerant and seek to please one another (Rom. 14:1-15:7; esp. 15:2); in short, Paul did his best to get along well with others. But even though he sought good relations with others, at the same time, he realized that he must first please God. It is wonderful when we are able to please both God and man, but it cannot always be that way and, like Paul, we must make it a priority to please God first. Preaching the truth on divorce and remarriage, decency of dress and other unpopular subjects will likely please few men, but preaching the whole counsel of God will please the One we should desire to please. “For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
Avoiding Flattery (2:5)
While it is true that Paul frequently used sincere praise and commendation in his teaching efforts, he never resorted to empty flattery that appealed to a man’s pride. Never forget that the gospel must first humble a man before he can be exalted. Proper teaching will show a person that the church does not need him, but rather, he desperately needs the Lord.
Not Covetous (2:5)
When Paul went to Thessalonica, it was not a move motivated by thoughts of monetary gain. Though the Philippians sent him some help (Phil. 4:15f), Paul still had to work with his own hands in order to preach there (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-9), for he would not allow or require the Thessalonians to support him lest he be accused of covetousness. In this day when preachers are generally well paid, it can be a real temptation to become flattering men pleasers unwilling to risk losing financial support because of controversial preaching. Some resort to guile or whatever is necessary to gain “converts” so that the offering can be increased. The solution to such a problem is not discontinuing the support of gospel preachers (a scriptural practice – 1 Cor. 9:14), but having both the preacher and the church realize that no matter who signs the check the preacher must be a servant of God and not a hireling of the church. Churches should desire that the one laboring with them preach in such a way as to please God and not those providing his support. And remember: good preaching will not be enough to get a covetous man into heaven (1 Cor. 6:9f).
One of the greatest challenges a preacher faces is maintaining a balanced approach in his teaching. This study has focused so far on strength, courage, boldness, etc. and there are some who seem to specialize in these characteristics. On the other hand, there are those who seem to manifest only the gentleness that is seen in the remainder of our study. What we need are men who are able to blend the two. Remember that it was possible for the same apostle to claim boldness and yet admit to the gentleness of a nursing mother.
Paul and his companions did not arrive in town making the type of demands an apostle might be expected to make. (Some preachers I know would do well to read 1 Thess. 2:6 before their next gospel meeting.) They did not seek glory from men, but instead were as gentle as a mother nursing her children (NKJV & NASB). Boldness and gentleness are often difficult to combine, but we must make every effort to do so. Boldness does not justify ugliness; gentleness does not necessitate weakness.
Giving Of Self (2:8f)
Why did the preaching of Paul and his companions have a great impact on so many towns? It may well have been the fact that Paul, Silas and Timothy offered more than the gospel – they offered themselves. If we would make those whom we seek to teach “dear to us” we would probably be more effective in our presentation. Preaching the gospel can never become simply a profession; it must be our very life itself. Our attitude must be: “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15).
Blameless In Conduct (2:10)
Many can offer firsthand testimony regarding the damage done to a church when a preacher (or any other teacher) does not live in a manner consistent with his teaching. Paul, Silas and Timothy may not have met with great success everywhere they preached, but their work was never destroyed by their own wickedness. Right or wrong, people always judge the conduct of preachers more strictly and we need to be careful lest we destroy the effectiveness of our preaching by careless conduct. (Parents should also take a lesson from Paul and realize that they cannot teach their children to do things that they themselves are unwilling to do.)
Behaving Like A Loving Father (2:10-12)
Like a father with his children, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to walk properly before God. A good father teaches his children out of concern for them; he points out that obedience is for their own good. We must not be afraid to reprove and rebuke (2 Tim. 4:2), but it should be the kind of rebuke that a father concerned for the welfare of his children might offer. Let us make certain that when we reprove and correct, it is as one with fatherly love and not a vengeful malice.
The preaching of the gospel is a great work and there is always a need for more men who will follow the example of Paul (who followed Jesus). May God help us to become brave, fearless, truthful and frank, but at the same time, loving and gentle.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 16, pp. 483-484
August 18, 1988