I have always been skeptical of preachers on television. Whenever I talk to my grandmother she mentions the preachers she watches on television. I smile while on the inside wondering how sincere these preachers are. Of course, most preachers on television are (probably) sincere, Jesus-loving people. But others are charlatans who have found a way to make a lot of money by telling a religious America what it wants to hear.
We hear preachers and other religious commentators talk about believing in Jesus and can’t help but wonder, what are they getting out of this? Are they really about the truth, or are they about selling books, shirts, and tickets to stadiums on their next tour? Even if you are generally a trusting person, I am sure that your peers on campus, your well-educated professors, are very skeptical of Christian clergy. Maybe even when you speak to your peers about your faith they wonder if you have ulterior motives. They may ask themselves, what is he getting out of this?
The apostle Paul faced just such skepticism. He had gone to Thessalonica after leaving Philippi and had preached the gospel of the risen Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. A few people believed. After he left, others attacked Paul, telling the new Christians that Paul was only peddling truth for his own gain. This is the background that leads in to 1 Thessalonians 2:
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from any human being, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our prerogatives. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Paul was often attacked and he had to spend much of his writing defending himself (basically, this was the purpose of 2 Corinthians). In defending himself, he appeals to the Thessalonian Christians’ own experience. He reminds them of the opposition he had faced and the suffering he had gone through (2:2). This is a constant theme in Paul’s writings: rather than getting rich off his message he was often exposed to suffering and persecution.
Paul next asserts that he is trying to please God, not any human (2:4). Untrustworthy teachers simply tell people what they want to hear (flattery) and such a message often leads to a padding of their greedy wallets (2:5). Like Jesus who laid down his rights as God to become human (Phil. 2:5-11), so Paul lays down whatever rights he has as a Christian leader to help people grow in faith (2:6).
Paul’s relationship to the Thessalonians is defined by love (2:7). This love went beyond mere words, it was acted out in deeds. This love is demonstrated in Paul’s work not to be a burden. Rather than sitting back and waiting to be served in thanks for his good teaching, Paul worked hard to do his part in the community. He served rather than waiting to be served. Again in this, he was like Christ.
Finally, Paul reminds them of the way he acted towards them: “encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God” (2:12). This reinforces the point that he was not in it for himself, but rather he desired for his hearers to grow closer to God.
These are some practical points as we seek to judge who we allow to influence us. There are many voices out there on the internet, on television and the radio. Ask yourself about any teacher:
*Does their message change when they are faced with suffering? The point is not to seek out suffering, but when tough-times come do they react by staying true to Christ?
*Is their first priority to please God or humans? Are they telling their listeners just what they want to hear? Are they just in it for money?
*Are they defined by the love of Christ, in word and deed?
*Are they laying aside their rights as Christ did? Are they putting others first?
*Are they encouraging, comforting and urging you to live more like Christ?
Finally, these are good questions with which to judge ourselves as we seek to influence others. Re-read the scripture and those questions and ask yourself if such traits define you.