In the ‘Sacred Year’, Michael Yankoski writes movingly about the ‘carnival’ of the celebrity Christian circuit, and how it can lead to a disconnect between a life lived on the stage, in the spotlight, and the other existence lived out in private. He gradually became disillusioned with his own involvement in it: ‘’…I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just another pawn in the brightly lit song-and-dance called ‘’American Christianity.’’ Leading a life offstage that didn’t actually warrant what I was saying on stage. Was my life deeply grounded in God…or were the edges of my life cracked and fraying?’’ (p.7).
Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was a success. But this success was not measured in terms of numbers, or a building programme, or in many other ways the Christian ‘carnival’ assesses how well we’re doing. Essentially, this was about character. We will look at a couple of key measurements today, and refer to some more tomorrow:
- They refused to be intimidated (1, 2). In spite of their injuries, they quickly got back on the bike! Many of us might have asked for some time off to heal and recover, but they just got on with the job. They showed immense courage, but it wasn’t worked up; it was worked in, by God Himself. The story of what happened in Philippi is told in Acts 16: 11-40. Paul and Silas were badly beaten and unjustly imprisoned. There was a lot of mental, emotional and physical pain involved in these incidents. They carried wounds. They were scarred. But they also saw a church planted in and around what they went through. So there was encouragement too. After the events at Philippi they picked themselves up, brushed themselves off and started all over again ‘’with the help of…God’’ (2). The message of Jesus is so hated and so unwanted by so many in our culture (and we are increasingly aware of this) that only with ‘outside help’ will we ‘’dare’’ to carry on. The words ‘’strong opposition’’ are, in the original language, an athletic term meaning ‘’a contest, a struggle’’. We are acutely aware that we are in a war zone. As a book from a few decades ago correctly expressed it, being a Christian is ‘’Risky Living’’. ‘’We were sure of ourselves in God, and went right ahead and said our piece, presenting God’s Message to you, defiant of the opposition.’’ The Message.
- They worked with integrity. Reading between the lines you can see that Pau and his team were being maligned. When mud is thrown some of it inevitably sticks. Even though untrue, some lies can carry weight. On two occasions Paul writes ‘’You know’’ (1, 5). He could appeal to their knowledge of them, and God’s knowledge. He had ‘’a conscience void of offence, toward God, and toward men.’’ (Acts 24:16). Paul and his colleagues did not use their ‘pulpit’ to manipulate people and make a fast buck. They spoke the truth, even though it would not always be popular. Paul, knowing that God sees the inside of the cup and not just the outside, could declare that their motives were pure. They wanted to please God, not people. ‘’Be assured that when we speak to you we’re not after crowd approval – only God approval.’’ The Message. One of the ways Satan tries to destroy the message is by defaming the messengers. Somebody estimated that nine times Paul defends his integrity against lies in this letter. But Paul was not defending himself for the sake of his own reputation; it was so that the cause of the gospel would not suffer.
‘’Paul’s method was as pure as his motive: he presented the Word of God in the power of the Spirit, and trusted God to work.’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: The Wiersbe Bible Commentary (NT),p.709