“By All Means Preach”
Text: 1Thes. 1:2-4 & 5:11-13
How can you tell if a church is getting it right? Paul says it is by “successful preaching.” Now what in the world is successful preaching? The answer appears to be this: effectual preaching is preaching through which people come to know God’s electing love and the three cardinal graces: faith, love and hope.
Our reading is clear about the faith portion: “We give thanks to God always . . . remembering without ceasing your work of faith.” (v.2-3) The Thessalonians were renown for their faith (“the word of the Lord has sounded forth not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God . . . ” v.8). Paul knows that wherever there is true faith it will work a measurable influence on heart and life. Where faith is true people work for God as well as for their own salvation and that work will proceed by love.
Love is the second cardinal grace. But the love in view here is not the love of human source—it’s not the love that we muster. Rather the love in view here is the love of God which reaches into our hearts and then extends outward, helping us to love those that we never thought ourselves able to love . . . or, to love again those who have forfeited that love through betrayal and wounding sin. When our love is informed by, resourced by divine love it remains eternally!
We come now to the patience of hope. The hope of eternal life is our sea anchor in times of distress, or peril. Knowing that we have the hope of resurrection life we are calm when others are frantic. Death holds no power over us if its sting has been removed. “If we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” (Rom. 8:25)
The object and efficient cause of all these graces is Jesus Christ. By Him we have hope, through Him we have love and in Him we have faith. But successful preaching takes us further. It lets us know that the fountain of these graces is the electing love of God. As we read in Ephesians 1:11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” For His own good pleasure, and by the workings of mere grace—however offensive that may sound to ears to attuned to merit and minds absorbed with achieving—God, for reasons known only to Him, seeks out those whom He will, by the counsel of His will, and calls out and sets aside those who are being saved. We cannot know, in advance, who these persons are; but successful preaching reaches the lost sheep of Israel and calls them home to God. However, they know who they are. They know this because in response to such preaching they say “yes” to faith, love and hope. Their core, heart, inner being cries out saying: “Count me in!”
Fellowship forms when those who are ignited by God’s call discover each other discovering God. In 1Thess. 5:11-13, Paul speaks to these folks, the elect of God and exhorts them to exhort and to edify one another. He urges us to be looking out for each other, to be supportive of each other. To those doing good, we say do more good. We say, continue to grow in the doing of good! Among these folks some will be called to pastoral ministry. Paul reminds us that the work of pastors is weighty, very honorable and useful. While pastors are charged to be diligent, and to labor unto weariness (in word and doctrine—1 Tim. 5:17), they are to be highly esteemed and loved by the congregation. Pastors are to be valued for what they do for Christ in the midst of the people. They are to be an encouragement and example for all. And they are to rule by love, according to the laws of Christ—in addition to the laws of the land. But they are not to rule by laws of their own making—diligently seeking out the word of God.
Highly esteemed and loved sounds wonderful, lofty. Let me bring it down to earth by urging the sheep to labor to know their pastors. Risk wearying them with your hospitality. Take time to get to know their person, voice, strength of ruling . . . but do remember that it’s work. I think some pastors are the hardest persons to get to know. But you can’t err by avoiding all that might lead to the alienation of affections between you and your pastors. When Paul says “Be at peace with each other,” he is still addressing the tender relationship that should pertain between the sheep and shepherd. Some won’t bother to assert themselves as peacemakers; they are “unruly.” This means that they choose to be disruptive of the peace—indifferent to the care that good relationships require. Such people are to be warned. Those who feel unworthy of such community, or even friendship, are to be encouraged, built up so that they can share in the joy of fellowship. Think the best of others, cut each other some slack . . . don’t be rigid, difficult, prickly, hypersensitive or hypercritical. Avoid all manner of evil doing and do what is in everyone’s best interests.
I want to close with vv. 16-18:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for
This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.