Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Walk Worthy

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

Let me share where we are heading for the rest of June and the rest of the summer. This week and next week Jason and I will continue our sermon series through 1 & 2 Thessalonians, which will continue throughout the summer into the early fall.  

But we have a few breaks coming in June. On Father’s Day, we’ll have a break from the series. And the week after Father’s Day is Vacation Bible School in the evenings, and on the Sunday following VBS, I’ll preach on themes relevant to what was taught during VBS, which this year is the story of Exodus and the gospel. Finally we come to June 30, which is the last Sunday in June. It’s also going to be the Abbotts last Sunday here at church. They won’t be leaving Harrisburg yet, but we do want Pastor Jason and his family to have a little break before he has to begin at his new church in the Midwest later this summer. So, on that Sunday we are going to celebrate the Abbots during the service on June 30, and we are going to have a big party that night back at church with them to celebrate them some more. We’ll publish the details in the next week or so, but please be marking your calendars for that.  

Last week when Jason opened our series, he drew attention to the salutation of the letter, that is, the opening lines of “grace and peace.” Jason pointed out how those words and the other words in the greeting expressed Paul’s warmth and affection for the church and even God’s love for the church. Those feelings of love and warmth are said even more overtly in this week’s passage.  

Scripture Reading 

Follow along with me as I read from 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12, and then we’ll pray that God would be our teacher.

1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

Introduction 

Paul is doing two main things in the passage we just read. He’s defending the way he went about his ministry. And he’s also commending the way he went about his ministry to them and to us as a model for ministry. These two things, defending and commending, are foreshowed in something he wrote in chapter 1:4–7. 

4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 

To summarize, through the preaching of the gospel by Paul and others, they became believers—genuine, sincere, authentic believers. The gospel ministry that happened among them was not in vain. That’s why Paul calls them brothers, meaning brothers and sisters, that is, people adopted into God’s forever family. Paul also speaks of the gospel coming in power, with full conviction, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Then Paul describes them as “imitators of us and the Lord,” which then leads these new Christians to become examples to other Christians. They see an example of Christianity, become Christians themselves, and then become exemplary Christians. Another way to describe what happened is spiritual parenting that produced children walking worthy of the calling they received. 

That’s all pretty clear from those verses. 

But it seems when we come to chapter 2 something else is going on. While Paul cares deeply for these believers, in chapter 2 he seems to be on the defensive, like he’s got to remind them of who he is and what he’s about. If you have a Bible, let me show you what I mean.  

v. 1, For you yourselves know . . .  
v. 2, as you know . . .  
v. 5, as you know . . .  
v. 9, For you remember . . .  
v. 10, You are witnesses . . .  
v. 11, For you know . . .  

What was is that they knew? What was it that they were to remember? What was it that they witnessed? Paul reminds these believers of the spiritual parenting they received.  

Evidently there were some in Thessalonica calling into question the genuineness of these believers, and not only were they calling into question their genuineness but also Paul’s.  

Look at it like this. You buy a car. It’s a great car bought at a great price from a great salesperson at a great dealership. You’re happy. The car fits your needs. You were not oversold or cheated. Then you bring the car home. You have no reason to call into question the salesperson or your excitement, but then your neighbor, who just so happens to work at a competing dealership, says, “Did you get it inspected first? Oh, you didn’t. Huh. Did you check the blinker fluid? That dealership is known for cutting corners.” Now questions start to surface in your mind. You question the integrity of the salesperson, the dealership, and even the car you bought. Maybe it’s not as safe as it seemed. Maybe it doesn’t have 25k miles on it. Maybe it has 50k. 

I think that’s something like what must be happening in this church in Thessalonica. False teachers wanted to win over or perhaps win back these Thessalonians.  

Some of you experienced this when you became a Christian. You heard the gospel from someone you consider a spiritual mother or father, you are called into the kingdom, and you begin to walk in a manner worthy of your calling. Then for some reason or another you move to a new city and don’t have regular contact with the church and pastor. Then your spouse, who is not into Jesus, says, “This Jesus stuff is fine, I suppose, but don’t get carried away. Because what about the age of the earth or the Bible’s view of women or all the contradictions in the gospels? And what about all the crazy TV preachers who just want our money. It’s the same with your church. Your pastor didn’t love you or God; their ‘godliness’ was a mask for greed.” 

For some of you, this is not theoretical. And when you frame the context like that, it really makes what Paul says in the first 12 verses in chapter 2 pop. Let me re-read his words.  

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 

Did you see how much love and pastoral concern is in Paul? I said at the beginning that Paul is doing two main things in this part of his letter: he’s defending the way he went about his ministry. And he’s also commending the way he went about his ministry to them—and to us. Having been called into the kingdom, he’s saying this is how I walked in a manner worthy of God, and here’s how you do it too.  

Thessalonica was a large port city and the capital of Macedonia. It’s in the country of Greece today. Think of Thessalonica like Boston or Baltimore, port cities. Paul goes to Thessalonica. He preaches. He’s opposed. He preaches some more. And he turns the world upside down. You can read about it the first nine verse of Acts 17. Paul’s visit to Thessalonica happened around ad 48. Then Paul and his team then moved on. About a year and a half later, likely Paul gets news of what is happening, how he is being discredited and the assurance of these believers is fading, so he writes the church in Thessalonica the letter we are studying this morning.  

I can tell you that when I first became a Christian, I needed this. I had a lot to figure out. Part of becoming a Christian, of course, is figuring some things out, as least in miniature. But when you first become a Christian, your understanding of Christianity and how to walk in a way that is worthy of the new calling placed on your life, is underdeveloped, which is why we need spiritual parenting.  

You maybe 50 years old and your parents are no longer part of your life in a meaningful way, but if you are now for the first time coming alive to God, then you need spiritual mothers and fathers to help you grow in your faith and your understanding of God and what it means to walk worthy of him. To need spiritual parenting about how to walk with God, doesn’t make you dumb. It makes you normal. It’s true for us, and it was true for the Christians in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  

I’ve been using the language of spiritual parenting. Let me show you were I get that. Look at vv. 7 and 11–12.  

7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. . . . 

11 For you know how, like a father with his children 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God . . .  

If we’re familiar with Paul’s ministry and letters, his spiritual fathering is not that surprising of a reference. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, 

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Corinthians 4:15) 

But this phrasing of Paul’s ministry being gentle, like a nursing mother, does catch us off guard. After all, nearly everywhere Paul went, he got beat up for Jesus. He’s a tough dude. I’m sure he was glad that one of his personal friends who traveled with him was a doctor (Luke; cf. Colossians 4:14). In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul ends the letter telling them that no one should give him any trouble about what he writes because he bears on his body the marks of Jesus (Galatians 6:17). It’s not that he has skin in the game; he’s lost skin in the game. We’ve all seen some TV show or movie where the main character has to take off his shirt, and the camera scans his back, and he’s been tortured as some point in the past, and everyone in the show and everyone at home has this deepened respect for the character. That’s Paul—flogged in this city and stoned in that city.  

But here, to this church, Paul writes that the gospel made him gentle, so gentle he likens his ministry to that of a nursing mother. A nursing mother hears her tiny infant crying for spiritual milk not even using the proper words or any discernable words, and a loving mother knows her child is hungry and needs to be cared for and fed. Paul is saying that’s what he was like with them.  

And he was also, in other ways, their father. Paul encouraged them: You can do this. God is with you. Paul exhorted them: Don’t do that, do this instead.  

Again, I come back to what I’ve been saying. Paul’s character was being called into question. And Paul seeks to remind them of who he was among them. And not only that, he seeks to show them how to walk with God. I took the title of the sermon, “Walk Worthy,” from verse 12: “we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Walking worthy is a phrase Paul uses twice in other letters (Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 1:10). Paul’s point is that we need spiritual parents who teach their children how to walk.  

When I first became a Christian, I had all sorts of questions. I had grown up in a wonderful Christian home, so I had a huge head start. But I was away at college when everything about everything changed. I’m so thankful for the men who taught me how to read my Bible, how to share the gospel, how to honor God in a dating relationship, and a hundred other things.  

So, what are some areas of Paul’s spiritual parenting? I’ll mention four. Walking worthy of our calling begins with a Christian’s purpose: our purpose is not to please people or benefit ourselves but to please God. Look at verses 4 and 6.  

. . . just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts . . . (2:4) 

Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others . . . (2:6) 

The aim of your Christian walk should not to please people but to please God. That means you maintaining doctrinal fidelity when others fudge. It means when others try to wed their politics with their Christianity, you don’t. It means when non-Christians tell you it’s not okay to have certain views, you humbly disagree. A man at our church works in a very secular environment. This work environment is nowhere near outright physical persecution, but it’s becoming clear that to work as a Christian in his company will put him in conflict with the direction of his company. That’s really, really hard. But walking worthy of the Lord means aiming to please the Lord above all others.  

Another area of walking worthy means being careful with the way we use words.  

. . . we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive . . . . For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. (2:2b–3, 4) 

Walking worthy means being careful about how we use our words. Christians shouldn’t use flattery. Flattery is saying what you think people want to hear so you get the response you want to hear. It’s a manipulative use of language. And Christians don’t speak to deceive. Christians speak words built upon truth not upon, as Paul writes, error or impurity. In another New Testament letter, James wrote that if you don’t have a reign on your tongue, your religion, he writes, is worthless (James 1:26). 

We could speak as well about work ethic. Paul writes,  

For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (2:9) 

Paul says that “though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (v. 6)—though he could have taken up offerings to help him do his ministry—he didn’t because he wanted to give no ammunition to fire at him about supposed greed. Instead he worked a job night and day earning money to live. Therefore Paul had to do most of his ministry on the side, which is how most of the people here at our church and most of our pastor-elders, do ministry. They don’t get paid. They work hard in another context and serve others in their free time. And I wish we had more of this: more women and more men who love Jesus so much they delight to sacrifice for the glory of God’s name and the good of others. Paul is commending this to us as a good thing.  

Finally, I’ll mention what Paul says about relationships among the church. He writes,  

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (2:8) 

If you have been calling Community church “your church” for some time, and you don’t really know anyone well, and you’re not all that connected, that might be our fault. Please forgive us. And it might be your fault too. Do you want to be known? Do you want to relationships? Are you doing the sorts of things that will nurture those relationships, like coming early and staying late at church? Its sounds simple, but if you come late and leave early, it’s will be difficult to develop relationships. I never know how to sort out culpability, with the church or individual. Likely it’s both. But the point is not assigning blame, it’s moving forward. Walking with God means walking with his people.  

I was talking with a man in our church a few weeks ago, and he mentioned to me that at our church, he doesn’t think many people disagree with what is preached. Most people, most weeks in our church appreciate what is preached. But he added that if we stopped people at the door of our church, or for that matter stopped most people at the door of most churches, and asked what we should now do in light of what we’ve just heard, probably most people don’t know. I think that’s a fair comment. Christians want the word of God preached to them, and they want to be able to go out and walk in a manner worthy of what they have been called to in the gospel, but they often don’t know what walking with the Lord looks like. Paul spoke to this.  

Christians, walking worthy of the calling you’ve received changes who you primarily aim to please: Christians primarily aim to please God. Walking worthy shapes the way you use words: Christians speak with integrity. Walking worthy changes your work ethic: Christians work hard, motived to do ministry even in your free time. And walking worthy changes the way you view church: Christians become tender-hearted toward their brothers and sisters in the faith. I hope those categories provide some direction along the path of your pilgrimage 

Conclusion  

As we close, let me stress that none of this earns God’s love. All this doing and speaking and loving is not what calls you into the kingdom of God. To receive spiritual parenting means you must be spiritually born. That is a work of God. Paul certainly wasn’t these things before he met Jesus. Look at the way Paul is described in the book of Acts before he was a Christian.  

8:1 And Saul approved of [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over [Stephen]. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. 

Ravaging the church? Not so gentle, was he? But being called into the kingdom of God (v. 12), changed him. And is should change us. 

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