Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
How's Your Motivation?
There’s a saying out there that’s pretty well known: “It’s not the nature of the evidence but the seriousness of the charge, that matters.” If you throw enough mud against the wall, something is bound to stick. We have a legal standard in this country: innocent until proven guilty. But sometimes accusations are all it takes to ruin someone’s reputation or even their life.
This is the exact kind of situation that the Apostle Paul and his companions faced in Thessalonica. They came to the city and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ on three consecutive Sabbaths. Folks got saved and a church was born. But jealous Jews got so angry that they accused Paul of sedition against Rome, caused a riot, and even when Paul left town, they followed him to Berea and raised a stink there.
So even though he was innocent, the accusations hung in the air. It appears that well after he left, people continued to raise allegations of wrong-doing on the part of the Apostle. In the first part of Chapter 2 of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses these concerns, and in the process, gives us some great advice on how to live with integrity in a world that doesn’t trust you. We’ll get into the specifics of the charges as we move through the passage.
As we look through this, notice the motivation and method employed the Apostle—it’s a great way to check your own motivations in ministry.
Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians that his first visit was very successful. Success is a funny thing. Some people would assert that success means great numbers. Other might say success means the absence of controversy. Neither were true for Paul in Thessalonica. Yet he says the visit “was not without result”. In other words, it wasn’t a failure or “empty” as the Greek word kenos suggests. As you live your life for the Lord, don’t let the culture dictate success or failure to you. Were you following to the best of your ability what you thought God had directed you to do? Then it was a success.
1 Corinthians 3:6 (HCSB) “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”
If the presence of opposition is the hallmark of failure, then failure followed Paul wherever he went. In verse 2 he reminds the Thessalonians that in the town just prior to Thessalonica, he was treated terribly—even worse than with them. The account is in Acts 16:11-40. After throwing a demon out of a fortune-telling girl, Paul was beaten, arrested and thrown into prison. It’s a great story of how the men were worshipping in the middle of the night and suddenly the doors of the prison all opened. Through that experience the jailer and all his household got saved. Paul had to stand up for himself to the city officials and asked for a personal apology for imprisoning a Roman citizen without trial (which speaks to the fact that we don’t always need to be doormats for any accusation).
What happened in Thessalonica was very mild in comparison. If I’d been Paul I don’t know if I would want to endure such horrible treatment again. Yet despite the “outrageous” treatment in Philippi, they were “emboldened by our God to speak the gospel of God to you despite great opposition.”
That’s the first piece of evidence supporting their character. Most people don’t sign up for trouble, yet Paul could not keep silent when it came to the gospel. At great personal peril, he shared with them. This isn’t the character of someone in it for themselves or for the money.
Paul uses three words to describe what they did NOT employ.
- Error comes from a Greek word that means “imposter.” Paul was commissioned by Jesus (Acts 9) as an official ambassador of the gospel. This is an important “hand off” from the Lord. The fact that He personally sent Paul and equipped him with the gospel means we can trust what we wrote as coming from God Himself.
- Impurity is a good translation of the Greek word. It suggests something foul or unclean, ie: full of sin (not reflecting God’s character). What Paul did was not out of fleshly or sinful motivations nor was the result sin (he’ll expound on that later).
- Intent to deceive comes from a word that means guile, deceit and craftiness. Paul is not a con-artist.
In short, the Apostle was an official representative of God, bringing a message from a good motivation that is effective in its application. So Paul turns from what they did NOT do to what they actually were about in sharing the gospel.
Paul goes on tell the Thessalonians that they faithfully executed on their mission. They’d been approved by God (commissioned) and that God trusted that they would give the gospel just as He had communicated it to them. And they did it, not to get anything out of it from the Thessalonians (pride, fame, fortune…) but to please the One who sent them. The word “approved” and “examined” in verse 4 are the same Greek word. God approved their message beforehand and examined it afterwards to make sure it was delivered faithfully with good motivation.
So next Paul goes into detail about how their method and motivation sets them apart from other contemporaries.
5 – 6
A lot of politicians and speakers of the day did exactly what Paul outlines here so it’s no wonder the Thessalonians might have been confused. A politician will tell an audience what he or she thinks they want to hear—and how their message benefits them in the flesh. Their motivations were two-fold: to gain materially and to gain in reputation. Neither was true for Paul. The material part we’ll see in a moment, as well as the reputation: both suffered as the team presented the gospel.
7 – 9
I love these two verses because they reveal the approach of the Apostle towards this new church. I have a new grandson and if you’ve ever been around a newborn you know how fragile they are. They are completely and utterly dependent on their parents for months, until maybe they turn 30, uh years. The only thing a newborn really knows how to do well is nurse. They take in that nourishment from mom and grow and grow. So too with a new believer or a new church. Instead of being authoritarian with them, Paul was gentle and vulnerable. Not only were they not a burden financially or otherwise, they cared for these people and sacrificed for them. This stands in stark contrast to the way others in that time would have treated them.
It’s always so great when someone really cares about you. Ministry isn’t just a job but is about important relationship. Being vulnerable brings with it risks—risks of rejection, misunderstanding, or retribution. Paul put it all on the line for them, and they needed to remember that. He did it not out of obligation but he was “pleased” because the people had become “dear” (from the Greek agape).
As evidence Paul cites the fact that he earned his own money so he could not have to get anything from them. Acts 18:3 tells us that Paul used his vocation as a tentmaker to provide funds so he wouldn’t burden others.
In verse 4 it was God who was their witness. But Paul reminds them that they saw the behavior—they experienced the tenderness and nurturing and care. Paul uses three words that ultimately mean the same thing—their motives and actions were pure. There was no hidden motivation or subtext.
So, in conclusion I wanted to get us thinking about our own involvement in ministry for the Lord. If you have received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have been commissioned by Him (Matthew 28) to “make disciples”—essentially to be a matchmaker, introducing others into a love relationship with Jesus.
There are two things that act on your ability to do well: internal motivation and external accusation.
It seems apparent that someone in Thessalonica or in the church was accusing Paul of bad motives. I think it’s worthwhile to check our own motivations for ministry as well.
So, what are some not so good motives?
- Material gain is an essential component
- Feeling good about yourself is the goal
- Having others feel good about you is a part
- Gaining influence or authority over others is a goal
- Earning favors with God or man comes into play
How can you tell when your motives are better?
- They line up with helping others fall in love with Jesus
- Someone else will benefit, but you might not.
- If you imagine any material gain not happening, yet you still do it anyway
- Opposition from non-Christians does not dissuade you
- You care more about the positive effect on others than the negative consequences for you
- You really can’t not do it!
The bottom line: It isn’t about you.
I’ll end with these verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians which sums up the proper attitude for ministry:
Philippians 2:3-4 (HCSB)
3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
4 Everyone should look out not ⌊only⌋ for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,
6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.
7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form,
8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.