Ministering with Principle
1 Thessalonians 2:5–6 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
At first we may be tempted to think that the ministry should assume that we minister with principle with commitment, character and conviction; however, like everything else, ministry has a way of complicating things. The demands of ministry can easily influence one to compromise, to give in to spiritual slothfulness and negligence not only for the body for also for the pastor’s own soul (cf. 1 Tim. 4.7). To minister with principle means that your commitments are vertical, your resolutions come from looking down at Scripture and then lifting your heart and hands to heaven and committing those things to God in prayer. Here Paul really bears his heart before his people. He is defending the integrity of his9 ministry yes— however, he also is imparting a thorough philosophy for ministering in the church with principles that Paul will expect his people to reciprocate through love and obedience to the gospel (2.12; cf. Rom. 1.7). Four principles stand out here.
Ministering With Principle Demands That We Speak Truthfully
The ministry is all about speaking. In fact, our whole Christian life is about communication and what Paul calls, “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Eph. 4.15). Speech is how the body of Christ is being edified and built up. That is why we are called to be excellent in speech and only communicating what amounts to truly edifying speech in the context of Christian fellowship:
Ephesians 4:29–32 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
We do all of this with our words, in our conversation and how we choose to talk with one another. But just as we can easily slip into sinful utilization of speech like slander, we can also use our words for what Paul calls, “flattering speech” (ἐν λόγῳ κολακείας). The term “flattery” is used only here in the NT, but the Bible often refers to this form speech; always negatively:
Psalm 12:3 3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things;
Psalm 5:9 9 There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue.
Job 32:21–22 21 “Let me now be partial to no one, Nor flatter any man. 22 “For I do not know how to flatter, Else my Maker would soon take me away.
Proverbs 28:23 23 He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor Than he who flatters with the tongue.
The fact that flattery of speech is connected with the concept of “greed” here suggests that Paul is hinting at the ulterior motives that are often at the root of such flattery— “flattery” is never an end to itself. First, flattery is false speech. It exaggerates good in others, it dismisses sin in others, and often overlooks error as the flatterer is often unwilling to confront error or sin, especially in the ministry, if they think it will push people away or cause others to escape their web of wicked motives. Second, flattery is just part of the overall sinister attempt to manipulate people for one reason or another. Paul wants to assure these Thessalonians that the hard truths he no doubt shared with them about their past and present sins or cultural norms that stood contrary to the gospel was evidence of his integrity among them. This would then bring up a third thing about flattery; “flattering speech” is actually hateful in its very nature because it is deceptive— ironically the very opposite of what it purports itself to be!
By rejecting such underhanded methods of pastoral ministry Paul was even willing to risk loosing an audience not only as part of his integrity of ministry, but also because it would reveal the church’s true motives in following Christ. As John MacArthur once said, ‘hard preaching produces soft people while soft preaching produces hard people.’ In other words, if we tell people only what they want to hear and preach a ‘soft’ “seeker sensitive” message of easy believism when real truth lands upon a person’s heart and conscience they will be untrained and unable to receive it and will inevitably reject it and will settle for a cheap imitation of the truth (cf. Heb. 5.13-14; Jer. 5.31; Is. 30.10).
On the other hand, when the word of God is preached truthfully and in love, not holding back any of the counsel of God but fully disclosing Christ and the gospel it will be received by those who are genuine. As Ferguson points out, “John Newton wrote that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they know ‘I mean to do them good’ (Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers, 764). Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and they follow Me” (John 10.27). And Jesus called His sheep to follow Him by taking up their cross (Lk. 14.27f.), bearing His reproach (Heb. 11.24-26), suffering for His sake (Acts 5.41), and being hated by all because of Him (Mt. 10.22). That is why Paul praises the Thessalonians for receiving the word of the Lord for what it really is (2.13). Far from flattery, Paul had assured them of the cost of discipleship and the suffering it entailed and the persecution that ministry would include:
1 Thessalonians 3:3–4 3 so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions [what Paul had to endure for the gospel]; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.
Ministering With Principle Requires That We Be Indifferent To Money
In addition to speaking the truth is laboring for the truth. Our ambition in ministry cannot be financial remuneration or materialistic perks that come with the ministry. These things may be necessary in the ministry, to support pastors as they should be (cf. Gal. 6.6; 1 Tim. 5.17-18), but this should never be the aim of ministry. It goes without saying that if this is in fact the motivation of someone coming into pastoral ministry, they are in affect unqualified for the ministry. Explicitly, one of things that a minister must be is “free from the love of money” (1 Tim. 3.3). This may not be as obvious as it seems. This is not necessarily the desire for extravagance. It may be as minimal as the greed that is unwilling to show generosity. It may be that in the name of wisdom, money if it is obtained can be the answer to many good things. Ecclesiastes goes so far as to say, “money is the answer to everything” (Eccl. 10.19)! There is some truth to that but of course, money is the answer to what money can buy but the greatest things of all cannot be bought with money (cf. Is. 55.1-3; Eph. 2.4-8).
The “pretext for greed” (ἐν προφάσει πλεονεξίας) that Paul is talking about was current in the culture then as it is now. For even in Paul’s day there were political, philosophical, spiritual, mystical rhetoricians and sorcerers who sought to exploit their audiences for financial gain (cf. Acts 8.9-24; 16.16). In such cases, their ministry or their movement, or platform was a ‘cloak’ for greed. There were also false teachers who sought to fleece the flock of God for the same thing. The apostles anathematized people who sought to buy or sell the gospel telling Simon the magician, “your silver perish with you” (Acts 8.20)! We talk so much today about prosperity preachers and their abominable doctrines and we try and find their sin in Scripture but Scripture clearly tells us how we ought to respond to such hucksters:
1 Corinthians 5:11 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
You can see Paul’s solemn tone in the text; Paul adamantly insists on the purity of his motives, “God is witness” (θεὸς μάρτυς). Of course, as Paul has taught elsewhere that God would be his ultimate judge and assessor of his ministry; it makes perfect sense in a chapter where Paul is vigorously defending his integrity to call God as the final arbiter of his motives. Since God knows the hearts (1 Cor. 4.1-5; cf. Eccl. 11.9; 12.14; Mal. 3.18; Rom. 2.16), and as Paul says, God will be the one to examine him (2.4), and knows the integrity of his behavior and ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 3.13); God must be the ultimate Judge in everything. The solemnity of this defense either will serve to show Paul’s absolute hypocrisy or his total honesty with regard to money, notoriety, and authority in the ministry.
Ministering With Principle Seeks To Please God Alone
This passage reveals a series of denials (see, Weima, 1-2 Thessalonians, 138ff.). Paul denied false motives in his speech, he denied having any ulterior motives for the sake of monetary gain, and here he rejects being a man pleaser, “nor did we seek glory from men” (οὔτε ζητοῦντες ἐξ ἀνθρώπων δόξαν). This denial was not only important but also self-evident. Notice that this was a universal principle for Paul, “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others” (οὔτε ζητοῦντες ἐξ ἀνθρώπων δόξαν οὔτε ἀφʼ ὑμῶν οὔτε ἀπʼ ἄλλων). There is a triple negation here, ‘we did not seek glory from men, not you, not anyone else.’ There was a sense in which Paul was deaf to the praise of man (cf. 1 Cor. 4.3).
This is a principle that will not only purify the minister but also protect the minister. Of course, this will purify both the minster and the ministry because ministry will not be a means to a fraudulent end with false motives and vain goals. That is precisely what being a man pleaser is— falsehood from beginning to end. It begins with a false ambition and results in a false and shallow reward. Jesus is the one who gave the most devastating exposition of this as He was renouncing an entire system of self-righteous, man-centered aristocracy when He warned His disciples about seeking the praise of man and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees:
Matthew 6:1–5 1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
Any true believer knows the blessing of ‘secret reward.’ That is, those acts of obedience done in secret where no one sees and no one knows except God and you. This is the potency of the secret place, the hidden person of the heart. While men love to operate in the popular scene, God loves to operate in secrecy. At the heart of all of this is idolatry. The person who ministers, sings, evangelizes, defends the faith, shepherds, pastors, or does anything for that matter because of the thrill they receive from being praised by man reveals a deeper issue than hypocrisy, namely idolatry. It is idolatry because we find our satisfaction in someone other than God at that point. We find ourselves prizing what man thinks more than what God thinks. This is spiritually deadly. Our joy, glory, exultation and delight in God’s approbation should be so vastly superior to the applause of man that when we are praised by others we should feel a sense of disappointed. To covet the approval of man can be sinful, to covet the approval of God is worship (cf. 2 Cor. 5.9; 10.18). This is such a deep principle theologically that it even touches on salvation itself:
Romans 2:28–29 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Ministering With Principle Makes Proper Use Of God-Given Authority
The emphasis here is in what Paul was willing to lay aside for the benefit of the church. This especially has in view his ministerial influence, “glory from men,” and financial remuneration as the phrase “pretext for greed” makes clear. Sometimes Paul used the tactic of forgoing any financial aid from the church especially when he was first laboring among them to plant a church in a new region (cf. Acts 20.33-35). At other times however, when a church like Philippi was more established and grounded, supportive and mature, Paul had no problem receiving aid from them and considered it unfortunate when other churches did not do the same (Phil. 4.). However, Paul’s difference comes as a result of a willing choice not as an essential part of his calling, “even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority” (δυνάμενοι ἐν βάρει εἶναι ὡς Χριστοῦ ἀπόστολοι).
The Greek text here begins with the word that means ability (δυνάμενοι). What he is saying is that “as apostles of Christ” (ὡς Χριστοῦ ἀπόστολοι) he and his coworkers could have come with nothing but authority, making demands and even forcing the church to bear their burden but he decided rather to deal with these young converts with the utmost gentleness so he can say, “we proved to be gentle among you” (2.7a). This was Paul’s posture as an apostle and it should be our posture as new covenant ministers today. Of course, this in no way means that Paul is teaching us to be ‘pushovers’ in the ministry (cf. 2 Cor. 10.1-2; 12.19-21); he has already asserted that he does not fear man, “we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts” (2.4b). In the ministry one cannot be a yes man or a tyrant; neither display Christ to the church. For Paul, the way forward in ministry was always love (1 Tim. 1.5). The love of Christ, the gentleness and affection of Christ (2 Cor. 10.1; Phil. 1.8), love for the Church (2 Cor. 6.11-13; Gal. 4.19; Phil. 4.1), and love for every individual believer in the church. This is a paternal love, a fatherly love, the love of a spiritual patriarch for his spiritual offspring as it were. So Paul concludes:
1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
In light of these principles, how is the church to respond? The overarching principles of Paul’s elaborate exposition of the pastoral character of his ministry is broad and sweeping but the essence of his aim and the response he is seeking is found in v.12, “walk in a manner worthy” (also, 3.8). How can we do this in the church in a reciprocal fashion so as to be a blessing to your leaders and not a curse (cf. Heb. 13.17)?
First, we can adopt the same attitudes shown by Paul. In other words, we should not avoid, ignore or minimize the virtues that have been displayed by Paul in pastoral ministry but rather imitate them, especially the moral excellence of these character-building traits. Paul suggests this himself:
Philippians 4:9 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Second, you should reciprocate the same level of faithfulness that is being shown to you and demanded from you by God, 5.12. You should reciprocate this in the way you are led, shepherded, taught, and edified. The church can do that by being a blessing to their pastors, encouraging their pastors, and especially praying for their pastors. But you can also do that by matching the pastor in his preaching of the word of God. If the pastor is an expositional preacher, you should be an expositional hearer. Learn how to listen to a sermon, take notes, follow and know the points (assuming the sermon is organized enough), minimize distractions, commit to be faithful in church whenever the word is being taught, attend the stated meetings of the church, do not neglect fellowship and participation. The pastor is handing you a brick and mortar, do not fail to set it in place as we build God’s holy temple.
Third, like Paul, our interaction with the church, ministry, gifts, fellowship and all of our good deeds as the church should be vertically oriented so that all that we do will be for God alone not for the glory of others or to receive glory from others— God is witness! The sheep who bring the greatest joy to their shepherds are ultimately following the voice of the Chief Shepherd and seek to please Him alone.
Ministry is about trust. But to say that God is witness means that God knows whether or not we have a valid excuse not to be obedient to these things. He knows whether or not we have a valid excuse why we are not in church on Sunday, why we are not preparing ourselves for the Lord’s Supper, why we don’t attend Sunday School with our children, why we have a history of neglecting and even avoiding the fellowship, why we have shed so little sweat in evangelism, serving in the local church and striving for unity of the faith. I leave you with Paul’s solemn appeal, “God is witness!”
We may be asking ourselves right now, ‘how do we give God so much?’ How do we make such selfless returns with a heart that is pure- motivated to be men and women of piety and principle? John Calvin has an answer that should be helpful for us:
“I call “piety” that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.” (Institutes, I, ii, 1).
As to the intercourse between pastor and church, shepherd and sheep, Paul again bears his heart- the heart every pastor should possess for the sheep under his care:
Romans 1:8–12 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.