Ministering with Purity
1 Thessalonians 2:3–4 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
As we consider the principles Paul gives us for ministry in these verses, we should focus on the ministry in connection to preaching. The context repeatedly emphasizes Paul’s speech or ministry of preaching and teaching. He was bold to speak (1.2b), he exhorted them through speech (1.3a), his preaching was without deceit (1.3a), he spoke to please God (1.4), and in verse five he again refers to his preaching and teaching by rejecting that he came with flattering ‘speech’ (1.5a). The focus is the ministry of the word which is at the heart of pastoral ministry. Here the focus is the exemplary purity with which Paul and his co-workers ministered among the churches— Thessalonica being just one church among many that Paul asserted his integrity in ministry. Paul’s preaching was not only powerful not only theologically rich and gospel centered, Christ-centered, and God-centered; he preached with purity, integrity and fear. In these verses we can see that Paul’s preaching was virtuous and authentic.
Preaching With Virtue
In each section of vv.1-12 we will see a different aspect of Paul’s ministry. If vv.1-2 deal with Paul’s adverse circumstances in ministry, vv.3-4 deal with the character of the ministry. Paul often asserted his purity, integrity and sincerity in the ministry, not because he was perfect, but as he said himself, there was nothing that he was conscience of against himself:
2 Corinthians 1:12 12 For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
2 Corinthians 2:17 17 For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.
Here that sincerity is seen in three distinct areas: theology, motives, and methods. All three are import components of Paul’s ministry and it should be what we strive after ourselves.
Preaching Rooted In Sound Theology
These points are taken from Paul’s denial of various pitfalls of what would have been a false ministry or an overall impure ministry. He begins with the theology and what he simply calls, “error” (πλάνη). Sound theology is the foundation of the church (cf. Acts 2.42). Without biblical theology nothing else about the church will be sound. We can have programs, we can have pastors and deacons, we can have a thriving youth ministries, we can have amazing out reach programs, but if we do not have sound theology we are missing the cornerstone. It would be like attempting to build a building without a foundation it would not stand long. And many churches because of their anemic theology have not stood the test of time. Entire denominations, seminaries, Bible colleges have gone astray because they lack a truly biblical and orthodox theology or because having begun with sound doctrine they ultimately abandoned some essential point of doctrine. Therefore the man of God has to rightly divide the word if the church is going to survive:
2 Timothy 2:15 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Because Paul is talking about “error” (πλάνη), we should also point out the need to refute error and heresy and false teachers. This is part of the minister’s task also; to defend the faith (Jude 3), protect the flock (Acts 20.28), and expose heresy (Eph. 5.11). This is why Paul admonished Timothy not only to teach Scripture but also to refute heretics:
2 Timothy 2:23–26 23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
2 Timothy 1:13–14 13 Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.
Preaching Arising Out Of Holy Motives
There is a subtle yet powerful temptation that exists in the ministry, that is, the temptation to minister for something less than the glory of God, the proclamation of the gospel and the edification of the Church. Every motive for ministry has to be subverted beneath these all important motives. We cannot be motivated material gain, money, and temporal benefits that ministry can produce (1 Tim. 3.3), we cannot be motivated by the praise of man (1 Cor. 4.1-1-5; Gal. 1.10), power, authority and notoriety that comes from others (2 Cor. 10.8). If we are in the ministry in order to make much of ourselves, our fame, our influence, reputation we are sure to fail. As we have already pointed out, ministry is a calling to suffer in the flesh, that is, the body, not to gratify the flesh (cf. 2 Tim. 2.1-3). Far from seeking to make much of ourselves, our calling is to make much of God alone. Those who desire to make much of themselves usually seek to use people for their own exploits. Of the false teachers in Galatia, Paul wrote, “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Gal. 4.17, ESV). These where false shepherds who shepherded people only to stroke their own egos. They kept the people ignorant of sound doctrine so that they would be easily manipulated and deceived. Paul patently rejects this. He taught to present every man complete in Christ not biblically illiterate or theologically ignorant or spiritually naïve (Col. 1.28-29).
Paul’s use of the term “impurity” (ἀκαθαρσία) also suggests purity of a sexual kind. Paul here is distancing himself from the prevalence of false teachers who exploited their spiritual influence for sensual reasons, immoral reasons, taking advantage of the people (cf. 2 Tim. 3.6-7). Paul’s motives where pure and his life was also pure (cf. 1 Tim. 4.16). Peter speaks to this very issue when he denounces false teachers as sensual:
2 Peter 2:2–3 2 Many will follow their [false teachers] sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Peter’s in-depth description of false teaches shows just how devastating the effects of false teachers can be what motivates them to work their iniquity in church.
2 Peter 2:12–15 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;
Preaching Consisting Of Transparent Methods
True preaching is the pursuit of sound doctrine, pure motives and pure living, and also pure or transparent methods. Paul says among things, his “exhortation” (παράκλησις) was not “by way of deceit” (ἐν δόλῳ). We should note that Paul points out here what ministry is “not” (οὐ). He repeats the negation three times in short order as to say, ‘ministry is not X, not Y, and not Z.’ True ministry is just as much about the negation of certain things as much as the affirmation of other things. That should be important to us in a postmodern culture where the name of the game now is to be mainly positive and even only positive as if being negative or standing against certain things and rejecting certain things is ungodly. But there should as much of a passion for defending the gospel from any and all unbiblical teachings or methods of pastoral ministry that do not line up with Scripture.
The pattern of Paul’s ministry was sincerity, including the denunciation of all fraudulent methods of preaching the gospel. Paul rejects all underhanded methods of ministry.
2 Corinthians 4:1–2 1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, 2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
The gospel was given to the minster to protect, to keep, to guard and defend from error and from those who propagate error in the church either through their doctrine or their living because those things always go together.
1 Timothy 6:3–4 3 If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,
1 Timothy 6:20 20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—
Preaching With Authenticity
Closely related is the issue of authenticity which is just another way of speaking about Paul’s genuine pastoral ministry. As we consider Paul’s genuine, sound, healthy and exemplary preaching ministry; it begins with his calling to the ministry.
Preaching with authenticity begins with a genuine calling from the Lord. The man of God must be called by God! Of course, Paul knew that he had been legitimately called by God, “just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak” (καθὼς δεδοκιμάσμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, οὕτως λαλοῦμεν). Paul’s confidence and boldness in the ministry came from his conviction that he had been “approved by God” (δεδοκιμάσμεθα ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ) and “entrusted with the gospel” (πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον). The first phrase deals with God’s approval of an individual who has been examined by Him and has passed the test and appointed by God to the ministry of His word:
2 Corinthians 10:18 18 For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
The other phrase, “entrusted with the gospel” (πιστευθῆναι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον) deals with God’s gracious willingness to trust Paul with His message the “gospel.” From Paul’s perspective, this calling came from God himself directly through divine revelation as Jesus directly intervened in Paul’s life and directly revealed the gospel to him through theophanic manifestations (cf. Acts 9.3ff; 26.16; 1.1, 11-12). But although today we may never receive that kind of revelation, we have the revelation of God’s word, the leading of God’s Spirit, the power of God’s gifts, the testimony of God’s church, and the evidence of our own aptitude for preaching and ministering etc. These should be carefully considered, prayed over, tested by Scripture and discerned in the church by the most mature in the church as to the authenticity of our calling (cf. Acts 6.3-6; 1 Tim. 4.14).
The reason why is because of the ‘merchandise’ we are called to carry, the ‘deposit’ of the gospel (cf. 1 Tim. 6.20). If you work at a convenience store you may ask one of the clerks to make a simple bank deposit for the business on behalf the owner. If you work for a major corporation with great amounts of wealth that need to be transported you hire armed guards with an armored vehicle. The greater the value the more qualified the person needs to be to be an agent for the entity he represents. The gospel therefore demands that God’s servants be qualified and that qualification requires gifts, moral purity, trustworthiness and faithfulness in the ministry. The passage below is a crucial text for anyone who would be used of God to speak the oracles of God on behalf of God in the midst of His congregation which is the flock of God entrusted to the minister’s care and oversight (Acts 20.28):
1 Corinthians 4:1–5 1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
The reason we need to focus on authentic speech is because of Paul’s words, “so we speak, not as pleasing men” (οὐχ ὡς ἀνθρώποις ἀρέσκοντες). This aspect of the preacher’s authenticity is also about boldness since the motive here is not rooted in the desire to be pleasing to men. This also means that a pastor should never engage in favoritism, turning the other way or winking at sin regardless of the situation or his relationship to the offender— like God, the pastor must be impartial. Paul tells Timothy to maintain a certain level of principle in the ministry, “doing nothing in a spirit of partiality” (1 Tim. 5.21; cf. Acts 10.34; Rom. 2.11; Jam. 2.1-9). This runs the other way as well. Whether its dealing with nepotism, close friends, influential and wealthy people in the congregation; we are to show the same love and affection for all with no partiality (cf. Prov. 24.23; 28.21).
The ministry of preaching is ultimately done before God (2 Cor. 2.17), in the presence of God (1 Tim. 6.13), and in view of the judgment of God (1 Cor. 4.5). This is a crucial component because if we have this foundational motive everything else will fall in place in the ministry. Notice also the truly spiritual dynamic of what Paul said. It is not just that God examines our theology and He will, or that God will examines our good works, and He does but Paul focuses on the central issue in the life of every believer, “our hearts” (καρδίας ἡμῶν). God examines our hearts because He alone knows the heart:
1 Samuel 16:7 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Chronicles 28:9 9 “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
Psalm 44:21 21 Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.
Psalm 139:23 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
Luke 16:15 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
Consequently, God knows when our hearts are right our wrong, pliable or hard, stubborn or humble. God knows when our heart are haughty and when our hearts need encouragement. Here Paul says, “God who examines our hearts” (θεῷ τῷ δοκιμάζοντι τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν) as the basis of his motivation for ministry. Just as Paul would not hesitate to reject any notion of being motivated by the fear of man or to try and please man, he also affirms the fear of God. Paul therefore ministered in fear (cf. 1 Cor. 2.3), was motivated by the fear of the Lord and his preaching was constrained by the fear of God knowing he would have to give an account to the one who searches the hearts of His people:
2 Corinthians 5:9–11 9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.
Soli Deo Gloria