Qualities Needed in the Local Church
The Apostle Paul established more churches than any other apostle or first century evangelist. He was chosen to write more New Testament books than any other inspired writer. More about Paul's life is revealed on the pages of holy writ than any person other than our Lord. He is known even today as the all time most successful champion of the faith. Yet, he was constantly under pressure from false teachers and mis-guided brethren to defend his authority as an apostle. Most of the books which bear his name contain sections in which he speaks "foolishly" (2 Cor 11:16) i.e. defending his authority as an apostle of Christ and his right to instruct churches (a position and duty for which he was ironically rejected and persecuted).
First Thessalonians, possibly the first book written by Paul, contains one of these "foolish" self-defense sections. Chapter two and verse one points out that Paul's work in Thessalonica had been declared a failure (in vain) by some and Paul is forced to respond to the unfair and false criticism. Within the course of his response the apostle points out not only that much had been accomplished for the cause of Christ in Thessalonica, but the successful work was carried out in such a way that revealed great teaching and leadership qualities on the part of Paul. Of course he was not bragging on himself as a great leader, but his innocent recollection of his behavior among them reveals such qualities. It is the purpose of this article to point out these qualities as worthy of our emulation as we seek to influence others for Christ within the context of the local church and do our part to help that work grow.
Ready to Sacrifice
There are other more well known passages which cite leadership qualities that are needed in the Lord's church, such as the list of qualifications given to elders and deacons in 1Timothy and Titus, but here we look not to a list but to an example. Paul's example was one of sacrifice. As he states in 2 Cor 12:15, he was willing to "spend and be spent" for the sake of those whom he desired to be saved.
Before coming to Thessalonica, Paul had suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, but that was not enough to send him packing. He then "dared" to preach the same mis-aligned gospel in Thessalonica. He showed nothing less that great bravery in taking the gospel to others. How much opposition (either from within ourselves, or without) are we willing to overcome and endure to get the gospel message out to the throngs of people surrounding us? If we expect to grow as a group of the Lord's people, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, spend and be spent, and work our way through challenges and obstacles. Such would be in keeping with the example of Paul.
Paul was personally chosen and approved by God as an apostle (Gal. 1:15,16). An obvious reason for that approval by God was Paul's zeal and dedication to personal purity. He was striving to please God who looks on the heart (Rom. 8:27). There was no "error", "impurity" or "deceit" on Paul's part as he delivered the gospel in Thessalonica. Later in verse 10 Paul writes, "You are our witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous, and blameless we were among you who believed." Had there been dishonesty or deceit on Paul's part and the accusations against his motives been accurate, he would have accomplished nothing good for the cause of Christ.
We also must first be pure (James 3:17) if we expect God to approve our ministry. To be intrusted with the gospel is a sacred honor. We must strive to uphold it with purity both in word and example. Let there be no sin named among us (1Cor.5:1) that would cause a new convert to stumble or a prospective convert to turn away in disgust. Let there be no one among us who uses flattery, greed, hypocrisy, or a men-pleasing spirit as we seek to bring others to Christ and carry on the work of the church.
Able to Care
As an apostle, Paul could rightly have expected and pressed the saints in Thessalonica for more financial support. He insisted that he had this right (foolish talk again!), but usually refused to take advantage of it (1 Cor 9:3-14; 2 Cor 11:7-11). On the contrary, he was to them as a mother - gentle and caring. Among those of the church who were weak, Paul emphasized his capacity for care rather than authority or dominance. The nursing mother referred to in this context may not have been the natural mother, but possibly a surrogate mother, who nonetheless grew close to the children in her care. She often formed a bond with the children which was closer than that of the biological mother. Regardless, Paul uses terms of endearment such as gentle, nursing, cherishes, affectionately longing for you, well pleased to impart to you, dear to us, and devoutly in describing his attitude and actions toward those saints at Thessalonica.
Unafraid of Work
Apparently Paul had to remind the saints in Thessalonica of how he had laboriously preached the gospel among them. Maybe this remembrance would prove to them that his motives were pure. He brings to their attention the long hours of extreme toil and hardship, working night and day, supporting himself through secular work (along with additional help from the church in Philippi - Phil.4:16) as he preached and sought to establish them spiritually. He later points out that he worked in such a manner due to the fact that they needed to see an example of personal sacrifice (2 Thess 3:7-10). Are we willing to work as hard for the growth of thechurch? When we can truthfully say that we are working as hard in the Lord's church as Paul did in Thessalonica, then , and only then, will we see the church grow.
Eager to Encourage
Earlier Paul compared his service in their presence to that of a mother who loves and cares for her children. He now reminds the Christians at Thessalonica that he also behaved toward them as a concerned father. He uses such words as encouraged, comforted, and charged (implored) as he sought to guide them into lives worthy of the God who had called them into his kingdom and glory. Is this not a great sermon for those of us who have earthly children in our homes, as well as to those of us who seek to reach others with the gospel? Are we as concerned about the welfare and success of our fellow Christians as we are of our own children? How eager are we to edify brethren and convert sinners?
There is indeed a great need for such qualities among the members of the Lord's church, not just in elders and influential evangelists, but in all Christians who love to save the lost and encourage the saved. If we are willing to add to our lives the qualities that Paul exemplified in reaching, teaching and strengthening the Thessalonians with the truth, we are likely to see growth in the church as surely as they did in Thessalonica!
By Ed Barnes
From Expository Files 15.12; December 2008