Paul was an effective witness for the gospel. The reason Paul’s life had such an impact is because it looked just like Jesus.In 1647, Richard Baxter, a puritan preacher, settled into the village of Kidderminster in England. At that time the population was around 3,000 people who were “reckless, ungodly, and content to remain that way.”
Baxter set about ministering to this hard, wayward bunch. He preached, he wrote, and most famously, he visited. He created a schedule whereby – every Monday and Tuesday – he visited one family every hour, from 8am to 6pm. That’s 20 families a week. At every home he would discuss God and pray. Over 14 years he visited every family in Kidderminster, multiple times.
By the end of Baxter’s stay 14 years later, the entire community was miraculously transformed. Baxter himself writes, “As you passed along the streets on the Sabbath morning, you might hear a hundred households singing psalms at their family worship. In a word, when I came to Kidderminster, there was only about one family in a whole street that worshiped God and called upon His name. When I left, there were some streets where not a family did not do so.”
Now I don’t know how you feel when you hear that testimony but I have two reactions:
First, I’m inspired. I want to influence others like that! Something in me rises up when I hear about Richard Baxter and I think, that’s the kind of impact we’re supposed to make for Jesus.
Second, I’m overwhelmed. I think, how could I ever come do that? I can barely keep my own Christian life on track! How could I possibly influence others the way Richard Baxter did?
But the Bible is going to help us today. In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 the apostle Paul outlines how he had an impact for the gospel during his short visit to Thessalonica.
Paul’s time in that place shows us six elements of an effective Christian influence.
Element #1: A determination to declare the gospel.
“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” (v.2).
Paul makes it clear that he faced tremendous obstacles in Thessalonica. We also face tremendous obstacles in declaring the gospel to others: whether spiritual forces who hate to see Christ’s light or a world that is increasingly out of step with the Bible.
We also face internal fears about being ridiculed or messing up. But God stands ready to help us tell others the good news. We don’t have force things. This is God’s gospel, not ours. And our impact will increase when we spread the seed wide. Remember, God is the one who makes things grow!
Element #2: A deep sense of commissioning.
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak… (vv. 3-4).”
Paul is explaining what led him to tell others the gospel. It wasn’t error. It wasn’t impure motives to gain power or influence. It wasn’t trickery. Paul told others the gospel because that was his identity. He was commissioned by God to do it.
This is convicting. I know about the gospel. But do I live with a sense of commissioning? Do you?
Here’s what I realize: The fact that God has entrusted me with the gospel will only motivate me to the degree that I think I highly of God and to the degree that I cherish the gospel. When God is big to us, and when the gospel is beautiful to us, then we’ll be marked by a deep sense of commissioning.
Element #3: A desire to please God alone.
“…so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (vv. 4-6).
Paul is not interested in pleasing people. This is why he mentions flattery in verse five. Flattery is the language of people-pleasers. Paul wasn’t interested in getting glory from people. He had eyes only for God.
This world and our own flesh will tell us to stay hidden, guard our reputation, discount sin, and keep the gospel to ourselves. But the gospel reminds us that we are lights in the world, that we are beloved by the King, that we will account for sin, and that they gospel is essential. When we focus on pleasing God alone, we will walk effectively without fear.
Element #4: A tender and sincere love for others.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 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” (vv. 7-8).
Just listen to how much Paul loves the Thessalonians. He’s gentle with them, he was affectionately desirous of them, and he shared his life with them because they were so dear to him.
My dear friends, if you want to influence others for Jesus, love them. Love them sincerely. Love them self-sacrificially. Love them generously.
Element #5: A sensitive, blameless witness.
“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. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers” (vv. 9-10).
Paul was not ashamed to work, and he didn’t depend on the Thessalonians for money. Financial support may have created a stumbling block for the people there. They may have thought, Paul’s just in this for the money.
This is a lesson for us. Our lives matter, and people are watching! If we want to have an effective Christian influence, we need to be sensitive to others and focused on holiness. As Peter commands, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
Element #6: A willingness to call others to obey.
“For you know how, like a father with his children, 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” (vv. 11-12).
In Thessalonica, Paul did more than just share the good news of Jesus. He had a passion for peoples’ holiness. He wanted them to change their lives and follow Jesus. He was willing to call people to obey.
We’ll have greater influence for Jesus if we not only tell people the gospel but encourage them to live holy lives. Paul was an effective witness for the gospel. The reason Paul’s life had such an impact is because it looked just like Jesus.
Friends, God uses people whose lives look like Jesus. God will use us! So let’s pray that he does.