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No Clever Tricks

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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June 14, 2024 4:00 am

No Clever Tricks

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 14, 2024 4:00 am

Some people think that when you serve God, He’ll make your path clear and effortless. The apostle Paul’s experience suggests otherwise. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg examines Paul's journey to discover how he persevered in his mission despite adversity.


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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!


Some people think that when you serve God, He'll make your part. The way in which he opens up this section is directly related to the historical context out of which the birth of the church in Thessalonica came. And that, of course, is recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles, in Acts chapter 17. And I encourage you for just a moment to turn back there, where Luke records for us the way in which the apostle and his friends arrived in Thessalonica. At the beginning of chapter 17, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. And it was in that context that Paul went into the synagogue, and on three consecutive Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving all about the Lord Jesus. Now, as a result of that, some of the Jews, we're told in verse 4, were persuaded, and they joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-feeling Greeks and not a few prominent women. But at that point, it all goes quite crazy. And the end of their mission is quite ignominious.

Indeed, it is downright inglorious. It is certainly not the kind of thing that we would expect or even anticipate if we ourselves had been given the privilege of opening up the Scriptures and preaching for a period of two or three weeks in a certain place. And we read in verse 5 that some of the Jews were jealous, so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, they formed a mob, and they started a riot in the city. And so the birth of the church in Thessalonica is concluded with a public riot, the instigating of legal proceedings, and the humiliating departure of the evangelist and his sidekick from the city under cover of darkness.

That's what we're told in verse 10. As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. In other words, they had to slip out just when they got the opportunity to. Now, given that Paul had left Thessalonica in this way, it would appear from reading 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 that the opponents of the apostle Paul and the opponents of the believers in Thessalonica had used the way in which he left Thessalonica, his hasty disappearance, as a basis for calling in question the validity of Paul's ministry. They were dreadfully opposed to him, to the man, to his message, and they were at the same time calling in question his motives.

Now, it would appear that some of the Thessalonicans had been buying in to just this kind of idea, because the facts of Paul's abrupt departure and the fact of his failure to return fitted the accusations which were being made against him. So people were coming around saying, Well, he left, didn't he? True! And he's not come back.

True! Well, let me explain to you why he left and why he hasn't returned. Because he's a phony. He's a conman.

He's just like all the others who've come through town. And of course, there's grave the apostle Paul, and he doesn't answer these charges in chapter 2 and in the verses before us this evening out of a concern for his own self-interest, but he answers the charges out of a deep concern for two things—the truth of the gospel and the future of the church. That is what stirred his heart.

That is what concerned him. That the gospel's truth would be firmly fixed in the minds of his listeners, and that the church would be seen to be going on like a mighty army under God. Love ones, I want to say to you tonight that you can generally tell where a person stands in leadership and in ministry of the gospel in any generation by those two issues. Is he or she concerned simply for themselves, or do we detect in them an underlying, soul-gripping, passionate concern for the truth of the gospel and for the future of the church? Now, it is to this issue that he addresses himself in the verses that we consider now.

I want to break them up under three headings. First of all, in verses 1 and 2, he acknowledges their ability to make an honest assessment of the details of their visit. If you want something to hang verses 1 and 2 on, you just can write in the margin or in your notes an honest assessment of why he'd been there. Now, there is no denying the fact that they had suffered and they had been insulted. Here, they had come preaching the gospel, they had had their clothes torn off them, they were stripped naked, they were tied up, and they were publicly flogged. They were not given a trial, and then they were thrown in a dungeon, and their feet were fastened in the stocks, despite the fact that they were Roman citizens.

Everything was absolutely done wrongly. And you can imagine trying somehow or another to let people know that you are actually a fairly effective missionary and apostle, and you really are here from God, and you have a great future, and the church has a great future, and the gospel should be listened to, and the people are coming around saying, You've got to be kidding. We saw you in Philippi. You were stark naked. They gave you a hiding. You were so bad they didn't even give you a trial.

They threw you in the jail, and they put you in the stocks. And you're asking us to believe that you have a credible ministry. Well, says Paul, there is no question that we suffered. There is no question that when we arrived in Thessalonica, as he says in verse 2, we were once again confronted with strong opposition.

That's what we were noting there in chapter 17. But he says, despite those facts, we continued to preach the gospel irrespective of the consequences. In other words, we remained true to our convictions.

People, unless they are disengaged of their senses, will only suffer for that in which they believe. People may be prepared to suffer for lesser factors, but Paul was concerned here to recognize that we were not afraid to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. The phrase there, we dared to tell you, actually means we were prepared to be outspoken concerning these matters. The phraseology has to do with speaking freely, speaking openly, speaking fearlessly. In other words, he says, you will recall that although we had had a hiding in the previous place, although we were not able to anticipate what would happen before we left, nevertheless, we were marked by outspokenness, by frankness, by plainness of speech, and all of this an indication of our integrity. Now, you will notice, perhaps, that in these first few verses, he says, you know, a number of times. Indeed, he starts the chapter, you know this. Now, this is very, very important, because what he's pointing out is that all the facts required for his vindication were common knowledge.

He had nothing to hide. Paul says, you know, brothers, that our visit to you wasn't a failure. People can say it was a failure.

You know it wasn't. Yes, there was suffering. Yes, there was opposition. But we want you to understand that our very integrity is to be seen in our willingness to be totally open with you and also to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel. So he recognizes in verses 1 and 2 that they're able to make an honest assessment of his coming to them. Secondly, in verses 3 and 4, he speaks to the issue of his present appeal to them. The appeal that he and his colleagues are making, he says in verse 3, the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives.

Let me read this, if I may, in Philip's paraphrase. Our message to you is true. Our motives are pure.

Our conduct is absolutely above board. We speak under the solemn sense of being entrusted by God with the gospel. We do not aim to please men but to please God who knows us through and through.

Now look at the way he unpacks this. How do you view yourself, Paul, and what essentially is your ministry? Well, he says, here is our privileged responsibility. We are those who have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not in ourselves anything particularly slick. We are not in ourselves particularly powerful. We are not of peculiar repute.

There is nothing really about us that would make us distinctive or desirable by the masses of the people. The only thing that we can say is this, that somehow or another, God in his mercy and in his wisdom has chosen the likes of us, has approved us to be entrusted with the message of the gospel. That's all that a pastor is. That's all that a minister of the gospel is. Now, in addressing himself in this way, Paul is distancing himself from the many itinerant vagrants whom he also knew had been working the crowds.

Let me quote from one commentator. There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul's day. This was written before the late twentieth century.

We might be able to rival it now. East and West had united and intermingled to produce an amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition, and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local godlings competed for favor under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. Holy men of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crackpots and cranks, the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical.

It's got a very contemporary ring to it, that quote, doesn't it? You go in the bookstore, and you're confronted by all these books on spirituality. Some are written by righteous men, some are written by rogues. Some are written by saints, and others are written by sinners. Some are written by Christians, and some are written by crackpots.

And the man in the street, the woman in the street, wanders in and out with no possible way of adjudicating on them. Well, says Paul, I want you to understand, for the sake of the gospel and the future of the church, I want you to understand three things. Number one, our message is true.

Number two, our methods are above board. Number three, our motives are pure. And this in direct contrast to those who were marked by error, by impurity, and by dirty dealings. Why is the message true? Because it is the message of God. We're not trying to please men but God. We are not speaking anything but the gospel which God has given us. Let people come to us and accuse us of all kinds of things, but let them not accuse us of contriving the message or making it up. It is God's message, not our message.

We are merely the stewards of what is proclaimed. In the same way, our motives are not, he says, impure. We are not making an appeal to you on the basis of impure motives. The word is used, actually, in chapter 4 and in verse 7, concerning sexual matters, for God did not call us to be impure, that is, to engage in sexual immorality but to live a holy life. And there is perhaps the assertion on the parts of some, that when in Acts chapter 17, and they preached, and some of the Jews were persuaded, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women, some of his opponents were probably prepared to say, And the only reason you've got the women with you, Paul, is because of the fact that your motives are impure. Paul says, No, they're not.

And thirdly, our methods are not the kind of fraudulent stuff that you see on the other itinerant vagrants. We did not stoop to offering fraudulent blessings, nor did we stoop to deny the cost of discipleship. Others may approach things in that way, and they will do so because they're seeking to curry favor with men, but, he says, we are seeking to please God who tests our hearts. Look at that statement in verse 4. We're not trying to please men but God who tests our hearts.

Do you realize that this is what it means to be in the ministry of the gospel? Why is it so easy to get it the wrong way around? We are not trying to please God but men who don't know our hearts.

So easy to get it wrong. And here he gives us this wonderful example. The word dokomadzo is the same word you get in 2 Timothy 2.15, where he urges Timothy, Study to show yourself approved unto God. The reason he's prepared to call Timothy to that level of approval is because he himself lives under that approval.

And it is a picture here of those who have been tried and found fit for service. We're not trying to please men but God who tests our hearts. So in verses 1 and 2, there is an honest assessment of his coming. In verses 3 and 4, he addresses the way in which they have made their present appeal, and in verses 5 and 6, finally, he refers to their past approach. Past tense, we never used flattery.

Three things he says. We did not use flattery. We said no to using flattery. Kolakiah is the only time it's used in the whole New Testament. So he obviously decided to use it very purposefully.

It's never, ever used again in the whole of Holy Scripture. And the word here is expressive of the kind of methodology which one man uses to seek to gain influence over somebody else. They weren't manipulators. He didn't try and trick them.

He didn't try and fool them. We did not, he says, use flattery. Secondly, we did not wear masks to veil a sense of greed.

Do you notice that? We didn't use flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed. They were not pretending to serve while all the time wishing to be served.

They were not pretending to give while all the time wanting to get. And finally, in verse 6, he says, Nor did we live hungering for compliments. This is a tremendous test of ministry. This is the test by which all who minister should be judged.

You should feel free to assess ministry on the basis of these things—the man, his message, and his motives. Is he a flatterer in the way he uses the Bible? Does he seek to curry favor with those who are under his care? Does he endeavor to tell them what they want to hear so that they may love him for that and may do what he then calls them to? Is that what you get when you worship in this place? Is that what you find when you listen to your Sunday school teacher? Is that the sense that you get in your youth group? And how about when you get behind the scenes and you see what moves them? Are they using the opportunities of service simply to get things? While all the time appearing to want to give, they only want to get?

And do they go up and down on the basis of whether they're being praised or criticized? For, you see, all three of these things are illicit ways of seeking to build ourselves up. The stewards of the gospel, those who serve God in the cause of the gospel, then and now, are primarily responsible neither to the church nor to its boards but to God himself. I want you to understand that. That is not to say that within the framework of interpersonal relationships, within the context of the one-another ministries of the church, that those who are in leadership, those who have the privileges of pastoral ministry, those who fulfill the calling which I fulfill, are somehow or other removed from all those one-another accountability factors.

That is absolutely not so. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are accountable on that level. But when you have said that, the minister of the gospel is not primarily responsible to the church or to any ecclesiastical structures established by the church, whether they are bishops or synods or whatever you like to call them.

No, the minister of the gospel is on a much higher task than that, because the minister of the gospel is responsible to God himself. We are not trying to please men but God who tests our hearts. In other words, on the one hand, this is far more disconcerting, because God scrutinizes our hearts, God knows our secrets, and God's standards are very high.

On the flip side of that, it is really freeing to be in this situation, since God is more knowledgeable, more impartial, and more merciful than any human being or ecclesiastical committee. And yet so many pastors live tyrannized in that dilemma. They live their lives completely compelled by the longing for affirmation. And so they are ensnared by the desire for human adulation. Or, on the other hand, they live bowed down and crushed by the tyranny of human criticism. Now, don't misunderstand this. We're not talking about individuals living above and beyond the pale of accountability. Nor are we talking about stoical individuals who have no concern for what others may think.

We're talking about this. The task of the gospel is so significant and so immense and so profound that no seminary can ever make a pastor. No church can ever make a pastor. Only God can do that. And on account of that, it is God who will judge the motives of the heart. And whether a man cons everybody for all of his life and lives as a charlatan, or whether he is marked by integrity through all of his days, Paul says, Get ready for this. There is going to come a day when the judgment of God scrutinizes the man, his message, and his motives. And that, says Paul, is so significant that I refuse to be ensnared by a desire for human compliments, and I refuse to be tyrannized by the effect of human criticism. And in that, we have an amazing model for ministry.

You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life. If you are benefiting from this study of the Apostle Paul's first epistle to the early church in Thessalonica, you might want to own all three volumes in this series. It's titled simply enough, A Study in First Thessalonians, 30 Sermons on a Convenient USB Drive, and it's only $5.

The shipping is free. You'll find it on the mobile app and online at slash store. And if you would prefer to study the Bible along with Alistair live and in person, you can join him on a seven-day cruise along the colorful New England and Eastern Canadian coastlines this coming September. Alistair is the guest speaker on this tour. It's hosted by Salem Media Group. You'll experience the beauty of God's creation as you enjoy a time of worship and Christian fellowship. The ship departs from Boston, Massachusetts on September 21st.

We'll visit places like Rockland, Maine, Halifax, and Sydney, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec City, Quebec. Find out more, go to And by the way, we are offering our current book, The Faith Builder Catechism, through this weekend.

If you have not yet requested a copy, you want to do that today. This is a weekly devotional geared toward preteens. It packs a lot of important biblical teaching into a fun version of a catechism. Ask for The Faith Builder Catechism when you give a donation to Truth for Life. Go to slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you'll make it a point to worship with your local church this weekend and then join us Monday when we'll find out what the ultimate focus in pastoral ministry ought to be. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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