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Truth and Love (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
June 17, 2024 4:00 am

Truth and Love (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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June 17, 2024 4:00 am

Truth and love are essential elements of the Christian life. So how can we make sure that they always exist side-by-side? We’ll consider the answer to that question on Truth For Life as Alistair Begg teaches from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.


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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!


Two of the most essential elements of the Christian faith are truth and love.

So how do we make sure that those two elements exist together rather than in isolation? Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg considers the answer to that question, along with a whole lot more, as he takes us to one of the Apostle Paul's letters. Again, I invite you to turn with me to 1 Thessalonians 2.

A prayer together. Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me thyself within thy word. Show me myself and show me my Savior. And make the book live to me. For Jesus' sake.

Amen. But what's he really like? That's a question we often ask of individuals. It's not that we feel that we don't know them. We know something of them, but we don't know what they're really like. How do you find out what a person's really like?

Well, there are a number of ways in which we can make an attempt at that. We can, of course, spend an amount of personal time with them, provided they're prepared to take us, as it were, into the inner circle of their thinking. But if we're not granted that opportunity, one of the best ways of all is to read the correspondence of the individual.

I just this week ordered a book which contains the correspondence over a number of years of the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Now, I have read hundreds and hundreds of pages of his biography, but I am so excited to get this book and read his letters. Because in the reading of his letters, there is going to be that pulling back, as it were, of the curtain of the man's heart and soul and mind in a way that perhaps won't have come out, even in the best skill of the biographer.

And to the degree that that is true, it is also true of the letters of the New Testament. And to one degree or another, 1 Thessalonians is uniquely gifted in the sense that it pulls back from our gaze the veil of the apostle Paul and gives to us a slant on the apostle Paul that really doesn't come out anywhere else in the whole of the New Testament—at least, not to this degree. What is it that moves him as he thinks? What is it that stirs his soul?

What is it that massages his heart? Well, we've been discovering already in the second chapter something of that, and as we continue tonight, we discover more of it. For those of us who like, as it were, to get beyond the surface, to get behind the scenes, 1 Thessalonians, as far as the apostle Paul is concerned, is as good a place to start as any at all. Now, in the opening verses of the chapter, we saw that Paul had been concerned to respond to the charge that had been leveled against he and his colleagues in relationship to the whole matter of honesty or integrity. And if you allow your eye to scan back up the text, you will see that he is affirming there very much, very clearly, this matter of their personal integrity. Now, when we move from the sixth verse into the second half of it and then into verse 7, we discover that he moves from the issue of integrity to the matter of sensitivity. And we have provided for us here one of the most telling pictures of the heart of the apostle Paul that is in all of Holy Scripture. And it contains a tremendous challenge for all and any who would be engaged in pastoral ministry.

And it establishes an exceptionally high standard by which to gauge our responsibilities in that vein. We are confronted by the fact that Paul displays a twofold commitment in these verses before us—not simply these verses, it proceeds from here, but certainly here—and we discover that he displays his commitment, first of all, to the Word of God and then to the people of God. And this, of course, is an essential element of pastoral ministry. It is impossible to be meaningfully involved in ministering to the people of God without that twofold commitment—a commitment which is, first of all, to the Word of God and then to the people of God. John Stott, in summarizing this in his own inimical fashion, says that here we have for us the two chief characteristics of pastoral ministry—namely, truth and love.

And, says Stott, these things are absolutely essential, and especially in association with each other. So, for example, we're not surprised when we read in Ephesians 4 concerning the gifts that have been given to the church, especially that of pastor and teacher, and in verse 15 we read from Paul, he says, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head that is Christ. And the balance is absolutely essential—this balance between a commitment to truth and a commitment to love. Some of us, for example, in championing truth and displaying a great concern for truth, may display very little love, while others of us who are committed to embracing love may in the same regard show a scant regard for truth. And it is therefore imperative that truth and love exist side by side—as it were, sleep in the same bed, drive in the same car, coexist in the same heart, are manifest in the same family of faith. This, of course, is one of the great benefits of shared ministry in a pastoral team, insofar as you can often find within the team that helpful balance between both of these elements. And indeed, within that framework of mutual accountability, there is the opportunity for those who may be tempted in their love to grow soft, to be hardened by the reminder of truth, and those who, in their commitment to truth, may be tempted to grow hard and be thereby softened by the reminder of love.

And it is these two wonderful elements which we see in these verses before us. Now, I'd like to summarize them by considering with you, first of all, the concern of their hearts, and then the content of their message, and then the conduct of their lives. First of all, then, the concern of their hearts.

I'm actually working in reverse order here. The concern is expressed in verse 12, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to do what? To live lives worthy of God who calls you into his kingdom and glory. What is your great concern, Paul and your colleagues, for the Thessalonian believers? My great concern, our shared concern, says Paul, is that they might live lives worthy of God. Phillips paraphrases it, Our only object was to help you to live lives worthy of God.

Now, this may seem at first blush as such a very straightforward and simple statement as to all must be unworthy of any further comment. But remember that we must always deal with Scripture in the context in which it is said. And Paul is here responding to news which has reached him of various allegations concerning his motivation in ministry. And in expressing here the great concern which he shares with his brethren for the Thessalonian believers, he is not only saying something positively concerning his desire for them, but he is also distancing himself from the charlatans who were so much a part of the contemporary scene.

Because clearly there were those known to the Thessalonians, perhaps even ministering amongst the Thessalonians, who were in the ministry for whatever they could get out of it in terms of prestige and, more than likely, in terms of profit. And Paul has sought to distance himself from these characters in the opening verses of chapter 2, and when he says, I want you to know what the concern of our hearts is, it is that you would live lives worthy of God, he wants his readers to understand that his interest was not in the ascendancy of he and his colleagues in the popularity polls, but it was rather in the maturity of his spiritual children in the things of God. Now, this is to be the focus of pastoral ministry. You want to be a pastor? You want to be an elder in the church?

What then should the focus be? It should be this—that those under our care and amongst whom we've been given the privilege of ministering should be aware of the fact that our deepest concern for them is that they would, in all things, grow up into Christ. That they would understand the Bible, that they would believe the Bible, that they would obey the Bible, and that it would become to them their companion and their guide.

And as a result of all of that, that they would go on to spiritual maturity. In the fourth chapter of Colossians, he says that the great concern of he and others for the Colossian believers is that they might be mature and that they might be fully assured of their faith. In fact, in that letter to the Colossians, he mentions this wonderful character Epaphras, and he says this of Epaphras. Epaphras works hard for you, even here. For he prays constantly and earnestly for you, that you may become mature Christians and may fulfill God's will for you.

From my own observation, I can tell you that he has a real passion for your welfare. What a tremendous testimony! Colossians chapter 4 verse 12 and following is the section from which I'm quoting. Oh, to have the spirit of Epaphras in relationship to our interests in the lives of one another!

Epaphras works hard for you. And then he explains the hard work is in constant prayer, earnest prayer, and his prayer is that they might become mature Christians and may fulfill God's will. How, then, should we pray for one another? We should pray along the lines of Epaphras, earnestly and constantly, that you might become mature Christians and may fulfill God's will.

Now, let us just notice the phrase again. The great concern is that you might live lives worthy of God. What does this mean, other than the fact that the concern in pastoral ministry is to see the lives of men and women attached to Jesus Christ? Attached to Jesus Christ is very, very important. Not attached to us as individuals, no matter what elements of affection or interest may be established, but seeing men and women attached to Jesus Christ. One of the great sadnesses in ministry in any pastoral context is seeing people go, seeing them move south because they've been promoted or moving west or moving out onto the eastern seaboard.

It is always with a great sense of reluctance that I shake a hand and bow in prayer with a family or a couple as they come to tell me that the time has come for their departure. And even more so when it would appear that in the kind of church mentality of our day, there are those who would move away from us because, for whatever reason, something was not being poured out in the right quantity or in the right style. And when the pain of that grips a pastor's heart, the great solution to it is right here, in reminding ourselves of our ultimate calling—to encourage men and women to live lives worthy of God. Therefore, we can rejoice wherever they are attached and to whomsoever they become attached, provided their attachments lead them to the great attachment to the Lord Jesus himself, who is Head and Lord of the church. But, you know, that doesn't come easily in pastoral ministry.

If you talk with pastors and they're honest, they will tell you that that is the case. One of my good friends, laboring a great distance from here, took the opportunity of ministering in a church, and now, within a matter of two or three years, the previous pastor has come back into town. He hasn't come back to work in business or in a Christian school, but he has come back in to serve in a church—not one of the existing churches but to serve in a new church, to serve in a new church which he has determined he will plant very close to the site of his old church. And so my friend stood to minister the Word of God some months ago now, on a Sunday morning, and noticed that somehow or another he was absent some two or three hundred members of his normal congregation, only to discover that this gentleman had come back into town and reestablished a work and taken three hundred members of the church with him on the first Sunday morning.

Now, you've got to be possessed of a great spirit of something to be able to absorb that. And as I shared with my colleague and as I listened to him recount these events and as I entered into something of his struggle, I tried to remind him of what I've tried to remind myself and others of—that if the ultimate focus in pastoral ministry, if the ultimate concern, is to see you dear ones walking worthy of the calling of God—if that really is core level, the commitment not to establish an empire, not to be well thought of, not to have big numbers, not to have significance—if that really is the issue, then irrespective of the pain or the disappointment, we will still be able to rejoice in seeing people attached to Jesus Christ. John the Baptist is, for me, the best illustration of this, when in John chapter 3 his disciples come to him and give him the news that this Galilean carpenter, who is on the other side of the river and up the street, is beginning to have a tremendous success in his ministry. And they came to John in verse 26 of John chapter 3, and they said to him, Rabbi, the man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one you testified about, well, he's baptizing, and everyone is going to him. John, business is falling off.

Things are not going the way they were going. And to this John replied, A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, I'm not the Christ, but am sent ahead of him. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend or the best man who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.

That joy is mine and is now complete. He must become greater, and I must become less. And God knows how much in pastoral ministry we need to be taught that lesson, and he will continue to teach it to us again and again and again and again and all the way to heaven, for surely the truth will never finally dawn. The best man is the best man. He's not the bridegroom. And you're allowed to get excited, but you're only allowed to get excited for the bridegroom.

You're not allowed to get excited about the bride, except that she's gonna belong to the bridegroom. And in the same way, our great excitement is to see men and women attached to Jesus Christ. Because, you see, when we get to heaven, we're all gonna be attached all over again. So it would be a dreadful shame to assume that a preoccupation with ecclesiastical attachment became the issue of our ministry. My great concern, our great concern, he says, is that you, our spiritual children, would be living progressively and effectively in the realm of God's rule—that is, his kingdom—and in the light of his glory, meaning simply that we should act in keeping with our calling.

We have by grace been made kids of the kingdom, and we should therefore live as such. Well, then, let us look, secondly, at the content of their message, if that was the concern of their hearts. The content of their message is stated twice, in verse 8, and then again in verse 9. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

The gospel of God. Verse 9, at the end, while we preach the gospel of God to you. Notice that it was by their life and by their doctrine that they declared their love for them. They did not burden them by seeking their financial support, and they did bless them by sharing the gospel with them. That is the nature of verse 9—"Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and our hardship.

We work night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone." Now, in most of the considerations that I have heard of these verses—and I understand why—the line of thinking goes like this. You'll notice that they did not just share the gospel, but they also shared their lives.

Okay? And then the whole drift of the Bible study goes on to the nature of what it means to share our lives. Which is fine. But inevitably what happens is there is some kind of tacit assumption about the fact that they are actually sharing the gospel. And there are unique circumstances here in relationship to this apostolic ministry, which are not part and parcel of normal pastoral ministry on our day, whereby, as a result of the generosity of God's people, we are sustained in order that we might share the gospel of God. And I am not in any sense diminishing the nature of sharing our lives with one another, but I want you to notice that the way in which Paul expresses that is not about cups of coffee, and it's not about hanging out at Wendy's, which is the way the Bible studies usually go.

That's not the drift. The drift is, our preoccupation was in sharing the gospel, and in order to share the gospel, we worked so that you wouldn't be deprived of finance, but our objective in the sharing of our lives was subservient to the sharing of the gospel. For it is perfectly possible in pastoral ministry to be well thought of in relationship to the expectations of the people of God and yet to fail to do the very thing which is the absolute essential in pastoral ministry—namely, to share the gospel of God.

Now I wonder, are you following with me? You see, because in terms of the expectations of people—and I'll speak as straightforwardly as I can in these moments, and I hope in no sense self-servingly, although you will have to judge that—how do we know that our pastors love us? Okay? Because we know that pastors are supposed to love their people. So how do we know that our pastors love us? The day that you'll discover that I don't love you anymore is the day that I stop studying my Bible to come and preach it to you. That's the day you can assume I don't love you anymore. Now, you can assume that I don't love you because I didn't meet one of your expectations, and that's all right, and I understand that. But let me tell it to you now.

Here. We loved you so much. We were delighted to share with you the gospel of God. Not only the gospel, but our lives as well, but it was in the sharing of the gospel that they communicated their love. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg, exploring the Apostle Paul's twofold commitment to God's Word and God's people.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-06-17 05:17:04 / 2024-06-17 05:25:44 / 9

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