Gently Does It

“We were gentle when we were with you, like a mother taking care of her children”.

1 Thess 2:7 GNB

Some years ago, a senior lay leader in a church went out to a rural congregation to conduct a course in church leadership for the local members. During the course of his talks he referred to the bishop of the church in Johannesburg as “the nkulu boss”. Loosely translated the phrase means “the great master”. Some leaders in Christian communities, by the sheer strength of their personalities do become towering figures.

No doubt in some Christian circles in the first centuries Paul the apostle would have been regarded as a monumental figure. He was the great organiser, thinker, preacher, theologian, teacher, pastor, church planter and, for lesser leaders, the great role model. He could have lorded it over those early Christian communities had he been that way inclined. He didn’t. He knew that the first generation of Christian believers were in a very vulnerable position. They needed to be cared for and nurtured spiritually. The Christian apostle had to be gentle rather than lordly.

Today people who facilitate the growth of faith in younger or more junior church members have to try and guide their charges or “students” in the faith. Guiding and teaching can always lead to manipulation and domination if the guide is not sensitive to the danger. The figure Paul used of a mother caring for her children is an excellent way of putting it. If you are a spiritual guide, be a mother to those under your care – not a smotherer. If you are a male do not sneer at the thought of a dominant leader like Paul using the mother as a figure of speech. Be sure to be gentle.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, make all spiritual guides gentle and caring.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, as I prepare for this great season, help me to avoid getting caught up in the superficiality and rush, the unimportant trivialities and the peripheral things. Help me to concentrate on Jesus, to be quiet and unhurried. Help me to steep it all in prayer. I ask for Christ’s sake. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Amos 8:1–12

NOT FOR ONE’S OWN GLORY

“Nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ”.

1 Thess 2:6 RSV

Some people always seem to elbow their way to the front. If they aren’t conspicuous by their achievements, dignity or physical stature, they manage to remind everyone who will listen that they are someone great or important. They are skilled at drawing attention to themselves. Some dress to stand out. Others talk to steer conversations around to themselves. Yet others “name-drop” (“Last week I was chatting to the President”). And some portray themselves as more learned than they really are by claiming the title “Doctor”.

Paul and his fellow-preachers in Thessalonica were not glory-hunters. “Few men in history have been so God-conscious as Paul. ‘God-intoxicated’ is not too strong a description. He passionately believed he had been converted by God, called by God, entrusted with the gospel by God, was daily being tested by God, and must live a life worthy of God. God to Paul was God. This is not surprising, for he was reared in a strict Jewish home where the great monotheistic (belief in only one God) doctrine was as much a part of life as the air its members breathed. His heritage was one of reverence. The awe of the Eternal was in his heart, and he carried it into his new life in Christ” (J.W. Clarke, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 11, p271).

We too need to be so full of Christ and of God the Father that we  seek only his glory and not our own. We need to be consciously aware of any tendency to direct praise or glory to any human person, however significant he or she may be.

PRAYER THOUGHT
Lord, all honour and glory be to you alone.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Lord, today we celebrate the beginning of advent, the season when we remember the coming of Christ. Thank you that you are always coming into our world, into our midst, into our lives, into your church with power, with grace and truth. Come this advent season. In Christ. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings
Micah 2:1–11

THE HIDDEN MOTIVE

“You know very well that we did not come to you with flattering talk, nor did we use words to cover up greed – God is our witness!”

1 Thess 2:5 GNB

For those who are called to become messengers of God there are many temptations and pitfalls. One is to peddle your own views and to “sell yourself” as a great person, a clever person, and a learned person. You can do the latter by quoting great scholars – parading your knowledge. Another is to be a funny person thus seeking cheap popularity. Another temptation is to appeal to the opposite sex and to develop illicit relationships “for the fun of it”. Yet another is to use your prominence to solicit financial gain. One professor counselled his theological students, “Never ever talk about money, either your own or the church’s”. But some do.

Paul, Timothy and Silas had rivals for the affections of the people in Thessalonica. These were the travelling teachers who spent their lives hiking from one place to another, giving a few popular talks, and then moving on. Their teachings were superficial and shallow, but their “salary” depended on their popularity – and that was their main aim in “entertaining” their audiences. Paul and his companions trusted God that the truth of their message and the effect for good that the gospel had on their hearers would lead to them receiving a responsible living.

Servants of the word and preachers of the gospel must always ensure that the financial relationship they have with their congregants is kept in the background. Lay leaders in congregations have a duty to see that their spiritual leader is adequately recompensed so that everything gives glory to God.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us all to ensure that caring and responsible finances are a feature of our churches.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord, for people who suffer from eating disorders. Help them to get professional advice and support as they seek to lead a normal healthy life. Make them determined to sort themselves out and to work towards better health. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

WHOM DO YOU PLEASE?

“We do not try to please people, but to please God, who tests our motives”.

1 Thess 2:4 GNB

People who speak in public often make a habit of ingratiating themselves with their hearers. They trot out what they know their audience will enjoy. Jokes are an easy way to do this. So is flattery, leg-pulling and pandering to the known tastes of the hearers. Some speakers can tell a good story and they soon know how to manipulate the situation to get on the right side of the listeners. Those travelling philosophers and teachers who posed such a strong threat to the apostles were very skilled at pleasing their hearers.

The Christian teachers and preachers, whilst learning tried and trusted methods of composing talks, set out to please God. When they have put their thoughts together, giving adequate attention to their preparation, they then offer their teaching or sermon as an offering to God. Their main objective is to convince their hearers of the truth of what God is saying through their words. They want to hide their own skills behind the immensity of their message.

“Leslie Weatherhead somewhere tells a story of a public schoolboy who decided to enter the ministry. He was asked when he had come to that decision. He said that he had come to it after hearing a sermon in his school chapel. He was asked the name of the preacher. His answer was that he had no memory of the preacher’s name; all he knew was that that preacher had shown him Jesus. The duty of the real preacher is to obliterate himself and to show people nothing but Jesus Christ” (W. Barclay, The Letter to the Hebrews, p222).

Encourage all preachers to do the same.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, prompt all servants of the word to please you alone.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless all the people who manage the purchasing and preparation of food in the homes of this nation. Help them to work with imagination to make meals attractive and enjoyable. Prompt those being fed to express their thanks for their meals. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

JUDGED WORTHY

“(God) has judged us worthy to be entrusted with the Good News”.

1 Thess 2:4 GNB

A significant part of the Christian life is coming to know a holy God. When you truly meet with Jesus Christ you cannot but recoil in awe and wonder at his presence. In that act of meeting Jesus many people hesitate because they suddenly see themselves as they have never done before. They realize that they are unworthy to be in Christ’s presence at all. If, later on, they sense that they are being called to some form of service or ministry they again marvel that Jesus has called them – weak, frail, human and inadequate as they are.

It is one of the miracles of the Christian religion that God can come to frail human flesh and entrust the work of commending the gospel to others into the hands of ordinary, struggling human mortals. Usually he doesn’t tap them on the shoulder one day and send them out the next. Those called need preparation, training, orientation, and usually some kind of testing and trial. Often there is “in-service training” as well. Senior and experienced ministers are usually entrusted with the task of approving or otherwise, those being prepared. It is a frightfully solemn task – to authorize other people to take the Good News of Jesus to people waiting to hear – and wanting to know – God. Here Paul carefully chooses his words again. Those humans authorizing others stand in the stead of God – to deem others worthy to handle the deep things of God.

Rejoice that this miracle happens – at the behest of God himself. Pray for those to whom is entrusted the message of God’s truth and who are empowered to point people to Jesus. The responsibility is awesome.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and empower those you call to ministry.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, bless the work of all the counsellors who work in treatment centres for people with addictions. When people fail to respond to treatment give those counsellors the determination to carry on. Guide the addicts to “come right” and move on. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

SPEAKING GOD’S WORD

“Instead, we always speak as God wants us to”.

1 Thess 2:4 GNB

There is a world of difference between someone who comes and gives a lecture about this or that subject and someone who bears a message from someone else. One who is really well-versed in some subject can be a joy to listen to – especially if “he knows how to put it across”. But someone who comes as a messenger for someone else carries the credibility of the one sending the message – as well as any stature he may have in his own right.

Paul and his fellow-messengers, Silas and Timothy, did not travel to Thessalonica in order to “sell themselves”. They came there at the behest of God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were his messengers, his agents and his apostles. (The word “Apostolos” is Greek for “one who is sent” by another). As well as they themselves being sent by God, the message they delivered was sent by God as well. It was about his mighty act in sending Jesus Christ, about the wonderful deeds of Jesus whilst on earth, about the appeal, “be reconciled and make peace with God”, about the amazing claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to God’s own right hand, and about the offer of the Holy Spirit to lift them to a better life and make them pure and clean, and the call to the Thessalonians to themselves become servants of the living God.

It is just as crucial today for believers to discern what is God’s message and what is “man’s own ideas”. It is possible to be hoodwinked by clever-sounding stories and amusing anecdotes from those whose main purpose is to sell themselves. “Hear the Word of God”.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your modern apostles always speak your word.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for your blessing on all who work to keep the streets of towns and cities clean. Help them to know that their work is a vital part of the health and happiness of the citizens who live in those towns and cities. Help us all to appreciate them. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

THE STRAIGHTFORWARD GOSPEL

“Our appeal to you is not based on error or impure motives, nor do we try to trick anyone”.

1 Thess 2:3 GNB

With all the trouble that arises from the modern social media it is a wonder that anyone believes a word that is said by such personal communication. It is so easy to spread rumors, gossip and fake news. And always there are gullible people who will “swallow” anything.

In the Greek world in New Testament times there was another kind of trickery. One of the phenomena of the day was the presence of travelling teachers. Usually blessed with a gift of oratory, they went around from one town or city to another giving out some snippet of philosophical teaching. They spoke with guile and entertained the crowd wherever they could gather an audience who would listen. The better ones probably made a good living – the hat was passed round at the end of the “lecture”. Many of these teachers spoke empty and meaningless “wisdom”. They were a kind of entertainment, probably passing on a joke or two here and there. Gullible people took it all in. Once Christianity was established some of these travelling teachers would put themselves up as “Christian teachers” without knowing anything about Jesus, Christian doctrine, or the Christian way of life. They were self-appointed preachers. And many were charlatans.

Paul was referring to such people when he referred here to “error or impure motives” or trying “to trick anyone”. By contrast the apostles came to give people hope and faith, to enable them to re orientate their lives around truth, love and purity. That their gospel was truth is proved by the enduring impact their message has made over two thousand years.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, keep your church free from self-glorying charlatans.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord, for all workers who feel that their efforts are not appreciated by their bosses. Help them to know that you ordain that people shall work, and that it is a divine calling. Assure them that you treasure all work done for your glory. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

THE GOOD NEWS COMES FROM GOD

“God gave us courage to tell you the Good News that comes from him”.

1 Thess 2:2 GNB

The Christian religion is often focused on the person or persons of those who are the leaders in churches. The welfare or progress of a particular community seems to depend on the personality or preaching skills of the preacher. In some communities everything seems to hang on that one person. Often the community does not seem to look beyond that one human agent.

In writing to the Christian community at Thessalonica Paul uses words in such a way that he does not create a personality cult around himself. What the Thessalonians heard was not a projection of the personality of Paul, or Silas, or Timothy. They had not cooked up their message. It came from God himself. It was not human wisdom, human ideas, philosophy or a clever story. It was all from God. It was about what God had done, was doing and would do. The truth of the gospel dawned on John Wesley on 24th May 1738. Early in the morning he read a passage in the second letter of Peter and later, in the evening, he received from God the assurance he needed as a spiritual experience. Then “on June 4th he noted in his diary, ‘All these days I scarce remember to have opened the New Testament, but upon some great and precious promise. And I saw, more than ever, that the gospel is in truth but one great promise, from the beginning of it to the end’” (Soldier’s Armoury, 1977, p5).

The gospel is not a set of instructions on how to be good. It is the Good News of what God has done and the promise of what he will do.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for your gift of the gospel.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray today Lord for those people who find it hard to believe in Jesus or in a God at all. Guide them to work through their doubts and difficulties and to come to faith in Jesus. Bring them into contact with people of strong and vibrant faith. I ask it in Jesus Christ’s name. AMEN

COURAGE TO TELL THE GOOD NEWS

“Even though there was much opposition, our God gave us courage to tell you the Good News that comes from him”.

1 Thess 2:2 GNB

In modern times we would not expect that it would require courage to proclaim the gospel. We imagine that a few like-minded people would get together, raise the funds to build some sort of worship centre and get on with the job of talking about God and making nice people of those who came along to advertised services. The most we would expect by way of opposition would be the scepticism of those who have no time for religion – who think “it’s a load of hooey”.

The New Testament shows us that breaking new ground has never been simple and straightforward. The Jewish authorities in Jerusalem did all they could to stop the apostles proclaiming the Good News of Jesus after the Day of Pentecost. When persecution followed, the apostles spread out, taking the same message to Samaria. Paul himself was one who opposed the Christians – before his own conversion.

The preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges and questions other faiths – and no faith. Because it often causes offence, those who propose to preach need plenty of moral courage and mental strength. Sometimes they will be welcomed and even congratulated. But often they will be ridiculed, criticized, and ordered to keep quiet.

Today in a number of countries there is fierce opposition to those who seek to spread the Christian faith. Pakistan is one such country. There is not just opposition, there is outright persecution. Pray for those who dare to speak of Jesus, for their families, and for all who sympathise. Satan is alive and well – and very busy!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, strengthen and support those who face persecution for your sake.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

I pray for all lay officials in your church who accept responsibility for the running of the Body of Christ. Give them skills, persistence, a sense of calling, and a feeling of being an important part of the work of the church. Help others to appreciate them. I ask it in Christ’s name. AMEN

NO BED OF ROSES

“You know how we had already been ill-treated and insulted in Philippi before we came to you in Thessalonica”.

1 Thess 2:2 GNB

Many people have the impression that the Christian way of life is a matter of pleasant and easy-going gentility. They assume everybody thinks the same, and pursues a life of innocuous politeness, kindness and love. They reckon that, provided you are inoffensive and generally harmless you will fit into this community of “nice people”.

The facts of the history of the Christian church suggest otherwise. Jesus, of whom it was said that “he went about doing good”, was opposed, plotted against, and finally murdered. He said that those who sought to be his disciples would need to “deny themselves, take up a cross and follow him”. When the Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, set out to take the Good News of Jesus Christ to Gentile people far away from Israel, he soon found out how tough it could be. The devotees of other religions made life difficult for him and those who worked with him. In particular the adherents of the Jewish faith went out of their way to stop him. Physical violence often ensued, and legal authorities in many places tried to ban him. Before going to Thessalonica, he had visited Philippi where he got a somewhat hot reception. The story is told in Acts 16:11-40.

Breaking new ground has never been easy for the Christian church. Courageous people who have ventured into foreign mission fields have corroborated Paul’s testimony. In addition to living far away from home and family, they have faced physical abuse and continuous opposition.

In whatever way you can, give support to those who go out in faith and obedience to spread the gospel.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, empower and protect your servants in all circumstances.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for people who are at the “bottom of the pile”. Give them courage to make the most of their abilities, gifts and opportunities. Give them a sense of living with meaningful purpose. Help them to overcome adversity. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN