This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 12, 2017.
Two particular preaching opportunities jump out of this text that are foundational to who we are as Christians. Both are absolutely necessary for the health of the church and cannot be overlooked. First, Paul gives clear indication of the primacy of witness. Second, there is an opportunity here to better understand the church’s responsibility to disciple. Both sermon directions are weighty and need the attention of the church.
One sermon trajectory could trace the work of the Gospel as the instigator of witness in this passage. Beginning at the end of the selected text, verse 13 notes two things about the Gospel. One the Gospel is of God, not of men. We proclaim that we have the wisdom of God on our side. You will not find God’s eternal truths on Facebook or the self-help section of the bookstore. All those kinds of enticing short-term solutions fall wildly short of the hope of the Gospel. Every magazine you see with 6 easy steps to a better you, will have 6 different steps to a better you next month, it is all for profit and spectacle. The self-help publishing industry could care less about the individual, but the Gospel is full of authentic wisdom for living in our broken world. The Gospel is the only thing that can help our neighbors, yet we find ourselves chasing after the words and approval of men.
Continuing in verse 13, the Gospel is at work today. It is alive and active performing a work in those that hear the message. This work must be unpacked in the sermon as it is critical to fulfilling the promise of the message. The Gospel works in our hearts to pull us toward God by ripping the sin out of our lives and leading us to repentance. We have not found the real self-help we need until this cleansing work of the Gospel is begun in us.
Finally, this Gospel conversation must move as Paul moved. It moves from truth to action. Our Gospel cannot be contained within us and must be shared. This witness is our great commission, and there is ripe opportunity to examine appropriate witnessing opportunities here. In verse 9 we read Paul is nobly bi-vocational. He worked as a tentmaker to support his ministry in Thessalonica, and we can also assume that Paul used his tent workshop as a workshop for ministry. There is great room here to dream about how Paul was a minister at his day job, and how we can be a similar kind of minister at ours.
The second sermon trajectory examines the lost art of discipleship. The fact that we have this letter is evidence of Paul’s discipleship. He is writing back to a group of people he helped raise up in the Gospel. We have a similar responsibility to grow one another up in the Gospel as a church, but we have forgotten how to do that well. Verse 11 is a good place to begin, here Paul uses the masculine analogy of a father taking care of his children to describe discipleship.
As we grow up in the Word of God, we should take on the responsibility of helping someone else grow up in the Word of God. Is there someone in our lives that we could say we are exhorting, encouraging, imploring like we would our children? Who is that in your life? Paul had many, surely we could have one person in our lives that we are imploring for the sake of the Gospel. The church is our new family, new Christians are like new children who need to be brought up by faithful members of the church.
In verse 10 Paul makes an interesting claim of being blameless and upright. Many Christians balk at the chance to disciple someone because they do not feel adequate. We would never claim to be blameless or upright as Paul does here, thus disqualifying ourselves in our own minds. The preacher can take a teaching moment here to note the sins of Paul’s past are most certainly greater than our own, and his only claim to perfection is through the work of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that we know today. We can operate in the same freedom of forgiveness and opportunity, which is exactly what we need to be teaching in discipleship.
Similarly, in verse 12, the case is made that those under Paul’s care can walk in a manner worthy of God. This too seems impossible, but it is a great opportunity for the preacher to examine what faithfully fulfilling our obligations to God looks like. What do we need to teach someone in discipleship so that they could claim they were living a life worthy of God? Surely it is commitments such as confession, prayer, Bible study, worship, witness, and the like. It would be fruitful to think through the list of things that should be taught in discipleship that would make the perfect Christian or the perfect church member. The church would well benefit from a sermon thoughtfully processing the basic tenets that should be taught to a budding Christian.
First Baptist Church San Antonio
Tags: Gospel, Witness, Discipleship, Father