Tagged: success

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on November 5, 2017.

Two potential sermons jump out of this text.  The first is the power of the Gospel to bring life into focus by revealing sin and empowering us.  The second is wrapped up in the feminine analogy of a nursing mother.  Here we are given the rare occasion to consider the joy of motherhood alongside the gentle work of discipleship.  Both sermon paths provide ample opportunity to reveal the character of God either in a story of powerfully overcoming the world or a story of compassionate nurturing.

The Gospel incredibly empowers us by bringing life into focus.  Verse 1 ends with a specific refocusing, “our coming to you was not in vain.”  By worldly standards, their coming would have been in vain.  Seemingly everywhere Paul went great opposition encircled him and chased him out of town. Just before visiting Thessalonica, Paul and Silas preached in Philippi.  There they were dragged before the authorities, beaten by an angry mob, thrown into prison, and bound in stocks.  The pain of Acts 16 looks like a failure but, Paul kept preaching the Gospel even though he was forced out of Thessalonica in the same way.  For others, that looks like failure, a coming in vain, but not for those empowered by the Gospel.  Being chased out of town was not a mark of failure, rather Paul saw all those men and women hearing the Gospel and knew that was success.  When God empowers us through the Gospel our hope in life changes and refocuses, what success looks like for ourselves and the church.  Verse 1 is an opportunity for the preacher to reconsider what Gospel success looks like for their role as pastor, the church’s role in the community, and the individual’s role in the Kingdom of God.  Too often, our vision of success looks too much like the world’s instead of the Gospel’s.  If like Paul, we can take hold of God’s vision of success we will know the same kind of Gospel empowerment.

Similarly, as the Gospel refocuses success, it refocuses our motives.  Paul’s ministry looked different from other teachers because Gospel motives are free of sinful influence.  Worldly teachers will always prove to be:  erroneous, impure, deceitful, speaking to flatter, greedy, seeking honor, and/or authoritative (verses 3-6).  Without the Gospel, sin births all these motives within teachers and anyone who hears them are dragged further into sin.  At this point, the preacher could consider all the impure motives that seep into the church (e.g., making the church look better than the church down the street, increasing numbers of the budget and people, business connections, title).  Impure motives constantly hinder the church if we do not name them, and move away from them as fast as we can.  We will end up like the worldly teachers when we drift away from the truth of the Gospel.  As we repent of a false sense of success and false motives, our churches will be transformed.

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Philippians 1:21-30

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 24, 2017.

When I deal with Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I try and keep several matters in mind.

First, though situated in Macedonian, Philippi was a Roman colony town. Its citizens enjoyed the rights of Romans and tended to view life from a Roman perspective. Second, Paul partnered with Lydia—who was a God-fearer and a business woman—to found the church at Philippi. Third, while small and under pressure from the surrounding society, the church consistently supported Paul’s missionary work.

Fourth, Paul wrote them while imprisoned, most likely in Rome, where he would have lived under a form of house arrest. Fifth, he sought to encourage them to remain faithful, thank them for their support, and deal with tensions and division in the congregation.

Keeping such factors in mind, let’s unpack Philippians 1:21-30.

Paul has already assured the Philippians that his imprisonment has helped spread the gospel and encouraged others to share Christ with boldness (Philippians 1:12-14). His primary concern is that his own conduct will continue to exalt Christ, whether he is set free or condemned to execution (Philippians 1:20).

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Romans 12:9-21

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 3, 2017.

Paul dealt with Christians who lived in a complicated world and church. The church at Rome may well have been the most complex of them all. What might Paul, who had not yet visited Rome, say to such Christ followers via a long letter?

At first reading, we can be excused for thinking Paul overloads the letter, attempts to deal piecemeal with a wide range of concerns, and in the process loses our attention (and, perhaps, the attention of the Roman Christians!). Repeated readings, though, reveal Paul focuses on only a few matters, which he then illustrates profusely.

Romans 12:9-21 is a classic example. The first phrase sets the theme of the passage: Christians must choose to allow love (agape) to govern all their interactions with others.

Paul sets a high bar with regard to love. Christian love must be genuine, something which defines us and finds ongoing expression in the world as the world is. Keep in mind Roman life was often defined by a patronage system. Powerful individuals or families measured their status by how many people looked to them. In turn, one’s place in Roman society was often determined by the status of one’s patron. Romans, in essence, treated life as a competitive game.

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