On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
1st Thessalonians 2:4
Paul sits in Corinth having been joined by his student, Timothy and writes a letter to the church in Thessalonica. The date is sometime between 50AD and 52AD. Paul is currently in the middle of his second missionary journey. The letter Paul writes is likely the first of all his great letters.
Since Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus, he has spent three years in the wilderness; met with Peter and the early church in Jerusalem; waited in Taurus for a way to help spread the good news about Jesus; finally called to work with Barnabas in Antioch, and then complete his first missionary journey. And now he is in the second of his three missionary journeys to spread the Good News of Jesus. A time frame that has spanned around fifteen years.
Paul has endured a lot and his trials along the way have become legendary. Now, he sits peacefully in Corinth. Timothy has returned from Thessalonica with good news about the church they helped create. Paul is overjoyed and relieved; his work is bearing fruit. Through his many struggles and travels, he has worked very hard to spread the message about Christ throughout the Gentile world, now it seems it has been worth the effort.
Now begins the time Paul uses his extraordinary literary skills and writes the Letter to the Thessalonians. The first of many that would not only encourage and help those he visited but resonate throughout the ages for many others. These letters would become his other mission. Letters so skillfully written that their messages are still relevant for Christians centuries later.
Out of joy, Paul writes to the Thessalonians. A message so infused with heartfelt expressions, as the reader, you can feel this joy spring forth. We have all had this moment in our lives. When we have worked hard and seen the fruits of our labor. A place of silent satisfaction, knowing that we have achieved something so personally important, we sit with a joy that is hard to contain. This is where Paul was for this moment.
The letter doesn’t really contain any deep theological pronouncements, rather it is a to the point reminder of the basic values of Christianity. Kind of a primer that lays out the basics. But in chapter 2:4; Paul makes a radical statement for that time that is easily overlooked when reading 1st Thessalonians. It says; On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
The critical statement of; we are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts, is a critical point about what it takes to be a good Christian. In all that we do or say; it should be pointed to please God.
Now for 21st century Christians, this might seem obvious and rather simple. But consider the 1st-century reader, who lived in a world controlled by kings and emperors, freedom of whom to please was minimal.
Beyond its basic point of whatever we do, we should do to please God; this was a revolutionary and new concept for the Gentile community. A radical departure from serving and pleasing masters or emperors. The statement is a dramatic reorientation of their minds as to whom they serve. An extraordinary change in mindset from how they were living.
In part, this direction stated by Paul directly led to the persecution of Christians that would last for almost another three hundred years.
To turn away from worshipping the Roman gods or the emperor, who was considered a god, meant in some way, treason. In later years, Christians would be challenged to show their loyalty by pinching incense to prove their loyalty to the Roman gods and the emperor. Their reluctance to do this put them at odds with the ruling authorities and sometimes cost them their lives. Yet many did try to please God first. Their bravery propelled the growth of Christianity forward to today.
What about us in the 21st century, we certainly have more freedom of choice in what we do and how we think? What can we take from this letter? Well many of us don’t have to publicly bow down to an emperor or masters. Instead, we have to fight off those internal temptations of life that move us away from God.
For us there are different things; power, money, and fame that lure us away from God. Things of life are put in front of us than bend our values. Causing us at times to rationalize our intentions. Forcing us to internally calibrate our real motives.
This doesn’t mean we should not try to be successful or to work hard to provide for our families. Instead, it means that in all we do we should do as to please God and not our human desires.
The pursuit of those positive things of life and pleasing God, we shouldn’t view as separate, but as interlinked. We should show passion for being our best. We should try to be the best parent, spouse, friend, partner, tradesperson, or businessperson we can be. But this doesn’t mean we can’t connect these efforts to pleasing God as well. Rather our mission is to do both.
Paul is asking us in this letter, not to be the best at pleasing others, rather please God while being the best person we can be. It is a higher calling than just existing successfully, but to exist successfully with God’s values.
Now we should also remember, sometimes when we seek to first please God, we will lose in the short term. And this is the point of faith, knowing and believing that pleasing God will at times give us short term losses, but over time long term benefit.
Pleasing God is an important message of Paul to the Thessalonians, which also applies to us in the 21st century. This is an important and foundational principle of Christianity; to please God in all that we do, say, and think. The more we practice this principle, the easier it becomes.
By the way, God is easier to please than some people.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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