We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 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. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
–1 Thessalonians 2:2-9 (NIV)
We continue to look at reasons why reading the Bible is a good idea if you are interested in living life as you were created to live it. In today’s passage, we see several lessons, of which I will mention three.
First, without saying it, notice the element of joy that runs through this passage. Yesterday we talked about God’s desire for us to live our lives with joy, about how joy is not contingent on the circumstances and the state of our relationships in our lives. Rather, joy is a blessing from God and is present in any and every circumstance when we do what he asks us to do. We see that illustrated here when Paul tells us that despite being treated outrageously in Philippi, he preached GOD’s gospel, even in the face of strong opposition (read Acts 16:19-40 for the particulars). Paul found joy in doing what God had called him to do and he was not going to let some minor things like getting beaten, flogged, thrown in prison, and threatened with death rob him of the joy he experienced in doing God’s will in his life. Notice also, that Paul’s joy was not based on the results of his work. If that were the case, Paul would have been one unhappy dude.
If you want to live your life with joy, then simply pay attention and do what the Lord asks you to do.
You see, Paul took Jesus’ advice seriously about whom to fear. He didn’t fear those who could simply kill his body but then were unable to do anything more. No, he feared the One who can kill both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). Fear should never be the basis on which to have a relationship with anyone, God included. But we need to always be cognizant of the fact that God is God and we are not, and a healthy respect for God and his omnipotent and sovereign power is a necessary ingredient in having a healthy and meaningful relationship with God.
Second, notice the transparency that undergirds Paul’s description of his work and dealing with other people. In Paul’s case, his work was preaching the Gospel, but the same principle applies to us in our own work. Paul reminds us that God wants us to be transparent in our words and actions with others. Paul tells us he did not resort to trickeration in his work, that he was not acting out of impure motives or greed. He wasn’t seeking the approval of others; instead, he was seeking only God’s approval. How freeing that would be if we only followed it! How many times do we fall victim to the slavery of public opinion or to our own base desires and get weighed down terribly as a result?
Last, notice the emphasis on self-responsibility in this passage. Paul tells the Thessalonians that even though he was entitled to their support because he was an Apostle of Christ, he refused it. Instead, Paul worked hard to support himself so that he would not be an unnecessary burden on others (sometimes the circumstances of life force us to become a burden on others, like when we become desperately sick or incapacitated, but Paul is not talking about that here). Self-responsibility goes hand-in-hand with being the free moral agents God created us to be. It is impossible to make moral (or immoral) decisions without being held accountable for those decisions and thus God expects us to take responsibility for our decisions, thoughts, speech, and behaviors because he will hold us accountable for them one day.
Here, then, are three lessons we learn about God’s will for our relationships with him and others. If you want real power for living, start by learning and practicing these lessons if you are not doing so already. You will discover joy, meaning, and purpose like you’ve never experienced before. But that’s the key. You have to try before you can experience.