Characteristics of a Good Pastor (I Thessalonians 2)
Introduction: Setting an Example Others Can Follow
In an illustration from a publication called: 'Christian Clippings" this story was told:
"A minister pleasantly surprised his congregation by delivering a 10-minute sermon instead of the usual 30-minute message. In concluding he explained, "I regret to inform you, brethren, that my dog, who appears to be inordinately fond of paper, this morning ate that portion of my sermon which I have not delivered. Let us pray."
After the service, a stranger from another church approached the pastor and said, "Preacher, please let me know if that dog of yours has any pups. If it does, I want to buy one for my minister."
As the illustration implies, sometimes the weekly pastoral sermons can be seen as boring and in dire need of shortening. This, of course, is sometimes indeed the fault of the pastor who isn't giving a good sermon for some reason or another. But at other times it is the fault of those who aren't prepared to hear what the preacher has to say to them.
But whatever reason, sometimes the messages don't do what they are supposed to do in bringing people, not the word of the preacher, but the Word of God. It might help if we are all aware that a message doesn't begin in the pulpit but it begins in the everyday life of the one who is proclaiming that message. If a pastor is living an inconsistent life that doesn't live-out the power of his message, then the sermons in the pulpit won't have power either.
Not that every preacher is going to be perfect. Perfection is not ever going to happen in any pastor. Neither is it required. What is required is a person who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is seeking God's leading on a daily basis and is determined to live a life that others can follow.
In I Thessalonians 2 we get a picture of a good pastor from the founder of the Church in Thessalonica (along with co-founders Silas and Timothy), the Apostle Paul himself. From our studies, we learned that this church was founded on his second missionary journey between 51 or 52 A.D. and this is one of the earliest of Paul's letters.
Paul and the others were only in Thessalonica a short time when they met with violent opposition and were chased out of the city by Jewish adversaries. However, this small Gentile church, though under persecution, remained strong and began to spearhead the spread of the gospel throughout the whole province.
Paul, not knowing of this, was concerned that their faith had wavered in the face of opposition by false teachers. So he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. Of course, Timothy returned with a good report which caused Paul to rejoice and send them this letter back to the young church, praising them for their faithfulness and encouraging them to remain strong in the face of further persecution.
In chapter 1 we saw the portrait of a faithful church and how we can learn from them to be a faithful church in the 21st century as well. In chapter 2 Paul talks about his ministry amongst the Thessalonians and how he faithfully demonstrated the characteristics that every good pastor should have. Let us look now at these characteristics and see what we can glean from them.
I. One Who Boldly and Sincerely Preaches the Gospel (1-8)
The very first characteristic that Paul introduces to the Thessalonians, contrasting himself with the false teachers that were trying to destroy his ministry in this area, was the fact that he sincerely preached the good news of Jesus Christ to the people. And that preaching wasn't in vain. It was so fruitful that, not only were people saved but there was a vibrant reproducing church that was planted that grew and flourished even though Paul could no longer be there.
Paul's proof of his sincerity in preaching began with the fact that he and Silas had been brutalized for the gospel even before they arrived in Thessalonica, yet went there anyway. If we read in Acts 16:19-37 we can see that in Philippi they were beaten and incarcerated. They were also arrogantly mistreated with false accusations and illegally punished despite Paul being a Roman citizen. And they probably still had the wounds from their beatings to remind them of what could happen when they began to preach the gospel to those at Thessalonica.
Further, things weren't much better in the new city. Like at Philippi, Paul and Silas were falsely accused of civil treason and suffered physical intimidation.
Paul's sincerity was further seen in the fact that his preaching and exhortation didn't come from error or impurity by way of deceit. In Paul's day, and in Thessalonica especially, there were lots of competing religions who had itinerant preachers pushing their beliefs. The city of Thessalonica sat on the Ignatian Way, the famous highway that went through Macedonia.
So this city was a melting pot of cultures and religious beliefs from all over the world. And several of the religions there were missionary-minded. Also, many of the ministers of these religions were opportunists, motivated by greed and personal gain. And they sought to get whatever they could from the people that they purported to serve.
Paul contrasted his own ministry with these so-called preachers. Commentators are divided as to what the Apostle meant by uncleanness or impurity in I Thessalonians 2:3. The context seems to suggest an uncleanness of motive or spirit. However, the word itself often refers to sexual impurity as it often appears with the word 'fornication.' And with many religions of Paul's day using prostitution and other sexual perversions, it is not hard to see how Paul could be referring to sexual impurity.
So, if we take this word to mean this, we can pick out three contrasts that the great Apostle has with the false teachers in the city which affirm his truthfulness and sincerity.
First, his message is true and not erroneously false. Secondly, his manner of life was pure and not sexually wicked. Finally, his method of ministry was authentic and not deceptive.
Paul, in verse 4, emphasizes that he and the others were approved by God Himself to preach the gospel. So they don't speak to please men but to please the God who examines their hearts.
The truth is that none of us can please everyone. There will always be someone who doesn't agree with what we say or the way we do our ministry. The bottom line is that as long as we are sure that God is pleased then it t doesn't really matter. It is His church and it is His ministry. We must live before an audience of one.
The Apostle then goes on to use 3 disclaimers to affirm the purity of his motives for preaching the gospel. Verses 5 and 6 tells us:
"For we never came with flattering speech, as you know nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness- nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority."
We see that Paul denies being a smooth-talking preacher who wanted to make a good impression, gain the confidence of the people in order to take advantage of them. His motives were pure. He also didn't pretend to be poor in order to get rich in the ministry at the Thessalonian's expense. Rather, he chose to support himself, even though he could have asked for money from those to whom he ministered. He, as one of the 12 Apostless of the Lord also refused to use his position as an Apostle of Christ to gain personal glory. He sought only the glory of God.
The Apostle Paul rather gives the picture of a nursing mother who tenderly cares for her helpless baby. Paul's affection for the Thessalonians was like that which is felt by a mother willing to sacrifice her very life for her child, even as Jesus was willing to give His own life to those in the world in order for them to be born again into God's family.
So Paul not only gave out the gospel. They were so dear to him that he gave to them his very life as well. And this is a clue for all ministers of the gospel. There is an old saying: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If someone thinks that you love them and have their best interest at heart, they are more likely to listen to what you have to tell them and teach them from God's Word.
II. One Who Has a Consistent Lifestyle (9-12).
However, not only does a pastor need to have a good consistent preaching ministry, but he also has to have a consistent lifestyle in general. For instance, Paul told them that he worked night and day in order to live on what he had earned, as well as what the Philippians had given to him so that his motives could not be questioned (Philippians 4:16). The false teachers were continually asking for money for their 'services.' He explains this more in II Thessalonians 3:7-9. No one could accuse him of being in it for the money, however, because he never asked for money from this church.
In more than one place in Paul's writings, he makes it clear that those who preach the gospel should be able to live by the gospel (I Corinthians 9:14; I Timothy 5:18). However, he chose not to partake of that privilege in order that the gospel might not be hindered by those who might try to malign him for taking money.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they themselves, as well as God, knew how devoutly, and uprightly and blamelessly he and his companions behaved toward the people of Thessalonica. Under Old Testament Law it took two or more witnesses to verify truth. So between them and God, there were more than enough persons to prove that they behaved as they should have done.
Furthermore, not only were Paul and his companions acting like a loving, nurturing mother toward this group of God's people, he also compared them to an exhorting, encouraging and imploring father. Paul saw all those who he'd lead to salvation as his spiritual children in the faith. And he accepted the responsibility of leading them to full spiritual maturity. Further, like with any parent, the Thessalonians could not outgrow the relationship. The Thessalonian believers would always be his loving spiritual children and he would care about their well-being until the day he died. And he implores them as a father to act in a manner worthy of the God who calls them into His own Kingdom and glory.
III. One Who is Concerned With His People's Welfare (13-20)
So, a good pastor is one who boldly and sincerely preaches the gospel and lives a consistent lifestyle. And he is also one who is concerned with the welfare of the people whom the Lord has given to him as a flock.
When Paul found out that the Thessalonians were doing what they should, despite opposition and persecution, he was thrilled. He describes the people who were causing the problem and also talked a little of their ultimate judgment in this section in order to show just how much the Thessalonians had faithfully endured. Verses 13-16 tell us:
"For this reason, we also constantly thank God that when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the Word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For your, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same suffering at the hands of your countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost."
Paul longed to see again, the faithful Thessalonians who had endured and continued to endure the persecution from these evil men. They were temporarily orphaned from his motherly and fatherly care. He had wanted to come earlier. In fact, he was extremely desirous to see them. However, Paul says that Satan had prevented that from happening. Satan is always trying to tear down what God is building and he was attempting to do so here as well by keeping their spiritual parent away from them. But, as it always will eventually do, Satan's evil desires had backfired. God's work was going forward stronger than ever.
The Apostle ends this chapter by calling these spiritual children God had given to him his hope or joy or crown of exultation as they continued to remain faithful. And because of this, they would be a part of that great day when Jesus comes to take the Church away to be with Him forever in an event known as the Rapture.
Paul, in calling the Thessalonians his crown, is referring to the Greek games here and comparing eternal life to a wreath or crown rewarded for athletic victory. The wreath of exultation celebrates salvation's victory over Satan and over mankind's persecution of believers. Paul sees the Christians of Thessalonica as his crown or reward for his faithfulness in giving to these dear saints the gospel which God used to bring them to salvation and to give them the victory over Satan.
The Apostle Paul was so concerned over the eternal welfare of this group of believers that he saw his joy and eternal happiness intimately intertwined with theirs.
So, there we have it. Paul's idea of what it means to be a good pastor to a flock of people. And, he lived it out personally in the midst of the church of Thessalonica.
Richard Baxter once said that:
"To be a pastor a man must set his heart on the life to come and regard the matters of eternal life above all the affairs of this present life. Above the trifles of this world, he must appreciate in some measure the inestimable riches of glory."
The gift of pastor is given to an individual for the purpose of equipping the saints for works of service in order to build up the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11,12). It is not a job that any person should take lightly and it is a position that every church must prayerfully fill when seeking a minister. It is not an easy task if one takes it as seriously as the job deserves. Especially if we take Paul in I Thessalonians 2 as our role model.
As we have noted, a pastor must boldly proclaim the gospel while living a life consistent with one who names the name of Christ. And he must care greatly for those whom the Lord has given him as a flock over which Jesus is the Great Shepherd and the minister is His undershepherd.
While we must appreciate those whom God has placed over us in such a position, we must also remember that they are not there to do all the work. Neither are they the only ones who have the responsibility before God to care for the church of God in which the Lord has placed them. Indeed, we must all love one another and care for each other just as God cares for us.
Let us thank the Lord for Godly leaders who set the example that we can follow. And, as we all do this, may we vow to actually follow their lead as they allow the Lord to lead them. If we do this, we will truly be excited by the fruit that we together will bear for Him and the souls that will be won through us. When this occurs, in the end, we will all give the glory back to God to whom it all belongs!!
© 2019 Jeff Shirley