This week, I will commence with a series of studies on the “Essentials of life in an Aimless World.” A firm grip is crucial, whether scaling a mountain or climbing the rugged cliffs of the spiritual life. Our survival depends on how well we hang on and what we hang on to. There are some of us who are slipping from the fundamentals of the Christians faith. They are losing their grip on what the Bible has to say about life.
If you want to get a hold of what’s really important, this study is for you. Discover biblical direction on issues you face every day, including priorities, money, integrity, prayer, as well as a dozen other practical topics. Strengthen your grip on those changeless truths from God’s word is essential in an aimless world.
Let me begin with a quote from C.S. Lewis, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” On, the tyranny of “second things”! They scream for our attention, deafening us to the real priorities. And being Christians doesn’t make us immune.
Take the way we minister, for example, Most people have no problem getting a handle on priorities when they’re just starting out. But later on when success comes, when the church need outpace the ability to meet them all, when we move into its new facility, or when the winds of adversity kick up, the priority list can get blown away in a gust of confusion.
To make sure that list remains firmly in our grasp, we must strengthen our grip on four priorities, priorities that should characterise our churches as well as our personal lives. With time, we can lose our vitality. Instead of allowing God to stretch and shape us into living communities of believers, we petrify in traditionalism. Maintaining programs becomes more important than ministering to people and the result is an ingrown, stagnant clique.
The Apostle Paul in his first Epistle to the Thessalonian believers, he shows us how to keep our ministries vibrant and alive in Christ (1 Thessalonian 2:1-13). There are four priorities that characterise a vital Ministry in the passage. First, “Our Foundation Must Be Biblical.” The foundation of Paul’s message was the gospel (1 Thess. 2:1-4).
Had you sat among the worshippers in Thessalonica, you would have heard the clear and consistent declaration of God’s Word, not a preacher’s idle ramblings or opinions. The gospel of Christ was the foundation upon which the apostle built his exhortations and reproofs, making his teaching sure and dependable.
In contrast, whenever a church concentrates on pleasing people instead of God, its spiritual structure begins to wobble. God’s Word is our only infallible blueprint. It provides rock-solid principles for every area of ministry: vision, educational curriculum, counseling, leadership, music, missions, evangelism, and sermons etc. A ministry built on something other than the Word of God is headed for spiritual collapse.
If you skip down to verse 13, you’ll see how the Thessalonians responded to Paul’s preaching. “And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, 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.” When God’s Word is proclaimed, God’s people are fed and that includes the pastor/preacher. God’s truth falls like a seed on fertile soil. Once received, it takes root in our lives, grows, and produces fruit. Everyone benefits. Everyone is nurtured.
How receptive is the soil of your heart to God’s Word? Are there any rock or weeds that keep it from taking root? If so, won’t you submit yourself to the Gardener’s hoe and allow His Word to perform its work in your life? It could turn a dry walk with God into a dynamic one, a fruitless existence into a fruitful adventure.
Second, “Our Application Must Be Authentic.” God’s Word, however, isn’t taught in a vacuum. It does its work among real people with real needs. That’s why authenticity is essential in ministry. Paul understood this in his Reflection on those days he spent with the Thessalonian church (1 Thess. 2:5-6).
Neither egotism nor exploitation marred Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians. He didn’t have one hand around their shoulders and the other in their pockets. He had no hidden agenda for plugging his latest book, touting his success as a church planter, Evangelists, Apostle, prayer warrior, world preacher, or begging for money to keep his ministry alive. He was genuine, sincere, upfront, and transparent.
Likewise, our ministries and lives must be free of deception and drive to impress. We must be real, without hypocrisy and without hype. Authenticity means admitting we’re not perfect. Paul wasn’t afraid to divulge his struggles and weaknesses; he knew that his humanness was the very avenue through which Christ’s work would be revealed (1 Thess. 2:2; 1 Cor. 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 12:7-10; 1 Tim. 1:15). None of us “has it all together”, we are all in process. So let’s allow others to see beyond our Sabbath and Sunday best to the parts of our lives that still need work.
Third, “Our Attitude Must Be Gracious.” Paul also put a priority on being gracious, full of tenderness and compassion (1 Thess. 2:7-8). Paul didn’t bark commands like a drill sergeant; he tenderly cared for the Thessalonians like a mother nursing her infant. Our leadership style today could use a lot more gentleness and compassion. Pastors should be more than vending machines for the truth; they need to nurture and feed God’s family.
Having begun with the tenderness of a mother, Paul now shifts to the loving guidance of a father (1 Thess.2 10-11). Just as we need a mother to nurse us, so we need a father to take us by the hand and show us the way. We need his strength not only to guide us but to pick us up when we stumble.
Don’t get the idea from Paul’s loving language that he was a spiritual softie; he was a warrior for the gospel. But he clearly distinguished between the spiritual enemy and people, who were hurting and lost in darkness, imperfect believers needing grace. So he instructed the Thessalonians in the truth, but he also imparted his life to them.
Fourth, “Our Style Must Be Relevant.” Paul invested himself deeply in the Thessalonians so they would “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own Kingdom and glory (1 Thess.2:12-13). The Thessalonians accepted the Word of God because of its relevance. It scratched where they itched. It healed where they hurt. It “performed its work,” made a difference in their lives (v.13), Paul knew their culture well, and he presented the gospel with the day’s issues in mind.
The Bible will never be obsolete; it will always be up-to-date. But our culture does change. Technology constantly gets upgraded. Financial stability ebbs and flows. Fashions and taste come and go at a whim. So a ministry that wants to make an impact must be relevant. Without compromising the gospel, it must answer today’s issues, not yesterday’s. It must look forward more often that it looks back. And it must be willing to flex to stay up with the times, avoiding the restrictive bonds of traditionalism.
A biblical foundation, authentic application, a gracious attitude, and a relevant style are important. When we strengthen our grip on these priorities, Christianity becomes more than another item on our “to do” list. The reality of Christ soaks into our lives so deeply and completely that it changes the very chemistry of our being. And those around us cannot help but notice.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea