Jesus said he came that our life might be full, and that our joy would be complete. (John 10:10, 15:11) Today we learn how to rejoice -- in fact, it seems, can’t help but rejoice in our Savior and King for his triumphant grace. We can’t always do it because of our circumstances, but we can do it because as we wait on him, he gives us strength to live faithfully and fully until he comes again…
When you are at home what are some of the things you really like to do? [Answers]. What are some of the things you don’t like to do? [Answers]. Can I ask you a question? Why did you choose to like some things and not another? (They might be harder, have do it again and again (boring), you might be told by other’s actions or reactions or words that it isn’t supposed to be fun, so you begin to think it isn’t...
I remember when my oldest son was 2, he wasn’t able to plug in or turn on the vacuum cleaner, but he would reach up and grab the handle and push the cleaner all over the house. When he was older he couldn’t wait to mow the lawn. When I was young, just a little older than most of you, one of the most fun things I did was vacation on my grandpa’s farm and help bail hay all day long all week long. How many farmers do you think would think that was fun?
In the Bible, we are talking about a man named Paul who was thrown in jail, then forced out of one town after another, and yet to the church in Philippa he wrote he learned how to be content whether it was something he really liked, or something he didn’t care for much, because he knew that everything he was doing was making life better for others and that he was pleasing God.
Next week he is going to say his life is full and happy because of the people he is trying to help. He tells them they are what gives him joy and makes him proud.”
Your parents and grandparents may or may not always say it or show it, but I suspect a whole lot of what they do for you are not things you, or they, would list in the “fun” and “I love to do that” category. But they do it anyway because you are their pride and joy and they love you even more than they dislike the tasks they do for you. And I suspect, they will want you to learn to love people so much that you will do the same.
Do you know what Jesus did for us, right? [answers] Did you know that in Hebrews it says he did all that for the joy set before him? I don’t think that “joy set before him was just about his “reward in heaven someday”, it was about what he was able to do for each one of us -- helping us win over wrong each day, and learning to love to do things for each other…
Message “Motivated Motivators” 1 Thessalonians 2:1 -12
Bible passages (in italics in the message) are from the (NIV)
An man walked into a beverage establishment and was amazed to see three men playing cards with a dog. "Can that dog really play cards?" One of them answered, "He can, but he’s not very good at it. Every time he gets he gets a good hand, his tail wags."
We cannot help but reveal what is important in our lives. And we cannot help but influence and be influenced by our experiences with each other. John Donne wrote that no [person] is an island entire of itself; every [person] is a part of the main…” so if even one part of humanity is diminished, even a little bit; then so are we because of our connection with all of humanity.
In chapter 1, Paul talked about how his mission team imitated Jesus in front of the Thessalonians. They, in turn, imitated his team and in so doing modeled the Lord in front of the city; and their faith had become known everywhere. Now Paul gets more specific about what that imitation and modeling looks like.
Successful Imitation / Modeling * has long term impact
The first thing he notes is that their modeling of the gospel was effective: our visit to you was not without results. (v 1b) The tense of the phrase means that not only did his visit have immediate impact, it also made a permanent change in the direction of the lives of the believers. It was not just a one-time short-term thing, it was long-term ongoing (and still going) thing.
I know people, and you probably do too; and maybe it is even some of us -- who get all fired up at some special event, or make promises and changes during some great success or deep crisis of life. But then the event ends, the joy of the victory fades or the struggle smooths out, and there is a return to the normal daily routine; and sometimes there is a return to the old normal habits -- even if they were habits that drew us to the event or threw us into crisis in the first place.
Then these people seek another motivator, another event, another promise, another challenge that will offer some quick and easy way to achieve a full and happy life.
They want personal effectiveness and rich, deep relationships without going through the ongoing, long-term natural processes that make true growth possible.
We want super marriages without investing ourselves in the relationship. We want to be super parents without consistent discipline or nurturing. We want wealth without work or solid financial planning or saving.
And the same is true in spiritual things: We want to be powerful pray-ers without practicing the discipline of prayer. We want to know everything in the Bible without ever picking it up to read it. We want to know God's will without stopping to listen and explore what that might be.
It's great that the grace of God gives us the opportunity to start over, the opportunity to pick up where we failed. We all need that from time to time, no matter how far we’ve progressed in our spiritual journey. But in the long haul, we hope that new practices and new directions will take a lasting hold and make an increasingly positive impact on our lives.
Paul says the gospel came upon them with power, conviction and the Holy Spirit -- and it stuck -- they continued to grow in this new way of life.
The final analysis of Christian faith and ministries and disciplines is ultimately determined -- not by how good it felt in the moment, or how entertaining/inspiring it is; but whether or not, over the years there is an increasing strength of faith and a growing movement of the people toward God and living a more Christ-like life.
Are you trending to an ever-stronger faith?
So, as you look back over your recent years, -- are there signs in your life that the gospel has come to you in power – in ongoing power? Is the general overall trend of your faith stronger than it was before? That is not to say there are never set backs and failures. When I look at my daily weigh-in chart, it looks more like an EKG than a – slope. But some of you have noticed that the general long-term trend has been that there is a slope that is moving in the right direction. What about our faith journey? If you charted how strong and full your life is long term, which direction would it be going? Now don’t confuse a fuller life with better circumstances -- those are two totally different scales (two different measurements). What we are measuring is, are we closer to Christ? And are we able to increasingly imitate Christ’s life in this modern world? Better than we could a few years ago?
And as we able to do that, we also increasingly become examples (models), that allow the gospel to take root and grow in others. Paul describes successful modeling.
Successful Imitation / Modeling * is shared courageously
His mission team had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi… but with the help of our God [they] dared to tell … [God’s] gospel in the face of strong opposition. (v 2)
Because of what Christ was effectively doing in Paul’s life, he was so confident he was doing the right thing in his life, that his words and actions flowed freely and easily to those around him… even when, like the dog at the card table, it was clearly not in his best interest to share his joy…
Successful Imitation / Modeling * is shared truth - fully
Paul was also careful not to exaggerate the claims of Christ’s promises, nor misrepresent the reality of the Christian life -- for the appeal we make [to accept Christ and follow his ways] does not spring from error. (vv 3a-4a)
Abraham Lincoln once tired of trying to convince a stubborn person of a certain point of view. He asked, “How many legs does a cow have?" The man answered, "Four." Lincoln agreed, "That's right. Now, suppose you call the cow's tail a leg; then how many legs would the cow have?" The man said, "Well, of course it has five."
Lincoln answered, "No. Just because you call a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."
Are you sure the message you model is true?
Paul's message of Jesus Christ is not a 5th leg, or as Peter phrases it - a cleverly invented story. (2 Peter 1:16) On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. (4a)
How sure are we of the message we live and proclaim? Do we claim a bunch of 5th legs (exaggerations to impress, or dilutions (watering it down) to make it more palatable)? The message we tell and strive to live is not our good news to manipulate, but the good news of God, which should have changed and continue to change our outlook on how we present ourselves in speech and in action, representing him in everything that we do, because it is not our agenda, but God’s agenda that is being moved forward.
Successful Imitation / Modeling * is shared sincerely
Therefore, we not only avoid error, Paul says his appeal does not spring from impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you… 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, (3b,4b-6a).
He is talking about motivations here. Early in my ministry I got called to jury duty. Grandparents had been taking care of a mentally disabled mother (their daughter) and her twin children. But their health was failing and they knew they simply couldn’t do it anymore. Suddenly, the father was in the picture wanting custody. We jurors had to decide whether or not custody should go to the father, or if the state should remain involved in the welfare of these children. The most important factor in our decision had to do with the motivations of this father. Could we trust that he had the children's interests at heart? Or did he have another “secret”, less noble agenda?
What are our motivations?
As we live out our faith and share it, what are our motivations and agendas? Are they sincere or do we just make themselves sound that way, sometimes even fooling even ourselves?
It is an old joke now, but a brand-new lawyer in his brand-new office – first day. He wanted to impress and so as he sees the first person walk through the door, he grabs the phone and starts talking like he is cutting some multi-million-dollar deal, pulling in people from all over the country to this factory to get it all worked out. And he hung up the phone and asked the man how he could help him. The man said, “You can’t help me at all, I’m just here to hook up your phone.”
Christ has more blows dealt to him when his people misrepresent him by using trickery, flattery, mockery, hypocrisy, and many other wrong motivators to get people to do what we want – for whatever reason.
Seeking to please God
When it comes to faith, we can have lots of goals that sound good and noble, and many may even be so. But ultimately, if our end goal is anything less seeking to please God himself, we have missed the mark.
Avis taught a 2d grade Sunday School class that emphasized Bible memorization. A 7-year-old boy was excited about it and was studying it in the living room. The father was watching him and asked, "So what prize or reward do you get for learning these verses?” The boy looked at him dumbfounded for a minute, then said excitedly, "We get to learn more!"
Paul wasn't interested in impressing others, only God. He wasn't interested in personal gain, only God's, and the benefit of others. So, he modeled the sharing of the gospel, and he modeled the sharing of his life.
The life he shared was not one of exuding total authority, though as church leader and founder, he had that right.
How do we motivate others?
There are at least two ways to motivate people. The first is illustrated by the man who filled his pool with sharks and barracuda, and other assorted dangerous fish. At a party he announced to all of the guests that if anyone would jump in the pool and swim to the other side, he would reward them with either a new mountain home, a world-wide trip, or a part of his business. As soon as he finished the words there was a splash, and a man swam quickly to the other end and hopped back out. The host was impressed. “Which prize do you want?” The man growled, "Right now, I just want to know who pushed me in.” Reward, punishment, the force of push and pull…
Successful Imitation / Modeling * is shared familial - ly
Instead, [Paul and team] were like young children among them. (v 6b-7a). We have enough of them around here to know what that is like -- never a burden, almost always adding energy and joy and hope to this room.
and then he said he was like as a new mother caring for and loving her children. (vv 7b-8) Ladies, do you remember the delight of that labor? Working night and day to carry the burden so your young ones could be secure and learn and flourish so they could grow up into responsible, beautiful, adults? Do you remember that as a joy?
And he said they were like a father deals with his children (vv 11-12) encouraging, comforting, and urging them to live worthy of God.
Years ago, at Columbia University, Coach Lou Little watched a boy try out for his football team. He wasn’t very good, but he had an incredible spirit. And so the coach decided he would put him on the team to fill only that role.
Whenever this boy’s father visited campus, Coach saw them walking together arm in arm, and on Sunday going to and from the Chapel. They clearly had an exceptional bond of love and faith.
Long story shorter, the father died. When the son returned after the funeral, Coach came to him and asked him if there was anything at all that he could do for him, he’d be happy to do it. The boy said, “Let me start in the game next Saturday.” That caught the coach off guard and this happened to be the biggest game of the season. But he was a man of his word and he had offered anything. So, he agreed, thinking he’d start and leave him in for just a few plays and then pull him out, because, after all, he was only on the team to be a sideline spark plug for the team’s energy.
So, everyone was surprised when on the very first play from scrimmage, that that boy made a tackle that threw the opposing team for a loss. The boy play inspired football play after play after play. He played so well that Coach left him in for the entire game. He was voted the game’s most valuable player as he led his team to victory.
Later, the coach asked him, “What got into you today to play like that?”
The boy replied, "You saw me around campus with my father. What no one around here knew is that my father was blind. So today was the first time ever he got to actually see me play.”
Successful Imitation / Modeling consists of Holiness, Righteousness Blamelessness
It is because of resurrection vision – that we know Christ is watching us who are his pride and joy (we’ll hear next week), and in the game of life it allows us (when we know he is watching) to "play above our heads" – inspired life. And to "see" the purposes and power and love of God and that it is in him that we live and move and have our being, and belong to God – because of Christ. Our motivation is always, first and foremost -- to please him, and modeling, as the text also says, * the holy life (that means set apart and committed to loving God and loving God’s loving purposes, and * the righteous life (that means to accept and receive the right relationship with God that we can have through Christ, which will impact us to have a right way of living as well), and then finally * and a blameless life (meaning you can’t be legitimately accused of doing anything wrong), or at least, if we know we’ve done something wrong, we make it right, so that there is still nothing to accuse us of. What kind of models are we?
Prayer: Lord, this is a high calling you have placed on your people. We certainly cannot do it if your good news in Christ does not come to us in power and conviction and the Spirit. And even then, we still fail. So, forgive us by your grace, and grace us to live again -- fuller and more joyful lives than we have ever lived before -- for our lives are not our own -- but they are in you and we belong to you -- by the work of Jesus Christ who leads the way in our living by his living, among us, and in us. Amen.
Now as we leave, let us go with the assurance that God always goes with us and guides us toward his light. As his children, then; hold high the light of Christ -- be a beacon of hope to those around you -- that all may be drawn to him. Amen.
Successful Imitation / Modeling
* has a long-term impact
* is shared courageously
* is shared truth – fully
* is shared sincerely
* is shared familial – ly
* is always to please God