OK, so a lot of people think that the Bible is stuffy old book that was written thousands of years ago and really has nothing in common with the way people live today, right? Unfortunately, The Doctor has found that this opinion seems to be held mostly by people who have never really taken the time to check out what the Bible has to say for themselves. In fact, The Doctor is convinced that if more people took the time to actually read the Bible with an open mind, they would find that it is actually jam-packed with stories, teachings, and illustrations that are totally relevant to our world today.
For example, check out part of this letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the people who attended church in a town called Thessalonica- a letter we know today as the Biblical book of 1 Thessalonians. In this letter, Paul talks a little about the kind of relationship that he had with the Thessalonians during an earlier period when he was visiting with them. As you read this letter, see what kind of observations you can make about the way Paul handled himself with these people while he was with them. Then ask yourself, “how can I apply those same things in my relationships with others?”
Ready? Let’s check it out…
“You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet God gave us the courage to boldly repeat the same message to you, even though we were surrounded by enemies” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
Paul mentions that he received some pretty bad treatment while in the town of Philippi and you can check out the story of what happened there in Acts 16:12-40. Actually, this is kind of an understatement by Paul for when he talks about how badly he was treated and how he suffered, he definitely wasn’t kidding around.
You see, Paul took a courageous stand for God while he was in Philippi and was whipped and thrown into jail as a result. But the jail cell that Paul was placed into was not just any jail cell because Acts 16:24 tells us that Paul and his companions were placed into the “inner cell” of the prison. This inner cell area was the coldest, dampest, dirtiest part of the prison and represented the maximum-security detention area. It was a place where there were no bathrooms and no light. In fact, it was said that prisoners sometimes stayed so long within the inner cell that their chains began to rust on them while they were still wearing them. If that wasn’t enough, Acts 16:24 also says that Paul’s feet were placed into something called stocks. The stocks were long pieces of wood wrapped with iron that held a prisoner’s feet. Now this might not sound so bad unless you know that stocks were sometimes drilled with extra holes so that a prisoner’s legs could be stretched into painful positions.
Nevertheless, look what Paul says: “Yet God gave us the courage to boldly repeat the same message to you, even though we were surrounded by enemies.” Listen, don’t kid yourself- it takes real courage to do what’s right when everybody else is doing something different. Now you may have never spent time in a damp, dark prison like Paul but the message to you is the same- with God’s help, you can do anything that God has called you to do even if there are people who are seriously against you.
So we can say that God first helped Paul display courage. Another thing that Paul displayed was sincerity…
“So you can see that we were not preaching with any false motives or evil purposes in mind; we were perfectly straightforward and sincere. For we speak as messengers from God, trusted by him to tell the truth; we change his message not one bit to suit the taste of those who hear it; for we serve God alone, who examines our hearts’ deepest thoughts” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
So it’s clear that Paul wasn’t trying to cheat people through deception or ulterior motives. He was genuine and upfront about what he believed and why.
Here’s something else- Paul was authentic…
“Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you very well know, and God knows we were not just pretending to be your friends so that you would give us money! As for praise, we have never asked for it from you or anyone else, although as apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to some honor from you” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6).
Paul wasn’t a slick kind of guy who used smooth talk with people. With Paul, everything was WYSIWYG – “what you see is what you get.” Paul didn’t use flattery (which means “to compliment excessively and often insincerely, especially in order to win favor”) with the people of Thessalonica. You see, whenever you flatter someone, you are treating them to a false or insincere kind of friendship. Paul chose not to take that route.
Instead, Paul was genuine and authentic in his dealings with people. Because Paul’s need for security and acceptance was found through his relationship with Jesus, he didn’t need to spend all his time flattering others to get them to like and accept him like people often do today. This gave him the freedom to show genuine love and affection towards other people.
Paul had another attitude that really helped him in his relationship with the Thessalonians- gentleness…
“But we were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you dearly– so dearly that we gave you not only God’s message, but our own lives too” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
Notice that Paul didn’t look to pick fights with people over the Bible. He didn’t look at people as “prizes” to be won nor did he try to steamroller people with the Scriptures. On the contrary, he displayed gentleness, care, and love. He communicated the word of God in a way that didn’t repel people or turn them off. In other words, Paul’s interaction with the people of Thessalonica was driven by love.
Something else that marked Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was hard work…
“Don’t you remember, dear brothers, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled and sweated to earn enough to live on so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there, as we preached God’s Good News among you. You yourselves are our witnesses– as is God– that we have been pure and honest and faultless toward every one of you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
Paul wasn’t a slacker; he made sure that he always pulled his own weight. Speaking of this, here’s a question for you- do you know what Paul did to earn money? Well, Acts 18:3 tells us that Paul was a tentmaker by trade. During his travels, Paul would support himself by making tents for people to live in. He would measure and cut and stitch to make a living and then he would go and talk about Jesus with people.
Because Paul worked to support himself, he was free to tell the truth without needing to be concerned that people might stop supporting him if he said something that they didn’t like. Acts 20:34-35 gives us a little more insight about this by recording part of a conversation that Paul had with the church leaders in the town of Ephesus…
“You know that these hands of mine worked to pay my own way and even to supply the needs of those who were with me. And I was a constant example to you in helping the poor; for I remembered the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:34-35).
So Paul was a guy who was totally above reproach. Paul wasn’t the kind of guy who said, “do as I say, not as I do.” Paul preached the same way he lived- with integrity. This is one reason why Paul could say this in a letter to his friend Timothy: “…never let it be said that Christ’s people are poor workers. Don’t let the name of God or his teaching be laughed at because of this” (1 Timothy 6:1).
There’s one last thing that we can learn from the way Paul conducted himself with the people at Thessalonica- he encouraged people to live a God-honoring lifestyle…
“We talked to you as a father to his own children– don’t you remember?– pleading with you, encouraging you and even demanding that your daily lives should not embarrass God but bring joy to him who invited you into his Kingdom to share his glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Paul made it a point to encourage people to live a God-honoring lifestyle. Now the importance of living the kind of life that shows respect for God is more important than you might think. You see, people are always watching you- especially if you claim to be a Christian. And if you -as a Christian- say one thing but live a kind of lifestyle that doesn’t back up what you say that you believe then why would anybody take you seriously?
Even worse, a lifestyle that doesn’t back up what you say you believe can really bring dishonor to God. Paul talked a little about this in a hard-hitting section of his letter to the first century Christians who attended church in Rome…
“You say it is wrong to commit adultery– do you do it? You say ‘Don’t pray to idols’ and then make money your god instead. You are so proud of knowing God’s laws, but you dishonor him by breaking them. No wonder the Scriptures say that the world speaks evil of God because of you” (Romans 2:22-24).
Don’t let this kind of thing be said of you. Remember, if you’re a Christian then you should be aware that people are always checking you out because they want to see if your talk really matches your action. This is probably why Paul advised the Colossian church to “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5 NIV).