Stewardship. What comes to mind when you hear that word? If you've been in church for any length of time I'm sure your first association is: stewardship equals money. Most churches have a time of year when they amp up their stewardship campaign, asking the congregants to give money in support of the church budget. The tithe is certainly a commandment of God which is to be obeyed, without faithful tithes and offerings coming in the church cannot operate. However, true stewardship is so much more than simply giving of our money. True stewardship is giving of our lives to God. Paul considered his life an offering to God. He proclaimed to the Philippians:
"But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you ." Philippians 2:17
And to Timothy when nearing the end of his life:
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is near." 2 Timothy 4:6
A true steward owns nothing but works for his master. Paul considered himself a steward of God. He owned nothing in this world but possessed the very message of God. God was his Master and he worked to spread the Gospel of Christ to others. He, Silas, and Timothy did this with authenticity and faithfulness. Because of their faithfulness to the Gospel message they suffered much hardship. Paul tells the Thessalonians in 2:1-2:
"For you know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you has not been ineffective (fruitless, in vain), but after we had already suffered and been outrageously treated in Philippi, as you know, yet in [the strength of] our God we summoned the courage to proclaim boldly to you the good news of God [regarding salvation] amid great opposition." AMP
Paul's authentic faith brought him much trouble. In Philippi he and Silas had been treated shamefully. Stripped, beaten, and thrown in jail. Many would have considered that a failure; yet Paul said their suffering only made them bolder for Christ. God gave them courage to boldly proclaim the Gospel to the Thessalonians. Suffering doesn't mean failure. In fact, in God's economy, suffering often means our faith has proven to be authentic like Paul's. Satan is never threatened by an unauthentic faith. Like Paul, when our motives are pure, when our only desire is to proclaim His message to the masses; God takes our suffering and turns it into our testimony.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3 is:
Authentic faith boldly proclaims God's truth to others.
How do you view stewardship? In what ways are you living your life as a steward for God? What suffering have you endured because of your faith? In what ways have you considered suffering a failure? How has God taken your suffering and used it to produce boldness and courage to proclaim His message?
My husband recently spoke in our church. It was stewardship time and our pastor asked him to speak on the topic. Our pastor gave Russ "free-reign" - meaning he didn't give him a time limit or a set Scripture from which to speak. Most pastors would not give such freedom with their pulpit, but Dane knows Russ' heart toward giving and he knew Russ would represent his views on the subject accurately.
When someone knows our heart convictions match theirs they trust us to represent them well to others. The same is true of God. When God approves the motives of our hearts He entrusts us with His salvation message.
We are all called to be witnesses of God, taking His message of salvation with us wherever we go. Far too often we forget we are representing God and we begin trying to please men. Russ was afraid his message might offend people in the congregation but Paul tells us we are not to worry about pleasing men.
"But just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel [that tells the good news of salvation through Christ], so we speak, not as [if we were trying] to please people [to gain power and popularity], but to please God who examines our hearts [expecting our best]. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 AMP
Our sole purpose as stewards of God is to please Him. He expects our best whether we're standing in front of a congregation in church, or a classroom of students, or a cashier at WalMart. Living our lives to please people leads to a faith that is swayed by popular opinion rather than by God's Word. Living to please God leads to a faith that stands firm on His truth no matter what. Living a life of authentic faith means the motives of our heart are not self-seeking but others focused. It means there is no pretense, no flattery of others just to get something for ourselves, no assertion of power.
When His disciples began arguing about who would be the greatest among them Jesus said:
"In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called 'friends of the people.' But among you it will be different. Those who are greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves." Luke 22:25-27 NLT
When we proclaim God's Word to please people we're trying to gain power and popularity. When we proclaim His Word to please Him, we gain God's power and approval.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 is:
Authentic faith lives honestly before others and lords nothing over them.
What are the motives of your heart when you tell others about God's Word? How often do you check your motives? In what ways are you living to please people rather than God? Prayerfully read Psalm 24 and Psalm 51 asking God to open your eyes to the true motives of your heart. Write down the things His Spirit brings to mind then confess them out loud to God asking for Him to cleanse you and give you pure motives.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 Paul likened himself to a nursing mother. A good mother sacrifices for her children, she nourishes them, she gently and tenderly cares for her children. A good mother protects her children at all costs. In comparing himself to a mother Paul was helping the Thessalonians know just how deep his love for them was. Paul made sacrifices for them, many times working through the night to provide for himself so he would not be a burden to them. He took the time to show them with his life how to live for Christ.
Paul also likened himself to a father:
"With each of you we were like a father with his child, holding your hand, whispering encouragement, showing you step-by-step how to live well before God, who called us into His own kingdom, into this delightful life." 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 MSG
A good father provides for his children, protects his children, patterns his life as one to follow, and pronounces blessings over his children. Paul was a spiritual father to the Thessalonian Christians. He lived his live as an example of authentic faith giving them a pattern to follow. He was encouraging to them and provided for their spiritual needs just as a father provides for his children's physical needs.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 is:
Authentic faith cares for others and does not burden them.
Who in your life needs a spiritual mother? Who are you willing to take time with, to invite into your life so they can see firsthand what authentic faith looks like? Who in your life needs a spiritual father figure? Who can you come alongside today with an encouraging word? Who needs you to hold their hand and lead them step-by-step into a deeper understanding of God's Word? Who? Will you? How? When?
Verse 13 of chapter 2 stands alone as the sole reason the church at Thessalonica was able to withstand hardship and suffering. This verse holds the key to authentic faith. The Amplified Version says:
"And we also thank God continually for this, that when you received the word of God [concerning salvation] which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe [exercising its inherent, supernatural power in those of faith]."
In this verse we see three truths about authentic faith. First, authentic faith receives God's salvation message. Without believing in Jesus as God's Son and Savior of the world faith is a moot point. We cannot pick and choose the parts of the Bible we believe.; either we believe the whole of Scripture or we don't, there is no middle ground in authentic faith. Speaking on faith the writer of Hebrews said:
"Faith shows the reality of what we hope for, it is the evidence of things we cannot see...And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to Him must believe that God exists and that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him." Hebrews 11:1,6 NLT
Second, authentic faith believes the Bible is God's inerrant Word. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16:
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." ESV
Believing the Bible is the perfect Word of God fills our lives with His power, enabling us to stand firm in the face of difficulties and trials.
Third, a person of authentic faith allows God's Word to transform his or her life. The writer of Hebrews says in 4:12
"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." RSV
God's Word has the power to transform our lives but we must yield to its power. We must place ourselves under its authority. The Christians in Thessalonica had received God's salvation message, believing it to be God's message not merely human ponderings; and they allowed the message to transform their lives. Because of their authentic faith they were able to withstand the suffering and persecution of the non-believers.
Paul compares their suffering to that of the Jewish believers who suffered at the hands of non-believing Jews. By calling them brothers and sisters Paul was also identifying with them in their suffering. And he reminded them that Jesus Himself had suffered on behalf of the whole world.
Paul knew a thing or two about persecution. He had been on both sides of that aisle; first as a persecutor of the church and then as one persecuted for his faith. At his conversion experience God had asked him:
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is useless for you to fight against My will."
Acts 26:14 NLT
Authentic faith realizes that all persecution aimed at it is ultimately aimed at God Himself.
1 Thessalonians 2:16 causes confusion among many. Pauls says of those who keep God's Word from going forth:
"...in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last." NLT
This imagery of heaping up sins is used in Genesis 15:16 when God tells Abram his descendants would come back to the land and possess it at a later date because at that time the "sins of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
God is patient. He waits for people to turn from their sin and be saved. But one day His patience will end. One day the sin of the world will reach its full measure. When that time comes God's wrath will fall on all who have not believed. Authentic faith believes this fact and lives with eternity in mind.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16 is:
Authentic faith endures hardship with others.
How are you allowing God's Word to exercise its supernatural power in your life? Where have you seen its transforming power in your life or the life of someone else? In what ways are you fighting God's power? When have you been persecuted for your faith? How? How are you enduring hardship with others who are being persecuted because of their faith? Where will you stand when God's patience ends and His wrath begins...with Christ, forgiven and washed clean or will you stand condemned in your sin, consumed by His wrath? It is not too late. Today can be the day of your salvation.
The final verses of chapter 2 reveal Paul's tender heart toward the Thessalonian believers. Paul was homesick. He had described himself as a mother and a father to these people. He had identified them as his brothers and sisters. He felt he had been torn apart from his family, orphaned, left all alone. Leaving had not been his choice. It was forced upon him by the persecutors. The Thessalonians had feared for Paul's life and insisted that he leave.
In verse 18 Paul identifies the true enemy as Satan. He blamed Satan for tearing him apart from his family and preventing him from coming back to them. That's what our enemy is good at... tearing families apart, whether biological or spiritual. We must safeguard against his attacks. One way we can do this is to realize our fight is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of darkness which he commands.
Authentic faith will recognize Satan's tactics and fight against them. When there are disagreements within our church families we are quick to play the blame game. As God's children we should not point judgmental fingers at others until we have identified our own areas of weakness. Jesus told His disciples:
"Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others or it will come back against you. Forgive others and you will be forgiven...And why worry about the speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, 'Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Luke 6:37, 41-42 NLT
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 is:
Authentic faith is not judgmental of others.
How can you safeguard against Satan's attacks on your family, both biological and spiritual? Where is he attacking you right now? How will you remember your fight is with him and not people? Where do you tend to judge people? The places we are most judgmental of others usually reveal places we need to deal with in our own lives. Spend sometime in prayer asking God to reveal the logs in your eyes, then allow His Spirit to do the painful work of extracting those logs!
In verse 19 and 20 we see Paul turn his attention once more to heaven and the One for whom he lived. Speaking of the Thessalonians he says in verse 20:
"You are our pride and joy."
What parent doesn't think this of their children? Paul was proud of the Thessalonian Christians faith and endurance despite the persecution they endured. He told them they would be his "bragging rights" when he stood before God.
Even in his troubles Paul saw eternity. He knew God would reward him for his faithful work in taking the gospel message to the Gentiles. He lived his life for God's approval alone. He longed to hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant" and he pressed on toward that goal. Paul knew his authentic faith would be evidenced when he stood before God, the victor's crown in his hands. He said the Thessalonians would be that crown. It has been said the only thing we take to heaven are the souls of those who have believed in Christ because of our testimony. Truly this is our only joy before the Father, truly this is our victor's crown.
Living our lives for God's glory regardless of our circumstances is authentic faith. Authentic faith seeks God's approval above all others.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 2 is:
Authentic faith lives life for an audience of One.
What will be your pride and joy when you stand before God? How are you living now in order to reach that goal? Where does your faith need to improve? What will you do to ensure you have authentic faith? Who is your audience; God or people? For whose approval are you living?
In this age of social media there's lots of talk about audience. We fill our feed with pictures and quotes and thoughts about life. Some of us use this as a witnessing tool. Social media can be a wonderful witnessing tool...as long as we are seeking God's approval and not mans. I pray I have pure motives in all I do online and in real life. I pray we all do.
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy!
God bless and keep you,
1) Read 1 Thessalonians 2. Mark all references to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God's Word. Also mark references to Paul and his comrades, what they did, the Thessalonians, what they did, and any other words or phrases you find significant.
2) Prayerfully answer the questions and do the activities found in this lesson.
3) Read the following Scriptures and list the things you learn about faith.