Big Idea: Share the gospel boldly, honestly, and lovingly.
One of the best ways to learn something is to examine the life of someone who does it well. If you want to be a great investor, study the life of Warren Buffett. If you want to learn business, read about someone like Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos. If you want to be a great writer, read biographies or memoirs of great writers.
The same thing applies to sharing the gospel. If we want to learn how to make a difference in people’s lives spiritually, then we need to look at the life of someone who’s done so.
So today we’re going to look at a case study of someone who evangelized effectively, and helped to plant a church We want to look at this case study and learn what we can, because many of us learn better from examples rather than principles.
The man was Paul. Paul once hated Jesus and Christianity, but, after an encounter with Jesus, had his life completely transformed. He became one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever known. He traveled all throughout the Roman empire, starting churches, and sharing the good news of Jesus.
One of the cities he visited is called Thessalonica. It’s a city in Greece. When Paul came to share the gospel there, it was a city that was strategically located. It was over 100,000 people, which made it large for its time. It was important within its region, and religiously pluralistic. People worshiped many gods there.
In the book of Acts (Acts 17), we read about Paul’s time in Thessalonica. He first went to the Jewish synagogue, and for three Sabbaths, he shared the gospel there. During the week, he worked his trade (making tents) to support himself. Some believed, but some hated his message, and started a riot. We don’t know how long Paul was in Thessalonica, but we know that the opposition cut his time there short.
Out of Paul’s ministry there, though, an important church was founded. But Paul couldn’t stay there, and was concerned about how this young church was doing. He had sent his associate, Timothy, to see how the church was doing, and had received a mostly positive report. He writes this letter to encourage the Thessalonians, and to deal with some issues within the church.
I’m glad that Paul wrote this letter. It gives us a window into what an effective evangelistic ministry looks like. As Paul recounts his missions trip to Thessalonica, we see from his example how the gospel must be declared.
Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica had at least three characteristics that we can emulate. Here are three ways we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :
Share the gospel boldly, even when it is hard (verses 1-2)
In verses 1 and 2, Paul says:
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
Here’s the first way that Paul shared the gospel: he was bold, even when it was hard.
Paul says that “our coming to you was not in vain.” We’ll return to that later. And then he begins to list problems he’d had in Philippi, as well in Thessalonians. Here’s a short list.
In Philippi, according to Acts 16:19-39, he and his coworker Silas were insulted, attacked by a mob, publicly stripped and beaten by rods with many blows. They were then thrown in prison and had their feet put in stocks. All of this violated their rights as Roman citizens.
That was before they got to Thessalonica. When they showed up, they were still probably in pain from the beating they’d received. Within a short time, they encountered “strong opposition.” Some unsavory characters started a riot, and went looking for Paul and his friends, and they had to flee the city in the cover of darkness.
I don’t know what Paul and his friend Silas talked about as they fled. They were likely sore, tired, and more than a little frustrated. I think I would say something like, “You know, Silas, it might be time to try an easier line of work.”
But that wasn’t Paul’s heart. Paul says, “we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.” When we learn from Paul’s example, we will share the gospel boldly, even when it’s hard.
You see, boldness was a prerequisite for the results that Paul experienced. If he hadn’t been bold, then the Thessalonians wouldn’t have heard the gospel. If he hadn’t been bold, his life wouldn’t have been fruitful. All the things that Paul lists in this passage — the approval of God; the close fatherly relationship he had with the Thessalonians — wouldn’t have been true. If we’re going to be fruitful, we’re going to have to learn to be bold, even when it’s hard.
Where did Paul get this boldness? He actually spells it out for us in verse 2: “we had boldness in our God.” It wasn’t boldness in himself. It was a rock-solid confidence that “God was so real, and so powerful, and so wise and so utterly committed to doing all for Paul’s good that he knew nothing could separate him from the love of God” (John Piper).
I don’t know about you, but I know the missing piece in my life, especially when it gets hard, is boldness. When there’s opposition — and I’m not even talking about the kind of opposition that Paul faced — it’s easy to clam up and say nothing about the gospel. We don’t want to upset people or cause a scene. That’s what we think. The reality, though, is that there’s a deeper problem. We like comfort. We all do. Again, I like human approval and praise. I like money and comforts. And that’s exactly why I don’t want to speak up sometimes.
One preacher put it well:
So at least these two things have to happen inside if we are to be bold: we have to get free from the need of human acceptance and praise, and we have to get free from the need for the comforts and securities that money can buy. If we are free, we will be bold…Paul had his approval from God. He did not need human approval. He had his future in God. So no human threats could stop his courage. (John Piper).
The key to boldness is looking to God more than we look to our need for human approval and comfort. Ultimately, the best approval and comfort comes from God anyways.
If our lives aren’t going to be in vain, and we’re going to be fruitful and effective, we’re going to need a boldness in God even when it’s hard. Here are a couple of things we can do to cultivate that boldness:
- Ask God for it. Pray for boldness. After all, Paul asked others to pray that he would declare the gospel “boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:20). Pray for boldness. Ask others to pray for boldness in your life. Boldness isn’t a personality trait; it’s grown as we look to God and prize him more than anything else.
- Every time you’re not bold, try to figure out what happened. Figure out what you were trusting in that moment more than God — human approval, comfort, money. Confess it to God and others, and ask God for help in overcoming that idol.
That’s the first way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel: with boldness in God, even when it’s hard.
Here another way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :
Share the gospel honestly, which pleases God (verses 3-6)
In verses 3 to 6, Paul says:
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.
We see in this passage that motive is a pretty big deal. Verse 3 focuses on three ways that he tried to weave honesty into his life and ministry:
- message — His message was true. “…our appeal does not spring from error”
- motives — His motives were above-board. His appeal didn’t spring from “impurity.” This is a word that was often used for something that was so immortal that it was dirty. In this context, he was talking about avoiding dirty motives like financial gain or people-pleasing.
- methods — His methods were honest. He says that he avoided “any attempt to deceive.” He didn’t use underhanded rhetorical tricks that would have manipulated his audience.
Paul lived so that his whole life and ministry were above-board. People could make whatever accusation they wanted against him, but it sure would have been difficult to say much about his integrity.
This is so important because we live in a world of fakes. Many products are designed to imitate the real thing. There is plastic decking that looks like real wood. Vinyl flooring that appears to be ceramic tile. You can purchase fake fur or jewelry, phony noses, hairpieces, and other body parts. The purpose behind all of these items is fairly obvious, but what about a can of Spray-on Mud?
Spray-on Mud is designed for use on the outside of your SUV. That way it appears you use your expensive gas-guzzler for more than taking the kids to soccer practice. Spray it on and friends might think you've just returned from a wilderness adventure.
We can learn a lot from Paul. When we are real, and our lives match the message, we’ll be a lot more effective in sharing the gospel.
You’ve probably heard of Billy Graham, the American evangelist who’s held evangelistic meetings in Toronto a number of times. It’s estimated that he’s preached to over two billion people, which would mean he’s preached to more people in person than anyone in the history of Christianity. He’s also known for his integrity. As early as 1947, he and his campaign team met in a motel Modesto, California to discuss the pitfalls faced by revivalists. They identified four issues: misuse of money, sexual immorality, exaggeration of results and criticism of other clergy. They resolved that they would conduct regular financial audits, that they would never travel or dine alone with a woman outside their families, rely on independent confirmation of attendance at their meetings, and emphasize areas of agreement rather than disagreement.
I read the other week that when he checked into a hotel, his team would rip the cable TV from the wall. That seemed extreme, but they explained that they would pay for the damage. They were serious about maintaining integrity and avoiding the temptation of watching some of the adult content.
Ripping a cable from the wall may be extreme, but the underlying principle is a good one. When people look at our lives, they have to see that our lives match the message of the gospel. This doesn’t mean that we’re perfect. It means that we are pursuing integrity, and that we repent when we fall short. Paul’s message, motives, and methods were all above board. We can learn to share the gospel honestly like he did.
We’ve been trying to learn from Paul’s example. We’ve learned that we can be more effective in sharing the gospel by being bold and honest. Here one more way we can learn to be more effective in sharing the gospel :
Share the gospel lovingly, through our lives as well as our words (verses 7-12)
In verses 7 to 12, Paul says:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
I’m glad we’re finishing on this one. It would be easy to stop earlier and think that we all just need to be bold and above-board, and then we’ll be effective in sharing the gospel with others. But we’d be missing a key ingredient that’s absolutely necessary if we are going to be effective, and it’s found in verse 8: “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” We’re not just sharing the gospel; we’re sharing ourselves. We’re opening up our lives to people.
One preacher (John Piper) captures it well: Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls. Where the gospel flourishes — where people are encountering the truth of the gospel, wrestling with spiritual issues, and coming to faith — it’s because people aren’t just sharing the gospel. They’re sharing their lives.
I find this pretty challenging. It’s easy to hand out literature or hand someone a book. It’s easy to hang banners and run Facebook ads. All of those are good, but they’re not the same as sharing ourselves with people.
You have not shared the gospel when you have just shared information. It involves much more. Look at the language that Paul uses: like a nursing mother, working day and night, like a father with his children. Think about what this would have looked like. It would have involved patience, nurturing, encouraging, comforting, and exhorting. It would have involved being an example. It would have been hard work. It’s much more than information. It’s sharing our whole lives.
When I think about the those who have impacted my life the most, I think of people who gave me much more than a message. They gave me their lives. I think of people like Don Taylor and Bill Henderson who cared for me, encouraged me, and built into me. I bet it’s the same for you. Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls.
What does effective gospel ministry look like? Sometimes we think it would take someone who’s more gifted or skilled than we are. But when we look at Paul’s life, we see that some of the traits that made him effective are traits that God can grow in anyone.
If you hear nothing else, I want you to hear this: Share the gospel boldly, honestly, and lovingly.
When we see how much grace God has lavished on us, and what Jesus has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection; when we see how he desires to use us by the power of his Spirit, how could we not respond with boldness, integrity, and love?
Lord, Thank you for Paul’s example. Thank you for taking someone who was opposed to Jesus and turning him into one of the greatest evangelists of all time.
Would you use us? Please give us boldness, honestly, and love. Help people see Jesus in our lives. Thank you that you use people like us. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.