Tenderness is not a sign of weakness 

Reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, and as a follow up to my last post, I am struck by Paul’s care and desire for the Thessalonians. Certainly, his care extends to their physical needs, but his focus is on the spiritual in the latter verses of chapter 2 into chapter 3. His own boasting before the Lord is wrapped up in their spiritual steadfastness and growth (1 Thess 2:19). His desire to know how they are doing spiritually causes him to send Timothy ahead of himself and leaving him without his trusted associate (1 Thess 3:1-2). Upon Timothy’s return, his good report causes him joy (1 Thess 3:9). 

Paul as Model

Paul is a model in many ways. His boldness to proclaim the gospel and plant churches is inspiring. His willingness to put his life on the line for the sake of Christ time and time again is convicting. But his boldness and bravado are balanced by tenderness. As Christian leaders, we must not only be bold and brave, but we must also be tender with those whom the Lord has placed under our care. 

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness.

Rather it is evidence that the gospel has affected your heart. Our Lord is tender. He cares for those who are His like a nursing mother cares for her child. 

There are no pictures of Paul. Photography didn’t exist in Paul’s day. But I can’t help but think of Paul as a big, burly guy. I could be wrong. But that is the image that comes to mind when I think of Paul. If a big burly guy like Paul can be tender and caring so can we. Men, Pastor, allow Paul to be your example.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness. 

Whose glory are you seeking?

Our world is full of those seeking their own glory. If you need an example, open your Instagram feed. There are examples after examples of those who seek their own glory, whether they use whit, sex, interest, or charm. The currency of glory, at least on Instagram, is hearts and comments. The more the better. 

But I am not here to pick on Instagram. I post pictures on my account regularly. It is not a bad medium. I gain a lot of inspiration from others for my own photography. It is, however, an example of the natural human desire for self-glory. 

I believe we all need to be aware of our natural tendencies, but today I want to speak specifically to ministry leaders and pastors. As leaders, we must be aware of our natural desire for self-glory. If we don’t, we will forget our reason for ministry. 

Paul, as example

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, seeks to clear up a misunderstanding they had regarding him and his ministry when he 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. 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.” (1 Thess 2:3-8)

Paul is clear. He didn’t come:

  • To please man but to please God. 
  • He didn’t seek to flatter.
  • He wasn’t after their money. 
  • Nor was he seeking self-glory. 

Paul came to the Thessalonians in order to preach the gospel to bring glory to God.

Not Our Glory

As ministry leaders, our desires must be pure. Our motives must always be right and good. We must not seek position in the church for our own glory or gain. If we are in it for what we can get out of it, we will be tempted to hedge when times are tough. Instead of standing up for what is right, we will let things slide to keep our position or status. Unwillingness to take a stand, seeking self glory, is not how healthy churches are formed. As ministry leaders, our goal should be to win others to Christ, help them grow in the faith, and bring glory to God. If that is not our focus, then we are deceiving ourselves and the people/church to whom we are seeking to minister.

For Our Ultimate Boss

While we might be able to hide our motives from men, we can’t hide them from God. He is the only One who can peer into the innermost recesses of our lives, into our very heart — will, mind, emotions — and see why we do what we do. He is the ultimate judge. Not only should we seek to please Him in all we do, but we must also seek His glory above our own.

Whose glory are you seeking?

God is not working in my life. Is He real? Does He care about me?

God is not working in my life. Is He real? Does He care about me?

We are good at misapplying God’s mercy. We take God’s mercy to mean that we should be free from any difficulty in life. If, and when, we face difficulty we take it to mean that God hasn’t shown up which means He either doesn’t care or isn’t real. In this way, God’s seeming standoffishness is used as an apologetic against Christianity.

However, reading through Dane Ortlund’s book Gentle and Lowly this morning, I came across this passage:

“Perhaps, looking at the evidence of your life, you do not know what to conclude except that this mercy of God in Christ has passed you up. Maybe you have been deeply mistreated. Misunderstood. Betrayed by the one person you should have been able to trust. Abandoned. Taken advantage of. Perhaps you carry a pain that will never heal till you are dead. If my life is any evidence of the mercy of God in Christ, you might think, I’m not impressed.

To you I say, the evidence of Christ’s mercy toward you is not your life. The evidence of his mercy toward you is his—mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned. Eternally. In your place.

If God sent his own Son to walk through the valley of condemnation, rejection, and hell, you can trust him as you walk through your own valleys on your way to heaven.”

Dane C. Ortlund. Gentle and Lowly, 179.

We have it wrong. God’s mercy doesn’t mean we won’t face hardship, instead it means He faced the ultimate hardship on our behalf. What comfort it is to know that God is there, not as a genie who makes life easy for us, but as a Savior who sheds His blood on our behalf.

When will God deal with evil?

God has a plan for this world.

A plan that has existed before the foundation of the world. Before anything was created, God had a plan. God’s plan involves Him dealing with evil.

If you don’t believe God has a plan, look at His prophecies and promises throughout Scripture. Look and see how He has fulfilled them.

God has a plan. A plan He is bringing to fruition. A plan that will not be thwarted.

Hard to Believe

That might be hard to believe, because our best laid plans. They don’t always work out. If you are a parent, especially of young kids, you know this to be true. You might have an entire day planned out. You are going to get out of the house with the kids. Head to park. Wear them out a bit. Then run a few errands before stopping at the grocery store to pick up some food to cook that evening for your friends that are coming over.

You have full day but you have it all planned out. You are getting ready to go. Your kids are being quiet. You can’t believe they are being quiet and letting you get ready. Then you think, maybe they are being a little too quiet. You walk back to their room to check on them, and to your horror you find their new clothes you just dressed them in covered in paint. Then you see hand prints all over the wall.

Guess what you are doing that day? You aren’t going to park. You aren’t running errands. You might make it to the grocery store, but most likely you are ordering pizza for your friends that are coming over, if you don’t just throw your hands up and cancel your plans altogether.

Our best laid plans don’t always work out, but God’s do.

God is our Creator. He is the One who created you and I and the universe in which we live. He controls all things. He is the all-sovereign God. His plans don’t fail. He has a plan to deal with evil.

In the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13, Jesus tells us when He will deal with evil.

In the parable Jesus tells us a story about a Farmer. He sows wheat on his own land. But the farmer has an enemy who comes at night and plants weeds in his field.

The weeds that his enemy plants are what is known as Darnel. Darnel closely resembles wheat. At first, they look identical. You can’t really tell the difference until the wheat matures. Only then can you tell that the weeds weren’t wheat but weeds because there was no head — no fruit.

What we see then is that the bad crop grows alongside the good crop. As it grows their roots intertwine with one another. The weeds end up soaking up all the nutrients and moisture in the soil. It stunts the growth of the wheat so that it doesn’t produce as it would have if the darnel hadn’t been planted in the first place.

Once you are able to tell the field was infested with darnel, you couldn’t pull the weeds up because of the intertwined roots. If you did, you would end up pulling up the wheat crop, so the farmer tells his servants to allow the weeds to exist among the wheat until the harvest. At the harvest the darnel would be gathered out and burned while the wheat was put in the barn.

When Jesus returns, those who are evil will be gathered up and burned in the fire.

Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:40–43)

Even though evil is allowed to continue in the world, judgment is coming.

When Jesus returns, all those who are not His disciples: All those who haven’t repented of their sin. Who don’t recognize He is the Messiah. That He is the One who provides them with salvation. All those who don’t call Him Lord will face judgment.

For now, Jesus allows His disciples to live in the world among those who are evil. Those who are evil do evil things. We have seen that on the news regarding Afghanistan. People are being oppressed, beaten, and even killed. 13 soldiers and over 160 civilians lost their life because evil people decided to set off a bomb. Evil exists in the world. We live among it every day.

But Jesus promises us that evil won’t continue forever. One day, He will deal with it. Those who are not in His kingdom will be judged and the world will be purged of evil. But that won’t happen now. It will only happen when Jesus returns.

Two Choices — Biblical Wisdom or Worldly Wisdom

Are you able to distinguish between worldly wisdom and biblical wisdom? Do you know which is more beneficial for your life and why?

Jesus’ parable of the two builders comes at the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount teachings. ****We don’t have time to go through all of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. But suffice it to say His teaching tells us who are apart of His kingdom and how we are to live in His kingdom.

Two Choices — Biblical Wisdom or Worldly Wisdom

At the end of His teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers His listeners, He offers us, two choices. A choice between hearing and doing the wisdom of the world or hearing and doing His wisdom.

Look at the text starting in verse 24:

““Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt 7:24)

Skip down to verse 26:

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.

(Mt 7:26)

Using a building analogy, Jesus distinguishes between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. He uses an everyday occurrence in Palestine to show us the folly of building our life on worldly wisdom. The wise man builds His house on the rock.The foolish man builds his house on the sand.

If you were a wise man in ancient Palestine, you would build your house on the rock so that when “... the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Mt 7:25)

But those who were unwise, they didn’t build on the rock and there was a different outcome for them. Look at verse 27,

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.””

(Mt 7:27)

Through this parable, offers us two choices.

  • (1) Build your life on the rock — on biblical wisdom — experience safety and salvation.
  • (2) Or build your life on the sand — on worldly wisdom — experience destruction.

Those are the two choices we have. Allow the Bible, allow Jesus to guide us, allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives. Or allow the world, worldly wisdom to guide and direct us.

Why should we allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives?

When it comes to understanding why we should allow biblical wisdom to direct our lives, James is super helpful:

In James 3:13-18, James contrasts two types of wisdom — heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom. Those who are wise according to the world’s standards live by mantras like:

  • “You do you”;
  • “let it be”;
  • “just do what feels right to you”;
  • “be true to yourself”;
  • “do what makes you feel good”;
  • “Just follow your heart”.

I’m sure you have heard those before. You might have even voiced them yourself. As good as they might sound, that is representative of worldly wisdom.

You might think following worldly wisdom will result in success. We live in the world after all. But that is not true.

Worldly wisdom, James says, results in “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14). It results in boasting that seeks to puff up self while tearing another downAs well as it results in lies, because, after all it is all about self.

Heavenly wisdom is different. Heavenly wisdom comes down from above. Heavenly wisdom is what Jesus has been pouring forth throughout the sermon on the mount. Heavenly wisdom produces good fruit:

  • Humility, peace, and mercy.
  • It is pure and gentle.
  • It’s impartial.
  • and it results in sincerity (James 3:17-18).

All wisdom is not created equal.

All wisdom doesn’t lead to flourishing relationships and a loving community. There are two different types of wisdom to which we can listen and apply. They originate from two different places. Notice I didn’t say they came from several different places, but that they originate from two different places. Wisdom either originates from God and His kingdom, OR from Satan and his kingdom. There is not a third or fourth type of wisdom. There are only two types of wisdom upon which we can base our life, our actions. God’s wisdom, Jesus’ wisdom. The wisdom found in God’s Word, what James refers to as heavenly wisdom. Or worldly wisdom.

Those who build their life on worldly wisdom will experience a great loss.

Destruction, disaster will come upon them when they least expect it. Your entire life will come crashing down if that what you have built your life on instead of the rock. Sand that is easily moved. The things of this world can promise us happiness, joy, pleasure, peace but those can be quickly taken. If the world is all that we have based our life on, we will experience disaster.

But those who build their lives on Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, who operate according to a Christian worldview, they will stand firm when destruction comes knocking. Jesus doesn’t change. He is the rock. That which He offers, He always offers. There are no shifting sands with Jesus. Even if things around you come crashing down, you always have the Rock.

It is not “if” but “when”.

Those things that seek to destroy us will come. They will often come at a time we are not expecting. Life is going great. All is well. Then boom! The storm comes. Depending on what foundation you have built, you will either survive the storm or you won’t. That is what Jesus is getting at.

Worldly wisdom doesn’t save. It doesn’t protect. It only results in destruction.

Praise and pray to the Lord alongside Solomon

After Solomon built the temple to the Lord, he prayed the following prayer of dedication. I as I read the text this morning, his prayer struck me. As you read through it, notice:

  • How he calls upon the Lord to act in regard to God’s own character, how He has revealed Himself throughout Scripture.
  • The promises he asks the Lord to keep.
  • The care of the Lord for His people and the foreigner.
  • How he calls his people to follow the Lord and how we likewise should follow the Lord.

1 Kings 8:22–61 (ESV)

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven, 23 and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart; 24 you have kept with your servant David my father what you declared to him. You spoke with your mouth, and with your hand have fulfilled it this day. 25 Now therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father what you have promised him, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Now therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you have spoken to your servant David my father.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! 28 Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. 30 And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath and comes and swears his oath before your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.

33 “When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, 34 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers.

35 “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you, if they pray toward this place and acknowledge your name and turn from their sin, when you afflict them, 36 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel, when you teach them the good way in which they should walk, and grant rain upon your land, which you have given to your people as an inheritance.

37 “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence or blight or mildew or locust or caterpillar, if their enemy besieges them in the land at their gates, whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, 38 whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, 39 then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind), 40 that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land that you gave to our fathers.

41 “Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name’s sake 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

44 “If your people go out to battle against their enemy, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to the Lord toward the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, 45 then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.

46 “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ 48 if they repent with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51 (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). 52 Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God.”

54 Now as Solomon finished offering all this prayer and plea to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had knelt with hands outstretched toward heaven. 55 And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise, which he spoke by Moses his servant. 57 The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, 58 that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. 59 Let these words of mine, with which I have pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires, 60 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. 61 Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.”