Introduction: How healthy, nourishing, life-giving and wholesome are God’s Gospel communications with mankind! After all, what is offered in the Gospel is nothing less than life itself! – Offered to all men, women and children, irrespective of their background, merit, intellect or potential! When that Gospel is welcomed by society’s civil and religious authorities, those leaders further the interests of humankind and can truly be labeled “humanitarian.” When those authorities (like the Jews of 1 Thess. 2:15) seek to silence such life-giving Gospel speech and proclamation, they can be said to “oppose” or to be “hostile” to all men. In this way those who speak ill of the Gospel become Satan’s tools that hinder God’s messages of grace – just as Paul in fact experienced hindrance from his own countrymen when he sought to carry out his Gospel work in 1 Thess. 2:18. What a difference Gospel-centered speech can make to the very survival of societies, families and even marriages! In this week’s notes, therefore, let us pause to consider the nature of loving, Gospel-centered speech contrasted with the speech which is “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6) and which obstructs God’s grace among men.
Monday/Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 14-16 and Acts 17:6-9. We don’t have to go far in Paul’s experience in Thessalonica to discover the nature of the ungodly speech with which he was attacked. After Paul had been there just a few weeks, the Jews seized one of Paul’s Thessalonian converts named Jason, dragged him before the Thessalonian authorities and proceeded to charge not only Jason, but the whole Christian community in their city, with the most outrageous acts of treason and mayhem. Seeking to deceive the Roman authorities in order to punish all Christians they could lay their hands on, they spewed forth the following slander in Acts 17:6-7: These men who have caused trouble all over the world… are all defying Caesar’s decrees!
Now, what are we to say to such charges? Can we learn from such deceitful slurs against Christians? Are we ever falsely accused in this way? Even further, can we fall into the trap of using such speech ourselves, Christians though we be? Well, here is one lesson to learn from the rotten speech which the Jews of Paul’s day used in order to try and silence him and which we, alas, can fall into when our sinful thoughts spill over into evil words:
Lesson: Rotten speech usually begins by accusing others of what we ourselves are guilty of. Did the Jews who opposed Paul use deceit in their charges against Paul? Well, do we really believe Paul was guilty of violently turning the world upside down and seeking to undermine the government of his day? Obviously it is Paul’s enemies who actually are doing the deceiving – by destroying Paul’s opportunities to benefit society with the Gospel! They are the ones who are, in 1 Thess. 2:15 words, “hostile” to the good order of society and to all mankind!
How ironic, therefore, that these same enemies accuse Paul of trickery in 1 Thess. 2:3! It is they who are seeking to “trick” the Romans into harming an innocent man. They need to get the “log” out of their own eye! No wonder Jesus Himself said of these false accusers in Matthew 23:24 that they were “blind guides”!
Meditate and Pray: Lord, save us from blindness and insensitivity to rottenness of speech. How often words hurt others because they are uttered by those absolutely sure of their own righteousness! In this political season of 2012 especially, we grieve at the charges and counter-charges so glibly bandied about on the air waves. Teach us as a nation, society and church family to learn the wisdom of coming into your house under the silent conviction of Proverbs 30:32:
“If you have played the fool and exalted yourself, or if you have planned evil, clap your hand over your mouth!” Have mercy upon us, O Lord, when our words have not built up, but torn down. “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and Acts 17:6-9. Listen to these words from Gordon Keddie’s commentary on Acts 17:6-9, proving the false, rotten nature of the speech of those who opposed Paul in 1 Thess. 2:14-15 and accused him of being anti-government and disruptive to human society:
The charge of political subversion was false, as it always is when the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed. The Gospel is very relevant to the conduct of politics and the formulation of policy, of course… (but) it is, nevertheless, not a political credo as such; Jesus is not a candidate for political office and the church is not a political party. Nowhere did the Apostles say, “Vote for Jesus: don’t vote for Caesar!” The Lord Himself made this quite clear on the occasion when the ‘Pharisees and the Herodians’ attempted to trap Him into a political entanglement: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:7).
Meditate and Pray: Lord Jesus, we come to you as the One who declared that, “Your Kingdom was not of this world.” Help us to be clear in our single goal as your Church: to “turn the world upside down” (as Acts 17:6 literally says) by the gracious, mighty and consistent proclamation of your Gospel – not by force of guile or worldly, political power. Amen.
Sing with thankfulness in your heart now about the Gospel’s unique, non-political place in our world, with hymn # 580 from our Trinity Hymnals:
Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation
Thy grace has made us strong;
And now, O King eternal,
We lift our battle song.
Lead on, O King eternal,
Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper
The sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing,
Nor roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy
The heavenly kingdom comes.
Thursday/Friday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:11-16. In contrast to the speech of those who oppose the Gospel with their accusatory words in 1 Thess. 2:14-16, Paul declares to us the kind of speech which should emanate from those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord in 1 Thess. 2:11-12, where he describes the manner in which he taught his new converts: As a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging…. Each of these 3 verbs offer us a pharmacy of antidotes to ungodly speech. Let us consider them:
- First, let us ask God to give us Kingdom speech which, like Paul, “encourages” those to whom we speak. The word here is from the root for the Holy Spirit as “comforter” and reminds us that we are “called alongside” others and given the charge by God to seek to build up and strengthen others with our speech. Always we must test what we have said or plan to say with these questions from Paul Tripp’s book, War of Words (p. 236):
Is my speech other-oriented communication that is rooted in the existence, love, mercy, grace, and calling of the Lord? Does my speech find its meaning and joy in being used by God as He works in others?
- Second, we are to emulate Paul in seeking to speak “comforting” words. This second verb in 1 Thess. 2:12 is a different word than the title “Comforter” for the Holy Spirit, and seems to suggest speech meant to calm and console. It is used of those who came to Mary and Martha’s home in John 11:19 in order to console them after the death of Lazarus. Oh, dear Christian, have you those in your life who desperately need consolation? Ask the Spirit of Christ to give you the words which “help and heal” and He will.
- Third, Paul models for us Christian speech when he “urges” or “bears testimony” to the truth in 1 Thess. 2:12. This third word means to testify, and is a crucial part of Paul’s preaching whereby he urges upon his hearers the power and truth of his apostolic witness to Jesus Christ. Though we are none of us apostles, and not many of us called to “testify” by preaching, we are nevertheless to learn from this verb “to urge” or “bear witness” that we are all ambassadors for the Risen Lord Jesus Christ – in all we say! As Paul Tripp says in the previously cited book, War of Words, describing the claim which the Risen Lord Jesus has over all our lives, including the “bearing witness” of our tongues:
It is time for us to submit to the Lord’s claim on our tongues as our King and Redeemer. More than ever before, we need to be committed to speak for Him… It is amazing that God would choose us to be members of His family! It is beyond amazing that He would call us to be His ambassadors, to represent Him on earth, to communicate His loving appeal to a world enslaved to self.
Meditate and Pray: What a high calling we have! “Lord, please save us from having deadly tongues which hinder the conversion, Christian growth and comfort of fellow believers. Claim our tongues to be encouraging, consoling and witnessing tools in your Hand. Amen.”