1 Thessalonians 2:4
But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
Knowing who I have been–and who, in some ways, I still am–I am amazed that our Lord has committed the gospel to men such as me for teaching and evangelism. I am not perfect. I am much more like an earthen vessel than a golden one, because I know that I am still cleansing myself of the dishonor to which my flesh would lead me. (2 Timothy 2:20-21) Yes, Jesus has washed away the stains of my sin, and for that I am humbled and grateful, but so long as I live here within this flesh, I will always be at war with the spirit of dishonor. Of course, I am in good company: Simon Peter wasn’t exactly a model disciple. In fact, at the point when Jesus entrusted the gospel to His disciples, Peter had most recently denied his Master three times before many witnesses in Jerusalem. Not a very noble thing to do, is it? And yet Jesus took this same group of unsure men like Simon-bar-Jonah and gave them the Great Commission to share the gospel with all creatures and make disciples of all tongues, tribes, and nations. The fact that I am even able to write about this gospel today is proof that Jesus chose wisely and trusted the right men.
2 Timothy 2:1-2
1 You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
Ever since those disciples stood in that upper room and received from our Lord the commandment to “Go into all the world,” faithful men and women have been teaching and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first churches were formed not through programs and outreach, but through the ultimate in “viral marketing”: preaching the gospel. In the book of Acts, we read of how Peter and Paul would simply stand in a town square or in the courts of a synagogue and share the truth about Jesus Christ–His life, death, and resurrection–and then allow God to touch those hearers whose hearts had not totally been hardened. Sometimes the apostles were persecuted, other times they were met with joy, but in all cases it was simply about sharing the gospel that had been entrusted to them.
It says a lot for God’s faith in us that He has entrusted the gospel to us all. It’s not as if the Lord doesn’t have thousands of angels at His disposal, any one of whom could carry the message of the gospel to mankind–accompanied, of course, by much fanfare and demonstrations of divine power.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29
27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
You see, God didn’t send the angels because then His power to save would not have been proved. It is through the changed lives of men and women like you and me that God demonstrates His power to save. God takes these earthen vessels–so frail and imperfect–and He perfects us in Christ Jesus. We who were once foolishly lost in sin, He redeems and calls us to repentance and wisdom. He then further ennobles us by entrusting to us the very gospel that saved us. It’s like giving a former prisoner the ransom with which his freedom has been bought, trusting him to pass that ransom along to the next prisoner who is to be redeemed. The gospel is not ours to keep, but it is ours to share.
Just as we are to show our love for God by trusting in Him, so God shows His love for us by trusting us with this gospel. God’s faithfulness does not just extend to His mercy upon us, not just involve the promises He has made, but His faithfulness is shown in how He trusts us to be the means by which others learn about Jesus. And having been so trusted, what shall we do?
Paul puts it well in today’s verse: we need to share the gospel in a way that is pleasing to God. The temptation, of course, is to share the gospel in a way that is pleasing to men–which is to say, to water down the gospel, to avoid the bitter parts and emphasize the sweet. We see that “pseudo-gospel” being preached in many churches in America today, a gospel that is heavy on promises and light on repentance. People preach such a man-pleasing gospel to avoid persecution, to avoid contention. Today’s churches are overly sensitive to seekers, and they are also overly sensitive to what the outside world thinks of them. They compromise the doctrines of God’s righteousness by speaking a gospel which is pleasing to men. But when Jesus Himself preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, what was the reaction of the people around Him?
1 And He entered the synagogue again, and a man was there who had a withered hand.
2 So they watched Him closely, whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.
3 And He said to the man who had the withered hand, “Step forward.”
4 Then He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they kept silent.
5 And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other.
6 Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him.
Jesus didn’t shy away from controversy, didn’t back down from sharing a gospel that was confrontational and uncomfortable, and the very teachers He was trying to reach plotted to kill Him! This Jesus that so many preach as loving and forgiving and all-inclusive is the SAME Jesus who decried man-pleasing ways, who spoke curses upon the teachers of His day for their hypocrisy, who prophesied the downfall of rulers and the coming of wars, who told His followers they would surely be persecuted in His name’s sake. Paul knew that Jesus, and that was the Jesus he preached–and whom he exhorted his protegé Timothy to preach.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
When we think about being faithful Christians, we don’t usually think about having to “endure afflictions,” but more about being rescued from afflictions. But if we are to be faithful disciples, then most likely we WILL face affliction and persecution. Remember the Beatitudes? Right there along with “Blessed are the poor” and “Blessed are the peacemakers” is this blessing:
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
12 “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
If we were to simply look at the actions of Jesus’ disciples throughout His ministry, we would never have thought they would prove themselves worthy, and yet, as believers worldwide can testify, they DID prove themselves. Although the apostles and their disciples were persecuted in their lifetimes, their ministry went on to bless us ALL.
Just as Jesus tested the hearts of His apostles and found in them the solid-rock foundation of His church, so God tests our hearts finds in each of us something worthy and noble. Jesus’ trust in His apostles was not for nothing, and nor is His trust in you and me for nothing. God knows the deepest, darkest recesses of our souls, and He trusts that our love for Him will enable us to overcome, enable us to be faithful. To lowly sinners like you and me, the Lord our God has entrusted the great prize of the gospel of peace. Having been entrusted with such an amazing gift, let us be faithful in sharing it in a way that is pleasing not to men but pleasing only to God. Since our Lord has so trusted us, let us therefore trust in Him and trust in His Word, allowing the gospel to do the work which we ourselves know it will do in the hearts and minds of men.
Holy Father God, You alone know how faithful I can be. I am blind to the depths of my own faith, and I likely shall not know how true I can be to You until I am further tested and tried. But this I do know: You trust me, and that is enough. Knowing the faith You have in me, I can rely more upon Your grace, rely more upon Your strength and Your Word. I need not feel as if I must perfect myself but will allow myself to be perfected by You. And so, dear Lord, I ask that You give me the wisdom and courage to share Your gospel just as it is: pure and undefiled, pleasing unto You alone, convicting men and women so that they know and seek Your righteousness. May I always show myself worthy of this great trust You have in me. Amen.