Week of May 19

Living in Tandem with God’s Spirit

Read: 2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21; Psalm 30; 1 Thessalonians 2
 “. . . so we speak, not to please man,
but to please God who tests our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4b, ESV


“It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor” (John Stott). There is something akin to this double accountability in what we have before us today. Paul may have been responding to his critics in this extended passage, but notice how he does so (2:1-12). He practices accountability by turning the evaluation of his ministry over to those he had served (v. 1). He knew they would know because he uses an emphatic “you know” in the Greek text. The Christian ministry, to Paul, was never a popularity contest. He instead uses this occasion as an opportunity to call the Thessalonians to copy his behavior. This “teaching moment” is always so characteristic of Paul and proves the genuineness of his leadership. What may we learn from his “class” today (double meaning intended!).

The Meaning of the Text

A core theme in Paul’s letter to this church
Paul looks back to his earlier tutorial in 1:5b-9a and builds upon it in our focal passage. He and his assistants had been accused of ulterior motives, so he writes to the Thessalonians to say, “Not true!” They evidently had been bombarded by accusations, and we can see by Paul’s response why the church was not influenced by these falsehoods (cf. Acts 17:7). There was no phoniness about the ministry—whether Paul’s or the Thessalonians’ (cf. 1:9 with 2:1; “not in vain”).

Empty preaching truly and ultimately leads to an empty faith (ATR). The missionaries and these church members served in tandem. If he had been a fraud, and the Gospel was a clever myth, there would have been no lasting effect, and they would not have benefited from it (cf. Greek, kenos; “useless,” or “worthless”). We often hear said today, “I’m just keeping it real.” Let me say then that the “real” evidence of genuine faith is a great witness, which includes our lifestyles (v. 3, 12). It also provides much needed assurance (NAC).
Showing godly character
God is the judge of our work. Paul shows us how to keep pride in check. He writes that his work had been approved by God, meaning that his ministry had gone through a period of testing by the Lord and had been shown to be pure in motive (2:4). He never sought to gain favor by flattering words, by wearing a mask to cover his greed, nor by seeking the praise of men (2:5-6). Paul never used people for his own personal desires (cf. David’s prideful exploitation of the people of Israel, 1 Chronicles 21:1-3).
A consistent manner of living. Allow me a bit of a digression here because it applies directly to the text. Paul had suffered before in Philippi, and the Thessalonians knew this fact. Nevertheless, part of the treatment had been shameful; literally, “insolent.” It was one thing to suffer bodily, which he had, but it was the personal indignity that still upset him. He had been mistreated as a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 16:16-40). He, however, turned that ministry downside into an upside in Thessalonica. The effect of his mistreatment was counterintuitive. Rather than wilting under the pressure of mistreatment, he received greater courage and confidence in God to declare the Gospel. Similarly, when we are shamefully treated today for being vibrant Christians, we should boldly proclaim the Savior.
Moral living matters. We all know the ease with which the reservoir of a pure witness may become clouded with prurient silt (cf. v. 3; charges of impurity, i.e. “uncleanness”). No Greek religious person in that day connected the message to morals like Paul did, so some accused him of baiting people. You could participate in a very sensual fashion in the Greek religions and never think a thing about what this meant for your heart and relationship with any god. Simply put, religion and morals are often unconnected in the popular mind of our day either. Not so with Christianity—then and now. Paul was saying that ethics matters to God and to one’s neighbor. He was delighted that both he and the Thessalonians gave a pure witness to the truth of the Gospel.

The Message for Your Heart

This simple anecdote illustrates the meaning in our Bible passage. Shawna and I will often use a GPS traffic app when we are driving for some distance. Our time on the road is made safer because of the tandem approach that we take. She may say, “There is an object on the road in .5 miles,” or “There is a slowdown in traffic up ahead.” I adjust accordingly in concert with her counsel.
Our passage today teaches us the importance of leaders and followers moving in tandem. The combined work of both will be offered to the glory of God, who tests our hearts (v. 4). Oswald Chambers once said, “The expression of Christian character is not good doing, but God’s likeness. If the Spirit of God has transformed you within, you will exhibit Divine characteristics in your life, not good human characteristics. God’s life in us expresses itself as God’s life, not as human life trying to be godly.” We dare not overlook this key ingredient of living in tandem with the Spirit when practicing the successful Christian life.

For Thought and Action

1. Here is a metaphor to illustrate the point. With whom are you dancing the Christ-dance today? Your devotion to Him in worship and practice is to be linked vitally to the body of Christ. Be accountable to Christ and your community of faith.
2. Ask the Lord to point areas in your life where there is a disconnect between worship and practice—religion and morals. Christ has prescriptions for Christian living. Follow His instructions with complete devotion.
3. For Families: This is a beautiful passage explaining how we live in tandem with Christ through His Holy Spirit, who resides within us. Have your kids ever seen a tandem bicycle? During snack time this week, pull up your computer and show your kids pictures and videos of people riding a tandem bicycle. Click here for an example: Riding a Tandem Bike

Ask them question like: can they go two different directions if they are riding with someone on this bike? How does the one riding in the back know where they are going? Who leads when riding this way? Who steers? Then ask them, what would happen if there were an argument, and the back rider tried to take over?

In the same way, when we trust Jesus with our lives, we climb on the back of the bike and let Him lead us. He steers us, because He knows where we are going and the best path to take. He whispers to our hearts about our journey, and we follow gladly.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock