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1 Thessalonians 2 v 5 For neither at any time used we flattering words

Sometimes it is possible to say very positive things using negative statements. It is not going to snow today! I do not have a headache. We are not facing an imminent military attack. The positive thoughts that can flow from negative statements can be very helpful and instructive.

The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Thessalonica uses such a device in the first few verses of Chapter 2 as we began to see last week. In defending himself against his critics amongst the Jews Paul says 6 Negative things about his conduct and 6 positive things! The 6 aspects that have a negative description are

V1 – He did not come IN VAIN when he came to Thessalonica.

On the contrary the mission to Thessalonica had a sincere purpose and design. It was effective and a blessing as the Gospel came to many.

V3 – He did not come DECEITFULLY.

On the contrary Paul and his two companions were open as they brought a truthful, pure and honest presentation of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His message of salvation for guilty sinners.

V4 – He did not come WITH A DESIRE TO PLEASE MEN.

Indeed the very opposite – their purpose was to bring glory to God and to please Him as they spoke the truth as it is in Jesus. Judging by their past experiences of brutal physical opposition in Philippi they could have come to Thessalonica with a dumbed down message, less likely to get them into trouble. But they did not – and they boldly sought to please the Lord God in their mission.

This morning then we look together at the next three negatively framed statements in Paul’s defence. They are found in verse 5, 6 and 9.

V5 – Paul did not come with FLATTERY OR COVETOUSNESS

5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

V6a – He did not come to SEEK PERSONAL GLORY OR ESTEEM

6a Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others,

V6b & 9 – He did not come to be a BURDEN TO THE BELIEVERS.

6b when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

The first of these three concerns Paul’s defence against the charge that he had been using a devious means of public speaking as a cover for an avaricious desire to take advantage of the Thessalonians.

4. V5 – Paul did not come with FLATTERY OR COVETOUSNESS

5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

FLATTERY was never the Apostle Paul’s style. He avoided using fair words to make a good impression of himself. He was in the business of proclaiming his saviour so that others may have a good impression of Him. There was no slick speaking that might have lulled his listeners into a sense of false trust. The Greek word for flattery here is KOLAKIA and occurs nowhere else but here in the New Testament. It can be defined like this – “Flattery includes the torturous methods by which one man seeks to gain influence over another, generally for selfish ends.” This we did not resort to, says Paul in this verse. The root of the words KOLAKIA is KOLAX which means a fawner, someone with a smooth tongue; a Uriah Heap from Dickens or a Reverend Collins from Jane Austin. Often flowery words are used laced with compliment after compliment, which are usually undeserved. The statesman Benjamin D’Israeli wisely said once, “If you talk to a man about himself he will listen for hours!” Flattery is an assault on integrity. Paul wanted to introduce the Thessalonians to the most honest man who ever lived – the Lord Jesus Christ and he did not need flattery of those who heard to do it.

This defence fits in with what Paul had said previously. He had said that he had no desire to please men. Therefore to stoop to flattery would have come into that bracket – No – Paul distanced himself from any flattery of any sort. He would have known the principle stated by the Puritan Thomas Goodwin – “As pressing irons can smooth out the greatest wrinkles in clothing – so can flattering tongues do as to the most deformed of actions.” Flattery can make sinners appear to be saints. The general trend of advice to people today if they want to get a message across or sell something is to tell their audience how good they are and how much they deserve what ever it is you have to give. There is some product that sells itself with the phrase, “Because you are worth it.” In other words your worth as it is affirmed is the route to my success in presenting my message.

But the Gospel does not do this. Instead of telling an audience how good they are, the Bible message tells them how bad they are – and how good Christ is! It tells people how worthless they are in the sight of God, and how worthy the Son of God, Jesus Christ is! But the Gospel goes on to say that when a man or woman trust in Christ, and receive Christ by faith, then they too become as worthy as He – clothed in His righteousness. And when that happens, no one needs a preacher to tell them how good they are – because the Christian believer knows and acknowledges that any goodness he has is all down to Jesus Christ within him – and Jesus gets the glory and praise. What do you think of yourself this morning my friend? Has someone told you that you are good for going to church this morning? That God is very pleased with you for being in His house? The fact is – unless we all know of our debt to God and what he does for us – then no flattery from any other human being can get us to be right with God. We will just live a lie. Don’t listen to your own thoughts that easily can flatter – you can flatter yourself if you are not careful.

It is only in the world of unbelievers that flattery gets you anywhere! The believer needs no flattering praise – and the unbeliever will never truly believe until and unless he feels first of all bad about himself.

Now let us distinguish between flattery and encouragement. All of us need and flourish when we receive an encouraging word in season. To tell a brother or sister that you are grateful for some kindness or service, and that you value that person’s gift of self-denial that has benefited you, is not wrong. Paul encouraged his fellow believers in his letters. For instance in 1 Corinthians 11 he says

1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. 2 Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.

This is an encouraging word – but it is not flattery – we can see the difference.

In this 5th verse Paul says

For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know,

Paul appeals to the Thessalonian Christians – cast your minds back – did we speak like the roving teachers drawing crowds to listen to us by their eloquent and flattering words? No – they did not – especially as they had a different agenda in the Gospel Mission – and it was not for the same reason as the teachers had – to cover up their greed – the subject of the next defensive phrase in verse 5 –

nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

COVETOUSNESS – the translation of PLEONEXIA here is a greedy desire to have more and more. One dictionary definition says, “ A strong desire after the possession of worldly things which sometimes assumes a more aggravated form of avarice which is a mark of cold-hearted worldliness.” This desire for more is always used in the New Testament in a bad sense. The Lord Jesus Christ said in Luke 12 v 15

Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Covetousness is prohibited by the 10th commandment.

Covetousness is a widespread evil, sinful disease.

Covetousness is a sin to be avoided in us all – after all we brought nothing into this world and it is certain that we will take nothing out of it – we leave it all behind.

The desire to have more and more seems to be the fabric of every human being’s soul and heart. How easy it is to be poor and want more. How easy it is to be comfortable – but still want more. How easy it is to have everything you could ever want – yet still want more. How easy it is to be fabulously wealthy – but yet want more! Sinful human nature is a sinful covetous nature.

In Paul’s day there were those who would come to teach their philosophies with a hidden agenda. They came with a cloke. It was not a cloke that could be seen – nevertheless it was a covering – a cover up.

Cloke appears a few times in the New Testament.

Jesus spoke to his disciples about generosity that would go as far as giving your cloke to a needy person including a needy enemy.

Paul had a special cloak for travelling – PHELONACE in the Greek. He left it in Troas you may remember from 2 timothy 4 v 13 – Timothy was asked to bring it with him when he joined Paul.

But the other occasions that we come across Cloke they are metaphorical. The word for cloke here is PROPHASIS meaning a pretence, a pretext or a pretended action to cover something up. Politics are full of clokes. As soon as something gets difficult another situation arises or is precipitated to divert attention from what is going on. The sophisticated modern word for all this is “spin.” Spin is a cloke – a disguise.

The roving teachers of those days sought to mislead people as to their real motives – which were to fleece them of their money. In the religious realm we have seen this happening for all the 20 centuries of the Christian church. Sects and factions have arisen which have become vastly wealthy as the teachers themselves have become personally wealthy.

Silver tongued preachers who flatter and tell people what they want to hear are not sent from God! God’s message is a humble message, a self-effacing message. If the hearers are flattered they won’t hear the truth. If a preacher comes to our town saying “I am glad to be here – I have heard that the people of Barnstaple are excellent hearers – I have heard how good they are – how kind and how generous. I am glad to be amongst such godly folk…” then beware my friends! He either wants people to think well of him so that he can be invited back – or he is anxious that he will receive a handsome preaching fee that will boost his ego and pride. There are men who have a very persuasive way with them – and people are taken in by them. Mr Spurgeon was a popular preacher but he always was sensible about how he could easily persuade people by his preaching gift and that they could become followers of him. There was an occasion when Mr Spurgeon was walking through the streets near to the Tabernacle in London when he found a drunkard slumped in a shop doorway. The man was sober enough to recognise the Pastor of the Tabernacle and he called out “I am one of your converts, Mr Spurgeon.” Sadly, Mr Spurgeon replied something like this. “Yes, I fear you are one of my converts – because if you were truly a convert of the Lord Jesus Christ you would never have sunk so low to the gutter where you are now.”

Paul and the other missionaries did not flatter and were not covetousness.

5. V6a – They did not come to SEEK PERSONAL GLORY OR ESTEEM

6a Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others,

Every one of us has a desire to be well thought of, don’t we? Some would shrink from attention but secretly we all like a little fuss to be made of us. In fact we rather enjoy being honoured by others. DOXA is the Greek word for glory and can also mean dignity or pre-eminence.

However here in verse 6a Paul is not talking about that kind of glory. He is using DOXA glory as a figure of speech whereby one word is used for another. Glory here means an honorarium, stipend or material gifts. He is saying that “we did not look to be paid in any way when we came.”

The glory of men is in their possessions. The glory that men value is usually in their material things. Paul knew the principle that was laid down by the Lord Jesus Christ in the verse from Luke 12 mentioned earlier –

for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

But the roving teachers did not know this! They lived from their false teachings and expected payment for what they brought. They enslaved and exploited and took advantage of poor gullible people. They did not know that they were themselves poor in spirit even though they were wealthy by the world’s standards. Their wealth brought them honour and esteem. But this was not for the missionaries. Paul said this in Galatians 6 v 14

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

Glorying in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is the best glory that anyone can have. To be a son or daughter of the living God through faith in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ is the most glorious state to be in. The world does not see it like this – but we can – we who know and love the Lord.

Paul expected nothing from the Thessalonians – nor any other church either. This is what he means in this verse “nor yet of others.” During their stay at Thessalonica the missionaries received supplies at least twice from the Christians at Philippi –

Philippians 4 v 16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

But the church at Thessalonica must not be allowed to think that the gifts had been sent in response to appeals. No appeal had been made except to God – Paul told the Philippians what to do when in need – same chapter 4 v 6

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

And these dear Christians had been prompted by the Lord to send gifts to help them. As we shall see Paul, Silas and Timothy had other means of staying alive while in Thessalonica.

6. V6b & 9 – He did not come to be a BURDEN TO THE BELIEVERS.

6b when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

1. First of all Paul says “We did not seek to burden you with authority although we could have done.”

The 3 missionaries did have a rightful claim to be supported by those to whom they came as the Lord’s messengers. This is the meaning of the term “The Apostles of Christ”. It is less specific than the identity of the 13 Apostles including Paul – it has the wider significance of any who had been sent by the Lord to plant churches and preach the Gospel – which is why Silas and Timothy are called Apostles here. They were commissioned to represent the Lord Jesus Christ. They were invested with authority over life and doctrine in the church. They were entrusted to establish the church. But even though this authority, this weight as the word indicates here, was theirs, they did not seek to throw their weight about! Burdensome in verse 6 is the Greek BAROS – a weight or burden. The missionaries were not there to make heavy demands on the people – not to command or demand. They had the power to do it – might in this phrase is dunamis – power – but they did not. Such ruthless self-seeking exploitation would have been abhorrent to Paul and a complete contradiction to the gospel that he preached.

This is a point that any Christian leader needs to be aware of – to resist using his position of authority for personal gain. Office in the church must never be abused – rather it should be valued. This is why the direction to elders and deacons both contain this in the list of their qualifications – (1 Timothy 3 v 3 and 8)

3 The Bishop (elder) must not be greedy of filthy lucre and not covetous;

8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, …not greedy of filthy lucre;

So the burden of overbearing Authority was not placed on them. But secondly

2. They did not come to be a burden on the believers with a need for financial support.

9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

It cost Paul and the others dearly to preach the Gospel to the Thessalonians. Toil and hardship – exhaustion and pain. Working at night so that they could preach by day. Was it tentmaking that kept them busy? Possibly Paul was a craftsman –

Acts 18 v 3 And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.

Whatever it was it was hard manual labour for all three. As has been mentioned gifts had come from Philippi – but that had not been enough – there was food, and rent to pay to Jason in the house where they stayed. It seems obvious that the 3 missionaries were prepared themselves to pay for the cost of the mission – by working themselves. In the second letter Paul again defends them –

2 Thessalonians 3 v 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

This fact then proved, according to Paul, that they were not out to delude them with their preaching of the Gospel. If they had been motivated by greed they would hardly go to such lengths to support themselves while peddling fables and untruths! They proved their sincerity by being prepared to work hard.

Have you ever been to a mass evangelistic crusade? Half way through the meeting what invariably happens is buckets are brought round by stewards – to take up an offering of money. What is this for? Oh it is for the expenses of the Crusade – the hire of the tent or the hall – the cost of the publicity – the honorarium for the evangelist who has come all the way from … Antioch!

Surely we need to observe Paul’s example here. The Gospel was made without charge. Lost souls should not have to pay to hear the Gospel! It is the local Church’s task to preach the Gospel and to preach it without charge. A Church should fully fund all of its evangelistic activities and never ever make a charge to the public. Paul and his companions teach us this by their example.

Any work of missions should be the responsibility of the local church. But Paul was unique – in that when he was involved in Church planting he paid his own way by working at his trade of tentmaker – and all to avoid the suspicion that he was making money out of the Gospel – and to prove the purity of his motives in preaching the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. No one was charged to hear the Gospel of God as this ninth verse puts it.

What a Gospel is the Gospel of God! How different a message it is to any other message. This is the third time that Paul has used the phrase Gospel of God in this passage. It occurs in verse 2 and verse 8 – and now here.

Have each of us been moved by the message of the Gospel of God? Are we trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as our saviour this morning? This Good News is to all people an angel once said. This Gospel has been preached since the foundation of the world, since man fell into sin. It is the good news that a Messiah would be sent. This Messiah was sent – and did come and His name is Jesus the Messiah – the saviour from sin. The One who came to bring grace – abounding grace to undeserving sinners. He lived perfectly – he died tragically and yet triumphantly. And He lives for ever more because He rose again.

The question is this morning – have you believed this Gospel? This bad news first – that all have sinned and are condemned for their sins – so repentance is needed.

Then the Good News – that God’s only begotten Son died for the sins of others – so belief in that death is needed. Then the glorious news – that those who believe in Him and His death on the cross have everlasting life in heaven – starting here on earth – so trust in the promise is needed – the promise that Jesus Himself made – “if you come to me I will save you – I will give you rest. I will love you as my dear child – I will secure your soul for all eternity and you will know my love in your heart.”

Oh my friend – do you know and love this saviour the Lord Jesus Christ? This is such Good news – make sure that this news does not pass you by – be serious with the Lord God and confess your sins to him at your earliest opportunity – and rejoice in the forgiveness that only He can give.

May he move you today to trust Him with all your heart, today!

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