[A 10 Part Series based on Paul’s Ministry as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12]
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
As a minister, one of the hardest obstacles to overcome is the fear of offending someone. This is true inside the walls of the church building as much as it is outside. It takes guts to preach the gospel to nonbelievers, but it takes real boldness to remind believers about the gospel they claim to believe.
(I’m going to focus on the kind of boldness needed within the church, since it is mostly my fellow Christians who read this blog anyway.)
It’s a sad reality that there are “church members” who believe complaints and criticisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Even though they are willing to pay professional ministers who have gone through the schooling and done all the studying, these members have it in their minds that what they heard someone say thirty years ago is right on par with Scripture. There are certain issues in the church that must be preached boldly, because it is often the most “religious” folks who give preachers the most trouble (as was the case with Paul and the opposition he faced from the Jews).
You may be wondering what about the gospel message could possibly be offensive to church members. The answers may surprise you. Here is just a sampling.
Yes, something as foundational as forgiveness can ruffle many feathers in a church. It should be as simple as – Christ forgave us, so we ought to forgive others. Jesus even warns us that “If you do not forgive others their sins, then your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” Yet there are people who claim to follow Christ who flat out refuse to forgive anyone who will not ask for it. There are some “Christians” who believe they are well in the right to hold grudges and harbor negative feelings toward others.
Paul could not have been more clear. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father who is above all, through all, and in all (Ephesians 4). Numerous times Paul pleads with churches to be of one heart and mind (see Philippians 2 and 4 as examples). And most telling on this point is Jesus’ prayer concerning his followers that they (we) might be one as he and the Father are one (John 17). Yet preachers come under fire for preaching about the need to tear down walls and break through lines of division. Uniting with and “extending fellowship” to other churches/believers is important to Jesus and Paul and even the early founders of the Restoration Movement. But we have allowed our minute disagreements on obscure Scriptures to get in the way of achieving Jesus’ and Paul’s goal for the church. And yet it seems like the petty issues that divide take greater precedent than the grand story that unites.
THE HOLY SPIRIT
If you have studied much about the Holy Spirit, the irony you encounter is that the Holy Spirit does not seek his own attention. He points to Jesus and the Father. He doesn’t reveal just a whole lot about himself to us, yet how many arguments have been made concerning him? The Spirit is meant to be a common uniting factor among all believers (Acts 2:38). Instead we have brilliantly made our misunderstandings and disagreements about the Holy Spirit cause for division and separation.
I could go on.
The gospel, when preached fully, will probably generate opposition even among believers. I think it’s because we have taken the gospel message and forced it into something we can grasp a bit better. Forgiveness and unity doesn’t make sense. The Holy Spirit is confusing. Baptism is messy. Salvation – is it by works or faith? We have a hard time wrapping our minds around these issues. So we would rather divide (the easy thing to do) than to unite in humility as we figure these things out together.
The gospel will always encounter opposition. May God bless our preachers and ministers with an extra measure of boldness to preach the deep things of Scripture even if some may be upset or offended by the Truth of the Gospel.