Our lesson this week reviews some of the history of Paul's relationships with the church in Thessalonica. The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians shows Paul's heart full of warm concern for the believers there. This concern is nothing short of a miracle when you know his earlier history. There was a time in his life when he would have hunted out these same people and killed them in hopes of eradicating a gospel message direct from God. What he discovered is that in every age, God has protected His gospel and it will never be eradicated. The numbers who accept the message may be few as when God had to tell Elijah there were 7,000 in Israel who had not submitted to Baal, but in every age God has always preserved a remnant.
We know that Paul spent three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17) learning the gospel message directly from the Lord. It was the message that softened his heart toward fellow believers in the dramatic shift that went from savage killing to pastoral sympathy and concern. The effect of hearing and receiving the gospel message is the same today. Unless the message is allowed to change the heart, outward change of behavior is just that. Jesus used the image of "whited tombs" (Matt. 23:27) to describe the condition of outward goodly appearance, but inside was death and corruption.
Paul's concern for the believers in Thessalonica suggests the purest love of the evangelist concerned for those who heard the message from his preaching. If his personal sense of worth was connected to this, with each conversion his self-esteem increased a little and each rejection diminished his sense of worth. This inserts the element of self into the motivation of the same man who wrote to the believers in Corinth that "the love of Christ [constrains, KJV] us ... and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us ... (2 Cor 5:14 19, 20, NASB). If that had not been his genuine motivation for evangelism, God would not have allowed him to write that.
More likely, we can assume that Paul continued to allow the Holy Spirit create his heart toward a selfless ministry so that he did not consider that the number or quality of the people receiving the message was in any way a triumph attributable to him. He told Philemon, "I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother" (Philemon 1:7, NASB). God never gives us "success" in ministry to boost our self-esteem, because our efforts never bring people to Christ, it is the Holy Spirit speaking to their hearts through us. We are merely the vessel and gratitude that He uses us is the only thing we should feel.
Paul elaborates on this by saying that Christ did not send him to baptize, "but to preach the gospel ... that the cross of Christ not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:17, 18, NASB).
The following quotation may be familiar to some. It clearly defines the heart-moving elements of 1888 message. It underscores Ellen White's endorsement of preaching the cross as revealing the concept of justification by faith:
"The sacrifice of Christ as an atonement for sin is the great truth around which all other truths cluster. In order to be rightly understood and appreciated, every truth in the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, must be studied in the light that streams from the cross of Calvary. I present before you the great, grand monument of mercy and regeneration, salvation and redemption--the Son of God uplifted on the cross. This is to be the foundation of every discourse given by our ministers. Christ and His righteousness--let this be our platform, the very life of our faith.
"Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, "It is the third angel's message in verity.
"This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Savior, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.
"The uplifted Savior is to appear in His efficacious work as the Lamb slain, sitting upon the throne, to dispense the priceless covenant blessings, the benefits He died to purchase for every soul who should believe on Him. John could not express that love in words; it was too deep, too broad; he calls upon the human family to behold it. Christ is pleading for the church in the heavenly courts above, pleading for those for whom He paid the redemption price of His own lifeblood. Centuries, ages, can never diminish the efficacy of this atoning sacrifice. The message of the gospel of His grace was to be given to the church in clear and distinct lines, that the world should no longer say that Seventh-day Adventists talk the law, the law, but do not teach or believe Christ" (Evangelism, pp. 190-191).
Some day, somewhere, someone, will understand the "everlasting gospel" of Jesus Christ so clearly that "another angel" will come down from heaven "having great power" and will "lighten the earth" with the glory of that full-orbed truth. Multitudes who now sit in darkness will see a great light and will come to it (Rev. 18:1-4; Matt. 4:16).
And it won't be only "some one" who understands; there will be many who are in heartfelt union, around the world, of "every nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). No more theological squabbles!
That unity will be as much a miracle as the insight of that "some one" who will see crystal clear what the gospel is with no contradicting confusion. That unity will be in fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20, 21. "The world" will not believe until they see that "one-ness."
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