Pleasing the Lord Above All Else
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.
— 1 Thessalonians 2:3,4 NIV
In First Thessalonians 2, Paul gives a detailed account of his personal motives in ministry. Although he wrote from the perspective of an apostle, his message pertains to all believers regardless of the specific calling on their lives. I believe that it would be good for every one of us if we stopped from time to time to take account of our own motives for why we do what we do in fulfilling the call of God on our lives. Filled with wonderful nuggets of truth, First Thessalonians 2 is a vast treasury of wisdom because it not only reflects on what Paul’s motives were, but also on what they were not. So for the next few days, I want us to examine what Paul wrote about right and wrong motives for being in the ministry.
Although Paul and his ministry team remained in Thessalonica for only a short time, Paul’s ministry greatly impacted the Thessalonian church. During this short, intense visit, a deep bond was forged between Paul and the church members in that city. In First Thessalonians 1:5 and 6, Paul wrote about that time with the Thessalonian believers: “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.”
Notice in the above passage, Paul ministered the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit and with much boldness. His ministry had such an impact on these people that they literally became “followers” of Paul and his ministry team. In the Greek, the word for “followers” is mimetes, which means imitators. Because Paul had made such a strong impact upon this church with both his message and personal life, the Thessalonians began to imitate Paul and became examples of his ministry to the believers in the surrounding areas.
But it was more than just words that Paul imparted — he imparted his very life to these people by building a relationship with them. Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonian church was powerful because of the relationship he had developed with them during the short time he was with this body of believers.
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We see this truth illustrated in First Thessalonians 2:1, where Paul wrote, “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain.” The word “entrance” in this verse is from the Greek work eisodon, which is a compound of two words, eis, which means into, and odon, from the word odos, which refers to a road. When Paul put these two words together, he was describing his entrance into the Thessalonian church in terms of relationship. In essence, he was saying that he had journeyed on a road that took him straight into their hearts.
By using this particular word “entrance,” Paul was describing the happy and successful ministry he enjoyed there in the church. In turn, the people in that church opened their hearts to Paul, and Paul experienced powerful ministry in that city.
After describing his “entrance” into the Thessalonian church, Paul goes on to define his personal motives for ministry. The first motive he mentioned was his desire first and foremost to please God. Paul’s first responsibility as a believer and as a minister was to live a life pleasing to the Lord. And this is no less true for us as believers and ministers today.
In First Thessalonians 2:4, Paul wrote, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” Notice the word “pleasing” in this verse. It’s the Greek word aresko. In early Greek history, this word was found very frequently on grave markers of civil servants. In his career, a civil servant’s mind was on serving others. When the word aresko was used on the grave marker of one of these servants, it meant the deceased person was a wonderful, pleasing civil servant.
This word aresko carries the connotation of virtue, joy, and delight. Basically, it portrays the idea of being a virtuous person who is exceedingly pleasing. Again, it was originally used to describe civil servants or individuals who loved serving people and who gave their entire lives to the service of others.
Paul used this word aresko to describe himself. In essence, he was saying, “I’m called to serve people. Although Paul had a desire to be pleasing to those he served and ministered to, his first and chiefest priority was to please God.
There’s a great lesson in that for us as ministers and as believers today. We’re called to serve people, but not necessarily to please them.
There can be a very thin line between pleasing man and pleasing God. As servants of the church, we naturally want to be pleasing to the church. We want to serve the church, and we want to make the Gospel palatable so people can receive it. Yet on the other hand, we can’t water down the Gospel to please some people — because, first and foremost, we’re to please God.
By using the word aresko, Paul was defining his primary motive in ministry. Although he was called to be a servant of the Church and to be pleasing to the Body of Christ, his chief responsibility was and always would be to be pleasing to God first. Paul had to be virtuous and delightful to Him before he could be truly pleasing to anyone else. So while Paul was called to serve the church, his eyes continually remained on the Lord.
This principle not only applies to anyone in the ministry, but also to every one of us as believers in every walk of life. We must make sure our first goal is to please God, even when it means that what we’re doing with our lives might not please everyone around us. Our highest aim should be to fulfill His purposes for our lives and to make as many inroads as possible into people’s hearts with the truth of the Gospel and the love of God as we go through each day. We are to give them not only the Word of God but also our own personal example of abundant life in Jesus, lived before them in a way that would make them want to imitate us. Oh, how I pray that God uses you and me in such a powerful way, each and every day!
As we continue this study over the next few days, take a little time to look at your own heart and examine the motives of why you do what you do. Although you want to be satisfactory to everyone you serve, your highest ambition should be to please the Lord.
Love the people and please the Lord — that has to be our goal!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, as I serve You and Your Church, help me to always keep the balanced perspective that I am to love the people — but I am to please the Lord! As a servant of the Church, I always want to serve in a high-level, satisfactory manner, but my highest aim must be to please You above all else. Help me to find inroads into people’s hearts, to give them Your Word, and to be a personal example that’s so godly that they would want to imitate it.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess by faith that I deeply love people, but I live to please the Lord. Satisfying Jesus with my love for His people and my service to others is my highest aim. I want to be a vessel that God works through to touch others and take them higher. As a result, God gives me inroads to people’s hearts and minds to pour the Word of God into them and live a godly example before them that they will want to imitate!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Who was the person who affected you immensely when you first came to Christ? What qualities in that person found an “inroad” to your heart and mind?
- Who are you influencing right now? Have you been too busy to be involved in the development of another Christian? If so, what do you think the Holy Spirit would have you do about that?
- Are you living the kind of Christian life that someone else would want to imitate?