Editor’s Note: You can read our previous articles in the series “Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Minister” below!
Genuine: Essential Qualities of a Godly Leader
Quality #1: A Godly Leader’s Ministry is Confirmed by the Church
Quality #2: A Godly Leader Perseveres through Suffering for the Gospel’s Sake
In the previous articles in this series we’ve learned from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians that a godly leader’s ministry is confirmed by the church. Whether a man is gifted and called to the ministry is not determined by that man’s desires alone. Rather, his ministry will be confirmed by the church and by those who have benefited from his ministry. We also noted in the last article that a genuine gospel minister will persevere through suffering for the sake of the gospel. Only a man who is in ministry for the right reasons will keep his hand to the plow when circumstances would tempt him otherwise.
In this article, we will again consider the topic of a man’s motivation for ministry while also focusing on the content of his ministry. We will learn from Paul’s example that a godly minister teaches sound doctrine from right motives.
Right Message and Right Motives
As the apostle describes his ministry to the Thessalonians, he reminds them that his message did not originate from “error or impurity or any attempt to deceive” (v. 3). These words speak directly to the veracity of Paul’s preaching and his driving motivations for ministry. What he taught was true and his aim was the glory of Christ and the spiritual benefit of the Thessalonians, nothing more.
We should keep in mind that Paul was able to discern both his motives and the content of his teaching ministry. The question of whether his teaching was legit and that his motives were godly was one that Paul could reliably answer himself. A true gospel minister, therefore, will have a good conscience and possess the capacity to determine that his motives are Godward and that his teaching accords with the truth. While there is an appropriate amount of trepidation that one should experience as he conducts his ministry (see James 3:1ff; cf. 1 Cor 2:1-4), a gospel minister shouldn’t be constantly beleaguered by a fear that he is teaching falsehood or that he is laboring from self-serving motives.
This is not to suggest that a genuine pastor will always get it right (although he will always strive to, see 1 Tim 2:15), or that he will never wrestle with the temptation to yield to self-serving motives. But it is to say, on the basis of Paul’s example, that a pastor can (and must) know that his ministry is legitimate, that his teaching is characterized by sound biblical truth, and that his driving motivations are righteous.
Character that Creates Perseverance
We must also note that Paul linked this statement about the motivations and content of his ministry to his previous statement about preaching the gospel through suffering.
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive….1 Thess 2:2-3
By linking these two statements with the word “for,” Paul provides the underlying reasons for why he was able to keep preaching amid much suffering and mistreatment. How was Paul able to stay the course? Because he knew that his message was true and that he only sought the Thessalonians spiritual benefit. His motives for preaching were sound, and he and his co-workers weren’t playing theological sleight-of-hand in order to gain a financial or authoritative advantage. Therefore, when trouble arose on account of their ministry, Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus were able to press on through the trouble because they knew their message was right and so were their hearts.
A Straightforward Ministry
Like he mentioned in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul rejected any approach to ministry that pandered to the unspiritual instincts of his listeners. He was fiercely unwilling to dilute the message in order to gain a larger following because he knew that faith in the gospel message was a gift from God anyway. Tweaking the message wouldn’t create genuine converts because God’s sovereign grace was required to overcome a person’s bondage to Satanic blindness.
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.2 Cor 4:1-6
Knowing that spiritual intervention was required to enable sinners to embrace the truth, Paul preached Jesus Christ as Lord to the Corinthians, taking no notches off the sharp contours of the gospel. He and his ministry colleagues did not tinker with the truth or find clever ways to get people to make a profession of faith. In Thessalonica, Paul did not appeal to the people in “an attempt to deceive” them with a lighter-weight gospel. He was not tricking them into a cult or trying to gain followers with an easier message. Rather, just like in Corinth, Paul preached the gospel in Thessalonica with a desire to exalt the Lord Jesus while relying upon God’s Spirit to give the increase (see 1 Thess 1:4-5). As we will see in later articles, Paul wasn’t preaching for money or personal glory or to enhance his reputation. No, he preached from love—a heartfelt desire for the Thessalonians to know Christ and walk with him.
Sound teaching and sound motives are non-negotiables for a gospel minister. By God’s grace, those of us who labor in the Lord’s vineyard must make sure that our message accords with biblical truth and our motives aim at God’s glory and the church’s benefit.