Friday, June 24, 2016

Problems in Preaching – 1 Thessalonians 2:3-6

For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness — nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (NASU)

Error in Preaching

Thankfully, the Word of God can be trusted to be without error. That doesn’t make it always easy to understand especially when there are two passages that seem to reveal conflicting ideas. It isn’t easy to understand when a character out of the Bible, who we believe should know better, does something rash and foolish. Samson comes to mind as well as Jephthah who sacrificed his daughter (Judg 11:31, 39). 

This man [Apollos] had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. (Acts 18:25-26 NKJV)

It is one thing to be perplexed by Scripture and disagree over the conflicting explanations of difficult passages. But it is another thing to be in error. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit instructs us and guides us (1 John 2:27) but there are times, such as in the case of Apollos, when a person needs more information. Note that Apollos was accurate in what he taught. His error was a result of not being fully informed. He was teachable and was used by God when he had a fuller knowledge of the Lord Jesus. How does that apply to us? We need to be very careful when we speak or write about the way of God. Apollos didn’t have the completed Bible. We do. In the past, people had to read and reread Scripture to assimilate the many passages. As they wrote down their findings, the doctrines of the faith became easier to understand by reading their notes. Unfortunately, some elevated these studies above Scripture and introduced error. Now, we have electronic means of searching for words, looking up cross references, examining the original language, and thousands of people commenting on passages. We don’t have an excuse for being in error out of lack of knowledge. Even if we are, we also should listen to feedback from other godly people like Aquila and Priscilla. None of us has a perfect understanding of the Word of God and so we need each other because we are still fallen people. But woe to that person who introduces error on purpose or continues once corrected. We do not want to be caught disobeying a direct command from the Lord, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deut 4:2 ESV).

Impurity in Preaching

 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things [impurities] their hearts desired. (Rom 1:24 NLT)

As used in 1 Thessalonians 2:3, the word impurity is related to motives.[1] The New Living Translation translates the same word as shameful things and this helps clarify what might have been going on with some of the preaching within the early church or even in the church today. Paul warned Timothy to look out for people who “worm their way into homes” (2 Tim 3:6). They did this to take advantage of sinful weak women who were influence by their sinful impulses. It isn’t uncommon to find cults that do the exact same thing today. Many communes have been broken up by authorities when the sexual exploits of the leaders become so hideous as to involve the children living there. That is a gross impure motivation for preaching.

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Eph 5:4 ESV)

But there are also some who simply are impure in the words they use. They believe they have freedom in Christ to use vulgar language because Paul used “dung” (Phil 3:8 KJV) and there are also terms in the Old Testament that we find crude today. (They are currently translated appropriately for our culture.) What they overlook is what Paul said in Ephesians 5:4. This kind of “shock” preaching is simply out of place.

The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 NIV)

The more people yield their lives to Jesus through the Holy Spirit, they will bring good out of their hearts. They will fulfill what Jesus said in John 7:38 that streams of living water will flow from their hearts. Those who believe that using vulgarities or crude jokes, whether in preaching or in private talk, demonstrate that they have not yet completely yielded to God. It isn’t surprising when their ministry disintegrates if they don’t repent and clean up their hearts. Their arrogance in thinking that they can minister mixed with impurity eventually catches up with them (1 Tim 5:24). 

Deceit in Preaching

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (Col 2:8 NASU)

Paul said his teaching didn’t come from deceit (1 Thess 2:3). It is interesting that when he wrote to the Colossians that he included empty deception right along with philosophy. Most philosophies do not teach deception but most of them end up deceiving us. The Encarta Dictionary defines philosophy as “the branch of knowledge or academic study devoted to the systematic examination of basic concepts such as truth, existence, reality, causality, and freedom.” Deceit comes when philosophies expunge the Bible from their systematic examination of basic concepts. If they really wanted to know truth, they would look first to Jesus. Jesus spoke of truth, the exact opposite of deceit, in several ways.

  • Jesus said that He is the truth (John 14:6).
  •  He said the Word of God is truth (John 17:17).
  • When applying truth to our lives, we are become sanctified (John 17:19).
  • Jesus came to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37).
  • Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to Jesus (John 18:37).

Where does deceit come from? It comes from anyone who lets other so-called “sources of truth” trump truth revealed in the Bible. Few people realize how much ancient philosophers influence church doctrine. Paul Enns states, “The early church was affected by Greek philosophy, and ultimately the Jewish and Christian views of God were derived from philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Philo.”[2] Fortunately, the Reformation reversed some of this but they were quickly followed by the Renaissance and philosophers like Descartes, Spinoza and other who introduced their own miserable ideas to the world and led the way liberalism and rejection of anything in the spiritual realm.[3]
There are two philosophies that are causing significant harm because the attack the very foundations of Christianity. The first is the philosophy of reason buried in the scientific world. It is sometimes called materialism because it believes that the physical observable universe is all that exists. It attacks Christianity first in Genesis by denying the very beginning of the universe is God’s creation. They reason that there cannot be a God because He can’t be seen, touched, or examined by any of our physical senses. Think about that, who would want to “examine” God who is beyond us in all ways (Rom 11:33-36). They don’t stop there, but deny all that the Bible says is true, especially the resurrection of Jesus. The Bible says of them:

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. (Ps 14:1 NKJV)

The second seriously dangerous philosophy is rationalism. Simply stated, this philosophy does not believe in absolute truth and that is the only truth they find absolute. It means that what is true for you is truth and if others say something else, then that is OK because it is their truth. It leads to doing anything you think is right. I saw a video the other day that showed how absurd this philosophy really is. In it, a five-foot-nine white man asks university students what they would say if he identified, first as a woman, then a Chinese woman, or seven years old and wanted to enroll in first grade. Then he ask what they would say if he identified as a six-foot-four Chinese woman. You have to watch it or you wouldn’t believe college students would them him that it is OK for him. You can find the video at This of course, leads to approving sin and believing that any way to God is right. The Bible says:

What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. (Isa 5:20-21 NLT)

 The Answer

Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God. (1 Peter 4:11 NASB)
In 1 Thessalonians 2:4, Paul explains why he and his companions did not speak out of error, deceit, or impurity. It is because he was entrusted with the Gospel by God. His motives were not to please men but God. This is what Peter was warning his readers about in 1 Peter 4:11. When we speak or write, we must believe we are pleasing God and doing it as God leads. We must not let our own presuppositions or fear of offending people with the truth affect what we say or do. Don’t take this wrong, it doesn’t give us the right to say, “Thus saith the Lord.” That would put us on the same level as the Apostles and prophets who wrote the Bible under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 

Paul didn’t resort to flattery and certainly didn’t have greed as a motivation. He didn’t need to be built up by others’ praises because he knew where he stood in relationship with the Lord. He knew that even though he had authority as an apostle, It was God’s message and therefore His power. If we speak or write and don’t let it go to our heads, then we can rest in the assurance that if it is of any value, God will use it. 

I pray that this is of some benefit to those who receive it. If it is, then may the Lord Jesus be glorified.

[1] S. Grimm and S. Wilke, New Testament Lexicon, Joseph Henry Thayer, ed., (Seattle: Biblesoft 2006), s.v. “NT:167.”
[2] Paul P Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008), 4121-4122, Kindle.
[3] Ibid., 12285-12288, Kindle.

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