When circumstances are difficult, some believers are tempted to think that they, or their leaders, are not in God's will. When a rioting mob forced Paul and Silas to leave Thessalonica secretly by night, and not return (Acts 17:5-10), the new church wondered if the apostle did not really care about them: perhaps he had come with selfish motives (like so many travelling philosophers at that time).
So Paul explained that his appeal to them to repent and believe the gospel was purely motivated by Christ's commission and the methods he used were an open explanation of the truth about Jesus. He was not trying to trick them into some new religious habit. Paul's message did not please everybody – it was not intended to. Some of the Jews stirred up the riot from which they escaped. But Paul did want to please God by being faithful to the message he had to deliver. God tests everybody's hearts to see if they are genuine; Paul knew that. And God was always watching.
Unlike many travellers who presented their goods or ideas in the market place, Paul and Silas did not try to flatter their audience, or set out to make them want to support the newcomers. Instead, they spoke clearly about Jesus who died for sinners, and they commanded people to repent. Neither did they ask for any money. They were not making a business out of the gospel; on the contrary they worked very hard as tent makers in order to pay their own way (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Nor did they seek the applause of the crowd, even though they could have demanded respect as Christ's apostles.
What an important example for everybody who represents Christ (which should be every believer)! Firstly, we should be telling the truth about Jesus, and encouraging people to respond to Him. But the motives and the methods matter. The gospel is not for us to twist out of shape; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot trick people into faith, but we can and must explain the truth clearly. We must not present the gospel in a way that makes us look good, nor should we treat it is as a commodity to be traded so that we can profit from it. How many perversions of the faith would have been avoided if leaders and their followers had read and responded to these verses. Examine your own hearts and pray for your leaders. The gospel is God's powerful tool to save people: not our tool to make us powerful.
© Dr Paul Adams