For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness–God is witness. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5 (NKJV)
We are all familiar with the many times that Christian pastors and evangelists that have large ministries have been caught up in financial corruption or some sort of sexual sin. Many times these people entered the ministry with corrupt motives. Thanks to the Internet and 24 hour news channels, this type of corruption is more visible than ever but it’s not new. These sorts of teachers existed in the first century. The N.T. describes these teachers as having “eyes full of adultery…enticing people to sin” with hearts, “trained in covetous practices…” (2 Pet 2:14)
Paul was also likely being accused of having these sorts of motives for his Gospel ministry. He answers these charges by explaining that he was faithful to the Gospel of Christ. As Paul answers these charges, he gives us a great picture of what it means to be faithful with the Gospel.
Paul says that his exhortation to them did not come from error. The word translated as “error” is interesting in that it comes from a verb that means to wander or roam. To teach the Gospel in error is to roam or wander from the truth. I think we can take two ideas from this. Part of what Paul was saying he hadn’t made a mistake and had wandered away from the truth of the Gospel. He knew the Gospel and was able to teach it clearly.
In the same way, we must ensure that we know the Gospel and can explain it clearly and accurately. If someone came up to you and asked how to be saved, could you explain it to them accurately? If someone came up to you and asked you why Jesus was so significant, could you explain it to them accurately? If someone came up to you and asked you what was meant by the word Gospel, could you explain it to them accurately? Part of being faithful to the Gospel is being committed enough to the Gospel that you can explain it accurately and not in error.
A second idea that we can take from this is that Paul hadn’t purposefully wandered away from the truth. Paul wasn’t a spiritual quack who had altered the Gospel message to make it more acceptable to the pagan culture of Thessalonica. He didn’t add to or take away from the Gospel. He didn’t soft-peddle controversial subjects out of fear of opposition or rejection. He wasn’t an ear-tickling preacher who had focused exclusively on subjects the people “liked” or felt were positive. As the old preachers would say, he preached hell hot, heaven sweet and Jesus as great. His message didn’t change with the crowd. He preached the same Gospel in Philippi as he preached in Thessalonica. This was the same Gospel he preached in Berea and Athens. He didn’t let the opinions, theology or approval of others cause him to alter the Gospel and thus preach it in error.
In our day, there is huge tendency to minimize certain aspects of the Gospel for the sake of popularity. The parts of the Gospel that are most frequently minimized are sin, judgment and the cross. Since talking about sin is perceived as being judgmental, we just won’t talk about sin. We won’t preach the passages that discuss sin. If we are forced to discuss sin, we will be very general about it. We will say things like, “Sin is bad.” We might go so far as to say, “Sin separates us from God.” However, we won’t go so far as to talk about what specific things the Bible calls sin because we don’t want to sound judgmental.
Along the same lines, we won’t discuss hell and the judgment of God. These are very unpleasant topics to discuss and so we will leave them out. There are all kinds of reasons given for this. People have heard a lot about hell and don’t need to hear any more. There is more to the Gospel than hell. People shouldn’t be motivated to come to God out of fear of His judgment in hell. Add this to the fact that some want to make God out to be an all accepting, all condoning over indulgent parent that simply wants us to raise our hands and nominally acknowledge him in our lives and what you have is a total exclusion of hell and the judgment of God.
Well, by the time you’ve removed sin and the judgment of God, there really isn’t any reason to discuss the cross. In fact, you can’t discuss the cross if you are going to exclude sin and the judgment of God. The cross vividly illustrates both. Jesus’ horrific death on the cross was because of our sin. His horrific death on the cross was more than Romans killing a troublesome Jew. It was God the Father pouring out His wrath against sin on His Son who came to be Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world.
Part of being faithful with the Gospel is being committed enough to the Gospel that we accurately explain it to others. This means we must even be faithful with the parts of the Gospel that aren’t seen as positive and popular. Obviously, I’m not saying we should walk through Wal-Mart pointing at people saying, “Sinner! You will burn in hell if you don’t believe Jesus died on the cross for your sins.” However, when we present the Gospel we must speak plainly about sin, judgment and the cross. This means that when we talk to someone and they ask, “Are you saying that if I don’t believe Jesus died for my sins I’m going to hell?” that we clearly answer and say, “Yes. That is what the Bible says.” If we are committed to being faithful to the Gospel then we cannot wander away from the truth of the Gospel.