Paul does an appraisal of his ministry. Presenting the gospel should be done in truth, sincerity without flattery. Be an encourager.
Alright, thank you very much, and hello again, radio friends. How in the world are you? Well, I do wait for you to answer; I know many of you do. You just answer back, and one of these days in the advance of technology, we may have it fixed so that I can hear you. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Well, this is your good friend Bob Cook and I’m glad to be back with you to share in some precious moments from God’s inerrant, eternal, infallible Word, the Bible. So I count it a privilege, believe me, a holy, high, awesome privilege to share the eternal Word of God with you and try, as I sometimes say, to put a handle on it so that you can get hold of it for yourself.
You and I are looking at 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2. Paul is giving an appraisal of his own ministry; his view of what happened when he came to these people at Thessalonica. Small thought here: it is highly beneficial for you now and then to back off from your life’s activities and evaluate them. Colleges have to do that, of course. They have what’s called a self-study, or self-evaluation, which is required by the accrediting associations every five or ten years. And you take the whole business apart piece by piece and then put it back together again and you try to answer the question, “Is this college or university doing what it says it set out to do?” The accrediting association doesn’t quarrel with your aims. It simply says, “You’d better prove that you are doing what you said you wanted to do.” Self-evaluation. What I’m saying is that it’s a very good thing to back off now and again from life and say “Now what am I accomplishing? What is going on? Is anything going on beside the rent, as they say. Where am I going? What goals am I achieving? What remains yet to be achieved? It’s a good thing.
So that’s what Paul is actually doing here: he’s talking to these people and saying “I want you to remember what happened when I came to you. He has a number of negatives, of course. He said in verse 3, which we talked about for a while now, you and I, “Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.” He means “We did not try to deceive you; I gave it to you just like it is.” Uncleanness has to do with the character of the person talking. He said, “I prayed and confessed up-to-date; I was right with God when I talked with you.” And then guile: “I did not try to manipulate you.” All of these things are found in human nature’s failings, in the ministry but also in everyday life. So now you come down to the next set of negatives. There are a bunch of negatives in verses 3, 5, and 6. The next bunch of negatives is in verse 5. He said, “Neither at any time used we flattering words, as you know.” The old saying, of course, is “Flattery will get you everywhere.” But there is an instinctive reaction in the heart and mind of a person when he or she begins to realize that what you’re saying is not really sincere.
I knew a man years ago, who when he uttered the words, “I say that sincerely,” you knew he was lying. Flattering words. To be able to lay it on, as we say, with a trowel. “How wonderful this brother or this sister or this organization is.” No, it doesn’t pay out. It doesn’t honor God. There isn’t any future in it. And it’s a source, ultimately, of frustration to you. No flattering words.
Now take a page out of Dale Carnegie’s book and realize that while you ought not to flatter anybody, there’s always a chance to say something sincerely to or about a person that is positive and good. I think his story of the cranky railroad clerk is a classic, don’t you? There was this man, this clerk in the railroad station, who was just as cranky as could be and he was, as we say, biting people’s heads off with his abrupt and curt and surly manner. And Mr. Carnegie said that while he stood in line, waiting for his turn to buy a ticket, he thought to himself, “What can I say to this man that is sincere and will encourage him?” So as he looked at him, he saw that the man had a very fine head of iron-grey hair which was obviously well-kept and neatly combed and trimmed. So when it was his turn at the window, Carnegie said to the man, who didn’t even look up, “Well,” he said to the man, “I wish I had your head of beautiful grey hair.” Well, the man looked up, actually smiled, and self-consciously patting his hair, said, “I do try to take care of it.” His whole manner changed.
Well, you can’t go around commenting on people’s hair. In my case, you’d have a very hard job; I’ve got very little of it left. I go to the barber and say, “I want a haircut.” He says “Which one?” Not that that is exactly what you’re supposed to do. But when you meet people, there’s always something positive that you can say. They said of old Joe Ankerberg, “Hallelujah Joe” he was known as in the old days in Chicago; they said of Joe Ankerberg who had a large Sunday school class of boys, Joe would notice something about a boy even if it was one new shoelace. Now I was poor when I was a boy and I know that in those days, you didn’t use a pair of shoelaces, you used one: the one that had broken. You saved the other for another day. Joe would notice something about a boy even if it was only one new shoelace.
So when we’re talking about flattering words, that doesn’t rule out, does it, the effort to say something encouraging. Be an encourager. Notice people. Oh yes, notice something about them and they’ll be pleased. But not flattering. Don’t lay it on with a trowel. Because that marks you immediately as being dishonest in your motives and it simply cuts the throat of any verbalizing of the gospel that you might then try to do. Flattering words. Well, he said, we didn’t use flattering words, “Nor a cloak of covetousness.” Elsewhere in the Epistles, covetousness is said to be idolatry, when you want something and go after it at the cost of your relationship with God, that’s idolatry, the Bible says. But how often we find people working for their own advantage because they want something. If somebody is suddenly very nice to you, you think to yourself, “What does he want now?” A cloak of covetousness: Paul said that was ruled out. I didn’t try to get anything from you.
The basis of true friendship is that you’re with a person who doesn’t really want or need anything from you. He or she just wants you. I think one of the criticisms that hurt me the most deeply (I probably deserved it) was to get third-hand, through the grapevine, a comment that somebody made when the individual said, “Oh, Cook only comes to see me when he needs money.” Well, that cut me to the quick. And then I began to think, “Well, when did I go see the individual and why? Then, I guess I deserved it.” You have to learn those things; it’s hard to learn. Oh, it’s hard to learn. But, there it is. If I approach a person only when I want to get something from him or her, I can’t minister to that person, you see, because a wall of defensiveness builds up. And even though the relationship may be very cordial, yet the individual is engaged in protecting himself or herself against my presentation of what I want to accomplish.
Well, somebody said, “Brother Cook, that rules out all fundraising!” Oh, no it doesn’t. I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask somebody for help. I do that every day, don’t I? What I’m saying is, you’d better be interested in the person. It’s the atheist to whom I was trying to talk about the gospel and about our Lord on board ship one day as both of us stood on deck leaning against the rail, and he said, “I don’t want your religious mumbo-jumbo. I want somebody to be interested in me. I don’t want to be one of your converts! I want somebody to be interested in me!”
I asked Bill Bond, who for awhile worked with us in Youth for Christ (a man who had a good many millions in his pocket,) “How do you approach people who have money? I have to raise money,” I told him, “as President of Youth for Christ. What do I do?” He said, “Well, people will never give you a dime because you come to them and say, ‘I need money.'” He said, “You’ve got to be interested in them and what they are interested in.” He said, “When a person is interested in me, then I begin to respond.” Well, of course. You’d think everybody would know that, wouldn’t you? Well, some of us learn it later than others, I guess. All of this grew out of the idea of flattering words, and covetousness. When you approach a person with the idea of getting something out of him, you set up a wall of defense that precludes any effective witness of the gospel. Will you remember that?
Be interested in people. Yes, of course you can ask for help, Pastor, Evangelist, Broadcaster, Missionary! How else are you going to raise your support if you don’t go out and ask people for it. Of course! But the point is, that ought not to be the motivating force. Concern for people. Interest in people. Love for people. When Jesus saw the multitudes, it says, he was moved with compassion. Splanknidzomai, is the Greek verb. It means it hurt him in his heart, in his gut, really if you want to put it literally. It hurt him because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. To be concerned for people is the great moving force in giving out the gospel. Well, we’ll get at some more of this the next time we get together.
Holy Father, today make us sincere people, interested in others because of our love for them and Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Till I meet you once again by way of radio, walk with the King today and be a blessing!
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