Hello and welcome to today’s Foundations Daily Podcast. My name’s Bryony and it’s great to be going through Paul’s letter to the the church in Thessalonica with you. This week we are thinking about what it means to be known, by God, by others and by the world. Today I want us to think about what it means for our motives to be known, what it means for God to know us and search our hearts. Today I’m reading 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8.
I remember the night well, we were in China on a mission trip. We’d spent several days visiting persecuted Christians, taking literature and Bibles to different locations where they could easily be distributed to the local church. The following day we were going to have a day off and visit the Great Wall of China. I’d always wanted to see this wonder of the world and I was really excited. At the nightly briefing our team leader shared some news that an opportunity had arisen for two members of the team to take a two hour coach journey to deposit a bag of Bibles with a local before jumping straight back on the train to return to the group. An exciting assignment, but the only downside was missing the trip to the Great Wall. I felt an almost instant pang of guilt. I was on this trip to equip the local church but I also really wanted to go to the wall. I might add here that the plan was to toboggan down from the top, seriously, to toboggan from the top of the Great Wall of China – you can see my dilemma!
In the end two people volunteered, one who’d seen the Wall and one who wasn’t bothered! However I left that conversation with a deep sense of guilt, guilt that I hadn’t put my hand up straight away, what did people think of me, did they think I preferred sightseeing to saving people’s souls?! Guilt upon guilt, upon guilt. My wise and gentle husband told me to stop, he asked me this question: ‘the only person who has expectations for you, is you, who are you trying to please?’. This question made me stop in my tracks as I had the sudden realisation that I lived large parts of my life thinking about what others would think about me.
I wonder if you recognise that feeling. The feeling of guilt of not living up to another’s expectations, of needing to please people. Of wondering whether you’ve hit the mark in other people’s eyes?
We are wired to be self-centred and with that often comes a sense of wanted to be thought of well by everyone. This is difficult when it comes to being a disciple. The truth is following Jesus has a whole lot of potential to put us at odds with the world. In fact as we read yesterday, if it doesn’t, something’s not right. Believing Jesus was resurrected, believing in Jesus, claiming that we are in need of rescue. These are all things that are offensive to the world.
The Thessalonian Christians knew this all too well. They were at odds with all of those around them. If wasn’t just that what they believed was different, it was actually offensive to those around them. It’s into this context that Paul reminds them that he understands the predicament they are in. He writes: We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. He is reminding them of the truth that in his dealing with them and those outside the church his focus has always being putting God’s will first. Paul wants to be known by God, he cares only that his motives are right before God, nothing else matters. That takes courage. I know my tendency is that when I’m trying to do what I feel God is saying I need to explain it all away, or in some cases water it down to make it more palatable. But Paul says don’t look for praise from others, don’t try to please others; all that matters is what God thinks about you.
I know every day I feel swayed by others’ opinions; I want to be liked, to be affirmed; but that’s when I come back to the truth that first and foremost I’m surrendered to my heavenly Father. This is particularly challenging for someone who speaks on a stage like I do. Over the years I have learnt not to seek affirmation from anyone after I’ve preached, it is of course lovely to get an encouraging word but I know I need to step off the platform confident that I’ve been obedient to Jesus. Anything else is a bonus.
I imagine today each of us will have an opportunity to seek affirmation from someone other than God. From tiny moments like waiting for a ‘like’ on our latest social media post to big moments after you’ve done a presentation at work. The challenge for all of us is to be rooted in the truth that we are known by God, we can’t impress him or gain his love, we already have it. Where today do we need to put down the opinion of others and turn once again back to Jesus?
Thank you Jesus that you delight in us. Help us to courageously follow you without worrying about what others think. That we would live lives aimed at pleasing our Father’s heart. Amen.
READING: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.