A minister arrived at a scene where a terrible car wreck had just occurred. Before the ambulance had arrived, he got out of his car and walked to where the collision had taken place. After praying over the mangled car, he stuck his head in the window to see a young husband barely conscious with the man’s unconscious wife in the passenger side. The minister briefly spoke about Jesus and asked the man to accept the Lord Jesus as his Savior. After the minister prayed, the man eked out, “Thank you,” before a deputy forced the minister to leave.
This deathbed conversion in the movie “The Apostle” still grips me 20 years after seeing it for the first time. There’s something about an instantaneous, dramatic conversion that moves us deeply. Unfortunately, many of us tend to think that the role of an evangelist is to swoop in, make the deal, and leave. While the Scriptures do contain stories of dramatic, instantaneous conversions — King Manasseh, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the thief on the cross — examples of an evangelist popping in and popping out are not the normal way people come to God in the Bible. Paul is a prime example that when people came to Christ, a long process of growth and setbacks followed. Paul’s many letters are a record of his deep care and love for recent converts, and 1 Thessalonians 2 highlights that concern nearly as much as any other chapter.
In the initial verses of this chapter, Paul emphasizes his conviction that the gospel was from God, about God, and for God (2:2, 4, 13). If we are to follow Paul’s example, we must have the conviction that the gospel is from God.
Second, Paul repeatedly emphasizes his integrity. His motive was to please God (2:4); he wasn’t trying to flatter the Thessalonians or take advantage of them financially. He toiled day and night so as not to be a financial burden on them (2:5-6, 9). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they saw how Paul lived his life diligently, devoutly, justly, and blamelessly (2:9-10). He wasn’t bragging or claiming perfection. He was living his life as a model for younger Christians. For the gospel to march on to another generation, our lives must reflect the reality we proclaim with our lips.
Third, Paul’s deep love is evident throughout the passage. He wasn’t simply trying to get “notches in his belt” for the number of converts who accepted his message. He frequently uses familial metaphors, exhibiting the harmlessness of an infant, the affection of a young mother, and the loving instruction of a father (2:7, 11). He constantly thanked God for them and longed desperately to be with them (2:13, 17-19). As he encourages them through their suffering, he goes as far as saying that at the coming of Christ, they would be his hope, his joy, and his crown of boasting (2:14-20).
None of us are apostles, but all of us know people who need Jesus. We know people who need Jesus because we are people who need Jesus. The gospel will march on through fallible servants who are bold enough to speak truth, yet who back up those truth claims with conviction, integrity and love. Who are you urging to follow Jesus? Who will be your hope, joy and glory at the coming of the Savior?