Why do some people accept and believe the gospel – God’s Word – and others, hearing the exact same truth, reject it? Why do some believe when hearing the good news for the first time, but for others, it can take years of repeating the same message over and over before it makes sense to them?
The simple answer is that the preaching of God’s Word by human voice alone is not enough. The Holy Spirit must take the word and enlighten our hearts to understand and believe.
In his first letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul talks about this very idea as he commends them for their faith. It was Paul’s second missionary journey that brought him into this very important city, where there was a large Jewish presence and an established synagogue. He began his ministry, as always, speaking in the synagogue. Many had believed, but he encountered strong resistance in the Orthodox Jews. Essentially, they ran him out of town and even chased after him in the next town, Berea (Acts 17). By the time Paul reaches Athens, he is very concerned about the new believers; he is afraid the persecution against them will cause them to falter in their faith. He sends Timothy back to check on them (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2) and writes this letter after Timothy rejoins him in Corinth bringing a good report of their steadfast devotion to Jesus (Acts 18:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:8).
How had God’s Word done such a great work in the brief time Paul spent in Thessalonica? Here are a few observations from chapters 1-3.
#1 – The gospel came not only in word but in power and in the Holy Spirit, with full conviction.
1 Thessalonians 1:5 – For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
God has to convict us of our sin, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is His power that quickens the word so that it pierces our hearts, and we are moved to respond. We have no control over the Holy Spirit, but we can pray and ask God to empower our words as we share the gospel. We can live surrendered, holy lives so that the power of the Spirit rests on us and can use us as we speak God’s Word.
#2 – The gospel was spoken despite opposition.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 – For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
Paul had every reason to be timid or afraid to share the gospel; he had experienced rejection already to the point of much suffering and the threat of death. Yet this only emboldened him, as he continued to see the power of the gospel change lives. His commitment reminds me of Peter’s words in Acts 4:20, We cannot stop speaking of what we have seen and heard. The gospel will always meet with resistance, but we must find the courage and strength in God to continue speaking so that it can do its work in the ones God is calling to Himself.
#3 – The gospel was spoken with pure motives as a trust carried out to please God.
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6 – For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness – nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
Paul had no ulterior motives; he had nothing to gain personally other than a desire to please the God who had saved him. He recognized the great responsibility of teaching and preaching the truth, and approached this responsibility with humility, knowing he was accountable to God for the accuracy of the message. We are privileged and blessed to understand the gospel; it is a gift that is to be shared. It is not a means to a position of power or control and is never to be used for personal gain. Paul knew that people had a tendency to transfer their allegiance to people they held in high regard, and he never wanted to get in the way. He wanted others to follow Jesus, not himself.
#4 – The gospel message was delivered with deep love, and personal concern.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 – But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
Paul never saw “numbers.” He saw people, and he cared about them deeply. He came to love the believers as he invested not just words, but his time and energy, and compassion. He willingly gave up his own comfort for their benefit, working hard not to be a burden on them as he spent time in the city helping them grow in their faith. He genuinely loved each one personally, with a pastor’s heart and a concern for their eternal destiny. People want to know we care about them; if they feel we are simply sharing the gospel to check off a box or add them to our list of conquests, they will reject the words we speak.
#5 – The gospel message was confirmed by a lifestyle that confirmed its power in his own life.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 – For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
Paul’s message would have been obliterated if he preached one thing but lived another. The gospel is always shared by imperfect people; we are human and will never be fully sinless in our thoughts and actions until our physical bodies are redeemed. But our testimony is seen visibly by our desire to live in a way that pleases God. If the power of the gospel has not changed us, what makes us think we can tell others it will change them?
Have you heard the gospel?
Have you believed the words you heard?
Then, God’s Holy Spirit spoke to you with power and conviction.
The same gospel that Paul preached is still transforming lives, but it’s more than just words. We are entrusted with a great treasure, and we proclaim it with humility and reverence. We speak it despite opposition, and we strive to please God with our lives so the message is not diluted.
How will you speak the gospel today?