“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-8)
In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 a beautiful sequence of events is started when then gospel came to Thessalonica. We see in verse 6 that they responded by becoming followers of Jesus and imitators of Paul (and thus Jesus). Then, in verse 7, the Thessalonians responded by becoming (local) examples to others around them. And lastly, in verse 8, they responded by becoming (global) examples to others who heard about them. Paul confidently grounds the election of the Thessalonians, first, on their reception of the preached gospel and, second, on their subsequent obedience. The result is a beautiful sequence of events, which I believe is much desired. It portrays discipleship of four generations. And thus it invites us to take a closer look at the starting point, which gives us more insight I think in the role of a preacher
Let’s read verse 5 again: “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
What does Paul about the gospel that came to the Thessalonians? First, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by word. I take that to mean that the preacher is giving a verbal proclamation and explanation of the good news of Jesus. Second, Paul says that the gospel was characterized by power. This could mean that preaching was combined with miraculous healing (like in Luke 10:8-9 for instance), but I would say that in any case there was a manifestation of power, in either preaching or healing or both, that was able to change minds, hearts, and lives. Third, Paul says the gospel was characterized by the Holy Spirit. I think there is a strong linkage here with his previous point that the gospel came in power, but I would say that there was some manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s approving presence. And, lastly, Paul says the gospel was characterized by full conviction, which I read as a transparent sincerity and integrity, bringing certainty to the hearer’s minds. The last part of the verse tops it off when Paul is saying that the Thessalonians knew what kind of men they proved to be among them for their sake. The coming of the gospel was reinforced by the evident of its preachers.
So, what can we say about the life of the preacher and the manner of his preaching, looking at these verses? I believe there are three aspects the preacher needs to be aware of and work into his life.
1. Be faithful students and servants of the Word
It is clear that the gospel comes by word, His Word, which is both verbally proclaimed, like a herald proclaims good news from the king, as well as explained so that everyone who hears understands the good news that has come to them. This means that as preachers we need to be able to both proclaim (herald) this good news as well as explain it. And we have to be able to do this from any passage from His Word because the whole of Scripture bears witness of Jesus (John 5:39). This takes serious study of His Word, and an understanding of hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletics.
2. Be fully dependent on the Holy Spirit
In order to preach with full conviction and passion, a preacher has to be fully depending on the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I would say there a threefold aspect here. First, he needs to be living by the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, he needs to be praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is in line with Haddon W. Robinson’s definition of preaching, which says, “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical-grammatical and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experience of the preacher, and then through him to his hearers.” For the Holy Spirit to first apply the text to the personality and experience of the preacher it requires the preacher to be living and praying by the power of the Holy Spirit. A third aspect then is that it is then applied through the preacher by the Holy Spirit to his hearers, which means that the preacher is preaching by the power of the Holy Spirit, so hearts and minds are changed.
3. Be disciplining yourself for holiness
This is obviously an aspect which applies to every follower of Jesus, who calls us to train ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Peter 1:3). But I believe it is particularly important for a preacher. Again, Paul says, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” As preachers, our walk with Christ needs to be in like manner of our talking about Christ. This way our “full conviction” makes sense. This way we give the hearers examples to imitate and follow as we will be worthy to be imitated (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 2 Timothy 3:10-11)
I believe these are admirable and honorable aspects to work into my life, and spend a lifetime on.