The purpose of this lesson is “to help class members learn from Paul’s teachings about how to share the gospel and how to live as Saints.” Of the many events and teachings in this week’s reading assignment, I will be focusing on the stated purpose of the lesson and looking at some of the ways we can live more appropriately as Saints and share the gospel we have been given.
Reading Assignment: Acts 15:36–18:22; 1 and 2 Thessalonians
Additional Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:4–5, 10–13; Bible Dictionary, “Pauline Epistles: Epistles to the Thessalonians,” 743.
Those who are prepared
When talking about doing missionary work it is important to recognize that we are not personally responsible for people’s conversions. That is the Spirit’s job. It is His witness that changes their hearts and outlook on life. It is the witness of the Spirit that softens the hardened heart and opens people’s hearts to truth. All we can do is be there to help the process along. We do this by setting good examples and by opening our mouths and saying those things the Spirit prompts us to say at the time we are prompted to say them.
No matter how much preparation you put in to following the Spirit as a missionary, not all people will be converted. Some are just not currently able or willing to comprehend. Some are so focused on the thinking of the world or about their personal circumstances (or whatever) that they are beyond being touched by the Spirit through regular channels. Don’t take this personally. Even the apostles of old regularly thanked the Lord for those whom God had prepared and directed them to. They understood that not everyone would accept the truths of the gospel.
Does this mean that some cannot ever understand the gospel message? No, of course not. But accepting the gospel takes a willing heart, and sometimes we have to go through a lot before our hearts become willing. This is why, as the Lord hastens His work, we need to just be ready to go where He sends us and say what He wants us to say. He is preparing those who are ready and willing. He sends us to them as we submit to the promptings of the Spirit. These are they who will join the Lord’s Church.
Paul’s advice on missionary work
Reread Acts 17:22 – 32. This is Paul speaking to the Greeks on Mars Hill. Note how he is able to speak logically about the gospel. He pieces the gospel narrative into a flow that moves easily from one point to another until he introduces the idea of the resurrection. Since the resurrection is completely new doctrine to everyone who hears it, that is where the conversation ends. Some believe him because of what he said earlier, and others can’t swallow such a belief and mock him. This is a typical reaction from those who are hearing the gospel for the first time. They either believe or they scoff, not knowing what to do with these new beliefs.
Paul understood that some would feel the power of the message and others would not. If they didn’t get it he just went to a different audience. What lessons can we learn from Paul’s ability to separate himself from the acceptance or rejection of his message? In Acts 18:6 Paul did his best to reason with the Jews about Jesus being the Christ they had been waiting for as a people. But they reacted very strongly to his message and actually went on to blasphemy.
6 And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.
What a powerful example of personal understanding of his role as a messenger. Paul shook off their sins of blasphemy and declared that he was clean and untainted from their sins. If they didn’t want to hear his message he would just go talk to the gentiles. It didn’t seem to bother him one way or another. He had done his best and then let them make their own decisions. Paul was living as a Saint should live. He kept himself close to the leaders of the Church, prayed often, studied the message, and was unafraid to share the gospel with anyone he came in contact with. What they did with that message was up to them.
Preaching in a godly manner
In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul talks about how he did his missionary work among those who lived in Thessalonica. Here is a list of his missionary attributes he avoided and embraced.
1. He preached with boldness the things God wanted taught. He was not afraid of people.
2. He taught without deceit or guile. In other words, he spoke with straightforward honesty. There was no trickery involved in his manner of teaching.
3. They spoke in a manner they thought would please God. Pleasing the ears of man was not a consideration. They wanted to please God.
4. At no time did they use flattery in their speech or use covetousness to teach the word.
5. They could have used their position to become a burden to the people, but they did everything in their power not to. They did not seek to be glorified in the eyes of the members of the church.
6. Paul expresses that they, as missionaries, were as gentle as a nurse with a child. He told them that he would have given them not only the gospel, but his own soul as well, if he could have.
7. Paul reminds the people how much they suffered on their behalf to bring them the message of the gospel. He compares their sufferings, as missionaries, to a woman in travail, the worst part of labor.
8. He reminds the people how he and the other missionaries urged the people to do and be good, just as a father urges his children to do what is right.
These examples of how Paul and his companions did their missionary work show men of sound doctrinal understanding. They prayed often and were entitled to, and received personal revelation as to how to go about doing the Lord’s work. They loved the people they served. They held no fear of men. Their greatest concern was for the welfare and happiness of those they taught and fellowshipped. Wouldn’t you love any priesthood leader who behaved and treated you as honestly and candidly as Paul and his companions did? This is why Paul and his companions were so well loved by the whole Church.
Finally, Paul expresses to the Saints in Thessalonica their great love for them, not just because they listened to the message they bore, but because they had become dear to their hearts, and fellow followers of Christ. When we take the message of Christ to a neighbor, is it done out of a desire for a statistic, a fulfillment of a duty, or because we genuinely love them and desire their happiness?
In 1 Thessalonians 3:9 – 10 Paul wishes he could be there to fix or make perfect (same thing) that which is was lacking in their faith. This is great counsel to each of us. What is lacking in your personal faith that needs to be perfected or made whole?
9 For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
10 Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
Perfecting that which is lacking in our faith
To live like a Saint is to constantly be working on repairing that which is broken. We need to be seeking new knowledge, and a change of heart. To live like a Saint is to be one who loves wholeheartedly those with whom we share the gospel, whether or not they accept it. We do it because we love them, and we love them because we cannot help ourselves. Paul and his missionary companions were constantly expressing just how dear these converts were to them. They loved them with their whole souls, and were willing to undergo any trial or adversity to defend them, protect them, promote them, teach them, or serve them. This is what it means to live as Saints, to love God and man, and serve both with all our heart.
The lesson recommends we watch the following video. It is only three minutes, and is very good. The point of these excerpts is that we all need to prepare for the second coming of the Lord, but we also need to be prepared, not stop living because we think He will come next week. There is much to do, and a lot of personal growth and preparedness we all need to go through before His coming. The Brethren are encouraging us to plan on living a long and happy life, even with the trials of the last days. We have much missionary work to do yet, and most of us are still not yet fully prepared for the Savior’s second advent.