Apr 8 - Payback Or Passing It Forward?

Payback Or Passing It Forward?

April 8, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12



Impacting My World for God and for Good – Part 2

April 8th, 2018

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12


A woman was pregnant but she did not let her ex know.  As she was commuting to work one day, she got into a car accident and ended up in an induced coma for 6 months at VGH.

When she is woken up and sees that she’s no longer pregnant, she is frantic, but the doctor in the room assures her that she had healthy twins by Caesarean, a boy and a girl. 

He also told her that her brother, who had been visiting daily, had provided names for the children for the birth certificates because her situation had been so precarious.

The woman exclaims, “Oh no, not my brother.  He comes up with the weirdest stuff.  My goodness, I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the girl’s name?” 

The doctor tells her, “Your brother named her Denise.” 

Wow, that’s not a bad name at all.  In fact I like it a lot!  So what’s the boy’s name?” 



There is a need within human nature for retaliation and retribution.  It offends our sense of justice if people are able to do terrible things but carry on without facing any negative consequences. 


Mao Zedong (1893 - 1976) whose 5 year plan called “the great leap forward” directly led to the starvation of some 30 million peasants between 1959 and 1962, did not seemed to have bothered the so-called “great helmsman” very much.  He lived to age 82, and is venerated to this day.[1] 


Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953), was ruthless, brutal and sadistic by nature.  He started his political career by raised funds for the Bolsheviks through deadly robberies[2], kidnappings, counterfeiting, and running protection rackets. He also ordered the killing of suspected informants. 


Once he gained control as the communist dictator, he instituted a 30 year reign (1924 - 1953) of unprecedented cruelty and violence, which cost the lives of some 40 million people.  He once said that a million deaths is simply a statistic.


He orchestrated the so-called “Great Purge[3] where, within a few years, hundreds of thousands were killed on his order.  He died at age 74.[4] 


The likes of Pol Pot and Idi Amin also died at an advanced age without ever having to face justice for their murderous reigns.[5] 


If you are like most, it probably rankles you that those who caused the suffering and deaths of millions of human beings should die peacefully in their old age.  The reason for this is something that is found in most people:  a desire for justice.[6] 


Most people think that there is something inherently wrong with the innocent being punished simply because they don’t have any recourse, and the guilty going free because they have money or power or influence. 


But we don’t have to look back in history all that long.  Clifford Olsen, who killed at least 11 children around 1980 (died in prison in 2011). Robert Pickton who killed around 50 women between 1980 and 2002.  In the early 1990’s serial rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.  Or mass murderer Colonel David Williams who stalked, tortured and killed his victims until he was arrested in 2010. If you are anything like me, I would like them to be locked up for the rest of their lives.


However, it becomes even more acute when someone hurts us personally or hurts someone we care about.  Then, we want payback.  We want that person to suffer for what they did.  This is no longer simply the desire for punishment, it is the desire for revenge and retribution.[7] 


Some of you will remember where you were back in September 11th, 2001, known as 9/11, now already 16 ½ years ago.   But you likely will not remember the speech to the world that then-President George W. Bush gave on Sept 20th, 9 days after the attacks.[8]


It was s speech about his resolve to go to war, to bring justice for the 3,000 killed and the 6,000 injured, by punishing those who made it happen.  He told the terrorists that they would be brought to justice and they would not be able to escape it.[9]  Less than a month after 9/11, the US began military operations in Afghanistan,[10] which they named “Operation Enduring Freedom.”


It may have taken 9 years and 8 months, but eventually even Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks was killed in his hideout in Pakistan.[11]  And a lot of Americans were pretty happy about it.


We want justice and we want revenge.  When someone does horrible things, we want them punished.  If someone hurts us or hurts someone we care about, we want to retaliate, so that the other person is forced to suffer for their actions. 


That is simply part of our human nature.  It is why we strike back when someone hurts us; why we get defensive or become hurtful when we feel threatened or put down or hurt.[12] 


And because it is so natural to want revenge, both the OT and NT speak out against this tendency. 


Do not repay anyone evil for evil.        Romans 12:17


Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge ... instead love your neighbour as yourself.            Leviticus 19:18


Jesus made a point of this as well, as he told his followers to pray for those who persecute them (Matt 5:44), and Paul echoes this by writing that Christians are to bless their persecutors (Rom 12:14).


So while justice and anger by their very nature demand punishment and retribution, it isn’t nearly as natural to repay a kindness with another kindness, although it sometimes happens. Kind people can inspire others to be kind. 


While this is a wonderful sentiment, I have not found it to be commonly true.  Most people aren’t nearly as keen to show kindness because kindness was shown to them.  Some people simply take the kindness of others for granted.  Others may appreciate it, but it still doesn’t convict them that they too should act in a similar way. 


Some of you have watched a movie back in 2000 called “Pay It Forward”.  It is about a 12 year old boy by the name of Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) whose teacher (Kevin Spacey)[13] gives the class an assignment – they are to do something that would change the world in which they live. 


The boy came up with the idea of doing something for three people that they could not do for themselves.  And then he would tell these people that if they wanted to repay his kindness they should “pay it forward” by doing the same for three other people.


The concept behind the movie is something I read years ago in a book in my library.  This is what it said: 


How can I ever repay you?” asked a person of a friend who had done him a great favour.  “I will forever be indebted to you for your kindness.” 

Not necessarily,” answered the friend. “If you really want to repay me, keep your eye open for somebody who needs help as badly as you did, and help him. 

If you are willing to do this, I will be fully repaid, for I will enjoy the great feeling that someday – through you – I will have helped someone I didn’t even know.”


In a sense, that is what God is asking every believer to do.  He has given us good things:  Forgiveness and cleansing and wholeness and meaning in life.  He has given us His Spirit, whether we are aware of him or not.  He has given us the ability to connect with him and to worship him and talk to him.  He has given us the potential of a Christian family – of friends who are concerned about us and pray for us. 


We cannot repay God for any of these things.  We can’t earn them, we don’t deserve them.  However, God asks us to share with others the grace and forgiveness and love and mercy he has shown toward us.  We are to pay it forward.  And it is that very act of paying it forward that pleases God.


That was something ingrained into the apostle Paul. Something happened in his life he considered to be wonderful.  He had received something he considered to be incredibly valuable, in fact he called it “the good news.”  The good news contained the message that God did something for him that he simply could not do for himself - even though he tried hard.


Maybe when he received the “good news”, he felt like someone who had won the grand prize in the lottery. 


Now when we win the lottery, we might be inclined to share some of the winnings with immediate family members.  But surely we wouldn’t share them with total strangers. Yet Paul thought it was incumbent upon him to share this good news with anyone who would hear him out. 


As a result, Paul made a huge positive impact in the lives of so many people – he brought them meaning and joy in the present, and hope for the future. 


A few weeks ago, I started on a series in 1 Thessalonians and spoke on chapter 1. This morning I want us to take a look at chapter 2, in particular Paul’s motives and his methods as an example to us of what it takes to share God’s message and God’s love with others.  Let’s begin by reading 1 Thessalonians 2. 


You know for yourselves, brothers, that our visit to you was not futile.  You know how, after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, we still had the boldness in our God to tell you the good news of God despite much opposition.  1 Thessalonians 2:1-2


In chapter 2, Paul refers six (6) times to the fact that the believers in Thessalonica already know what he is now telling them.  In other words, he is simply reminding them of something they had witnessed personally when he was with them.


Paul is writing this letter from Greece.  When in Philippi, Paul and Silas had received a severe beating, which would have shredded their backs, then been imprisoned (likely in stocks), and then had to flee for their lives after being released.


In Thessalonica they also face a huge amount of opposition in Thessalonica. 


Now you would think that Paul would have been bitter about his treatment in Philippi and Thessalonica and wished evil and curses on his detractors.  But, instead of wanting them to pay for their actions against him, he was more focused on blessing others regardless of the danger involved.


So Paul reminds the believers at Thessalonica of his courage, his boldness, to continue preaching the message about Jesus, despite all that happened.


Most of us are so afraid of rejection or humiliation or looking stupid or being thought of as less, that the slightest opposition will cause us to cave in or give up on our principles or voice our convictions.   


So we can be prevented from doing what we think is right and good, simply because we are afraid that others may think less of us. 


If you couple that with the prevailing sentiment that religious beliefs or convictions are private and personal, something not to be discussed in public, then it results in believers who are afraid to say anything about their faith or beliefs to others.


It is why some believers enter eternity without ever having told anyone else about their convictions or beliefs. 


I am reminded of a story about a man who travelled all over the world on business.  In every major city he stopped, he would buy something for his mother and send it to her. 

On one such stop he found a parrot that spoke 13 different languages.  He paid a small fortune for it and another hefty sum to have it looked after on the trip to get it to his mother. 

A few days later he phoned his mother.  “Did you like the parrot?” he asked her. 

Oh yes, son, thank you.  It was delicious.” 

WHAT?” the man was beside himself.  “You ate it?  That parrot wasn’t for you to eat, it spoke 13 languages!” 


The mother paused for a moment and then said, “So why didn’t he say something?


My point is not that we should be beating others over the head with our faith - especially when they do not want to hear about it.  My point is that some people are desperately searching for answers and quite open to what we may have to say.


Now, good sense should have told Paul that he was heading for trouble and that he should give up and stop talking. 

His fear of rejection should have told him to stop doing things that would cause people to hate him.

Self-preservation should have told him to shut up instead of risking beating, imprisonment or even death.    


Yet something, something drove him to keep on keeping on.  Something allowed him to keep speaking the same message about Jesus’ identity and what Jesus’ had accomplished through his execution on a cross despite the consequences.  Something gave him the courage not to be afraid of what others may say or think. 


Paul wrote in v.2: we had boldness in our God!  Paul’s life was given over to God.  Paul trusted God implicitly.  His courage was in God, not in his own strength or in some other human protecting him.    


Courage comes when we overcome our addiction to the approval of others.  Paul got his approval and inner security from God. 


So let’s go on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2.


Our message was not motivated by a desire to mislead you, to take advantage of you sexually, or to defraud you.  On the contrary, we speak as those who are approved by God and have been entrusted with the good news, not in order to please people but God, who examines our hearts.                 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4


As you know, we never came with flattering words, nor were we motivated by hidden greed, as God is our witness, nor did we seek the adulation of people, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of the Messiah, we could have asserted our authority. 

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:5-7a


There are all kind of reasons why someone will choose to be nice to another person.  Sometimes those reasons are selfish ... in order to take advantage of them or get something from them.   


Paul lists a number of hidden motives that people may have:


  • The hidden motive to take advantage of someone sexually 

  • The hidden motive to defraud someone of money;  In that context, Paul also writes about greed motivating a person

  • The hidden motive of pleasing people ... of being liked by others.

  • The hidden motive of receiving the adulation of people ... in other words, to have status.  Status gives power over others and enables a person to manipulate others.


Paul mentions two methods that can be used in taking advantage of others: 


Deceit (desire to mislead)

and flattery


Of course there are more:  Intimidation, for example.

So Paul reiterates that his desire was to bless other people, to be a blessing to other people.  It wasn’t to make money or gain prestige or take advantage of them. 


As I read these verses, I wonder if someone in the church had accused Paul of sharing the good news about Jesus for the wrong motives.  It wouldn’t be unheard of. 


There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of meeting their sensual and sexual desires.  Cult leaders often have many wives.  There are others who use their position to take advantage and abuse adults and even children. 


There are other religious leaders who use religion as a way of making money, lots of money.  Their motivation is to get rich, to enjoy all of the things money can buy – and their way of getting it is to fleece the faithful.


There are some religious leaders who see in religion a way of gaining status and prestige and power.  Some can become dictatorial and harsh. 


Paul makes the point that he was not motivated by these things, but he was motivated by his desire to please God, the God who examines the heart and cannot be hoodwinked or deceived about the real motives (v.4). 


Paul also knew, that what pleases God more than anything else is sharing the love he has shown with others – to “pay it forward”.  So let’s read on:


To the contrary, we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.  And being so disposed[14] toward you, we were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives,[15] seeing that you had become very dear to us.                                                1 Thessalonians 7b-8


You remember, brothers, how hard we laboured and toiled, how day and night we worked in order not to be a burden to any of you while we proclaimed the good news of God to you.  You are witnesses, as is God, how devoutly, uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.                        1 Thessalonians 2:9-10


Similarly, you know how, as a father does his own children, we exhorted, encouraged and urged each one of you to live[16] in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

                                                1 Thessalonians 2:11-12


In the last number of verses in chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians, Paul paints two pictures: 

1. that of a nursing mother, who shares her own life with her new-born child, and

2. that of an encouraging father who urges his kids on to greater heights. 


And in between, he speaks of working hard in order not to be a financial burden to the people in Thessalonica, possibly as a tent maker, his trade (Acts 18:3).  He obviously was not out for their money, because he didn’t take any from them.


Paul uses different adjectives to describe himself, Silas and Timothy:


Paul’s attitude:


1. Gentle

2. Tender

3. Devout

4. Upright

5. Blameless


And he points to his devout, upright and blameless behaviour, that was everything but indicative of inner corruption, bad character, or the desire to misuse or take advantage of those who were converted. 


Paul makes the point that he didn’t just share information, even though he felt it was the most valuable message he could possibly give them.  He, Silas and Timothy also shared their lives with them.


We were delighted to share with you not only the good news of God but also our own lives, seeing that you had become very dear to us.          1 Thessalonians 2:8


And the reason why they did so is because they genuinely felt love and compassion for them, like parents feels love and compassion for their children.  They were like good parents who would never think of taking advantage of or abusing their kids. This is why they shared their lives with those in Thessalonica and why it wasn’t a chore but a delight for them to do so.


When we share our lives with others in an obvious selfless manner, we are letting them know that we genuinely care for them.   


When we share our lives, then

We are transparent.

We don’t hide or conceal what is important to us. 

We make time for another person. 

We listen to them. 

We give them personal attention. 

We let the other person into our lives. 


Now, there are limitations to the amount of people who we can get personally involved with.  Jesus had 12 disciples, but of these, he only became very close friends with 3 (Peter, James, John). 


I’ve read a few articles that make the point that one person can have about 5 friends or family members in their inner circle, that people can only maintain about 5 close relationships.[17]  Beyond that, there are an additional 10 (to a total of 15) where relatively close bonds can be formed.  This is why small groups are so important in any church.  Only there can closer bonds be formed, can friendships develop. 


There are even limits to the number of people in the outer circle that any one human being can maintain:  about 150 people.  Beyond that, people are strangers or virtual strangers.


However, despite these limitations, Christians are called on to share their lives with others to whatever degree possible ... first of all with their spouses and their children, should they have any.  Beyond that, they are called upon to share their lives with other family members, then with their Christian brothers and sisters, then with their friends, their fellow students, their co-workers, their neighbours, and then even with complete strangers, those who are beyond even their outer circle.


The question we should ask ourselves is whether or not that is actually taking place in our own lives.  If the answer is “no”, we should ask what has to happen in our hearts for that to become true. 


What does the Spirit of God need to work on in our hearts for us to be effective in sharing our lives with others?  What needs to happen for us to be parents who genuinely share their lives with their children?  With their spouses?  With other family members and friends?  With strangers in need?


When I consider the grace of God, his unmerited love and forgiveness shown toward me, despite the many times I screw up – then I will want to pass on that grace to others.


When I consider just how interested God is in me, as an individual, as reiterated by Jesus in story after story, illustration after illustration, parable after parable, then I want to be as lovingly concerned about others as I possibly can.


I think in the past there was the idea that a man’s man is the tough silent type who doesn’t share much.  True men don’t hug other men – ever.  Men don’t cry. 


So was Paul an emotional basket case, some namby-pamby softy?  Well, Paul never strikes me as weak or emotional – the very reverse seems to be the case.  He was, after all, the person who was instrumental in having Stephen stoned to death - and possibly many others.


So for Paul to say: “I feel genuine affection for you, you are so dear to me”, is a sign to me that God is in the business of softening hearts.  God the Spirit causes believers to feel affection for one another. There is an inner commitment to compassion.


We don’t just do something good for another person emotionally completely detached and dispassionate - as a social experiment, or so we can look good, or so we can toot our own horn by posting it on YouTube, or in order to fulfil an expectation, or because we’re getting paid to do it, or as an obligation before God, or as a necessary evil.


In 1 Peter 1:22 we read:


Love one another sincerely, from the heart.   1 Peter 1:22


When we become believers something happens to us. 


Think of it in these terms:  When a person is confronted with death, sometimes it has a great effect on the heart. 

Shortly after 9/11, calloused New Yorkers showed love and compassion. 


Things that were taken for granted, all of a sudden become extraordinarily precious.  In the face of death, the annoying imperfections and character traits of others become unimportant.    


When we become believers, when we belong to Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of God comes to live within us, then our minds are no longer focused only on ourselves.  We ponder instead on the wonderful realities of life and death. 


In a sense we come to realize that we live on the brink of eternity.  And it should give us a kind of wistful fondness and compassion for others.








[1] Mao became grossly overweight by age 60 and smoked heavily.  He still made it to age 82.

[2] On robbery in 1907 cost the lives of 40 guards. 

[3] Also known as “The Great Terror” (1936 - 1938)

[4] Stalin was a heavy smoker.  He had a brain hemorrhage and died 4 days later. 

[5] Pol Pot died at age 72, apparently of heart failure or suicide (the latter because he knew that he was about to be handed over to the US).  Idi Amin died at an unknown age, likely somewhere between 74 and 80, apparently of kidney failure.

[6] Also the reason why hell may be a balancing of the scales of justice.

[7] The idea of suffering in hell (Jesus: weeping and gnashing of teeth), may be a desire for retribution. 

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/21/september11.usa13.

[9] The Taliban must act ... They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.  He also told the world that in this “war against terror” they will either be with the US or against it.

[10] Began October 7, 2001 with the aerial bombing of Taliban and al-Qaeda targets.  It ended officially on December 28th, 2014, but there continues to be US soldiers on the ground, named “Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.”

[11] May 2, 2011.  However, there are no more extreme Sunni terrorist groups today than ever before.  But I wonder if that had more to do with getting rid of Sadam Hussain. 

[12] The OT commandment that demands an eye for an eye was to limit retribution and prevent an escalation when it comes to revenge. 

[13] Ironically, in 2017 Spacey was accused of a host (16?) of inappropriate sexual advances and liaisons with boys around 14 years of age. 

[14] The verb “omeiromenoi” is only used here in the NT.  The meaning is unclear but the verb has been translated as “being affectionately disposed” or as “yearning over”.  I thought it should probably be related back to the feelings of a nursing mother. 

[15] Greek psychas - can also mean minds or souls, but in the context the word “lives” makes most sense.

[16] Literally, “walk” (peripateo).

[17] https://www.sciencealert.com/the-latest-data-suggests-you-can-only-keep-five-close-friends; http://nationalpost.com/news/world/humans-only-able-to-maintain-five-relationships-in-their-inner-circle-and-150-in-their-outer-circle-study-finds.