New Testament Sunday School Lesson 31: "And So Were the Churches Established in the Faith"

by | Sep. 17, 2015

Lesson Helps

“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:  For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11).

Most of us have at one time kept our mouths shut when they should have been open.  But not Paul.  And not in Corinth or anywhere else.  While he was in Athens he was waiting for Timothy and Silas to meet him, but he could not simply wait.

“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.  Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” (Acts 17:16,17).

Even on the stairs of the Antonia Fortress where Roman Legionnaires were taking him to save him from a mob determined to kill him, Paul asked permission to speak.

“But Paul said . . . I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.  And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue . . .” (Acts 21:39,40).

We had rules about not holding our peace in my mission.  We rode busses almost everywhere (except when I was with Mike Fletcher, who had no sense of financial restraint. Then we took taxis).  We had a rule, unwritten but legitimate: we could not sit by our companions on a bus. We were required to sit by someone else and ask for an opportunity to preach. 


As I mentioned in the introduction, I think the best handbook on missionary work in the scriptures is in 1st Thessalonians, chapters 1 & 2. It is not a powerful record of missionary experiences like those of Ammon and his brethren, or of Paul and his companions in Acts, but the text teaches spectacular collection of missionary attributes. Here they are:

1:2—We give thanks to God always for you all . . . Missionaries, good ones, are always grateful for the golden contacts, the responsive investigators, and particularly for those whose lives have been changed by faith on the messages of the emissaries of the Lord. The word always is important. Paul, in the midst of his continuing tribulations, never forgets to give thanks for the privilege of serving, and for the multitude of joys associated therewith.

1:2—Making mention of you in  our prayers . . . This is more than gratitude. Missionaries pray for their investigators and converts, for their ability and willingness to repent, for their continued faithfulness, for their steadiness and diligence in the kingdom. When investigators are trying to repent and in need of spiritual sustenance, missionaries will pray harder for them than they pray for themselves, and fast for and with them, too.

1:5—For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost . . . Remember that the sons of Mosiah taught with the power and authority of God (Alma 17:3), and that Nephi preaching angered the Nephites, "even because he had greater power than they. .." Power comes from faith in Christ (1 Nephi 10:17), and power in preaching comes from the Holy Ghost. Paul and his companions preached the gospel with power!

1:5—Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.  Ammon and his brethren, the record says, "were treated as though they were angels sent from God to save [the Lamanites] from everlasting destruction." (Alma 27:4) Missionaries stand out. And it is not just the white shirts and ties: they really are different, and anyone who gets close enough will notice it.

2:2—We . . .were shamefully entreated at Philippi . . . We talked of this earlier in the lesson.  At Philippi, Paul and Silas were both beaten and imprisoned. But when they were freed, they immediately traveled to Thessalonica and commenced anew to preach the gospel. This reminds me of the experience of Aaron and his brethren at Middoni which I spoke about last week. When Ammon and Lamoni arrived to free them from the prison there, they found that they "were naked, and their skins were worn exceedingly because of being bound with strong cords. And they also had suffered hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions; nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings (Alma 20:29). When "they were delivered by the hand of Lamoni and Ammon . . . they were fed and clothed. And they went forth again to declare the word” (Alma 21:14,15)

The Lord warned the Lamanite missionaries about the possibility of these kinds of experiences when he charged them to be "patient in long-suffering and afflictions that ye may show forth unto them good examples in me" (Alma 17:11). Likewise, the Lord said of Paul to Ananias, "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9: 16). Missionaries must be willing to be "shamefully entreated" in order to spread the word. They must endure the rocks and the spitting and the name-calling; even the beating and the incarcerations if necessary to preach the word. And when it is over they must go forth again. And not just forth, but go forth as Paul did, boldly, for he said:

2:2—We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God . . . No timidity is allowed. We bear the most important message in the universe and we must present it with power and enthusiasm. And we must preach it at every opportunity (D&C 24:12). The opposite of this boldness is referred to by the Lord in D&C 60:2—"But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. "

2:4—We were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel.  When was a greater trust than this ever given? Only one message exists in the universe that can bring the children of God back into his presence. There are plenty of other voices about, with messages that will lead in other directions (1 Cor. 14:10), but ours is the only one that will allow the eternal reunion of the family with the Father. And he has entrusted missionaries with that message. The very thought is enough to make the knees wobble and the joints turn to water. Imagine having such a trust and then, on judgement day, meeting those who would have received the message if we had had the willingness and courage to proclaim the gospel when we were with them. Imagine a baby-sitter losing one of the children charged to her care while the parents are away. How would she face father and mother when they came home, knowing she had failed their trust?

2:4—We speak; not as pleasing men, but God . . . 2 Tim. 4:3 speaks of a time when men will seek for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear, because they have "itching ears." This is a prophecy literally fulfilled in our day. People who want to sin can find, with little or no effort, someone who will say that what they want to do is not a sin at all. We have listened to the voices—the loud voices—crying for the right to be perverted, sinful, decadent, debased, degenerate. And all of this noise without a shred of embarrassment. Missionaries do not tell people what they want to hear. They tell them what they need to hear. Of course, when they find someone for whom those two are the same, then they get to perform baptisms. The Savior exemplifies this quality continuously: notice his challenge to the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19, and his rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23. We sing of this attribute in hymn #270: ''I'll say what you want me to say, dear Lord . . ."

2:5—Neither at any time used we flattering words . . . This is related to the previous two attributes: speaking boldly and speaking the words of the Lord.

“But behold, if a man shall, come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no 'iniquity ; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth-and if a man shall come among you and say this, you will receive him and say that he is a prophet” (Hel. 13:27).

We are not permitted to use language that changes people's actions without changing their hearts. Variations of the verb to flatter are used fifty times in the scriptures. Only three of those times is it used in what could be called a positive sense, and in all three of those it carries the connotation, as it does in all the rest, of getting someone to do something they should not or do not want to do. 1 Thes. 2:11 tells us that Paul and Silas "exhorted and comforted and charged everyone" of their contacts according to their individual needs.

2:6—Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others . . . It is interesting to notice how many times the Savior deferred to his Father, refusing to seek glory for himself, even though he certainly knew that it would come anyway. Look at John 4:34 and Matthew 19:17 for two examples. Missionaries must know that all they offer to the work is their time and their bodies: things they have covenanted to give anyway. The words are not theirs; the power is not theirs; the glory is not theirs; their talents are not theirs; the converting Spirit is not theirs. It is all a gift. Read Mosiah 2:21-24, which concludes with the question, "therefore of what have ye to boast. " Benjamin tells us clearly that no matter how long and how much we work, we will still be "unprofitable servants" (Mosiah 2:21).

2:6—We might have been [but were not] burdensome . . .  We had elders in our mission who spent hours every day with members, and who always managed to get invited to lunch. Now I know that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and that those who feed the elders will be blessed, but to contrive to take advantage of the generosity of the members of the church is a sin. Paul refused to be a burden to his investigators and his converts. Members should be expected to keep their covenants and to impart according to the gospel, but they should not be expected to worship missionaries.

2:7—We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children. . . . "Every man to his neighbor, " the revelations say, "in meekness and mildness." (D&C 38:41) Sometimes the missionaries, because of their superior knowledge of the gospel, and because of the reverent awe in which they are held by the members, are inclined to be overbearing—to set themselves up as the light, the authority. The pattern for this gentleness referred to by Paul may be the one demonstrated in John 8:11 (1-11) "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." The meaning of the word "nurse" in this verse is "one who nurses a child." In virtually every case, this would be the child's mother. You have all seen the gentleness of a mother with a new baby. Her solicitude and awareness and gentleness are powerful testimonies of her love, as is the gentleness of a missionary for his or her investigators and converts.

2:8—So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear unto us. Outside of the family, I think there is no pain like the pain that comes when an investigator or a friend who has felt the Spirit and shown honest interest in the word suddenly becomes resistant and indifferent. I remember the family who turned us out after all the discussions, and after committing to baptism, while we were in their home filling out the baptismal papers. A strong man and a lovely wife, who knew the work was true and said so, but who were concerned with the response of their families, turned away at the last moment. My companion and I did not leave saying, "That's a relief. It will free up some time on Sunday so that we can get a nap." We left crying, our hearts shattered into a million fragments of biting grief. We had given them more than the word. I think we had given them our souls. We loved them. 

2:9—For ye remember our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.  Missionaries, recognizing the urgency of their message, and the amount of work yet to be done, work as hard as they can. In fact they are commanded to do so.

“Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day” (D&C 4:2, emphasis added).

Joseph and Jacob understood this matter of not being chargeable, of standing blameless. Jacob said:

“And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1:19, emphasis added).

It pleases me that Joseph and Jacob took "upon [them] the responsibility" and answered "the sins, of the people upon [their] own heads." The sense of the words is that they chose to do it.  It was not a condition of their service that was forced upon them.

2:10—Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe. What a lovely way to summarize this entire collection of missionary attributes: missionaries should be holy and just and unblameable. You have all heard the stories of missionaries who did not "behave themselves" in the work, and brought disfavour, even dishonour, on the work and the Church. Brigham Young spoke to departing missionaries in 1861. He said

"You will have all manner of evil spoken against you, and all I ask of you and all that God or angels will ask of you is that not one word spoken against you shall be true; and I want you for my sake and for your own sake and for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom of God to live so that the wicked shall have no cause to speak evil against you” (Wilford Woodruff's Daily Journals, p. 413).


This has grown into the longest lesson I have ever written for the Internet. I apologize for that. Your time is valuable. I hope you can glean from it something of use in your study and—if necessary—your teaching. We could spend pages more on the material in Thessalonians. I Thessalonians 5 has wonderful lessons about how to be the children of light (see 1 Thes. 5:5). 2 Thessalonians 3 teaches us how to avoid apostasy. Other chapters teach other lessons. If you have the time, spend it on those and let the scriptures teach you by the Spirit in the way the Lord intended.

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