Michael Youssef - Until Christ Returns - Part 2
Quite a while back, a friend asked me a question, "How do you handle criticism"? I said, "Not very well". And then, when I got serious, I began to explain to him the very steps that I try to take in dealing with criticism and critics, because they're not the same. The first thing you have to understand, that whenever you take a stand for the truth, whenever you do something, you will be criticized. It's just inevitable. The only people who don't get criticized who do nothing, say nothing, accomplish nothing. But if you are doing anything for the Lord at all, you will be criticized. It goes with the territory. Secondly, I said, "Classify your critics. Classify criticism, examine the source". Thirdly, I said, "Turn your critics into coaches". Ask your critic, "Well, how can I do this better? Tell me, help me, help me out so I can do it better". Because sometimes faithful critics can be of enormous help. But a habitual critic, on the other hand, is not of much help.
I was thinking of this and I thought of D.L. Moody, who had a woman who was really very critical of him. Everywhere, every turn, she was critical of him. And one day, she walked up to him and she said, "Mr. Moody, I don't like the way you do evangelism". He said, "Well, I don't like it either. Tell me, how do you do it"? She said, "I don't". He said, "Well, I prefer the way of my doing it than you not doing it". You see, most critics feel that they have superior knowledge, so give them a hearing. Listen to what they have to say. The fourth step is not to take criticism personally. I know that's easier said than done, but it's important because some criticism should not be even tolerated. Let me quote you one far wiser man said. He said: "Criticism is often difficult to accept, but enduring abuse is wrong. God's work is not advanced by acquiescing to an abusive critic or attack on your personhood," end of quote.
I love what General Patton said. He said: "If you are afraid of criticism, you are whipped before you started". And when you remember that they criticized the Lord of life, they criticized the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless, eternal Son of God, how are we gonna escape criticism when we take a stand for the truth or we try to accomplish something for God? And Paul himself faced so many critics. Literally, in every church, he had critics. In fact, there were a special group of people, legalists, loveless, mean, critical people known as the Judaizers, and they literally were nipping at his heels everywhere he went. And they were teaching that, basically, the gospel is not enough. Salvation is not by grace alone or faith alone, but you have to be circumcised, or you have to keep the law. You have to do this, and you have to do that, and you have to do the other thing in order to become a super-duper Christian.
And so, we began in the last message, and I explained that after 3 weeks of preaching in Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul was so persecuted, and his life was in danger, that they literally had to whiz him out of town only after spending 3 weeks, when he really wanted to spend more time with them. In fact, he was heartbroken that he could not spend longer time with them because they ran out him out of town very quickly. And guess what these miserable critics, these critical people did as a result of what happened? I mean, they took full advantage of Paul's sudden departure and disappearance. They saw it as a great opportunity to undermine his authority, to undermine his preaching. But above all, they took it as an opportunity to undermine the gospel.
And so, they launched this malicious smear campaign. But these miserable folks, who started nothing, founded nothing, led no one to Christ, and they're the ones going around criticizing the Apostle Paul, the great apostle. I mean, these folks would not hold a candle to the great apostle, who had absolute commitment to the truth of the gospel. But they came to slander the Apostle Paul. I can only imagine how they went about it. "Well, he ran away, didn't he, huh? He has not been seen or heard from since. Obviously, he's not sincere. He's one of those fly-by-night preachers. He probably is a charlatan. He didn't care about you. He only cared about himself. He got out when the getting out was good. He's abandoned you, hasn't he? He was more concerned about saving his own skin than saving you Thessalonians". And it appears from the text that some of the weak-kneed Thessalonians bought into this critical and the false criticism. After all, those critics just sounded so plausible, very plausible.
Make no mistake about it, the Apostle Paul found that to be very painful. 'Cause some people think, "Well, you know, he's the great Apostle Paul. He had a rhinoceros hide, and these things did not affect him". Not on your life. You say, "Michael, how do you know that"? Well, by taking one whole chapter out of the five and trying to explain himself, defend himself. Listen, you have to have ice in your veins not to feel hurt and pain of criticism, especially if it's a false criticism. And there is no doubt that Paul was comforted by the fact of knowing that his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was called, "Glutton". He was called, "A wine bibber". He was called, "Lawbreaker". He was called, "Seditious". He was called, "In league with Satan". He was even called, "Mad".
Now, please hear me right. This is important. Evil will always call good, "Evil," for two reasons. Number one, to divert attention from their wickedness. And secondly, to confuse some of the non-discerning people, just to confuse them. In our day, wicked sinners will always accuse those who are faithful to the truth by the worst sin that our society can ever level on anyone. You got it? "Intolerant," intolerant. And so, when the Apostle Paul responds to their criticism, he does not do it arrogantly. He does not do it in anger. He does not do it, you know, for vanity's sake. No, he does it because he knew that the very gospel itself is at stake. And if they managed to destroy his credibility, and if they managed to destroy his message and his preaching, next step will be to destroy the gospel, and he would not do it. But he responded positively.
I love to see people who respond to criticism positively. In fact, I read about the guy who was being criticized all the time by his boss. I mean, this guy, this employee was very positive. And one day, the boss said to him, he said, "I don't understand, how can you make that many mistakes in 1 day"? And the positive employee said, "That's because I get up early in the morning". And the Apostle Paul defended his conduct in verses 1 to 16 of chapter 2, he said: "You, brothers, know that our visit to you was not a failure". You saw the fruit of our labor. "We had previously suffered and have been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition".
What is Paul saying? Listen carefully, he is saying, "Both preaching and our lives were transparent from the very beginning, and you saw that. We never sugarcoated the message. We never tried to trick you. We've never tried to give some fine prints. What you saw is what you got. And you saw how we hated hypocrisy and loved integrity. We had nothing to conceal or to be ashamed of". Paul is saying, "I was not, I am not, and I will not be afraid of suffering. In Philippi, we got beaten real good," as we say right here in the South. "I mean, we were bleeding from every pore. But there in the prison, we sang songs and we praised the Lord, and that did not stop us in the middle of our suffering to praise the name of the Lord. And the Lord, in response to our praise, sent an earthquake and shook the prison, and even the guard came to Christ and was converted in his household. After all of that, all the suffering did not deter us from preaching the truth. Nothing will stop us from peaching the truth. Their intimidation did not lead us to compromise. Their attack did not cause us to soften the message. Their hatred made us more fearless, bold, and courageous".
When you are committed to the truth, they will come after you with cleats, they will. Be prepared for it. But at the same time, you will experience the power of God and the comfort of God and the strength of God like no other time in your life. You see, opposition will always come when you rely only on the power of God. Opposition will always come when you seek to please him alone first and foremost, not please people. That will always come, and that is why a person who is transparent is not afraid of accountability. And Paul was so consumed with pleasing the Lord, the Lord who is the true examiner of motives, the Lord who is the true examiner of inner thoughts, the Lord who is the true examiner of hearts and minds, that he did not worry or fear being examined by the faithful believers.
See, the enemies will shoot at you no matter what, they will. But as long as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ know the truth, that's all that really mattered to the Apostle Paul. In fact, Paul uses four metaphors to represent his life, and I pray that God will use those to represent our lives, each of us, individually and corporately. First, he saw himself as a steward, not an owner, verses 3 and 4. Secondly, he was nurturing like a mother, verses 5 to 8. Thirdly, he was instructive as a father, verses 9 to 12. And fourthly, he was as clear as a herald, verses 13 to 16. Paul saw the ministry and everything else in life as a stewardship. It's a trusteeship. He did not own anything. He was a manager. That's all he was.
Those of you who work for bosses, you work for companies that are owned by an individual, managers don't go into business for themselves. Managers report to the owner of the business. They follow the owner's instructions. They follow the owner's plan. They follow the owner's goals. They always want to be sure that they are following the owner's will. They were always anxious to be accurately communicating the owner's desires and wishes. Faithful managers do not allow pride or greed or popularity or impure motives to take them away from the owner's instructions. And Paul is saying that is exactly why his message was true to God's instructions. Because he was not preaching his message. He was preaching the gospel. His motives were pure toward God and toward them. His method was open and aboveboard.
Listen to me, this is not just one time faithfulness. This is faithfulness as a steward day in and day out, day in and day out, because the temptation always, always, for us to go into business for ourselves. The temptation is always to do your thing and not follow the owner's manual. Some people consider faithfulness and their stewardship of money is they say, "I give 10%, then I do whatever I want to with the 90%". But true stewards know that God is just as interested in what you do with the 90% as you do with the 10. That's faithful stewardship. It is a whole package. And stewardship is not only in finances. Stewardship is in the use of time. Stewardship in speaking of the truth. Stewardship is in living by the truth. Stewardship is in witnessing to the truth. Stewardship is in knowing that you are reporting to the boss moment by moment, day by day.
And so, Paul was not only a steward, a manager who was entrusted with the truth of the gospel, but secondly, he said, he was nurturing as a mother would be. I don't have to tell you that faithful mothers would never exploit their children. A faithful mother would never use her motherhood for selfish ends. You will never see it. A faithful mother never misleads her children. A faithful mother, on the contrary, she is nurturing. She is self-sacrificing. She's gentle, she's affectionate. And Paul is saying that he and his team were faithful, not only to share the truth of the gospel, but to share their own lives with them. Like the faithful mother, they unselfishly set aside their own needs for the needs of God's people.
Not only he was a faithful steward, not only that he was nurturing like a mother, but thirdly, he was instructive and corrective as a father would be. Godly fathers instruct their children. That's just the way God laid it and God planned it. They are to instruct 'em in the Word of God. First and foremost, fathers do all of the sports stuff with your kids, do all of the outdoorsy stuff, do all the good stuff. But above all, fathers are the primary instructors to their children in the Word of God. And that is why, in Deuteronomy, God said to the fathers, he said: "You teach God's law to your children, when they're walking, and when they're sitting, when they're going, and when they're coming, every opportunity you get, to instruct your children in the Word of God".
Effective Christian fathers are those who strengthen their children convictions, those who give courage for their two children to stand for the truth. They train them to uphold biblical standards. Above all, godly fathers lead by example. Godly fathers are to say to their children, "Watch and see how I live. Watch and see how I react. Watch and see how I walk with God. Watch and see how I exercise wisdom. Watch and see how I testify to the Lord Jesus Christ as my salvation. Watch and see how I am not ashamed of the gospel. Watch and see how I try to live above reproach. But more importantly, watch and see how, when I fail and falter and sin, repent and turn to the Lord for forgiveness and healing". By using the image of the father, Paul is saying that "it's not enough to just be compassionate and tender and caring as a spiritual mother, but need to live uncompromisingly pure and exemplary lives as spiritual fathers".
We need to teach the truth. We need to display courage in the midst of adversity. We need to build the saints in wisdom. In the light of severe criticism by false teachers, the Apostle Paul said that he lived among them as a steward. He lived among them as a nurturing mother, instructive as a father. And fourthly, he was as clear as a bell. He was as clear as a herald. Perhaps this fourth one is the most freeing aspect of your witness for Jesus Christ. It is the most liberating thing. It is the most freeing concept in witnessing for Christ. A lot of people have never witnessed for Christ. Some of you do it on few occasions because you feel that burden. But here, it says, "That is not your responsibility".
You are a mere announcer. You're a herald. You are just a communicator of the news. I know how doctors feel the incredible burden in their profession. Why? Because they know that the patient's eye looking to them for healing. But the godly doctors I know in this place know that only God heals. But that's not what the patient is doing. And they feel that burden. Even an engineer feels incredible responsibility in designing a building or an engine because the product is dependent on them completely. But the one thing about the herald in the Scripture is that the onus is on God. All that he or she is responsible for is to clearly announce the news, and the burden where, it's on God. Paul faithfully announced the good news of the gospel, and God did the rest. God gave the fruit, and God gave the effectiveness, which is going on that church, even though he has been away from them for a long time.
It was not Paul who was effective. It was the Word of God. It was not the announcer who has the power, but the Holy Spirit. It was not the clearness of the speaker, but it's the power of God. And so, we know instinctively that sometimes, even in the announcing of the good news, there's hostility. We know that. I mean, you should expect it. Some will respond, and that's wonderful. And as I said in the last message, heaven is rejoicing. But other times, there's hostility. Paul is saying, verse 14, he said: "There's hostility from Jews, hostility from Gentiles". And let me tell you something, hostility is never fun. I mean, I don't know anybody who's masochistic and will think, "Ah, goody, I'm facing hostility today". And this hostility is not so much as some people misunderstood it and thought it's a racial prejudice. Has nothing to do with race. It has to do with religious prejudice.
A.W. Tozer said: "Popular Judaism slew the prophets and crucified Christ. Popular Christianity killed the reformers, jailed the Quakers, denounced John Wesley, and threw him on the streets. To stand by the truth of God against the current religious vogue is always unpopular and may be downright dangerous". Beloved, listen to me, so many modern-day preachers today like I have not seen in my lifetime are craving for popularity. They are literally scrambling to being accepted by the secular media. And the sad part is that they are totally blind to the spiritual decline in our nation.
Remember this, Festus called Paul, "A madman". The pope said of Martin Luther that "he should be in Bedlam". Heretics called Bishop Athanasius, "Madman". All of England laughed at the folly of John Wesley. Most people called William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, "Insane". But no matter what they call us, the Apostle Paul is teaching us to be faithful stewards, to be nurturing, to be instructive, and to be heralds. But I'm aware of the fact that there may be someone here today to whom this message is premature, that you have never committed your life to Jesus Christ. You've never taken the first step of receiving salvation and forgiveness, and recognizing that his death on the cross was for you. Well, you can do that today.