1 Thessalonians 2 – Marks of Paul’s Ministry
A. Paul proves he was sincere and not a charlatan.
1. (1-2) The integrity of Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica.
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.
a. For you yourselves know: This begins a section where Paul defended his own character and ministry before the Thessalonians. This wasn’t because Paul was insecure about his ministry, but because he had many enemies in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-6 and 17:13) who discredited him in his absence, especially because of his hurried departure from Thessalonica. Paul’s enemies said he left town quickly because he was a self-serving coward.
i. “This self-revelation is not being made because the Thessalonian believers themselves were suspicious or doubtful about the missionaries. Paul is answering the insidious attacks being made by scandalmongers outside the church because of their hatred for him.” (Hiebert)
ii. Paul wrote here in a personal manner, but this really wasn’t a personal issue for Paul. He knew that it mattered for the sake of the Gospel. If Paul was discredited, then the Gospel message itself would be discredited.
iii. “Paul’s emphatic calling of the Thessalonians to witness did two things. In the first place it showed his confidence in them. He had no fear they would succumb to the propaganda being put before them. In the second place it demonstrated that all the facts required for his vindication were facts of common knowledge.” (Morris)
iv. Barclay saw the following false charges against Paul, evident from the way Paul explained himself in this chapter:
· “Paul has a police record and is therefore untrustworthy” (1 Thessalonians 2:2, suffered before referring to his imprisonment in Thessalonica).
· “Paul is delusional” (1 Thessalonians 2:3, error).
· “Paul’s ministry is based on impure motives” (1 Thessalonians 2:3, uncleanness).
· “Paul deliberately deceives others” (1 Thessalonians 2:3, in deceit).
· “Paul preaches to please others, not God” (1 Thessalonians 2:4, not as pleasing men).
· “Paul is in the ministry as a mercenary, to get what he can out of it materially” (1 Thessalonians 2:5, 2:9, nor a cloak for covetousness).
· “Paul only wants personal glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:6, nor did we seek glory from men).
· “Paul is something of a dictator” (1 Thessalonians 2:7 we were gentle among you).
b. Our coming to you was not in vain: The word vain here can refer either to the result of the ministry, or the character of the ministry. Because it was evident to everyone that Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was a success, it is better to see it as a reference to the character of Paul’s ministry. His coming was not empty or hollow, as if he were a mere salesman or marketer.
c. Even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi: Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his sufferings in the ministry. Through this, he made the point that he would not carry on in the face of beatings and conflict if he were in it only for himself. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, the wounds on his back from Philippi were still fresh. If Paul was in it for himself, he wasn’t very smart about serving his own self-interest.
i. “Acts 16:23-24 records that the suffering included a public flogging and having their feet in stocks while confined in the city’s inner prison. Such a Roman flogging was no light matter; it was an experience not soon forgotten.” (Hiebert)
ii. “We know that indignity and persecution weaken and indeed completely break men’s minds. It was, therefore, a work of God that, although Paul had suffered various misfortunes and indignity, he appeared unaffected, and did not hesitate to launch an assault on a large and wealthy city for the purpose of leading its people captive to Christ.” (Calvin)
d. We were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict: Despite what some of Paul’s accusers said, he did not only preach the Gospel when it was easy or convenient. He knew what it was like to speak boldly for the Lord even in much conflict.
i. We were bold in our God to speak: “It comes from two words meaning literally ‘all speech.’ It denotes the state of mind when the words flow freely, the attitude of feeling quite at home with no sense of stress or strain. This attitude includes both boldness and confidence.” (Morris)
ii. “The word rendered conflict (agon) contains a metaphor drawn from the athletic games or the arena. It means the place of contest, and then the contest itself – a race, a struggle, a battle. Such a conflict always involves intense exertion and strenuous, persistent effort to overcome the determined opposition or the dangerous antagonist.” (Hiebert)
2. (3-5) The integrity of Paul’s message in Thessalonica.
For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.
a. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness: The purity of Paul’s message made it apparent that there was no deceit, uncleanness, or guile in his ministry. In the first century world Paul lived in, there were many competing religions, and many ministers of those religions were motivated by greed and gain.
i. The city of Thessalonica sat on the Egnatian Way, the famous highway that went east to west through Macedonia. Thessalonica was also an important port and a melting pot city with cultures from all over the world. There were a staggering variety of religions and religious professionals in Thessalonica. In this city, you would find the worship of the gods of the Olympian pantheon, especially Apollo, Athena, and Hercules. There were the native Greek mystery religions, celebrating Dionysis and the sex and drinking cult. The Greek intellectual and philosophical traditions were also represented. There were shrines to many Egyptian gods: Isis, Sarapis, Anubis. Also present were the Roman State cults that deified the political heroes of Rome. There were also the Jewish people and the God-fearing Gentiles.
ii. Most of these religions were missionary minded and sought to spread their faith using itinerant evangelists and preachers. Most of these missionaries were opportunists, who took everything they could from their listeners, and then moved on to find someone else to support them.
iii. “There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul’s day… ‘Holy men’ of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamoured for the attention of the believing and the skeptical.” (Neil, cited in Morris)
iv. Commentators divide as to if the uncleanness Paul defended himself against in 1 Thessalonians 2:3 was uncleanness of spirit or uncleanness of the flesh. The context seems to suggest more of a uncleanness of motive or spirit, while the word itself more indicates moral and especially sexual uncleanness (it often appears in lists with the term fornication).
b. As we have been approved by God: Paul used a word here that was associated with approving someone as being fit for public service. “Just as Athenians were tested for their fitness before they were allowed to assume public office, so the missionaries were tested before they were commissioned as God’s messengers.” (Hiebert)
c. Even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts: Paul knew his Gospel wouldn’t always please men, but he knew that it was pleasing to God.
i. Paul tried to make the Gospel as attractive as possible, but he never changed its central character or focus. Paul never compromised issues like man’s need, God’s Savior, the cross, the resurrection, and the new life.
ii. “True grace is of a most masculine, disengaged, noble nature, and remits nothing of its diligence either for fear of a frown or hope of a reward.” (Trapp)
d. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness: Paul understood that covetousness always has a cloak. It is always concealed by a noble sounding goal. But Paul did not use the flattering words that often are a cloak for covetousness.
i. Morris on flattering words: “We can use this English term of remarks which, though insincere, are directed to the pleasure of the person being flattered. The Greek term has rather the idea of using fair words as a means of gaining one’s own ends.”
ii. Thomas on covetousness: “Pleonexia is self-seeking of all types, a quest for anything that brings self-satisfaction. It grows out of complete disinterest in the rights of others – an attitude foreign to Paul and his helpers.”
iii. “Where greed and ambition hold sway, innumerable corruptions follow, and the whole man turns to vanity. These are the two sources from which stems the corruption of the whole of the ministry.” (Calvin)
iv. “Hear this, ye that preach the Gospel! Can ye call God to witness that in preaching it ye have no end in view by your ministry but his glory in the salvation of souls? Or do ye enter into the priesthood for a morsel of bread, or for what is ominously and impiously called a living, a benefice?… Is God witness that, in all these things, ye have no cloak of covetousness?… But wo to that man who enters into the labour for the sake of the hire! he knows not Christ; and how can he preach him?” (Clarke)
3. (6-7) Paul’s gentle, humble attitude among the Thessalonians demonstrated his motives were pure.
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
a. Nor did we seek glory from men: When Paul ministered among the Thessalonians, he was unconcerned for his personal glory. He didn’t need fancy introductions or lavish praise. His satisfaction came from his relationship with Jesus, not from the praise of people.
i. Paul didn’t seek glory from men because his needs for security and acceptance were met primarily in Jesus. This meant that he didn’t spend his life trying to seek and earn the acceptance of man. He ministered from an understanding of his identity in Jesus.
ii. “We did not seek men’s honour, high esteem, or applause; we sought them not in the inward bent of our thoughts, or the studies of our mind, not in outward course of our ministry and conversation, to form them so as to gain glory from men. Though honour and esteem was their due from men, yet they did not seek it. Honour is to follow men, men not to follow it.” (Poole)
b. When we might have made demands as apostles of Christ: Paul was among the Thessalonians to give something to them, not to take something from them. He did not come making demands as an apostle.
c. But we were gentle among you: Paul was like a nursing mother, who only looks to give to her child. Though some among the Thessalonians had accused Paul of ministering out of self interest, but Paul simply asks the Christians in Thessalonica to remember the gentle character of his ministry among them.
i. There is a valid debate as to if 1 Thessalonians 2:7 should read gentle or babes. Nevertheless, “Whichever version is preferred, however, there can be no doubt that Paul is describing his voluntary submission to them.” (Calvin)
ii. “Paul’s statement of defense falls into two parts, a negative and a positive… It is his practice first to sweep away the false, and then with the ground cleared to set forth the positive presentation of the truth.” (Hiebert)
4. (8-9) Paul’s self-support and hard work among the Thessalonians demonstrated that his motives were pure.
So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
a. We were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives: The sacrifices Paul endured for the sake of ministry to the Thessalonians were not a burden. He was well pleased to do it because Paul was affectionately longing for the Thessalonians because they had become dear to Paul and his associates.
i. Affectionately longing for you: “Is from an extremely rare verb of obscure origin. Wohlenberg conjectured that it was ‘a term of endearment derived from the language of the nursery.’ Whatever its origin, it denotes the warm affection and tender yearning that the missionaries felt for their spiritual babes at Thessalonica.” (Hiebert)
b. But also our own lives: Paul’s preaching was effective because he gave not only the Gospel, but himself as well (also our own lives), and he gave because of love (you had become dear to us).
i. It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Paul gave both his care and his knowledge to the Thessalonians.
c. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil: Paul recognized his right to be supported by those he ministered to (1 Corinthians 9:14), but voluntarily gave up that right to set himself apart from missionaries of false religions. Paul denied his rights and took a higher standard upon himself.
i. “Paul means by the phrase, night and day, that he started work before dawn; the usage is regular and frequent. He no doubt began so early in order to be able to devote some part of the day to preaching.” (Moffatt quoting Ramsay)
ii. “There can be no doubt that there was some worthy and particular motive which induced him to refrain from claiming his rights, for in other churches he exercised the privilege accorded to him as the others had done.” (Calvin)
5. (10-12) Paul’s own behavior and message to the Thessalonians demonstrates the integrity of his character before God and man.
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
a. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe: It is impressive that Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life.
i. As seen in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul was comfortable in the idea of other Christians following his example. He repeated the same idea in passages like Philippians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 11:1.
ii. This is a worthy goal for any Christian today; to live a life that declares how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among others. This is the kind of life that draws others to follow Jesus for themselves.
b. How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you… that you would walk worthy of God: Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could tell them that they should walk worthy of God because his life and message were consistent.
B. More thanksgiving for the work God did in the Thessalonians.
1. (13) Paul is thankful that they welcomed the Gospel as God’s message, not man’s.
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
a. When you received the word of God: Paul earnestly believed and taught others that God had spoken to man and that we have recorded this word of God. Paul believed in a voice that speaks to mankind with the authority of eternity, and speaks above mere human opinion. Since we do have this word of God, we have a true voice of authority.
i. Some people like to say that there is a word of God, but that we can’t be sure of what He says. When we appeal to the Bible, they like to reply, “That’s just your interpretation.” There are certainly some places where the word of God is hard to precisely interpret, but there are not many such places. If we can not know what God has spoken, then He may as well not have spoken at all.
b. You welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God: The Thessalonians received the word of God as it is in truth. Paul presented it not as the word of men, and the Thessalonians received it as the word of God.
i. Not everyone receives this message as the word of God. Yet when they do not receive it, it reflects upon them, not upon the message. “That you have not perceived spiritual things is true; but it is no proof that there are none to perceive. The whole case is like that of the Irishman who tried to upset evidence by non-evidence. Four witnesses saw him commit a murder. He pleaded that he was not guilty, and wished to establish his innocence by producing forty persons who did not see him do it. Of what use would that have been? So, if forty people declare that there is no power of the Holy Ghost going with the word, this only proves that the forty people do not know what others do know.” (Spurgeon)
c. Which also effectively works in you who believe: Paul’s confidence in the word of God wasn’t a matter of wishful thinking or blind faith. He could see that it effectively works in those who believe. God’s Word works, it doesn’t only bring information or produce feelings. There is power in the word of God to change lives.
i. “The powerful working of God is usually expressed by this word, Ephesians 1:19; Philippians 2:13; and the working of Satan also, Ephesians 2:2. Men possessed with the devil are called energumeni. And where the word is believed and received as the word of God, there it has this energy, or worketh effectually, so as to promote love, repentance, self-denial, mortification, comfort, and peace.” (Poole)
2. (14-16) The Thessalonians welcomed suffering when they welcomed the Word, yet they stood steadfast.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
a. For you also suffered the same things: When the Thessalonians responded to the Gospel, they became the targets of persecution. As they did, they were not alone, because those among the churches of God have often suffered persecution. The Thessalonian Christians became imitators of those who had suffered before them.
i. The Thessalonians willingly suffered the same things because they were convinced that Paul brought them not the word of man, but the Word of God. The word of man isn’t worth suffering for, but a true message from God is worth it.
ii. Churches is the ancient Greek word ekklesia; it was not a specifically religious word. Christians passed over many Greek words that were commonly used for religious brotherhoods. “The force of this is that Christianity is not just another religion. It is not to be named with any of the words proper to religions in general [of that day].” (Morris)
b. Who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us: Paul comforted these suffering Christians with the assurance that they were not the first to suffer this way. The Lord Jesus faced persecution, and the Christians in Judea faced it first. Additionally, Paul and his associates were also persecuted.
i. Who killed… the Lord Jesus: Here Paul wrote that his own countrymen (the Judeans) had killed… the Lord Jesus. But Paul knew well that the Jews of Judea were not the only ones responsible for the murder of Jesus. The Romans had their full share of guilt, so both Jew and Gentile were guilty.
c. And they do not please God and are contrary to all men: Paul also comforted the Thessalonian Christians with the awareness that they were right, that they are the ones pleasing God. This was necessary assurance because they were persecuted by religious people and might wonder if these other religious people were in fact right before God in their persecuting.
d. Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins: Here Paul revealed what offended the religious persecutors of the Thessalonians so much. They were outraged that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews. This exclusive attitude filled up the measure of their sins.
i. “The Jews’ opposition to the work of the missionaries among the Gentiles was not due to the fact that they were seeking to win Gentiles. The Jews themselves were vigorously engaged in this period of their history in actively proselyting Gentiles. Their fierce opposition was due to the fact that Christian missionaries offered salvation to Gentiles without demanding that they first become Jews.” (Hiebert)
ii. “The plural ‘sins’ points to the aggregate of their separate evil acts, and not to the general abstract concept of ‘sin.’” (Morris)
e. But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost: Paul comforted the Thessalonians by assuring them that God would indeed take care of their persecutors. When Christians forget this, they often disgrace and curse themselves by returning persecution for persecution towards others.
i. “Their crimes were great; to these their punishment is proportioned. For what end God has preserved them distinct from all the people of the earth among whom they sojourn, we cannot pretend to say; but it must unquestionably be for an object of the very highest importance. In the meantime, let the Christian world treat them with humanity and mercy.” (Clarke)
ii. “At the same time we should notice that Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, with his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows for their fate.” (Morris)
3. (17-20) Paul explains his absence from the Thessalonians.
But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
a. Away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face: Paul knew that the Thessalonians appreciated the comfort he gave, but they wondered why he didn’t come and bring this comfort in person. They naturally thought that this would be much better. Yet Paul assured them that the reason was not a lack of love or desire on his part.
b. We wanted to come to you… but Satan hindered us: It wasn’t that Paul did not want to visit the Thessalonians. It was that Satan hindered Paul and his associates. Paul assured the Thessalonians that he desired to be with them, but he was hindered by Satan, and that this happened time and again.
i. The Thessalonians were mostly Gentile converts, yet when Paul mentioned Satan here, he gave no further explanation. This shows that in the few weeks he was there, Paul taught the Thessalonians much about Satan and spiritual warfare.
c. Satan hindered us: Paul, in all his apostolic ministry and authority, could still be blocked by Satan. But Paul did not just receive this Satanic hindrance in a fatalistic way. He did something about the hindrance.
i. First, Paul understood that this was Satanic hindrance. He knew this was not a random circumstance, but a direct attack from Satan. Paul had the discernment to know.
ii. Second, Paul had faith. For a short time means that Paul knew it would only be a short time until the roadblock was overcome.
iii. Third, Paul was committed to fight against the roadblock any way he could. If he couldn’t be there in person, his letter will go for him and teach and encourage them in his absence. Many scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians was Paul’s earliest letter written as an apostle to a church. If this is the case, then Satan’s roadblock got Paul started on writing letters to the churches. When Satan saw the great work God did through these letters, he regretted that he ever hindered Paul at all.
iv. Finally, God brought the victory. Acts 20:1-5 describes Paul’s eventual return to Thessalonica and to other churches in the area.
v. “Supposing that we have ascertained that hindrances in our way really come from Satan, WHAT THEN? I have but one piece of advice, and that is, go on, hindrance or no hindrance, in the path of duty as God the Holy Ghost enables you.” (Spurgeon)
d. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Paul assured the Thessalonians that he could never forget them because they were his glory and his joy. His inability to visit should never be taken as a lack of love towards the Thessalonians.
i. Perhaps Paul would say that he didn’t need a crown in heaven because these precious ones were his crown of victory. Those whom we bring to Jesus and disciple are a crown of victory for us.
ii. “Every man who preaches the Gospel should carefully read this chapter and examine himself by it. Most preachers, on reading it conscientiously, will either give up their place to others, or purpose to do the work of the Lord more fervently for the future.” (Clarke)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission