We are continuing our study of 1 Thessalonians this morning. We finished the first chapter last week in which Paul praises and thanks God for the health and commitment of this new congregation of believers.
We saw that they had joyfully embraced the Gospel even though it brought them suffering and persecution. They had turned to God from their idols. Their example had been proclaimed abroad so that many others were impacted by what God was doing in their lives. Paul described these new believers as a pattern or model for all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia
These believers in Thessalonica had not just trusted Christ, they were following Him as disciples. In John 14 Yeshua said to His followers.
Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. John 15:3-4 ESV
Yeshua is speaking to his disciples. Judas was not present. He says they are "clean" (the Greek word, katharos). He uses katharos of the disciples because they have bathed and they are clean. They have believed on Yeshua.
Yeshua then tells those who are clean, those who have believed in Him, those who are His children to "Abide in me." This is a strong word in the original text. It's in a tense that expresses a decisive command. It is in the active voice, indicating that it is something we are expected to do. We initiate it. Believers are commanded to abide in Christ. So how do we abide in Him?
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10 ESV
You only abide when you keep His word and when you walk as He walked. No one follows Him perfectly, of course. But as a disciple, you are to be obedient to Christ and to His teachings as revealed in the Bible. The Thessalonians were fleshing this out.
As we move into chapter 2, we see Paul defending himself against vicious opponents who are likely the Jews who drove him out of Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). They were trying to discredit Paul so that his Gospel would be discredited. Believers, please get this. If the reputation of the messengers can be damaged, then their message is less likely to be trusted.
John Stott writes "In [1 Thessalonians 2 and 3], more perhaps than anywhere else in his letters, [Paul] discloses his mind, expresses his emotions, and bares his soul" (The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 45).
Although the details are not exactly known, it seems apparent from what Paul writes here that there has been an attack on the integrity of the ministry team or at least Paul is expecting one based on prior experience. Therefore, Paul reminds his flock of the team's impeccable character in these first seven verses of chapter 2.
In a culture like ours where the authority of God's Word is being ignored and when the church and its ministers so often turn to human methods and operate out of false motives, this chapter is not only powerfully instructive, but it stands as a strong rebuke to so much of what we see happening in churchianity today.
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 1 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV
This verse is parallel to 1:9.
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV
The term translated "reception" is from the Greek word eisodos which can mean the act of entering a place, or even the place through which one enters, the entrance. This is the same Greek word used in 2:1 as "coming." Both of these verses focus on the effect of Paul's preaching on his hearers.
"For you yourselves know"—Paul calls on the Thessalonians to remember their experience with him as validation of his ministry. The call to remember what they already knew appears frequently in this section.Verse 1: "You yourselves know."
Verse 2: "As you know."
Verse 5: "As you know."
Verse 9: "For your recall, brethren."
Verse 10: "You are witnesses."
Verse 11: "Just as you know."
Six times in eleven verses he appeals to what they already know. They are
Paul's witness and shortly he'll call on another witness. By the mouth of two witnesses let every word be established.
"Our coming to you was not in vain." The word "vain" is keno which means "empty, without content, without any basis, without truth or power." It could be used in the sense of "without result, effect, or profit, fruitless." It was used of an empty jar, of sending someone away empty handed, and of empty words. This is an understatement.
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 1 Thessalonians 1:6-9 ESV
Paul and the teams' visit to Thessalonica was anything but fruitless. I don't see how it could have been any more fruitful.
But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV
The "but" here is alla, a strong adversative conjunction which denotes a contrast.
His boldness in spite of strong opposition had no doubt made a lasting impact on his readers. The unbelieving world takes notice and sees the reality of Christianity when Christians continue to be faithful despite difficult circumstances.
"We had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know"—again he appeals to what they already know. How about you? Do you remember what happened to them in Philippi? While in Philippi, Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten following Paul's casting out of a python demon from a slave girl who was used by her masters to foretell the future and make them a bunch of money.
The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Acts 16:22-23 ESV
They would strip them and beat their back, sides, and legs. The Jews would limit such a beating to 39 hits, but the Romans had no limit. They beat them for as long as they wanted. This is a severe physical trauma; the pain would have been very great.
As Paul and Silas lay in the inner prison in stocks and singing praises to God, an earthquake destroyed the prison. The jailer and his family came to faith as a result, and they joined together with Lydia and her household to form the first home church on the European continent. From Philippi they travel to Thessalonica.
So, they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Acts 16:40-17:1 ESV
As they left Philippi, it appears that they passed through Amphipolis, a city about thirty-three miles on down the coast. Then they seem to also journey through Apollonia, a city which was sixty-three miles away. They finally come to Thessalonica which was about one hundred miles from Philippi. So, after a severe beating, they travel 100 miles to Thessalonica, go to the synagogue there, and start preaching.
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-interests. His preaching the Gospel got him a beating, but when he came to Thessalonica, he preached the same message boldly in spite of the opposition.
In our text, the word "suffered" is propaschō which means "to undergo hardship previously: - suffer before." They were abused physically and then put in stocks in the prison. The word "shamefully treated" is hubrizō which means "to exercise violence, that is, abuse: - use despitefully, reproach, entreat shamefully." Some think that this has to do with legal abuse because they were unjustly judged and made prisoners when they had committed no crime. If so, they were abused both physically and legally.
At Paul's arrival at Thessalonica, he probable had trouble standing up, and yet he goes right back to preaching. The evidence of Paul's physical pain must have been apparent to all who saw him. And Paul had made it clear that what happened to him would likely happen to them if they trusted in Yeshua.
"We had boldness in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict." The word boldness here is parrhēsiazomai which means "to use freedom in speaking, be free spoken." In the New Testament this verb is always used with reference to proclaiming the Gospel (Acts 9:27, 29; 13:46; 14:3). The early believers prayed for this boldness.
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, Acts 4:29 ESV
The Sanhedrin had threatened them and told them not to speak in His name. They turned to prayer, not asking God to protect them or judge the Jerusalem leaders, but requesting boldness.
Paul also prayed for boldness in the face of suffering.
and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel, Ephesians 6:19 ESV
It sure seems like this prayer was answered for Paul because he was bold in the face of suffering. For Paul, suffering was something he would gladly bear for the sake of God's elect. Notice what he says.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, Colossians 1:24 ESV
He doesn't say he dreads it. He rejoices in it! "I now rejoice in my sufferings for your sake." Whatever Paul's circumstances, he never lost his joy. If a Christian loses his joy, it's not because of bad circumstances but because of bad connections. You do not lose your joy unless your communion with Christ breaks down.
In what sense were Paul's sufferings filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions? Paul was receiving the persecution that was intended for Christ. Yeshua, having ascended to heaven, was out of their reach. But because His enemies had not filled up all of the injuries that they wanted to inflict on Him, they transferred their hatred of Him onto those who preached the Gospel. It was in that sense that Paul filled up what was lacking in Christ's afflictions.
How different is this Christ-like view of suffering from that of the false teachers who avoid suffering at all cost.
G. K. Beale has an interesting take on Paul's boldness here. He says that "Paul was bold, not merely toward people, but even in God's presence (en to theō or "before God"). That Paul has in mind boldness before God is apparent only two verses later where he states: "we speak as men approved by God . . . . who tests our hearts" (2: 4). Similarly, the notion of speaking boldly in the sphere of God's presence is evident, since the end of 2:2 clearly expresses with the same grammatical construction the sphere in which Paul was bold to speak, literally, ‘in the midst of much opposition.' Paul spoke frankly in the presence of the God who witnessed to his integrity (see 2: 5, 10)."
If we have boldness before God in what we do for him, it is a small thing to be brave toward mere humans in carrying on God's work. It was this kind of confidence before God that was the foundation upon which Martin Luther refused to deny his understanding of the Gospel before his antagonistic inquisitors: "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." His courageous faith fanned the flames of the ensuing Reformation.
Believer, when is the last time that you prayed for boldness in presenting the Gospel?
"We had boldness in our God to declare to you the Gospel of God in the midst of much conflict." The word rendered "conflict" is agon which 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. This Greek term enters English as "agony."
The picture here is of three men exerting themselves to the utmost to preach the Gospel in a similar way to an athlete who is straining to win an Olympic gold medal.
Notice that they are preaching "The Gospel of God." The phrase could mean the Gospel about God (objective genitive) or it could mean the Gospel from God (subjective genitive). Here I think it is both. It is the Gospel about God and from God. Paul mentions the Gospel in verses 2, 4, 8, and 9 (as well as in 1:5 and 3:2). In verses 2, 8, and 9 he refers to it as "the Gospel of God."
There are many false "Gospels" out there that teach that the way to heaven is by some program of good works. Sometimes, as in the Roman Catholic Church, faith in Christ and good works are combined. It is reflective of the Judaizers in Paul's day who combined faith in Christ with keeping the Jewish law. But the Gospel is that we are saved from God's judgment by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Paul states:
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, Romans 4:5 ESV
The Jews believed that God justified the godly. All religions of man believe that. Man teaches that if you want to be right with God, you have to be good, you have to do good works, and you have to merit salvation. But God is in the business of justifying the ungodly. That is an absolutely stunning statement. In fact, He justifies only the ungodly because all are ungodly. There are no people who have earned their standing with God. All are ungodly sinners. Aren't you thankful that Paul did not say that God justifies the godly? If that were the case, then none of us would ever be justified.
The point of verse 2 in its context is clear: Men who could sings hymns to God in prison after such insolent and vile treatment for preaching the Gospel but who were still not discouraged but bold in preaching the Gospel under such conditions were not likely to be phonies.
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV
In the first-century world in which Paul lived, there were many competing religions, and many ministers of those religions were motivated by greed and gain. 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 Dionysus and the sex and drinking cult. The Greek intellectual and philosophical traditions were also represented. There were shrines to many Egyptian gods such as Isis, Sarapis, and 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.
Leon Morris taught that "There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul's day. East and West had united and intermingled to produce an amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local godlings competed for favor under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. Holy men of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crackpots and cranks, the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical."
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.
Paul instead distances himself from the habits of the sophists who entered the cities of the empire with great pomp in order to gain an audience and disciples for their teaching. What motivated them, according to ancient sources, was money, fame or glory, praise, or simply the desire to deceive.
"For our appeal." This is the word paraklēsis from the same root used of the Spirit (paraklētos) in John 14:16, 26; 15:26 and 16:7 and of Yeshua in 1 John 2:1 where it is translated as "comforter." This may be better translated "When we encouraged you."
"Does not spring from error." The word for error here is planēs (the Greek word for "planet") which referred to heavenly lights (planets, comets, shooting stars) that did not follow the usual pattern of the constellations. Thus, they were called "wanderers," and this easily developed metaphorically into error. But Paul wasn't teaching error; he was preaching the Gospel of God. Sound doctrine leads to spiritual health. Bad doctrine, like junk food, leads to spiritual sickness or disease.
It's amazing how much Paul had taught these new believers, many of whom were from a pagan background, in the short time he had been with them. He assumes that they knew about the doctrine of election (1:4) and the trinity (1:1, 5, 6). He had taught them about suffering (1:6; 3:3-4), the second coming (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23), moral purity (4:1-8), and many other truths.
"Does not spring from error "Or Impurity." The term "impurity" is from the Greek word akatharsias. We get the word "catharsis" (a cleansing) from it. The prefix "a" creates the opposite of cleansing. Akatharsias, then, indicates something that is unclean. The word can be used of a physical uncleanness, something that is dirty. It can also be used of some kind of social stigma or social uncleanness. However, it primarily refers to sexual uncleanness. Therefore, most often this word seems to have sexual connotations. As a general rule, I think that you will find charlatans and false teachers are not pure in the sexual area. How many preachers and teachers have fallen to sexual sin? I can name dozens of them. Paul uses the word in this way and distances himself and his associates from the various cults in Thessalonica that gave place to and even promoted sexual license.
Many of the Greek cults and the mystery religions for sure were associated with sexual perversion. And in most of the temples of the cults of ancient days, there were temple prostitutes. This ritual prostitution made the sex act with a temple prostitute a religious experience. Now men, you can see that kind of religion would be very popular.
Paul goes on to say "Or any attempt to deceive." The other two terms in this verse speak of Paul's motives, but this phrase indicates an atmosphere of deception.
Dolos, translated here as "deceit," was used for the bait that a fisherman uses. He puts a worm on his hook so that the fish thinks he's getting a delicious meal, but the fish ends up becoming the meal. A deceitful person who is pleasing men tells people what they want to hear so that they will like him.
but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV
"We have been approved by God." This perfect passive indicative has the connotation of testing with a view toward approval (dokimazō). "Approve" in this sense commonly meant testing the genuineness of coins. The missionary team had been and continued to be tested and approved by God.
The words "approved" and "tests" are identical in the Greek and can mean "examine, test" or "approve." "Approved" is used in the past tense to indicate that the examining and approval had occurred in the past, but "tests" is in the present tense, emphasizing the continuing aspect of God's testing and approving.
"To be entrusted with the Gospel." "Entrusted" is an aorist passive infinitive. This term comes from the same root (pisteuō) meaning "faith," "believe," or "trust." The basic idea is to entrust something to another. Paul and his companions were approved by God and entrusted with the Gospel.
"Not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts"—Paul sought to please God. This was why he had a bold and effective witness.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10 ESV
The tense of the infinitive, "to please," which expresses aim, is the present continuous tense. In this we see the constant aim of Paul and his associates. Whenever our primary aim is to please men, we lose our capacity to please God.
Paul told the Corinthians to imitate him because he was imitating Christ.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV
Paul sought to please God just as Yeshua did.
And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him." John 8:29 ESV
Paul was like his Lord in that he lived to please the Father. Our only motive in doing anything as a Christian should be a heartfelt desire to please God.
J. B. Lightfoot wrote, "Few temptations assail the preacher more strongly than this one to please men, even if God is not pleased, though with the dim hope that God will after all condone or overlook. Nothing but experience will convince some preachers how fickle is popular favour and how often it is at the cost of failure to please God."
The fundamental motivation in their ministry was to please God rather than people. Milligan reminds us that to please (areskontes) does not simply mean "seek to please" but points to the idea of rendering service in the interest of another.
Too many churches and to many preachers today are seeking to please men. Why? Money. if people aren't happy, they take their money and leave. To keep them in the church and giving, church leaders seek to please them.
For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 1 Thessalonians 2:5 ESV
You know what flattery is? It's a form of exploitation. Flattery is based on the fact that the ego loves to hear good things about itself, right? It's always manipulative. Flattery was commonly viewed as a way to get money out of others, so the double denial of flattery and greed in this verse does not surprise.
"Pretext" is prophasis, meaning "a cloak, pretense." It denotes that which one puts on for appearance and with a definite design to cloak or cover up something. "Greed" is pleonexia ("greed, selfishness"). Paul was often accused of greed or opportunism, possibly because it was characteristic of Greek itinerant teachers. This is why he would not regularly receive money from churches he was currently serving.
Then Paul says, "God is witness." Paul was swearing an oath using God as a witness. Consequently, there were then two witnesses to the integrity of Paul and his companions—the Thessalonians and God himself. Had Paul not been absolutely sure of his assertions, how foolish it would have been to call God as his witness.
Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 1 Thessalonians 2:6 ESV
The word "demands" here is baros which means "heaviness, weight, burden, trouble." In 2 Corinthians 11:9, Paul declares that he was not an economic burden (abarēs) upon that church. The term burden was used in the literature of the day to speak of an economic burden such as the burden of paying taxes,
We know that Paul did not depend on the Thessalonians for his and his companions' sustenance (2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8; Phil. 4:16). So, in our text he may be referring to their decision not to be a financial burden to the church. But quite often in ancient texts, the term "burden" speaks of the weight of authority of a city or a person due to their character or importance. Paul could be referring to a financial burden or he could be referring to the burden of their weight of authority as Apostles.
Paul is using "apostles" to define their mission as those "sent" by Christ to proclaim the Gospel. Paul could be saying that as an Apostle he could have made demands but he never did.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV
"But we were gentle among you." There is a variant in the Greek Manuscripts here. Let me say here that we don't have any original manuscripts. We have a lot of copies (over six thousand Greek copies and over four thousand Hebrew copies) of the New Testament. While some ancient manuscripts read "infants" (nēpios, cf. MSS P65, א, B, C, D, F, G) others read "gentle" (ēpios, cf. MSS אc, A, C2, D2). Only their initial letter is different. On purely the textual basis number, "infants" is best; but on a contextual basis, "gentle" seems best (which may reflect an intentional scribal change). The UBS4 gives "infants" a "B" rating of almost certain).
Although we could have insisted on our own importance as apostles of Christ, yet we became infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 1 Thessalonians 2:7 LEB
One additional letter makes the difference between "gentle" and "infant." Most English translations have opted for "gentle," although there is strong support for "infant" among some Greek scholars. The manuscript evidence clearly favors the reading "infants," as recent editions of the Greek critical texts recognize. And a basic canon of textual criticism is that the more difficult reading is to be preferred (scribes had the tendency to clarify words or grammar that was difficult to understand). Since this evidence points in the direction of the reading "infants" (nēpioi), how should we understand the thought? Paul and his associates appear to be saying that they did not come as those who imposed the weight of their authority but, in fact, were among the Thessalonians in a way that was just the opposite. They were like babes among them, hardly those who throw their weight around. So, "infants" (nepioi) would still stress a non-threatening presence, which still fits with those who refused to be a burden.
"Like a nursing mother taking care of her own children." The image is not merely of a mother but of a "nursing mother" (trophos) who intimately and sensitively "cares" (thalpō) for her young. The word thalpo occurs in the Greek Old Testament for a mother bird caring for her newborn young or her eggs.
A mother sacrifices her needs to meet the needs of her offspring. She is "delighted to give of her life" to her children because she loves them. Have you ever heard of a mother's union which insisted a mother would work only for eight hours of the day? Have you known any mothers who punch the clock and then turn away from their crying babies because they refuse to work anymore? Maybe some mothers will work out some kind of union agreement like that, but I don't think real mothers would want it. Mothers work a little differently—night and day.
Paul's imagery might have come from Moses' leadership of Israel. The liberator of the Jews from Egypt pictures himself as a guardian carrying a nursing child.
Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,' to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Numbers 11:12 ESV
It's obvious that Paul had deep feelings for these new converts, and he let them know it.
The Stoic philosopher, Seneca, who lived in Paul's day, advised that people should allow to influence them only those "who teach us by their lives, who tell us what we ought to do and then prove it by practice, who show us what we should avoid, and then are never caught doing that which they have ordered us to avoid" (Epistulae Morales 52. 8, cited in Wanamaker 1990: 108).
Paul, for his part, truly practiced what he preached. This is how you have an effect on people. You preach the truth and you practice what you preach. When you do this, people take notice. You truly become an image bearer of Yahweh.