If you are like most people, you’ve probably had to defend against those who have questioned your character. Perhaps there was someone who challenged your motives or said you were in error. Maybe you were accused of deception or flattery in seeking to obtain something of value. Or perhaps there was an allegation that you abused your authority or were motivated by a hidden attitude of greed. Unfortunately, it appears that Paul the Apostle faced similar accusations during his stay in the city of Thessalonica.
Just as an honorable person would seek to defend against such charges, a large portion of 1 Thessalonians chapter two is given to Paul’s defense of his conduct in Thessalonica. As we read through the opening verses of this chapter, we can make some inferences regarding the charges that were likely made against Paul by those who opposed him…
Charge: Paul’s teaching was wrong, immoral, and deceptive. Defense: “For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit” (verse three).
Charge: Paul’s ministry was not ordained of God. Defense: “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” (verse four).
Charge: Paul used flattery to manipulate others and mask his greed. Defense: “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness” (verse five).
Charge: Paul was engaged in an effort to glorify himself. Defense: “Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others…” (verse six).
Thus, this portion of Scripture helps remind us that personal attacks, false criticisms, name-calling, character defamation, smear campaigns, and slanderous remarks are nothing new. This was something that Paul acknowledged in another of his New Testament letters: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV).
Jesus also cautioned us in this regard when He said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:20-21).
So as we look at the opening verses of this chapter, we would do well to examine the way Paul defended himself and learn from his good example.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
The opening verses of 1 Thessalonians chapter two begin with a discussion of Paul the Apostle’s conduct during his stay in Thessalonica. One distinguishing feature of Paul’s visit to that city was the courage he displayed in the face of adversity: “…with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition” (NIV). This example reminds us that God can enable us to do what is right even when others oppose us.
We should also note Paul’s reference to his experience in the town of Philippi, a visit that is recounted for us in the Biblical book of Acts. Philippi was a first-century Roman colony and one of the leading cities in the region of Macedonia. Shortly after his arrival there, Paul and his traveling party encountered a demonically-possessed slave girl whose clairvoyant ability brought a great deal of profit to her owners.
Acts 16:17 tells us that she began to follow Paul and his companions while shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (ESV). Despite the truth of that statement, it appears that Paul had no interest in advertising his evangelistic work through the services of a demon-possessed fortune teller. That was evidenced by what we read next: “…Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her’” (Acts 16:18).
That ended the exploitive (and lucrative) business arrangement between this girl and her masters. They subsequently dragged Paul and Silas (1) before the local authorities who responded by having them beaten and thrown them into prison. An earthquake later released them from their prison bonds but instead of choosing to escape, they led the jailer and his family to Christ (see Acts 16:11-40).
This background information helps provide us with a fresh appreciation for Paul’s message here in 1 Thessalonians 2:2: “You know how we had already been mistreated and insulted in Philippi before we came to you in Thessalonica. And even though there was much opposition, our God gave us courage to tell you the Good News that comes from him” (GNT).
(1) Silas is also known as Silvanus who was mentioned earlier in chapter one
“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).
After Paul the Apostle departed from the town of Philippi on the way to Thessalonica, it may have seemed as if history had repeated itself. You see, Paul had been the victim of a mob action in Philippi (Acts 16:19-24) and shortly after he arrived in Thessalonica, a similar incident took place: “But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city” (Acts 17:5 NIV).
Its been said that we can often tell a lot about our adversaries by looking at their character, and this was certainly true of Paul’s experience in Thessalonica. Given that Paul’s opposition consisted of “…some troublemakers from the marketplace” (NIV), the accusations of treason (Acts 17:7) and civil unrest (Acts 17:5-6) against him should have been dismissed. Unfortunately they weren’t, and that provided Paul’s religious opponents with a political tool to use against him…
“There were, no doubt, those in Thessalonica who said that this man Paul had a police record, that he was nothing less than a criminal on the run from justice and that obviously no one should listen to a man like that. A really malignant mind will twist anything into a slander.” (1)
So Paul was dealing with more than just an attack upon his character. As another commentator observes…
“Part of the purpose of the letter is to show that the allegations were far from the truth. This is important, not just for Paul personally, but for the growth and development of the Thessalonians themselves. If they had begun to believe that Paul’s gospel was just another philosophical dream, and that Paul was just ‘in it for the money,’ they could not have continued to grow in Christ. It was not that Paul’s reputation alone was at stake, but that their Christian faith was in danger.” (2)
Finally, we should also note Paul’s common-sense response here in 1 Thessalonians 2:2. No reasonable person would seek to duplicate Paul’s experience in Philippi or Thessalonica if he or she were only seeking personal gain. Being held by a riotous mob is not a mark of self-glorification. However, a person who is sincere in his or her service to God (like Paul) might accept such opposition in the course of fulfilling his or her calling.
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:4”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-thessalonians-2.html. 1956-1959.
(2) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2472). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4).
This portion of Scripture provides us with an opportunity to make a few additional observations concerning Paul the Apostle’s conduct in Thessalonica. One of those observations involves Paul’s sincerity: “…the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you” (NIV). In other words, Paul was not a religious charlatan, nor did his ministry operate under a false pretense or ulterior motive. Instead, he was genuine and upfront about what he believed and why.
Paul experience in Thessalonica also illustrates one of the challenges we may encounter as we engage with others on the subject of Christianity. That challenge often involves “confirmation bias” or “…the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.” (1) In this context, confirmation bias refers to the preconceptions that people often bring to a discussion of spiritual matters.
For instance, let’s take the example of a person who encounters a religious media ministry that engages in questionable fundraising tactics. Such a person might conclude that “religion is a scam” despite Jesus’ own teachings on the proper attitude towards money. Or perhaps they may hear of a spiritual leader who has engaged in a blatantly hypocritical lifestyle and come to the erroneous conclusion that “all religious people are hypocrites.” The problem is that attitude overlooks the fact that Jesus saved some of His strongest criticism for those who claimed to know God in theory but were far different in reality…
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28 NET).
Much like Paul the Apostle, a commitment to a God-honoring lifestyle can help undo these negative preconceptions. It may also provide us with an opportunity to earn a fair hearing in presenting the Word of God to others. As St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century friar famously observed, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”
“For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 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 2:3-4 ESV).
The imagery behind this passage depicts a servant who has been entrusted with the responsibility to manage a specific task. In this instance, it was Paul the Apostle’s responsibility to administer the Word of God in a manner that was approved by God. That responsibility precluded Paul from engaging in an erroneous, deceptive, impure, or diluted presentation of the Gospel.
The Living Bible paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 2:4 expresses this idea in the following manner: “…we change his message not one bit to suit the taste of those who hear it.” One commentary clarifies this concept by examining the difference between those who compromise the gospel in seeking to appeal to others and those who adapt that message for the benefit of a specific audience…
“In trying to persuade people, we may be tempted to alter our position just enough to make our message more palatable or to use flattery or praise. Paul never changed his message to make it more acceptable, but he did tailor his methods to each audience. Although our presentation must be altered to be appropriate to the situation, the truth of the Good News must never be compromised.” (1)
This same commentary makes another important observation in this respect…
“Compromise is an important element in getting along with others, but we should never compromise the truth of God’s Word. If we feel we have to change our Christian beliefs to match those of our companions, we are on dangerous ground.” (2)
The late scholar and apologist Dr. Norman Geisler echoed a similar theme in analyzing Jesus’ use of the term “salt of the earth” from Matthew 5:13…
“In order for Christians to function properly as ‘the salt of the earth,’ however, the salt must maintain its pure character. Christians must be careful lest, instead of being a preservative against evil, they themselves become tainted with evil, thereby compromising the influence they have on the world. They cannot influence the world for Christ without retaining their own virtue as Christians.” (3)
Finally, this passage also identifies two influences that enabled Paul to avoid an attitude of compromise. The first was found in Paul’s sincere desire to please God. The second involved the knowledge that God would test his motivations. Keeping these principles in mind can help us do the same.
(1) Life Application Study Bible, 1 Thessalonians 2:4-8 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
(2) Life Application Study Bible, Galatians 2:11 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
(3) Norman L. Giesler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations, Baker Books, 1997
“Our appeal to you is not based on error or impure motives, nor do we try to trick anyone. Instead, we always speak as God wants us to, because he has judged us worthy to be entrusted with the Good News. We do not try to please people, but to please God, who tests our motives” (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 GNT).
This passage presents us with a timely message that is just as applicable today as it was in the New Testament era. You see, there were many so-called spiritual leaders in the days of the early church who were driven by motives that were less than honorable. For instance, consider the following message from Paul the Apostle regarding those who sought financial gain under the guise of religion…
“You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NLT).
Then there were those who were motivated by jealousy and a desire for recognition…
“Some, of course, are preaching the Good News because they are jealous of the way God has used me. They want reputations as fearless preachers! But others have purer motives, preaching because they love me, for they know that the Lord has brought me here to use me to defend the Truth. And some preach to make me jealous, thinking that their success will add to my sorrows here in jail! But whatever their motive for doing it, the fact remains that the Good News about Christ is being preached, and I am glad” (Philippians 1:15-18 TLB).
Others were guided by a flawed value system…
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8-9).
One commentator illustrates the contrast between Paul’s ministry and these others in the following manner…
“Paul used 3 distinctly different words to affirm the truthfulness of his ministry, each expressing a contrast with what was characteristic of false teachers. He first asserted that ‘his message’ was true and not erroneously false. His ‘manner of life’ was pure, not sexually wicked. His ‘method of ministry’ was authentic, not deceptive…” (1)
While some may be sophisticated in disguising their motivations, nothing is hidden from God. That reality was not lost upon Paul the Apostle who subjected his motives to “…God who tests our hearts” (ESV). As Hebrews 4:13 reminds us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (NIV).
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Th 2:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness” (1 Thessalonians 2:5).
While an astonishing number of social, cultural, and technological changes have taken place since the epistle of 1 Thessalonians was originally written, there are some things that haven’t seemed to change very much at all. Take the concept of flattery as mentioned in the passage quoted above. “Flattery” means to “compliment excessively and often insincerely, especially in order to win favor.” (1) When someone engages in flattery, he or she is interacting with others in a false or deceitful manner.
We often associate this kind of behavior with an attempt to manipulate others or gain something of value. Thus, an act of flattery often represents little more than an effort to use others to secure a personal advantage. In addition to what we read here in 1 Thessalonians, the Old Testament book of Proverbs has much to say regarding this type of conduct…
“Flattery is a form of hatred and wounds cruelly” (Proverbs 26:28 TLB).
“Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5 NIV).
“A man with hate in his heart may sound pleasant enough, but don’t believe him; for he is cursing you in his heart. Though he pretends to be so kind, his hatred will finally come to light for all to see” (Proverbs 26:24 TLB).
The New Testament epistle to the Romans also warns against engaging in such behavior as well: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). So taken together, these passages remind us that we should strive for authenticity in our relationships with others and avoid treating them in a flattering manner. Instead, it would be far more honorable to follow the instruction given to us in the Biblical book of Philippians…
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.
Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:3-8 TLB).
(1) The American Heritage Dictionary third edition
“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).
“Follow the money” is a catchphrase that has grown in popularity among law enforcement professionals and others over the years. While the beginnings of this modern-day adage vary, it is generally agreed that it originated in the 1970’s as a shorthand way of expressing a concept that goes far beyond a monetary exchange. The idea is that it is possible to discover someone’s true intent by examining his or her financial activities. In other words, the route that a financial transaction takes to its ultimate destination may help determine whether a corrupt motive exists.
Of course, any attempt to “follow the money” would undoubtedly serve to uncover an attitude of greed (or worse) for some. However, we should note that Paul the Apostle reminded the members of the Thessalonian church of his commitment to financial transparency here in 1 Thessalonians 2:5: “God knows we never tried to get money from you by preaching” (NLV).
In fact, the proper attitude towards money seems to have been a subject of particular interest for Paul. For instance, he told the leaders of the church at Ephesus, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me” (Acts 20:33-34). He also warned a young Pastor named Timothy to guard against those who “…think that religion is a way to become rich” (1 Timothy 6:5 GNT).
Jesus also provided us with a similar warning regarding covetousness, one that revealed the misguided philosophy associated with those who are driven to accumulate wealth and/or possessions: “…Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
So unlike those who attempted to mask (NIV), cloak (ASV), or cover up (CEV) their quest for profit in the name of religion, Paul did not engage in such behavior. Instead, he appealed to the God who serves as the ultimate arbiter of our internal motives. For Paul, the knowledge that his daily choices and decisions were made in the presence of holy, righteous, and virtuous Creator helped enable him to avoid the trap of financial impropriety, especially in regard to the ministry that God had entrusted to him. Those who follow Christ would be wise to adopt a similar mindset as well.
“Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
The Apostle Paul’s refusal to seek “…praise from anyone, either from you or from others” (GNT) should prompt us to consider how we might follow his humble example. For instance, one commentator highlights an interesting aspect of this passage with the following observation…
“Those who opposed the Good News tried to find some hidden motive to explain the unselfish dedication of the apostles. When obviously it was not power and money, they then said it must be to ‘get praise’ for themselves…” (1)
So why would others seek to discredit Paul in this manner? Well, Jesus offered one potential answer to that question in Matthew 10:24-25: “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters…” (NIV). With this in mind, consider the following responses to Jesus’ teachings and the opinions He likely provoked among some who heard Him speak…
Jesus was too radical: “From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer associated with him. Jesus therefore said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to leave me like the others, do you?’” (John 6:66-67 Mounce).
A commitment to Christ was too costly: “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33 NIV).
Following Jesus was too demanding: “…Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me” (Matthew 19:21 GNB).
Jesus was too disruptive: “What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation” (John 11:47-48).
Jesus’ way was too challenging “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
If Paul could be discredited by the claim that he was seeking to glorify himself, it would relieve his listeners of their need to make a decision regarding Jesus and these kinds of difficult teachings. That may help explain why Paul issued the defense we find here in 1 Thessalonians 2:6.
(1) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:6”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-thessalonians-2.html
“But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. 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” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8).
In today’s internet age of hostile criticism, aggressive confrontation, hot takes, and social media “flame wars,” Paul the Apostle’s description of his ministry among the Thessalonians reads like the literary equivalent of a breath of fresh air. Unlike those who resorted to personal attacks in defense of their beliefs, Paul sought to communicate the Word of God in a way that didn’t repel or alienate others.
However, this approach was not only characteristic of Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica. He also communicated a similar idea in the New Testament epistle of 1 Corinthians when he said, “…whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him” (1 Corinthians 9:22 TLB).
Paul later revealed the ultimate source of his affection for the Thessalonians in another letter to the Corinthian church when he wrote, “…the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Thus we can say that Paul’s affection for the Thessalonians was not simply rooted in a feeling or emotional sentiment. Instead, Paul’s fondness for the Thessalonians was built upon the love of Christ as expressed by the characteristics that are described for us in another well-known portion of Scripture from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7…
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV).
Finally, Paul drew upon the powerful imagery of a nursing mother to express this aspect of his relationship with the members of the Thessalonian church. Just as a nursing mother selflessly imparts her life to provide nourishment for her infant child, Paul shared his life with the young and growing Christian community at Thessalonica to help facilitate their growth.
Like any nursing infant, there would come a time when the Thessalonians would have to “leave the breast” on their way to spiritual maturity. But for Paul, that sense of warmth and affection for the Thessalonians would undoubtedly remain.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
1 Thessalonians 2:9 provides us with some valuable insight into Paul the Apostle’s attitude towards work and ministry. In fact, one of the best endorsements of Paul’s God-honoring character is reflected in his decision to provide for himself as he worked to nurture the young Christian community at Thessalonica,
Although Paul is widely recognized as a teacher and evangelist, he was also a tentmaker by trade. The Biblical book of Acts tells us that Paul occasionally called upon those skills to provide for his material needs and support his ministry efforts (see Acts 18:1-3). Judging from the passage quoted above, it appears that Paul employed those professional talents in Thessalonica as well.
Since Thessalonica featured a good harbor that made it ideal for sea-faring travel, the skills of a tentmaker were undoubtedly in high demand by those who operated wind-powered sailing ships. Those ships could benefit from the services of someone who could apply a tentmaker’s skills to mend or repair damaged sails. Thus, it should not come as a surprise to learn that Paul had ample opportunity to work “…night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God…” (NIV).
While Paul unquestionably would have preferred to devote himself to full-time ministry among the citizens of Thessalonica, this approach offered certain advantages. For instance, Paul’s self-supporting lifestyle enabled him to minister without fear that he might somehow lose his support base. It also set a good example for others to follow. Paul illustrated the importance of leading by example in this area in an address to the leaders of the church at Ephesus…
“You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34-35 NIV).
By taking this approach, Paul demonstrated his willingness to put in the work that was necessary to fulfill God’s call on his life. If others were inclined to support him (like the church at Philippi, for example), then so much the better. But if not, he was willing to endure “…labor and hardship—working night and day, so as not to burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the Good News of God” (TLV).
“For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV).
Its not unusual to hear others exaggerate their efforts, especially regarding to the amount of work they have invested in some task. Yet when Paul the Apostle reminded the Thessalonians that he worked “night and day” on their behalf, its unlikely that he was engaging in hyperbole. Given what we know of Paul’s character, it seems that he actually labored before and after sundown to provide for his needs and avoid imposing a financial burden upon the Thessalonian church.
Paul will go on to provide an explanation for that decision in his next letter to the Thessalonian church…
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).
So unlike the questionable motives of those who sought financial compensation in exchange for their spiritual insight, no one could realistically accuse Paul of doing so. As one commentary observes, “The gospel didn’t cost the Thessalonians a penny, but it cost Paul plenty.” (1)
Yet even while Paul engaged in outside employment to support his work among the Thessalonians, he also endorsed the legitimacy of vocational ministry as well. Perhaps the clearest expression of Paul’s support for full-time ministry is found in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
Paul also communicated the proper attitude towards ministry support in his letter to the churches of Galatia when he said, “Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). Nevertheless, Paul was willing to refuse the right to financial compensation in Thessalonica to serve the needs of the young congregation there. In doing so, he reminds us that it is sometimes right to decline a right if it will serve a greater good.
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2027) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
“You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
Paul the Apostle was a teacher who was extremely well versed in the Old Testament Law. For instance, Paul studied under a respected Rabbi named Gamaliel and “…was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors…” according to Acts 22:3 (NIV). By his own admission, Paul was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and “…was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14).
Because of this, Paul was undoubtedly familiar with the Old Testament Law concerning witness testimony: “One witness is not enough to convict someone of a crime; at least two witnesses are necessary to prove that someone is guilty” (Deuteronomy 19:15 GNT). This makes it easier to understand why Paul called upon two witnesses to verify his conduct among the Thessalonians.
First among those witnesses were the Thessalonians themselves. They could easily verify Paul’s external commitment to hard work, devotion, and integrity. The second witness was God Himself. He was the One who could verify Paul’s internal commitment to those qualities. The presence of these witnesses helped support Paul’s claim that his conduct was above reproach during his stay in Thessalonica.
You see, Paul was not the type of person to say, “do as I say, not as I do.” Instead, he turned to the testimony of those who could verify the fact that his actions were “…honest, straightforward and above criticism” (Phillips). This is one reason why Paul could make the following statement in the Biblical letter of 1 Timothy: “…never let it be said that Christ’s people are poor workers. Don’t let the name of God or his teaching be laughed at because of this” (1 Timothy 6:1 TLB).
With this in mind, we would do well to follow a similar path and take an outsider’s perspective in evaluating our conduct. As we examine our financial transactions, leisure activities, personal interactions, entertainment choices, online activities, and other aspects of daily life, it might be helpful to ask this question: “Would others be willing to endorse my conduct if they witnessed my choices in these areas?”
Above all, we should work to ensure that no one would ever think to offer the following testimony regarding our conduct…
“You are so proud of knowing God’s laws, but you dishonor him by breaking them. No wonder the Scriptures say that the world speaks evil of God because of you” (Romans 2:23-24 TLB).
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
While Paul the Apostle employed the image of a nursing mother in an earlier portion of this letter to the Thessalonian church, he shifted parental metaphors here in the passage quoted above.
Paul first appealed to the image of a mother who selflessly imparted her life to provide for her infant child in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. That word-picture served to illustrate how Paul shared his life with the Christian community at Thessalonica in order to facilitate their growth. Now he will balance that analogy with that of a father who “…encouraged you and comforted you and appealed to you to lead lives worthy of God…” (CJB). A closer look at these aspects of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church provides us with some valuable spiritual insights.
First, exhortation refers to the ability to comfort, encourage, and/or strengthen another person, especially when it comes to the idea of teaching or instruction. (1) While there are some who may benefit from a word of exhortation, there are others who may profit from a different motivational approach: consolation or comfort.
Consolation is closely related to exhortation in the sense that it involves things like encouragement, reassurance, and other, similar qualities. However, this idea also includes the ability to admonish others or incentivize them to act in an appropriate or God-honoring manner. (2) Another source defines this concept in the following manner: “to exercise a gentle influence by words…” (3)
Finally we have the act of imploring (NASB), insisting (GW), appealing (CJB), urging (CEV), or pleading (CEB) with others to “…walk in a manner worthy of God (ESV). This represented one of the last tools in Paul’s motivational toolbox. If exhortation, admonishment, comfort, encouragement, or personal influence proved to be ineffective, then Paul was not above pleading with others to do what was right.
In some instances, Paul was forced to resort to more extreme measures to compel God’s people to act in an appropriate manner (see 1 Corinthians 5 and 1 Timothy 1:18-20). But for the young and growing congregation at Thessalonica, Paul assumed the role of a loving parent who was committed to investing in the spiritual life of his or her child. Considering the love and affection Paul held for the Thessalonians, it was a role he undoubtedly welcomed.
(1) G3870 parakaleo, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3870
(2) G3888 paramutheomai Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3888&t=KJV
(3) G3888 paramytheomai Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/paramytheomai
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
If God wanted to show the reality of His existence, there are many options at His disposal. For instance, God could manifest His presence in an undeniable way, one that would be impossible for anyone to dismiss. Since God has declined to reveal His existence in this manner (with good reason), we are sometimes left with this question: “If God really exists then why don’t we see Him?”
The New Testament book of Hebrews provides us with one answer to that question for it tells us, “…without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). If faith is necessary to please God, then we should not be surprised if God places us in a position to exercise it. This may help to explain why we do not see a more obvious manifestation of God’s presence, at least for now. (1)
With this in mind, let’s consider another means of verifying the reality of God’s existence using the Thessalonian Christians as an example. There was a cause and effect relationship involved in the Thessalonians’ decision to turn “…to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). That cause was given to us earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “…our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit…”
So the catalyst for change in the lives of the Thessalonians was the “…the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.” Notice that this work took place in the lives of the Thessalonians. This does not imply a simple change of outward behavior but a transformation of the heart that governed their conduct. The same is true of those who are transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit through the written Word of God today.
The book of Hebrews also tells us, “…the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (4:12). In light of this, we can say that the transformative power of God’s Word points to the living and powerful existence of its Author.
(1) This is not to say that God has neglected to provide us with a witness to His existence- see Romans 1:18-32.
“This is why we constantly thank God, because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 HCSB).
As we continue with our look at the Word of God as mentioned in the passage quoted above, let’s consider another question. If God wanted to confirm His existence through the written word, how could He verify that such a message originated with Him? Well, one means of accomplishing that task would involve something only God can do: foretell future events with complete accuracy before they occur. Thus, the fulfillment of predictive prophecy is one of the means by which we can verify that the Bible is what it claims to be: the Word of God.
The Biblical Scriptures contain many such prophetic fulfillments, especially in regard to Christ. For instance, consider the following examples from the Old Testament Scriptures related to the coming of the Messiah and their New Testament fulfillment in Christ…
- The Messiah’s virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14 – Matthew 1:18-24).
- His ancestral link to Israel’s king David (2 Samuel 7:8-16 – Matthew 1:1-17).
- His birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2 – Matthew 2:1-6).
- The announcement of His arrival through God’s messenger (Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1 – Matthew 3:1-3).
- His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12-13 – Matthew 26:14-16, Matthew 27:3-9).
- The physical punishment He would endure (Isaiah 50:6 – John 19:1-3).
- The piercing of His hands and feet (Psalm 22:16 – John 20:25).
- The piercing of His side (Zechariah 12:10 – John 19:34).
- His resurrection from the dead (Psalm 16:10 – Matthew 28:5-7).
In commenting on a similar (but more extensive) list of fulfilled Old Testament prophecies related to Christ, one scholar makes the following observation: “It is important to understand that these prophecies were written hundreds of years before Christ was born. No one could have been reading the signs of the times or just making intelligent guesses, like the ‘prophecies’ we see in the check-out line at the supermarket.” (1)
This corresponds with a declaration from God Himself through the prophet Isaiah…
“From the beginning I declare how things will end; from times long past, I tell what is yet to be, saying: ‘My intentions will come to pass. I will make things happen as I determine they should’” (Isaiah 46:10).
Portions of this study originally appeared here
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Brooks, R. M. 1990. When Skeptics Ask (p. 116) Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.
“Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received His message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God–which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT).
The next stop in our overview of the Word of God from 1 Thessalonians 2:13 brings us to an important concept: the canon of Scripture.
The word “canon” originally referred to a “rule” or “rod of measurement.” In this context, it eventually came to refer to the authoritative collection of God-inspired Biblical books that we possess today. We can trace the beginning of the canon of Scripture to Exodus 24:4 where we’re told, “…Moses wrote all the words of the LORD.” In fact, Exodus 31:18 tells us that God personally authored the portion of the Old Testament containing the Ten Commandments.
The written Word of God thus codified God’s standard for belief and practice and enabled anyone with access to the Scriptures to determine His will for their lives. The benefit of having such access to God’s Word is clearly expressed in the following excerpts from the book of Psalms…
“Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105).
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalms 19:7-8).
“How can a young person maintain a pure life? By guarding it according to your instructions” (Psalms 119:9 NET).
Over time, the Word of God took the form of chronological records (such as the genealogies found in various Old Testament books), historical accounts (Nehemiah, Esther), poetry (Psalms), prophetic statements (Isaiah, Daniel, etc.) and common-sense collections of wisdom (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and portions of the Psalms). Some believe that a priest named Ezra (who was skilled and knowledgeable in the Law of God according to Ezra 7:6-10) played a role in collecting and correlating the various books of the Old Testament.
Finally, the Word of God was partially or completely written on many different materials including stone (Exodus 34:1), gold (Exodus 39:30), and paper-like materials and ink (Jeremiah 36:17-18). While writing on stone may sound primitive when compared to modern communication technologies, these materials served their purpose in preserving God’s Word for future generations, even to this day.
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV).
We’ll conclude our brief discussion of the Word of God from 1 Thessalonians 2:13 with a look at the New Testament canon of Scripture.
Following His death and resurrection, Jesus’ teachings were largely disseminated through the work of His Apostles. But as the church began to grow, the need for a written record of His teachings (and guidance for implementing them) grew as well. The four Gospel accounts filled the need for a record of Jesus’ teachings. The remaining New Testament books covered the implementation portion. Those works included an historical account of the early church (Acts), an unveiling of future events (Revelation), and guidance related to Christian life and practice (the Epistles).
These Biblical books were later copied and passed among the Christian communities of the first century. That practice may have begun with the current book we are studying- 1 Thessalonians. You see, the Thessalonians already possessed the letters we know today as 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Since the town of Philippi was relatively nearby, the Thessalonians could have easily received a copy of the letter we know today as the Biblical book of Philippians and given the Philippians copies of the letters they possessed.
In fact, Paul the Apostle suggested this very course of action in his letter to the Colossian church: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Colossians 4:16). Over time, the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were copied, saved, and officially accepted as a group. That process that took about 350 years.
Finally, one scholar discusses some of the standards that were used in recognizing the God-inspired nature of the canonical books…
A. Is it authoritative (“Thus saith the Lord”)?
B. Is it prophetic – A book in the Bible must have the authority of a spiritual leader of Israel (O.T. – prophet, king, judge, scribe) or an apostle of the church (N.T. – It must be based on the testimony of an original apostle).
C. Is it authentic (consistent with other revelation of truth)?
D. Is it dynamic – demonstrating God’s life-changing power (Hebrews 4:12)?
E. Is it received (accepted and used by believers – 1 Thessalonians 2:13)? (1)
(1) Norman L. Geisler & William Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible (pp. 137-144).
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
It is sometimes difficult to understand why God allows us to face the challenges and concerns we experience in life. In considering this passage from 1 Thessalonians 2:14, it appears that the Thessalonians may have been facing a similar question.
You see, this portion of Scripture references the shared experience of the Christians of Thessalonica and the Christians of Judea. While there were many differences between these two groups, they were alike in the sense that they each faced persecution for what they believed. In some respects, this situation remains much the same today.
In areas that are relatively open to Christianity, such persecution might be comparatively mild. In other areas, it might take the form of social ostracism, financial or material confiscation, physical attacks, or death. The author of the Biblical book of Hebrews wrote to an audience who was familiar with some of those experiences and offered a word of encouragement…
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (Hebrews 10:32-35 ESV).
When God permits us to experience such trials, it helps to remember that He always has good reasons for doing so. For example, God may allow difficulties to enter our lives to strengthen us (2 Corinthians 12:10) or increase our trust in Him (Psalm 50:14-15). He might use such experiences to help us develop patience (Romans 5:3-5) and endurance (Hebrews 10:35-38). Or perhaps God might allow us to serve as an example to others in demonstrating the right way to handle the problems we encounter (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Finally, God may allow trials to enter our lives for the purpose of helping others who will experience similar things (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
It’s never easy when God allows difficult circumstances to enter our lives. However, we can be assured that God has an ultimate purpose behind the challenges we experience for “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
“And then, dear brothers and sisters, you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews” (1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT).
One source offers a perceptive commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:14 that lays the foundation for our look at this passage…
“Just as the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were persecuted by other Jews, so the Gentile Christians in Thessalonica were persecuted by their fellow Gentiles. Persecution is discouraging, especially when it comes from your own people. When you take a stand for Christ, you may face opposition, disapproval, and ridicule from your neighbors, friends, and even family members.” (1)
While many are familiar with this type of response, it’s important to recognize that Jesus was familiar with it as well…
“The next Sabbath (Jesus) began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, ‘Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?’ Then they scoffed, ‘He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.’ They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him” (Mark 6:2-3 NLT).
The following verse tells us how Jesus reacted to those sentiments: “…Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households” (Mark 6:4 CEB). This calm, objective reply reflects a man who was accustomed to this kind of negative reaction. This response is also easier to understand in light of the following passage from the Gospel of John: “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11 NIV).
These examples remind us that we may encounter a similar response from friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, and others as we seek to follow Christ. If Jesus was rejected in this manner, His modern-day followers might be rejected as well. The first-century Christian communities in Judea and Thessalonica shared that experience, as do many throughout the world today.
While it is always encouraging to receive comfort, support, and validation from our peers, it is far more important to keep our focus on Jesus, “…the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) even if others decline to support us for doing so.
(1) Life Application Study Bible, 1 Thessalonians 2:14 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“the same Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets. And they forced us to leave their country. They are not pleasing to God, and they are against everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 2:15 ERV).
1 Thessalonians 2:15 draws our attention to the disturbing topic of anti-Semitism, a term defined by an attitude of hostility, discrimination, or prejudice towards the Jewish people as a religious, ethnic, or racial group. Unfortunately, those who use this passage to promote an anti-Semitic viewpoint reveal their lack of Biblical understanding.
We can begin by observing that no one took Jesus’ life from Him- He voluntarily relinquished it. For instance, Matthew 27:50 and John 19:30 tell us that Jesus “yielded” or “gave up” His life on our behalf. In addition, Jesus also said this…
“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (John 10:17-18 NIV).
We should also recognize the role of the Gentile authorities in facilitating Jesus’ death. John 19:16 serves as a case in point: “Then Pilate handed him over to the soldiers to be crucified. So they took charge of Jesus” (Mounce). So if it is true that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, it is equally true that non-Jews were responsible as well. Therefore, those who assert that the Jewish people were solely responsible for Jesus’ death do not advocate a Biblical view.
The following commentators also share some valuable insights on this topic…
“What the apostle says here about the Judean leaders is historical fact and not personal invective. And we must remember that God moved him to write what he did. Anti-semitism is unchristian and cannot be justified under any circumstances. But it is not anti-semitic to say that the Jewish people are charged by God with the death of His Son (Act_2:23), just as the Gentiles also are held responsible for their part (1Co_2:8).” (1)
“The accusation that Paul was guilty of anti-Semitism (because he accused ‘the Jews’ of killing Jesus) misunderstands the text. Paul—a Jew himself—was not speaking of all Jews but only of that small minority in Judea involved in anti-Christian persecution. Furthermore, logically Paul could not have meant “all Jews,” because many of those who followed Jesus (including himself) were Jews. Paul taught that our sins are the reason Jesus died; we all share responsibility in his death (Rm 4:25; 1 Co 15:3; Gl 1:4; 1 Tm 1:15).” (2)
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2080) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1791). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:16).
The Gospel of Matthew records an incident from Jesus’ life that relates to this portion of Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 2:16…
“Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there” (Matthew 19:13-15).
While the context of this passage involves young children (or perhaps infants), there is a larger principle at work. The principle behind this vignette from Jesus’ ministry is that we shouldn’t prevent others from coming to Christ. Yet much like those who sought to prevent these children from approaching Jesus, there were some within the first-century Jewish community who were working to thwart Paul the Apostle’s evangelistic outreach to the Gentiles.
One source offers a list of motives that may help to explain that response…
“Why were so many Jews opposed to Christianity?
(1) Although the Jewish religion had been declared legal by the Roman government, it still had a tenuous relationship with the government. At this time, Christianity was viewed as a sect of Judaism. The Jews were afraid that reprisals leveled against the Christians might be expanded to include them.
(2) The Jewish leaders thought Jesus was a false prophet, and they didn’t want his teachings to spread.
(3) The leaders feared that if many Jews were drawn away, their own political position might be weakened.
(4) Jews were proud of their special status as God’s chosen people and resented the fact that Gentiles could be full members within the Christian church.” (1)
While Jesus overrode this seemingly well-intentioned (but misguided) attempt to prevent others from bringing their children to Him, Paul issued a much more serious condemnation. There were grave consequences associated with the effort to hinder others from coming to Christ and Paul concluded his rebuke with an ominous reference: “And now God’s anger has at last come down on them!” (GW).
This may refer to an unidentified sentence that had already been imposed upon those who were obstructing Paul. However, it might also refer to a devastating event that was just beyond the horizon at the time of this letter to the Thessalonian church. We’ll look at that latter possibility next.
(1) Life Application Study Bible, 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. Life Application® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
“…they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely” (1 Thessalonians 2:16 NET).
In hindsight, the message of 1 Thessalonians 2:16 served as a statement of fact and a prophetic warning for those who were working to prevent access to the Gospel. Much like the gathering clouds that signal the approach of a devastating storm, a greater expression of God’s wrath would take place within twenty years following the completion of this letter to the Thessalonian church. It took the form of a catastrophic event: the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire.
Beginning in AD 69 and continuing into AD 70, the Roman general Titus marched on the city of Jerusalem with an army of 30,000 soldiers. That military campaign was designed to eliminate all remaining pockets of resistance to the Roman Empire. The Romans subsequently began a five month siege of Jerusalem that leveled the city along with the Temple and every other major building within that area. It also resulted in an estimated loss of one million lives.
In today’s age of computer-generated images of graphical destruction that often appear within video games or action movies, it may be easy to overlook the real-life devastation involved with this military action. For instance, the Temple of that day covered an area the size of 25-30 American football fields (about 2300-2700 meters). The retaining walls rose almost 10 stories above street level. The smallest stones used in constructing the Temple weighed approximately 2-5 tons (2000-5100 kg).
The Temple in Jerusalem was an architecturally elaborate structure that also served as the center of Jewish cultural identity during that time. Yet it was destroyed so completely that Jesus’ prophetic statement from Luke 21:6 came to pass exactly as He predicted: “the time is coming when not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished” (CEB). In fact, the Romans were so thorough in their demolition that scholars and archaeologists are uncertain regarding the exact location of certain portions of the Temple today.
This historic event has prompted one author to make the following observation regarding our passage from 1 Thessalonians 2:16: “Jesus prophesied that God’s wrath would fall on this group of people (Mat_23:35-36). God’s wrath did fall on them in many ways, but none so devastating as the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.) which came in less than twenty years time from when Paul wrote this.” (1)
(1) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:16”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-thessalonians-2.html College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18).
The loving relationship that Paul the Apostle enjoyed with the members of the Thessalonian church is something that should be clearly evident from this passage, even to the most casual reader. For Paul, the Thessalonians were like family in a very real sense. For instance, Paul compared his ministry among the Thessalonians to that of a nursing mother earlier in 1 Thessalonians 2:7. He later shifted parental metaphors to that of a father who “…treated each one of you as a father treats his own children” (NET) in verse eleven.
Here now in verse seventeen, Paul will build upon this imagery by addressing the Thessalonians as “brethren.” We can further illustrate these deep emotional ties with a closer examination of the language Paul used in describing his forced departure from Thessalonica some time earlier…
“The Gk. word means ‘orphaned,’ a word used for parents as well as children who have been separated. Paul continues to use the family imagery of vv. 7, 11 in depicting his relationship with the Thessalonian congregation. …the sudden departure of Paul’s team from Thessalonica may have occasioned misgivings in some hearts about his paternal care for and commitment to the believers whom he left behind” (1)
So who or what was responsible for separating Paul from his spiritual family in Thessalonica? One Biblical expositor traces the answer to that question back to its ultimate source…
“Already in this chapter we have seen three sources of opposition to the apostle: Opposition from the state (Verse 2); opposition from society (Verse 14); and here, opposition from Satan. While this might look like three enemies, it is really only one. Other Scriptures indicate that the state and society are often the channels of the devil’s attempts to hinder the spread of the good Word of God. This is what Paul was encountering here.” (2)
While this created a great degree of short-term distress for Paul the Apostle, our final commentator identifies a positive long-term effect that came as a result of these events…
“Perhaps, however, God worked it all together for good, in that Paul was thereby constrained instead to write this epistle to them, followed by another of equally eternal significance.” (3)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (pp. 2135–2136). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Excerpted with permission from A Father’s Joy © 1987 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
(3) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 1 Thessalonians 2:18 https://www.icr.org/bible/1Th/2/18
“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Just as we award a medal to the winner of an athletic competition, the “crown” referenced in this passage served much the same purpose. In this instance, “the crown” was symbolized by a wreath or garland that honored a victorious first-century athlete. One source expands on this imagery with the following observation…
“Crowns and garlands were used for rewards throughout Jewish and Greco-Roman literature of this period; not a royal crown but a victor’s wreath is in view. Crowns (cf. Isa_28:5; Isa_62:3) and garlands (cf. Isa_61:3) sometimes appeared as symbols of future reward in the Old Testament and in ancient Judaism. Paul’s reward, however, is simply the perseverance of the Thessalonians themselves (cf. similarly 3Jn_1:4).” (1)
For Paul the Apostle, this was not just an offhand expression of sentimentality as another Biblical expositor explains…
“Paul uses symbolism to show a timeless reality. The one who won the victory in the Games, was given a crown as a token. Paul points with pride to the Gentile churches as the token of his victory. When he stands before Christ the Judge, they will be his ‘reason for boasting.’ He says: ‘Indeed, you are our pride and our joy!’ (See Dan_12:3).” (2)
In considering this passage, it also helps to remember that Paul suffered greatly in his efforts to bring the gospel to the city of Thessalonica. But now that he had been given an opportunity to see the fruit of his labor reflected in the lives of the Thessalonian Christians, he found encouragement, joy, satisfaction, and gladness. Their God-honoring lives served as testament to the Lord’s blessing upon his ministry- and unlike some of the other churches that received letters from Paul, he was clearly gratified by their response.
Like Paul, a true spiritual leader derives a great deal of encouragement and satisfaction from the knowledge that others have grown in Christ as a result of his or her efforts. This is what Paul the Apostle experienced in his relationship with the Thessalonians and it echoes the message of 1 John 1:4: “Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that my children [members of the church under his spiritual care] are following the way of truth [walking in the truth]” (EXB).
So now as we transition from 1 Thessalonians chapter two into chapter three, Paul will continue to showcase his love and concern for the Thessalonian church before moving into an extensive discussion of Jesus’ second advent in chapter four.
(1) Craig S. Keener The IVP Bible Background Commentary: [1Th_2:19-20]
(2) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:19”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/1-thessalonians-2.html College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.