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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Thessalonians 2

 

 

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Verse 1

1 THESS. 2

There are three clear topics in this chapter, the first (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12) dealing with what is usually referred to as Paul's defense against criticism, the second (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16) stressing the fidelity of the Thessalonians under persecution, and (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20) a warm expression of Paul's affection for them.

Regarding Paul's alleged defense in the first paragraph, it seems to this writer, despite the near-unanimous opinion of many scholars to the contrary, that entirely too much has been made of the alleged slanders against Paul. Brief notice was paid to this in 1 Thessalonians 1, but further pursuit of the question raises more and more doubts about the usual mode of interpretation. Of course, there were slanders against Paul; and those intent on killing Paul would not have stopped at any device that might have been used to thwart his labors; and, from the Corinthians, it is clear enough that Paul did, now and again, address himself squarely to the problem of replying to slanderous charges. Nevertheless, the tone of this letter is different. At Corinth, the slanders were being promulgated by those associated with the church; but in Thessalonica there appears to have been no disruptive element within the fold at all; thus any slanders that might have come would of necessity have had to come from without; and, if we may judge from the strong terms of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, it was their persecution, not mere slander, that is in view.

Unlike the Corinthian letters, Thessalonians "has no explicit statement that elements there were misrepresenting Paul and his companions."[1] We feel strong agreement with Kelcy that this paragraph "may be no more than a defense of the missionaries ... drawing a distinction between themselves and the wandering charlatans of the times."[2]

Then again, the passage may be viewed as preventive, rather than defensive. Certainly, when Paul worked to support himself, he did not begin doing so only after slander compelled it, but that was his manner of preventing slander. Why not view this paragraph in exactly the same way? That all of this could be apologetic is true enough; but again from Kelcy, "There is not the same certainty"[3] of it here as is evident in Corinthians.

For yourselves, brethren, know our entering in unto you, that it hath not been found vain: (1 Thessalonians 2:1)

Morris paraphrased this as "Our visit to you was no failure."[4] Ward has a discerning insight into the word "for" which stands at the head of the chapter. "It is a common Greek idiom in which a reason is given for a statement understood but not expressed."[5]

The unexpressed statement is, "This report is true" (that is, the report Paul had mentioned a moment before in 1 Thessalonians 1:9, where it appears that all Greece was talking about the overwhelming success of the gospel message). Paul was saying, "You do not need anyone to tell you what happened, for you yourselves know it."

True to his refusal to boast about anything, in the personal sense, Paul, instead of magnifying the success, chose to dwell rather upon the character of the missionaries as it had been tried and proved through hardships and persecutions.

[1] Raymond C. Kelcy, The Letters of Paul to the Thessalonians (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, Inc., 1968), p. 38.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Leon Morris, Tyndale Commentaries, 1,2Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956), p. 42.

[5] Ronald A. Ward, Commentary on 1,2Thessalonians (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1973), p. 49.


Verse 2

but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict.

At Philippi ... The memory of the grossly unfair and brutal treatment Paul and Silas had received at Philippi had not dimmed. For a full discussion of those events, in which Paul was beaten and imprisoned and made fast in the stocks, see my Commentary on Acts 16.

Waxed bold ... "This word is always used in the New Testament of the proclamation of the gospel and denotes freedom from stress."[6] Other passages in which it occurs are Acts 9:27 and Ephesians 6:20.

In our God ... This expression also appears in 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12, and 1 Corinthians 6:11. In the greater sense, all things are in God, for as Paul said, "In him we live and move and have our being"; but something more specific is meant here. Those who are in Christ and are working in harmony with the will of God are in a most beneficent and specific sense said to be "in God."

Gospel of God in much conflict ... The last word of this phrase, according to Cousins, comes from "[@agon], a term from athletics meaning `a contest,' and implying strenuous activity."[7]

[6] Peter A. Cousins, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 493.

[7] Ibid.


Verse 3

For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:

The Thessalonians were familiar with the pretensions, deceit and gross immorality which marked the pagan worship throughout the world of those days, especially among the Gentiles; and it is the contrast with paganism, not Paul's defense of himself from slander, which shines in a passage like this. Commenting on the word "uncleanness," Dummelow observed that "Impurity was often associated with heathen worship, and this was especially the case at Thessalonica and Corinth."[8]

ENDNOTE:

[8] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 987.


Verse 4

but even as we have been approved of God to be intrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proverb our hearts.

Some little popularity had accrued to the name of Paul because of the astounding success he had achieved among the Thessalonians; but, in the light of the widely circulated rumors concerning it, Paul here rejected any notion that he was overly pleased by it or that he, in any manner, coveted the praise of men. Not only did he know the fickleness of the popular mind, but he also recognized the moral difficulties incurred by "men-pleasers." He also, in this verse, called attention to the sacred responsibility of preaching the whole truth, an obligation and trust vested in him by the Father himself. As Kelcy said, "The perfect tense indicates not only a past act but a continuous state."[9]

God who proveth our hearts ... It is only partially true that the "heart" in Biblical thought is "the intellect." As Lispcomb said:

Common experience ought to show that the mind alone is not the heart. Many things are memorized and retained in the mind of which the heart does not take hold at all; they do not arouse the emotions or volitions, consequently do not affect the heart.[10]

The Saviour also made a distinction between "heart" and "mind" (Mark 12:29). Following are two good definitions of "heart" as used in the New Testament:

Heart is the seat not so much of emotions as of volition and intellect, the center of moral decision.[11]

It denotes the sum total of our inward dispositions, including our intellect and will as well.[12]SIZE>

The entirety of a preacher's heart, regarding especially his motivation and intention, are constantly in view of the Lord; and Paul here declares to men that which only God could know, namely, that his soul was absolutely pure in these respects.

[9] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 41.

[10] David Lipscomb, Commentary on 1Thessalonians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1976), p. 26.

[11] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 809.

[12] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 45.


Verse 5

For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness;

Paul is not making a defense here, for he plainly said, "as ye know," indicating that there was no need at all to tell the Thessalonians these things; however, he is disclaiming any desire for human praise, pointing out that his whole life and character denied any such ambition on his part. Paul apparently was concerned lest the temporary success and widespread reports of it (mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:9) might turn their heads. Paul here showed them, and reminded them, how it is with a true Christian and a true preacher of the word of God.

Coveting not the praise of people, nor any glory that man might give, alleging the eternal truth of God's word in utmost sincerity, disclaiming even the meager support that might have been available to him had he consented to take it, this mighty apostle moved across the horizon of the first century with the strides of a spiritual giant. There has hardly been another like Paul.

God is witness ... So is all history!


Verse 6

nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ.

Of the first two clauses, see under preceding verse.

We might have claimed authority ... This is an unfortunate rendition, because it seems to imply that Paul did not "claim authority" as an apostle; but of course he did claim such authority; and, in places where it was challenged, defended it with the utmost emphasis. For that reason the marginal reading (ASV) is far preferable, "We might have been burdensome to you as apostles of Christ."

Apostles of Christ ... "The title here seems to be bestowed on Silas and Timothy, as in Acts 14:14 upon Barnabas."[13] Despite similar views expressed by many, this conclusion puts too much weight on "we" in this clause, which, after all, could well be used editorially for "I." In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, he used "we" for `I'; and there are other examples of it (see Galatians 1:8). It is remarkable how scholars can, by such implications, find apostles all over the New Testament! Ward commented that "Andronicus and Junius were conspicuous among the apostles (Romans 16:7)."[14] That passage, however, means that Andronicus and Junius were well-known by the Twelve in Jerusalem, there never having been an apostle in Rome before Paul arrived! Hodge commented, in this context, that "The word `apostle' is never used in Paul's writings except in a strict official sense."[15] In any case, if Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, and even Andronicus and Junius were "apostles," it was definitely in a secondary, non-plenary sense of the term. The office of the apostleship was too clearly set forth in the New Testament to allow the title to any except Paul and the Twelve; but the clear use of the title for Barnabas (Acts 14:14) makes it possible that Timothy and Silas were also "apostles" in that secondary sense of the word.

[13] A. J. Mason, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 132.

[14] Ronald A. Ward, op. cit., p. 61.

[15] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 449.


Verse 7

But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children:

This figure of a mother-nurse is one of the most beautiful in the New Testament and gives eloquent witness to the mild, solicitous and persevering love of the apostle for his converts.


Verse 8

even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us.

Affectionately desirous ... This is a word "of uncertain origin, expressing yearning love (New English Bible), as of a mother-nurse, over the converts."[16] Paul's words in this passage approach some kind of zenith of emotional impact. Someone has said "the very words seem to tremble" upon the sacred page. How strong and overwhelming was the love the matchless apostle felt on behalf of those whom he had won for Christ!

ENDNOTE:

[16] Peter E. Cousins, op. cit., p. 493.


Verse 9

For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

This verse has drawn widely divergent comment:

Night and day...

Night precedes day in Jewish reckoning .... This does not mean that he wrought at his trade at night and preached during the daytime; but the phrase "night and day" denotes incessantly, continually.[17]

Probably Paul and his companions worked with their hands by day, and spent a considerable part of the night, or evenings, in preaching Christ to the people.[18]

Paul means by the phrase "night and day" that he started work before dawn; the usage is regular and frequent. He no doubt began work so early in order to be able to devote some part of the day to preaching.[19]SIZE>

There is really no good reason why all of the above comments might be true, at one time or another, with regard to Paul's working "night and day." We may be sure that he utilized every possible device to extend his opportunity of preaching the word.

[17] P. J. Cloag, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 21 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 28.

[18] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI (London: Carlton and Porter, 1829), p. 542.

[19] Moffatt, James, The Expositor's Greek Testament, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 28.


Verse 10

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves toward you that believe:

Paul did not imply by this that his conduct toward unbelievers was any different, but that the focus of his godly living was to set a righteous example in the presence of believers. Besides that, as Moffatt noted, "Paul had met other people at Thessalonica, but only the Christians could properly judge his real character."[20]

ENDNOTE:

[20] Ibid.


Verse 11

as ye know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging you, and testifying,

Each one of you ... As Lipscomb noted, "This shows that converts were not made in masses, but that the slow, toilsome application of the gospel to individuals, one by one,"[21] did the work.

Three verbs here outline the function of the type of father to which Paul compared himself in this, another strikingly beautiful metaphor. These are exhorted, comforted and testified. "Testified" would be more accurately rendered "charged" as in Nestle Greek translation.[22] See below.

Exhorting you ... This means persuading people to adopt a certain course of action and is applicable to the persuasive words by which Paul wooed and won them to Christ as well as to specific admonitions to godly living following conversion.

Encouraging you ... He is a poor preacher who neglects to encourage the Christians who hear him. Nothing is more soul-killing and church-diminishing than a preacher who never has any remarks of praise and encouragement for his hearers.

Testifying ... This is an unfortunate rendition because of its usual interpretation of "sounding off"' in public meetings. It is not that kind of "testifying" that Paul meant. The Nestle Greek rendition (see footnote) renders this, "As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you." That this is the proper word appears from the account of what was "witnessed" as recounted in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, immediately afterward.

[21] David Lipscomb, Commentary on 1Thessalonians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1976), p. 29.

[22] Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Nestle Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 804.


Verse 12

to the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory.

Thus, the kind of "testifying" mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 2:11 consisted of apostolic preaching of God's commandments that people should lead respectable, blameless, moral and upright lives in the church!

Calleth you into his own kingdom and glory ... The kingdom of God presently exists in the community of Christians on earth, that kingdom having been set up on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead; but there will be an eternal phase of the kingdom, mentioned by Peter (2 Peter 1:11). By using one possessive for "kingdom" and "glory" Paul indicated that just one kingdom is in view; but, since the present phase of God's kingdom is not one of glory (in the ultimate sense), it is probable that Paul indicated (by the word "glory") the same eternal phase mentioned by Peter.

Calleth ... indicates not only that the kingdom is a present reality, but that the door is still open for all who wish to enter. It is a mistake to read this as saying that Paul expected the "glory" phase of the kingdom to start any day and that God was calling the Thessalonians into that! Nevertheless, that is exactly the way some have misconstrued it. Mason was right in the affirmation that:

The Thessalonians were at that time, by baptism, already members of the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13), but were not yet so assured in their new allegiance as to be certain of reaching the full-developed glory of that kingdom. Note again the thought of the Advent.[23]

ENDNOTE:

[23] A. J. Mason, op. cit., p. 133.


Verse 13

And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe.

It is verses such as this which forbid any allegations that Paul was mistaken about the near-approach of the Advent, or anything else. Paul and all the other apostles declared repeatedly their absolute and invariable conviction that what they delivered to us was not their word, but the word of Almighty God. Those who do not believe this is true do not believe the New Testament.

This verse reminds us of the following passage from Acts:

Now these (of Berea) were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).

Paul's testimony in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 shows that Luke's account in Acts was focused upon the unbelievers in Thessalonica, whereas Paul here tells the way it was with the believers.

Which also worketh in you that believe ... We are indebted to David Lipscomb for this tabulation of how the word works in believers:

By the word the new birth is effected (1 Peter 1:23). By it the soul is saved (James 1:21).

By it we are sanctified (John 17:17; 1 Timothy 4:5).

It prevails mightily (Acts 19:20).

Like the seed (Mark 4:26,27), it has power in itself to produce.

It is living and active (Hebrews 4:12).

It is like fire against that which is false (Jeremiah 23:29).

It is like a hammer against that which is strong (Jeremiah 23:29).

It is light in darkness (Psalms 119:105).

It is the sole weapon in Christian warfare (Ephesians 6:17).[24]SIZE>

ENDNOTE:

[24] David Lipscomb, op. cit., p. 31.


Verse 14

For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews;

It was Jewish persecution which first broke against the infant church; and it was conspicuously against their own countrymen; here Paul compared the persecutions of the Thessalonians which they had endured at the hands of their Gentile countrymen to that of the Jewish-Christians in Judea, noting that both had bravely and courageously endured. However, as a glance at Acts 17:13 will show, the Jews were those who had instigated and promoted the persecution in Thessalonica, even though the details of it were executed by Gentiles. The very thought of such a thing seems to have triggered in Paul's mind the startling words written next. Kelcy said that for denunciative bitterness, "This is unparalleled in any of Paul's other writings."[25] However, it should not be thought that Paul was in any manner reprehensible in the denunciation that followed. He said nothing that Christ had not said; all that he said was true; and all that he said needed to be said.

ENDNOTE:

[25] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 53.


Verse 15

who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all men;

There are several important considerations that are touched upon in this verse: (1) All modern attempts to mitigate the guilt of the Jews in killing Jesus (by the device of saying the Romans actually did the killing) "are crushed by this passage."[26] Yes, the Jews were guilty. Of course, they were not alone in their guilt. All people, one way or the other, were involved in the death of Christ. See my Commentary on Romans, pp. 127-133 for extended discussion of "Who Crucified Jesus?" (2) This verse refutes the objections some have expressed regarding the gospel of John, affirming that John, a Jew, could not so consistently have referred to "the Jews" as enemies of Christ and Christianity; but Paul, the devout Hebrew of the Hebrews, not only exposes the error of such a view but states in this verse the reasons that lay behind God's judgment of the Jews (see under next verse). (3) The hardening of Israel (see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 392-395) had reached a final stage leading to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, an event less than two decades future from the time Paul wrote.

Killed the Lord Jesus ... The New Testament account of the opposition to Jesus that culminated in his heartless crucifixion lies behind these brief words. There was no extenuation of guilt in those who through deceit, suborned testimony, mob violence and bitter hatred contrived through intimidation and political pressure the crucifixion of the Lord of glory. Terrible as that was, however, it was not the last straw. The straw that broke the camel's back, as far as God's dealings with Israel were concerned, took place right there in Thessalonica, where they forbade that the gospel of God be preached to Gentiles. That did it! That "filled up" the measure of their sins, and judgment soon fell.

ENDNOTE:

[26] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, 1Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1955), p. 71.


Verse 16

forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

Thessalonica is the place where Jewish opposition finally revealed how obdurate, unscrupulous and obtrusive it could be. There was no reason whatever behind that wandering committee of self-appointed opponents going into every town where Paul preached and stirring up hatred and persecution against the church. Having failed in their persecutions both in Judea and upon the mission field, at Thessalonica they enlisted the Gentiles, their magistrates and leaders, and turned them against Paul and the gospel. This was the "sin against the Holy Spirit" Jesus had mentioned in Mark 3:29. God had mercifully forgiven Israel the murder of the prophets (sin against God), and the murder of Christ (sin against the Son); but as Jesus said, the sin against the Holy Spirit was final.

Christ had already announced the hardening of Israel, but if they had accepted the gospel they might yet have been saved; but, in the continued opposition in Gentile lands, such as Thessalonica, Paul correctly read it. It could only mean that the destruction of the Holy City was not too far away. Jesus had faithfully promised:

But the king was wroth; and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city (Matthew 22:7).

Stated in the past tense, that is, the prophetic tense, this was a clear indication of what would happen if Israel persisted in their opposition to Christ and his gospel. Paul properly read the signs of the times as indicating the near-approach of that destruction.

It is a gross mistake to make anything racial out of the sad words in this passage. Just as Israel had their "times," marked by innumerable mercies from heaven, so it has been with the Gentiles; but our "times" too are also in all probability drawing to an end; and a fate even worse than that which destroyed Jerusalem looms threateningly in the not-too-distant future- unless, and God grant that there may be, a wholesale turning of the people of our day to the Lord Jesus Christ occurs.


Verse 17

But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire:

This is one of the most precious passages in Paul's writings. It has a sentiment Paul often expressed as in, "Though I be absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in the spirit" (Colossians 2:5).


Verse 18

because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us.

There seems to have been something particularly frustrating about Paul's being checkmated in his intention to return to Thessalonica. Perhaps it was there that he finally saw, for the first time, that the opposition of Israel would never cease.

Paul, who loved Israel more than he loved himself and could even have wished himself accursed for Israel's sake, could not long contemplate the atrocious sins of the chosen people without going behind them for the cause of their sin. They had been blinded by Satan. Thus it is clear that Satan is a person, the world-ruler of the kingdom of evil, and although a being of great magnitude of powers, nevertheless a creature, who shall at last be overwhelmed by the judgment of God. They are poor students of the word of God who do not have proper regard for the power and malignity of their enemy, Satan.

As to how Satan had hindered Paul, no specifics are possible, as the contradictory opinions of the learned effectively demonstrate.


Verse 19

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy.

Our Lord Jesus at his coming ... The word here rendered "coming" is the first New Testament usage of the important word [@parousia],[27] which has widely come to be a favorite for the Second Advent.

Although the meaning is brazenly imported, at times, into this text, there is no indication here that Paul expected the Second Advent to happen in a few days. It is true enough that some of the Thessalonians mistakenly assumed that to be the case; but Paul wrote another letter to them for the specific purpose of correcting such false interpretations.

ENDNOTE:

[27] Raymond C. Kelcy, op. cit., p. 61.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-thessalonians-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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