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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
1 Thessalonians 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-20

Chapter 2

PAUL ON HIS DEFENSE (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12)

2:1-12 You yourselves know, brothers, that our coming among you was not to no effect; but after we had--as you know--already undergone suffering and ill-treatment at Philippi, we were bold in our God to tell you the good news of God, and a sore struggle we had. Our appeal to you did not proceed from any delusion, nor from impure motives, nor was it calculated to deceive; but as we have been deemed worthy by God to be entrusted with the good news, so we speak, not as if we were seeking to please men, but rather as if we were seeking to please God, who tests our hearts. At no time, as you know, did we use flattering words; at no time did we use our message as a pretext for greed; God is our witness at no time did we seek reputation from men, either from you or from others, although we might well have claimed a place of weight, as apostles of Christ. But we showed ourselves gentle among you, treating you as a nurse cherishes her children. Yearning for you like this, we wanted to share with you, not only the good news of God, but even our very lives, because you had become very dear to us. For, brothers, you remember our labour and toil. It was while we were working night and day, so as not to be a burden to any of you, that we proclaimed the good news of God to you. You are our witnesses and so is God. How reverently and righteously and blamelessly we behaved to you who believed. As you know, as a father his children we exhorted and encouraged and solemnly charged each one of you to walk worthily of God who calls you to his Kingdom and his glory.

Beneath the surface of this passage run the slanders which Paul's opponents at Thessalonica attached to him.

(i) 1 Thessalonians 2:2 refers to the imprisonment and abuse that he had received at Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). 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.

(ii) 1 Thessalonians 2:3 has behind it no fewer than three charges.

(a) It was being said that Paul's preaching came from sheer delusion. A really original man will always run the risk of being called mad. Festus thought that Paul was mad in later days (Acts 26:24). There was a time when Jesus' friends came and tried to take him home because they thought that he was mad (Mark 3:21). The Christian standards can be so different from the standards of the world that he who follows them with a single mind and a burning enthusiasm can appear to other men to be off his head.

(b) It was being said that Paul's preaching sprang from impure motives. The word used for impurity (akatharsia, Greek #167) often has to do with sexual impurity. There was one Christian custom which the heathen often and deliberately misinterpreted; that was the kiss of peace (1 Thessalonians 5:26). When the Christians spoke of the Love Feast and the kiss of peace, it was not difficult for an evil mind to read into these phrases what was never there. The trouble often is that a mind itself nasty will see nastiness everywhere.

(c) It was being said that Paul's preaching was guilefully aimed at deluding others. The propagandists of Hitler Germany discovered that if a lie is repeated often enough and loudly enough it will in the end be accepted as the truth. That was the charge which was levelled at Paul.

(iii) 1 Thessalonians 2:4 indicates that Paul was accused of seeking to please men rather than to please God. No doubt that rose from the fact that he preached the liberty of the gospel and the freedom of grace as against the slavery of legalism. There are always people who do not think that they are being religious unless they are being unhappy; and any man who preaches a gospel of joy will find his slanderers, which is exactly what happened to Jesus.

(iv) 1 Thessalonians 2:5 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9 both indicate that there were those who said that Paul was in this business of preaching the gospel for what he could get out of it. The word used for flattery (kolakeia, Greek #2850) always describes the flattery whose motive is gain. The trouble in the early Church was that there were people who did attempt to cash in on their Christianity. The first Christian book of order is called The Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and in it there are some illuminating instructions. "Let every apostle that cometh unto you be received as the Lord. And he shall stay one day and, if need be, the next also, but if he stay three days he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goeth forth, let him take nothing save bread, till he reach his lodging. But if he ask money, he is a false prophet." "No prophet that ordereth a table in the Spirit shall eat of it, else he is a false prophet." "If he that cometh is a passer-by, succour him as far as you can. But he shall not abide with you longer than two or three days unless there be necessity. But if he be minded to settle among you and be a craftsman, let him work and eat. But if he has no trade, according to your understanding, provide that he shall not live idle among you, being a Christian. But if he will not do this, he is a Christmonger: of such men beware." (Didache, chapters 11 and 12). The date of The Didache is about A.D. 100. Even the Early Church knew the perennial problem of those who traded on charity.

(v) 1 Thessalonians 2:6 indicates that Paul was accused of seeking personal prestige. It is the preacher's constant danger that he should seek to display himself and not the message. In 1 Thessalonians 1:5 there is a suggestive thing. Paul does not say, "I came to you." He says, "Our gospel came to you." The man was lost in his message.

(vi) 1 Thessalonians 2:7 indicates that Paul was charged with being something of a dictator. His gentleness was that of a wise father. His was the love which knew how to be firm. To him Christian love was no easy sentimental thing; he knew that men needed discipline, not for their punishment but for the good of their souls.

THE SINS OF THE JEWS (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16)

2:13-16 And for this, too, we thank God, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but--as in truth it is--as the word of God, who also works in you who believe. For, brothers, you became imitators of the Churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus, for you too suffered the same things at the hands of your own fellow-countrymen as they did at the hands of the Jews; for they killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and they persecuted us, and they do not please God, and they are up against all men, and they try to stop us speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved; and all this they keep on doing that they may complete the catalogue of their sins. But wrath to the uttermost has come upon them.

To the Thessalonians the Christian faith had brought not peace but trouble. Their new-found loyalty had involved them in persecution. Paul's method of encouraging them is very interesting. It is in effect to say to them,

"Brothers, we are treading

Where the saints have trod."

Their persecution was a badge of honour which entitled them to rank with the picked regiments of the army of Christ.

But the great interest of this passage is that in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 Paul draws up a kind of catalogue of the errors and the sins of the Jews.

(i) They killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets. When God's messengers came to them they eliminated them. One of the grim things about the gospel narrative is the intensity with which the leaders of the Jews sought to get rid of Jesus before he could do any more damage. But no man ever rendered a message inoperative by slaying the messenger who brought it. Someone tells of a missionary who went to a primitive tribe. He had to use primitive methods to get his message across; so he had a chart painted which showed the progress to heaven of the man who accepted Christ and the descent to hell of the man who rejected him. The message disturbed the tribe. They did not want it to be true. So they burned the chart and, having done so, thought all was well! A man may refuse to listen to the message of Jesus Christ but he cannot eliminate it from the structure of the universe.

(ii) They persecuted the Christians. Even although they themselves refused to accept the message of Christ, they ,night have allowed others to listen to it and, if they wished, to accept it. Let a man always remember that there are more ways to heaven than one; and let him keep himself from intolerance.

(iii) They did not try to please God. The Church's trouble has often been that it has clung to a man-made religion instead of a God-given faith. The question men have too often asked is, "What do I think?" instead of, "What does God say?" It is not our puny logic that matters; it is God's revelation.

(iv) They were up against all men. In the ancient world the Jews were, in fact, accused of "hatred of the human race." Their sin was the sin of arrogance. They regarded themselves as the Chosen People, as indeed they were. But they regarded themselves as chosen for privilege and never dreamed that they were chosen for service. Their aim was that some day the world should serve them, not that at all times they should serve the world. The man who thinks only of his own rights and privileges will always be up against other men--and, what is more serious, he will be up against God.

(v) They wished to keep the offer of God's love exclusively to themselves and did not wish the Gentiles to have any share in his grace. Someone has summed up the exclusive attitude in four bitter lines of verse,

"We are God's chosen few;

All others will be dammed.

There is no room in heaven for you;

We can't have heaven crammed."

There is something fundamentally wrong with a religion which shuts a man off from his fellow-men. If a man really loves God that love must run over into love for his fellow-men. So far from wanting to hug his privileges to himself, he will be filled with a passion to share them.

OUR GLORY AND OUR JOY (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)

2:17-20 But, brothers, when we had been separated from you--in presence but not in heart--for a short time, we were the more exceedingly eager with a great desire to see your face. So we wished to come to you--I Paul longed for it once and again--but Satan blocked our way. For who is our hope or our joy or the crown in which we boast? Is it not even you, in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For you are our glory and our joy.

First Thessalonians has been called "a classic of friendship," and here is a passage where Paul's deep affection for his friends breathes through his words. Across the centuries we can still feel the throb of love in these sentences.

Paul uses two interesting pictures in this passage.

(i) He speaks of Satan blocking his way when he desired to come to Thessalonica. The word he uses (egkoptein, Greek #1465) is the technical word for putting up a road-block calculated to stop an expedition on the march. It is Satan's work to throw obstacles into the Christian's way--and it is our work to surmount them.

(ii) He speaks of the Thessalonians being his crown. In Greek there are two words for crown. The one is diadema (Greek #1238) which is used almost exclusively for the royal crown. The other is stephanos (Greek #4735) which is used almost exclusively for the victor's crown in some contest and especially for the athlete's crown of victory in the games. It is stephanos (Greek #4735) that Paul uses here. The only prize in life that he really valued was to see his converts living well.

W. M. Macgregor used to quote the saying of John when he was thinking of the students whom he had taught, "No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth." (3 John 1:4 ). Paul would have said amen to that. The glory of any teacher lies in his students; and should the day come when they have left him far behind the glory is still greater. A man's greatest glory lies in those whom he has set or helped on the path to Christ.

Anne Ross Cousin turned into verse the thoughts of Samuel Rutherford as he lay in prison in Aberdeen. In one verse she pictures him thinking of his old congregation in Anwoth:

"Fair Anwoth on the Solway

To me thou still art dear;

Even from the verge of heaven

I drop for thee a tear.

O! if one soul from Anwoth

Shall meet me at God's right hand,

My heaven will be two heavens

In Immanuel's land."

Nothing that we can do can bring us credit in the sight of God; but at the last the stars in a man's crown will be those whom he led nearer to Jesus Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
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.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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