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Paul's Manner of Working in Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
He came with the humble desire to serve God:
v. 1. For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you that it was not in vain;
v. 2. but even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as you know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention.
v. 3. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile;
v. 4. but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
v. 5. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness;
v. 6. nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
The apostle here takes up the thought which he had broached in chap. 1:9, of his first coming to Thessalonica: For yourselves know, brethren, our entrance to you, that it was not vain. He had, in the first chapter, spoken of the voluntary testimony which he heard from others as he continued his work in Achaia. Here he appeals to their knowledge of the situation, at the same time forestalling or removing any doubts that may meanwhile have arisen in the minds of the Thessalonians as to the soundness of the teaching which they had accepted and as to the wisdom of their having accepted the new doctrine so quickly. The thought may have been suggested to them that, after all, the name, the faith, the hope of the Christians was a thing of vanity, and that they, therefore, were suffering for it to no purpose. So Paul emphasizes that his visit to them was not a matter of foolishness and vanity, but a mission of vital success.
To drive this thought home, Paul now goes into historical details: But having before suffered and been insulted, as you know, in Philippi, we took bold confidence in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God with intense earnestness. These words of Paul substantiate the account of Luke in Acts 16:1-40. Paul and Silas, although Roman citizens, had been grossly ill-treated by the rulers at Philippi, the so-called praetors, being both scourged and thrown into prison in opposition to Roman law. Of this insulting treatment the Thessalonians knew, the wounds of Paul and Silas having probably not yet been healed when they reached their city. In spite of this outrage, however, Paul had pushed forward, according to the command of the Lord, Matthew 10:23, bringing the Gospel to other cities and to Thessalonica first of all. In doing so, Paul had made use of all boldness and courage in proclaiming the Gospel, relying, as he did, upon the power of God, not upon his own natural talents and fearlessness. With the most intense earnestness and zeal had he labored among them, even at the peril of his life. This is the spirit which should at all times actuate the ministers of the Gospel, making them willing to do all and bear all for the sake of the Master and His precious news of salvation.
There had not been so much as a tinge of selfishness in Paul's ministry: For our appeal is not from fraud, nor out of uncleanness, nor in guile, but even as we have been tested by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who proves our hearts. Paul's appeal to men in the work of his ministry, his exhortation, his admonition, was free from impure, sinister motives. He himself was not the victim of fraud and error; he had not been deceived into becoming a servant of Christ; he was not the victim of a superstition, of a delusion. He was, moreover, not engaged in the work of the ministry from foul, impure motives, including covetousness and selfishness. Nor had he, in turn, made use of guile and cunning with the object of deceiving his hearers; all dishonest tricks of cheating and ensnaring were far from him. His mission was very emphatically not the outcome of self-seeking. But the situation was rather this: As God, who tests the hearts, had attested his fitness to be entrusted with the Gospel, so he was speaking the news of salvation, so he was preaching sin and grace, with no thought of pleasing men. It was God, who knows the hearts of men, that had chosen the apostle for his office. Paul did not assume any worthiness of his own, but he exalted the authority of God. See 1 Timothy 1:12. By reason of this commission he considered himself under obligations not to engage men's minds by flattering proposals nor to adapt his preaching to their tastes, but to consult only the pleasure of God, who, as the Judge of hearts, would soon expose and judge impure motives and selfish objects.
The apostle enlarges upon this thought still more fully: For neither at any time did we indulge in talk of flattery, as you know, nor in pretense of self-seeking, God is witness, nor seeking praise from men, neither from you nor from others, although we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ. Flattering talk invariably indicates selfishness and a striving to gain private ends. In this respect he called upon the Thessalonians as witnesses; they knew that he had not used flattery, that he had not attempted to please them by such methods. For the other fact, in turn, that he made use of no pretense for the purpose of self-seeking, that he had no selfish aims in his heart, he calls upon God as witness, appealing to Him who tests hearts and minds. That there was no selfish ambition in his heart appeared finally from the fact that he did not seek praise and honor from men, as he pointedly says, neither from the Thessalonians nor from anybody else. This disinterestedness stands out all the more strongly, since Paul might well have been burdensome to the Thessalonians, he might have used his authority, he might have assumed the dignity which was his as the apostle of Christ, and demanded honoring recognition of his position, and that of Silas, from them. Note: All persons that hold positions of authority in the Church will do well to pattern after St. Paul in this respect, since it is only in exceptional cases that the dignity of their office receives the recognition which it deserves in the estimation of men.
Paul's unselfish devotion:
v. 7. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children;
v. 8. so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
v. 9. For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail; for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the Gospel of God.
v. 10. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you that believe;
v. 11. as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
v. 12. that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory.
The apostle is still carrying out the thought of 1 Thessalonians 2:1. that his coming to Thessalonica had not been in vain, that his ministry in that city had been in accordance with the will of God, with an entire absence of selfishness: But we were lenient in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother fondles her own children. Lenience, gentleness, kindness, that had been the key-note of Paul's behavior in his apostolic work at all times. All was tenderness and devotion, fostering and protecting care, in his relation to the Thessalonian Christians. He knows of no better and more striking comparison than that of a mother in her tender care for the children of her bosom. Also, Paul was not the strict disciplinarian and stern taskmaster, but he was mild, kind, loving in the midst of them; he was among them, surrounded by them, as a mother by her children, as a teacher by his pupils.
In agreement with this disposition, Paul could truthfully write of himself: So, with our yearning desire for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own souls, because you have become beloved to us. So great was Paul's affection for the Thessalonians that he yearned over them with loving desire, that he was perfectly willing, gladly desirous, not only to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to them, but also to lay down, with Silas, his very life for their sakes, such a firm place had they gained in his affections. Such utter selflessness, such willing self-sacrifice, was bound to convince the Thessalonians of the purity of Paul's affectionate attachment for them and repel any, even distant, insinuation and imputation of covetousness and false ambition.
The apostle furthermore reminds the Thessalonians of his actual ministerial labors in their midst: For you remember, brethren, our toil and travail; night and day laboring not to be burdensome to any of you, we proclaimed to you the Gospel of God. Paul's ministry in Thessalonica had been performed in the sight of all men, and it was not so long ago that they could not readily recollect his strenuous labor, connected with various disagreeable features, while he was living in their city. It is probable from this passage that Paul, also in Thessalonica, worked at his trade and supported himself, receiving help only twice, from the congregation at Philippi, Php_4:16 . It was a rather strenuous life which he led, rising before dawn to work at his handicraft, taking the best hours of the day and evening to proclaim the precious Gospel of God, the news of the salvation of all men which had been entrusted to him by the Lord Himself. All this Paul cheerfully took upon himself in order not to burden the Thessalonians with his support; not even the necessaries of life he sought from them, in order that his intercourse with them might be one of continual giving on his part.
At the same time the apostle was conscious of his own integrity: You are witnesses, and God, that our behavior was holy and just and irreproachable before you that believe. Two classes of witnesses Paul calls upon, men, to testify to his actions and behavior, God, to bear witness of the purity of his disposition and motives. He could calmly state that his behavior, his conduct, had been holy, in the sight of God, with regard to his reverence toward God, just and fair in his relation to his fellowmen, without reproach in his whole deportment before men, in his capacity of God's ambassador to proclaim sin and grace. Thus had Paul comported himself before the Thessalonians, with reference to them, thus offering a fine example and pattern to all pastors and teachers to live a life of true sanctification before men.
While leading such a life, however, Paul had not for a moment omitted the work of his calling: Even as you know how we treated each and every one of you as a father does his own children, beseeching you and consoling and testifying that you should walk worthy of God, who called you to His own kingdom and glory. Paul's pastoral work was both general and special; he addressed his teaching to the entire congregation as well as to every individual member; and it was done with all the loving care of a father interested in the highest welfare of his children. Note the excellent pedagogical hint which lies in this sentence. He had earnestly exhorted or admonished them when faintness threatened to take hold of their hearts; he had encouraged and strengthened them when their hearts were in need of consolation; he had testified to them, he had adjured them to lead their lives in such a way as to be worthy of God, since it was to Him that they owed their call into His kingdom and to participation in His glory. Thus Paul combined the sweetness of evangelical preaching with the earnestness of evangelical admonition, thus he prepared the Christians in his charge for the continuous coming of Christ into their hearts and for the final coming of Christ in glory.
The Manner in Which the Thessalonians Received the Gospel
They accepted the Gospel and bore its burdens:
v. 13. for this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
v. 14. For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus; for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews;
v. 15. who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men,
v. 16. forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
The apostle had just mentioned the fact that God had called the Thessalonian Christians into the kingdom of His grace. This fact causes him to launch forth into another thanksgiving: And on this account also we give thanks to God without ceasing, namely, that, receiving from us the Word of preaching, which is of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it truly is, the Word of God, who also works effectively in you that believe. Paul had come to Thessalonica as the avowed messenger of God, claiming for the Gospel which he preached divine origin. It was therefore a matter of much gratification and of sincere thanksgiving to him that the Thessalonians received the Word which he brought in the same spirit; they not only heard the preaching with the ears of their body, but they also acknowledged God as the Author and Sender of the message. Paul had not come in his own name, but as the agent and ambassador of God, and in this sense they had accepted his message and call, not as the mere word of men, but for that which it is in truth, the Word of God. This fact was further impressed upon them by the fact that they could not deny the effective working of God through the medium of the Word; they felt His power in the Word. The Thessalonian Christians were effectively and continuously confirmed in their faith by the Word of Grace which was proclaimed to them. Note: The acceptance of the Gospel as the Word of God, as the divine message for man's salvation, is essential for faith; it is this confidence which must precede and accompany the certainty of salvation.
Paul now explains why he felt justified in drawing these conclusions: For you became imitators, brethren, of the congregations of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus, for the same things suffered also you from your own countrymen, as also they from the Jews. If the Word of the Gospel had not gotten such an effective hold on the Thessalonian Christians, if they had not had the firm conviction that the Gospel was the Word of God, they would hardly have been willing to bear its burdens. But now Paul says in their praise that they have followed in the footsteps of the congregations in Judea, that they were having the same experiences in the interest of the Gospel which the brethren had that had heard the Gospel-message first. The Christians in Judea had suffered persecution at the hands of the Jews; the Christians of Thessalonica were meeting with the same treatment at the hands of their countrymen. In both cases the congregations were in Christ Jesus, united with Him in the most intimate fellowship, not only deriving their spiritual life from Him, but having their life in His sphere; in both cases, therefore, they suffered persecution, 2 Timothy 3:12. That is the lot of all Christians, but it is incidentally a pretty fair indication of the faith which lives in them.
In a passage some of whose thoughts remind one of the speech of Stephen, Acts 7:1-60, Paul now arraigns the Jews for their stubborn opposition and hatred of the true Church: Who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets as well as they persecuted us, and please not God, and are opposed to all men, hindering us to preach to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always; but the wrath was manifested upon them to the end. It may have been that this thought was suggested to the apostle by the fact that detractors might allege his having been denounced and persecuted by his own countrymen as a point against him. But Paul shows that the hatred of the unbelieving Jews had been directed even against the Lord Jesus. They had killed the Lord Jesus Himself as well as their own prophets, 1 Corinthians 2:8; Acts 7:52; small wonder, then, that they were persecuting His servant. It was evident, therefore, that their actions could not possibly be well pleasing to the Lord, that they were an abomination in his sight, that they were proving hostile to all men by their behavior. They had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, for they hindered the apostle from bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, lest the latter should have an advantage over them in being heirs to the salvation which they rejected. By this entire list of hostile acts, moreover, they were heading toward a terrible result and end: they were filling up the measure of their sins to the very top: with every new transgression they were approaching nearer to the limit of God's forbearance. And so the wrath of God must now discharge itself; the Jews are ripe for the judgment of God, it was even then imminent, and His wrath was poured out upon them at the destruction of Jerusalem. See Matthew 23:37-39; Matthew 24:16; Daniel 9:24. Note: The fate of the Jews is a warning example for all times, bidding all men to refrain from all enmity to the Word of God.
Paul's attempts to visit the Thessalonians:
v. 17. But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.
v. 18. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I, Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
v. 19. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?
v. 20. For ye are our glory and joy.
Here the apostle returns once more to the declaration of the cordial affection which he felt for the Thessalonian Christians: But we, brethren, bereft of you for a little while, in presence, not in heart, strove all the more to see your face with great desire. With great emphasis Paul places himself at the head of the sentence, in order once more to indicate to the Thessalonians the sincerity of his affection for them. He had been bereft of them, of their company, of their loving intercourse, for some little time. But he hastens to add that this was in presence only, not in heart, for in his heart he was just as closely connected with them as ever. But even this short absence had resulted in bringing out a homesick longing for them, which made him desire to be with them more than ever. It was not a case of leaving his disciples in the lurch, not a matter of "out of sight, out of mind"; on the contrary, his absence had been unavoidable, and his longing to see them could not be fulfilled.
He had also tried to get back to Thessalonica: Wherefore we craved to come to you, even I, Paul, once and a second time, and Satan hindered us. The apostle was not indulging in cheap phrases in assuring the Thessalonians of his continued interest in them and their welfare, but he had honestly attempted to visit them, just as had Silas and Timothy. He had, for his own person, tried time and again, but the obstacle was of a nature which effectually prevented his coming. Just in what this hindrance consisted which Paul ascribes to the agency of Satan does not appear from the context. It may have been an illness of some kind, or it may have been the fact that Jason and other Christians of Thessalonica had been bound over by the politarchs of Thessalonica to keep the peace by preventing Paul's return. At any rate, Paul had done all in his power to visit them again.
And yet another thought the apostle commends to their consideration: For who is our hope or joy or crown or glorying if not you in the presence of our Lord Jesus in His royal visit? For you are our glory and joy. This is an appeal which was bound to have some influence upon the Thessalonian Christians that mere inclined to doubt the sincerity of the apostle. For, he asks, who could possibly hope to take their place in his affections which they are now holding. They were the subject of his hope: he was sure that they would remain steadfast in the Word and faith until the end: they were the object of his joy, he was happy that they had accepted the Gospel of their salvation with such willing hearts: they were the crown of his glorying, they were his pride and delight, like the garland which crowns the victor at the end of a race of which he may boast. To this experience Paul is looking forward at the coming of Christ, when He makes His final, royal visit to the earth on the last great day. The Thessalonian Christians were verily the glory and joy of the apostle in this respect; the glory of their eternal salvation would reflect upon him and thus, at least in part, add to the bliss of his eternal salvation.
The apostle shows that his coming to Thessalonica was not in selfish ambition, but in disinterested, loving devotion; he praises the eager acceptance which the Gospel found in the midst of the Thessalonians, and tells of his unsuccessful attempts to visit them.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany