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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:1. Our entrance in … was not in vain.—The word for “vain” here is the same as that in the first half of “ceno-taph.” The entrance into Thessalonica, we might say colloquially, “had something in it.”
1 Thessalonians 2:2. Suffered before.—Previously, that is, to our entrance to Thessalonica. And were shamefully entreated.—The acute sense of suffering in mind shows how far St. Paul was from Stoicism. It is this same exquisite sensibility which makes possible the beautiful courtesy with which, in his letters, we are so familiar. With much contention.—All the watchfulness required by one in the arena and all the danger incident to a false movement characterised St. Paul’s work.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:1-2
Essential Elements of Success in Preaching. I. Boldness.
Outsiders testified of the success of the gospel, and the apostles could confidently appeal to the converts in confirmation of the report. “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you that it was not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 2:1). In the first twelve verses of this chapter Paul is describing the special features of their ministry, the manner and spirit of their preaching; and what he denies is, not so much that their labours had been vain, fruitless, and without result, as he denies that those labours were in themselves vain, frivolous empty of all human earnestness, and of divine truth and force. We trace in their ministerial endeavours four essential elements that are ever found in all successful preaching—boldness, sincerity, gentleness, moral consistency. Consider, first, their boldness.
I. This boldness manifested in the earnest declaration of the truth.—“We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Bold in their conception of the divine origin and vast scope of the gospel, and its wondrous adaptation to the wants of universal man, they were not less bold in its faithful proclamation. Their deep conviction of the supreme authority of the truth gave them unusual courage. We see the same intrepid spirit in Paul on other occasions, when his fearless words roused the ire of Festus, shook the conscience of the thoughtless Felix, or swayed the heart of Agrippa towards a wise decision. We see it in Elijah as he rebuked the sins of the wicked Ahab with withering invectives, or threw the baffled priests of Baal into maddening hysteria—himself the while unmoved and confident. We see it conspicuously in Him, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, whose burning words assailed every form of wrong, and who did not scruple to denounce the deluded leaders of a corrupt Church in the most scathing terms—“Ye serpents! ye generation of vipers! How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” “With much contention”—amid much conflict and danger. This kind of preaching provoked opposition and involved them in great inward struggles. The faithful messenger of God fears not the most violent assault from without; but the thought of the fatal issues to those who obstinately reject and fight against the gospel fills him with agonising concern.
II. This boldness no suffering could daunt.—“Even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). They had come fresh from a city where they had been cruelly outraged. Though Roman citizens, they had been publicly scourged and, to add to their degradation, were thrust into the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks—treatment reserved for the vilest felons. But so far from being dismayed, their sufferings only deepened their love for the gospel and inflamed the passion to make it known. A German professor has lately made experiments with chalcedony and other quartzose minerals, and he has demonstrated that when such stones are ground on large and rapidly revolving wheels they exhibit a brilliant phosphorescent glow throughout their entire mass. So is it with the resolute worker. The more he is ground under the strong wheel of suffering and persecution, the more intensely will his entire character glow with the radiance of an unquenchable bravery.
III. This boldness was divinely inspired.—“We were bold in our God” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). It was not the froth of a senseless presumption, not the wild, aimless effort of a reckless bravado; but the calm, grand heroism of a profound faith in the divine. They fell back completely upon God, and drew their deepest inspiration and mightiest strength from Him. The prophet Jeremiah, in a moment of despondency, decided to “speak no more in the name of the Lord”; but when he could say, “The Lord is with me as a mighty, terrible One,” his courage returned, and he obeyed implicitly the divine mandate, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Similarly commissioned, Paul once exclaimed, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Endowed with the like spirit, Luther uttered his noble protest at the Diet of Worms—“Here I stand: I cannot do otherwise: God help me!”
1. Boldness is absolutely indispensable in attacking, not simply in the mass, but in detail, the crying evils of the age.
2. Boldness is acquired only by studious and prayerful familiarity with God’s message and with God.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:1-2. The Preaching of the Gospel not in Vain.
I. It is not in vain as respects the end and object of the gospel itself.—
2. Sanctification or edification.
II. It was not in vain as respected the objects of the apostle.—
1. His commission was to preach the gospel. He did it.
2. To gather in souls. He did so.
3. His reward was the approbation of Christ and seals to His ministry. He had both.
III. It was not in vain as respected the Thessalonians.—They were turned from idolatry; their hearts glowed with new feelings; their characters shone with new graces.—Stewart.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:3. For our exhortation.—The word reminds us of Christ’s word, “I will send you another Advocate”—“Paraclete.” Our advocacy of the gospel of Christ was not born of error. Was not of deceit, nor uncleanness, nor guile.—Perhaps we might paraphrase thus: We were not ourselves mistaken as to the subject-matter of our preaching, we used no “dirty tricks” in the way of its publication, we baited no hooks for unwilling souls.
1 Thessalonians 2:4. As we were allowed of God.—The original word means “to approve after testing”—or, as God knows without testing, as it is applied to Him it simply means—“we were approved of God.” To be put in trust.—R.V. “to be intrusted.” “ ‘To be put in trust with the gospel’ is the highest conceivable responsibility; the sense of it is enough to exclude every base motive and deceitful practice” (Findlay). Not as pleasing men.—The vice condemned in slaves is equally reprehensible if it should appear in the minister of the gospel. But God, which trieth the hearts.—“Alloweth” and “trieth” are different forms of the same verb. Like an assayer whose methods are perfect, God makes manifest what is in man’s heart.
1 Thessalonians 2:5. For neither at any time used we flattering words.—“His friends well knew that he was not one to
‘Crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning’ ” (Ibid.).
Nor a cloke of covetousness.—The same thing perhaps as a mode of flattering speech. Fulsome flattering is either the mark of a mind hopelessly abject or the craft of a designing mind. Much fair speech and the flattering of the lips still lead fools by the nose (Proverbs 7:21) to where “covetousness” dwells.
1 Thessalonians 2:6. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others.—“The motive of ambition—‘that last infirmity of noble minds’—rises above the selfishness just disclaimed; but it is just as warmly repudiated, for it is equally inconsistent with the single-mindedness of men devoted to the glory of God. Our Lord finds in superiority to human praise the mark of a sincere faith (John 5:44)” (Ibid.). When we might have been burdensome.—A.V. margin, “used authority.” R.V. margin, “claimed honour”—literally in weight—an ambiguous phrase whose sense is interpreted by 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (Ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:3-6
Essential Elements of Success in Preaching. II. Sincerity.
The devout Richard Baxter once said: “The ministerial work must be managed purely for God and the salvation of the people, and not for any private ends of our own. This is our sincerity in it. A wrong end makes all the work bad from us, however good in itself.” In order to success, it is necessary not only to display a fearless courage, but also a spirit of unmistakable ingenuousness and sincerity. As the mountain tarn reflects the clear, chaste light of the stars as they kindle in the heavens, so the preacher reflects in his outward conduct the pure and lofty motives by which he is animated and sustained. We observe, in connection with the preaching of the gospel at Thessalonica, sincerity in motive, in speech, in aim.
I. Sincerity in motive.—“For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile” (1 Thessalonians 2:3). The apostle disclaims the harbouring of evil intentions in relation to God, himself, and others.
1. In relation to God.—“Not of deceit”—not in error. Having received the truth from God and about God, he transmits it in all its integrity, without error or imposture.
2. In relation to himself.—“Nor of uncleanness.” Pure in his own affection and purpose, he preached a gospel that was pure in itself, in its tendency, and in its experienced results.
3. In relation to others.—“Not in guile.” He sought not to propagate the gospel by any fraudulent wiles or false representations. He descended not to hypocrisy to catch men. “Hypocrites,” says St. Bernard, “desire to seem not to be good; not to seem, but to be evil: they care not to follow or practise virtue, but to colour vice by putting upon it the painted complexion of virtue.” The life of the man whose motives are thus sincere will be transparent as the light. A certain king of Castile, who had been only too familiar with the duplicity of mankind, once somewhat arrogantly said, “When God made man He left one capital defect: He ought to have set a window in his breast.” The sincere man opens a window in his own breast by the whole tenor of His words and actions, so that his innermost thoughts are apparent.
II. Sincerity in speech.—
1. The preacher speaks under a solemn sense of responsibility. “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). To their charge, as men tested and approved of God, was committed the precious treasure of the gospel; and keenly conscious of the unutterable riches with which they were entrusted, they were deeply solicitous to distribute the same in all faithfulness and sincerity. Every gift we receive from Heaven has its corresponding responsibility.
2. The preacher seeks chiefly the divine approval.—“Not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). There is much in the gospel distasteful to the natural man—its humiliating exposure of our depravity and helplessness, its holiness, its mysteries, the unbending severity of its law, and the absolute character of its claims. The temptation is sometimes great to temper and modify the truth to carnal prejudice, and sacrifice faithfulness to popularity. But the apostles risked everything so that they secured the divine approval. “As of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.”
3. The preacher must practise neither adulation nor deception.—“For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness” (1 Thessalonians 2:5). “Flattery,” says Plutarch, “has been the ruin of many states.” But alas! who can tell the souls it has for ever undone? Truth is too sedate and solid to indulge in meaningless flattery. It is only the vain and self-conceited who can be deceived by adulation.
III. Sincerity in aim.—“Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:6). The sincere aim of the apostles was seen:—
1. In the generous suppression of the authority with which they were invested.—“When we might have been burdensome as the apostles of Christ.” Whether we understand this authority as exercised in foregoing for the time being their legitimate claim of maintenance by the Church, or as restraining the exhibition of the dignity and power of their apostleship—which latter view is generally admitted to be the true exegesis—it was equally honourable to the pure and disinterested character of their highest aim.
2. In the absence of all selfish ambition.—“Nor of men sought we glory.” They could conscientiously aver, “We seek not yours, but you.” “I love a serious preacher,” says Fénélon, “who speaks for my sake and not for his own; who seeks my salvation and not his own glory.” It is said of one of the ancient fathers that he wept at the applause frequently given to his discourses. “Would to God,” said he, “they had rather gone away silent and thoughtful!” It is a sorry and painfully disappointing end to preach for mere ephemeral human praise. Such a man may sink into the grave with the touching lament of Grotius, “Alas! I have lost my life in doing nothing with great labour!”—though in his case it was an unduly despondent estimate of his life-work. When Christ is to be exalted, the preacher must be willing to be unnoticed.
1. Sincerity in proclaiming the truth can be acquired only by personal experience of its power.
2. Sincerity is deepened by a conscious divine commission.
3. Sincerity is unmistakably evidenced in word and deed.
4. Sincerity is satisfied only in aiming at the highest results in preaching.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:3-6. Apostolic Preaching characterised by Transparent Truth.
I. The doctrine was opposed to every form of impurity (1 Thessalonians 2:3).—
1. It was itself pure.
2. It received no tinge of impurity from the apostle’s mind.
3. Its results were pure.
II. The preaching was free from insincerity and selfishness (1 Thessalonians 2:4).—
1. They avoided flattery. Love of favour (1 Thessalonians 2:5).
2. They avoided covetousness. Aggrandisement (1 Thessalonians 2:5).
3. They avoided vainglory. Love of applause (1 Thessalonians 2:6). Three rocks on which thousands have been shipwrecked.—Stewart.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:7. But we were gentle.—R.V. margin says, “Most ancient authorities read babes.” Origen and Augustine interpret this to mean, “Like a nurse amongst her children, talking in baby language to the babes” (Ibid.). As a nurse cherisheth her children.—The A.V. has omitted a necessary word of the original which R.V. supplies—“her own children.” The word for “cherisheth” is used in Deuteronomy 22:5 (LXX.) of the mother-bird brooding over her nestlings (a figure made memorable by our Lord’s mournful words over Jerusalem). The word occurs again only in Ephesians 5:29.
1 Thessalonians 2:8. Being affectionately desirous.—The one Greek word corresponding to these three “implies the fondness of a mother’s love—yearning over you” (Ibid.). We were willing.—R.V. “well-pleased.” Like Him of whom it is said, “He gives liberally,” without stint. Our own souls.—“Our very selves,” for the saving of which, says our Master, a man may well let the world slip. The apostle keeps up the maternal figure.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
Essential Elements of Success in Preaching. III. Gentleness.
There is a power in gentleness to subdue the wildest, mightiest opposition, and to triumph over the most gigantic difficulties. The gentle rays of the sun melt the ponderous iceberg more speedily than the rolling billows of an angry ocean; the silent action of the atmosphere wastes the rock which remains immovable under the strokes of the heaviest weapon; a look from Moses vanquished the calf-idolatry of the Israelites which the fluent eloquence of Aaron had been powerless to resist; a calm, quiet word from Jesus paralysed with fear the band of soldiers who came to arrest Him in Gethsemane. True gentleness is never weak. It is the tough, indestructible material out of which is formed the hero and the martyr. This quality was conspicuous in the preachers at Thessalonica.
I. It was the gentleness of patient endurance.—
1. It enabled them to bear the insult and outrage of their enemies. Their preaching roused violent opposition. They retaliated by praying for their persecutors. Against physical force they fought with moral weapons; and this attitude and policy had a powerful influence on their enraged adversaries. The modern preacher can adopt no better method. The offence of the cross has not yet ceased. It stirs up all the enmity of the carnal mind. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves.” The power of a man is seen, not so much in what he can do, as in what he can endure. It is only the Christian spirit that unites the utmost gentleness with the utmost strength.
2. It enabled them to bear with the weakness and imperfections of their converts.—“As a nurse cherisheth her children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7)—as a nursing mother cherisheth her own children. They watched over them with the tenderest assiduity, instructed them with the most disinterested solicitude, accommodated and assimilated themselves to their infant standpoint with all the devotion of a fond, painstaking parent. In order to successful teaching, in spiritual as in secular subjects, we must study the child-nature—take into account the influence of environment, early prejudices, differing capacities and temperaments, and the direction of characteristic tendencies. See this illustrated in the divine treatment of the Israelites under Moses and the great Jewish leaders, and in the training of the twelve by the great Teacher.
II. It was the gentleness of self-sacrificing love.—“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
1. This gentleness arose from a genuine love of human souls.—“Because ye were dear unto us.” Love is the great master-power of the preacher. After this he strives and toils with ever-increasing earnestness as the years speed on; and it is the grace that comes latest and slowest into the soul. No amount of scholastic attainment, of able and profound exposition, of brilliant and stirring eloquence, can atone for the absence of a deep, impassioned, sympathetic love of human souls. The fables of the ancients tell us of Amphion, who, with the music of his lyre, drew after him the huge stones with which to build the walls of Thebes, and of Orpheus, who, by his skill on the harp, could stay the course of rivers and tame the wildest animals. These are but exaggerated examples of the wondrous charm of the soul-compelling music of love. “I have always been afraid,” said a devoted young minister, now no more, “of driving my people away from the Saviour. I would rather err on the side of drawing them.” The seraphic John Fletcher once said, “Love, continual, universal, ardent love is the soul of all the labour of a minister.”
2. The intensity of their love awoke a spirit of voluntary self-sacrifice.—“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.” To accomplish the salvation of their hearers they were willing to surrender life itself. This was the temper of the divine Preacher who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life.” A similar spirit imbued the apostle when he assured the weeping elders of Ephesus in that pathetic interview on the lonely shore—“Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus.” The love of science nerves the adventurous voyager to brave the appalling dangers of the arctic ice, amid which so many have found a crystal tomb; but a nobler love inspires the breast of the humble worker, who cheerfully sacrifices all this world holds dear to rescue men from woe.
1. That gentleness is a power not only in patient endurance, but also in enterprising action.
2. That gentleness is indispensable to effectiveness, either in warning or reproof. It succeeds where a rigid austerity fails.
3. That gentleness is fostered and regulated by a deep, self-sacrificing love.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. Dealing with New Converts.
I. Divine principles have to unfold themselves in unfavourable circumstances.—
1. Moral influence from without.
2. Jewish misrepresentation.
II. Must be treated with gentleness.—
1. In the adaptation of teaching to suit their state.
2. In the manner and spirit of the instruction given.
III. Must be treated with affectionate self-sacrificingness (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:9. Labour and travail.—The same words occur together at 2 Corinthians 11:27. The former is used some twenty times, the latter only three in the New Testament. One marks the fatigue of the work, “the lassitude or weariness which follows on this straining of all his powers to the utmost” (Trench). The other gives prominence to the hardship or difficulty of the task. That we might not burden any of you (see 1 Thessalonians 2:6).—Any support that could have been given would have been a trifle indeed (1 Corinthians 9:11) as compared with the self-sacrifice of the apostolic toilers.
1 Thessalonians 2:10. Ye are witnesses, and God also.—A solemn reiteration (see 1 Thessalonians 2:5). Holily and justly and umblameably.—“The holy man has regard to the sanctities, the righteous man to the duties of life; but duty is sacred and piety is duty. They cover the whole field of conduct regarded in turn from the religious and moral standpoint, while unblamably affixes the seal of approval both by God and man” (Findlay).
1 Thessalonians 2:11. Exhorted and comforted.—As the former points to the stimulation in the apostolic addresses, so the latter to the soothing element. The noun related to the latter verb is found in Philippians 2:1, and is translated by R.V. “consolation.” As a father with his own children.—The maternal tenderness is united with the discipline of a true father.
1 Thessalonians 2:12. Walk worthy of God.—St. Paul’s “Noblesse oblige.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Essential Elements of Success in Preaching. IV. Moral Consistency.
The writer, in dwelling on the manner and spirit of preaching, has shown the necessity of boldness, sincerity, and gentleness as powerful instrumentalities in achieving success. In these verses he insists on the moral consistency of the individual life and conduct. As the time indicated on the dial answers to the perfect mechanism of the watch, so the personal example of the preacher must answer to the words he utters. The most accomplished elocution, the most impassioned and captivating utterance will be fruitless unless backed with the strength of a complete, well-rounded, all-beautiful spiritual character. Paul and his co-helpers could fearlessly appeal to their hearers, and in all humility to God, in attestation of the moral consistency of their private and public action.
I. Their moral consistency seen in the unselfish principle that governed them in their work.—“For ye remember, brethren, our labours and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9). The apostle invariably asserted the obligation of ministerial maintenance by the Church. In another place he emphatically affirms that, not merely naked equity and the spirit of the Mosaic law, but also a positive ordinance of Christ requires that just as “they which ministered about holy things lived of the things of the temple, and they which waited at the altar were partakers with the altar, even so they which preach the gospel shall live of the gospel.” In the special circumstances and early stage of the work at Thessalonica, the apostle waived this righteous claim. It might be on account of the poverty of the majority of the converts, or more probably on account of the charge of covetousness their enemies had diligently circulated. To crush all suspicion of interested motives and self-seeking, those noble missionaries refused “to be chargeable unto any one of them,” depending for their support upon the occasional remittances of the liberal Philippians, and on their own manual labour. Thus did they evidence their supreme desire to be, not mercenary gain, but the proclamation of the gospel of God—an example which has its counterpart in the brave, devoted, self-denying labours of many a modern missionary.
II. Their moral consistency seen in the maintenance of a blameless deportment.—“Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:10). A Roman prince of the celebrated house of Colonna, whose virtues had sustained him alike in prosperous and adverse times, was once driven into exile, and when reduced to extremity was asked, “Where is now your fortress?” He laid his hand upon his heart, and answered, “Here!” A conscious sense of integrity threw a strength and majesty around him in the midst of poverty and suffering. It was an inward consciousness of purity that prompted these Christian workers to appeal to those who were best acquainted with their walk and conversation. They behaved holily toward God, justly toward men, and unblamably in all things. “Among them that believe.” Believers could best understand the secret of their whole life, its aims and motives, its tendencies and issues, and on them it would have an irresistible impression. It is often the fate of the public teacher, while blameless, to be unmercifully blamed by those who are outside the circle of his work. The world retains all its historic enmity to the truth, and is as venomous as ever in its expression.
No might, nor greatness in mortality
Can censure ’scape: back-wounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes.”
III. Their moral consistency seen in their persistent endeavours to stimulate their converts to the highest attainments.—
1. This is evident in the lofty standard set up. “That ye walk worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). How sublime and dignified the Christian character may become—to walk worthily of God!—in harmony with His nature, His law, with our profession of attachment to Him. To the production of this grand result all their efforts were bent. “As a father doth his children,” so they “exhorted” with all earnestness, “comforted” with all loving sympathy, and “charged” with all fidelity and authority. The preacher must be master of every art necessary to success.
2. This is evident in the sublime motive that should animate us in reaching the standard.—The divine, heavenly calling. “Who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12)—His own glorious kingdom. We are invited to enter this kingdom on earth, and participate in its blessings; but the full splendours of that kingdom are reserved for the heavenly world. How brief and insignificant will the sufferings and sorrows of the present appear, contrasted with the ineffable bliss of the future state! “Do you want anything?” eagerly asked the loved ones who surrounded the dying couch of Melancthon. “Nothing but heaven,” was the gentle response, and he went smiling on his way.
1. In order to success in preaching moral consistency of life must accompany and sustain the faithful declaration of the truth.
2. That the greatest success is achieved when the highest experience of the Christian life is constantly enforced by both precept and example.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:9-12. The High Moral Feeling that should influence the Preacher.—Illustrated by Paul’s work and conduct.
I.In preaching the gospel.
II.In labouring for his own support.
III.In his behaviour.—
1. Towards God. “Holily.”
2. Towards others. “Justly.”
3. Unblamable. Prudent and inoffensive. He could appeal to man and God.—Stewart.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:13. The word of God which ye heard of us.—R.V. “the word of the message, even the word of God.” The preposition “from us” is “properly used in relation to objects which come from the neighbourhood of a person—out of his sphere” (Winer); but the word originates, not with Paul, but in God. Which effectually worketh also.—There is no original word corresponding to “effectually” here; but the word “worketh” of itself, unemphasised, is too weak. We might almost say “becomes energetic.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1 Thessalonians 2:13
The Correct Estimate of Gospel Truth.
We have before stated that the population of Thessalonica consisted of two diverse classes, Greek and Jew—the one representing the philosophy of paganism, the other being the custodian of the sacred truths of Revelation. Among the Hebrews Moses was recognised as the central human figure and head of their legal system, and his words were profoundly venerated; and the Gentiles were not less devout and ardent in their admiration of Plato and his far-seeing wisdom. The influence of these two systems was all-potent with the Thessalonians; it supplied thought, moulded character and life, and filled up the widest circle of their hopes. The gospel impinged upon these ancient and revered institutions, and they reeled beneath the shock. The bigoted followers of Moses and Plato were compelled to admit the higher authority of the apostolic message. They formed a correct estimate of gospel truth when they “received it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.”
I. The gospel is superior to all human wisdom.—It is “not the word of men.”
1. Human wisdom is limited in its range. The greatest mind is restricted in its knowledge, and imperfect in using what it knows. A celebrated Roman scholar once exclaimed with petulance and disgust: “The human mind wanders in a diseased delirium, and it is therefore not surprising that there is no possible folly which philosophers, at one time or another, have not propounded as a lesson of wisdom.”
2. Human wisdom is changeable.—Aristotle, the great father of natural philosophy, summed up his impressions on this subject with his usual hard, unyielding logic when he said: “There is no difference between what men call knowledge and mere opinion; therefore, as all opinion is uncertain, there can be no certainty in human knowledge.”
3. Human wisdom is unsatisfying.—It is with a sigh of bitter disappointment that one of the most profound thinkers of antiquity concluded his long and deep inquiry into human affairs, and summed up the result with these sad, melancholy words: “Nothing can be known; nothing therefore can be learned; nothing can be certain; the senses are limited and delusive; intellect is weak; life is short!”
II. The gospel is essentially divine.—
1. It is authoritative. There is an old proverb, “When the lion roars, the beasts of the forest tremble.” So when the gospel speaks, unbelievers may well be filled with fear. Milton thus describes Adam in his innocency advancing to meet his celestial visitor: He
“walks forth without more train
Accompanied than with His own complete
Perfections: in Himself was all His state.”
In like manner God’s word comes to us clothed with the majesty and authority of its own innate power. It bonds the ear to attention, the mind to faith, the heart to reverence, the will and conscience to obedience.
2. It is immutable.—It is “the word of the Lord that liveth and abideth for ever.”
(1) Its promises are sure;
(2) its threatenings will certainly be executed.
3. It is complete.—There is nothing to add, nothing to subtract. It contains the fullest revelation of God, of man, of eternal issues—such as can never be found elsewhere.
4. It is worthy of universal credence.—“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” It is to the everlasting commendation of the Thessalonians, and of millions since their day, that when they heard the word of God they “received it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.”
III. The gospel is efficacious in transforming character.—“Which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” As the planet receiving the light of the sun is transformed into an imitation sun, so the believing soul receiving the light of the word is changed into the image of that word. Whatever the divine word prescribes, that it works in us. Does it prescribe repentance?—it works repentance; faith?—it works faith; obedience?—it works obedience; knowledge?—it enlightens to know. Its transforming power is continually demonstrated. It makes the niggardly generous, the profane holy, the drunkard sober, the profligate chaste. Faith is the vital force that connects the soul with this converting power.
IV. The correct estimate of gospel truth is matter of ceaseless thanksgiving to the preacher.—“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing.” No disappointment is keener to the anxious preacher than that of unproductive labour. Some of the choicest ministers of God have to mourn over comparative failure. Think of the anguish of the sympathetic Jeremiah when the word of the Lord which he declared was turned into daily reproach and derision; and of Ezekiel, when he wept over rebellious Israel! But the joy of success is irrepressible, and the full heart pours out its thanks to God. “They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.”
1. The word of man, while it may charm the understanding, is powerless to change the heart.
2. The correct estimate of gospel truth is to regard it as the word of God.
3. The word of God is efficacious to the individual only as it is received believingly.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE
The Efficacy of the Word of God and the Way of receiving it.
I. The description given of the word.—
1. The word not of men, but of God.
2. Known by its effects.
(1) Producing conviction of sin.
(2) Binding up the broken heart.
II. In what manner it should be received.—
1. With attention and reverence.
2. With humility and teachableness.
3. As the instrument for conversion and edification.—E. Cooper.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:14. Became followers.—R.V. “imitators.” The usual meaning of imitators hardly seems to obtain in full strength here. We cannot think the Thessalonians consciously copied the Judean Christians, to do which they would have had the superfluous task of raising up opposition. The words seem to mean no more than, “Ye came to resemble.” Of your own countrymen.—Lit. “fellow-tribesmen.” One is reminded of Shylock’s words—
“Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1 Thessalonians 2:14
Suffering: the Test of Conversion.
It often happens that suffering reveals new features of individual character, and awakens powers that were before dormant. It takes a great deal to thoroughly rouse some people. We are told that Agrippa had a dormouse that slumbered so profoundly that it would never wake till cast into a cauldron of boiling lead. So there are some natures which put forth all their powers only when in suffering and extremity. The piety of God’s people has been most severely tested in the midst of persecution and affliction. The faith of thousands has failed in the hour of trial, while those who have borne the strain have gained an accession of moral nerve and bravery. The Thessalonians imitated the Churches in Judea in boldly facing the storm of malignant opposition, and standing under it with calm, unconquerable firmness.
I. The suffering of the Thessalonians had a common origin.—“For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews.” Just as the Jews who embraced Christianity met with the maddest violence from their own unbelieving countrymen, so the Gentiles found their fiercest foes among their fellow-countrymen, who blindly clung to the worship of the gods. It is the unkindest cut of all that comes from the sword of our own people—people with whom we have lived in amity and concord, but from whom conscience compels us to differ. Who can fathom the deep anguish of the Psalmist sounding in that sharp, bitter cry of startled surprise, “For it was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it; but it was thou, a man, mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance”! It was a horrible discovery of nature engaged in a terrible suicidal war with itself! Nature grown monstrously unnatural and savagely retaliating on its own: natural love turned into unnatural enmity! What a revelation, too, is this of the desperate nature of all persecution! Its insensate malice rudely sunders all bonds of fatherland, friendship, and kindred. The close affinity between Cain and Abel does not arrest the murderer’s hand; the tender ties between Saul and David, woven with much reciprocal kindness and affection, avail not to curb the mad cruelty of the infuriate king. Ah! how deep and changeless is the truth, “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The suffering that tests is still from the same source, “A man’s foes are they of his own household.”
II. The suffering of the Thessalonians was borne with exemplary Christian fortitude.—“For ye, brethren, became followers of the Churches of God, which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.” The same thought is expressed in the first chapter, where the apostle says, “Ye became followers of us and of the Lord.” For at the head of the long line is Jesus, the Captain of salvation; and all whom He leads to glory walk in His steps, imitate His example, and so become followers one of another. It is not, however, suffering in itself that purifies and exalts Christian character, so much as the spirit in which it is borne. The hardest point of obedience is to obey in suffering. It was enough to cool the fiery ambition of the aspiring disciples when Jesus said, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” And yet the following of Christ in suffering is the true test of discipleship. “He that taketh not his cross and followeth Me is not worthy of Me.” It is a grand proof of the supernatural efficacy of gospel truth that it inspires so intense a love of it as to make us willing to endure the most exquisite suffering for its sake. The love of truth becomes supreme. John Huss, lamenting the rupture of an old and valued friendship, said: “Paletz is my friend; truth is my friend; and both being my friends, it is my sacred duty to give the first honour to truth.” The soul, penetrated with this sublime devotion to truth, will pass unscathed the fiery test of suffering. On the destruction by fire of the London Alexandra Palace a few years ago, it was found that, while many specimens of old English porcelain exhibited there were reduced to a black, shapeless mass, the true porcelain of Bristol, though broken into fragments, still retained its whiteness, and even its most delicate shades of colour, uninjured by the fire. So the truly good, though wounded and maimed, shall survive the fiercest trial, and retain intact all that specially distinguishes and beautifies the Christian character.
1. Our love of the gospel is tested by what we suffer for it.
2. The similarity of experience in all times and places is a strong evidence of the truth of the Christian religion.
3. Suffering does not destroy, but builds up and perfects.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:15. Who both killed.—The New Testament form of the verb is always compound—as we should say, “killed off.” A tragic contrast to what might have been expected is set forth in our Lord’s parable. “It may be they will reverence My Son.” … They cast Him out and killed Him off (Luke 20:13-15). Have persecuted us.—A.V. margin, “chased us out.” R.V. text, “drave.” How deeply humbling was the thought to St. Paul, that he had at one time taken part in this hounding! The A.V. margin gives us a most vivid picture. They please not God.—This expression is thought by some to be a meiosis, a softening down of the hard reality by the negative form of the language. Is not the best comment found in John 16:2, “Whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God”? The sophistry that makes “killing no murder” and sanctions an auto da fé is something quite other than pleasing to God. Are contrary to all men.—“The sense of God’s displeasure often shows itself in sourness and ill temper towards one’s fellows. Unbelief and cynicism go together. The rancour of the Jews against other nations at this time was notorious.… The quarrel between Judaism and the world, alas, still continues, as the Judenhasse of Germany and Russia testifies” (Findlay).
1 Thessalonians 2:16. Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles.—The very spirit of the dog in the manger! They would not even have left the “uncovenanted mercies” to the Gentiles. To fill up their sins alway.—The phrase signifies ripeness for judgment, and is used in Genesis 15:16 of the Amorites in Abraham’s time—an ominous parallel (Ibid.). For the wrath.—R.V, “but the wrath.” As though he said, “But the end comes at last; they have always been sowing this harvest; now it has to be reaped” (Ibid.).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:15-16
The Fury of the Old Religion against the New.
It is the natural order of things that the old must give place to the new. The inexorable operation of the law of progress is seen in a thousand different forms. In the world of vegetation the old life is continually yielding supremacy to the new. The leaves, buds, and blossoms of the tree, as they force their way to the light, fling their shadows on the grave where their predecessors lie decayed and buried—life blooming amid the ghastly emblems of death. And, in the world of religious thought and opinion, while divine truth remains in its essence unchangeably the same, old forms and old definitions are ever giving place to the new. The transition from the old to a new order of things in the progress of religion is not always accomplished without opposition. Age is naturally and increasingly tenacious; and the old religion looks upon the new with suspicion, with jealousy, with fear, with anger. The Jews had resisted the attempts of their own divinely commissioned prophets to rouse the nation to a purer faith and more vigorous religious life; but their fury reached its climax in their blind, unreasonable, and fiendish opposition to Christianity. The text describes the fury of the old religion against the new.
I. The fury of the Jews is seen in their inhuman treatment of the great leaders of religious thought.—“Who both killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us” (1 Thessalonians 2:15).
1. They plotted against the life of the world’s Redeemer; and in spite of insufficient evidence to convict, and the endeavours of the Roman procurator to release, they clamoured for the immediate crucifixion of their innocent Victim, exclaiming in the wild intoxication of malignant passion, “His blood be on us and on our children”—a self-invoked imprecation that fell on them with terrible and desolating vengeance.
2. The sin of murder already darkly stained their race.—The best and noblest of their prophets were unoffending victims: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Zechariah, met with violent deaths. The charge of the proto-martyr Stephen was unanswerable (Acts 7:52).
3. The apostles were subjected to similar treatment.—“And have persecuted us”—have chased and driven us out. They drove them out of Thessalonica, afterwards out of Berœa, and were at that moment engaged in instigating an insurrection to drive the apostle out of Corinth. The spirit of persecution is unchanged. Wherever the attempt is made to raise the Church from the grave of spiritual death and reanimate her creed and ritual with intenser reality and life, it is met with a jealous, angry opposition. What a wretched, short-sighted policy does persecution reveal! It is the idolised weapon of the tyrant and the coward, the sport of the brutal, the sanguinary carnival of demons!
II. The fury of the Jews was displeasing to God.—“They please not God” (1 Thessalonians 2:15). They fondly imagined they were the favourites of heaven, and that all others were excluded from the divine complacency. They had the words of the law carefully committed to memory, and could quote them with the utmost facility to serve their own purpose. They would support their proud assumption of superiority and exclusiveness by quoting Deuteronomy 14:2, wilfully shutting their eyes to the vital difference between the holy intention of Jehovah and their miserably defective realisation of that intention. In their opposition to Christianity they thought they were doing God service; yet all the time they were displeasing to Him. How fatally blinding is sin, goading the soul to the commission of the most horrible crimes under the sacred guise of virtue!
III. The fury of the Jews was hostile to man.—
1. Their hostility was directed against the world of mankind. “Are contrary to all men” (1 Thessalonians 2:15). The Jews of that period delighted in hatching all kinds of “sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion.” They were the adversaries of all, the despisers of all. Tacitus, the Roman historian, brands them as “the enemies of all men”; and Apion, the Egyptian, according to the admission of Josephus, calls them “atheists and misanthropes—in fact, the most witless and dullest of barbarians.”
2. Their hostility was embittered by a despicable religious jealousy.—“Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved” (1 Thessalonians 2:16). Here the fury of the old religion against the new reached its climax. It is the perfection of bigotry and cruelty to deny to our fellow-men the only means of salvation. Into what monsters of barbarity will persecution turn men! Pharaoh persisted to such a degree of unreasonableness as to chastise the Hebrews for not accomplishing impossibilities! Julian, the apostate from Christianity, carried his vengeful spirit to his deathbed, and died cursing the Nazarene!
IV. The fury of the Jews hurried them into irretrievable ruin.—
1. Their wickedness was wilfully persistent. “To fill up their sins always” (1 Thessalonians 2:16)—at all times, now as much as ever. So much so, the time is now come when the cup of their iniquity is filled to the brim, and nothing can prevent the consequent punishment. The desire to sin grows with its commission. “Sinners,” says St. Gregory, “would live for ever that they might sin for ever”—a powerful argument for the endlessness of future punishment. The desire to sin is endless.
2. Their punishment was inevitable and complete.—“For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thessalonians 2:16)—is even now upon them. The process has begun; their fury to destroy others will accelerate their own destruction. Punishment fell upon the wicked, unbelieving, and resisting Jews, and utter destruction upon their national status and religious supremacy (vide Josephus, Wars, Books v., vi.).
1. There is a fearful possibility of sinking into a lifeless formality, and blind, infatuate opposition to the good.
2. The rage of man against the truth defeats its own ends, and recoils in vengeance on himself.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:15-16. The Persecuting Jews—
I. Often misled by professed zeal for truth.
II. Tortured and murdered the noblest men of their own race.
III. Opposed the gospel with violent and unreasoning severity.
IV. Have themselves been persecuted by all the nations among whom they sojourned.
V. Furnish an unanswerable argument for the truth of Christianity.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
1 Thessalonians 2:17. Being taken from you.—R.V. “bereaved of you.” St. Paul, absent from Thessalonica, feels like a parent who has lost a child, and regards them as children who feel the loss of a parent (see John 14:18).
1 Thessalonians 2:18. But Satan hindered us.—Lit. “beat us in.” The figure is a military one, and indicates the obstruction of an enemy’s progress by breaking up the road (destroying bridges, etc.).
1 Thessalonians 2:19. Crown of rejoicing.—R.V. “glorying.” The victor’s wreath. St. Paul regards his steadfast converts as the proof of his successful efforts.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1 Thessalonians 2:17-20
The Power of Satan, Great but Restricted.
St. Paul had a profound, unhesitating belief in the reality and personal activity of Satan. An examination of the apostle’s own writings and discourses places this beyond doubt. We need refer to but a few passages. Satan is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2); “the god of this world, blinding the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:4). To convert to the Christian religion is to bring men “from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). To relapse is “to turn aside after Satan” (1 Timothy 5:15). To commit sin is to “give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). If Paul suffered from some grievous bodily ailment that checked him in his evangelical labours, it was “the angel of Satan to buffet him” (2 Corinthians 12:17); and when he was prevented from paying a visit to the struggling Church at Thessalonica, it was “Satan that hindered him.” Observe:—
I. The power of Satan forcing an unwilling separation.—“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart” (1 Thessalonians 2:17).
1. The separation was painful, but temporary.—“Being taken from you”—literally, being orphaned of you. This grief was like that of a father bereft of his children, or children of their parents. Their emotions were expressed by Jacob—“If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” They hoped speedily to return; and, after the lapse of five years, their hope was realised. Satan acted by means of wicked men (Acts 17:5-8; Acts 17:13).
2. The separation did not lessen their spiritual attachment.—“In presence, not in heart.” Satan may deprive of the opportunity of social intercourse, but not of reciprocal Christian love. Augustine, referring to different kinds of friendship, shows the pre-eminence of the spiritual, where the link is grace and the Spirit of God: “Natural affection want of presence diminisheth; mundane friendship, where profit makes the union, want of profit unlooseth; but spiritual amity nothing dissolves, no, not that which dissolves all others, lack of society.”
II. The power of Satan hindering an earnestly desired visit.—
1. Opposition intensified their desire to see their converts. “Endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire” (1 Thessalonians 2:17). As lime is inflamed by water, as a stream grows more furious by the obstacles set against it, so genuine affection is increased in fervour by that which opposes it.
2. The opposition succeeded in baffling repeated attempts to carry out that desire.—“Wherefore, we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). The apostle halted at Berœa on his way to Athens, and probably attempted then to return to Thessalonica, but was thwarted in his design. Though no express reference is made in the history to the agency of Satan, Paul had unmistakable evidence of its operation in many ways. Satan hindered us—perhaps by imprisonment, tempests at sea, or by keeping him so fully occupied with incessant conflicts and ever-new tribulations of his own, as to leave him no leisure for carrying out his plan. The verb signifies to cut a trench in the way of a pursuing enemy, so as to hinder his progress.
III. The power of Satan unable to rob the Christian worker of the joy and reward of success.—Great as is the power of Satan, it is not omnipotent. The Christian warrior can successfully withstand it (Ephesians 6:11-13); and he is assured that God will bruise Satan under his feet (Romans 16:20).
1. Success in soul-saving is productive of unutterable joy.—“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye?” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). The merchant rejoices over his gains, the warrior over his victories, the artist over the achievements of genius; but there is no joy so sweet, so exquisite, so abiding, as the successful winner of souls.
2. The joy of success in soul-saving will be among the highest rewards of the future.—“In the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). The return of Christ to heaven, after the judgment, is here compared to the solemnity of a triumph, in which the apostle is to appear crowned in token of victory over the false religions of the world, attended by his converts; and because they are the cause of his being thus crowned, they are, by a beautiful figure of speech, called his crown of rejoicing. Special honour is promised to the successful worker (Daniel 12:3).
(1) Joy enhanced by the recognitions in the future life. “Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” If Paul knows his converts in the heavenly world, shall we not know our loved ones who have gone before?
(2) By the presence and approbation of the Lord Jesus for whom we have laboured. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
1. The power of Satan works through many agencies; therefore we have need of watchfulness.
2. The power of Satan is limited: therefore we need not be discouraged.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
1 Thessalonians 2:18. Satanic Hindrances—
I. Are veiled by subtle and specious pretexts.
II. Work mischief in individuals and in Churches.
III. May succeed in diverting for a time the best intentions of the good.
IV. Should be diligently and prayerfully watched.
V. Are frustrated by a superior power.
1 Thessalonians 2:19-20. The Joy of a Minister in his Converts—
I. As they are living witnesses of the power of the gospel.
II. As they are the crowning reward of his labours.
III. As he shares the joy of Christ in their salvation and final glory.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany