A. Paul proves he was sincere and not a charlatan.
1. (1-2) The integrity of Paul's ministry in Thessalonica.
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.
a. For you yourselves know opens a section where Paul will defend his own character and ministry before the Thessalonians. This wasn't because Paul was insecure about his ministry, but because he had many enemies in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-6 and 17:13) who discredited him in his absence, especially because of his hurried departure from Thessalonica. Paul's enemies said he left town quickly because he was a self-serving coward.
i. Paul will speak in a personal manner, but this really wasn't a personal issue for Paul. He knew that it mattered for the sake of the gospel. If Paul could be discredited, then the gospel message itself would be discredited.
b. Even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi: Would Paul carry on in the face of beatings and conflict if he were in it only for himself? When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, the wounds on his back from Philippi were still fresh. If was in it for himself, he wasn't very smart.
c. We were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict: Despite what some of Paul's accusers said, he was not a "fair-weather preacher." He knew what it was like to speak boldly for the Lord even in much conflict.
2. (3-5) The integrity of Paul's message in Thessalonica.
For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness; God is witness.
a. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness: The purity of Paul's message made it apparent that there was no deceit, uncleanness, or guile in his ministry. In the first century world Paul lived in, there were many "competing" religions, and many "ministers" of those religions were motivated by greed and gain.
i. The city of Thessalonica sat on the Egnatian Way, and as an important port, it was a melting pot city with cultures from all over the world. There were a staggering variety of religions and religious professionals in Thessalonica. In this city, you would find the worship of the gods of the Olympian pantheon, especially Apollo, Athena and Hercules. There were the native Greek mystery religions, celebrating Dionysis and the sex and drinking cult. The Greek intellectual and philosophical traditions were represented. There were shrines to many Egyptian gods: Isis, Sarapis, Anubis. Also present were the Roman State cults that deified the political heroes of Rome. There were also the Jewish people and the "God-fearing" Gentiles.
ii. Most of these religions were missionary minded, and sought to spread their faith using itinerant evangelists and preachers. Most of these missionaries were opportunists, who leeched off their listeners all they could, and then moved on to find someone else to support them.
iii. "There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul's day . . . 'Holy men' of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamoured for the attention of the believing and the skeptical." (Neil)
b. Even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts: Paul knew his gospel wouldn't always please men, but that it would always please God.
i. Paul tried to make the gospel as attractive as possible, but he never changed its central character or focus. Paul would never compromise issues like man's need, God's savior, the cross, the resurrection, and the new life.
c. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness: Paul understood that covetousness always has a cloak. It is always concealed by a noble sounding goal. But Paul did not use the flattering words that often are a cloak for covetousness.
3. (6-7) Paul's gentle, humble attitude among the Thessalonians demonstrated his motives were pure.
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
a. Nor did we seek glory from men: When Paul ministered among the Thessalonians, he was unconcerned for his personal glory. He didn't need fancy introductions or lavish praise. His satisfaction came from his relationship with Jesus, not from the praise of people.
i. Paul didn't seek glory from men because his needs for security and acceptance were met primarily in Jesus. This meant that he didn't spend his life trying to seek and earn the acceptance of man. He ministered from an understanding of his identity in Jesus.
b. When we might have made demands as apostles of Christ: Paul was among the Thessalonians to give to them, not to take from them. He did not come "demanding" as an apostle.
c. But we were gentle among you: Paul was like a nursing mother, who only looks only to give to her child. Though some among the Thessalonians had accused Paul of ministering out of self interest, but Paul simply asks the Christians in Thessalonica to remember the gentle character of his ministry among them.
4. (8-9) Paul's self-support and hard work among the Thessalonians demonstrated that his motives were pure.
So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.
a. We were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives: The sacrifice Paul endured for the sake of ministry to the Thessalonians was not a burden. He was well pleased to do it, because Paul was affectionately longing for the Thessalonians, because they had become dear to Paul and his associates.
b. But also our own lives: Paul's preaching was effective because he gave not only the gospel, but himself as well (also our own lives), and he gave because of love (you had become dear to us).
i. It has been said that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Paul had both care and knowledge towards the Thessalonians.
c. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil: Paul recognized his right to be supported by those he ministered to (1 Corinthians 9:14), but voluntarily gave up that right to set himself apart from missionaries of false religions. Paul denied his rights and forced a higher standard upon himself.
5. (10-12) Paul's own behavior and message to the Thessalonians demonstrates the integrity of his character before God and man.
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
a. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe: How marvelous that Paul can freely appeal to his own life as an example! Paul didn't have to say, "Don't look at my life. Look to Jesus." Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life.
i. Can we say that as Christians today? Can we declare how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among others?
b. How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you . . . that you would walk worthy of God: Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could preach the message, "walk worthy of God" because his life and message were consistent.
B. More thanksgiving for the work God did in the Thessalonians.
1. (13) Paul is thankful that they welcomed the gospel as God's message, not man's.
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
a. When you received the word of God: This is a staggering truth - that God has spoken to man, that we have the word of God. If we have no word of God, then nothing in this world is sure or secure, and nothing is right or wrong. Every argument could be brought to a draw by two words: "who says?" Since we do have the word of God then everything is different - we have a true voice of authority.
i. Today, some people like to say that there is a word of God, but that we can't be sure of what He says. When we appeal to the Bible, they like to reply "That's just your interpretation." There are certainly some places where the word of God is hard to precisely interpret. But if we can't know what God has spoken, then He may as well not have spoken at all.
b. You welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God: The Thessalonians received the word of God as it is in truth. Paul presented it not as the word of men, and the Thessalonians received it as the word of God.
c. Which also effectively works in you who believe: Paul's confidence in the word of God wasn't a matter of wishful thinking or blind faith. He could see that it effectively works in those who believe. God's word works, it doesn't only bring information or produce feelings. There is power in the word of God to change lives.
2. (14-16) The Thessalonians welcomed suffering when they welcomed the word, yet they stood steadfast.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
a. For you also suffered the same things: When the Thessalonians responded to the gospel, they became the targets of persecution. As they did, they were not alone, because those among the churches of God have often suffered persecution.
i. The Thessalonians willingly suffered the same things because they were convinced that Paul brought them not the word of man, but the word of God. A word of man isn't worth suffering for, but a true message from God is worth it.
ii. Churches is the ancient Greek word ekklesia; it was not a specifically religious word. Christians passed over many Greek words that were commonly used for religious brotherhoods. "The force of this is that Christianity is not just another religion. It is not to be named with any of the words proper to religions in general [of that day]." (Morris)
b. Who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us: Paul comforted these suffering Christians with the assurance that they were not the first to suffer this way. The Lord Jesus faced persecution, and the Christians in Judea faced it first, and Paul and his associates were also persecuted.
i. Who killed . . . the Lord Jesus: Here, Paul says that his own countrymen (the Judeans) killed . . . the Lord Jesus. But Paul knew well that the Jews of Judea were not the only ones responsible for the murder of Jesus. The Romans had their full share of guilt, so both Jew and Gentile are guilty.
c. And they do not please God and are contrary to all men: Paul also comforts them with the awareness that they are right, that they are the ones pleasing God. This was necessary assurance because they were persecuted by "religious" people.
d. Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins: What was it that filled up the measure of their sins? That they were outraged that Gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews. This exclusive attitude filled up the measure of their sins.
e. But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost: Paul comfort the Thessalonians by assuring them that God will take care of their persecutors. When Christians have forgotten this, they have disgraced and cursed themselves by returning persecution for persecution towards the Jews and others.
3. (17-20) Paul explains his absence from the Thessalonians.
But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. Therefore we wanted to come to you; even I, Paul, time and again; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.
a. Away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face: Paul knows the Thessalonians appreciated the comfort he gave, but they wondered why he didn't come and bring this comfort in person. Wouldn't that be much better? Paul assures them that the reason was not a lack of love or desire on his part.
b. We wanted to come to you . . . but Satan hindered us: It wasn't a lack of desire that kept Paul from visiting the Thessalonians. It was that Satan hindered Paul and his associates. Paul assures the Thessalonians that he desires to be with them, but he has been hindered by Satan, and that it happened time and again.
i. The Thessalonians were mostly Gentile converts, yet when Paul mentions Satan here, he gives no further explanation. This shows that in the few weeks he was there, Paul taught the Thessalonians much about Satan and spiritual warfare.
c. Satan hindered us: Paul, in all his apostolic ministry and authority, could still be "blocked" by Satan. What did Paul do about this hindrance from Satan?
i. First, Paul understood that this was Satanic hindrance. He knew this was not a random circumstance, but a direct attack from Satan. Paul had the discernment to know.
ii. Second, Paul had faith. For a short time means that Paul knew it would only be a short time until the roadblock was overcome.
iii. Third, Paul was He committed to fight against the roadblock any way he could. If he couldn't be there in person, his letter will go for him, teaching and encouraging them in his absence. Many scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians was Paul's earliest letter written as an apostle to a church. If this is the case, then Satan's roadblock got Paul started on writing letters to the churches. When Satan saw the great work God did through theses letters, he regretted that he ever hindered Paul at all.
iv. Finally, God brought the victory. Acts 20:1-5 describes Paul's eventual return to Thessalonica and other churches in the area.
d. Paul assures the Thessalonians that they are his hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing. How could he ever forget them? They were His glory and joy.
i. Paul might say he doesn't need a crown in heaven, for these precious ones are his crown of victory. Those whom we bring to Jesus and disciple are a crown of victory for us.