1 - 6 The Way the Gospel Got Entrance
1 For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not [come] from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness– 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
V1. With the words “for you yourselves know” Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what they saw when he and his companions appeared in the city. You may probably remember that also in chapter 1 something is said about the entrance that Paul and his companions found with the Thessalonians (1Thes 1:9). Other people in that place testified of that entrance. Here Paul is testifying of it himself. He reminds them that the entrance was not without result.
It is also hidden in the way he addresses them. He calls them “brethren”, a title which he earlier could not use, because then they did not know the Lord Jesus. In this beautiful title you can sense the warm relationship that Paul has with them and which arose when the gospel found entrance with them.
V2. They were informed about what Paul had to face in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:19-24). He, as it were, showed them his bloody back when he came to proclaim the gospel to them. The torture and slander that he had to endure at Philippi had not extinguished his burning desire to preach the gospel (cf. Acts 4:29; Eph 6:19-20). The entrance that they had was that of wounded laborers. Paul did not encourage them to endure tribulations without him having the courage himself to endure it. He was speaking from experience.
His courage to move on was not from himself. It was not a matter of taking a deep breath and keep on going. He had “boldness in our God”. That is not a natural courage or enthusiasm, but Divine capability. ‘Boldness’ means ‘free in mind’, which is expressed in ‘saying everything you want to’, ‘speaking fearlessly’. When this way of speaking does not happen “in our God”, it is no more than an impertinent and audacious way of using words.
The expression ‘in our God’ means that you are aware of your personal relationship with God, that He surrounds you behind and before. It keeps you from doing your own will and makes you feel safe and supported and also dependent. And how necessary is that, for preaching the gospel always goes hand in hand with a lot of struggles. There is a mighty adversary who does everything in his power to prevent the gospel to be proclaimed.
Speaking about the gospel, like Paul says here, is quite different from making the gospel discussable. The gospel is not one of the many and nice themes that are interesting to once debate about. The gospel is unique according to its origin and content. People who really believe in it, cannot keep it for themselves, but would rather speak about it (2Cor 4:13). But just because its content originates from God and Christ, everyone who speaks about it will not want to use words that would harm its uniqueness.
V3. That may cause inward struggles in situations where the preacher runs the risk to adjust the gospel according to the world, in order to make it more acceptable. It may also be necessary that the battle is fought outwardly. Everyone who in his faithfulness to the gospel wants to talk about the words of the Scripture – for that alone is the power that leads people to conversion – will sense the increase of the pressure from outside not to preach the gospel in such a radical way.
Paul was proclaiming an uncompromising gospel. He was in no way to be deluded by anything or anyone around him. His motives were crystal clear, without any impurity. He has never sought any advantage for his own sake. The gospel was not a way for him to make a living. It has caused him more slander and persecution than honor and prosperity. He summarizes extensively all the things that he is not to be blamed for. These negative things are actually found in all kinds of sects. Money, or the honor of people, plays an important role there.
The exhortation, the call for repentance, was not made by him “from error”. He did not deceive them and lead them to an errant way. The source of his preaching was the pure, unadulterated Word of God. He also shook off the blame of “uncleanness”, as if he was seeking to fulfill his lusts, of himself. His preaching had even less to do with “deceit”, as if he would have had entangled them by baiting them.
V4. How did Paul and his companions escape those dangers? How do we escape them? It is only by doing these things in communion with God. Paul always speaks about God. He brings everything in connection with Him and therefore he could say that he and his companions “have been approved by God”. When they went out together, all three of them had made the necessary experiences in the service of the Lord. Whatever the difference in age, education and experience, they were no novices. These were the men whom God had entrusted the gospel with. He gave it to them as, as it were, a precious gift to deal with faithfully (cf. Mt 25:21; 1Cor 4:2).
Paul is very aware that it goes together with a great responsibility. That is embedded in the words “so we speak”. How could he dare to deal with something that God had entrusted him with, otherwise than it was fitting to Him by Whom it was given? Any kind of pleasing people was absolutely out of the question here. Who would ever dare to adjust the gospel according to the taste of the world? No, if you care about God that much, you will think of Him all the time and you would only want to speak what He has said. Then you are aware that God is testing your heart, which indicates that you always want to have that fellowship with God. The testing of the heart is continually needed, so that wrong motives may not creep in and take room there.
V5. Neither did Paul use “flattering speech” to win them for the gospel. He says it strongly: he has “never” made use of that. They know that, they have observed it themselves. He who lives in the presence of God, like Paul and his companions do, knows that flattering speech is condemnable in God’s sight. Elihu was fully aware of that (Job 32:21-22).
Flattering speech does not bring people into the light of God, but brings them further away from God. Flattering speech pleases man in his selfishness and pride and makes him insensitive to the need because of his sins. Whoever uses flattering speech, only does that to get something done by others for his own advantage. It is winning the other person in order to use him for his own goal. With flattering speech God is fully cast aside and it is all about man.
With regard to flattering speech, Paul refers to the testimony of the Thessalonians; regarding the covetousness he refers to God as Witness. God alone can judge the motives of the heart. A “pretext for greed” implies that the true motive is covered. Covetousness is the motive, but it is presented in a deceiving robe. The love for material things, especially money, makes a person to be inventive in using methods which hides this love in the sight of others, while the desired thing is being sought for. We ourselves have to work, in order to provide for our needs. Do we have to bother other people and ask them money (begging letters) or even allude to it (manipulate)?
V6. Another great risk for everyone who wants to serve the Lord is the seeking of the “glory from men”. Paul neither did that. How easily he could have impressed them by his dignity as an apostle. He was after all a person of great spiritual class. How much honor would that have delivered him if he had presented himself like that. But he was not seeking to establish his own importance. He had no intention of telling them that they had certain obligations towards him.
He was always seeking the spiritual well-being of the Thessalonians and that is still the most important thing to him. He had not been among them as a claimant, but as a mother. In the next section we will go further into that.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6 again.
Reflection: Which characteristics do Paul and his companions have and which do they not have? What can you apply to yourself?
7 - 12 Paul’s Conduct Among Them
7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing [mother] tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection 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 very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, [how] working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and [so is] God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we [were] exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father [would] his own children, 12 so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
It is nice to see how each chapter of the letter seems to describe a phase in the growth of the believer from being a babe until his adulthood:
1. In chapter 1 the child has been born.
2. In chapter 2 it is nurtured and raised in the faith.
3. In chapter 3 you see the child standing in faith.
4. In chapter 4 it receives instructions for walking in faith.
5. In chapter 5 it has matured and the young believer gets down to work.
V7. Here we find ourselves in the stage that the child has been born and has to be nourished. It is clear that with a baby you don’t think of exerting authority over him. With a baby only motherly care is fitting. The tenderness with which the great apostle goes to work is very impressive. He was just as “a nursing [mother]”, a nurse.
That’s what God was for His people in the wilderness, where He had nurtured and nursed them as a nurse (Acts 13:18). Also with the Lord Jesus we find those feelings when He speaks about His love for Jerusalem and compares it with that of a hen that spreads her wings over her chicks as a shelter to protect them (Mt 23:37).
Paul had the same motherly feelings for his spiritual children. He reminds them that he was “gentle” or mild, tender, when he was among them. By the way, this character should adorn every servant of the Lord (2Tim 2:24). You also see this gentleness with the Lord Jesus in Isaiah 40 (Isa 40:11), don’t you?
With a real mother the interest of the child is the most important thing. Her love for the child causes her to act selflessly; she sacrifices herself for that. You see that with the Lord Jesus. He has always sought for the benefit of the other person. Therefore He did not come to be served, but to serve. Paul was His follower in that view.
V8. He loved them in such a way that he even wanted to share his own life with them. The meaning of that here is not that he was willing to give his life for the sake of the gospel – although that was surely the case – but that he was fully committed with his whole life to the message that he was bringing. He was willing to live for them, serve them with his life. His whole life – all that he possessed and all of his time – was inextricably connected to the gospel. He not only brought a message, he also brought himself with it, though in a way that Christ is seen and not he himself.
V9. The only way the gospel can have the effect desired and worked by God, is when the preacher annuls himself. Parents make great efforts to give their children the right nourishment and education. Thereby their example is of great meaning. The Thessalonians have seen that Paul and his companions were no spongers who wanted to take advantage of their converts. On the contrary.
They gave themselves no rest and they did not even allow themselves a normal sleep, in order to provide for themselves. He wanted to avoid at any cost that he would give the impression for using his ministry for any financial profit in any way (cf. 1Cor 9:1-18). He came to Thessalonica to give and to share, not to be a burden or to enrich himself. The gospel of God is not a matter that imposes burdens, but it liberates from the power of sin and takes away the burden of sins.
V10. Paul refers to his behavior among them. Again he mentions God as a Witness of his behavior. But not only God – they themselves have seen with their own eyes how he had behaved himself among them. Did they see other things than God saw with him? They could not deny what they had observed, no matter how the enemy tried to damage the ministry or motives of the apostle and to bring him into disrepute in the eyes of the Thessalonians.
In the first place they had seen how “devoutly” he had behaved himself. Everything he did was in harmony with God. They also saw that in his dealings with people he had always been “uprightly”. He had never been detrimental to anyone. They finally could not otherwise than testify that he had been “blamelessly”. They could not blame him for anything.
He addresses them as “you believers”. It is important to him that they judge his behavior as believers and therefore not according to worldly measures.
V11. Paul firstly used the image of the mother who nurses her child. That proves the tenderness of love of the preacher. Now he uses the image of the father who deals with his children. In that way he complements the image of the mother. The use of these parental relationships you find only in the letters of Paul.
With a father we see more the serious aspects of that same love that the mother has (cf. 1Cor 4:14-21; 2Cor 6:13; Gal 4:19). Paul was a good father to his children. He not only addressed them as a whole, but he had also personal attention for each of them. This is important to every servant of the Lord who proclaims the Word. It is easier to say things from the pulpit than in a personal conversation. After-care is important for the individual.
Paul exhorts, encourages and implores the Thessalonians from the father-child relationship. Exhortation is sometimes mistakenly related to the raised finger in the sense of: ‘Watch out, otherwise …!’ But an exhortation is a call for a person, who is running the risk to deviate or already has, to come back to the company of believers.
Fathers also encourage their children. They encourage them not to despair in times of hardships, but to persevere.
It is about “his own children”. Fathers are often away from home. They sometimes are also occupied with the problems of other people. The danger is that they forget their own children. But their own family is the very first labor field that is given by the Lord. When that is losing out, it will surely affect the work that is being done for Him.
V12. Paul not only exhorts and encourages them, but he also implores them. In that way he brings exhortation and encouragement very close. He does not exhort and encourage from a distance as something that would only apply to them and that it is not something he has any part in. To implore indicates that he proclaims the truth to them with conviction.
Imploring has to do with a teaching that has proven its value in the practice of life. Each father must teach his children with conviction in the truth of God. A father ought not to say: ‘I cannot do that.’ He has to charge, to declare, the truth meaning to bind the truth severely to the heart of the child. This teaching will of course only have an impact when the children see in the life of the father that he practices that himself.
The purpose that Paul wants to achieve, is that they would “walk in a manner worthy of God”. ‘Worthy’ means that it is fitting and in agreement with the holiness and features of God in Whom they have put their trust (cf. Rom 16:2; Eph 4:1; Phil 1:27; Col 1:10; 3Jn 1:6). It is important that your walk and behavior as a Christian is in accordance with your confession.
I will give an illustration. In the army of Alexander the Great there was a soldier that misbehaved himself. He was brought to Alexander the Great. Alexander asked him for his name. The soldier answered: ‘My name is Alexander.’ Then Alexander the Great responded: ‘Either you change your behavior, or you change your name.’
Consider your high calling. You were first called through the gospel. Now you hear that it has led you to such a high calling, namely God’s own kingdom and glory (cf. Rom 8:28; Phil 3:14; 2Tim 1:9; Heb 3:1). Here it is written in such a way that God is continually calling out to you: ‘Your way leads to My own kingdom and glory.’
Wouldn’t it mark your everyday life if you become aware of that? Seek to live such a life. Fix your eye on that. This is how you draw the future to yourself and in that way that great future will determine and radiate your way.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 again.
Reflection: Which features of God’s motherly and fatherly features do you see in this portion with Paul?
13 - 20 Persecution and Desire
13 For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted [it] not [as] the word of men, but [for] what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. 14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they [did] from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. 17 But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and [yet] Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy.
V13. After Paul reminded them of his labor, he makes sure that he addresses them on the ground of the word that they had received by his preaching. He puts himself aside and thanks God that they have “received the word of God … not [as] the word of men, but [for] what it really is, the word of God”. Therefore their faith was based on God’s Word, although it came to them by the ministry of a human.
Why do you believe that the Bible is God’s Word? You cannot believe it because others say so. You can only believe it when you have experienced its power. When the Word of God came to you, you acknowledged its truth, because it gave you the right picture of yourself as a sinner. You also have seen through the Word Who God is in His holiness and righteousness and that He therefore has to condemn sin. But in that Word you also saw that God seeks your salvation and has provided for that by the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
The person who has brought the gospel to you (it may have been your parents or a total stranger or someone in between), gives thanks to God that you have received it. He could only preach the Word. When you accepted it, you did not do it because of the person that brought you the Word. If that would be the case, then a person is standing between you and God. No, you are a child of God only because of a personal encounter with God through His Word. The other person was just a messenger.
The Word by which you are saved, is the same Word that is still at work within you. That means, if you are still living from the Word, if you read it daily and receive it as God’s Word, it gives you power to live as a Christian. It is a living Word. Therefore it does its work in everyone who opens up himself for it. It is the only energy (as it is actually written) by which life can grow and fruit can be borne for God.
V14. When you live as a Christian, when you are a follower of the Lord Jesus, it will deliver you adversity. Persecution is the consequence of believing. When this happens to you, you may consider that this happens to numerous fellow Christians that come out for the Lord Jesus. That may be an encouragement for you (1Pet 5:9). Here it regards the suffering of the whole church.
In order to encourage them he first addresses them again with “brethren”, the word that emphasizes his bond with them in a special way. Then he encourages them by pointing them at “the churches of God which are in Judea”. What the Thessalonians had to suffer, due to their countrymen, the believers in Judea had to suffer, due to theirs, from the Jews. Through this suffering the Thessalonians became, without searching for it themselves, followers of the churches of God in Judea.
V15. The opposition of the Jews has gone very far and has remained greatly undiminished. How great their hatred was appears clearly from the murdering of the Lord Jesus. The Lord came in kindness and grace to reveal God’s love. But they saw Him as a threat to their position as God’s chosen people, a position in which they boasted. Especially the leaders of the people turned against Him. The Lord Jesus suffered the same fate as God’s prophets did for His sake (Mk 12:1-9). Also the apostles experienced the hatred of the Jews. They were persecuted from town to town and had to flee whenever that happened.
The opposition remained at the present in full intensity (Acts 7:51-52). And while the Jews were raging in such a way, they also thought to be pleasing God in that way (Jn 16:2). How a person can be mistaken when he only seeks his own interest! He cannot please God in this way and instead of seeking the good for people, he is against all people. To make efforts to stop people from hearing the gospel, in order for them to become truly happy, means to be against them. With all diligence they were trying to prevent the people to hear the gospel of their salvation.
V16. They had rejected Christ and the gospel. Now they were rejecting those who, for the sake of the glorified Lord, were preaching the gospel to the nations. In that way they fill up the measure of their sins. As long as that had not happened yet, God is patient with His wrath (Gen 15:16; Dan 8:23; Mt 23:32). But now there is no chance of conversion of these Jews anymore. In full intensity the judgment has been poured out over them. The land has been destroyed and the inhabitants have been scattered among the nations. In the end, the end time, there will still be a time of unprecedented distress (Jer 30:7), also called “the great tribulation” (Mt 24:21). God will then visit judgments upon the faithless Jews for their sins.
V17. After this elaboration about the Jews, Paul speaks again about his love for the believers in Thessalonica. That has not been cooled down by his absence, but on the contrary has increased. The Jews could indeed rob the Thessalonians from the company and ministry of Paul, but they could in no way rob the Thessalonians out of the heart and thoughts of Paul. He speaks out a great desire for them and that he has made every effort to come to them.
V18. He has tried twice, but in both situations satan blocked his way. Could it possibly be the case that his desire was not okay? Or did he not consult the Lord about it and was it because he wanted to do it on his own? Or was it something else that was not right with him? No, nothing of that all. His desires were good desires. It is also a good thing trying to meet those desires. Then a hindrance follows, not from the Spirit, but from satan. Paul is clear about that. Nevertheless he does not continue at the cost of everything else, but draws the conclusion that the way has been closed for him. He sees the solution by sending Timothy (1Thes 3:2).
Of course satan has no power to stop God’s work or His worker if God does not allow it. God determines the limit of the adversary (Job 1:12; 2:6). On another occasion Paul speaks about “a messenger of satan to torment me” (2Cor 12:7). There he learns that the grace of the Lord is sufficient for him (2Cor 12:9). Paul knows better than anyone that all things work together for good to those who love God (Rom 8:28), even the hindrances by satan.
V19. That satan hindered him to meet his beloved children in faith, did not make him sad. He looked upon the coming of Christ beyond the disappointment. There he and the Thessalonians would be united and they would together rejoice in all things that the grace and power of the Holy Spirit had worked in them. Then all suffering and hardships will be over.
The coming of the Lord Jesus does not only bring outcome from all suffering, but He will also come with the reward for the work that has been done for His sake (Rev 22:12). Paul always had that strong awareness and it only increased because of this hindrance. In that way he bent the disappointment of that moment into a joyful view.
The bond that satan was trying to break by hindering the pleasure of it, was enjoyed more intensely in the light of the reunion at the coming of Christ. Then there will be full joy. Then he would see the Thessalonians there as a reward for his labor (cf. Phil 4:1), a reward in which he is extremely delighted.
It is certainly true that everything we do for the Lord, is worked by Him. Yet He will reward it as if we have done it. What a Lord we have! Therefore we will cast every crown that we may possibly earn (1Cor 9:25; 2Tim 4:8; 1Pet 5:4; Jam 1:12; Rev 2:10), before His feet as a tribute to Him (Rev 4:10).
V20. When Paul has talked about the coming unity with the Thessalonians, he concludes this chapter by saying to them what they have already meant to him now. What soon will be enjoyed in its fullness from face to face, he is now already experiencing in the spirit. They are already now all his glory and joy.
Now read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 again.
Reflection: How do you deal with hindrances that you encounter in your life with the Lord?