A Review of Paul's Ministry in Thessalonica

A Review of Paul's Ministry in Thessalonica

I Thessalonians 2:1-12

Chapter 2 is Paul's defense showing that the slander his enemies had against him must be answered. If the enemy could awaken a distrust with respect to the messengers, the message will die a natural death. Since his love for the gospel necessitated self-defense, Paul had no choice but to deal with the accusation in this chapter. In verses 1-12 Paul is clearly on the defensive. Timothy had just returned to Paul from Thessalonica reporting that the opponents of the gospel were circulating slanderous charges against Paul and his work. Paul answers these insidious attacks by the slander mongers. His defense is masterful. He writes rather straightforwardly in this chapter stating that his missionary party came to Thessalonica after suffering persecution in Philippi. They taught the truth in all honesty and sincerity; their motives were pure. Being responsible to God, they were frank and outspoken not seeking the new convert's money or any personal recognition. Paul expands upon what he wrote in 1:5,6. He defends his conduct, he explains his involuntary departure from the city, his subsequent inability to go back and his determination to visit them again as soon as he can.

"By studying Paul's self-defense it is possible for us to reconstruct the slanderer's accusation. 'He ran away', they sneered, 'and hasn't been seen or heard of since. Obviously he's insincere, impelled by the barest motives. He's just one more of those many phoney teachers who tramp up and down the Egnatian Way. In a word, he's a charlatan. He's in his job only for what he can get out of it in terms of sex, money, prestige or power. So when opposition arose, and he found himself in personal danger, he took to his heels and ran! He doesn't care about you Thessalonian disciples of his; he has abandoned you! He's much more concerned about his own skin than your welfare'" so writes Ward (p. 45,46)

1. The Circumstances of Paul's Ministry - 1,2.

1 The entrance (way in) which the gospel found into the hearts of the Thessalonians was encouraging to Paul. Since it came not in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that it was not in vain. That is, it was not void of power or empty or useless. Hollow preaching leads to fruitless faith. The missionary party did not come to Thessalonica as parasites seeking to get what they could from a gullible population. On the contrary their hands were loaded with gifts of the gospel. 2 Herein Paul relates how he and others suffered at the hands of the enemy. "The insult in Philippi did not close Paul's mouth, but had precisely the opposite effect, 'boldness in our God.' It was not wild fanaticism, but determined courage and confidence in God that spurred Paul to still greater boldness in Thessalonica," says Robertson (Vol. IV, p. 16). Even before Paul and Silas recovered from their wounds at Philippi, they came to Thessalonica, a journey of a hundred miles overland. Their backs must have been ripped open by the Roman lictors, and they must have been sore from the beating. On many occasions it took days and sometimes weeks for those beaten to get over their wounds. Some subjects even died from the cruel beatings. Doubtless they did not know whether the same fate awaited them in Thessalonica that had been their lot in Philippi (Acts 16:19-24). Both of them were trusting in the Lord because Paul wrote later - "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Paul states that they preached the gospel of God with much contention. It was the 'gospel of God' for He is the Author and Sender of the message. "With much contention" is a metaphor of the athletic games or the arena - a race, a struggle, a battle. It was a very real battle in the face of great opposition. Paul likens it to fighting a good fight of faith (I Timothy 6:14) and in II Timothy 4:7, he writes, "I have fought a good fight..." Paul had been in much conflict, peril and danger. He had been shamefully treated in Philippi, scourged with the rods of Roman lictors which was regarded as an ignominious punishing; it was forbidden to be inflicted on Roman citizens such as Paul and Silas were. They received the treatment of which Aristotle defined as "bringing disgrace on a person by injury or annoyance with the sole motive of the pleasure of doing so, the pleasure of showing one's superiority," (Ward, p. 51).

2. The Repudiation of False Motives - 3,4.

3 Fortunately for Paul the enemies of the young church at Thessalonica were mostly on the outside of it. His message was one of exhortation (persuasive discourse) having the power to penetrate the heart with its warning, consolation and encouragement. It aroused its hearers out of indifference and overcame the resistance of the will. The message which he preached was not of deceit (error or a lie), nor of uncleanness (impurity of disposition and motives). Nor did he seek to entrap his hearers like a fisherman catches fish with a bait. "The picture of Paul's behavior is quite opposite to the picture painted by his enemies who portrayed him as a craven sycophant who stole unobtrusively into town, whispered his message timidly to a few and then fled for his life. They also said that he was deceitful, vulgar and duplicit," writes Yeager, (op.cit, p. 159).

4 Paul recognized that two great facts were ever present, and they controlled his conscience as he preached, namely: (1) he had a DIVINE COMMISSION, and (2) he was constantly subject to DIVINE SCRUTINY. Ever in his ears there must have been the call - "he is a chosen vessel unto me to bear my name," (Acts 9:15). Paul was a messenger of the royal word of grace to fallen man. Later, he wrote, "let a man so account of us as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God;...he that judgeth me is the Lord" (I Corinthians 4:1,4).

Even though God approved and entrusted Paul with the gospel does not mean that God takes no further interest in him and leaves him to get on with his preaching; God continually scrutinizes Paul's life and conduct. Paul seeks to have God's approval always, he wrote in I Corinthians 9:27, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Paul must have felt like Jeremiah when the prophet wrote, "O Lord of hosts, who judgest righteously, who testeth the heart and the mind...O Lord, thou knowest me; thou has seen me, and tested mine heart toward thee," (Jeremiah 11:20; 12:3). Paul defends the concept of stewardship - "we were allowed of God to be put IN TRUST with the gospel." Paul and every Christian minister should take into account, not only what we preach but why we preach it.

3. The Description of Paul's Conduct - 5-12.

5 Paul did not pander to the Thessalonian's feelings, nor did he soften the demands of the gospel. Nor did he use the gospel as a pretext to mask his real motive (Acts 20:33). Jowett wrote, "(Paul) did not use words such as flattery uses, or pretexts such as covetousness" (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. XX, 27). "Flattery" is an interesting word. The Greek term carries with it the idea of using fair words as a means of gaining one's own end. It is a matter of using insincerity as an instrument of policy, as a means of persuading another to do one's will," says Morris (p. 73). Also Paul states that he did not use his ministry as a "cloak of covetousness," something put forward to conceal what is behind it. Paul could never be truthfully accused of preaching for worldly gain; he did not enrich himself at the expense of his hearers. Simon and Elymus, the sorcerers, as well as some Jewish magi are the very antithesis of the apostle (Acts 8:9-25; 13:6-12). Paul also stated in Philippians 1:16,17 that "one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; but the other, of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel." Many sought to preach for ulterior motives, some were self-seeking, insincere preachers thinking they could add to Paul's bonds and afflictions.

Yeager writes, "If modern electronic religious hucksters were not so eager to extend their empires, as though they were the only preachers who preach the gospel, they would not find it necessary to beg for money until the public is disgusted. One wonders what Paul would do in the same situation. He would pray for God to send in the money, without a word from him about it, and if the need was not met in that way, he would seek to continue in a way and in the place where God directed, even if it meant that he would make tents for a living" (op. cit. p. 162).

6 The apostle was the very epitome of seeking God's glory rather than his own. There apparently was in Paul's mind a relationship between giving God the honor and glory due unto Him, and the fact that one day everyone will be judged according to the motive of all works. He wrote later in I Corinthians 4:3,4, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment; yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord." Furthermore, the Lord reminded the Jews that they "receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not" (John 5:44, R.V.).

What Paul could have done, as an apostle, was to be a BURDEN to the Thessalonians, either by standing on his dignity and issuing orders like a general, or by insisting on being paid for his services. This he would not do, nor would his co-laborers, Silas and Timothy. Paul calls them apostles. Were they truly apostles? Not in the sense that they were with the Lord as were His twelve apostles, but truly they were apostles (that is; sent ones) in a wider sense of the word. Of course, neither Paul, nor Silas, nor Timothy saw the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, which seemed to be a qualification of the "original apostles," (Acts 1:21).

7, 8 Paul states the positive side of this ministry - Paul used gentleness to describe his ministry contrasted with self-seeking and self-assertiveness. He was practicing what he preached, "and the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men..." (II Timothy 2:24). In fact, he uses the illustration of his ministry - "as a nurse cherisheth her children." He treated them like a mother-nurse who warms, fondles and cherishes the children that are her very own (because she gave birth to them). The word "cherish" was used of birds that warm and protect their young by covering them with their feathers. Paul also used an amiable conduct of a superior toward an inferior, as of a master toward a servant, a prince toward subject, or a father toward his children (II Timothy 2:24). What a contrast between apostolic authority and a mother's tenderness toward her children (babies). Furthermore, the apostle wanted to preach his message because he loved their souls and wanted them to be saved. They were very dear to him. The responsibility or task of preaching was a joy. Paul was willing to submit to death for the sake of the Thessalonians, and he gave himself as a servant rather than seeking their service for himself.

9 Paul reminds his readers when he was with them he worked with his hands rather than burden them to support him financially. He must have preached and taught during the daylight hours and made tents up until the wee hours of the morning. Paul was a "tent-maker" or a "tent-taylor;" working with goat's hair and sometimes with the skins of animals to perfect temporary shelters for the nomadic people. There were no paid preachers in Palestine; making money out of teaching the Law was expressly forbidden in the Mishnah. Although the Greeks may have despised Paul because he worked with his hands to support himself, every Jewish boy learned a trade whereby he could make a living for himself and his family.

As a preacher/missionary Paul was a faithful and true 'herald' accurately repeating God's message, never altering it to please man. The words 'labor' or 'toil' denote exertion; wear and tear; hardship and fatigue. He also 'travailed,' working to the point of weariness and fatigue. He states to the Ephesians (Acts 20:33-35) "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shown you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'." Although it is not mentioned what Silas and Timothy did during their stay at Thessalonica, Paul must have worked around the clock. The missionaries could have endangered their health with overwork, which may be what he meant when he said that he had decided to give his 'life' for them in order to preach the good news (verse 8).

10, 11 Furthermore, the missionaries lived holy, just and blameless lives before their fellowman, "God is my witness," Paul says. To live a holy life means to be devoted, pious and religious. To live justly means to live above reproach before man. To be unblamable is the negative side of both holy and just. God and the Thessalonians are called to witness or testify of Paul's evangelism and stewardship.

Paul lived the life of a 'father' before his fellowmen. His ministry consisted of 'exhorting' 'encouraging,' and 'charging.' Various translations have sought to sort out Paul's work as encouraging, consoling, supporting, sustaining, testifying or protesting. So Paul's characteristics are somewhat in line with a father's responsibility to the members of his household. Paul treated the Thessalonians much like he did the Ephesians, "for the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31). Hendriksen quoting Bengal says, "The missionary party had admonished the Thessalonians so that they would act freely, encouraged them so that they would act gladly and testified so that they would act reverently (with a proper sense of respect for the will of God as expressed in His word; hence, with fear)" (p. 68). 12 The missionaries acted like this so that the Thessalonians would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory" (verse 12). Paul's desire was for the membership at Thessalonica to walk uprightly before God and to glorify Him as His namesake. This verse in not unlike Ephesians 4:1, namely he besought them, "to walk worthy of the vocation to which ye are called." "Walking" is a figure of speech that is used over fifty times in the New Testament for the habitual conduct and daily life of the Christian. It must be kept in mind that Paul's new converts here were newly-won from paganism. Nothing would please Satan more than for many of them to slip back (back-slide) into some of their old pagan ways. So the task of Paul and his missionary companions was to exhort, comfort, console, encourage and witness. Paul was always willing to discuss spiritual problems with his converts and to urge them to achieve higher levels of spiritual perception.

The Word Is Of Divine Origin

I Thessalonians 2:13-20

In this chapter Paul defends his conduct and manner of life he lived before the Thessalonians. The missionaries' departure and absence is beyond their control. Since God has not permitted them to return, and since the devil has hindered them, the next best thing Paul can do is to write a letter to let them know he is praying for them and as soon as God wills, he will visit with them again.

1. God's Message Bore Fruit - 13.

13 Paul states that the Thessalonians "received the word of God which ye heard of us..." He had no doubt that he was proclaiming God's message. He regarded God's message as inspired. The apostle assured his readers that the letter does not CONTAIN God's word, it IS God's word. He thanks God for His revelation. How did Paul know that he was preaching God's word? One of the crowning reasons was that the Holy Spirit accompanied it to submissive hearts, and Paul saw results - souls were saved by heeding the message. God's word is effectual and energetic when mixed with faith.

"The pressure to accommodate his message to the demands of the 'modern thought-world' of the day must have been great. But Paul rejected all this. His drive and forcefulness came not from some thought that he was abreast of contemporary trends in philosophy or religion or science, but the deep-seated conviction that he was simply God's mouthpiece, and that what he spoke was the veritable word of God. Where the word of God is welcomed with obedient faith, there is the power of God at work," so writes Morris, (p. 87,88).

2. Reception of God's Word May Bring Persecution - 14-16.

14 Apparently the Gentile pagans were joining the Jews in opposing the gospel. The Thessalonian Christians suffered like the Christians had in Judea. Satan's opposition is a good evidence that God is in the Christian's activity. Satan has little work to do with inactive Christians or those pagans who obey him. The preaching of God's word always activates opposition by Satan and his forces. He authorizes and instigates persecution against the truth and those who believe the truth.

The Thessalonians imitated the churches in Judea in their devotion to God in spite of their cultural differences. They were similar in heart and spirit. They all belonged to a wide fellowship. "Willingness to suffer for Christ is proof of discipleship; it shows that the word of God is at work in the heart," (Hendriksen, p. 70). The early Christians suffered persecution of the Jews and Gentiles alike. A willingness to suffer such persecution reflects honor on the one who experiences it. "Those who receive the word of God and are united with the true people of God will always be hated by unbelieving men and be made to suffer for their belief" (Hiebert, p. 112).

Yeager writes, "It is significant that the unsaved never object to other unsaved when they become religious, unless the new faith is Christianity. An unsaved Jew will tolerate any other person, regardless of his heresy, so long as it is not the worship of Jesus Christ as Messiah. But let a man become a Christian and immediately the blind bigots become concerned. So with Gentiles. A Gentile can worship all of the gods and goddesses of the Pantheon, or none of them, and he will not be censured. But when he accepts Christ he becomes the victim of the hatred of the world." (Vol. XV, p. 174).

Paul digresses from his main subject in verses 13,14, to inform the Thessalonians that he understands their persecution by the Jews. He had suffered like persecution, and our Lord Jesus Christ was even murdered as were the Jewish prophets of old who believed in the promises of God. The unbelieving Jews did not want the gospel preached to Jew or Gentile. God had made them jealous because they failed to believe the Messiah just as He did the Jews during Moses' time (Romans 10:16-21; 11:7-12).

15 Paul puts himself on a level with the prophets. He wrote (I Corinthians 4:9), "For I think that God hath set forth us, the apostles, last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." Paul was not anti-Semitic just because he wrote in this verse what he did; he was simply stating historical facts. Furthermore, the Jews went on habitually displeasing God. The Jews might have looked upon their actions as only plotting to kill Jesus, but in fact they killed the LORD (God's Messiah). And certainly they were aware that their forefathers killed God's prophets (Luke 13:34; Matthew 23:31,35,37; Acts 7:52; Romans 1:3). "Paul is not speaking of all Jews in all ages. Everywhere he went, he visited the synagogue first (Romans 1:16) and preached to the Jews to bring them to faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah," (Yeager, Vol. XV, p. 175). The Jews would accept the Gentiles if they became proselytes of Judaism; that is, if they would submit to circumcision and the keeping of the law of Moses.

16 Those who are opposed to evangelizing the Gentiles will suffer tremendously for the crassness and hard-heartedness. God's wrath is the penalty the Jews can expect; it will pursue them into eternity. Their obstruction of judgments filled up the measure of their sins and that of their forefathers (Matthew 23:32) just like the Amorites in Genesis 15:16. "The wrath of God is over their heads," so translates J. B. Phillips. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was still twenty years away. In spite of the Jewish behavior toward the Messiah and his fellow Christians, Paul loved his Jewish friends and prayed for their salvation. His love was so intense that he declared his willingness to forfeit his own salvation if only thereby they might be saved (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1). It was not until later in his ministry that Paul turned to the Gentiles exclusively (Acts 18:25-29). No one, however, has a right to say, that God is through with the Jews. For Paul wrote in Romans 11:25,26, "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved." Anti-Semitism, however, is very definitely anti-scriptural.

3. Paul's Yearning to Visit Thessalonica - 17-20.

17 Paul had been gone from the Thessalonians for about six months. Already he was bereaved for them. The phrase 'being taken from you' carries with it the idea of being bereaved, or literally, 'being orphaned; desolate.' Being orphaned can apply to parents deprived of children as well as children being orphaned from their parents. Paul longed to see the fruit of his labor, but Satan had cast stumbling block in his way. But the least he could do for them was to offer prayers to God on their behalf. Miles of separation do not diminish God's power to answer Paul's prayers. When Timothy returned from visiting the Thessalonians Paul would rejoice at his report. The 'we' of this verse includes Silas and Timothy. Their hearts were still with the work in Thessalonica, and their absence sharpened the desire to see them.

Paul's style of writing becomes intensely emotional in verse 17 and the following verses. The more Satan tried to effect a separation, the harder Paul and company tried to effect a reunion. The charges brought against the missionaries was 'out of sight, out of mind,' but this was not true. Was Paul giving implicit defense against possible slander? Had someone said of him, "he will not return; he has gotten all the money he can get out of you"? Paul was with them in spirit (heart) when he could not be with them in person. Hiebert writes, "Paul's words reveal the strong personal ties that had been forged between the writers and readers" (p. 124).

18 The devil is the author of all the hindrances in the kingdom of God. To be 'hindered' means 'to cut up the road,' 'to make a road impassable.' It was also used of a runner 'cutting in ahead' of another runner on the racecourse. In modern terms, we would say 'Satan bombed the airstrip to keep Paul from landing.' We might use the term to indicate that 'there is a roadblock ahead.' In Romans 1:13 and 15:22 Paul writes of having been hindered from visiting the church at Rome. Did Satan hinder him there? Satan worked through the minds of the politarchs at Thessalonica, so that they would have caused Jason to forfeit his bond (Acts 17:9) in case the missionaries returned. Paul, Silas and Timothy having been driven out, however, longed to come back. Satan exerts an extremely powerful influence over men's affairs, more especially whenever they endeavor to promote the interest of God's kingdom (Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1; Daniel 10). Paul states personally how he feels about returning to Thessalonica, "I, Paul" (personally), then he writes, 'once and again' literally, 'more than once.' "We should not be surprised to find Paul accusing Satan of his troubles, since he regarded him as a personal enemy. He very much believed in Satan, his character, his program, his powers, his intentions and his destiny" so writes Yeager (op.cit. p. 180).

19 Paul brings all this to a climax in an excited outburst of esteem for his converts. He asks a rhetorical question. Truly the members at Thessalonica were Paul's future hope, his present joy and the crown of his future rejoicing. Like the victorious wreath (a chaplet of leaves) awaited the victor in Olympic games, so the Thessalonians would be Paul's joyous and glorious crown at the Lord's coming (Philippians 4:1; I Peter 5:4). Robertson writes, "when a king or conqueror came on a visit he was given a chaplet of glorying," probably much like a city official may give the 'keys to the city,' to a welcome guest. Paul regarded the Thessalonians as trophies of the victory of the gospel which he preached.

The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ means his 'presence,' 'coming to be present,' 'arrival.' "In the ordinary language of the people the term was especially applied to the arrival of a great personage, a king or an emperor, and it was the usual word for a royal visit," (Morris p., 96).

20 Paul answers his rhetorical question, "For ye are our glory and joy." This verse sums up the several preceding phrases. "Paul's hope for reward for his faithful service in the gospel, despite great suffering and sacrifice, was that at the coming of Christ, his Thessalonian converts would be there as evidence of his faithful preaching. Every Christian who has been instrumental in leading a soul to Christ knows how Paul felt," (Yeager, Vol. XV, p. 181). Daniel 12:3 tells us that those who turn many to righteousness will shine 'as stars for ever and ever.'


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