READ : 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul responds to unfair criticism by reminding the Thessalonians how he had lived and worked during the short time he was with them. In the process, he not only shows us how we should serve God, but also why.
In many respects the church in Thessalonica was a model of what a Christian
congregation ought to be. In this series of studies in First and Second Thessalonians, we
began last week by looking at Paul’s thanksgiving for the church there that he had planted
during the course of his second missionary journey and then his description of the life
and witness of that congregation. They were an example, Paul says, really for churches all
throughout Greece. They were an example, first of all, of faith, life-changing faith. “You
have turned from idols to serve the living God,” and their lives demonstrated the reality
of the change that comes from following Jesus.
And then they were an example, secondly, of hope, hope that is fixed on the Lord Jesus
Christ. As you serve God, Paul wrote, you wait for his Son from heaven. It was because of
their clear understanding of where history was headed, of the future coming of the Lord
Jesus Christ, that they were able to live with hope even in the midst of suffering.
And finally, an example of love. Paul thanks God for your labor of love, love that was
more than just feeling but love rather that worked, that was active, that actually served
the good of others. And then to top it off, Paul says that they were a sounding board for
the gospel. The word of the Lord has sounded forth from you in all of Greece. They were a
missionary church, an evangelistic church, a church that gave itself to the outreach of
the gospel to all the peoples of the world. What a model! But now in 1 Thessalonians
chapter 2, we turn to Paul himself.
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though
we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had
boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For
our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as
we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please
man, but to please God who tests our hearts. (vv. 1-4)
As we read those words, we can hear plainly that Paul has felt compelled to defend
himself, and we may easily imagine why. In his absence after leaving Thessalonica, critics
have sprung up who have been attacking him, maligning his name and his character. “Paul?,”
they must have been saying, “can you count on him? Look, he left as soon as trouble broke
out in Thessalonica. He’s a coward. He can’t be depended upon. He only cares about
personal popularity and comfort. When the going gets touch, Paul gets going.”
Those charges, of course, were completely unfair and totally off-base. Paul, a coward?
Just look at his life! There’s a wonderful, poignant verse in Galatians chapter 6 where
Paul says at the end of this letter, “Let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the
marks of Jesus.” The marks of Jesus! He’s talking about the scars on his back, the wounds
that he’s endured in the course of ministering for Jesus Christ, the beatings, the
stonings, the imprisonment, the shipwreck. If you know anything at all about Paul’ life,
you know he wasn’t a coward. Moreover, as Luke explains in Acts 17, it was the church in
Thessalonica that sent Paul away. Presumably the leadership there decided that it was best
overall for Paul and his companions to move on so that the riot would die down more
But nevertheless here in First Thessalonians chapter 2, Paul goes on the defensive. He
reminds them what his life was like and his ministry among them. It wasn’t without fruit.
“You yourselves know that our coming to you was not in vain,” he says. It wasn’t cowardly,
though we had already suffered and been treated shamefully, we had boldness in our God to
declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
There’s a wonderful book written in the 19th century by John Henry Newman called
“Appologia Provetus Sua.” Newman had been attacked, his integrity had been called into
question and he responded with this “defense of his life,” as the title could be
translated. Well, this is what Paul’s doing here in this chapter. And he begins his
defense by reminding them how he spoke to them, how he peached the gospel and taught the
Word of God. He starts out with a whole list of negatives. He’s going to prove the
positive by asserting the negative. “Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or
any attempt to deceive,” he says in verse 3. In other words, his motives and his methods
were honest and above board. He didn’t teach them falsehood. He didn’t teach them because
of some ulterior motive to gain personal satisfaction or glory or even money. He didn’t
use any underhanded methods to try to trick them or deceive them.
Then he goes on, “We speak not to please man but to please God who tests our hearts. We
never came with words of flattery or a pretext for greed. We didn’t seek glory from
people.” Then having described what his ministry was not, he goes on to remind them
positively what it was. “Like a mother taking care of her children, we were gentle among
you. We were ready to share with you not just the gospel but also our own selves.” Paul’s
self-giving, self-sacrificing. Paul’s ministry, we would say today, was incarnational. He
invested himself in their lives.
“You remember our labor and our toil,” he writes in verse 9, “we worked night and day
so we wouldn’t be a burden to any of you.” Paul could have depended on them for his
support, just as ministers do in many cases today, but instead he worked with his own
hands so that he wouldn’t be in any way an imposition on them.
Finally, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each of you and encouraged you
and charged you.” So summing up we could say this about Paul’s model ministry in
Thessalonica: It was bold with evangelistic fervor. It was plain and straightforward,
honest, open, and transparent. It was without ulterior motives of either personal gain or
personal glory. It was gentle and loving and this wonderful example that he uses, “Like a
mother with a baby,” but also with a father’s loving firmness and discipline and
correction. It was self-giving, self-sacrificing, surrendering his personal rights. He
could have made demands, he says, as an apostle of Christ, but he chose not to. It was
matched by a holy and blameless life. The message and the messenger were one, and Paul can
appeal to the Thessalonians themselves in evidence thereof. They could bear witness for
they saw him.
And finally, it was blessed by God. They received a word from him, Paul says, not as if
it were the words of man only but as it was in truth the very word of God. And the church
was born in Thessalonica. Blessed is the church with such a pastor, with such a ministry.
But there’s one key verse in all of this that explains the “why” of it. Why did Paul do
what he did? And why did he do it the way that he did at so much personal cost? Listen to
this from verse 4:
just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak,
not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Everything that Paul did, yes, he did out of love for the Christians there, whom he had
just met, but who nevertheless he loved in the Lord. But ultimately everything he did he
was doing for God. And that’s why motive was so important. That’s why integrity was so
valuable to him. That’s why all that he said and did, he did as far as he could with
complete transparency and purity because it was for God, and God could see whether he was
honest and sincere or not. And it was for God not out of a sense of duty but out of a
sense of wonderful gratitude. “We have been approved by God and entrusted with the
You know, trust is a wonderful thing. When someone you know and respect trusts you with
a valuable task, it makes you want to live up to their expectations, doesn’t it? I
remember reading recently a phrase about a Christian best-seller, and the publisher of the
book said that this work had been written to dispel the illusion that God is disappointed
with us. And that started me thinking: Is God disappointed with us? Is that an illusion? I
mean, I’m disappointed in me. How could God not be? But then on the other hand, to be
disappointed with someone, they have to sort of fail to live up to your expectations. And
since God has absolutely realistic expectations, maybe it’s true he’s not disappointed
when we live down to them.
But maybe that’s not the right word or category, not disappointment but disapproval.
Does God disapprove of me? Well, of course he disapproves of some of the things I do, but
wonder of wonders, listen to this: Paul says we have been approved by God to be entrusted
with the gospel. Not just him, I think, not just ministers, but all of us, the whole
church, has been entrusted with the gospel because God approves of us. Ultimately he finds
us worthy of his trust and what he entrusts us with is the wonderful message of life for
the whole world.
It’s a great thing to be able to share Christ with others. And there’s great reward in
doing so with integrity. No, not monetary reward, not financial gain, not personal glory,
all those things belong to the Lord. But how about this for a reward? To be able to hear
him say to you one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Is there anything better