1 Thessalonians 2 NIV
Paul’s Ministry in Thessalonica
2 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results [in vain]. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition [in much conflict].
Paul begins by referring to the Thessalonians as brothers and sisters, using the word Adelphos in the Greek. Adelphos refers not only to one being a brother or kinsman but one of equal rank and dignity; an associate.
Here, also, we see Paul defending his own character and ministry to the Thessalonians. Not because he was insecure about these things, nor because the Thessalonians were suspicious or doubtful. Rather, because he had enemies in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-6, 13). Enemies who discredited him in his absence due to his quick departure from Thessalonica. Paul wrote in his personal manner to the Thessalonians, though this was not a personal issue for him. Paul knew if he was discredited then the Gospel message would, itself be discredited, as well. They were stewards, entrusted with the Gospel; and as taught by Pastor Scott Sunday, it is required of a steward that he be faithful, taking care of something that is not his own. The Gospel Paul preached was not his own, but the Gospel of God. Paul knew he would be called to account for his ministry.
Paul’s calling of the Thessalonians to witness did two things: it showed his confidence in them and it demonstrated that the facts for his vindication were common knowledge. Paul shows many false accusations against him throughout this chapter. Including reference to his imprisonment (suffered and treated outrageously in Philippi; 1Thess.2:2).
Verse 1 refers to their visit to Thessalonica, “our visit to you was not without results”, some versions say “in vain” which in the Greek is Kenos meaning: fruitless, void of effect and to no purpose. Paul uses this word to speak to result and character of his ministry, as it was evident to all that Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica was a success.
Paul also reminds them of his suffering in his ministry. He makes the point, here, that if it were only for him he would not carry on with the message in light of the beatings and conflicts.
Despite his opposition Paul did not preach the Gospel only when it was easy or convenient, he was well accustomed to speaking the Gospel boldly even in the face of strong opposition. Paul, again, preached the Gospel in light of any and all opposition, boldly and often with great suffering being the result. In this translation it says they “dared” to tell them the Gospel, in other translations it says “we were bold in our God to speak”, in both translations, bold and dare are translated: parrēsiazomai, meaning: to speak plainly, freely, boldly, and confidently; “in the face of strong opposition [in much conflict]” is from the Greek word “agon” a term that refers to athletic games meaning: place of contest, race-course, stadium; a contest, strife, contention; peril, and toil.
3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.
As referenced in verse two, there were many false accusations about Paul’s ministry of the Gospel. Here in verse three we see him continuing to defend his ministry, saying that it was not in error or of impure motives or were they trying to trick the Thessalonians, as other missionary minded religions did. Thessalonica was an important port and a melting pot city with cultures from all over the world. There were a 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 also 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. 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 took everything they could from their listeners, and then moved on to find someone else to support them.
Paul points out that they spoke as those approved by God, the word approved coming from the Greek word dokimazō meaning: to approve after trial, judge worthy, choose. Paul was saying that God had approved with much testing and seeing them fit to share the Gospel. He continues with the fact that the ministry spoke to please God, not men. Paul did his best to preach the Gospel to attract the people while never compromising the main focus and character, Christ. He clearly expresses to the Thessalonians that they were not in the ministry for reward or greed, or for their own end.
6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.
7 Instead, we were like young children[a] among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children,
In verses six and seven, Paul continues expressing that they were not in the ministry for themselves. He tells them he is not looking for praise from them or anyone else, mainly because Paul’s satisfaction came directly from his relationship with Jesus. Paul continues to state that, though, they could have made demands as apostles, his intent was not to take from them, rather it was to give to them, as children. Caring for them as a mother would feed her child. He asks the Thessalonians to remember the gentleness and caring of his ministry among them.
8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
Paul continues to encourage the Thessalonian church, that they are well loved and cared for by the apostles. He wanted them to know that they were not a burden, that he was pleased to minister to them. Paul gave both his care and knowledge to the Thessalonians. Reminding them of their toil and hardships Paul points out that while he recognized that they
had a right of support (1 Corinthians 9:14) that they had given up that right. He did this, primarily to set them apart from the missionaries of the false religions.
10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. He could, in confidence say look at my life because the power of Jesus was real in his life. He was comfortable with other Christians following his example. (1 Thessalonians 1:6, Philippians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 11:1). He states that they and God were witness to the way the apostles lived their lives. Paul knew that living the way they lived drew others to follow Jesus. He encouraged the Thessalonians to live the same way, worthy of God, because his example and the message were consistent.
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
Paul expresses his thankfulness that they have received the word of God as truth, as Paul presented it, not as a word of men. Paul passionately believed and taught others that the Gospel was the inspired word of God, spoken to men to be recorded and shared by men; with the power to change the lives of man. He also expresses his thankfulness that there was evidence that the Word received was working effectively in the Thessalonians (those who believed); that evidence being a marked change in their lives.
14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.[b]
Again, as in the first verse, Paul refers to the Thessalonians as brothers and sisters using the Greek word Adelphos; he is speaking to them as equals in the ministry of Christ. When the Thessalonians responded and accepted the Gospel they, too, became targets of persecution; like Jesus and Paul. Therefore Paul refers to them as becoming imitators of God’s churches, of Paul; people of equal rank to the apostle. God’s churches in this verse is important. The word churches is the ancient Greek word Ekklesia, it was not a commonly used word in that time period. It was used by Christians so that the Christian churches were not defined by the other churches of the time. Here Paul is comforting the Thessalonians by reminding them that they were not the first to suffer for the Gospel of Christ; that Jesus and the Christians in Judea had suffered persecution before them.
Paul spoke of those who had killed the Lord Jesus, he was clear that the responsibility did not fall to just one group, but that Jew and Gentile shared the guilt, displeasing God. He continued by comforting the Thessalonians that God was pleased with them, as they endured the persecutions by the religious people.
Paul reveals what offended the religious persecutors. That they were being persecuted because the persecutors believed that Gentiles could not be saved without first becoming Jews. This attitude was what Paul was referring to when he said “they heap up their sins to the limit”. Sin referring
to their evil acts of persecution, not an abstract concept of sin. Paul continues to encourage the people of Thessalonica by assuring them that God would deal their persecutors, thus helping them to remember not to return persecution with persecution.
Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians
17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
Paul reassures the Thessalonians, again, that his absence from them is not a lack of love for them on his part. He further explains the they wanted to visit with them but that satan had hindered Paul, Silas and Timothy. Paul mentions satan here, denoting that while he was with them that he had taught the Thessalonians about satan and spiritual warfare. Paul understood satanic hindrances, he knew it was not random, but also that it would be short lived. He knew, by his faith, that the the hinderance would be overcome quickly. By writing the Thessalonians he was fighting against the roadblock in his way; the letter would go forward and teach and encourage the people in his absence.
Finally Paul assures the people of Thessalonica that he could never forget them because they were his glory and his joy. Paul saw them as his crown of victory, having brought and discipling them to Jesus. He reinforced that his inability to be with them should never be taken as a lack of love.
a 1 Thessalonians 2:7 Some manuscripts were gentle
b 1 Thessalonians 2:16 Or them fully end of footnotes end of crossrefs