Paul explains how he conducted himself at Thessalonica and why his message his trustworthy. Today we face the same choice: whether or not to believe Paul based on the evidence we have from the New Testament.
The Apostle Paul went to Thessalonica during his second missionary journey. Shortly after he arrived, the Jews in Thessalonica drove him out of city. The Thessalonian church is facing persecution and pressure to abandon their new faith. Paul writes to encourage them to continue in the faith.
In chapter 1 Paul reminded them why they believed in the first place and how confident he is in their genuine faith as evidenced by the changes in their lives in face of affliction.
Is Paul boasting?
In 1Thessalonians 2, Paul explains how he conducted himself at Thessalonica using what could be described as “self-congratulatory” language. Why did Paul spend so much time talking about himself?
- Paul travels from town to town, proclaiming the gospel at great personal risk, because the risen Jesus appeared to him and gave him that responsibility (Acts 9:1-18.)
- Paul is one of a select few people who had the authority to speak for and about Jesus.
- People who hate the gospel also hate Paul.
- Paul recognizes that how people respond to him indicates how they respond to the gospel.
- Paul believes both: 1) he does not deserve to be an apostle and 2) Jesus gave him apostolic authority and an accurate understanding of the gospel.
- Paul can juxtapose language about how they respond to the gospel with how they respond to him personally, because in his case, it amounts to the same thing.
- Unlike teachers and preachers today, how people respond to the gospel is evidenced by how they respond to Paul.
- Paul is not speaking from arrogance, but from the knowledge that he has a unique role to play. Because of that role, how you respond to him reveals your response to the gospel.
What Paul didn’t do
1For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2But 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. 3For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4but 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. 5For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. 9For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. -1Thessalonians 2:1-10
- Paul often speaks of himself in first person plural (“we”). In this section, it’s not crucial that we take the “we’’ as Paul himself rather than as Paul, Silas and Timothy, but given the theme and the context, I think it’s more likely that Paul means himself here.
- After being beaten in Philippi, it would have been understandable if Paul had kept his mouth shut and avoided more trouble. Instead, he went to Thessalonica and boldly taught them the gospel.
- His message did not come from error. Everything he said was true.
- His message did not come from impurity . It wasn’t corrupted or falsified in any way.
- Nor did his message come from any attempt to deceive. He did not lie to them or fudge the truth.
- Paul claims his message was true, accurate and honest because he seeks to please God, not other people.
- Paul told them want they needed to hear, not what would flatter and entertain them.
- He did not exert his authority as an apostle, but rather served them and worked to support himself.
- His message was not a pretext for greed.
- He treated them as a loving parent treats a child, not a means to accomplish his own goals.
What Paul did do
10You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11For you know how, like a father with his children, 12we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. 13And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! -1Thessalonians 2:10-16
- Paul acted as God would have him act, because his motive is to please the God who called him.
- His exhorted them to believe the gospel and to live out that belief.
- Paul reminds them that they heard and believed the gospel, embraced it as true and suffered for doing so. This perseverance in persecution is evidence of their genuine belief.
- Just like the churches in Judea, they believed the gospel in the face of opposition from their countrymen.
- The behavior he describes in 2:14-16 is exactly the kind of behavior Paul engaged in before his conversion. He’s aware that God can and does forgive people who persecute others. Paul is not making a racial statement. He’s talking about individuals who rejected God and opposed His gospel. In this historical incident they also happen to be Jews.
- We ought to evaluate people we listen to today in the same way Paul urges the Thessalonians to evaluate him. Each of us can ask: Do the people I listen to act the way Paul refused to act? And do they intentionally act the Paul acted?
- We face the same issue the Thessalonians faced: Are we going to trust and believe Paul’s authority to preach and teach the gospel? We, too, have to choose whether or not to believe him.
Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.
Series: 1&2Thessalonians: Between Times
Study: 1Thessalonians Resources
Scripture references are from the English Standard version.
Season 22 episode 3