1 Thessalonians Chapter 2
(Vs.1-2) “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 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.”
Persecution and opposition force believers to either stand steadfast for the Lord Jesus or to deny Him. Many believers in the western churches are sitting on the fence in that they want the blessings of heaven and the kingdom of God which are in the Word of God, but as far as having a testimony they are somewhat secretive believers during the week at work or on the campus when not attending the local fellowship on Sundays and the weekly prayer meeting and Bible study. In countries like North Korea, China and Pakistan Messianic assemblies of New Covenant believers are constantly harassed persecuted with many imprisoned and martyred for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Many lose their homes and their loved ones and their livelihoods because they confess the name of Jesus. The apostles Paul and his fellow workers were God’s General’s and Satan’s constant targets. In a war the snipers always go for the officers.
Paul and his fellow workers had suffered a great deal of opposition at Philippi before they managed to come to Thessalonica but they also rejoiced in the fact that their visit to Thessalonica had not been in vain even if it was for a short time. The opposition at Philippi had only strengthened their resolve to speak to the Thessalonians the gospel of God even in the midst of severe opposition instigated by Satan (2:18).
One of the signs that the gospel is being effective is that there will be opposition. If there is no opposition then how effective is the preaching and witnessing? The first century Body of the Messiah were for the most part persecuted to a greater or lesser degree depending on attitude of the local governors over the Roman provinces. We do know historically that there were ten Imperial persecutions up until the time of Constantine where throughout the Roman Empire the Body of Messiah was severely persecuted with multitudes of martyrs laying down their lives for the sake of the Lord Jesus. However, the more believers pagan Rome killed the more they hatched.
Tertullian once stated; “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” One thing we also need to remember is what our Lord Jesus said; “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:12-15).
We see this boldness in Peter and John before the Jewish religious High Council boldly declare to them; “We cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The religious leaders who hated the Messiah our Lord Jesus and His followers tried to supress the spread of the gospel but they could not stop the bold testimony of these disciples filled with the Spirit of God and testifying to the salvation and resurrection in Jesus the messiah. When a man or a woman is filled to overflowing with the Spirit of God their testimony will be powerful, effective and spiritually electrifying! They will have boldness! (Acts 1:8) On the Day of Pentecost Peter who had denied the Lord Jesus three times was now boldly proclaiming Him from the rooftop as the only way for salvation and three thousand people were saved in one day! Paul and his fellow workers had this same boldness in their testimony and service for the Lord Jesus and so will we also have this same boldness when we are filled with the Holy Spirit! (Acts 2:4) (Acts 4:29-31).
(Vs.3-4) “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 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.”
Paul was clear that his boldness to speak the gospel of God was not motivated by doctrinal error or from impure motives, neither was there any form of spiritual deceit or mixed motives but that their testimony, their life and their ministry was approved by God and that He had entrusted them with the gospel and they were careful to only say what the Holy Spirit told them to say. The Word of God was the standard for all they said and taught and lived. As it is written; “Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3) (Matthew 4:4). Paul could not care about pleasing the crowd and knew that while man looks on the outward appearance that God looks upon the heart and weighs the motives of the heart.
Tragically today there are so many on the internet with their ‘ministries’ that are raking in the money that it is clear that their motives are not pure before God. The hyper faith money preachers are prime examples! It is a sacred and sober matter to be entrusted with the Word of God and with the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom. Those who engage in ministry of the Word will be judged with greater strictness. As James writes; “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). I wonder what goes through the minds of these conniving money preachers and hype artists when the stage lights are turned off, the crowds have gone home, and they are left alone in their motel room lying down on their beds to sleep?
(Vs.5-6) “For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of the Messiah we might have asserted our authority.”
Flattery is a prime way of getting money out of people and getting them to do favours. Both Peter and Jude have a lot to say about those false and greedy shepherds who infiltrate the Body of Messiah with ulterior motives and with an insatiable appetite for money and for having things good in this world and all at the expense of the sheep. Both Peter and Jude pull no punches in denouncing these men skilled in manipulating the masses with their pernicious and deceptive doctrines by which they lay truth and error side by side (2 Peter 2:1-3, 10-22) (Jude 1:3-16). Paul was very clear in that he and his fellow workers Silas and Timothy did not seek the glory and praise of man even though they themselves recognised their apostolic calling and gifting for ministry and the authority from the LORD who had entrusted them with the gospel of the kingdom. This is true meekness, something that the Lord Jesus Himself exercised when standing before Pontius Pilate who said to Jesus “Do you not realise that I have the power to crucify you or to set you free.” The Lord Jesus replied; “You would have no power over Me unless it was granted to you by My father in heaven.” The Lord Jesus was in control of the situation, not Pilate. The Lord Jesus had the power and authority to act but chose to stay in the will of God His Father knowing that in going to the cross He would bring many sons and daughters to eternal glory, to God His Father and once again co-rule the Universe with His Father after His resurrection and glorification! Paul was no grandstander, neither were his companions either in their apostolic calling and ministry. How were they with the Thessalonian believers then?
(Vs.7) “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 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.”
How many shepherds over God’s flock today are gentle, not weak, but firm and steadfast and totally committed in what they believe and teach and yet are they gentle in the way they handle the sheep? More so how does a nursing mother treat the baby sucking at her breast? What fond affection, what gentleness and care that mother has. Every cry, every noise, every movement of that little baby is closely monitored around the clock by its mother. Rabbi the apostle Paul had this mothering spirit for all of the flocks that in the assemblies that the Holy Spirit had made Him their spiritual overseer. His affection for those whom God had saved through Paul’s ministry was a constant burden for him in that he did not want to see them led astray by wicked and unprincipled so called apostles and teachers who cared more for themselves than for the sheep of God’s pasture.
True leadership in ministry is transparent in money and morality matters. They will be known by their spiritual fruit. They will not be greedy for gain or for any form of aggrandisement and their lives and motives will be clean before God and man alike. Their desire will be to not only to impart the gospel of God in all of its fullness without embellishment but also to impart something of their spiritual maturity and way of life as an example to the flock, not lording it over the sheep, but leading them by example into those spiritually green pastures where they can be fed the nutritious grass of the Word of God. Paul had this attitude as did his companions in the gospel. He then continues…
(Vs.9) “For you recall, brethren, our labour 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.”
Paul had a right to receive remuneration for his ministry as an apostle but often did not insist on this right. He knew that the Law stipulated that one does not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain, and that the labourer is worthy of his hire, and that those who minister the Word of God are worthy of being doubly paid for their labour of love for the shepherd and for his sheep! He also knew that those who teach the Word of in a full-time capacity should also live off of preaching the Word of God when applicable for them to do so.
(Vs.10-12) “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Those who are called by the LORD to be preachers and teachers in the Body of the Messiah are to be transparent in the way they speak and live and especially in matters of financial support. Paul mentions three qualities that he and his fellow workers sought to exhibit to the assembly. They were devout being careful to make sure they sought first and foremost to live godly lives that reflected the character of the Lord Jesus the Chief Shepherd. They sought to behave in an upright manner without any hidden agendas but setting an example in honesty and integrity before the assembly over which the Holy Spirit had given them apostolic authority. They also sought to live blamelessly in that they were careful to maintain their faith in such a way that it was an example to those whom they were teaching. It was not only a matter to be taught but a lifestyle to be caught.
Exhortation and encouragement is also a mark of transparent leadership within the local assembly fortified by imploring the assembly to keep going and not to give up as a father would do for his own children. Devout, upright and blameless behaviour, exhortation, encouraging and imploring will be the mark of genuine leadership, whether they are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, elders or deacons. The end goal of leadership is that the Body of Messiah might live in a way that is worthy in God’s sight and that honours Him who has called us all as New Covenant believers into his own kingdom and glory.
(Vs.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.
Discouragement is always a weapon the devil uses against God’s servants and more so against those who are involved in Church planting or in frontline ministries especially on the mission field. Paul and his fellow workers in the ministry had experienced many setbacks, especially Paul in that he often experienced extreme persecution and opposition from the unsaved Jewish leaders. He also had to fight his human fear that false teachers and prophets would unsettle and undermine the faith of those assemblies that he had been privileged to start. He writes in his second to the assembly at Corinth about all of his trials and afflictions he had experienced in his ministry but overriding all of these afflictions he writes; “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11: 28).
It was spiritually refreshing for the battered and beleaguered apostle to see God work powerfully at Thessalonica in that those who received the Word of God did not see it as the work of man but they knew it was God’s work because of the change it made in their lives and by the example of the apostles transparency in word and deed. The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit, that spiritual weapon the Holy Spirit uses to bring about conviction of sin, the need for righteousness and of the coming judgement (John 16:8-11) (Ephesians 6:17). As the author of Hebrews writes; “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God had become a spiritual reality in the hearts of those who believed at Thessalonica. There is no doubt that the power of God rested mightily upon Paul and his companions. As it is written; “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
(Vs.14-15) “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in the Messiah 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, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men,”
Wherever the Body of the Messiah is working in the power of the Holy Spirit there will always be opposition from the unsaved religious hierarchy and from the secular authorities. In the first century persecution was the norm for the wider Body of the Messiah. It was the Jewish religious leaders that persecuted the assembly of believers in Judea which was for the most part a Messianic congregation. The same persecution the Jewish assembly in Judea experienced at the hands of their own countrymen was also experienced by the believers at Thessalonica by their own countrymen.
In Paul’s time it was the Jewish religious leaders that opposed the preaching of the gospel and these were the ones who had incited the Jewish people to crucify the Lord Jesus. Not only this, but in past history those prophets God had sent to Israel were all persecuted, mistreated and many killed and that by and large at the hands of unsaved religious Jews and by the apostate kings of Israel. Paul and his companions in the ministry also experienced this rejection by the unsaved apostate Jewish religious leaders. Not only were these religious Jewish leaders not pleasing to God they were also hostile to all men. These were proud and arrogant judgemental and self-righteous men who saw all others as spiritually inferior to themselves (Luke 18:10-12). Those who have this religious spirit always persecute those who have the Spirit of God in them. Those who are controlled by the flesh always persecute those controlled by the Spirit (Galatians 4:29). Now let’s continue…
(Vs.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.”
In 70AD the axe of God fell upon Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman Empire. It was a judgement from the LORD upon a people who had by and large rejected the Lord Jesus the Messiah and the salvation found only in Him alone. There was a siege laid against the city so that no one could come in or go out from the city. For a very short time the siege was lifted to a degree because of a political situation occurring in Rome. During this very brief respite Simeon the leading Bishop of Jerusalem who had replaced James who had been killed by Herod with the sword, led the believers through the Roman lines supernaturally protected to safety outside of the city and to a place of refuge at Pella. After the believers had left the city the siege resumed and the city fell! Paul obviously knew that God’s judgement would ultimately come upon Israel because of their rejection of the Lord Jesus and His followers.
Paul would have recognised from past history of Israel that God always judged His people when they rejected His word, stoned His prophets and played the spiritual harlot! If the Jewish religious leaders really understood the scriptures they would have recognised that God’s eternal plan was to incorporate or spiritually engraft the Gentiles into the Commonwealth of Israel, a Biblical fact recognised by the apostles at Jerusalem when James was still alive (Amos 9: 11-12) (Acts 15:16-18).
Israel is still to face the Time of Jacob’s Trouble at the end of this present age because of their rejection of the Messiah our Lord Jesus, however, a remnant chosen by God’s foreknowledge and grace will be saved and Israel fully restored spiritually and nationally (Jeremiah 1-9) (Zechariah 13:8-9) (Romans 11:25-27).
(Vs.17-18) “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. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.”
When Satan seeks to hinder what God is doing the opposition can be very oppressive and difficult. Paul knew this to be true. Often after Paul had established as assembly once he left false teachers would infiltrate, usually by stealth, to teach things that went against apostolic doctrine. In his second letter to the assembly at Thessalonica he had to encourage and remind the assembly members of what he had taught them as there were letters and reports supposedly from the apostles saying that the Day of the LORD had come which included the rapture and resurrection and the last judgments and that they had been left behind.
Because of the severe persecution and opposition they faced some thought that the Day of the LORD had come upon them. Paul had to correct their thinking in this matter and he writes quite a lot about Eschatology in his second letter to remind them of what he had previously taught them when he was among them. When you look at the ministry of Jesus preaching and healing the sick He was also casting out demons as well. It was the same for the apostles when they were serving the Lord Jesus after His ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Eschatology itself is all the way through both Testaments. The entire Bible itself is prophetic in nature!
When Paul started the assembly at Thessalonica he was opposed by the Jewish community as well as the secular authorities (Acts 17:1-8). The Jews reacted to Paul’s message that Jesus was the messiah who was crucified and raised to life by God. The city officials in Thessalonica reacted against Paul’s rejection of Caesar as Lord. The believer’s in Thessalonica sent Paul, Silas and Timothy away at night, certainly not the way Paul would have liked to leave these new believers in the Messiah (Acts 17:10).
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 Paul describes this sudden departure as being “torn away” from the new Christians. The verb has the sense of a child that is orphaned, but also a parent who has lost a child. This is a separation under great emotional distress. Paul did not want to leave; he was forced to leave under threat from the local officials. Notice the verb is passive: Paul did not cause his own departure; he was the victim of circumstances beyond his control and somehow God in His wise and divine providence had allowed this to happen. In this case Satan’s handiwork was also in play. When God is at work you can be sure that Satan is following behind to try to undo what God is doing. However, in the end Satan will be the loser. As godly Job declares to the LORD; “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1).
(Vs.19-20) “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? For you are our glory and joy.”
Paul knew that at the Judgement Seat of the Messiah that he would receive a reward from the Lord Jesus for the work that had been accomplished in seeing many souls come to faith in the Messiah through his ministry. The assembly at Thessalonica was no exception. Paul was going to spend eternity with them and they would be among many assemblies Paul had established, and he looked forward to the crown he would receive. His hope and joy would be abundantly rewarded in the presence of the Lord Jesus when He returns to earth and the rapture and resurrection occurs.
Paul states that the Thessalonian believers were his glory and joy, not something he himself had accomplished, but a work done by God that would have an eternal reward. We must never underestimate the rewards to come if we have done God’s will. All of us are at work in the harvest field for God. Some are on the front line while others are behind the lines, but all are on active service for the LORD with the ardent desire and set purpose to see souls saved and saints sanctified. Our glory and joy in the presence of the Lord Jesus after He has come back will be to see the results of our ministry and service for Him and to enjoy the rewards of our labour in the LORD.
Serving the Lord Jesus in the will of God has its setbacks, trials, temptations and especially opposition from Satan, but there is also a deep seated peace and joy that springboards from the fact that with the submission of our wills to God, and that by faith, His will in the end proves to be good acceptable and perfect and that He is always pleased with persistent faith and rewards it (Romans 12:1-2) (Hebrew 11:6).