1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 - Paul's Defense of His Ministry at Thessalonica
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Those who had made it impossible for the Apostle to continue his ministry in Thessalonica have made all kinds of accusations against him and these he refutes in this particular section. Their attacks were not aimed at the message, first of all, but rather against the messenger. However, the criticism of him as a minister of the gospel could also lead to a criticism of the message itself. For that reason he makes his defense. We do not know to what extent the Christians at this place had been influenced by these criticisms, but he seeks to cut off the effect immediately. The minister and the gospel he brings are too closely associated to allow such criticism to stand. Besides, he knows himself to be blameless of the charges made against him.
There were certain conditions at that time which made some of the accusations of his opponents more plausible than we might think in our time. In the first place, no one had asked the Apostle to come to Thessalonica. He was not "called" there. Then why did he come? There has, perhaps, never been a time in which there were so many philosophers and teachers (quacks!) roaming the countryside as during the time the Apostles lived. There were various reasons for this. These "teachers" went about to make a living by means of their teaching. They served themselves and not those whom they taught. The teachings which were coupled with some religion were often the most popular. Now, in view of these conditions, it was rather simple to attack Paul and claim that he was of the same kind as the others. If this charge were believed then he would indeed be discredited, but the gospel would also be undermined. His purpose in this section of this epistle is not first of all to defend himself, but his love for the gospel compels him to write as he does.
Sincere Preaching of God's Truth
"Our entering in unto you ... hath not been found vain." This the Thessalonians know. Let them remember it. When he and his associates came to them and while he worked among them, it was not true that they were empty-handed. In other words, they did not come to them in order to receive from the people, but to give them something! They did just the opposite of the frauds to whom they are likened. This reminder alone should be sufficient to dispel the notion that they were like the others. Paul will make it clear in subsequent words what he gave them.
No, they had not arrived at Thessalonica to receive something for their own benefit. The opposite is true. They had come to this city from Philippi. Here they had been treated shamefully. They had been beaten; they had been placed in prison without a hearing; they had even been placed in stocks (Acts 16). It is true that they had also had a marvelous experience there. God had opened the prison for them and they had been able to minister to the jailor. But, if there would be any experience which would turn them away from the gospel ministry, this was it! However, they had not become discouraged. They had simply traveled 100 miles(!) to come to Thessalonica! They had received courage to do this from their God. No one else could have persuaded them. They had received the courage to speak the same gospel for which they were imprisoned at Philippi to people at Thessalonica. This is their only calling! They brought the gospel "in much conflict," i.e., they agonized over it. They sought the welfare of the people to whom they brought the word. This attitude is the direct opposite of the charge of their accusers.
How did they bring the word here? The author first speaks negatively whereby he informs us of the charges which were brought against him. Our exhortation, or appeal, was not of error or delusion. They had indeed made a strong appeal to the people. Paul never brought the gospel in a manner of "take it or leave it." He pleaded with the people to believe! But, this was not an appeal to a delusion as though it had no substance! He knew whereof he spoke — he believed it with all his heart, and he wanted all his hearers to have what he has. Neither were his motives impure. This refers to the next charge which they levelled against him. By impure motives they may have referred to several things. Not a few of the chief women had believed and this was sufficient for his accusers to charge immorality. His own gain and honor were also called suspicious. They had also charged him with guile, or with deceit. Many of the teachers of the day used all manner of tricks. Paul is charged with using gimmicks. These charges, if true, would make him totally unworthy to be followed. He says the charges are false and will prove it in the next verses.
Approved by God and Seeking His Approval
He now tells us why the charges brought against him are lies. He and those who were with him have been approved by God Himself. They have been approved to bring the gospel and that gospel is the truth and cannot be characterized as error. God would not entrust that gospel, which is the gospel of His Son, to everyone. This ought to make clear the fact that lies have been spoken concerning Paul and his companions. Besides, if they are approved of God, men surely ought to approve of them. But, they were not only accused of speaking error, their motives were also questioned. They speak the gospel at all times not to please men but to please the God who has given that gospel to them. Now God is the One who judges the heart, something which men cannot do. Men can therefore not sit in judgment on their motives.
They did not use words of flattery while they were ministering to the church at Thessalonica. Words of flattery are used by those who seek to entrap people into something which they might not desire. They are used to make an appeal to men whereby the emphasis is shifted from the message which is brought. Paul and his helpers have not used this method, as the Thessalonians well know. All the emphasis rested on the word which they brought. The word has to draw men; other methods will always fail. They are seeking to please God, not men, and therefore the whole idea that they would use flattery is ridiculous. Neither did they use methods as a cloak of covetousness. Flattering words were often used to cover up the real reason teachers had come, namely, to enrich themselves. Perhaps the people would not be able to judge whether or not this defense of the Apostle is true because it deals with the motivation of the ministers. Therefore Paul calls God to witness. He proves the hearts and the Apostle is so sure of the nobility of his motives that he is not afraid to call God to witness.
They have not sought their own glory or honor from this church nor any other. What human honor was there to be had? Is the suffering, such as at Philippi, or the necessity of the hasty retreat from Thessalonica to bring honor to men? How can anyone seriously accuse them of this? Yet, in a certain sense — although that never entered the mind of their accusers — they could have claimed respect and honor from those to whom they ministered. They had been appointed Apostles by the Lord. They were His ambassadors! They came with His authority! Let no one think lightly of the high office to which they had been appointed!
In Motherly Care
Instead of emphasizing the authority wherewith they came and the honor due to them as those who had been divinely appointed to high office, they did the very opposite. We were "gentle" in the midst of you. No one can rightly claim that they had sought honor for themselves. They have dealt with the people of Thessalonica as a mother would deal with her own little children. A mother feeds, clothes, nurses, defends, yes, sacrifices herself for her own children. That is the way the Apostles had conducted themselves while they ministered to them. Not the honor of the messenger, but the welfare of the church was his goal!
The relationship between the messengers and those to whom the message was brought was very close. Paul says that they longed for these people. It is the kind of relationship which is not easy to understand for those who are not involved. They had been strangers to each other and had learned to know each other for such a brief time. Yet it was a relationship such as is seldom found in the world. The missionaries were delighted that they were able to impart the gospel to them, but this was not done in a cold manner. No, they wanted to impart themselves to these people. These people had become very dear to him and his helpers. God had shown His love to them, and those whom God loves, the Apostles love! In a short space of time they had indeed become brethren!
It has been charged that Paul was seeking to enrich himself at the expense of the people at Thessalonica. Well, he says, you know that that is a lie. They must remember how he labored while he was there. He took a "job" so that he would be able to meet his own expenses and not become a burden for the church. He was a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3) and may well have been engaged in this type of work while he was there. He did have the right, of course, to receive payment from the people in Thessalonica. Although this is often considered a touchy subject today, Paul did not consider it to be such. He refers to this matter time and again in his epistles (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-15). It is the duty of the believers to support the labors of the ministers also with their gifts, and the measure in which they do so is also a measure of their spiritual strength. When things are normal the Apostle not only expects this, he demands it! However, there are also circumstances which prohibit the normal functioning of the church. His stay in Thessalonica was so brief. He did not desire to claim his rights but considered it more appropriate to labor with his hands and receive gifts from other churches. As a result, he had to work "night and day" while he was with them. The gospel had to be preached! To achieve this goal he would suffer all inconvenience. He was not laboring for himself — but for the Lord Who had called him!
He is in no way ashamed of the way in which they have conducted themselves in the time they were laboring in this church. They had behaved themselves piously and righteously and unblameably. They had done everything humanly possible to bring the gospel and found the church at this place. These Thessalonians know it and he is, again, not afraid to call in the witness of God Himself. He has a clear conscience and rejects all the accusations which are brought against him.
Had he earlier spoken of his work among them as that of a mother who cares for her children (vs. 7), he now likens his work in their midst to that of a father in the home. A mother "cherishes" the children, the father admonishes them. Yet, a father does not only admonish, he also encourages. So had this Apostle dealt with these people. As he testified concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ he admonished them to walk in the way shown them. He encouraged them when it seemed to be too difficult to walk this way. He dealt with them individually and as a group. These functions were always in complete harmony. He gave no different advice to the individual than he proclaimed from the pulpit.
"Walk Worthily of God"
The purpose of all his labors was to cause them to "walk worthily of God." But, who is sufficient to these things? Their manner of life is to be in harmony with the will of God. By the gospel they have also been called to a certain life-style. It does not only give a certain knowledge. It transforms the whole person! The kingdom of our God has come and by their faith they have become citizens of that kingdom. In all of life they are to be obedient to their new Sovereign. They belong to Him body and soul! However, they are not brought into a different slavery! The glory of His kingdom must be reflected in their lives. He desires — and makes — willing subjects! Walking before Him in the obedience of the gospel, they will experience that they have received the true freedom.
So he ends this section in which he defends himself against all attacks, on a strong positive note.
Questions for Discussion
What are the dangers found in the criticism of a minister of the gospel? Why is it so common?
Seeing that Paul mentions several times that they know these things and that they are witnesses of these things, why does he defend himself so strongly?
What was Paul and his companions' authority as Apostles of Christ? Does the office of the ministry have authority? What is meant by "ambassador"? Is that a serving office?
Why is a minister's salary often "a touchy matter"? How does Paul deal with this matter in his various epistles?
Can a minister's work be effective if he doesn't love the people whom he serves?
Can anyone "walk worthily of God"? What does this expression say concerning our use of the gospel which we hear?