1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
 
Effective Witnesses

 Copyright 2009 (c) American Journal of Biblical Theology 
www.biblicaltheology.com     Scripture quotes from KJV


Paulís first letter to the Thessalonians was written following a visit there by Timothy, and was in response to Timothyís report.  The church in Thessalonica was established by Paul during his second missionary journey when he was accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and occasionally, by Luke.  This letter was written to encourage and establish the young church in the basic truths of the Gospel, to inspire it to progress in the power of holy living, and to instruct it in the matter of the coming of the Lord.  The letter was also written to address specific issues that related to Timothyís report.

The first chapter of the letter included Paulís salutation, one that is common to letters of the era, but with the wonderful application of a Christian greeting within it, something that could be considered uncommon.  The remainder of the chapter was Paulís complimentary exclamation of his pleasure with the overall state of the church, how it had remained faithful to the gospel through persecution, and was an effective witness for the gospel in the region.

With the second chapter, Paul starts to get down to the business of the letter.  Paul will be addressing some specific issues that arose from Timothyís report; issues that may not be overtly listed, but are evident by the content of the letter and the context of his arguments.  The second chapter is an apologetic that defends his own[1] integrity of spiritual substance and purpose.   Why would Paul feel that it is necessary to defend his spiritual integrity?  Why does he turn the focus from the church in Thessalonica to himself?  We might think that such a defense shows a lack of humility, yet we know of the humble character of Paul.  Throughout history most ďscholarsĒ have agreed that Paul was, as he had done in many other situations, boldly defending himself against misconceptions that had arisen in the church during his absence.  The church in Thessalonica was like any other: autonomous in its identity, and led by people with various personalities and backgrounds.  Some of the leadership were pointing to Paul as their authority, and some to other sources, including themselves.  One reason for Paulís apologetic is simply to remind all of the people of the church of who he is, and who he was when he was there with them.

A second reason for Paulís writing of this letter can be found when we note in the first chapter[2] that Paul was complimenting the church for imitating the attitudes and actions of the apostles.  It is Paulís desire that the church continue to grow and continue to be a bold witness to the Gospel throughout the region of Asia Minor.  By his own example, Paul illustrates his view of an attitude and process of evangelism that is appropriate and effective.  Because of this, we can study the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians and receive some instruction that can help us as we seek to be an effective part of the evangelism process.

1 Thess. 2:1.  For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:

Paul first reminds the Thessalonians of what they had learned of his missionary team when they visited Thessalonica for the first time.  The word translated as ďfailureĒ and ďvainĒ literally refers to an empty result.  Perhaps some people in Thessalonica were trying to discredit Paul and his missionary team by implying that their efforts had little to do with the formation of the church.  Such a position could be used to further the power interests of individuals in the church.  Had Paul remained silent, the position of such detractors would only be strengthened.  So, Paul reminds them of what they already knew, and by so doing, exposes the critics and reopens the avenue of evangelism that he originally built.

1 Thess. 2:2.  But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

What was the suffering and insult to which Paul refers?  The missionary journey that resulted in the formation of the Thessalonian church is recorded, in part, in Acts 16 ff.  In that passage, the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi is described.  As Roman citizens, the public treatment and imprisonment they received was illegal, hence the insult.  The suffering was a direct result of the beating and imprisonment.  Paul and Silas were mistreated because of their stand for the Gospel in Philippi.  Shortly after their miraculous escape from the jail, Paul and Silas simply continued their missionary journey that brought them to Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia.  They could have feared similar treatment in that city and remained mute, and safe.  However, despite their pattern of mistreatment that brought them into this region, they boldly continued their mission.

What empowered them to continue against such resistance?  What gave them the courage and strength to enter Thessalonica, a larger and more influential city where their danger of persecution was even greater than that of Philippi?  Paul gives the credit to God for the source of his strength.  Paul makes no attempt to state that his ministry had power because of his own efforts.  He repeatedly notes that all of what he does comes from God.

Paulís penchant for expressing the power of God in his evangelism is instructive.  Like Paul, God has called all Christians to the ministry of evangelism.  Some have argued that not all Christians are ďsoul winners,Ē but certainly all Christians are witnesses.  The light of the gospel that shines in every Christian cannot be hidden, since it shapes their very nature, a nature that can be seen by all people.  That light is not of our own making, but is of the Holy Spirit that leads and guides the heart of every true Christian.  Christians are already equipped for the ministry of evangelism by that power alone, and by none of their own.  We see how that power enabled Paul to persevere in his mission despite considerable resistance from Godís enemies.  That same power enables every Christian to do the same.  Paul established relationships with the lost, and all Christians can do the same.  The rest of the process of evangelism will play itself out as that relationship matures.

1 Thess. 2:3.  For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:

The motivation for evangelism has a critical influence on its results.  Paulís evangelism was not vain, or empty because of his correct motives.  What are some incorrect motives that people might exhibit as they take part in the work of Godís kingdom on earth?  There are probably many, including:

 What are the correct motives for the evangelistic effort?   Any correct motives that we might list all stand on the foundation of Godís agape love.  Paul fully understood that to be without Christ is to be eternally condemned to separation from God.  His sincere love for the lost drove him to great lengths to find ways to communicate the gospel to them so that they would be saved.   This foundational love for the lost people of this world is the correct motivation for evangelism.  When we love the person to whom we are establishing a relationship, we will treat them accordingly, with gentleness and respect.  There will be no hint of incorrect motives in such an approach.

 1 Thess. 2:4-6a.  But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. 5For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: 6Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others,

 Paul states that he feels his purpose is entirely ordained by God, and intended to please Him, and not other people.  Likewise, ours should be a similar testimony.  All Christians are ordained by God as His nation of priests.[3]  Our call to the ministry comes from God, not from man.  Though we do ordain Christian leaders to the gospel ministry, that ordination is simply our stating, as a group, that we support that individual as they are engaged in ministry.  Manís ordination of another is meaningless and powerless without a candidateís initial ordination by God.  It is God who truly knows the heart of each person, and as Paul states, a proper motivation for evangelical work involves pleasing Him, without a particular concern for pleasing others.

 1 Thess. 2:6b-9.  Ö when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.  7But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: 8So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. 9For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

 Paul gives yet another illustration to defend his motives.  Paul often instructed the church in its responsibility to substantively support the leadership that works on its behalf.[4] He wrote of Jesusí command to do the same,[5] and may have even taught this among the Thessalonians since he would have to leave a leader behind who would continue to pastor the congregation.  Paul chose not to take advantage of this right to compensation, choosing instead to do all of his ministry at Thessalonica as a volunteer.  He and his companions worked on their own to take care of themselves.  Why did Paul prefer that the Thessalonians would not support him?  Stated here, he did not want to be a burden to them.  Paul also did not want his missionary message mixed up with any confusion about his motives.  Had Paul demanded full payment for his services, his motive could be perceived as one of profit, opening himself to the very criticism he was hoping to avoid.  Paul wanted all tribute given to God, choosing to receive none for himself, willing only to accept gifts given from the hearts of the people. 

 Jesusí instructions on the subject are intended to motivate the receiver of the ministry to support the one who is giving of their time and effort.  Receipt of ministry is not a license to make demands upon the minister.  One can see the love expressed in a congregation that is willing to support its leaders, and the lack of love in one who makes demands.  The same is true for the one engaged in the ministry.  Paulís ministry to the Thessalonians was gentle, like a mother caring for her children.  The gospel of the Lord is a gentle gospel of peace, love, and truth.   Often the gospel has been presented using methods that are far from gentle, and even today some evangelists try to emotionally beat people into accepting the gospel.  During the early years of the church, such abuse included torture and death to those who did not submit to church dogma.  Any evangelists who fail to demonstrate the gentleness that Paul refers to should be scrutinized carefully to determine their true motives.  The gospel should always be presented in the gentleness that comes from true agape love.

 Not only did Paul share the gospel with them, but he invested his own life with them as well.  He shared their hurts and joys, as he also allowed them to share in his.  He worked beside them as they dealt with the toils of life.  Paul loved the people enough to establish a true and deep relationship with them.  It is only through this sincere relationship that people could trust him and respond to him.

 Paulís description of his own motives illustrates fully that which should characterize our own.  Christians will often openly state their own inability to serve as an evangelist, and such a testimony is appropriate since any true evangelistic ability comes from the LORD anyway.  Paul shared the gospel by establishing relationships with those to whom he would present the gospel, and most people are willing to develop relationships with those around them.  The development of close, deep, and sincere relationships with others provides the foundation for spontaneous evangelism.  To do this, relationships must be established with those who are lost and are without a saving knowledge of God.  Paul reminds the Thessalonians of this truth.

 1 Thess. 2:10-12.  Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: 11As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, 12That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

 Finally, Paul draws upon the memory of the Thessalonians for his final defense.  Though they might not be able to make judgments upon his heart, they could certainly see who he is through his lifestyle.  The heart of a person is often evident by what they do, a principle that James teaches.[6]  A Christian who is living their faith demonstrates Godís love in their lives, and shows a desire to be obedient to God in the things they do.  This can be seen.  Likewise, Paul calls upon the Thessalonians to make a judgment of who he is by his actions.  Paul wrote of the works of righteousness[7]  that are a fruit of the Spirit.  When their behavior in Thessalonica is considered, there is then no charge that can be brought against them, and in this manner they were blameless.

 In Ephesians 6, Paul speaks of the ďbreastplate of righteousness,Ē that piece of the armor that protects us against frontal attack.  When a Christian chooses to practice unrighteousness and maintain attitudes and actions that are not consistent with Christian moral standards, they leave themselves open to attack.  How many ministers and evangelists have seen their ministries compromised due to their own infidelities?  Living a righteous lifestyle is a choice, just as the commission of sin and unrighteousness is a choice.  An effective witness of the gospel is found in one who chooses to live by Godís moral code of conduct and ethics, and by so doing is placed in a position where others can see those good works and respond accordingly.  When such a person demonstrates that true, unconditional, agape love, people are far more willing to listen to the gospel and respond.

 Paul describes his ministry to the Thessalonians as like a father who loves his children and provides for them.  He (1) encouraged them, (2) comforted them, and (3) urged them to live lives that are worthy of God.

 We see in this chapter Paulís defense of his evangelistic ministry.  In it we see a model for ministry that we can imitate:

 Let each of us inspect our own motives and see if they are similar to that demonstrated by Paul towards the church in Thessalonica.  Let us then look at our own willingness to establish relationships with others who need to hear of the blessing of Godís grace and then look for opportunities to share the truths of that blessing.


 

[1] Actually ďtheir ownĒ, as he includes Silas and Timothy.

[2] 1 Thess 1:6.

[3] 1 Peter 2:9.

[4] 2 Thess. 3-9, 1 Cor. 9:3-18, 2 Cor. 11:7-11.

[5] Mark 6:7-13, Matthew 10:5-15, Luke 9:1-6, et. al.

[6] James 2:14-18.

[7] Romans 5:15; 8:29.