1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2 (Part 1)
January 17, 2023
by Peter Amsterdam
1 Thessalonians: Chapter 2 (Part 1)
After the apostle Paul, Silvanus (also called Silas), and Timothy departed Thessalonica due to persecution, they went to Achaia, a Roman province in the south of Macedonia.1 After spending some time in Achaia, Paul moved to Corinth, a bit further south. It was from Corinth that he wrote his first letter to the Thessalonians.
He opened this letter by telling the Thessalonian believers in chapter 1 that he and his companions constantly mentioned them in their prayers.2 He mentioned that they had become an example to all the believers in the surrounding areas of Macedonia and Achaia.3 His letter continues in chapter 2.
You yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But 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.4
Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they personally know that Paul’s visit with them had good results and wasn’t a failure. The Thessalonians knew what kind of people Paul and his companions were.5 The first 12 verses of this chapter focus on the blameless character these three messengers exhibited while they were in Thessalonica. They were there to freely share the gospel, which contrasted with the traveling philosophers of that time who would come into a town and speak with the goal of their own financial profit rather than to benefit the listeners. As one author wrote about such philosophers: Consequently, since they lacked substance and did not result in anything positive, they were described as vain or empty.6
Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers that previously he and his partners were shamefully treated in Philippi. Philippi is 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Thessalonica. It was there that Paul and Silas were arrested without a trial, stripped of their clothes, beaten with rods, and thrown in prison with their feet in stocks.7 Even though they had suffered for preaching the gospel in Philippi, they still shared the message with the Thessalonians in the midst of much conflict.
Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but 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.8
The Thessalonians could see that Paul and his companions were not preaching with deceit or impure motives. Paul wasn’t trying to make money off those who responded to his message. He wasn’t trying to trick people into believing. One author wrote:
Paul claims that he did not reel in any suckers who foolishly swallowed the bait of his deceitful message hook, line, and sinker.9
Another author states:
In the gospel appeal to the Thessalonians, the message was not false, the motivations were not impure, and the methods were not deceptive. The heralds were not hucksters who hustled these people.10
Paul goes on to point out that he and his partners have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. This implies there was a time of testing, after which they were approved for the task set before them. We can’t be sure about when or under what circumstances this testing refers to. One author says:
We may only speculate about when and how this happened in the lives of Paul and his associates. In Paul’s case, could the time of test have been during his three-year sojourn in Arabia (Galatians 1:16–18)? Despite the fact that he was chosen by God to be an apostle even before his birth (Galatians 1:1,15), there was a period during which he was tested and after which God set his seal upon him as one approved for the ministry.11
Whatever Paul’s and his companions’ time of testing required, they passed the test. Because they had been approved by God, the Thessalonians were to recognize that what Paul said to them when he was with them, and what he had since written to them, had God’s approval.
As they were commissioned by God, their desire was to please and serve Him. We speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.12 In referring to not speaking to please people, Paul refers to the kind of speech which those who are deceptive, who have impure motives, or are self-serving and primarily interested in winning the favor of others tend to use. In contrast to the people-pleasers, Paul claims he doesn’t speak to please others, but rather his goal is to please God. Elsewhere in Paul’s writings he also refers to the importance of pleasing God.
Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.13
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.14
Paul speaks of God, whom he desires to please, as the one “who tests (or examines in some translations) our hearts.” The understanding of God as the tester of hearts is found throughout the Old Testament.
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness.15
Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!16
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.17
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”18
Paul uses this Old Testament understanding to show that God, who has examined him, has found him to be worthy of being entrusted with the gospel.
We never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.19
Paul continued to explain his and his partners’ integrity by making three denials. The first denial which Paul makes is that he and his coworkers didn’t come “with words of flattery.” Writers from the ancient world condemned flattery. One ancient writer, Theophrastus, called flattery “a shameful business, but profitable for the flatterer.” He went on to write that “You will see the flatterer say and do all the things that he hopes will ingratiate him.” Aristotle said that the person whose goal is to make people happy in order to profit in money or in goods which can be bought with money is a flatterer. Philo (a Jewish philosopher) listed flattery alongside trickery, deceitfulness, and false speaking.
Paul’s second denial was that he didn’t come with a pretext for greed. One Bible translation says he didn’t have greedy motives (CSB), and another says we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money (NLT). Paul didn’t go to Thessalonica with the goal of greed, of getting money. He emphasized this point by stating that God is witness.
Besides not being in it for the money, in Paul’s third denial he stated that he and his companions were not seeking glory from people. The glory Paul is referring to does not refer to glory in a religious sense. Rather it is meant in the secular sense of fame, prestige, honor, and recognition. Many orators sought fame and fortune. One author explains:
In Paul’s world where public speaking was a major competitive sport, where successful rhetoricians and sophists were treated like superstar athletes or Hollywood celebrities, glory (doxa) alone was a powerful enough temptation even apart from financial gain.20
Paul, Silas, and Timothy did not demand honor from the Thessalonian Christians nor believers in other places, even though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. They were not trying to gain adulation. Paul emphasized this by adding: Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others.21 He does not specify who the “others” are; however, it might refer to believers in other areas, such as Philippi or Jerusalem.
After the three denials, Paul completed his thoughts by stating that he and his companions were like a mother who tenderly cares for her children. In Paul’s time, babies were often fed by a wet nurse, a woman who was not the child’s mother but who nursed the child. In contrast to the wet nurse, Paul likened his team to a mother who gently nursed and cared for her own child. He then went on to explain in more plain language.
So, 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.22
The language that Paul uses here to express his love for the Thessalonians is quite unique, and not found elsewhere in the New Testament. Other translations say: We cared so much for you (CSB), Having thus a fond affection for you (NAS), and We loved you so much (NIV). Paul goes on to say that his and his companions’ disposition toward the Thessalonians was like that of a loving parent who would miss their child if they were apart from each other. As such, Paul and his team decided to not only commit the gospel to them, but also to commit themselves. This was a firm devotion to the Thessalonians. Throughout this epistle, Paul refers to them as “brothers” (and sisters) eighteen times. Many of these believers were likely alienated from their families because of becoming Christians, but they had now found their identity in the family of God.
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.23
Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that while he was with them, he not only shared the gospel with them, but also labored and toiled, meaning that he had a job so that he wouldn’t be a financial burden to them. Elsewhere in the book of Acts and in the Epistles, Paul refers to working. In Acts we read:
Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla … he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.24
Since tents in this time were usually made of leather, it might have been better to describe Paul as a “leatherworker.” He likely learned this trade earlier in life as part of his rabbinic training, as Jewish teachers were expected to support themselves through some sort of labor.
When speaking of his working night and day, Paul also says that we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. One author explains:
During the long hours at his workbench, while cutting and sewing leather to make tents and other related goods, Paul was not only supporting himself but also sharing the gospel with fellow workers and customers.25
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Achaia appears in ten Bible verses: Acts 18:12, 27; Acts 19:21; Romans 15:26; 1 Corinthians 16:15; 2 Corinthians 1:1, 9:2, 11:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:7, 8.
2 1 Thessalonians 1:2.
3 1 Thessalonians 1:7.
4 1 Thessalonians 2:1–2.
5 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
6 Abraham J. Malherbe, Gentle As A Nurse. Novum Testamentum: Leiden, Vol. 12.
7 Acts 16:19–24.
8 1 Thessalonians 2:3–4.
9 Jeffrey A. D. Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 135.
10 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 119.
11 Green, Letters, 120.
12 1 Thessalonians 2:4.
13 Galatians 1:10.
14 1 Thessalonians 4:1.
15 1 Chronicles 29:17.
16 Psalm 7:9.
17 Proverbs 17:3.
18 Jeremiah 17:10.
19 1 Thessalonians 2:5–7.
20 Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians, 141.
21 1 Thessalonians 2:6.
22 1 Thessalonians 2:8.
23 1 Thessalonians 2:9.
24 Acts 18:1–3.
25 Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians, 151.