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Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

1 Thessalonians 2

Verse 1

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

For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you: It is believed by many commentators that Paul here offers a defense against certain slanders that have been made against him at Thessalonica. This conclusion is based on conjecture since there is no explicit statement in either of the two letters that such slanders are being promulgated there. It is more likely that Paul is making a general defense of himself and his companions "drawing a distinction between themselves and the wandering charlatans of the times" (Kelcy as quoted by Coffman 21). There were aspects of Paul’s conduct that have provided a pattern for the church in general (1:6). In this chapter Paul becomes a role model specifically for gospel preachers. If a preacher’s work is "vain" (fruitless or useless) the reason may be found in a failure to imitate Paul’s modus operandi.

that it was not in vain: The changes wrought in the lives of the Thessalonian converts are dramatic (1:9). Paul’s preaching at Thessalonica, though of short duration, has not been a failure. It has been highly effective, and the results are permanent, the perfect tense of the verb indicating a continuing result. The fact that Paul leaves a thriving congregation at Thessalonica is convincing evidence that his entrance is not vain.

Verse 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.

But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated: A messenger’s sincerity and conviction are often demonstrated by the price he is willing to pay in order to promote his message. The preaching of the gospel cost Paul a great deal in terms of hardship and suffering (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He "suffered before" coming to Thessalonica, having been stoned at Lystra (Acts 14:19), and beaten, imprisoned, and fastened in stocks at Philippi (Acts 16:22-24). The physical pain is often accompanied by ridicule or being "shamefully entreated," suggesting "to outrage, treat insolently" (Vine, Vol. IV 66 under "spitefully"). The material remuneration is meager (Philippians 4:10-12). Only a deep conviction as to the truth of his preaching could have motivated Paul and the other apostles to continue preaching the gospel in the face of such physical discomfort.

as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold: "This word ("bold") is always used in the New Testament of the proclamation of the gospel and denotes freedom from stress" (Cousins as quoted by Coffman 23). (See also Acts 9:27 and Ephesians 6:20.)

"Paul is not speaking of merely natural courage, but of the supernatural endowment with which God equips those who put their trust in him" (Morris 51).

Vincent says this expression refers to the "bold speaking out of every word" (21).

in our God: "It is clear that the characteristic boldness of the Apostle was not mere natural courage, though he was not devoid of that, but the calm fearlessness that comes of consciousness of the presence of God, cp. 1 Peter 2:19, marg" (Hogg and Vine 51).

to speak unto you the gospel of God: It cannot be too often or too forcefully repeated that the gospel is not of human origin. It is the gospel of God.

"The Christian faith is not the accumulated wisdom of pious souls, nor the insight of men of religious genius, but the divine plan for dealing with our sin" (Morris 52).

with much contention: The word "contention" is borrowed from the field of athletics and implies strenuous effort. Such activity is characteristic of the evangelists of the first century and may account in large measure for their phenomenal success in spreading the gospel. A lack of this kind of effort may also explain our modern failure to duplicate their success. Perhaps the extent of the effort can be better understood if we know that the English word "agony" is derived from the Greek word here translated "contention." The preachers of the Apostolic Age were deeply stirred emotionally over the need to reach the unsaved, their preaching being accompanied by agonizing concern for the lost.

Verse 3

For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:

For our exhortation: When Paul speaks of the subject matter of his preaching, he calls it gospel; when he speaks of the manner of his preaching, he calls it exhortation (appeal). This is, as Robertson notes, "persuasive discourse" (16). McGarvey says:

The word "exhortation" has a double significance--it includes the idea of rousing the slothful, and also of comforting the sorrowful. Paul had not roused the indifferent by proclaiming false dangers, nor comforted the despairing by wakening vain hopes" (8).

was not of deceit: Having just stated the divine origin of the gospel, Paul now denies any human motive or source. "The preaching was not from error; the preachers were not wrong (how could the gospel ’of God’ be a mistake?)" (Morris 52). Vincent agrees: "Our exhortation did not proceed from any false teaching which we had ourselves received" ( 22). Fields says the word "deceit" "refers to error that is not merely the result of ignorance, but of evil intentions" (54). The modern mind credits every preacher, no matter how outlandish his claims, with being sincere. Paul reminds us there are insincere preachers who consciously practice deceit.

nor of uncleanness: Immorality, sensuality, lewdness, so much a part of pagan religion at both Corinth and Thessalonica, have no place in the religion inculcated by Paul. They are foreign to both his preaching and his practice.

nor in guile: Paul’s preaching is done with integrity. There is no purpose or effort to deceive; he was not trying to trick the converts.

While uncleanness expresses impure purpose or motive, guile has reference to improper means; plausible but insincere methods of winning converts; suppression of the truth, ’huckstering the word of God’ (see on 2 Cor. ii. 17); adulterating it for purposes of gain or popularity (Vincent 22-23).

Verse 4

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.

But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak: Paul frequently intimates his amazement that so unworthy a vessel as himself could have been chosen by God to house so great a treasure as he considers the gospel to be (2 Corinthians 4:7). Having been entrusted with the truth, Paul is under a continuing obligation to preach the truth, all of it. "The essential qualification for any service is trustworthiness, Matthew 25:21, 1 Corinthians 4:2" (Hogg and Vine 55). Fields says:

God told Jonah the prophet to preach unto Nineveh ’the preaching that I bid thee’ (Jonah 3:2). God approved Jonah to preach only a certain message. Likewise God gave Paul a certain message to deliver. Paul delivered what he was supposed to, and nothing else. It is always a temptation to inject our own feelings, opinions, and hobbies into our preaching. We do well in our preaching not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6; American Stan. Vers.). Speak where the Scriptures speak, and leave our own opinions out (55).

not as pleasing men, but God: Christians have an obligation to please men (Romans 15:2) but not at the expense of the truth. To please God must be the supreme goal. Sometimes both God and man can be pleased at the same time. When that is not possible (Galatians 1:10), however, the choice must be to please God. Nothing can be more important than that. This realization necessitates putting the emphasis in our preaching on those matters to which scripture gives priority. This emphasis may not always please our auditors. Some may not want to be reminded of how far they have wandered from God and how helpless and hopeless their condition is until they accept God’s mercy in God’s appointed way. As Fields notes:

There is much in the gospel that is distasteful to the natural man--its humiliating exposure of our sin and helplessness, its demands for our acceptance of God’s will, the fact that it claims to be the only unchangeable truth, and the severity of its judgments upon those who reject (56).

During the lifetime of Jesus, there were chief priests who sought to curry favor with the rulers of the synagogue rather than to acknowledge Christ openly (John 12:42). In a similar situation, a modern preacher may be tempted to soft pedal the truth out of fear of offending his auditors. As Robertson says:

Few temptations assail the preacher more strongly than this one to please men, even if God is not pleased, though with the dim hope that God will after all condone or overlook. Nothing but experience will convince some preachers how fickle is popular favour and how often it is at the cost of failure to please God (Robertson 17).

which trieth our hearts: The heart is the wellspring of conversation, character, and conduct (Proverbs 4:23). The Bible heart is the seat of emotion, intellect, conscience, and volition. "God tests our hearts...and he is the only one whose approval matters in the end of the day (1 Corinthians 4:5)" (Robertson 17).

Verse 5

For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:

For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know: This is a further denial that there was ever any effort to deceive on the part of Paul, this expression referring to "deception by slick eloquence" (Moore as quoted by Morris 54).

nor a cloke of covetousness: This expression refers to greed, an excessive desire to acquire things, sometimes that which belongs to another. Such has long been the bane of preachers, but not Paul. "Paul means that he had not used his apostolic office to disguise or conceal avaricious designs" (Vincent, Vol. IV 24).

Contrast Paul’s behavior with that of the false prophets whom Peter describes: "And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Peter 2:3).

God is witness: The hymn writer reminds us "There’s an all-seeing eye watching you." Paul is always conscious of that fact. He knows God is in every audience hearing every word he speaks. His awareness of the presence of God would have caused him to exercise great care to speak only those words of which God approves. God is also witness in the sense that He attests the veracity of the preachers of the first century, "confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:17-20).

"For testimony to his conduct, he appeals to the Thessalonians (as ye know): for testimony to his motives, he appeals to God" (Vincent, Vol. IV 24).

McGarvey says, "As to his outward conduct (that it was without flattery) Paul calls the Thessalonians to witness; as to his inward desires (that they were without covetousness) he calls God to witness" (8).

Verse 6

Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others: Paul does not make it his aim to obtain the glory (praise) of either Christians or non-Christians. Great praise has been lavished upon him, but it is a byproduct of his fidelity to God, not the direct result of an effort to elicit such praise. The desire for glory can be as strong a motivator as the desire for material gain; hence, Paul’s denial that either is the underlying cause of his preaching. Neither the act of preaching nor the content of his preaching could be influenced by the prospect of gain or the profusion of praise.

when we might have been burdensome: The word "burdensome" can have one of two meanings. It can refer to authority, in which case Paul is saying that he has not sought to throw his weight around, to pull rank on the new converts or to bring to bear upon them the weight of his apostolic authority. It can also refer to placing an unnecessary burden on someone. This is the likely meaning here. As the context shows, Paul does not wish to be financially dependent upon the Thessalonians. Such dependency would have been a burden on the brethren, suggesting that while some of them might have been rich, the congregation is largely made up of poor people. In the previous verse, the apostle repudiates covetousness, the desire for unlawful gain. Here, he says he also relinquishes a right and lawful claim to be supported by the Thessalonians (1 Corinthians 9:6-14).

as the apostles of Christ: The word apostle means "one sent." There are only fourteen individuals designated in scripture as "apostles of Christ": the original twelve (Matthew 10:2-4), Matthias (Acts 1:26), and Paul (Ephesians 1:1). There are a few others called apostles in the secondary sense of emissaries of various churches. Despite claims to the contrary, there are no apostles today because no one can meet the qualifications for that office (Acts 1:21-22). Paul uses this title here to indicate he is entitled to be supported financially, yet he has asked for no support and does not think it expedient to do so.

Verse 7

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:

But we were gentle among you: There is some manuscript evidence that Paul used the word "babies" rather than "gentle." If so, this is a further manifestation of his humility. He does not consider apostleship as a warrant to be arrogant toward his auditors, but as a summons to be submissive to the God Who commissioned him. If "gentle" is the appropriate word, then it stands as a rebuke to those whose preaching is always characterized by sternness and harshness. There may be occasions when it is necessary to "take the hide off," but they must surely be the exception rather than the rule. When we follow the apostolic example, we will be tender in our preaching.

"Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth" (Stott 70).

even as a nurse cherisheth her children: Some scholars believe this phrase refers to a nursing mother and the gentleness and tenderness with which she cares for her own child. As a child might be dependent upon its mother for the milk that sustains life, the Thessalonians are dependent upon Paul and his companions for the "sincere milk of the word." The missionaries have risked their lives to provide the spiritual nourishment.

Verse 8

So 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.

So being affectionately desirous of you: Paul’s thoughtful concern for his converts does not end with his departure from their midst. He carries with him a yearning for their well-being. He feels an emotional tie to them and longs to assure their physical safety and their spiritual maturity.

we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls: The Greeks had a notion that a messenger and his message were inseparable. Paul seems to be borrowing that idea here. The word "soul" seems to refer to the totality of Paul’s personality. Paul gives the Thessalonians, not just empty words that he has heard somewhere, but the gospel personified. It is so much a part of him, that one can see it translated into action as one observes the way Paul lives. He really does practice what he preaches!

because ye were dear unto us: Having already mentioned his yearning affection, Paul reinforces his feeling for them by saying "you became beloved to us." Paul’s feeling toward the Thessalonians is like that of God for his Son, the same word being used of both (Matthew 3:17).

Verse 9

For 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 uses two synonyms, both of which refer to arduous toil. His use of "labour" may have been intended to stress the fatigue involved in preaching; "travail," the arduous rigor. Preachers in the apostolic age expect tiresome physical labor and austerity to accompany the preaching of the gospel. Paul has not chosen a soft life. He has been chosen for a fatiguing one. When financial support is available for his missionary efforts, he gratefully accepts it (Philippians 4:10-18). When it is not, he makes tents (Acts 18:3). Thus, the unavailability of funds could never deter the preaching of the gospel.

Verse 10

Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

Ye are witnesses, and God also: Paul makes numerous references in this letter to the fact that his life is an open book. He calls upon the personal knowledge of the Thessalonians as confirmation of his exemplary behavior among them.

Happy are those Christian leaders today, who hate hypocrisy and love integrity, who have nothing to conceal or be ashamed of, who are well known for who and what they are, and who are able to appeal without fear to God and the public as their witnesses! (Stott 47).

The Thessalonians could testify of Paul’s exemplary conduct; only God could bear witness to his motives.

how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves: Paul uses three adverbs to describe his behavior. Sharp distinctions in meaning may not be intended. However, "holily" probably refers to the fact that Paul has been "set apart" for divine service; "justly" seems to intimate that the apostles are in conformity to a norm, the revealed will of God; and "unblameably" suggests their conduct is of such high moral quality that no one could justifiably accuse them of any breach of God’s standard of morality.

among you that believe: An obedient faith is one of the hallmarks of a Christian. For this reason, Christians are sometimes simply called "believers" (1 Timothy 4:12).

Verse 11

As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,

As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged: Preaching involves more than the impartation of information. It is exhortation, using the art of persuasion to change lives; it is comforting, offering encouragement to the fainthearted (5:14) and the bereaved (4:18; John 11:19; John 11:31); and charging (1:12), presenting the demands of the gospel without compromise.

every one of you: Paul’s preaching is not en masse, but personal. He is not just preaching to the public at large but to individuals. There could be a reference here to the kind of private teaching Paul had done at Ephesus (Acts 20:20). "The minister, if he would be useful must not deal merely in generalities, but must individualize and particularize" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 386).

as a father doth his child: In verse 7, Paul compares his treatment of the Thessalonians to the gentleness of a mother. Here he likens the manner in which he instructs them to that of a father exhorting, comforting, and commanding his children.

Verse 12

That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

That ye would walk worthy of God: The lax standards of morality that prevailed in idolatrous Thessalonica are in sharp contrast to the high standard of morality inculcated by Paul. The metaphor of walking describes the progressive nature of the Christian life. It is not a consummation but a continuum. One must keep on keeping on. Progress may be slow and gradual, but there must be progress nonetheless. And the ideal toward which we are aiming is to live a life that will please God.

Since it was part of his teaching that the kingdom of God has both a present manifestation and a future glory, we may assume that he appealed to the Thessalonians to live a life worthy both of their dignity now and of their destiny at the end (Stott 54).

who hath called you: God keeps on calling, but His call is not irresistible. We may respond to it, or we may reject it. The person who hears the gospel is always personally responsible for the disposition he makes of the gracious call contained therein.

unto his kingdom and glory: This is one of many New Testament verses that speaks of the kingdom as an existing reality during the apostolic age. Citizenship in the kingdom of God is promised to those who make an appropriate response to the call. This kingdom is not a geographic entity. It is "the sphere of God’s rule" (Hogg and Vine 68). It is a spiritual relationship in which the will of God is "done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). "Glory is the future consummation of that kingdom. Glory of God expresses the sum total of the divine perfections" (Vincent, Vol. IV 27).

Verse 13

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it: Morris cites one scholar (Ward 62) who has referred to "received" as a "hospitality word." Its use here suggests the Thessalonians hospitably welcomed Paul’s preaching as one might welcome a dear friend into one’s house. The Thessalonians Are open-minded and teachable. But more than that they acted on what they heard. "Paul appears to be thinking of the obedient response of faith that followed when the Thessalonians received the message" (Morris 62). The word was heard, received, welcomed, and obeyed.

not as the word of men: The word is preached by men, but it does not originate with them, and the Thessalonians have heard enough doctrines with purely human origins to be able to recognize the difference between the two.

but as it is in truth, the word of God: Twice in this verse Paul says the message he proclaimed is the word of God. To further emphasize its divine origin, he says it is "not the word of men." To substitute the words of men for the word of God would have been for Paul a betrayal of the sacred trust reposed in him (2:4) and an invitation to be eternally accursed (Galatians 1:8-9). A similar fate awaits preachers of today who are not careful to preach "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

which effectually worketh also in you that believe: The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Like those prophetic utterances of old, "It shall not return unto me void" (Isaiah 55:11). The frequency with which this verb ("worketh") and its cognates refer in the New Testament to the activity of God makes it all but certain the reference here is to God’s work in the lives of believers. Lending support to that notion is the fact that some scholars believe that, in the Greek, the verb is passive rather than active. The word "is at work in you" (NIV). As Morris notes, "the power is God’s and the word is his instrument" (63). "The message came from God through the apostle to the Thessalonians and was changing them" (Stott 54).

Verse 14

For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:

For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea: Paul has earlier mentioned that the Thessalonians have become followers or imitators of the gospel preachers who labored among them and of the Lord himself (1:6). Now he says they are followers of the churches in Judea. The specific reference is to the fact they suffer in the same way the Judean churches had suffered. In a more general sense, the Judean churches are prototypes to all churches of the Lord until the end of time. While some reject what they call "pattern theology" as unscriptural, there is good reason to believe the churches of the apostolic age are models for the churches of all subsequent generations. To the extent they behave as God intended them to, they become patterns for local congregations in every generation until the Lord returns to receive His bride.

are in Christ Jesus: Hogg and Vine see in this a reference to church autonomy.

Churches are knit together not by any external bond, as of order, organisation, history, or distinctive doctrine, but by the vital relation of each to the one Lord of all, on Whom each is directly dependent, and to Whom alone each is directly responsible (74).

for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen: In the previous verse, Paul observes the "word of God...effectually you that believe." Now he cites their behavior as evidence in support of that statement, especially the equanimity with which they endure suffering.

even as they have of the Jews: There are striking similarities between the experiences of the Christians in Judea and Thessalonica.

There was likeness in respect to the nation from which both suffered, viz., Jews, and those their own countrymen; in the cause for which, and in the evils which, they suffered, and also in the steadfast manner in which they suffered them. Such sameness of fruits, afflictions, and experimental characteristics of believers, in all places at all times, are a subsidiary evidence of the truth of the Gospel (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown 387).

Verse 15

Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:

Who both killed the Lord Jesus: The Jews were not the only culprits; Judas, the Roman soldiers, Pilate, and others played a significant role. But that the Jews were culpable is beyond dispute. Modern revisionists have tried unsuccessfully to rewrite history to exonerate the Jews of their guilt in the awful crime of deicide. Scripture records, however, that it was the rulers of the Jews who say, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). The object of their heinous act was none other than the God-man, the Lord Jesus. Paul hands down a six-count indictment against his own Jewish countrymen--they killed Jesus, they killed the prophets, they persecuted Paul and the other apostles, they displeased God, they were contrary (antagonistic) to all men, and they forbade Paul to preach to those who were willing to hear him. These charges should not be viewed as anti-Semitic but a recitation of historical facts by one who is himself a Jew.

and their own prophets: God’s spokesmen have almost never been well received. To the contrary, many have been slain by the very people whom they came to bless (Acts 7:52).

and have persecuted us: The fate of the prophets and of the Lord Jesus is shared by the apostles as well. God’s way and God’s people are always objects of hostility and rejection. Persecute means to drive out, suggesting the particular form this persecution took (Acts 17:5-9). Followers of Christ have often been the recipients of the same kind of ill-treatment accorded the founder of their faith.

and they please not God: That such hostility and rejection are displeasing to God is the point of emphasis here. Such a failure may stem from ignorance of what it takes to please God or from a lack of concern about pleasing him.

and are contrary to all men: Hostility to the creator will ultimately issue in hostility toward the creature. The person who has no compunction about pleasing God will have no concern about pleasing man.

Verse 16

Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles: The conduct of the Jews is reminiscent of the fable about the dog guarding a haystack. He cannot eat the hay, but he does not want the cows to get it. The Jews in large measure not only refuse to accept the gospel but they do all within their power to prevent the Gentiles from accepting it. Preaching is essential to salvation. If the mouths of the preachers could be stopped, there would be no converts at Thessalonica.

that they might be saved: This is another reminder that salvation comes only through the gospel. The salvation is dependent upon the speaking. Cornelius is told to send for Peter "who will tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved" (Acts 11:14). Salvation is a comprehensive term embracing past, present, and future forgiveness, redemption, justification, and sanctification.

to fill up their sins alway: It may not have been a conscious or intentional thing on their part but the end result is that the Jewish opponents of the gospel are heaping up sins for which they would one day be accountable. "Alway" "refers to an uninterrupted succession of rebellious acts" (Hogg and Vine 80).

for the wrath is come upon them: The grammar in this verse stresses the certainty and the completeness of the wrath of God. So sure is Paul of the certainty of punishment that he writes as though it has already come, and with continuing results.

to the uttermost: This statement belies much of what is said today about the restoration of the nation of Israel. Modern "prophets" continue to assert that the Jews as a people have some future role in God’s plan. To the contrary, Paul uses strong and pessimistic language to assert the rejection of Israel as a nation. Having so long rejected Him, the Jews now find themselves rejected. This is not to say that an individual Jew cannot be saved. Indeed Paul himself affirms, "And so all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26). The context shows that any Jew can be saved just like any Gentile. Obedience to the gospel can bring salvation to both. However, as a nation Israel has been rejected, cut off, never again to play any role in the divine economy.

Verse 17

But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.

But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart: The original word for the phrase "being taken from you" means orphaned. As Swindoll notes, "The prefix on the original Greek term in this verse intensifies it so that it literally means ’to be torn away from.’ Perhaps a better translation of this word would be kidnaped" (17).

Paul is referring to the mob violence that precipitates his departure from Thessalonica. He has no desire to leave those babes in Christ bereft of a spiritual father. He would have extended his stay among them until they are fully instructed in the way of the Lord but for the threats against his personal safety. He describes his absence as "a short time," but it very likely lasts some five years.

endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire: Paul’s success as a missionary may have been traceable in large part to the intensity with which he undertakes any task. Even the plan to return to Thessalonica springs from "great desire." It is not a halfhearted gesture but a wholehearted commitment, the same word having been used by Christ at the Last Supper (Luke 22:15) and by Paul in connection with his departure to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23).

Verse 18

Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.

Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again: The verb "combines the ideas of speed and diligence and conveys an impression of eagerness, of making a quick and serious effort" (Morris 66). The exact nature of the effort Paul makes to return to Thessalonica is not recorded, but it is clear that he does not take his exclusion from that city "sitting down." His efforts to return are continuous and tireless.

but Satan: "Satan" comes from a Hebrew word meaning adversary. "In the N.T. the word occurs thirty-six times, and always with reference to the sinister and mysterious enemy of Christ and His people" (Hogg and Vine 82).

hindered us: "The Greek word used here is egkopto, which means ’to cut in on’. It was often used to refer to a runner who cut in on the stride of another runner during a race" (Swindoll 17). Fields notes that egkopto "is a military term and indicates the obstruction of an enemy’s progress by breaking up the road, destroying bridges, etc." (80). There has been a great deal of conjecture as to the nature of the hindrance; but, as noted by Hogg and Vine, "How Satan hindered him is not stated, but probably the bond that Jason and his friends gave to the civil authorities at Thessalonica, Acts 17:9, included an undertaking that Paul would not re-enter the city" (84).

Fields points out that the hindrance might have taken the form of sickness, poverty, or persecution but adds, "Perhaps Satan hindered Paul by the ’distress and affliction’ mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 3:7" (81). Morris may be correct in saying, "We should admit our ignorance and understand the term in the most general sense" (67). We underestimate the influence of our adversary if we do not credit him the ability to interfere with our plans. "They are poor students of the word of God who do not have proper regard for the power and malignity of their enemy, Satan" (Coffman 33).

Satan’s hindrance is overruled by God for good. It results in Paul’s writing these two letters to the Thessalonians, letters without which the Christian community would be greatly impoverished.

Verse 19

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?

For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye: This is another of those passages that suggests we will know each other in heaven. Unless it is possible for Paul to recognize and identify the Thessalonians, then how will it be possible for them to be his hope, joy and crown?

Perhaps no one has ever found greater joy than Paul in the conversion of the lost. It is a joy which would continue into eternity. As Wuest says, Paul:

...speaks of the Thessalonian saints whom he also won to the Lord as his stephanos of rejoicing. He will wear a victor’s crown at the coming of the Lord Jesus for the saints, his converts composing a more beautiful festal garland than ever graced the brow of a Greek athlete, even though that stephanos were made of roses or violets (Bypaths 64).

in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ: Some combination of these three words occurs no fewer than twenty-four times in Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians. It can be no accident that in his earliest writings the apostle has already recognized how unique Jesus is. It is impossible to capture his full significance in a single word. His humanity (Jesus) and divinity (Lord) are placed in the historical perspective of fulfilled prophecy (Christ). In speaking of what the Thessalonians would mean to him in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, "It is evident that the Apostle expected to recognize them in their changed bodies, Philippians 3:20-21" (Hogg and Vine 87).

at his coming: "Coming" (parousia) refers to "the royal visit of a sovereign." (Wuest, Bypaths; see also 3:13;4:15;5:23). That makes it an appropriate word to use in connection with the second advent of the King of Kings. "It is applied seventeen times to the second coming of Jesus" (Fields 82).

Verse 20

For ye are our glory and joy.

We know nothing of the quality of Paul’s work as a tent-maker, but his work as a gospel preacher is unexcelled. "Glory" and "joy" crown his labors everywhere.

"Of the two words he uses, glory refers to their giving him cause for honoring them before other people and joy to his own feelings of delight. Outwardly and inwardly the Thessalonian converts crowned his ministry" (Morris 68).

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Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2". "Contending for the Faith". 1993-2022.