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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

1 Thessalonians 2

Chapter 2. Paul Demonstrates the Genuineness of His Ministry and Encourages the Thessalonians in the Face of Persecution.

Having commended and rejoiced in the wonderful experience of the Thessalonians brought about by God through his Spirit-filled preaching, Paul now demonstrates what kind of a ministry he had among them. It is clear that this question arose because some had come to the Thessalonian church seeking to diminish Paul and his influence, apparently calling him a self-seeker, a time server, a hypocrite, and a money grabber who had now moved on and deserted them, like many wandering philosophers who were concerned only for themselves and their own cleverness and what they could get out of it. So Paul reminds them of what the truth about him really was as they knew from their own experience.

He emphasises that they had brought the Gospel of God, that they had been approved by Him for that purpose and always preached as those who must give account, that all the charges were unfounded, that they were always sincere and never used flattery or fair words, that they sought neither prestige nor money, but that rather they had provided their own finance, had laboured hard night and day, and had shown love and tenderness like that of a father or a nursing mother. He calls on them to themselves testify as to the total rightness and godliness of their behaviour from their own experience.

The amount of emphasis on this in the epistles demonstrates how concerned God was for His word to constantly speak to preachers to remind them what their approach and attitude of heart should be. All preachers would do well to study these words again and again, and measure their ministry by them.

He then encourages them in the face of persecution.

Verse 1

‘For you yourselves, brothers, know our entering into you, that it has not been found vain.’

This is his first evidence of his genuineness, the wonderful results that followed his ‘entering into’ them. For the verb compare 1 Thessalonians 1:9. He had ‘come in’ and the result had been the transformation of their lives (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) as they well knew. Thus his visit had not been a failure, it had not been found empty and useless, accomplishing nothing. It had indeed accomplished a great deal.

Verse 2

‘But having suffered before, and been shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in much conflict.’

The second evidence of his genuineness is that he was willing to go on preaching even though it brought him much suffering. They knew how badly treated he had been at Philippi (Acts 16:12-40), but this had not prevented them from coming to Thessalonika, and continuing to preach boldly even though there were the signs of the same things happening to him there (Acts 17:5). He had not flinched or hesitated. He had been willing to suffer among them for the Gospel’s sake while proclaiming that ‘Good News from God’ to them. Note the stress that the Good News they had brought was ‘of God’. It was God’s Good News, not his.

‘Shamefully treated’, that is treated arrogantly or spitefully. At Philippi the law was called in and false accusations were made against them. They were then scourged and put in the stocks in prison.

‘Waxed bold’, that is had the courage to speak freely. Did not hold anything back for fear of misinterpretation. And this was because they knew that they were ‘in our God’, Who watched over them and protected them, for it was His good News that they proclaimed.

‘Much conflict.’ This probably refers to external conflict rather than inner conflict. The Thessalonian opponents also called in the law. It was a time of great upheaval and coping with strong opposition.

Verses 3-4

‘For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile, but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the Good News, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who proves our hearts.’

This amplifies the fact that what they preached was God’s Good News. Their enemies had clearly charged them with wandering from the truth (as they had accused Jesus of the same), of encouraging immorality (the constant Jewish criticism, usually justified, of pagan religion), and of using guile. So Paul stressed that there was no error in their teaching, no wandering from the truth, there was no lack of morality, there was no deceit or attempts to mislead, rather they spoke as those appointed with the approval of God as worthy proclaimers of that Good News. They preached as those who wanted to please the God Who had appointed them, and Who searched and tested their hearts, and not just to please men. Any pastor or preacher who is of God will follow their example, and should also remember that God will weigh up their message and will test out their inner heart.

‘Approved’, that is approved by testing.

‘Not as pleasing men.’ The verb often signifies pleasing by service on someone’s behalf. So they were God approved, God tested, and intent solely on pleasing God in the way they served.

‘Hearts.’ In the Bible this word includes the will and the mind as well as the emotions. It represents the whole of a man’s disposition.

Verses 5-6

‘For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as you know, nor a pretext resulting from greed. God is witness. Nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as Apostles of Christ.’

They were not like professional philosophers who went around in their philosophers’ cloaks, giving men what they wanted to hear so that they would feel self-satisfied, and seeking payment for their teaching. Who put on a pretence because of their greed, as they angled for money and admiration. But Paul and his companions were not interested in pleasing men in their teaching, and lulling them into a feeling of satisfaction and wellbeing so that they would receive a reward. They were not in it for money or for prestige or for hero worship. Indeed they refrained from seeking in any way to benefit financially, even though as the Apostles of Christ they would have had a right to hospitality and assistance (Matthew 10:10-11).

‘Seeking glory from men.’ The idea here is of being exalted in men’s eyes as spiritual superiors and mentors so that people paid over money or rendered honour.

‘Apostles of Christ.’ The word is used, with rare exceptions, only of the twelve, Paul and Barnabas (‘the Apostles to the Gentiles’) and possibly of James, the Lord’s brother (see 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:11 to Gal 2:9 ; 1 Corinthians 15:5-7; Acts 1:26). They uniquely represented Christ. The word Apostle has similarities with the Hebrew shaliach, someone sent as a representative so that he stood in the other’s place. It was an authority that could not be transmitted. The idea related mainly to having personally known the Lord (Acts 1:21), of being specifically appointed by Christ (Matthias through the lot) and of being the vehicles of special revelation from God (John 14-16; Galatians 1:12). Here Silvanus is included as sharing Paul’s Apostleship in a secondary way because of his close association with Paul in his Apostolic ministry. It includes a little more than just a messenger. It stresses their right to give authoritative teaching. But he is never directly called an Apostle.

Verse 7

‘But we were babes in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherishes her own children.’

‘Babes’ is the majority reading of the most ancient manuscripts and is powerfully supported. The alternative ‘gentle’ has relatively little support. The idea is of innocence and no pretence. A baby expresses itself totally honestly. Paul then illustrates it with the example of the way a nanny cherishes her children, completely open and honest and thoughtful. A relationship of total trust and faithfulness. Some see Paul as having here the idea of a nurse indulging in ‘baby talk’, adapting herself to her listeners.

The Old Testament uses a similar picture of the people of God being comforted by Jerusalem (Isaiah 66:10-13 compare Isaiah 49:15 of God Himself)

Verses 8-9

‘Even so being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own inner selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labour and travail. Working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached to you the Good News of God.’

We learn here the great love that Paul had for his converts. ‘Affectionately desirous’ expresses the idea of a yearning love. It was used on a grave inscription describing the parents’ sad yearning for their dead child. He gave them not only the Good News, but himself as well, because of how much they meant to him. Beware the preacher who lacks love, and does not impart his inner self to his hearers.

This was further demonstrated by the huge effort he put into bringing home to them the Gospel. ‘Labour and travail’, represents wearisome toil and hard and painful toil. They had worn themselves out, working to support themselves (see Acts 18:3) so as not to be a financial burden, and preaching night and day whenever opportunity arose, until they were exhausted.

Note the stress in this chapter on ‘the Good News of God’ (1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:8-9). He wants to stress that the Good News is from God, and reveals God, because He is its source.

Verses 10-12

‘You are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves towards you who believe, as you know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging you, and testifying, to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Paul now calls on a twofold witness to the truth of what he is saying, and each is called on three times. The Thessalonian Christians are themselves witnesses. Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:2, ‘you know’, 1 Thessalonians 2:9, ‘you remember’, but here the ‘you’ is emphatic The idea is getting stronger. And Paul now again calls on God as a witness. Compare 1 Thessalonians 2:4, ‘God Who proves the heart’, 1 Thessalonians 2:5, ‘God is witness’.

‘How holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves towards you who believe.’ Again a threefold combination emphasising completeness. Compare 1Th 1:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. ‘Holily’ stresses the rightness of their behaviour in God’ eyes in their religious approach, righteously stresses the rightness of their behaviour in God’s eyes in terms of right and wrong, unblameably stresses the faultlessness of their behaviour before God. ‘Towards you who believe.’ Christians are regularly thought of as ‘believers’, the idea being that there is only one truth, Jesus Christ (compare John 14:6), and therefore no object need be stated.

‘As a father with his own children.’ First the nursing mother, now the father. No closer relationship could be described. Compare Psalms 103:13. They were father and mother to them in the best sense of the words. Note the interesting comparison of the nursing mother ‘cherishing’ her children, and the father ‘exhorting and encouraging’.

‘Each one of you.’ This is emphatic. He had taken a personal interest in each one. None had been neglected.

‘Exhorting you, and encouraging and testifying --.’ The emphatic ‘you’ probably connects with all three verbs. ‘Exhorting’ has in mind awakening and spurring on. The word for ‘encouraging’ is found in John 11:19; John 11:31 where it refers to comforting the bereaved. It is a very tender word. ‘Testifying’ stresses that the exhortation and gentle encouragement was on the basis of a truth testified to. It was not just general platitude, but based on response to specific truths.

‘To the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.’ The truths are now stated. They walk before God Who has called them under His kingly rule and to share His glory. (The present tense stresses that the call is continual and never ceasing). They must therefore walk worthily of Him. Response to the Good News brings a man into a personal relationship with God. He can no longer be what he was. He has been called to be God-like, a true representative of the King. Note the close connection between the kingdom and God’s glory. To be in the Kingdom is to share His glory. Thus the final idea here is of the heavenly kingdom, and yet it is something that we can enjoy now.

The idea of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’ appears in the Old Testament, first at Sinai where it is implicit and God becomes His people’s sovereign (explicit in Deuteronomy 33:5; Exodus 19:6 compare Psalms 5:2; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 22:8; Psalms 24:7-10; Psalms 29:10; Psalms 44:4; Psalms 45:6; Psalms 47:2; Psalms 74:12; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 98:6; Psalms 103:19; Psalms 145:1; Psalms 145:11-13; Psalms 149:2 where He is also king of all the earth), and then in the ideal fulfilment of what was expressed there in the coming time when God’s rule will be established and acknowledged and all will walk in obedience to Him (e.g. Zechariah 14:9; Zechariah 14:16-17; Isaiah 24:23; Obadiah 1:21; Zephaniah 3:15). It is also linked with the establishing of His righteous King (e.g. Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-10; Ezekiel 37:22-24; Daniel 7:13-14; Zechariah 9:9).

Jesus pointed to the Kingly Rule of God as ‘at hand’ (e.g. Mark 1:15), and taught both its present fulfilment in those who responded to God through His teaching (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 21:31; Matthew 21:43; Mark 4:26; Mark 4:30; Mark 9:1; Mark 10:14-15; Mark 12:34; Luke 7:28; Luke 9:27; Luke 10:9; Luke 11:20; Luke 16:16; Luke 17:21; Luke 18:17; John 3:3-5 compare Acts 8:12; Acts 14:22; Acts 20:25; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20) and its future fulfilment when all things will be under God as King (Mark 14:25; Luke 13:29; Luke 22:16-18; Luke 19:11; Luke 21:31; compare 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:21; Colossians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5). Indeed He Himself would be the King (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 19:28; Matthew 25:31-46).

The idea behind the Kingly Rule of God is not of rule over an area of land, but of holding sway over His people. Christians are under the Kingly Rule of God wherever they are as they respond to Him. But the ideal will be fulfilled when all is under His sway and He is all in all ( 1Co 15:24-25 ; 1 Corinthians 15:28; 1 Corinthians 15:50-54), and His people share His glory.

Verse 13

‘And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you who believe.’

‘And for this cause --.’ This looks back to what he has been saying, and forward to the description of the Thessalonian response. Paul and companions have preached faithfully and pastored faithfully. Now he rejoices that the Thessalonians responded faithfully. We have already seen how closely he links his powerful ministry and their equally powerful response (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6).

‘We also thank God without ceasing.’ Compare 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 a. Paul’s gratitude to God overflows. The Thessalonian continued response had been a great encouragement to him after the hard time he had had at Athens where response had been limited (Acts 17:17-34), which had caused him much pause for thought (1 Corinthians 2:3).

‘That, when you received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also is working in you who believe.’

There is an interesting contrast here between receiving (paralambano) a message outwardly, and receiving it (dechomai) and fully responding to it inwardly, thus ‘accepting’ it.

‘The word of the message’, or ‘the word that was heard’. Akoe can mean the faculty of hearing, the act of hearing or listening, that which was heard, the preaching. Thus the emphasis here is on hearing without indicating the response (which is included in the next verb). ‘Even the word of God.’ The phrase is literally ‘having received the word of hearing from us of God’. What they heard was ‘of God’.

‘You accepted it.’ They received it into their hearts and responded to it. Why? Precisely because they recognised it for what it truly was, not man’s word but God’s word. And that word is now continually at work within them through the effective working of God because they are in a state of continually believing, they are ‘believing ones’. Thus they need have no doubt of Paul’s credentials for they are still experiencing within the effects of the message he proclaimed. But he has really moved on from concentration on defence. That is no longer his emphasis. He is now rather rejoicing in what has been accomplished.

Verses 14-16

‘For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus, for you also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out (or ‘persecuted us’), and do not please God, and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved. To fill up their sins always. But the wrath is come on them to the uttermost.’

Paul now likens them to the churches in Judea ‘in Christ Jesus’. They too are suffering persecution as the Christians in Judea are, partly, or even largely, instigated by the Jews in Thessalonika. ‘Imitators’ means those who go through the same things. They are not alone in their sufferings. The Jews are also causing them elsewhere, as they always have.

The Thessalonians' persecution would last a long time, and so would their steadfastness. Some six years later Paul would still speak of the churches of Macedonia as enduring 'a severe test of affliction' and as continuing to give evidence of the reality of their faith in that 'their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality' (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The 'extreme poverty' might well have been the result of mob violence and looting, and having their property confiscated. Elsewhere in the New Testament we learn of those who, in the early days of their faith, 'joyfully accepted' the plundering of their property in addition to other forms of illtreatment (Hebrews 10:32-34).

The comparison Paul makes is interesting in that it includes both Old and New Testament churches. ‘The church’, the righteous believers in God, have always suffered at the hands of the Jews, whether it was the Prophets or the Lord Jesus Himself.

It is clear from this that the continual persecution of Christians in Judea was well known throughout the churches. They were suffering for Christ’s sake. It was nothing new. It had happened to the Prophets throughout history, as Jesus emphasised. That this signifies the Old Testament prophets as well as the New (Matthew 23:34) is indicated by the fact that it is they of whom we have a record that they had been killed (Matthew 23:31; Matthew 23:35; Matthew 23:37; Luke 11:47-50; Acts 7:52). Indeed Jesus links them together (Matthew 23:29-36). But Jesus had clearly shown what they would do to those who believed in Him (Mark 13:9-13; Matthew 10:17; Matthew 10:23; Matthew 23:34; John 16:2-3).

‘Who -- killed the Lord, even Jesus.’ They had capped all their infamy by killing ‘the Lord, even Jesus’. Paul in his Greek distinguishes the Lord from Jesus by placing the verb between them. He wants his hearers to take in the full enormity of it. They had killed ‘the Lord’, He Who was over all, He Who they claimed to worship. And that Lord was Jesus.

Interestingly this is the only place in Paul where the blame is specifically attached to the Jews by him, but that is because here he was thinking of the Jews as persecutors. Elsewhere the blame is laid squarely on everyone, both Jew and Gentile. Compare also Acts 4:27. But Luke regularly shows the Apostles as having done so in Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 7:52; Acts 10:39.

His indictment of the Jews is frightening. ‘Who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out (or ‘persecuted us’), and do not please God, and are contrary to all men.’ Yet on the whole the Jews would have accepted it as true (although they blamed their fathers for what had been done to the Prophets and they would not have agreed that they did not please God). They were proud that they had killed Jesus, they were still driving Christians out and persecuting them and they still looked on the rest of the world as unacceptable, unless of course they became proselytes, and as a nation they spurned preaching to them for that purpose. They considered the Gentiles as not worthy of consideration and had no feeling of friendship towards them, rather the opposite. They would in fact have accepted that they were ‘contrary to them’. ‘Do not please God’ is Paul’s summary of the whole. They had become the opposite of what God had intended them to be (Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 49:6).

Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved. To fill up their sins always. But the wrath is come on them to the uttermost.’ Thus the Jews, with some exceptions, opposed preaching to the Gentiles. They were angry at those who did so, condemning what they were doing. If Gentiles wanted to be saved, they said, let hem become proselytes, but they did not seek to make them so (although paradoxically they were angry when the God-fearers, those on the fringes who attended synagogues, became Christians).

‘To fill up their sins always.’ Does this refer to the Jews or the Gentiles? Did he mean that by their behaviour the Jews were simply piling up sin upon sin, capping the sins of which they were guilty by adding to them and filling them to the full. Or does it mean that by their behaviour they were leaving the Gentiles to become more and more filled up with sin, leaving them to wallow in them. The former is more probable. It explains why the wrath has come upon them.

‘But the wrath has come on them to the uttermost (or ‘to the end’).’ Here ‘the wrath’ clearly refers to what God has determined to do to them because of their sinfulness, and because of the slaying of His Son. The aorist tense signifies a once for all decision. They are now under wrath. It thus includes all wrath to be directed at the Jews, the wrath to be poured out on them at the destruction and treading down of Jerusalem and the scattering of the nation (Luke 21:23-24; Matthew 23:37), the wrath which is the consequence of sin (Romans 9:22; Romans 1:18; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6), the wrath revealed in the devastations of ‘the end times’, whenever they may be (Revelation 15:1; Revelation 15:7; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 16:19) and the wrath of judgment (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Revelation 6:17; Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 14:19). They have passed the point of no return (although as ever there will be mercy for those who return to God) and have been rejected as a nation. All that awaits them as a nation is continually the wrath of God. This applies whether we translate ‘to the uttermost’ or ‘to the end’. For ‘the end’ would mean the end of all things.

Paul was aware of what Jesus had prophesied about Jerusalem, he was aware of what the Old Testament had said awaited the Jews (and the world) e.g. Daniel 9:27 b, he was aware that at the Judgment the final wrath of God would be revealed. He saw it all as one. It was all the consequence of their rejection of their destiny. His emphasis is on that rejection, with its resulting consequence, not on the detail of the outworking of the wrath.

Verses 17-18

‘But we, brothers, being bereaved of you for a short while (literally ‘a season of an hour’), in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire, because we would fain come to you, I Paul once and again, and Satan hindered us.’

Paul now explains why he has not been back to see them and declares his strong desire to do so. He tells them that being parted from them has been like a bereavement. They had had to leave Thessalonika in a hurry (Acts 17:10), and then Paul had had to leave Beroea (Acts 17:14). That had been for the sake of the churches there, to prevent serious trouble for them. But he assures them that the absence was only of the body. His heart was still with them. Indeed his desire to see them was so great that he had made every attempt to come to them but Satan had hindered him. Possibly this points to some illness that had prevented him, or more likely to the interference of legal authorities, possibly brought about by Jewish instigators. Both of the latter are directly connected with Satan in Revelation (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 3:9; Revelation 13:0; Revelation 17:0).

‘Endeavoured.’ The word indicates eagerness and serious attempt. ‘The more exceedingly’ adds further emphasis. He had made a great effort.

‘With great desire.’ The word indicates strength of feeling. It often indicates lust or covetousness. Here it is used in a good sense, and intense longing.

Satan means ‘the adversary’. Whatever adversaries the people of Christ, have those adversaries have their backing from Satan, the great Adversary. Yet we must not see him as being almost as powerful as God. Powerful he is (Jude 1:9), but he has been defeated and bound by Christ (Mark 3:27; Colossians 2:15) and is limited in what he can do. Thus he acts through men who unconsciously carry out his bidding.

‘Hindered us.’ The word is used of an athlete cutting in front of a rival to slow him down and prevent him winning. The hindering of the people of God is one of Satan’s main aims.

Verses 19-20

‘For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even you before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For you are our glory and joy.’

Paul now reveals how important they are to him and his companions from every point of view. He has described to them his yearning to see them again. Now he confirms their preciousness as those who participate with them in their success. When the Lord Jesus comes at His Parousia (personal presence, royal visit) they will be their hope and joy and crown of glorying. Parousia is regularly used to describe the second coming of Christ. Paul was aware of Christ’s personal presence with him continually (Galatians 2:20), and the Parousia would be the manifestation of His presence on His visible coming.

This threefold description may have in mind the joy and satisfaction they will have when the race is won and they receive praise from God at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:5 compare Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The hope of success, the joy of victory and the laurel crown given to the victor suggest a victor at the games.

Or the idea may be simply to express the picture of them all coming together to the judgment seat of Christ with Paul and his companions filled with pride and joy at the company they can present before God, who are themselves as good and valued as a crown of victory. This is suggested by the final words, ‘you are our glory and joy’. That is, are at present. Paul’s heart overflows as he contemplates them, and he knows that his heart will continue to overflow in that day. And that is why he has now sent Timothy to them, even though it meant losing his company and assistance (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2).

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.