2—Fail-Proof Spiritual Leadership (2:1–6)
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (2:1–6)
For nearly half a century, beginning in the 1950s, the world has asked the question, “Where have all the leaders gone?” During that time, society has placed more and more of a premium on leadership, but has found few noble leaders with skill and integrity.
Leadership is not easy. When a sports team does not win, the owner fires the head coach. When a corporation loses its competitive edge or fails in a major way to live up to expectations, the board of directors often fires the president. When a church does not grow according to people’s expectations, the pastor is often forced out.
And because spiritual and eternal matters are involved, the leadership crisis in the world is insignificant compared to the leadership crisis in the church, God’s agency to fulfill His mission on earth (Matt. 28:19–20; cf. 1 Tim. 3:15) until Christ returns.
Those called to be elders in the church, who preach, teach, and lead God’s flock, are entrusted with the unequalled duty of proclaiming the gospel to unbelieving sinners, and bringing those who believe and are baptized into the fellowship of the local church. There the Holy Spirit will sanctify them as they worship God in spirit and truth, submitting to the exposition and application of Scripture. Pastors also must intercede for their people through public and private prayer, oversee the administration of the Lord’s Table so their people will regularly confess their sins and renew their covenant of obedience, equip other teachers and workers within the church, superintend and enforce church discipline, and provide biblical counseling to the congregation. All of this spiritual work is to build up the saints to maturity—“to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
The elder must be a spiritual physician who can capably apply biblical cures to those vices and heresies that might afflict members of his church. He also must be a tender shepherd who, while feeding the flock, also heals their wounds, calms their fears, protects them from spiritual dangers, and comforts them in their distresses. In short, he is to be a champion for biblical truth (2 Tim. 4:2), a provider of spiritual resources (1 Peter 5:1–2), a guardian and protector (Acts 20:28–31), and always a model of spiritual virtue (1 Tim. 4:12), for all of which he is directly accountable to his Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:17; James 3:1).
Even the uniquely gifted apostle Paul asked the question, “And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). He realized that no man could effectively discharge the immense obligation of spiritual leadership by human wisdom, effort, and strength alone. He knew that only God could provide the power to be an effective leader, although he struggled with his flesh and found himself not doing the things he wanted to do and doing the things he did not want to do (Rom. 7:14–25). God graciously gave him suffering and pain to continually humble him and make him dependent on divine power (2 Cor. 12:7–10).
False teachers assailed Paul, as they often do other faithful shepherds, by impugning his character and challenging his authority. Thus the opening statement of chapter 2 is a polemic in defense of Paul’s ministry to the Thessalonians. Opponents of his ministry were lying to the church in Thessalonica concerning his integrity and sincerity. They hoped to ruin the new church by destroying its confidence in the person God had used to found it. That group probably included both unbelieving Jews and pagan Gentiles, both of whom were extremely hostile to the gospel. (This was a similar situation to the one later addressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians.) In a negative response to the coming of Messiah and His redemptive work, as well as to the spread of the gospel message, the attacks on the truth of salvation by grace escalated—and Paul was the main target.
Since the first-century world was full of false spiritual leaders and charlatans, it was easy for the apostle’s foes to lump him in with those charlatans who traveled around and ministered merely to gain personal power, wealth, and prestige. W. Neil writes about those times:
There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul’s day. East and West had united and intermingled to produce an amalgam of real piety, high moral principles, crude superstition and gross license. Oriental mysteries, Greek philosophy, and local godlings competed for favour under the tolerant aegis of Roman indifference. “Holy Men” of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rogue, swindlers and saints, jostled and clamoured for the attention of the credulous and the sceptical. (Cited in Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 68, n.3)
In spite of the purity of Paul’s life and the transforming power of his message (sufficient and convincing proof of his legitimacy as an apostle of Jesus Christ), the enemies of the gospel were having some success in convincing the Thessalonians that Paul and his companions were men of wicked intentions, nothing more than self-seeking frauds like so many other “spiritual teachers” of that time. Therefore, as distasteful as it was for Paul to have to defend himself, he answered his detractors directly and concisely for the sake of the truth.
Paul’s Opening Reminder
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, (2:1)
Paul opened the defense of his spiritual leadership with a general statement about the effectiveness of his ministry: For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. The apostle immediately urged his audience to remember their own experience with him and his companions—what had occurred was obvious and self-evident. Awareness of how Paul ministered among the Thessalonians did not come from a secondhand report (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9) but from their own firsthand involvement.
The phrase our coming to you refers to the missionaries’ arrival in Thessalonica with the message of the gospel. Vain translates kenos, which means “empty.” The term also could denote something that was without purpose, effect, or importance and was thus inconsequential. But the ministry of Paul, Silas, and Timothy in Thessalonica was not so insipid. On the contrary, it had a powerful impact because it produced deep and far-reaching effects in the lives of the Thessalonians—the marks of genuine faith recollected in 1:1–10. The strength of the Thessalonian church, even after Paul’s leaving, was evidence that he had not labored in vain. As he continued the defense of his ministry in this section of the letter, Paul expressed five ingredients that opened his ministry to divine power: his confidence in God’s power, his commitment to God’s truth, his commissioning by God’s will, his motivation by God’s knowledge, and his dedication to God’s glory.
Paul’s Confidence in God’s Power
but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. (2:2)
Paul’s confidence in the power of God, both to energize his ministry and protect him from harm, gave him boldness, courage, tenacity, and fearlessness in the face of his enemies.
Paul was thinking of those enemies when he reminded the Thessalonians that he and his companions had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi. Luke recorded that episode in Acts 16:16–24:
It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Paul and Silas were actually harmed in two ways at Philippi, as indicated by the two words suffered and mistreated. They were treated brutally, being beaten and imprisoned in stocks, falsely accused, and illegally punished. Suffered refers primarily to the physical abuse, whereas mistreated refers to public disgrace, or even legal abuse—they were unjustly judged and made prisoners when they had committed no crime. In the first century, hubrizō (mistreated) meant to treat shamefully, insultingly, or outrageously in public—all with intent to humiliate.
Paul declared that even after they had experienced such bad treatment in Philippi they continued to preach the gospel in Thessalonica, where they were falsely accused of treason (Acts 17:7) and unfairly assaulted by a mob (17:5–6). The word rendered but after (alla) by the New American Standard Bible is a strong adversative that in this context might better be translated “but on the other hand” or “although.” Even though the missionaries encountered such a terrible reaction in Philippi when they proclaimed the gospel, they came to Thessalonica committed to the same privileged duty of preaching the gospel of God. In fact, Paul reasoned that the pagan Philippians’ hostile reaction was a sure indicator he and his friends were preaching the truth. Paul’s statement here makes it clear that confident, bold, biblical preaching does not lead to popularity. Rather, it leads to conflict that requires courage and renewed boldness.
Paul’s confidence was not in himself. On the contrary, his confidence or boldness was solely in God. Paul wholeheartedly trusted that God would sustain him. As he would later write to the Ephesians, he was “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10). His human weakness was the best tool for God’s power (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
The term gospel of God appears two more times in chapter 2 (vv. 8, 9) as well as in Mark 1:14; Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; and 1 Peter 4:17. It describes the gospel from the perspective of God as the source. It is the good news designed by and revealed from God about what He has done to redeem sinners through His grace and by His Son Jesus Christ.
As in Philippi and so many other places, the apostle ministered the gospel in Thessalonica amid much opposition. The Greek word translated opposition is agōn (“struggle,” “conflict,” “fight”), from which the English word agonize derives. It referred to an agonizing life and death struggle. In the ministry, there is always pressure to mitigate the message, to be inoffensive to sinners, to make the gospel acceptable to them. But such a compromise had no place in Paul’s strategy. Instead, he had full confidence in God’s power to overcome all opposition and achieve His redemptive purpose. The servant of God preaches the true, unmitigated message God has laid out in His Word, not some other message. He does so for the sake of truth, not for personal popularity. And when opposition comes, he trusts in the power of God and stays obedient to his calling. All that was true of Paul and his companions. As with all dedicated preachers of the gospel, they counted the cost of faithfully confronting sinners with the truth and rested boldly in the sovereign, supreme power of God.
1 Thessalonians 2
In this chapter the apostle puts the Thessalonians in mind of the manner of his preaching among them (v. 1-6). Then of the manner of his conversation among them (v. 7-12). Afterwards of the success of his ministry, with the effects both on himself and on them (v. 13-16), and then apologizes for his absence (v. 17-20).
Here we have an account of Paul’s manner of preaching, and his comfortable reflection upon his entrance in among the Thessalonians. As he had the testimony of his own conscience witnessing to his integrity, so he could appeal to the Thessalonians how faithful he, and Silas, and Timotheus, his helpers in the work of the Lord, had discharged their office: You yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you. Note, It is a great comfort to a minister to have his own conscience and the consciences of others witnessing for him that he set out well, with good designs and from good principles; and that his preaching was not in vain, or, as some read it, was not fain. The apostle here comforts himself either in the success of his ministry, that it was not fruitless or in vain (according to our translation), or as others think, reflecting upon the sincerity of his preaching, that it was not vain and empty, or deceitful and treacherous. The subject-matter of the apostle’s preaching was not vain and idle speculations about useless niceties and foolish questions, but sound and solid truth, such as was most likely to profit his hearers. A good example this is, to be imitated by all the ministers of the gospel. Much less was the apostle’s preaching vain or deceitful. He could say to these Thessalonians what he told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 4:2): We have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully. He had no sinister or worldly design in his preaching, which he puts them in mind to have been,
I. With courage and resolution: We were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God, v. 2. The apostle was inspired with a holy boldness, nor was he discouraged at the afflictions he met with, or the opposition that was made against him. He had met with ill usage at Philippi, as these Thessalonians well knew. There it was that he and Silas were shamefully treated, being put in the stocks; yet no sooner were they set at liberty than they went to Thessalonica, and preached the gospel with as much boldness as ever. Note, Suffering in a good cause should rather sharpen than blunt the edge of holy resolution. The gospel of Christ, at its first setting out in the world, met with much opposition; and those who preached it preached it with contention, with great agony, which denoted either the apostles’ striving in their preaching or their striving against the opposition they met with. This was Paul’s comfort; he was neither daunted in his work, nor driven from it.
II. With great simplicity and godly sincerity: Our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile, v. 3. This, no doubt, was matter of the greatest comfort to the apostle—the consciousness of his own sincerity; and was one reason of his success. It was the sincere and uncorrupted gospel that he preached and exhorted them to believe and obey. His design was not to set up a faction, to draw men over to a party, but to promote pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father. The gospel he preached was without deceit, it was true and faithful; it was not fallacious, nor a cunningly-devised fable. Nor was it of uncleanness. His gospel was pure and holy, worthy of its holy author, tending to discountenance all manner of impurity. The word of God is pure. There should be no corrupt mixtures therewith; and, as the matter of the apostle’s exhortation was thus true and pure, the manner of his speaking was without guile. He did not pretend one thing and intend another. He believed, and therefore he spoke. He had no sinister and secular aims and views, but was in reality what he seemed to be. The apostle not only asserts his sincerity, but subjoins the reasons and evidences thereof. The reasons are contained, v. 4.
1. They were stewards, put in trust with the gospel: and it is required of a steward that he be faithful. The gospel which Paul preached was not his own, but the gospel of God. Note, Ministers have a great favour shown them, and honour put upon them, and trust committed to them. They must not dare to corrupt the word of God: they must diligently make use of what is entrusted with them, so as God hath allowed and commanded, knowing they shall be called to an account, when they must be no longer stewards.
2. Their design was to please God and not men. God is a God of truth, and requires truth in the inward parts; and, if sincerity be wanting, all that we do cannot please God. The gospel of Christ is not accommodated to the fain fancies and lusts of men, to gratify their appetites and passions; but, on the contrary, it was designed for the mortifying of their corrupt affections, and delivering them from the power of fancy, that they might be brought under the power of faith. If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ, Gal. 1:10.
3. They acted under the consideration of God’s omniscience, as in the sight of him who tries our hearts. This is indeed the great motive to sincerity, to consider that God not only seeth all that we do, but knoweth our thoughts afar off, and searcheth the heart. He is well acquainted with all our aims and designs, as well as our actions. And it is from this God who trieth our hearts that we must receive our reward. The evidences of the apostle’s sincerity follow; and they are these:—(1.) He avoided flattery: Neither at any time used we flattering words, as you know, v. 5. He and his fellow-labourers preached Christ and him crucified, and did not aim to gain an interest in men’s affections for themselves, by glorying, and fawning and wheedling them. No, he was far from this; nor did he flatter men in their sins; nor tell them, if they would be of his party, they might live as they listed. He did not flatter them with fain hopes, nor indulge them in any evil work or way, promising them life, and so daubing with untempered mortar. (2.) He avoided covetousness. He did not make the ministry a cloak, or a covering, for covetousness, as God was witness, v. 5. His design was not to enrich himself by preaching the gospel; so far from this, he did not stipulate with them for bread. He was not like the false apostles, who, through covetousness, with feigned words made merchandise of the people, 2 Pet. 2:3. (3.) He avoided ambition and vain-glory: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you nor yet of others, v. 6. They expected neither people’s purses nor their caps, neither to be enriched by them nor caressed, and adored, and called Rabbi by them. This apostle exhorts the Galatians (ch. 5:26) not to be desirous of vain glory; his ambition was to obtain that honour which comes from God, Jn. 5:44. He tells them that they might have used greater authority as apostles, and expected greater esteem, and demanded maintenance, which is meant by the phrase of being burdensome, because perhaps some would have thought this too great a burden for them to bear.
1 Thessalonians 2:2
Having suffered before (προπαθόντες)
N.T.o. Although we had suffered.
Having been shamefully entreated (ὑβρισθέντες)
Comp. Matthew 22; Luke 18:32; Acts 14:5. This may have been added because προπαθόντες alone might denote the experience of something good; but it is more probably intended as an expansion and illustration of that word. Paul’s sensitiveness to personal indignity appears in the narrative in Acts 16, which gives the historical explanation of the two words. It appears frequently in 2nd Corinthians.
As ye know (καθὼς οἴδατε)
One of the many characteristic expressions of these Epistles which indicate community of experience and sentiment on the part of Paul and his readers. See 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 8; 2:1, 5, 10, 11; 3:3, 4, 12; 4:1, 2, 6, 11; 5:1, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 3:1, 2.
See Acts 16:19-40; Philippians 1:1.
We waxed bold (ἐπαρρησιασάμεθα)
Only once elsewhere in Paul, Ephesians 6:20. Frequent in Acts. Always in N.T. in connection with speaking. Derived from πᾶν every, and ῥῆσις speaking. Hence παρρησία boldness, bold speaking out of every word. The noun is very often used adverbially, as παρρησίᾳ boldly or openly, Mark 8:32; see also John 18:20. In Acts always μετὰ παρρησίας with boldness, comp. Hebrews 4:16. Ἑν παρρησίᾳ in boldness, John 7:4; 16:29; Ephesians 6:19; Philippians 1:20. Both the verb and the noun are found in lxx. See Leviticus 26:13; Proverbs 10:10; Wisd. 5:1; 1 Macc. 4:18; Sir. 6:11.
In our God (ἐν τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν)
Const. with we waxed bold. Their boldness was not mere natural courage, but was inspired by God. There is a slight emphasis on our God, as contrasted with the idols from which they had turned (1:9). The phrase only here in N.T.
Gospel of God (εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ Θεοῦ)
For the phrase see Mark 1:14; Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:8, 9; 1 Peter 4:17. It points to the monotheistic character of the gospel.
In much contention (ἐν πολλῷ ἀγῶνι)
Better conflict. Comp. Colossians 2:1; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 12:1. Ἁγὼν originally of a contest in the arena; but it is used of any struggle, outward or inward.
1 Thessalonians 2:1
For yourselves know (autoi gar oidate). This explanatory gar takes up in verses 1-12 the allusion in 1:9 about the “report” concerning the entrance (eisodon, way in, eis, hodon), unto you (tēn pros humās). Note repeated article to sharpen the point. This proleptic accusative is common enough. It is expanded by the epexegetic use of the hoti clause that it hath not been found vain (hoti ou kenē gegonen). Literally, that it has not become empty. Second perfect active (completed state) of ginomai. Every pastor watches wistfully to see what will be the outcome of his work. Bengel says: Non inanis, sed plena virtutis. Cf. 1:5. Kenos is hollow, empty, while mataios is fruitless, ineffective. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17 Paul speaks of kenon to kērugma (empty the preaching) and mataia hē pistis (vain the faith). One easily leads to the other.
1 Thessalonians 2:2
But having suffered before (alla propathontes). Strong adversative alla, antithesis to kenē. Appeal to his personal experiences in Thessalonica known to them (as ye know, kathōs oidate). Second aorist active participle of propaschō, old compound verb, but here alone in the N.T. The force of prȯ (before) is carried over to the next verb. The participle may be regarded as temporal (Ellicott) or concessive (Moffatt).
And been shamefully entreated in Philippi (kai hubristhentes en Philippois). First aorist passive participle of hubrizō, old verb, to treat insolently. “More than the bodily suffering it was the personal indignity that had been offered to him as a Roman citizen” (Milligan), for which account see notes on Acts 16:16-40, an interesting example of how Acts and the Epistles throw light on each other. Luke tells how Paul resented the treatment accorded to him as a Roman citizen and here Paul shows that the memory still rankled in his bosom.
We waxed bold in our God (eparrēsiasametha en tōi theōi hēmōn). Ingressive first aorist middle of parrēsiazomai, old deponent verb from parrēsia (full story, pan-, rēsia). In his reply to Festus (Acts 26:26) Paul uses parrēsiazomenos lalō, being bold I speak, while here he has we waxed bold to speak (eparrēsiasametha lalēsai). The insult in Philippi did not close Paul’s mouth, but had precisely the opposite effect “in our God.” It was not wild fanaticism, but determined courage and confidence in God that spurred Paul to still greater boldness in Thessalonica, unto you (pros humās), be the consequences what they might, the gospel of God in much conflict, (to euaggelion tou theou en pollōi agōni). This figure of the athletic games (agōn) may refer to outward conflict like Philippians 1:30 or inward anxiety (Colossians 2:1). He had both in Thessalonica.
What Does It Mean to Share the Gospel?
1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
When writing a paper for the Natural History Society upon the habits of the wild pigeon, Audubon says, “So absorbed was my whole soul and spirit in the work, that I felt as if I were in the woods of America, among the pigeons, and my ears were filled with the sound of their rustling wings.” We should all write, speak, and preach for our Lord Jesus far more powerfully if our love to the Lord were a passion so dominant as to make the great realities of eternity vividly real and supremely commanding in our minds.
Paul knew what it meant to get so involved with the Lord that he went beyond telling others the gospel to showing it through his life. As Audubon was lost is his work, so Paul was absorbed with his love for Christ. This passion led him to share not only the gospel, but his life as well. His actions were a more powerful witness than any message.
1. How did you first hear the gospel? Was it through a verbal or nonverbal witness? Explain.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.
2. What are some of the different kinds of obstacles Paul, Silas, and Timothy had to overcome as they began to preach the gospel at Thessalonica?
3. What gave them courage to carry on in spite of these obstacles? See Leader’s Notes.
4. Think of as many words as you can to describe the life Paul and his friends lived among the Thessalonians. Which verses support your word choice?
5. From this passage, what does it mean to “share the gospel”?
6. What were the results of Paul’s preaching and living among the Thessalonians (verses 13-16)? See Leader’s Notes.
7. Both Paul and the Thessalonians faced problems as they tried to obey God. In what ways is it hard for you to share the gospel?
8. What reasons did both Paul and the Thessalonians have for living godly lives?
How can these also motivate us today?
9. What wrong motives for sharing the word of God did Paul warn against? To which are you most susceptible?
10. What can we do to share “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”? Plan to do this during the week and share results at the next meeting.
Optional Questions for Individual or Group Study
11. Find all the words and phrases in the book of 1 Thessalonians that describe Paul’s attitude and actions toward the Thessalonians. List each with reference.
12. In what ways can Paul’s example help you in both your actions and attitudes toward a young Christian in your family, neighborhood, church, or Bible study group?
1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
See Leader’s Notes for these questions.
What thoughts come to your mind when you hear the word evangelism? Pushy people trying to get you to see things their way? Guilt for not saying enough about your Savior? People swarming down the aisles at a gigantic rally? Or friends sharing the excitement of good news with each other? For Paul, evangelism was always delightful and exciting. In this passage he tells us why talking about Christ is such a positive experience for him.
1. Has telling others about your faith been a positive or a negative experience? Explain.
2. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6. What excuses might Paul have had not to preach to the Thessalonians (vv. 1-2)?
3. What attitudes enabled Paul to continue preaching despite opposition (vv. 3-6)?
4. What does this teach you about proper and improper reasons for witnessing to others?
5. Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7-16. How was Paul “like a mother caring for her little children”(vv. 7-9)?
6. In what specific ways can gentleness and caring become more a part of your evangelistic efforts?
7. Paul claims to have been “holy, righteous and blameless” (v. 10) among the Thessalonians. If this is important, how can imperfect people dare to do evangelism?
8. How is a father dealing with his children a good example of an evangelist (v. 11-12)?
9. What difficulties did the Thessalonians face in sharing their faith with others (vv. 14-16)?
10. What encouragement does Paul give them not to give up?
11. In what ways have you found evangelism to be difficult?
12. What ideas and encouragement from this passage can help you to overcome these difficulties?