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1 Thessalonians 2:1-3: Serving Christ with a Pure Heart

In this section Paul defends his own character and ministry before a watching world. Apparently, the Judaizers outside of the church had leveled charges against the legitimacy of Paul and his gospel team. They tried to discredit them. Paul did not mount a defense because he was insecure about his ministry, but because he had many enemies in Thessalonica. “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also…But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people” (Acts 17:5-6;13).

“Chapter 2 of First Thessalonians is a success story. Paul had done something that was quite phenomenal. He had come to a town where there was not a single Christian. He had gone into the Jewish synagogue and there had preached the gospel. He had preached also to Gentiles in their homes. In three weeks this dynamic person by the grace of God had founded a new church—a church which has come down through the centuries to us as an example of faith and faithfulness…–John F. Walvoord

The Disciple's Study Bible has an interesting comment noting that...“Paul outlined his method of evangelism and gave us an example to follow:

•He ministered despite hardship and persecution;

•He ministered with pure motives;

•He ministered the true gospel of Christ;

•He ministered for God's glory;

•He ministered selflessly; he ministered in humility;

•He ministered with care and sacrificial love; and he ministered long and laboriously.

Little wonder Paul could say ‘our visit to you was not a failure’” (verse 1).

What we are is far more important than anything we ever say. Our unconscious influence speaks more loudly than our conscious influence.

A Christian’s character is the all he has for doing ministry. In most other callings, a man may go on, no matter what his character is, provided his balance at the bank is adequate; but a Christian who has lost his character has lost everything.

The missionary martyr Jim Elliot wrote in his journal: “In spiritual work, if nowhere else, the character of the worker decides the quality of his work. Shelley and Byron may be moral free-lancers and still write good poetry. Wagner may be lecherous and still produce fine music, but it cannot be so in any work for God. Paul could refer to his own character and manner of living for proof of what he was saying to the Thessalonians. Nine times over in this first epistle he says, ‘You know,’ referring to the Thessalonians’ firsthand observation of Paul’s private as well as public life. Paul went to Thessalonica and lived a life that more than illustrated what he preached; it went beyond illustration to convincing proof. No wonder so much work in the Kingdom is shoddy; look at the moral character of the worker.”

Verse 1a: “For you yourselves know…” An appeal again to the Thessalonians own experience, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake,” as distinguished from the report of others. “You” is emphatic in the Greek emphasizing that the Thessalonians knew personally how Paul’s team came into Thessalonica with the gospel.

Verse 1b: “…that our coming to you was not in vain.” The Jerusalem Bible renders it “our visit to you has not proved ineffectual.” The Amplified Bible reads thus: “For you know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you has not been ineffective (fruitless, in vain).”

“When he (Paul) came to Thessalonica, it rocked a great many folk, bringing many to a saving knowledge of Christ. And it brought a church into existence. Paul was not simply talking about a theory or a philosophy, but about something that worked in Thessalonica. The gospel walked down the streets of that city, and it got into the hearts and homes and lives of men and women.” –J. Vernon McGee

“Vain” in Greek is kenos meaning empty, hollow, vain, fruitless, without usefulness or success. Kenos can also refer to that in which there is nothing of truth or reality and which is thus false or fallacious. Kenos can describe one who cannot be depended upon and whose deeds do not correspond to his words.

Paul's coming to the Thessalonians was not empty of real meaning or purpose and was not a failure (in the sense of being ineffective) for they themselves are, in view of their genuine conversion, the evidence of the efficacy and success of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation

”remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

“Though the apostle well knew that no labor in the Lord is vain, ‘Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). He also knew that only in the day of Christ, when all service is to be reviewed by the Lord, will it be finally manifest whether or no he had run and labored in vain, ‘Now if anyone builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw...If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12,15). ‘holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain’ (Philippians 2:16). He earnestly desired, therefore to assure himself of the stability of his work, and such tidings as Timothy had brought comforted and gladdened his heart, 1Theslonians 3:6-8.” –Adapted, W.E. Vine

The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe” (Proverbs 29:25). My great, great uncle, Evangelist Peter Cartwright was a famous Methodist circuit rider. He was known for his uncompromising preaching. One day the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, “Old rough and ready,” came to Cartwright’s church. When Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, “I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: “Andrew Jackson will go to hell quicker than a chicken thief if he doesn’t repent of his sin!” (I changed the wording to be a bit to be more acceptable). The entire congregation gasped with shock at Cartwright’s boldness as. How could this young preacher dare to offend the tough old general in public, they wondered. After the service, everyone wondered how the President would respond to Cartwright.

“The next morning, very early, my city preacher (the host pastor) went down to the hotel to make an apology to General Jackson for my conduct in the pulpit the night before. Shortly after he had left I passed by the hotel, and I met the General on the pavement; and before I approached him by several steps he smiled, and reached out his hand and said: ‘Mr. Cartwright, you are a man after my own heart. I am very surprised at Mr. Mac, (host pastor) to think that I would be offended at you. No, sir; I told him that I highly approved of your independence; that a minister of Jesus Christ ought to love everybody and fear no mortal man. I told Mr. Mac that if I had a few thousand such independent, fearless officers as you were, and a well drilled army, I could take Old England.’” The preaching of God’s Word in power will always bring results.

The fear of man should never keep us from speaking out for Christ. The gospel is a powerful message, and the indwelling Holy Spirit will impart power to our words “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). Holy boldness is needed, and if we trust Christ, holy boldness will be given. God’s word says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

Verse 2a: “But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi…”

“You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there” (AMP).

The account of Paul's beating and imprisonment In Philippi is recorded in Acts 16:12-40. Philippi was about one hundred miles or three to four days’ journey, northeast of Thessalonica. What a great lesson for us that Paul and Silas could sing hymns to God in jail after the abusive treatment they received.

Someone has said, “A Christian is like a tea kettle, up to his neck in hot water but still able to whistle.”

“spitefully treated” in Greek is hubrizo, meaning, 1) to be insolent, to behave insolently, wantonly, outrageously. 2) to act insolently and shamefully towards one, to treat shamefully. 3) of one who injures another by speaking evil of him. Hubrizo expresses insulting and outrageous treatment and especially treatment which is calculated to publicly insult and openly humiliate the victim.

Hiebert adds that for Paul...”the physical suffering was not the worst part of the treatment received. Paul more strongly resented that he and his co-workers had been shamefully treated, grievously insulted. Gross indignities had been heaped on them in the way they had been treated—arrested on a false charge, stripped of their clothes and publicly beaten without a trial, and thrown into the inner prison with their feet in the stocks as though they were the most dangerous criminals. They had suffered not only bitter cruelty but public humiliation. Paul was deeply conscious that his social status as a Roman citizen had been outraged. The treatment accorded them was contrary to Roman law. His desire to reverse this mistreatment caused Paul to demand that the Philippian magistrates come personally to conduct them out of prison (Acts 16:37).”

Who among us has not been “spitefully treated”? Who has not had someone be insolent, using outrageous speech toward them? Who has not been injured and made to look bad to others by someone’s evil talk. As a pastor for many years I have been lied about, slandered, and attacked verbally by well-meaning church people. At one church I was attacked in my absence by some who had issues with me. But fortunately many in the church came to my defense demanding proof of their accusations, which they could never produce.

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” ( 2 Timothy 1:12).

Psalm 7:8, “The LORD judges the peoples; Vindicate me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.”

Psalm 26:1, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.”

Psalm 43;1, “Vindicate me, O God, and plead my case against an ungodly nation; O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!”

Romans 8:33 NLT, “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.”

Verse 2b: “…as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”

“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... be the consequences what they might.” –Robertson

“…we were bold in our God,” parrēsias in Greek, meaning freedom or frankness in speaking or confident in spirit and demeanor, and conveys the idea of freedom to say all and thus means to speak freely, openly, boldly, fearlessly, without constraint. The Greeks used this word for speaking in a democratic assembly. This verb is always used in the New Testament of speaking. It means to be bold and courageous in one's speech reflecting an attitude of openness that comes from freedom and lack of fear. Paul uses the aorist tense which conveys the sense that “we took courage” or “we became bold.” This word describes both a lack of fear and a full confidence in the message itself, (Isaiah 55:11) two additional indicators of authentic evangelism.

Their holy boldness was not from self-effort but Spirit empowered. Their boldness was not self confidence that the world extols, but was confidence based solely on their God and their trust that He would sustain them. “While they were praying, the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence (parrēsias)” (Acts 4:31 MSG). “the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).

Verse 3a: “For our exhortation…”

“The purity of Paul's message made it apparent that there was no deceit, uncleanness, or guile in his ministry. In the first century world Paul lived in, there were many competing religions, and many ministers of those religions were motivated by greed and gain.” –Guzik

“Exhortation” in Greek is paraklesis it means a calling to one's side for admonition, encouragement, consolation or comfort.

“The word paraklesis has various meanings; “a calling near, a summons, imploration, supplication, entreaty, exhortation, admonition, encouragement, consolation, solace.” The well-rounded all-inclusive idea is that of encouragement, of aid given the needy person, whether it be consolation, exhortation, or supplication.” –Wuest

Verse 3b: “…did not come from error or uncleanness…”

In the first century world in which Paul lived, there were many competing religions (a lot like today!) and many ministers of those religions were motivated by greed and gain (certainly not different from today!). Accordingly, certain questionable practices common among errant religious leaders found no place in his evangelistic labors. And so Paul begins by emphasizing that their exhortation was without any evil intent.

“Paul is saying that their exhortation...was pure in its content and in its intent. It was pure in the sense that there was no deceit or, literally, no error. There was no uncleanness or impurity of motive either. Sometimes truth is mixed with error. In fact, the most dangerous kind of preaching is that which is partly true. But Paul said, “My message was not just partly true. It is without error. It has no deceit in it. It is the pure truth. It is not adulterated by human philosophy and human speculation.” It was, then, God’s message to them concerning Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:13).” –John Walvoord

“Error” in Greek, is plane, a word which describes going astray, straying about, roaming or wandering, forsaking of the right path. By straying, roaming or wandering about one is led away from the right way and roams here and there, which is not good in spiritual matters.

Plane in the present verse describes one who wanders from the path of truth.

Paul was confident that their gospel message was genuine and stood in marked contrast to the erroneous teaching of their adversaries. Paul, Silas and Timothy had not not been carried away by error, nor had they sought to mislead others by such winds of doctrine. “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:14). Furthermore, they had not been deceived and were not deceivers.

John warns: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

And Peter: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:1).

Verse 3c: “…nor was it in deceit.”

The Greek word for “deceit” is dolos, meaning treachery, fraud, cunning, duplicity, trick, wile, guile, subtlety, snare, and deliberate dishonesty. Literally it means to bait a fishhook, to trap, or trick all of which are various forms of deception. It is a deliberate attempt to mislead, trick, snare or bait a trap in attempt to catch the unwary victim. It is a desire to gain advantage or preserve position by deceiving others. A modern term in advertising is called “bait and switch” where the unwary consumer is lured in by what looks like a price too good to be true! It represents a deliberate attempt to mislead other people by telling lies.

1 Corinthians 11:13, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:13).

Jeremiah 14:14, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.’”

Romans 16:18, “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”

Titus 1:10-11, “For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”

“In an unethical selling technique called the bait-and-switch method, a retailer lures customers into his store by advertising a well-known product at a very low price. When the buyer asks to purchase it, however, he is told that it is out of stock. The salesperson then tries to sell him an inferior line of merchandise, hoping to pocket a bigger profit. The brand name was used just to get potential customers to step inside.

In a similar way, a false teacher uses biblical words to capture interest and gain a hearing. He may talk about Christ, redemption, the cross, and the resurrection, but these trusted terms amount to nothing more than a come-on. The seller uses them to advertise truths that, as far as he is concerned, are out of stock. When an interested person responds, he is confronted by beliefs that are completely contrary to God’s Word.

Never swallow someone’s line just because he uses terms of the Christian faith. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern whether or not the speaker is really being true to the Bible. Then you won’t get hooked by false teachers who use the doctrinal bait-and-switch method to deceive their hearers.” –Mart DeHaan, Our Daily Bread

When someone comes along who says

His message is from God,

What he believes about the Lord

Will show if it is flawed. —Sper

Error often wears the disguise of truth.

**Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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