The church in Thessalonica was a model church, so blessed in its worship and witness – a light from God in a dark place. They were a company of believers whose lives had been revolutionized by the power of God; seen, not only in their conversion, but also in their continuance. A people of vision and vitality, with a faith so positive, love so practical and hope so real. What a wonderful fellowship they shared together, the kind of fellowship the Lord would have us enjoy and share. When we think of a church like this, we must, of course, ask ourselves, how did such a work as this begin? Who sowed the seed and laid the foundation? What was the secret of their success? The answers are found in this chapter and we would do well to take note and follow the example given. We know that it was teamwork, for it was Paul and Silas and their helpers, Timothy being one of them. And when Paul is writing here, he is not just writing of himself, but he includes his fellow workers. Note the references to ‘us’ and ‘we’. A team evidently of one mind and one heart, and now we are going to see that mind expressed, that heart revealed. What did they think, how did they feel, when they approached this pagan city?
First, he reminds the saints of what they already knew: they had to pay a price to bring God’s message to Thessalonica. They had come from Philippi where they had been publicly flogged and cast into prison. It was only the mighty overruling of God that brought about their release, but these messengers were not put off by the hostile reception and they pressed on to Thessalonica where they came up against more opposition. In fact, unbelieving Jews tried to cause trouble for them by stirring up the whole city against them, so much so that the Christians advised them to leave, fearing for their safety, Acts 17. 10. Theirs was the experience of many trials, but they did not give up, they did not lose heart. We know so little of suffering for Christ’s sake, and yet how soon we become discouraged. The trials that come our way are sent to prove us, test the genuineness of our faith and our trust in the Lord. Consider the effect these trials had on these godly men.
‘We were bold in our God’. They did not come in fear and trembling because of what they had suffered previously, rather they experienced a fresh boldness and were given a new courage. They found the Lord poured His strength into them, so that they could carry on with their ministry with renewed enthusiasm in the battle against the forces of evil and gain a great victory too.1 It was not a failure but a success. The church that was planted there was a demonstration of this. The blessing and the power of God was abundantly evident among them. Let us learn the lesson that God alone is the source of our strength in the conflict that we face; He alone is the secret to real success.
In verse 4, he speaks of themselves as being put in trust with the gospel – being entrusted with it and given responsibility for it. It had been given to them not to keep to themselves, but to preach. But the apostle felt the responsibility not only of preaching it but also of the way in which it was preached. God’s message must be communicated in a God-honouring way. So many today feel that as long as the gospel is shared with others, the way in which it is shared is immaterial. Not so, for this is a sacred trust that has been committed to us. Notice verse 3, the appeal ‘was not of deceit’ – it was not based upon error, not intended to lead astray, or divert people from the truth; ‘nor of uncleanness’ – no impure or unworthy motive; ‘nor in guile’ – not to draw them after Christ under false pretences. I fear that we are not honest at times, when we present the Gospel in a way that gives the impression that to trust Christ is the end of all our problems and difficulties, and that the way thereafter will be easy. Sometimes we are in danger of making it sound as if the world and Christ were not all that far apart – that would not be true to the trust that has been committed to us. Let us beware of making the message of God plausible and pleasant to the ears of the unbelieving. ‘We speak; not as pleasing men, but God’, v. 4. The objective is not to be popular with men but to be pleasing to God; nothing for self-glory, personal gain or advantage but all for His glory.
Perhaps we would be tempted to say that such men, so exact, so zealous for truth and reality, must be hard men, but note the gentleness, v. 7. Tenderness is required of a nursing mother with a suckling baby; care and attention are given to the dependent and defenceless child as she provides for its every need and protects it from every ill. They did everything in their power to promote strong and healthy spiritual growth, watched over and cared for the believers and ministered to every spiritual need. Love was expressed in sacrificial service. Does such compassionate care and Christ-like concern humble us? Would to God we loved, as they loved, seeking the good of others.
‘For labouring night and day’, v. 9; not a moment to call their own. They did not spare themselves. As God’s servants they had the right to make demands upon these young converts. They could have expected them to support them materially, but they did not. If, then, they were not supported, how did they live? They worked with their hands; they carried on their trade; they made and sold tents so that they could pay their way. Physically, mentally, as well as spiritually they threw themselves into this work of church-planting and building. Why such effort? ‘Because ye were dear unto us’, v. 8.
Converts had to be prepared to stand on their own when the missionaries had moved on. I like the comparison that is used here, ‘as a father doth his children’. Previously, the comparison was a caring mother, now it is a counselling father. They were mother and father to these babes in Christ. Observe that this training was given in two ways. First, by example, v. 10, and then, by exhortation, v. 11. They were given the model as well as the message! They lived lives separated to God, ‘holily’ – their conduct showed that they were devoted to God. Furthermore, they were fair and honest in their dealings at all times, ‘justly or righteously’. They also lived their lives so carefully so that there was nothing wrong which they could be accused of – ‘unblameably’. By example, they taught these converts that their motives should be pure, their methods should be right and their manner of life should be irreproachable.
They had a balance in their teaching. There was the stimulating word – ‘we exhorted you’; the soothing word – ‘and comforted’; and the searching word – ‘charged’. All this was essential to their training. It is interesting to observe the phrase ‘every one of you’. It appears this was not just a ‘platform’ ministry but a personal ministry. There is a work for each one of us to do! The purpose of this ministry is described in verse 12, ‘that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory’, reminding us of the dignity and destiny of our calling.
In his writings we often find the apostle giving thanks to God. Are we characterized by thanksgiving? We ought to be. What is the cause of his thanksgiving here? ‘Because … ye received it [the word of God] not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God’. They were not just hearers of the word but doers, receiving it into their hearts. That living word worked effectually and powerfully in their lives, causing them to turn from idols to God. Would it not be wonderful to see the word of God working more powerfully in our lives? It will if we not only hear it but allow the Spirit of God to work in us as we obey His word. Paul and his fellow workers were so thrilled to see the word of God in their lives that they gave ‘thanks without ceasing’. He gave thanks that, in spite of the persecution they were suffering, they were pressing on faithfully, and tells them of the suffering and opposition that the churches in Judaea were experiencing to let them know that they were not alone in their sufferings. In verse 15, he reminds them that the Lord Jesus, in whom they had trusted, also met with the hatred of the world, even to death.
Was there to be a reward for these dedicated servants of Christ? Was it to be a success story in the end? Would they triumph and win the prize? The answer, without hesitation, to all of these questions is certainly ‘yes’! Paul treasured the memory of their fellowship and reflects on their hurried parting as they were forced to make a quick getaway from the city because of the bitter opposition, though separated only in body but ‘not in heart’. He tells them how time and again he had tried to return but had been hindered by Satan. But, if Satan can hinder and frustrate our fellowship now, there is coming a day when all will be changed! ‘For what is our hope … Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?’ We long to see you now, he says, but our greatest longing, our earnest expectation, our exhilarating joy, is the prospect of seeing you then, when He comes. Seeing you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming – that will be the culmination of our hope and the consummation of our joy; the crowning of all our labours. As if it wasn’t just enough to say it once, Paul says it again in the last verse, ‘ye are our glory and joy’. They have brought the messengers honour, not dishonour; given them joy and not sorrow. As converts, that should challenge us. The writer to the Hebrews calls us to consider the outcome of our lives when he writes, ‘Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you’, 13. 17. Are we living today to bring joy in that day?