In his first chapter the Apostle had alluded to "what manner of men"
he and his fellow-workers were among the Thessalonians when they first
arrived amongst them with the Gospel, and intimated that the power
which had accompanied the message was largely connected with the
unblameable character of the messengers. He returns to this subject at
the opening of chapter 2.
Paul and his friends found at Thessalonica a door opened of the
Lord, and they consequently gained a most effectual entrance into their
midst. This was the more striking as they had just come from suffering
and shameful treatment at Philippi as recorded in Acts 16. However far
from being cowed by this they had such confidence in God that again
they boldly spoke forth the Word. The power of it was such that some
even of the Jews believed, "and of the devout Greeks a great multitude,
and of the chief women not a few" (Acts 17: 4). Thus did God grant to
His faithful servants a time of much encouragement after severe
suffering and before they were plunged into further troubles in
Thessalonica itself. We must remember of course that the violence at
Philippi did not mean that but little was accomplished in that city. On
the contrary, Paul's Philippian converts were among the brightest
trophies of grace.
The Apostle puts it on record in verse 2 that he preached the gospel
"with much contention." By contention we must not understand heated
argument. The expression is literally, "in much agony," or "conflict."
The New Translation renders it, "with much earnest striving." Paul
preached in an agony of spiritual conflict that the truth might be
effectual in his hearers! No "take it or leave it" gospel was his! He
was not the mere theologian or Christian philosopher contented with the
truth correctly stated in his lectures; nor was he the dreamy mystic
wrapped up in himself and in his own impressions and experiences. He
was a man with a message, and burning with zeal, and in agony of mind
to effectually convey it to others.
What amazing power this must have given him! He may have been weak
as to bodily presence and contemptible as to his powers of
utterance-"rude in speech" as he elsewhere says-yet the inward agony of
spirit with which he spoke must have made his "rude" words like a
whirlwind. Multitudes were converted under them, and still greater
multitudes were lashed into fury against him! Where do we see power
like this today? We hear Gospel addresses that may be characterized as
good, clear, sound, striking, intelligent, eloquent, sweet. But they do
not achieve much either in conversions or in stirring up the powers of
darkness. Yet the need is as great and the energy of the Holy Spirit is
the same. The difference lies in the character and calibre of the
In verses 3 to 6 we are given a glimpse of what Paul and his helpers
were NOT, and thereby we may learn the things that are to be studiously
avoided by every servant of God. First of all every element of deceit
and unreality must be put away. It has been very rightly said that,
"Thou must be true thyself,
If thou the truth would'st teach."
Not only so but all thought of pleasing men must be banished. Any
service we have had committed to us, however small it be, has been
given of God and not by man. Hence to God we are responsible and He
tries not only our words and acts but also our hearts. Paul was put in
trust with the Gospel in an altogether exceptional measure, but the
three words, "PUT IN TRUST" may well be written upon all our hearts. We
must never forget that we are trustees.
If we bear it in mind we shall of course avoid the use of flattering
words, and the cloak of covetousness, and the seeking of glory from
men, of which verses 5 and 6 speak. These three things are exceedingly
common m the world. Men naturally seek their own things and hence are
ruled by covetousness, though they may disguise it under some kind of
cloak. Glory from man is also very dear to the human heart; and,
whether they pursue possessions or glory, they find flattering words a
useful weapon, for by them they can often curry favour with the
influential. All these things were utterly refused by Paul. As a
servant of God, with God for his Judge and God for his Witness, they
were altogether beneath him.
The positive characteristics of Paul's ministry come before us in
verses 7 to 12, and it is worthy of note that he begins by comparing
himself to a nursing mother and ends by comparing himself to a father.
We may find it difficult to imagine how this exceedingly forcible man
could have been gentle, "as a nurse would cherish her own children,"
but so it was. Physical force is usually brutal. Spiritual force is
gentle. There was plenty of the former to be seen in Thessalonica when
"the Jews which believed not, took unto them certain lewd fellows of
the baser sort . . . and set all the city on an uproar," yet it all
ended in nothing. Paul's gentleness, on the contrary, left lasting
results. It was the gentleness begotten of an ardent love for these
young converts. He cherished them; that is, he kept them warm, and how
could he do this except his own love was warm. It was so warm that he
was ready to impart to them not the Gospel only but also his own soul
or life. He would have laid down his life for them.
However he was not called upon to do that. What he did was to labour
with his own hands by night as well as by day in order that, being
self-supporting, he might not be any charge upon them. He refers to
this again in his second epistle, and from Acts 20: 34 we glean the
astonishing information that he not only met his own needs in this way
but also the needs of those that were with him. Elsewhere he speaks of
"night and day praying exceedingly," and we know how abundant were his
labours in the gospel.
Under these circumstances we may well marvel that this extraordinary
man could find any time for his tent-making, but somehow the thing was
done and thus he made the Gospel of Christ without charge, although the
Lord had ordained as a general rule that those who preach the Gospel
should live of the Gospel. It is very evident that manual labour is
honourable in the sight of God.
To all this the Thessalonians were witnesses. Himself marked by
holiness and practical righteousness he had been able to charge them
that they should follow in his steps and walk in a way that was worthy
of God-the God who had called them that they should be under His
authority and enter into His glory.
What has occupied us thus far has been the manner of life that
characterized Paul and his fellow-labourers: with verse 13 we turn
again to that which marked their converts in Thessalonica. Receiving
the Word of God through channels such as these men were, they received
it as the Word of God. This verse plainly indicates that the Word of
God may be received as the word of men, and that it is not one whit
less the Word of God if it be so received. If you happened to get hold
of a camera with a defective lens you would find the subjects of your
films strangely, and often grotesquely, distorted. You must not however
blame the objects which you photographed. The objects were all right
though your subjects proved all wrong. We must learn to distinguish
between the objective and the subjective, as the
Apostle does here. The objective Word of God was presented to the
Thessalonians and the subjective impression made in them was according
to truth. Had they received it as the word of men its effect upon them
would have been but transitory. Receiving it as the Word of God it
operated in them powerfully and produced in them just those effects
that had been seen when first the Gospel had been preached in Judaea.
Though tested by persecution they stood firm.
Acts 17 shows us how quickly the storm of persecution burst in
Thessalonica. The house of Jason was assaulted and Jason himself and
certain other brethren haled before the magistrates; the instigators of
the riotous behaviour being Jews. The Apostle here shows them that they
had only been called upon to suffer like things to the earlier converts
in Judaea, and that the Jewish instigators of their troubles were true
to type. This leads him to sum up the indictment which now was laid
Of old God's great controversy with the Jews was on account of their
persistent idolatry. Of this the Old Testament prophets are full. The
New Testament adds the even greater charge that they "killed the Lord
Jesus." Added to this they drove out the Apostle by their persecutions
and, as far as in them lay, forbad the going forth of the Gospel to the
Gentiles. They refused to enter the door of salvation themselves and as
far as possible they hindered others doing so. How striking is the
description of this unhappy people, "They please not God, and are
contrary to all men.
It is pretty evident that the nations generally are contrary to the
Jew. Verses 15 and 16 of our chapter shows us the reason why. They
themselves are contrary and nationally they lie under the Divine
displeasure, hence nothing is right with them, though of course God is
still saving out them "a remnant according to the election of grace
(Rom. 11: 5 ). Earlier they had been under trial. Even after the death
of Christ an offer of mercy had been made to them consequent upon the
coming of the Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts 3: 17-26. Their official
answer was given by the martyrdom of Stephen and by the persecution of
Paul who was raised up directly after Stephen's death to carry the
light of salvation to the Gentiles. They would have slain Paul also had
not God intervened in His providence to prevent it. (See, Acts 9: 23
and 29). As a consequence the wrath long withheld had been definitely
loosed against them. They will not have paid as a nation, the last
farthing, till the great tribulation has rolled over their heads. But
nothing now can stay God's dealings against them in wrath.
Against this dark background how beautiful is the picture which
verses 17 to 20 present. The Apostle, who was hurried out of their
midst under cover of night, was filled with ardent longings towards
them. As his spiritual children, begotten of the Gospel, he looked upon
them as his hope, and joy and crown of rejoicing. The links that bound
them to him were of the tenderest, most spiritual nature. If he looked
on, he anticipate having them as his glory and joy at the coming of the
Lord. Looking back he recognized how Satan had worked to keep them
sundered on earth, as to bodily presence.
This passage plainly indicates that Satan is permitted to harass and
hinder the servants of the Lord; yet comparing the story with the
history recorded in Acts it is very evident that God knows well how to
over-rule Satan's hindering work for good. Satan hindered Paul from
returning just then to Thessalonica, but God led him to Corinth; and He
had much people in that city!
Notice also how happily Paul looked forward to reunion with his
beloved Thessalonian converts in heaven. His words would have been
meaningless had he not expected to know them each and all in that day.
The saints of God will know one another when they meet at the coming of
Christ and in His presence.