Review of Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
In these twelve verses the apostle reviewed the ministry that he and his companions had in the city of Thessalonica. He reminded the believers how he had come to them from Philippi, where he had been “shamefully entreated” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). In Acts 16 we find the record of that shameful treatment and we learn that Paul and Silas were unjustly arrested, beaten with thongs, and cast into a dungeon where their feet were put in the stocks.
That night in the prison they prayed and sang praises unto God. Someone has said that the gospel entered Europe in a sacred concert! There were two artists: one was Paul and the other Silas— possibly a tenor and a bass. What hymns they sang we are not told, but the concert was given and it was so effective that it brought down the house. There was a great earthquake and down came the jail. That was the result of the first gospel concert of which we have any record in the New Testament. The jailer was converted.
The following day the city authorities wanted to release Paul and Silas, but Paul said, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily?” So that no dishonor might be connected with the gospel message, Paul refused to leave the prison inconspicuously. He demanded, “Let them come themselves and fetch us out” (Acts 16:37). The magistrates eventually agreed to come.
When Paul and Silas were released from prison, they left Philippi after a farewell meeting with the brethren in Lydia’s house. The two missionaries went on down the highway to the city of Thessalonica and there preached the word, and many were brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:3 the apostle mentioned the holiness of life that should characterize the one who proclaims the message of God. Paul was very careful about his own life. He was able to say, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile.” He and his companions were perfectly open about everything. They had no hidden schemes. They did not go out preaching in order to make money. Their purpose was to exalt Christ and win souls.
The man who preaches the gospel should live the gospel. In his life there should be nothing unclean, no secret evil, nothing that grieves the Holy Spirit of God. If he makes personal gain his object, his ministry becomes obnoxious to God. Of course ministers of Christ have to live and the Bible says, “They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). But when ministers preach Christ simply as a means of earning a living, they have missed their path altogether. The Lord will support those who faithfully carry on His work.
Paul repudiated any selfish motive in his own preaching. He said, “As we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). That is a striking expression. The ministry is not man’s choice; it is God’s choice. Paul looked on this business of preaching the gospel as a privilege that God permitted him to have.
Notice that Paul and his companions were entrusted with the gospel. That is the one great message which the servant of Christ has to give to a lost world. People suggest all kinds of themes to ministers—and a minister of Christ should be interested in everything that is for the betterment of mankind. But his business is to preach the gospel and the Word of the Lord. If we can get men saved, everything else will soon be straightened out. If we can get men right with the Lord, there will be no trouble with other things.
And so Paul’s intention was not to give political addresses or scientific lectures. He had but one desire: that men might know the gospel of the grace of God. “I determined,” he said to the Corinthians, “not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Notice how strongly the apostle spoke in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-6 about his single-hearted devotion to God. Paul and his companions were absolutely free of selfish motives. They did not think primarily of their own welfare; they thought of the welfare of others and the glory of God. Every missionary and every minister of Christ should have the same attitude.
Verse 7 should be translated, “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her own children.” There might be a difference in the way a nurse would treat someone else’s children and the way she would treat her own children. Paul looked on the Thessalonian believers, these young Christians who had so recently come to know Christ, as his own children in the faith. He exerted himself in every possible way to build them up in Christ.
Paul might have said to his children in the faith, “Now that you are converted, the least you can do is to be concerned about my support.” But he would not bring the gospel down to that low level. On many occasions when he came to the end of his financial resources, he turned to tentmaking in order to provide for himself and his companions. When the saints realized their responsibility and counted it a privilege to care for Paul, he was willing to accept their support, but he never put them to the test.
In verses 8-9 Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his affection for them and of his “labour and travail” on their behalf. The word “travail” refers to the pangs of childbirth. Paul used the same word when he wrote to the Galatians, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). Oh, if we only knew more of this agony of soul that characterized Paul! If we knew more of his earnest purpose to bring people to Christ, we might see many more confess His name. We tend to take things in such a matter-of-fact way. It was otherwise with Paul. He suffered if people did not come to Christ because he felt responsible for them. And he cared for young converts “as a father doth his children” (1 Thessalonians 2:11). He followed Christ so that they might see in him what it meant to be a true servant of the Lord.
Result of Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16)
Paul reminded the Thessalonians of the result of his work among them. Note what the gospel had done for them. Because they had seen evidence of the reality of the gospel in Paul’s life, they had felt constrained to listen to his message. As they had listened, the message had reached their hearts and convicted their consciences, and they had believed it.
When they became Christians, they received the gospel not as “the word of men,” but as “the word of God,” and it worked effectively in them (1 Thessalonians 2:13).By the word of the gospel we are brought to repentance, and by that word the Thessalonians were regenerated, “being born again…by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23). The word of the gospel brings the message home to the hearts and consciences of men, and by that same truth they are sanctified. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
This truth led the Thessalonians to take a stand for Christ. Those who were Jewish by birth had to turn away from their loved ones; they had to turn away from their dearest friends, endure bitter persecution, and bear the reproach of Christ. Those who were from heathen backgrounds suffered at the hands of their heathen relatives and former friends, just as the Christian Jews in Judea suffered at the hands of their Jewish friends and relatives.
When men’s eyes are blinded to the truth, there is no limit to what their religious prejudice will cause them to do. The unconverted Jews tried to hinder the apostle Paul from going to the Gentiles with the message of salvation through faith in Christ, and thus gave evidence that the wrath of God had come upon them. God is going to deal with those who reject His Son and seek to hinder those who believe in Him.
Reward of Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20)
The apostle expressed the earnest desire of his heart to see the young Thessalonian converts again. Whether or not he saw them again on earth, he could look forward with joy to meeting them at the judgment seat of Christ.
Paul wanted to go back to Thessalonica, “but Satan hindered” (1 Thessalonians 2:18) by stirring up persecutions against him. All the efforts of the devil would have accomplished nothing, however, if God had not permitted him to work. When there are obstacles in our way and we wonder whether it is Satan or God who is hindering us, we need to distinguish between God’s direct will and His permissive will. Very often people suffer at the hands of Satan and his emissaries, but only if God has given His permission. We may therefore take all suffering as from God Himself.
Even if Paul never got back to Thessalonica, he would see his converts on the day when the Lord returns. They would be his crown of rejoicing, his abundant reward for his preaching, self-sacrifice, and devotion.
The souls we lead to Christ make up our crown of rejoicing. Will you not be sad if, when you meet the Lord, you have no crown of rejoicing because you have failed to lead someone to Him on earth? Have you ever talked to people about your Savior? Have you written friends letters to tell them how the Lord has saved you? Have you given the gospel message to anyone? If you have never led anyone to Christ, determine by the grace of God to point someone to the Savior who means so much to you.
Oh, the joy of winning men, women, and little children to Christ! When we stand in His presence, how precious it will be to be able to say, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me” (Hebrews 2:13). What a host will surround the apostle Paul on that day!