Reflection: 1 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 12
This Epistle was a follow-up after the hasty departure on Paul’s earlier church-planting visit (2:17; Acts 17:1-9). Written in A.D. 50 in Corinth, after he received Timothy’s reassuring report on the Thessalonica church, its intent was to encourage the young believers facing persecution to remain faithful to God (2:14-16). In this segment, Paul launched into a lengthy apologetic defence of himself and his co-workers, Silas and Timothy, due to a slanderous Gentile campaign (2:14), which was not targeted against his theology, but their personal integrity and motivations. Reminding the believers of ‘their manner of life’ while they were with them, he repeated six times ‘you yourselves know’ (vv. 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11), as he rehearsed their sacrificial giving to them in ministry (v.8). How did they give themselves to the Thessalonians? The six ‘you yourselves know’ observations will be our guide.
(1) The existence of the Thessalonian church proved their good character (v.1). The fact that they left behind a thriving young church was sufficient evidence that God had been faithful through their ministry. It specifically implied that, apart from the spoken Word, the character of their preaching, viz., their personal conduct (‘our coming to you in’) held the ethical and moral high ground as bearers of the gospel.
(2a) By preaching the gospel despite antagonism, they risked their lives again (v.2). Even having been flogged, imprisoned without trial, and booted out from one Roman city (Philippi: Acts 16) to another (Thessalonica), the strong opposition did not deter them from fearlessly sharing the gospel. (2b) They taught truthfully and correctly (v.3). They spoke the truth with integrity, a pure motive, and without deception, which safeguarded their clear conscience. (2c) They were faithful to God in the presentation of the gospel and were not people-pleasers (v.4). They had been tested, approved and entrusted with God’s gospel. The heart of the gospel is always other-centered, whereas people-pleasers are generally approval-centered and self-centered. In the discharge of his apostolic commission, Paul’s sense of responsibility was always first towards his God.
(3a) They were humble and did not seek to promote themselves (vv.5-6). There is a compelling temptation for authority figures in most hierarchical setups to claim special privileges and influence (though it is their right), but humility, mutual accountability, and relinquishing of his apostolic authority, was Paul’s model of self-giving. (3b) They felt affection for the new believers (vv. 7-8) He explicitly demonstrated his vulnerability when he exchanged a ‘power’ relationship for one of affection. The maternal metaphors used to describe the loving quality of their caring, challenges us as we care for the less mature members and those under our charge.
(4) They independently supported themselves (v.9) Their financial independence as a result of their tent-making endeavor, meant that Paul’s team was self-supporting. That was the basis of their missionary provision, both initially, before any converts were made, and even after believers were gathered as a church. This relieved the hosting church and blunted the accusation from their opponents that they were financially devious and manipulative. It was also exemplary for the new believers (4:11).
(5) Their behavior towards the believers was guided by their devotedness, righteousness, and holiness (v.10). Both Godward and towards man, their conduct was irreproachable as their upright lifestyle were an open book for all to see. It is like living in a goldfish bowl, though not without its stresses.
(6) They were like a father encouraging and pleading with the believers to glorify God in their lives (vv.11-12). An endearing paternal metaphor was used to indicate the subject of the moral training of the new believers. As they represented God in bringing the good news to the Thessalonians, they now pleaded with them to live in such a way that they reflected God’s own character.
Paul recognized a clear sense of priorities in the connection between the content of the gospel and the conduct of those who preach, teach, and confess it. The integrity of the gospel was dependent on the uprightness and faithfulness of those who served God, which included a meticulous care with financial matters and a sense of loving commitment to the believers. ‘We were well-pleased to impart to you… our own lives’ (v.8) can only be spoken out of a meaningful personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a relationship in which it is more blessed to give than to receive; an exemplar of the Lord Himself in His sacrifice. As Christians, we are meant to be givers, not takers!