1 Thessalonians Sermon Series
Standing Firm: Foundational Doctrine For New Believers
Standing Firm In Service to Christ
1 Thessalonians 2:1-16
Paul, Silas, and Timothy, having left because of persecution, have written a letter to the new church in Thessalonica where they are essentially answering the criticism of “Paul and his associates are deluded individuals who for selfish reasons and with trickery are trying to exploit the people.”
I. How Far Are You Willing to Go to Share the Gospel? (vv. 1-2)
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.
(v. 1) “our coming to you was not in vain” – the word vain can mean something without content, or does not have a result. Paul is expanding what he said in 1:5, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” Another way of interpreting vain is “empty-handed.”
Later in the text he defends his ministry with them and says that he was not trying to take something from them (leaving them empty-handed) instead he was bringing them something. As in the parable of the bad tenants in Mark 12:3 “And they took him [the servant of the owner sent to get the fruit] and beat him and sent him away empty-handed.”
No builder (as Paul was) likes to have his work torn down, or to spend his time in vain. By the way, it is very hard to build; it is very easy to tear down what someone else has built. It was not a waste of time for the missionaries to share the gospel in Thessalonica. It is not a waste of time to share the gospel, especially amongst conflict.
(v. 2) Paul had moved from Philipi (Acts 16:12-40) to Thessalonica, and it was there they faced a very similar situation, “we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi.”
“we had boldness in our God” – Paul, Silas, and Timothy are going (all by themselves) into a major trade city, standing up in the Jewish temple and preaching about Jesus. That is bold. Then as a result of that boldness of preaching and sharing who Jesus is, there erupted “much conflict.” Then, they preached all the more.
Our boldness is not in our ability, or our group size, or how much money is in the bank. Our boldness is not rooted in anything that we can do or have control over – our boldness is in our God.
Matthew 14:28-31 “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind,5 he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
We don’t have to come up with what to say, it’s God’s gospel, not ours – “to declare to you the gospel of God.”
“to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” Conflict has its roots in agoni (agony) and was an athletic term of striving in games. It could refer to both mental and physical agony. Paul was in agony, striving in battle, to declare the gospel. We don’t quit when things get hard, reaching a lost world with the gospel will always be hard.
II. What is Your Motive in Sharing the Gospel? (vv. 3-8)
3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
(v. 4) “we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” – We who have been saved, and especially we who have been given this great gift of freedom, must remember the supreme trust that God has given us – the trust of His Word, the gospel. Paul says, in light of this awesome trust and responsibility, “so we speak.”
Jeremiah 1:10 “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
We must be on guard that we never lose the wonder and weight of the gospel. We must not allow our hearts to get used to the gospel – when the net is being drawn at the end of the service is not the time to gather your coat.
Paul is defending their ministry of sharing the gospel against several false accusations (he was deluded, they were just in for the money, they were just like other charlatans going around from city-to-city selling their religion). For us, Paul gives us a list of characteristics that we should not follow our attempts to exercise the trust of sharing the gospel with the world:
- from error or impurity
(v. 3) Paul reminds the Thessalonians that his “appeal” to them did not involve delusion (i.e. and error on Paul’s part), “impure motives” or trickery (a word that deals with how he preached) – a trio of words that reflect traditional charges against traveling charlatans of various sorts.”
- or any attempt to deceive – no deceptive practices were used to catch them, like a fish on a hook. They did not seek to trick them into believing in Christ.
- not to please man, but to please God
- words of flattery
- nor with a pretext for greed – “a cloak of covetousness” a disguise to cover up greedy desires.
- seek glory from people
In contrast to these things, Paul says we should imitate him, “gentle among you, like a nursing mother” This is Paul who was once Saul of Tarsus. In his early years was brutal, and held the coat of those stoning Christians. He hunted them down like animals and put them in prison. But Christ changed this brutal man’s heart, and now he sees these new Christians as precious children. Paul is a new creature in Christ, he was experienced the effects of the gospel and wants others to experience it as well. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
The second characteristic that Paul shows to be very important in their evangelism strategy is “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” – “With the delivery of his message he delivers his heart, for they are truly dear to him.” We must give ourselves and our words to the message of the gospel. We must be two handed in our giving; with one hand we give the gospel, and with the other we give ourselves. “They held back nothing in their ministry.”
This giving of ourselves is another expense – this hear-and-soul involvement with people is costly. (v. 8) “being affectionately desirous of you, . . . because you had become very dear to us.” Lost people’s lives are messy, and if we are to live out the gospel in front of them, then they become apart of our lives. Many people want to drop a tract in a public restroom, or on the table after you eat out and call that evangelism. That’s not what I see in the New Testament – true evangelism costs you something.
III. Are You Willing to Work Twice-As-Hard So Someone Else Can Hear the Gospel? (vv. 9-12)
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
In order to not be a burden to this new church, the missionaries burdened themselves, “we worked night and day.” They may have started in the early hours, or worked late into the night, probably at tentmaking (Acts 18:3), in order to be financially independent. They would preach and teach during the day, and at other times labor at making tents (early mornings, or late at night).
Paul, Timothy, and Silas bore the weight of taking care of their expenses while doing the work of evangelism because of its’ importance (and so that no one could accuse them of wanting to profit from their message).
In verse 7 Paul describes their leadership as being “gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” and here in verse 11 “like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you” Paul is using it as a reference to how more mature believers are to treat those they are discipling.
But it also is a window into the relationship between parents and children and why two parent homes, led by a father and mother, is so important. Women tend toward nursing and care, fathers tend toward exhortation, encouragement, and charging.
Paul says that he gives not only the gospel, he also gives his life. He is compassionate and loving, while at the same time challenging, encouraging, and exhorts them in how they live their lives – all being done with boldness and in spite of much conflict. This is the example that we are to follow in our sharing of the gospel with the world. They are watching to see if being a Christian is what you say it is.
Now Paul continues to show how they were seeking to make disciples for Christ. Once a person received Christ, Paul, Silas, and Timothy, “like a father with his children” he did three things:
- “we exhorted each one of you” –
- “encouraged you”
- “and charged you”
- To “walk in a manner worthy of God” –
Paul is thankful for the church following their (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) example, but it is important to see what he is pointing them to follow. The worthy walk has nothing to do with what you eat, or what you wear, so . . .
How does Paul, Silas, and Timothy model a walk that is “worthy of God?” (4 ways)
Paul, Silas, and Timothy model a clear set of priorities. Life requires decisions and choices. These decisions are based on our goals and the priorities we have in our lives. If we are to walk in a manner worthy of God, then God, the gospel, and the things He prioritizes are clearly our priority and goals.
They model a concern for the integrity of the gospel. Paul and the missionaries worked hard against any accusations against what they did not want to be accused of being in it for the money or being greedy, or any other false accusations. While it shouldn’t be true, it is very difficult to separate the message from the messenger.
They model a clear sense of love and commitment to those to whom they ministered. “Among the more subtle hazards faced by those engaged in ministry is the temptation (often unconscious) to meet personal needs by ministering to others, or to do things for people in order to win their approval or to get them to like us. We are glad to serve or minister to others as long as we somehow benefit from it, or as long as it doesn’t cost us too much of our precious time, energy, and/or money.”
They modeled a down-to-earth work ethic. The goal of Paul, Silas, and Timothy was not boost their own reputations, by winning praise, and they didn’t lord their authority over people. Rather, their ministry goal was the well-being of others. They believed that when people receive the gospel their lives will be better – here and now, and for all of eternity, so they were willing to do whatever it took for that to happen.
IV. Are You Willing to Learn Something New? (vv. 13-16)
13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
(v. 13) “the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” – Work has its root in the word energy, like a battery – when Paul, Silas, and Timothy leave, the word of God is still working (keeps on working) in the believer’s lives.
(v. 14) “For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews” – The Pharisees “They kept before the nation the glowing story of past greatness, and summoned it to be faithful to the noble traditions of the fathers. They were faithful in church attendance; engaged in severe and frequent fasts; were generous, for they were meticulous tithers; had fiery patriotic fervor; and were the most popular and influential of the Jewish parties.
But they were guilty of one thing which carried with its train a succession of ugly vices – their minds were closed because patterns and preconceptions. They knew everything. They were never wrong, but everyone else was. They were the possessors, guardians, and interpreters of God’s law.”
The Pharisees are not an ancient religious group long-gone, they are still among us. Every congregation has them, and we must be on guard that we do not become one.
 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Thessalonians, Timothy and Titus (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Publishing, 1987) 59.
 Hendriksen, 60.
 Clifton J. Allen, General Editor, The Broadman Bible Commentary, 2 Corinthians-Philemon (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1971) 270.
 Michael Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary, 1&2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan, 1988. 61.
 Allen, 271.
 Arnold E. Airhart, Beacon Bible Commentary, Volume 9 (Kansas City, Missouri; Beacon Hill Press, 1965) 454.
 Holmes, 73.
 Ibid, 74.
 George Arthur Buttrick, General Editor, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1955) 278.