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Busy Teacher’s Guide to the New Testament:

 

Quickly Understanding 1 Thessalonians

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

Copyright © 2021 by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

            For the reasons discussed at the end of the fourth volume of my detailed analysis of First Timothy, I will not attempt the kind of in-depth treatment that I did on that epistle of Paul.  I figured now was a good time to see how the approach I used in regard to the gospels would work in analyzing the letters of Paul and to do so by beginning with the one that came next in Paul’s writings.  I hope the different treatment will still benefit you!

            I have altered the “running title” of the series to Busy Teacher’s Guide to the New Testament for I am including additional materials that may prove especially useful to those intending to teach classes on the subject.      

            What I wrote in the Introduction to the gospel volumes remains relevant here however.  It is only slightly modified in order to better explain both what continues from the earlier analyses and how it has been modified and expanded with the special intention of benefiting teachers: 

 

            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to purchase all that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.) 

            Individual verses then follows.  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a few “nuggets” of something useful in every verse analyzed. . . .

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus and Paul intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            We have supplemented this with a limited number of side excursions into Alternative Translations, Greek, and Historical Context.  These should be useful for both those reading the book to gain a better understanding of the epistle and, perhaps even more so, for those whose responsibility is to teach on the letter.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should provide invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book. . . .  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.

 

            A few supplemental thoughts:  That still leaves us with the question, however, of what are the differences between the earlier style of text and what we have here in the Teacher’s Guide version? 

            In the others we attempted to provide a short summary of some relevant thought and idea relevant to each verse studied.  Here we have in mind the needs of teachers of the text and not just that of readers.  Hence we have attempted to provide brief and concise remarks on virtually every key word or phrase in every verse--something vastly beyond what was attempted in the earlier works.  Even when I wander “longer than I would prefer”--some verses have so much substance in them that nothing else would do justice--it is still pages shorter . . . often many pages shorter . . .  than the “writing in depth” style that I prefer. 

            Yet it also has, I hope, a special benefit to the individual preparing to teach on these books by providing a variety of ideas and thoughts around which to center one’s presentation of the text to the class.  Truth be told, it offers a special benefit to myself as well:  writing “short” is just as much an “art” as writing “in depth.”  And one far more adaptable to my health in my old age.

                                                            Roland H. Worth, Jr.

                                                            Richmond, Virginia      

 

 

 

 

 

Alternative Translations Cited

Amplified        =          Amplified Bible

CEB                =          Common English Bible                     

CEV                =          Contemporary English Version

ESV                 =          English Standard Version

GNT                =          Good News Translation

GW                 =          God’s Word

Holman           =          Holman Christian Standard Bible

ISV                  =          International Standard Version

NASB             =          New American Standard Version (1977 edition)

NCV                =          New Century Version

NET                =          New English Translation

WEB               =          World English Bible

Weymouth      =          Weymouth New Testament

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s Thankfulness for the Church in Thessalonica

and the Success of His Work Among Them

(1:1-5)

 

 

            From Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace and peace to you!  We thank God always for all of you as we mention you constantly in our prayers, because we recall in the presence of our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, in that our gospel did not come to you merely in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (surely you recall the character we displayed when we came among you to help you).  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:1       Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  His two coworkers join in their greetings to the congregation and that surely shows his respect for them and expectation that the Thessalonians would also be pleased to receive their best wishes.  (That the text intends to regard them as co-authors is a needless assumption.  As an inspired apostle why would be need in that role?)

            Silvanus is normally assumed to be the same as Silas and some translations are so confident that they insert the change in the text itself (CEV, GW, NIV, Weymouth).  Assuming Silvanus is a different individual, we know that he was either the pensman or carrier of 1 Peter to its recipients (5:12).  We also know that he joined in the greetings in 2 Thessalonians as well (1:1).  Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had all preached to the Corinthians as well (2 Corinthians 1:19). 

            However that last reference is a strong argument that it is another name for Silas because we read in Acts 18:5, “When Silas and Timothy had come [to Corinth] from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.”  Furthermore the Expositor’s Greek Testament argues on this verse, “Silvanus is only another form of the name Silas; he was a prophet (Acts 15:32), and apparently, like St. Paul, a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37), and shared the Apostle’s perils during the whole of his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40-41 to Acts 18:18).”

            Timothy had a Gentile father and a Jewish mother and had been well versed in the scriptures from childhood (2 Timothy 1:5).  He energetically participated in much travel and preaching with Paul and two epistles were addressed to him.        

           

            Their congregation was “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This was so because the church is the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27) and the Son shares deityship with the Father (John 1:1-3).  Hence being “in” Christ also conveys the message we are “in” His Father as well due to the “oneness” of their Being.  Furthermore, both separately and jointly with this, Christians are “in” them as they walk “within” their instructions and guidelines.

            Two Divine blessings are specified as coming from both the Father and Son, which powerfully argues that their “thinking” and “policies” are always identical; hence if One blesses someone or something, then both do.  The first of these is Divine favor (“grace”) and the resulting reconciliation with the supernatural world (“peace”).  Others may dislike us and try to harm us out of malicious and unjustified excuses, but never these who wish to bless us with eternal life.

            It is fascinating that the entire first three chapters stress Paul’s work for the congregation and wishes for their well being.  The most obvious reason is that, unlike so many other places, Thessalonica had an abundance of individual and collective virtues and minimal faults.  In fact it must have felt positively good to have so much to praise and so little to criticize! 

            Yet he had another solid reason for the prolonged positive words as well:  They had undergone local persecution (2:14; 3:3-5).  He wishes to comfort them in this “recuperative” stage and assure them of his continued good will and enthusiasm for their best interests. 

            Sidebar on the meaning of “peace:  Thisis a negative concept with us, mean[ing] ‘the absence of strife’ whereas ‘The Hebrew equivalent, [shalom] (from which the word is derived), is concerned with ‘wholeness,’ ‘soundness,’ and signifies prosperity in the widest sense, especially prosperity in spiritual things.”  (Leon Morris, quoted by Coffman)

 

            1:2       We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.  Although the other two (verse 1) surely expressed appreciation for the Thessalonians as well, Paul’s emphasis on his ongoing emotional ties to the congregation in the first three chapters strongly argues that he specifically has in mind his own, personal actions.  This use of “we” for “I” is unquestionably present in 2:18 and 3:1.

            Hence when it came to expressing deep appreciation of the Thessalonians’ conversion, it was something he “always” did in his various prayers.  Although he was currently far away, he never forgot about them and their needs in spite of the distance between them.  How easy it is to let those no longer in our company slip back into a vague “it was nice to have once known them!”

            What he “ma[de] mention of” in his “thanks” is not specified, but judging from the laudable things mentioned in the next verse, it surely included that they continued in the path of mature spirituality that they were so amply manifesting.  This seems confirmed by his introductory words, “we give thanks to God always for you all.”  There was nothing in their behavior that would give him pause or cause hesitation.

            But they still needed to persist in doing their part of course:  They needed to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  Or as Paul himself once wrote, “speaking the truth in love, may [you] grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).                  

 

            1:3       remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.  Paul never allowed himself to forget how much they had devoted themselves to the gospel (= “without ceasing”).  Their actions had manifested their “faith:  Note how it is their “work of faith” however.  Unlike modern day theorists, Paul recognized--just as James did in his epistle--that faith and works have to be intertwined and not an either/or matter.  Likewise whatever we do manifests our faith . . . or lack of it.

            Likewise their actions manifested their “love”--their affection, their concern, their appreciation.  Just as our love for our spouse is manifested in behavior, so is our love of God. 

            They did not allow the discouragements and adversities of life to destroy their optimism toward the future--they had the “patience of hope” . . . that which grew out of hope.  They persisted in it, recognizing that though what they sought for (= “hope[d]” for) was still in the future, they had every reason to believe that they would ultimately receive it. 

            These three attitudes are maintained toward both the “Lord” and the heavenly “Father” as well:  Both have enjoined the “faith,” “love,” and “patience;” both stand behind the commitment to bring them to a constructive fruition.  As Christians they were “in our Lord Jesus Christ” (i.e., His spiritual body, the church) and their behavior was seen “in the sight of our God and Father” for He sees and observes all that happens.

 

            1:4       knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.  Paul could speak “knowing[ly]” because he had seen their conversion and how they acted as its result.  He did not have to rely on second hand information--even reliable second hand information--because he had been present for the conversion of so many of them.  Because of this and the close emotional bond that existed in both directions, they are counted as “beloved brethren.”  Yet not just because of that alone, but due to their salvation by God that automatically meant that they were loved by God as well (1 John 3:1; 4:16, 19).

            Today we think of “election” in terms of politics--it is something you do to decide who is going to serve in some post of public service.  However the word has an older meaning of “selection” as well.  Hence many versions “translate” the idea into modern idiom by referring to how He “has chosen you” (CEV, NIV). 

            The obvious question is why and to what purpose has He chosen us?  Traditional predestination theory is that God has already determined the future destiny of every human being--whether to Heaven or Hell--and that there is absolutely nothing any of us can do to alter that outcome.  What God has predestined, however, is not individual destinations but group ones:  If you are obedient and faithful you are automatically in the group that God has predestined for heaven. 

            We have been “chosen,” “selected,” “elected” into that elite group by our actions in response to His will rather than by a personal Divine decision before we were ever born.  Hence we were chosen to be His people (1 Peter 2:9) by this means . . . chosen to be saved if we meet the prerequisite of obedience to His will.

          

            1:5       For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.  The message of redemptive good news (“gospel”) that Paul taught did not consist merely of “words,” no matter how eloquent they may have been.  It was backed by “power” as well and then he makes plain it was miracle working “power” because they were performed through the clout “the Holy Spirit” gave him.  For more explicit expression of the idea compare Romans 15:19:  in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”  

            What Paul contributed was consistency and complete confidence in his preaching (“much assurance”):  “full conviction” (ESV) or “deep conviction” (ISV, NET) are alternate translations.  All of these were connected with their receiving the gospel message as he preached it.  This was quite natural.  Who in the world is convinced by someone who can’t seem to lay out his case consistently, persistently, and effectively?

            This did not need to be demonstrated again.  They remembered it easily enough:  “as you know” shows that their memories would recall the passion and conviction and character Paul and his co-workers had repeatedly demonstrated among them (“what kind of men we were”).          

 

 

           

 

 

 

Paul’s Thankfulness for the Congregation’s

Spread of the Gospel in Other Places

(1:6-10)

 

 

            And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, when you received the message with joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, despite great affliction.  As a result you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  For from you the message of the Lord has echoed forth not just in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place reports of your faith in God have spread, so that we do not need to say anything.  For people everywhere report how you welcomed us and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            1:6       And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.  They had embraced his teachings and accepted the authority of what he had to say (“became followers of us”).  Most translations prefer to render the thought in some form of “became imitators of us” (NASB, NIV).  Taken either way, there was obviously nothing wrong with that because Paul’s teaching and example fully aligned with what “the Lord” wanted said and done--being “followers” or “imitators” of one automatically made them “followers” or “imitators” of both.  That does not mean it was easy for them since there were major external difficulties that could have broken their commitment (i.e., “much affliction”). 

            On the positive side, with their pain came the “joy” produced by obeying the teaching “the Holy Spirit” had given the apostle--and prophets before him--to share (2 Peter 1:21; 1 Peter 1:10-11).  Paul spoke not many years later of how the Spirit inspired message that came even in the Old Testament enabled the listeners to “have hope” (Romans 15:4) . . . happiness, confidence, joy. 

 

            1:7       so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.  So passionate were they in their convictions that they “became examples” to all other Christians scattered about in both Macedonia and Achaia.  (Thessalonica was the capital of the first and the two provinces together constituted approximately modern Greece.)  Their enthusiasm for the gospel meant that they became “a model” (the substitute used by GW, ISV, NIV) and “a pattern” for them (Weymouth).  Paul specifically has in mind their enthusiasm in sharing the gospel with those in other places (verse 8).    

 

            1:8       For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place.  Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.  Although it was natural that their impact in encouraging acceptance of the gospel was strongest in these two provinces, they also had a significant influence in other areas as well.  It was impossible for them to have literally taken the gospel to “every place,” but it was fully feasible for them to take it to every place their people traveled in and among.  Because they were out and about in both the nearest provinces and perhaps the broader world as well, did not mean they left the gospel at home until they returned. 

            They had “sounded [it] forth.”  The Greek word suggests a clear ringing note, ‘as of a trumpet’ (Chrysostom); and the tense (perfect) implies no transient sound, but a continuing effect.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)     

            The fact that it was so widely shared was evidence of their “faith toward God” and their embracing of the “word (= message) of the Lord.”  True faith toward Jehovah is always manifested when the message that came from Jesus is embraced and shared with others for Jesus came as the prophetic messenger of God.  Because of this enthusiasm, there was no “need to say anything” about their lacking the passion for the gospel that they should have.       

 

            1:9       For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.  “They themselves” refers to those in the other places who had learned of the gospel through the work of the Thessalonian brothers and sisters before they had met Paul.  Hence they had learned from them the success, influence, and character of the apostle both they had ever met him:  The Apostle was now in Corinth, the capital and centre of Achaia . . .  and could judge of the effect of the conduct of the Thessalonian Church in that district.  And Timothy, with Silas, had lately returned from the northern province, traversing various Macedonian towns on his way, and would be able to report of the influence of this example there (1 Thessalonians 3:6; Acts 18:5).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

            Having now embraced monotheism as well, they spoke glowingly of how the Thessalonians had rejected idolatry in order to “serve [= obey] the [only--clearly implied] living and true God.”  “True” means “real” (GW), genuine.  All the pagan gods are images from the imagination and shaped into “idols” by craftsmen to be worshipped--nothing more.  Only Jehovah actually has power to act throughout the ages. 

            That ability to act is caused by the other description Paul gives here, “the living and true God.”  He always has been and always will be such.  He is the “ever-living God” as Weymouth prefers to word it.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. . . .  For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night” (Psalms 90:2, 4).  Jehovah had taunted the rival “gods” through the ancient prophet Isaiah to accurately predict the future or do something . . . anything . . . to prove their existence:  Yes, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and see it together” (41:21-23).  In contrast to those failures, Jehovah had demonstrated His power and wisdom to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:5).      

 

            1:10     and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.  They were “wait[ing] for His [= God’s] Son” to return.  Any sense of “aloneness” that they may have felt was only a temporary one.  On His own schedule He was going to return.  It wasn’t like He had traveled to some distant land on earth for it would be “from heaven” where He had gone to stay after His resurrection (Acts 1:1-2, 9-11).

            Although it is true that in one sense all of us are “sons of God,” Jesus’ Sonship was unique because He was Deity--creating a special relationship that no one on this mortal sphere could ever share.  Hence it is not surprising that He has the unique capacity, upon His return, to “deliver us from the wrath to come.”  The climatic end of the earth sphere will not merely be a day of joy--which it is only for the redeemed. 

It will also be a day of punishment for the moral reprobate as well for what else can “wrath” possibly imply?  People can immerse themselves in the various controversies about the “nature” of the punishment that will occur and exactly how “eternal” is eternal . . . but those are diversions from the core reality that must be faced:  “wrath” can only be discomforting, painful, and humiliating by its very nature.  Debate the details at your leisure but never allow yourself to forget that core fact.

            Note on the timing of the Lord’s return:  He wants them to be ready for that return no matter how short--or long--a period of time it might be in the future.  His words imply nothing about it being imminent.  Indeed in the parable of the talents, the lord (its figure for Christ) only returns “after a long time” (Matthew 25:19). 

            Paul refers to the fact that there will be faithful living Christians at the time of the return (1 Corinthians 15:51) but also his expectation to have died before it occurs (2 Corinthians 4:14; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:14).  Furthermore a massive apostasy was to take place that clearly did not occur in his lifetime or for at least a good long time afterwards (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).  Much of the confusion that exists arises from the misunderstanding of Jesus’ promise that the kingdom would come while some of His listeners were still alive (Mark 9:1)--they assume that this kingdom is the heavenly one rather than the earthly one embodied in the church of God’s people.               

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Had Been Abused In Other Places For

His Preaching Before He Had Visited Them

(2:1-2)

 

 

            For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you—it has not proven to be purposeless. But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:1       For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.  He had bluntly stated this in the first chapter (1:6-10) and he now reasserts that they themselves could easily remember and verify the fact.  It had not been a “vain” and futile endeavor.  It “was not a failure” (GNT); it had “not [been] a waste of time” (ISV); it had “not [been] without results” (NIV).  A “negative” way, so to speak, of saying that:  it was highly successful and we all remember it that way.

            Even the most honorable of men have their enemies.  If Paul did not already have a few critics in Thessalonica, eventually he would.  Life simply is that way and since Paul’s teaching unquestionably could be challenged—in a different context, remember the Judaizers?—what he says here is (only secondarily) self-protective (in the long term) but primarily to remind them of how close their bond had been.

 

            2:2       But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.  What had happened at Philippi could have been, psychologically speaking, taken as a huge vat of cold water poured over Paul to dampen down--or even drown--his enthusiasm.  After all he truly “had suffered” there.  Worst yet, he had been “spitefully treated” as well.  There had been more than a touch of venomous contempt and hatred in what they had done. 

            In Acts 16 we read of how the angry city leaders had both Paul and Silas publicly beaten with “many stripes” and thrown into prison (Acts 16:20-24).  When they decided to discretely order them out of the city and avoid any further conflicts over the matter, they were horrified to discover they had whipped two unconvicted Roman citizens (16:25-37).  The laws this violated went back 500 years!  Forced to come and personally apologize and asking--not ordering--them to leave the city, Paul agreed and stayed only long enough to say goodby to Lydia and the other Christians in the community (16:38-40).  

            In its own strange way the afflictions at Philippi had prepared him for Thessalonica for he also faced “much conflict” there as well.  It was the next major community he arrived at and he preached the gospel in the synagogue for three Sabbath days.  And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas” (Acts17:4).

Unconvinced and presumably influential traditionalist Jews stirred up a mob but were only able to catch and arrest Jason and others who were helpers of Paul.  After taking the equivalent of a “bond” for good behavior, the brethren agreed that Paul must quickly move his work to other communities and he left that very night.  Hence they were powerfully aware of just how much danger he had risked in both cities.         

            Alternate translations of “spitefully treated.”  Other translations speak of this in roughly parallel terms:  “shamefully treated” (ESV, WEB), “insulted” (CEV, GNT), “insulting treatment” (GW), “treated outrageously” (Holman); “with . . . outrage” (Weymouth).

            A minority almost lower the language into being not much more than a virtual synonym for simply having been inconvenienced—making it a far more modest, “mistreated” (ISV, NASB, NET).  Technically accurate, but the other renditions far better convey the depth of animosity that was demonstrated. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apostle Never Used Dishonorable Means

In Sharing His Message With Them

(2:3-8)

 

 

            For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.  For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is our witness— nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you.  Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:3       For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.  Paul’s preaching (“exhortation”) to encourage acceptance of the gospel did not arise from any of three common errors in religious teaching.  First, it was well grounded in reality rather than flights of fancy:  It did not arise “from error”—intentional or unintentional--because he had his facts right.  In other words, “our gospel was not a delusion—we were not ourselves deceived.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

            Secondly the teaching did not involve an immoral self-serving agenda (“uncleanness;” “impure motives,” GNT, ISV) that he kept carefully hidden from their sight.  We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one” (2 Corinthians 7:2).

            Thirdly the teaching was without any misrepresentation (“deceit”).  The gospel was not one of those systems where any means “fair or foul” was acceptable so long as others were convinced to embrace it.  He was not “trying to trick you” (NIV); he did not use “deception” (GW, WEB).

 

            2:4       But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.  Paul and his coworkers were so acceptable to God (i.e., “approved”) that they had been given (“entrusted with”) the obligation to teach and share the gospel.  Although he would have been ecstatic to have had even more converts, pure numbers were never his goal.  He was always centered on “pleasing” God rather than fellow mortals who would want something far more centered on their preferences and personal desires. 

And he knew full well that no matter how much he might rationalize it, God would still know what was really going on in his thoughts and purposes-- for it is “God who tests our hearts.”  Hence some translations prefer a more explanatory rather than literal translation of these words:  “God, who tests our motives” (GW, ISV).

The idea of God examining our hearts is one found in both Testaments.  In deciding who would replace Judas, the apostles prayed to God, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen” (Acts 1:24).  The Psalmist speaks of how “You have tested my heart. . . .  You have tried me and have found nothing [footnote:  nothing evil]” (Psalms 17:3).  The great prophet Jeremiah spoke of how God “judge[s] righteously, testing the mind and the heart” (Jeremiah 11:20).             

            Contemporary Note:  One would have to be incredibly naive not to notice how many churches are interested in “modifying” things (= repudiating or worming their way around) that only two or three decades ago were considered “mainline orthodoxy” in their group.  Public sentiment has changed so they need to find a way to modify congregational practice and convictions. 

But will God be pleased with them if what is being changed is what God had originally established as precedent on the matter?  Will He be happy if the changes reflect something that pleases our hearts but not His intents?  Are we smarter than He is?  Most would not accept the gospel in the first century.  Should it be all that surprising if most won’t in the twenty-first either when we insist upon loyalty to the inspired scriptural pattern?    

 

            2:5       For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.  One key method of gaining influence over at least superficial converts is through the use of “flattering words”--exaggerations of whatever real or imaginary virtues the listener may possess.  It is never wrong to speak well when people have such, of course, but it is profoundly wrong to invent or exaggerate them.  Unlike the Lord in His ministry, none of them is ever going to be able to walk on the water of the nearest lake!

            Another misuse of our speaking skill is if we use our words as “a cloak for covetousness:  Our rhetoric in such cases is not to benefit them but ourselves.  Typically money or special treatment of some type.  The point is well described as “put[ting] on a mask to cover up greed” (NIV) or “pretexts for enriching ourselves” (Weymouth).  As Paul himself said in Acts 20:33, “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.”

            As in the previous verse, God knows whether this is happening or not.  This reference to His being “witness” means “God Himself knows” (CEV).  How could it be otherwise when the very previous verse stresses how God “tests our hearts”?

            Paul can make this self-description because they have known him long enough to be aware that there was no evidence pointing in a different direction.  It matched their collective memories . . . and serves as an implicit warning against anyone who comes to them who acts in the opposite manner.   

            A major segment of the Pharisees back in geographic Palestine did not act in this way.  They repeated all the right rituals and practices to appear honorable and pious “but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25-26).  “. . . You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (23:28).  “. . . You devour widows’ houses” (23:14).

 

            2:6       Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.  He had not sought special recognition and praise (“glory from men”) and that had been the case both in regard to the Thessalonians and Christians in other places as well.  It was part of his uniform policy and attitude.  That did not change the fact that he could have made quite justified “demands” since he had been appointed one of the “apostles of Christ.”  After all, this was a small, select group of disciples and he was specially honored not just in being a Christian but being made part of the top church leadership as well—even though he had at first been a vigorous opponent of Christianity!

 

            2:7       But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.  Instead of being either manipulative (verse 5) or egotistically self-centered (verse 6), Paul manifested the opposite attitude.  He had been as “gentle” toward them as “a nursing mother” would be toward her own children.  After all they were his children, his converts to the Lord!  As such they were individuals to “cherish” and value highly.  Not domineer over and verbally harass.  As Paul cautioned Timothy, “a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24).     

 

            2:8       So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.  Not only was a preacher-congregation bond in existence when he was with them, there was an emotional one as well, an “affectionately longing” for their well being and spiritual prosperity.  Some other translations like to convey the idea through wording such as “cared so deeply for you” (ISV) and “felt so strongly about you” (GW).

            We are so used to the wording “the gospel of Christ” that it can be unexpected when “God” is substituted as the last word in that expression.  The use, of course, is quite natural.  Jesus is Deity and, furthermore, the Father gave the message to Christ that He shared with others (John 16:13-15).  Hence the gospel is, if anything, even “moreuthoritative because it came from both of them.

            So close was the bond that had been established between Paul and his co-workers with the congregation, that the church members “had become dear to us,” cherished and respected.  That linkage is clearly intended to convey the idea of becoming “very dear to us” (ESV, NASB, WEB, Weymouth).  A depth of commitment rather than anything superficial.

            The depth of that bond was as if they had “impart[ed] . . . our own lives” to the congregation:  as if they had bonded into and become part of that flock.  Not merely as an “outsider” doing what needed to be done, but as if they had become native Thessalonians themselves.     

           

 

 

 

 

 

They Themselves Would Remember

His Passionate Commitment

To Their Spiritual Growth

(2:9-12)

 

 

            For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery:  By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.  10 You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe.  11 As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, 12 exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:9       For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.  “You remember” echoes the words in 2:5, “as you know.”  Once again he stresses the fact that they did not need to rely upon Paul’s word alone as to how he had behaved while in Thessalonica.  All they had to do was “remember” their experiences together and the reality would be immediately obvious.

            By trade Paul earned money as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-4).  He also used what he earned to help support his coworkers in the gospel cause (Acts 20:33-35).            He had intensely worked at this “secular” labor while with them:  He makes this doubly emphatic by describing it as both “labor” and “toil.”  Other translations sometimes try to bring out a possible difference between the two:  “hard work and hardship[s]” suggest two translations (CEV, Holman), but the bulk seem content to treat them as virtual synonyms as we do.

            This work was persistent and consistent, keeping him working both “night and day” as might be required to make himself financially independent of the members.  That way he would “not be a burden to any of you.”  From the type of people he has depicted, it is hardly likely that they would have been offended if he had relied upon them instead.  However his lifestyle--what we Americans might call “rugged independence”—still also manifested a non-verbal message that he could not possibly be preaching simply to earn an income.

            Yet in all this hard labor he still found time to preach “the gospel of God” . . . again stressing that his message did not originate with himself.  Like today, every place saw someone preaching some new theological or semi-philosophical system or other.  They were either self-invented or an alteration of what others had pioneered, with enough changes to sound like it was uniquely different.  In contrast, Paul’s preaching strictly relied on what God’s message contained rather than any individual preferences.     

            Cultural difference with our age:  We would speaking of working “day and night” while he follows the traditional Jewish language of putting the two in reverse order to convey the same point.  (Note that this went all the way back to the time of creation. Genesis 1:5.)  Hence he worked whatever number of hours was required regardless of whether it was night or day.  Yet in spite of this he clearly found the time to devote many hours to teaching and preaching--which made for an even longer total “work day.”  

 

            2:10     You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe.  There were two “witnesses” to his behavior--both the locals as well as God.  There were three things about his “behav[ior]” that both could easily observe.  First was his religious sincerity (= “devoutly”); the second was his fairness in treating all others “justly;” the third was how he treated all others honorably (“blamelessly”) as well.  Not that he acted any way differently when among outsiders, but he wishes to stress that he did this where they could see it for themselves-- “among you who believe.”  He lived the kind of lifestyle that he had presented in his preaching and advocacy.  His example proved it could be lived.

 

            2:11     as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children.  Just as he had compared himself to a loving “mother” earlier (verse 7), he now compares himself to how a loving “father” acts toward his own offspring.  As his converts, they were effectively his spiritual children.  To further develop the imagery he had already invoked, he had “fathered” them and “brought them into the world” through teaching them how to be born again.

            His teaching agenda involved what he “exhorted” (= “encouraged,” GNT, Holman), what he “comforted” (in times of sorrow and difficulty), and what he “charged” them about what they needed to do (“urged,” CEV; “implored,” Holman).  (Many translations place these three items in verse 12.)

            The teaching was “universal”--directed to “every one of you.”  It was instruction that everyone could live by and everyone should.  It was a teaching not just for the “spiritual elite” but for every person who claimed loyalty to Christ.       

 

            2:12     that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.  The three forms of advocacy he discussed in verse eleven had one central purpose:  that they should live (= “walk”) in a manner “worthy of God” . . . worthy of being His people and avoiding the kind of traits that would bring dishonor to His name.  Two reasons for this are mentioned in particular, both linked to the fact that God is the One who “calls” us.  One is that He “calls” us into “His own kingdom” (into the kingdom of the church on earth [Colossians 1:13] and the heavenly kingdom in eternity [2 Peter 1:10-11]).  And the second is that He calls us into “glory” (Divine honor and recognition and, ultimately, a changed eternal body in heaven).  These are gifts that no human being can bestow.  If they are to be received at all, it is only by measuring up to the standards that God has set.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Though They Had Suffered Persecution,

They Were Just As Dedicated To The Truth

As The Afflicted Congregations In Judea

(2:13-16)

 

 

            13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe.  14 For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely.  They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, 16 because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.  Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely.  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:13     For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.  In modern English we would put the introductory words--“for this reason we also thank God without ceasing”--after the rest of the verse:  Their joyous reception of his inspired message was the “reason” he gave thanks to God.  “Thank[ing] God” was natural since it was “the word of God” which they had heard from Paul and his coworkers that caused them to embrace the gospel and transform their lives.  His success meant he had no reason to ever regret his work with them.  Hence he gave his thanks “without ceasing” . . .  it was repeatedly . . . on an ongoing basis . . . the subject of his prayers.

            Paul’s message was not invented by himself or others he respected.  Rather it was purely “the word of God” . . . the message (“word”) God had revealed.  Hence it was not a mere human conjecture--“the word of men”--but something far more important.  Things of human invention can often be useful and beneficial, but only truths that come from God are infallibly right.  That message “effectively works” among all believers producing changed minds and attitudes.  It is, if you wish, spiritual “leaven” that changes the entirety of us into something of higher quality than when we first began.              

 

            2:14     For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus.  For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans.  Imitation can be either good or bad, depending upon what and why it is being imitated.  In this case their imitation of the Judean churches enduring persecution showed the depth of the convictions of both groups. 

            The fact that those who had killed both Christ and earlier prophets were Judeans (verse 14) argues that the worst zealots of persecution were in that region rather than Galilee.  This was quite natural since the top religious leadership (the Sanhedrin) was located there and Jesus’ convictions challenged major attitudes and behaviors that they found desirable or outright obligatory.  Not that violence might never be attempted against Jesus in Galilee--it was in his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4:28-30--but there the danger was, comparatively, far less common and from folk who were not supposed to be the chief religious instructors of the nation.  Which were what the Sanhedrin and Pharisees claimed to be.        

 

            2:15     who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men.  We humans look upon death as the supreme punishment that can be given and they did back then as well.  The religious leadership and their followers had inflicted this not only upon Jesus but also upon “their own prophets” who had come in earlier times.  Jesus Himself had referred to this grim reality (Matthew 5:12) and the fact that they would attack His own followers as well (Matthew 23:28-36). 

            In their spiritual blindness of human religious tradition, they “do not please God” and land in needless conflict with others as well (= “contrary to all men”):  There was the sentiment among many Pharisees that you must follow their traditions exactly, unvaryingly, and without complaint--for they were right and that foreclosed any challenge from the “unwashed peons” who had to struggle just to get by.  There was often both religious and socio-economic arrogance undergirding their arrogance.  In a bit broader sense, the Judaizers in the church were vehemently opposed to allowing non-circumcised members and the retention of Gentile customs.

            “Contrary to all men” can also be taken to mean that common Jewish attitudes held every non-Jew in contempt.  (The Judaizers within the church were very close to that mind frame which was quite common among Jewish non-Christians.)  Gentile writers made no secret of their annoyance at such.  Thus Tacitus writes of them:  ‘They are faithful to obstinacy, and merciful toward themselves, but toward all others are actuated by the most irreconcilable hatred (odium humani generis).’  And Juvenal says, ‘They will not show the road to one who was not of their religion, nor lead the thirsty person if uncircumcised to the common spring.’   (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            2:16     forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.  They did not want Paul and other Christians converting the Gentiles; they were “forbidd[en]” to even talk to them with their message.  It wasn’t that they were opposed to increasing the number of followers of Jehovah, but they were vehemently opposed to receiving as spiritual equals the uncircumcised.  They clearly reasoned that since God had originally required circumcision to be part of God’s people, that He must have intended that to continue to be the case even after the Messiah came.  Hence, by definition, even a prophetically inspired message saying otherwise could not possibly be genuine or right.

            It is hard to believe that this was all that was involved for many however.  Their prohibiting any preaching to the Gentiles could well argue that they regarded it not as a promotion to Gentiles but a demeaning demotion for circumcised Jews as well:  That which was so important to Jews was now, effectively, “meaningless.”  Hence they were determined to “snip the foolishness in the bud” by begrudging any concession that might enlarge their numbers within the Jehovah worshipping community.  

            This was the most recent deviation from God’s intents for the Old Testament makes a powerful case that this rebellious mindframe was so common that it was almost “always”—note Paul’s use of that word--the dominant attitude toward His will.  Hence they were “fill[ing] up the measure of their sins” by “forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles” (as Paul had just said).  This “topped off the gas tank” (so to speak):  it was not just a matter of temporary misjudgment but an ongoing demand to cease and desist.  They had already added to that the sins of physical persecution, expulsion from being acceptable in the synagogues, and (surely) a mountain of unjustified invective. 

            Yet repercussions had already come upon them.  Paul labels it as “wrath . . . to the uttermost.”  This could refer to major disasters that had occurred to them--the nature not specified.  It could refer to how God was in the process of “washing His hands” of these ingrates for their continued rebellion even after the centuries long promised Messiah had finally come and they refused to submit to His rulership.  It has also been argued that we have here a “prophetic past tense” reflected in the words “has come:”  the destruction of physical Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was so certain that it was as if it were currently happening.  Unquestionably what would guarantee it happening--rock hard unbelief--was dominant even as Paul wrote.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Had Been Hindered From Fulfilling His

Enthusiastic Desire To Return To Them

(2:17-20)

 

 

            17 But when we were separated from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time (in presence, not in affection) we became all the more fervent in our great desire to see you in person.  18 For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us.  19 For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming?  Is it not of course you?  20 For you are our glory and joy!  --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            2:17     But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.  Even though he had been away from the Thessalonians only “for a short while” he already desired to see them again.  Note that this emotional attachment was intense--his clear inference that it was strong “in heart.”  Yet that was still not enough to satisfy him.  Rather it fueled his determination . . . for he fervently (“eagerly;” “with great desire,” ESV) sought to see their physical faces once again.

            A Greek note on the intensity behind “been taken away from you:”  “literally, orphaned—a word employed in Greek with some latitude—the very strongest expression the Apostle could find, occurring only here in the New Testament.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 

 

            2:18     Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.  The “time and again” reference suggests that Paul had on multiple occasions begun to plan his revisit--but that on each occasion circumstances arose that kept it from occurring.  This must not have been anything in the way of normal hindrances that can arise because he labels them as growing out of how “Satan hindered us.”  “Satan” means “ ‘the Adversary’ [and] is the Old Testament name of the Leader of evil spirits, the great enemy of God and man—called also “the Devil” (Slanderer) [used four times in Matthew 4:1-11], “the Evil One” (2 Thessalonians 3:3), and “the Tempter” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).  Satan is, throughout the New Testament, a real personality, and no figure of speech.” (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  

 

            2:19     For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?  Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?  The Thessalonians provided plenty of reason for Paul to be proud of what he had accomplished and the spiritual strengths that they so clearly demonstrated.  They were “our hope” that others would become like them--they had proved it was possible!  They were his “joy,” producing happiness within.  They were his “crown of rejoicing;” their conversion and spiritual loyalty had produced such outbursts of joy on his part it was like they constituted a crown that he was ecstatically wearing.   

            The culmination of his happiness would be when he could, so to speak, “present them” to the Lord upon His return--a demonstration of his own hard labor and their own profound dedication to the gospel.

 

            2:20     For you are our glory and joy.  You wanted to see something that gave honor (“glory”) to Paul?  Then look at the Thessalonians.  You wanted to see something that brought happiness (“joy”) to his heart?  Again look at the Thessalonians.  He was still radiant with delight over their continued spiritual commitment.  There were others he thought well of, but it is hard to believe there were many that he felt this enthusiastic about.