Bible Study - 1 Thessalonians

1 Thessalonians 2:1‑12  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Edward Cross
1. For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:
2. But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
3. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
4. But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts,
5. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness:
6. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
7. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
8. So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
9. For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
10. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holly and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
11. As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as father cloth his children,
12. That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
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Before passing to the consideration of the second chapter, let us look once again, briefly, at the closing verses of the preceding chapter, for these give a certain scope and setting to the whole epistle:
“... how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.”
How the anger of God was provoked against them on this account, and His wrath stirred up against them to their destruction, is fully set forth as a warning to Israel by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy — compare Deut. 4:14-28; 7:23-26; 11:16-17; 12:29-3114And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it. 15Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: 16Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, 18The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: 19And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. 20But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day. 21Furthermore the Lord was angry with me for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance: 22But I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan: but ye shall go over, and possess that good land. 23Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee. 24For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. 25When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: 26I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed. 27And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. 28And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. (Deuteronomy 4:14‑28)
23But the Lord thy God shall deliver them unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed. 24And he shall deliver their kings into thine hand, and thou shalt destroy their name from under heaven: there shall no man be able to stand before thee, until thou have destroyed them. 25The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the Lord thy God. 26Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it: but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing. (Deuteronomy 7:23‑26)
16Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17And then the Lord's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you. (Deuteronomy 11:16‑17)
29When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; 30Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. (Deuteronomy 12:29‑31)
and so forth. And terrible were the denunciations made to them should they forsake the worship and service of the Lord God, and, reverting to the idolatry out of which Abram had been called (Josh. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)), follow the example of the surrounding nations.
They were thus, both of them, Israel and the nations alike, amenable to the wrath of God; nor was there the possibility of escape, when once His hand in the fury of His anger was lifted up. “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them. I will spend mine arrows upon them,” etc. (Deut. 32:21-2321They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. 23I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. (Deuteronomy 32:21‑23)).
These words are addressed to Israel, but their echo is heard among the nations around. How blessed amidst the rolling of such thunders to hear the gospel sound, telling of “Jesus, our Deliverer,” — Deliverer of every believer, Jew and Gentile alike — “our Deliverer from the coming wrath,” a wrath as certainly coming as the fact of it had already been made known (cf. Eph. 5:66Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6), Col. 3:66For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: (Colossians 3:6)).
“Ye turned to God from idols,” denotes rather the general idea of their conversion than its specifically Christian character; they turned from the idols they had served to the God whom Paul preached to them — to serve Him whose true character is the “living and veritable God,” and to wait for His Son from the heavens, even Jesus, our Deliverer from the coming wrath already announced.
He is the living God, in contrast to dead idols — “no gods” who have no life in them. “Behold ye are worse than nothing and your work is of naught “(Isa. 41:2424Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you. (Isaiah 41:24), margin). Such is the idol in itself: the worship of it is rank corruption.
“To wait for His Son from heaven.” This was their hope, and this hope, the coming of the Lord, characterizes the epistle. It has been well said that “hope is the keynote of this epistle, as joy is of the Epistle to the Philippians” (Ellicott). In every chapter the corning of the Lord is set forth. In one aspect or another of it, it is the characteristic hope of the Christian. Thus it is presented:
In 1 Thess 2:19 with the joyful reunion of the saints and those who have labored amongst them.
In 1 Thess. 5:22For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:2) with “the day of the Lord” and the judgment that will then come, as already pronounced, upon the unbelievers.
And in 1 Thess. 5:2323And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23) with his desire that the saints should be preserved blameless in view of that day, fraught as it is with so many mighty issues.
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Chapter 2
In the preceding chapter, Paul dwells thankfully on the fruits the gospel had produced in those whom he addresses; in this chapter he discusses seriously, in the full sense of the responsibility attaching to it, his own conduct as a servant of God in their midst.
There he spoke of their faith, hope and love, the essential and internal elements of Christian life, evidenced in its reality by the work and patience and labor that accompanied them; and also of the external evidence of the power of the gospel over them, seen by all as they turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Here he speaks of the boldness, the uprightness, the-faithfulness, the considerateness, the tenderness, the untiring and unselfish devotedness of his ministry amongst them; able as he is (happy man!) to call them and God to witness how holily and justly, and unblameably he, with his fellow laborers, had behaved themselves among them that believe, at once manifesting the gentleness of a nursing mother, and ministering the wise counsel and instruction of a devoted father amongst his children. It is a beautiful and grateful picture to study; and as the mind dwells upon it, it is refreshed from the springs of spiritual life that come bursting up from their source, with all the instinct of holy affections as yet unrestrained by the coldness or defilements of this nether world.
Why is it that we do not get more ministry from the epistles to the Thessalonians? Why is it that much of what we do get is of a merely doctrinal kind, where doctrine, as such, has so little place? Is it that the affections of life amongst those who believe are so little developed, or have become so atrophied for want of being properly nourished, that we are but little capable of appreciating that which, by contrast with the highest gifts, the apostle calls the “more excellent way?” (1 Cor. 12:3131But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:31)). Or is it that we are more occupied with the ordering and administration of our relationships than with the fulfillment of them?-that our heads have got beyond our hearts, and both beyond our feet? Let us take heed to the word, “these things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
We notice here, as before, the same fervency, the same superlative style, his thought amplified in triplets, as though words could scarce express the over-flowing of his feelings. Tense and short he can be when the occasion requires — “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached let him be accursed: As we said before, so say I now again,.. let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9-109As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. 10For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:9‑10)). One word of sharp and extreme animadversion is there enough, and he will not use a second, even though he use it twice. But here, how different I words are piled up to give vent, as it were, to the feelings with which his heart is charged towards his beloved children in the faith.
Doctrine is no doubt necessary in its place, and the full understanding of all the glorious purposes of God for the ages, as revealed in the Scriptures, is of the utmost importance for the proper and intelligent enjoyment of the Christian; but here we have the spring that vitalizes all the rest, without which these vast and far-reaching truths, given for the glory of God and for the blessing of His people as in a land flowing with milk and honey, become as barren as the steppes of Tartary, as arid as the sands of the Sahara desert. Made known for the glory of God, the Giver, and for the blessing of man, the receiver, they are ofttimes taken up by the mind of man for his own glory, and they thus fail in the purpose of their revelation, whether for God or man. Life we must have, whatever else we have: and life, divine and spiritual life, has its spring and expression in love and the holy affections that flow from it. Doctrine must surely be maintained at the height of the revelation as given of God: but the soul must be nourished in the affections that give it life and unction.
He designs to encourage them to patience and constancy in the sufferings through which they were passing; but he does not exhort them to travel a road by which he himself had not gone. He does not drive them. And so likewise Paul can speak of his own sufferings, and the shameful treatment to which he and his fellow laborers were subjected at Philippi, and how “we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
It is most interesting, and affords instruction worthy of the most serious consideration, to note the profoundly serious way in which he regards the trust of the gospel committed to him by God, always associating with himself in this service to the Thessalonians his fellow laborers, Silvanus and Timotheus. How bright the saving light of the gospel thus appears as first sent forth into this poor dark world! What a message to carry, and what messengers to carry it! Here the curtain rises on a new scene where the God of Heaven proclaims the supremacy of good in a world lying in the wicked one; this gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes.
He charges the saints at Thessalonica that they should walk worthy of God, who had called them to His own kingdom and glory; but first he vindicates his title to give such a charge to others.
Mark well the things that were absent from this exhortation and then note that which characterized it. It was free from deceit, uncleanness, guile: they spake “not as pleasing men but God, which trieth our hearts”: they used no flattery nor pretext of covetousness: and this was not said lightly, God was their witness: nor did they seek glory of any human source, though as apostles of Christ they might have clothed themselves with the weight and consideration of their commission. No such object commanded them, no such desire impelled them. If not, what then? What motives did govern these honored servants of God? What motives should govern and characterize His beloved servants today? The answer is beautiful and before us. First, fidelity to Him whose servants they were, “not as, pleasing men but God which trieth our hearts “; and second, tenderness and love towards those whom they were sent to serve. And what exquisite refinement and depth of feeling is evidenced in their manner of behavior towards them Gentle as a nursing mother with her own children, desirous of imparting not the gospel of God only but their very selves, because they had become so dear to them.
Nor does any false modesty prevent his calling to their minds how they had labored and wrought night and day so as not to be chargeable to them in the way of monetary expense, while preaching to them the free grace of God. On this point Paul is more than ordinarily emphatic. In one place he calls it his reward that in preaching the gospel he would make it without charge (1 Cor. 9:1818What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:18)). Elsewhere he says that as the truth of Christ is in him no man shall stop him of this boasting (2 Cor. 11:1010As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia. (2 Corinthians 11:10)), and of this we have proof in his closing address to the elders at Ephesus, in these memorable words: — “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have skewed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-3533I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. 34Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:33‑35)). What a man! What a servant! What an exponent in his own life and ways, of the gospel that he had received from God! of the gospel which he preached to others.
What forceful eloquence therefore in his words where he calls them and God to witness “how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe;” and how touching his appeal to their own personal knowledge — “how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father,” taking individual interest in every separate child in the family that they should walk worthy of God — the God who had called them, to His own “kingdom and glory.”
In Ephesians 4:11I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, (Ephesians 4:1) he exhorts them to all lowliness (mark the word all, for it is forgotten), meekness, longsuffering, and the like, as he beseeches them to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called.
Here he dwells on the testimony of a holy, righteous, and blameless life in the sight of others, even as “the kingdom of God is... righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; for he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable’ to God, and approved of men” (Rom. 14:17-1817For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. (Romans 14:17‑18)).
Additional Notes by Readers.
The apostle recognized these Thessalonian converts as “brethren,” the new relationship formed in Christianity. Paul himself was a Jew, these one-time idolaters were Gentiles, but now in Christ Jesus they were all one.
In this epistle God is present to faith as the living and true God. To such a God had these Thessalonians turned. Hence we can understand the way the apostle links every movement of saints and servants directly with Him, for everything connected with the apostle’s work arose from the activities in grace of the living and true God. Thus: bold in our God; gospel of God; allowed of God; God, which trieth our hearts; God is witness; God, who hath called you; and so through the whole epistle.
BOLD IN OUR GOD. — This boldness was not mere natural courage, but the calm fearlessness that comes of consciousness of the presence of God.
IS NOT OF DECEIT (ERROR). — They had not themselves been carried away by any wiles of error, neither had they sought to mislead others by such wiles (Eph. 4:1414That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:14)). They had not been deceived, neither were they deceivers; see 2 Tim. 3:1313But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13), where the word is used which is translated in this verse “deceit,” but which is usually and more correctly translated “error.”
NOR OF UNCLEANNESS. — Compare the description of the false teachers in 2 Peter 2:1818For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. (2 Peter 2:18), where sensuality and error are again associated (see also Jude 44For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)). Corinth and Thessalonica were both cities wherein gross vice was consecrated to the service of religion. Christianity, Paul declared, did not share the character of the old religion. Compare Chapter 4:7.
NOR IN GUILE. — The preceding words deny a wrong source and a wrong motive; this denies a wrong method. The meaning of the word is best seen from its first New Testament occurrence (Matt. 26:44And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. (Matthew 26:4)), where it is translated “subtlety.”
Here the choice is between pleasing God and pleasing men, and the Lord Jesus Himself is the pattern: He always did the things that were pleasing to His Father (John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)).
The glad tidings were their own commendation; they did not require flattering words to be added to them, or anything which was merely human.
A Cloak, that is — a pretense, something assumed to mislead others as to one’s real motives. The word is well illustrated in Acts 27:3030And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, (Acts 27:30), where it is translated “color.”
GOD is WITNESS. Concerning flattery, which is of the tongue, he appealed to his readers; concerning covetousness, which is of the heart, he appealed to God.
NIGHT AND DAY. It is very interesting to note that the almost invariable Old Testament formula is “day and night,” whilst in the gospels and epistles the order is usually reversed — night and day. Why is this? May it not run with the trend of the periods, the one towards darkness, the other towards light? “The darkness is passing and the true light already shines” (1 John 2:88Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. (1 John 2:8) JND).
AND GOD ALSO. Always God is the Judge. This is a bold appeal — from the world that knew little of them to the Church that knew more, and, finally, to God who knows all. Compare with this 1 Corinthians 4:3, 43But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (1 Corinthians 4:3‑4) where again the apostle appeals from man’s day, that is, the world, to “you,” that is, the saints, from the saints to his conscience, from his conscience to his Lord.
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EDITORS’ NOTE: Readers are invited to send us, in the First week of each month, BRIEF expository comments on any or all of the separate verses contained in the portion to be considered the following month. Comments considered helpful, will be published, as far as space permits. Questions are also invited as to the meaning of any verse, or part of a verse, on which special comment is desired. The portion to be considered in the April issue is Chapter 2:13-20, of the Epistle.