The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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III. Paul's Defense Of His Preaching (2:1-12)

A. His Visit (2:1-4)

v. 1
"For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:
v. 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.
v. 3
"for our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
v. 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."


v. 1 "For": This, along with the repetition of "entering in" or "entrance" ("eisodon"), links what follows with 1Th 1:9. In the earlier verse Paul referred to the news he had heard from believers in other places; here he reminds the Thessalonians that they have need of no other witnesses than themselves.

"Not in vain": "Not a failure" (NIV). The word "kere" literally means "empty." It is often used of work or effort that is futile, useless, or ineffectual (1Co 15:10,58; Mark 12:3; Luke 20:10). Paul uses a similar word in 1Th 3:5 and Phi 2:16; in contexts which speak of work. Far from being ineffective or useless, Paul's preaching of the gospel had been "in power" (1Th 1:5), converting many in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4).

There seems to be an allusion here to the words of Isaiah:

"For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited" (Isa 45:18).
This in a context that starkly contrasts the one true God with the vanities of idols:

"I am the Lord, and there is none else", (cp 1Th 1:9,10).
And, again, from Isaiah:

"For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa 55:10,11).

v. 2 "Shamefully entreated... at Philippi": The experiences of Paul and Silas at Philippi, where they were stripped and beaten and imprisoned, would have been well known to the Thessalonian brethren. Paul and Silas had come directly to Thessalonica from Philippi, with their backs still bearing the marks of beating (Acts 16:23). The public degradation the apostles received would have been considered particularly insulting to a Roman citizen such as Paul, who should have been immune from such treatment.

"We were bold in our God": "We had courage in God." The word is especially used of speaking out in boldness and openness. It describes the confidence with which a believer may come into the presence of God (Heb 4:16; 10:19; 1Jo 3:21), and the confidence with which he may openly preach the gospel (Acts 9:27; 18:26; Phi 1:20; Eph 6:19).

"The gospel of God": This does not just mean the gospel or good news about God; it points to God as the Author of the gospel (cp vv 8,9; Rom 1:1; 15:16; 2Co 11:7).

"With much contention": The confidence Paul derived from his faith in God was very necessary, since contention and conflict dogged his steps. The word "agon" (from which we get the English "agony") is an athletic and a military word. It is not a token opposition, not a "going through the motions", but a very real struggle, a life-or-death battle. It is used, for example, in 1Ti 6:12 and 2Ti 4:7 of fighting the good fight of faith, and that is no half-hearted fight. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that the opposition he had faced had been intense, and his preaching had not been easy. How, in the face of this evidence, could anyone believe that he had only preached for what he could get out of it personally (vv 3.4)?

v. 3 "Deceit": The Greek "plane" means simply "error" (NIV); there is no idea of deceit attached, unless it be the self-deceit of believing error. The same word is translated "delusion" in 2Th 2:11 and "error" in 1Jo 4:6. Paul's enemies (in this case they must have been Jews) were saying that Paul simply did not know what he was talking about; his interpretations of the Old Testament scriptures were the words of men, not the words of God (1Th 2:13).

"Uncleanness": "Akatharsis" literally means "unclean" or "impure." This word is often associated with sexual sins (Rom 1:24; 2Co 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 4:19; 5:3; Col 3:5). But it is difficult to imagine this is one of the charges laid against Paul, since nowhere else is such a thing even hinted at. Two other possibilities:

"Guile": "Dolos", elsewhere translated "subtlety" (Mat 26:4; Acts 13:10; 2Co 4:2). We know that this was a favorite charge against Paul:

"I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by guile ('dolos')" (2Co 12:16, RSV).
His enemies were fond of telling his followers that Paul was only after their money (1Th 2:5-9).

v. 4 "As we were allowed of God": The word basically means "to test", and is used again at the end of the verse: "God, who tests our hearts." The sense is that Paul has been tested and approved by God for the work he must do.

"Not as pleasing men": Paul consistently shows a total disregard for men's opinions (1Co 4:3; Gal 1:10).

"God which trieth our hearts": A common Old Testament idea (Psa 7:8,9; 139:23; Jer 11:20; 12:3; 17:10).


Paul does not say, "having been ill-treated at Philippi, we were more careful in Thessalonica." Even the most wretched abuse cannot deter Paul and Silas from preaching the word. He reminded them of what they already knew of his troubles at Philippi and Thessalonica. This was to encourage them in the trials they were facing, and to impress them of the necessity for the gospel message to go forward, no matter what the opposition. Paul was not asking the Thessalonians to undergo anything that he was not prepared to endure himself. He had brought the gospel to them in spite of the beatings and imprisonment he suffered in Philippi.

* * *

Paul's letters contain numerous hints of a Jewish plot to undermine Christianity from within, especially by attacking Paul and his message of justification by faith. Their subtle attacks upon him explain his efforts to establish the basis of his authority and the purity of his motives. In these verses in 1Th 2 we may see some of the charges insinuated against him (vv 3,5,6). And we may notice also the evidence for the circulation of a forged letter purporting to be from Paul (2Th 2:1,2), with evident intention of creating confusion among the believers as to Paul's teachings and even his honesty. Truly for Paul there were both "perils by mine own countrymen", and "perils among false brethren" (2Co 11:26).

B. His Behavior (2:5-8)

v. 5
"For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
v. 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.
v. 7
"but we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
v. 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."


v. 5 "Flattering words": The Greek is, if anything, stronger than the English. We may think of some forms of flattery as being essentially innocent, designed only to encourage the hearer, to make him feel good about himself. But the Greek term ("Kolakeias") has rather the idea of using fair words to deceive the hearer and gain one's own ends; it implies using lies and deceit as instruments of policy to bend others to one's own will. Paul was never guilty of such a vice, but spoke plainly and bluntly (2Co 10:10,11; 12:6).

"Cloke of covetousness": The Hebrew "beged" (literally, garment) also means, figuratively, treachery or greed. Here is an example of Paul thinking in Hebrew and writing in Greek. As a loose-fitting cloak may conceal a sword, so a plausible pretext -- though perhaps even true in itself -- may conceal the real, and less worthy, motive for some action.

Covetousness ("pleonexia") -- "greed" in NIV -- means "the desire to have more." In the New Testament it is always used in a bad sense, and is connected with materialism (Luke 12:15; 2Pe 2:3), including the desire for money (2Co 9:5), and with sensuality (Eph 4:19; 5:3). It is on Christ's lengthy list of the evils that arise in men's hearts (Mark 7:22). Elsewhere Paul equates this "covetousness" or "greed" with idolatry (Col 3:5), because it exacts self-gratification to the highest position of worship. In 2Co 9:5; 12:17,18 Paul denies the charge of covetousness against himself and the other apostles in reference to the collection of the fund for the poor in Jerusalem.

"God is witness": Since only God Himself can search the hearts of men, and since covetousness is essentially a sin of the heart, Paul calls on God as witness that he has no such desires (cp Rom 1:9; 2Co 1:23; Phi 1:8).

The phrase is reminiscent of "Galeed", or "Jegar-sahadutha" ("the heap of witness"), in Gen 31:46-50 -- the solemn place which marked the border between the spiritual Jacob and the worldly Laban. So Paul's renunciation of covetousness is the point of demarcation between those who worship the one true God and those who make idols of their own unworthy desires.

v. 6 "Nor of men sought we glory": In the sense of "praise" (NIV). To gain a reputation as successful preachers was not the aim of Paul and his associates. They did not look for praise from men (Rom 2:7; 1Co 4:5). They might well receive it, since they deserved it; but Paul's point is that they did not seek it: their motives were pure.

Note: This verse might be repunctuated, as in the NIV:

"We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else."
The final phrase of verse 6, then, would be attached to verse 7, thus:

"As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you..."
When we might have been burdensome": They could have expected, by virtue of their positions, to receive financial support (1Co 9:14; Gal 6:6). But Paul was determined to make no use of his right in this matter (more on this in v 9).

"Apostles of Christ": "Apostles" ("apostoloi" = messenger -- in a very high sense, as ambassadors or envoys of the King) was the designation of the original twelve disciples of Christ (Luke 6.13). But others besides these came to be properly called apostles (Rom 16:7; cp 1Co 15:5-7, where "the twelve" are distinct from "all the apostles"). Among such were James the Lord's brother (Gal 1:19), Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:14), and Silas (cp 1Th 1:1 with 1Th 2:6). Perhaps even the youthful Timothy can be counted among the number (same references), although almost certainly he had never seen the resurrected Lord, which Paul elsewhere seems to consider essential to apostleship (cp 1Co 15:8,9; Gal 1:15-17).

v. 7 "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children": For "gentle" some manuscripts have "babes", but this seems inappropriate, since Paul goes on immediately to speak of himself as "a mother" also! Furthermore, "gentle" is the perfect contrast with "burdensome" (v 6). The two words ("gentle" and "babes") are very similar in Greek ("epios" and "nepios"). Since the preceding word in the Greek text ends with this letter "n" it would have been very easy for a scribe to have carried over and repeated that letter at the beginning of the next word.

The word "nurse" describes any woman feeding a baby at her breast; in this case it is the mother herself, since Paul's phrase is "her own children." And the word "cherisheth" ("thalpo") means to keep warm, as a mother bird covering her young with her feathers (Deu 22:6, LXX); it is also used of the love of Christ the husband for the ecclesia his bride (Eph 5:29).

Thus there is presented the lovely picture of a mother suckling her baby at the warmth of her breast. How fascinating to think that Paul the learned Rabbi, the author of Romans and Ephesians, the wise and eloquent teacher of Mars Hill, yet had it in him to think of himself and his converts in this way!

We may compare this maternal metaphor with another such in Gal 4:19, where Paul addresses his little children for whom he suffers birthpangs all over again, "until Christ be formed in you." And, a bit further afield, there is Moses speaking of himself as receiving direction from God to care for Israel:

"Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers?" (Num 11:12).
"Among you": Is this a conscious recalling of Christ's words:

"I am among you as he that serveth" (Luke 22:37)?

v. 8 "Being affectionately desirous of you": "We loved you so much" (NIV). This is a very rare word, found only here in the New Testament; it is used in Job 3:21 (LXX) to mean "longing for." The conjecture of one exposition is that it is a term of endearment from the nursery, thus carrying forward the imagery of v 7: the cooing and whispering intimacies, the "baby-talk" of a mother with her own infant.

"We were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls": Still we may follow the imagery of v 7: the mother fondling the baby at her breast, and feeling her own life going out to it in her milk, to nourish it.

This, says Paul, is the only way to convey the gospel message to others: it must be given along with our own hearts and souls. It must be given with passion, with love, with life itself. How else could we attempt to preach the gospel of the God who "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Rom 8:32)? How else preach the gospel of Christ, "who gave himself for our sins" (Gal 1:4), who "poured out his soul unto death" (Isa 53:12)? In like manner Paul writes of himself:

"if I be offered ('poured forth' -- mg. as a drink offering) upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all" (Phi 2:17).
And also:

"I will very gladly spend and be spent for you" (2Co 12:15).


"We were gentle among you," Paul writes to the Thessalonians. There is infinite tenderness in these words, an overflowing love and encouragement. The apostle, who could stress the necessity at times for the hardness of a soldier, could also counsel his own "son" Timothy that "the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men" (2Ti 2:24). In statements like these Paul stands revealed as a man of intense feeling toward those who looked to him for leadership. The Thessalonians were his special charge, and he had an eternal interest in their welfare, an interest that only intensified when he was forced to be absent from them. They had captured his heart by the devotion they showed in turning from their idols to serve the living and true God. They were his "children" as surely as he was a child of God; he was by turns "mother" (vv 7,8) and "father" (v 11) to them. Their lives were bound up in one another, and no sacrifice was too great for Paul to make on their behalf.

* * *

How difficult it is for some of us to commit ourselves to some types of service to others. Brothers especially can scarcely find in themselves these "maternal" instincts of caring and nurturing, of watchfulness, try as they might. It is important for them especially to ponder at length the example of Paul. Do we seek to be spiritual "nurses" in the church, by tenderly binding up those who are "broken", by gently encouraging those who are weak? The apostle who could picture himself as a mother suckling a baby would never hesitate to perform any worthwhile task, no matter how menial or how "out-of-character." And so should we be.

Do we suppose some chores are beneath us, when the real problem is our pride? In the light of the example of Jesus, how could we have any pride? The one girded himself and knelt before his disciples to wash their feet can surely teach us something about humility and service and love:

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you" (John 13:12-15).

C. His Example (2:9-12)

v. 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.
v. 10
"Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
v. 11
"as ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
v. 12
"that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory."


v. 9 "Labor and travail": The two words also occur together in 2Co 11:27 and 2Th 3:8. The first ("kopos") (also in 1Th 1:3) is derived from the verb meaning "to strike", putting emphasis on the ideas of trouble and weariness. The second ("mochthos") conveys the idea of difficulty ("hardship": NIV) and even pain. The combination of the two words stresses that Paul's work was not a mere token performance, done for its impression upon others, but that it involved real effort.

It was the custom and teaching among the Jews that every boy must learn a trade, even those who were destined for scholarly pursuits or those from wealthy families. The rabbis taught that the father who did not teach his son a trade taught him to be a thief. We know from Acts 18:3 that Paul's occupation was that of "tent-maker" (the word may signify, more generally, a leather-worker).

v. 10 "Ye are witnesses": Compare vv 1,5,9,11. Paul was forced to bother about the criticisms of others -- not for himself personally, but so that his work might not be sabotaged.

"Holily": The Greek "hosios" expressed an attitude of reverence towards God which affects a person's conduct.

"Justly": The Greek "dikaios" ("righteous": NIV) means to give men what is due to them; to perform one's duties in a faultless manner. In different contexts this and related words give a far broader meaning -- that is, to be justified or made righteous, through the sin-covering atonement of Jesus Christ. Here, though, Paul seems to be speaking of the more simple, straightforward virtue.

"Unblameably": The Greek is "amemptos", and refers to conduct which is free from any reasonable accusation. It occurs also in 1Th 3:13; 5:23.

v. 11 "Exhorted": "Parakaleo" means literally to call by one's side, and therefore is sometimes translated by "comfort" and "encourage." In John's Gospel the noun form "Paraklete" ("the comforter") is used of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7), sent by Jesus to comfort and strengthen the apostles in his absence. This is the most general word for instruction given to believers (1Th 3:2,7: 4:1,10,18; 5:11,14).

"Comforted": This uncommon word ("paramuthion") is similar to the preceding "parakaleo", and can convey the ideas of admonition and encouragement (1Th 5:14) and most especially consolation (John 11:19,31).

"Charged": "Marturomenoi": "testify" (RV), from the root for "to witness"; "urging" (NIV). This word has the sense of making a solemn and emphatic affirmation, or even a demand or command.

"As a father doth his children": The same apostle who pictured himself as the loving and gentle "mother" (vv 7,8) now sees himself also as the "father" to the Thessalonian believers. Here is outlined, then, the best method for a father to bring up his children: a judicious combination of instruction, comfort, encouragement, consolation, and (not to be neglected!) serious teaching and even stern orders.

v. 12 "His Kingdom and glory": Perhaps, better, "his glorious kingdom." The return of Christ and the establishment of God's kingdom are oft-repeated themes in Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians. Christ's coming is the rationale for every call to duty and every insistence upon holy living. The Kingdom will be the time and place for the manifestation of the visible radiance of God's majesty, through those who have been called out of the nations to be bearers of the Divine Glory (Rom 5:2; 8:18; 2Co 4:17; Col 1:12,13).


The right of the apostles to receive material support from Christian communities is laid down in 1Co 9, but Paul maintained his own high ideal of not seeking such assistance:

"Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void" (1Co 9:13-15).
Voluntary gifts were another matter, and these Paul accepted thankfully:

"Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated (ie shared) with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity" (Phi 4:15,16; cp 2Co 11:9).
Such gifts as Paul received were almost certainly not very large (cp 2Co 8:2 "their deep poverty"). Thus Paul was seldom exempt from having to toil "night and day" (1Th 2:9) to support himself (2Th 3:8; 1Co 4:12; 2Co 12:13) and even those who were with him (Acts 20:34). Can there be any more stirring example for us today, to carry on as best we can the work of preaching while still providing for ourselves and our families?

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