Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Explanatory Notes: 1 Thessalonians 2

2:1-2 For you yourselves know, brothers, our entrance with you, that it has not been vain. But having suffered previously and being ill treated, as you know, in Philippi, we had courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid great conflict.
As in Acts, Paul indicates that he first came to Thessalonica along the Egnatian Way heading west. He underwent hardship in Philippi. According to Acts this persecution included beating and imprisonment (Acts 16:11-40), perhaps one of the three beatings with rods that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 11:25. This persecution was most likely by the Roman authorities of the city. Acts presents Paul getting in trouble with local authorities because of interfering with someone's slave who could tell the future. Perhaps more than anything he stood at the center of a public disturbance.

Paul seems to take the courage he, Silas, and Timothy had to preach the gospel, the good news of Jesus' Lordship, as an indication of God's support for them. They had the strength to preach it despite great conflict, presumably at Thessalonica as well.

2:3-4 For our admonition [has not been] from error nor from uncleanness nor with deceit, but just as we were approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we are speaking, not as if we were pleasing mortals but God, the one who approves our hearts.
It was essential for an orator to secure the confidence of the audience, for them to trust the speaker and his (her?) motives. So Paul here affirms that he is a trustworthy authority. He is not mistaken, nor are his motives impure, nor is he trying to scam them. God has trusted them with the gospel. The stakes of deceit would be high, for they have God to answer to, not mere mortals.

2:5-7a For neither did we come at some time with a word of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed, God is witness, nor seeking glory from mortals nor from you nor from others, although we were able to exert pressure as apostles of Christ.
To call God as witness was no small thing. The ancients believed in the gods more truly than so many moderns and invoking them in the name of truth was a serious thing, as opposed to the shallow God language of many if not most today. Paul continues to vouch for his sincerity and good motives, invoking God as witness to the fact that he has not been flattering the Thessalonians or trying to get their possessions.

They were not seeking human glory and did not use their authority as apostles of Jesus Christ to their selfish advantage. They did not lord over the Thessalonians, as if they were really on a power trip.

2:7b-8 But we became gentle in your midst, as if we were a nurse nourishing her children, so being affectionate toward you, we desired to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you became beloved to us.
In contrast to the domineering manner Paul and Silas might have assumed as apostles, they more took the role of a nurse, affectionately nursing them as children in Christ. They loved the Thessalonians as they shared their lives with them along with the gospel. This is the second time Paul has mentioned the gospel of God, but it will not be his last in this section.

2:9 For remember, brothers, our labor and our trouble, working night and day so that some of you might not be burdened, we preached to you the gospel of God.
Paul's motives for supporting himself may not have entirely been about not putting a burden on his churches. After all, Paul did receive support from the Philippians while he was at Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16). To receive patronage in the ancient world was to become encumbered by strings of obligation. It is at least possible that Paul did not as a policy accept support from churches while he was present so that he would not be so encumbered.

It is quite possible that Paul himself came from a family with some resources, assuming that he was a Roman citizen as Acts indicates. If so, then he may not have grown up working with his hands in the manner he did in his mission work. He lowered himself socially for the benefit of the gospel of God, which he mentions now a third time.

2:10-12 You yourselves are witnesses, and God, how holily and righteously and blamelessly we were to you who believe, just as you know, how as a father his own children admonishing each one of you and encouraging you and witnessing so that you might walk worthily of God who called you into His own kingdom and glory.
The confidence that Paul shows in his spirituality is foreign to the way so many Christians think of their own righteousness today. On the one hand, we may have a more exacting sense of perfection than Paul did. We tend to think of absolute perfection when we hear words like these, and Paul almost certainly does not. On the other hand, Paul no doubt lived for the gospel with a fullness of intent that few Christians today embody.

Here as elsewhere, Paul makes no accommodation for sin in his understanding of the gospel. Christian are to walk worthily of God. They are to be holy and righteous and blameless as he, Silas, and Timothy.

Paul identifies the audience as "those who believe" or "those who have faith." This faith in chapter 1 was directed toward God.

2:13 And for this reason also we ourselves give thanks to God constantly, that having received the word of hearing of God from us, you received not the word of mortals but, as it is, truly the word of God, who also works among you who believe.
Paul uses the kind of thanksgiving language typical of this part of a letter. Once again Paul refers to them as "you who believe" or "you who have faith." The word of God is presumably the message of the gospel of God, that God's reign as king is coming, the kingdom of God.

2:14 For you yourselves became imitators, brothers, of the assemblies of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because you also yourselves suffered the same things from your own kinspeople as they also suffered by the Judeans,
The new believers were apparently undergoing persecution in Thessalonica for their new found faith. It is difficult to imagine how this would be the case other than that 1) the continued to experience fall out from disruption Paul's preaching created while he was there or 2) they had somehow continued his preaching in public in some way. It seems unlikely that the powers that be would have opposed the new believers unless in some way they were somehow disturbing the peace of the city.

Paul here around the year AD51 indicates that at least some churches in Judea experienced persecution by their fellow Jews. We personally doubt that Paul here speaks of all Christian Jews in Judea being persecuted by all Jews, but primarily of Greek speaking Christian Jews being pursued by temple authorities.

2:15-16a ... who also killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and pushed us out and do not please God and are enemies of all people [because] they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles in order that they might be saved,
The particular examples of persecution Paul mentions supports our theory of the kind of persecution Paul has in mind. It was presumably the temple leadership in particular that set into motion the events leading to Jesus' persecution. It was presumably these same forces for whom Paul worked before he saw the risen Christ, and it was presumably these forces that then ran Paul out of town when he returned three years later.

We have little reason to believe that Christianity under James in Jerusalem was seriously involved in a Gentile mission. If anything, we wonder if Paul has subtly blurred his opposition from non-Christian Jews to include opposition from Christian Jews, at least those who Paul will call "false brothers" in Galatians. Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians after the incident at Antioch where believers from Jerusalem stopped Jewish and Gentile Christians from eating together.

2:16b ... so that their sins always fill up, and wrath has reached them at last.
It is difficult to think of a specific event that Paul might have in mind here. Some twelve years earlier the emperor Caligula had tried to set up a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple, but it is hard to see where Paul would take any delight in this. Claudius then expelled at least Jewish Christians like Priscilla and Aquila from Rome around AD49, but it is hard to see how Paul would consider this just.

Other possibilities include the Judean famine of AD46 and Claudius' refusal to grant Jews the rights of Roman citizenship in the early 40's. But neither of these seems particularly to fit the bill. In the end, perhaps Paul here is anticipating events he believes will soon take place rather than ones that already had.

33 comments:

Angela Bozak said...

The statement in verses 14-16 labeling the Jews as the ones "who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out" followed by the declaration that God's wrath had finally come upon them seems a bit harsh and vindictive. When I first read this I was somewhat shocked at the boldness with which Paul states this, despite the validity of it. But it seems to me that this statement is less of an anti-Semitic attack (seeing as Paul was, in fact, a Christian Jew) and more of a sort of righteous rage against anyone (in this case it did happen to be the Jewish leaders) that would hinder the preaching of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

I am encouraged and challenged in believing the theme that Paul may be preaching within these passages is the necessity of living life only for God, totally sold out to Him. He begins chapter 2 by making known that his motives are impure and unselfish. He reminds them of the persecution and hardship they had gone through before they had come to them. I wonder if the missionaries, after such opposition were a bit afraid of what they knew could happen. However it is clearly address that they are not concerned in what “could happen” to them, instead they were interested in what they could do for the kingdom out of their courage and surrendered lives. Here are men who are not looking for the approval of mortals because that is merely temporary and shallow, they are men truly seeking to live for God and gain his approval (2:4) on their hearts, which is permanent and deep.

karen sand

LMcClellan said...

"But having suffered previously and being ill treated...we had courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid great conflict." This seems like such an ironic thing for Paul to say - that the previous experiences of persecution have not kept them from speaking the Gospel. Not only that, it seems as though in the desperation of beating and imprisonments, the presence of God has continued with them. This is such a contrast to the way that we view our circumstances. It is in our desperation and affliction that we raise our fists at God and accuse Him of abondonment, but here Paul speaks with boldness and confidence in reference to the courage they have found in God amidst all their suffering.
In addition, Paul's use of affectionate language in 2:7b-8, as well as 2:10-12 seems to be the perfect model of discipleship. Paul states that they not only spoke and preached the Gospel of God, but they also shared their very lives with them. I dare say that this is a pure representation of how the Church should operate.

TJ's Blog said...

I find it amazing to see how Paul uses his words and speaks to the people in verses 5-8. Paul very easily could have said, "We are God's apostles. So give us money because god is powerful." In verse 7 he states that with being apostles he could have done this. He goes on to say that instead they want to nurture and take care of these people. More than this they give their lives to them. This serves as a demonstration of what it truly means to have a selfless love for other people. This is a great example for us as Christians to follow. Instead of feeling better than other people, we should lose ourselves and love as God loves us.

Anonymous said...

Overall, the second chapter of 1 Thessalonians is Paul telling the people there how much he loves them. It’s an encouragement chapter; it gently pushes them to continue in following the teachings of Jesus which was taught to them by Paul. He mentions in verses 7 and 8 how he plays the role of a nurse and how great his affections were towards them. In verses 19 and 20, he calls them his joy and crown of boasting. Paul is obviously very proud, and he tells them that often and emphatically.

Katie Hamilton

Kristie Coombs said...

Paul points out in 2:1-2 that although they had suffered, they continued to preach the word of God. He says that their mission was not a failure. He even says they "dared" to share the Word of God. It is encouraging to see people love each other so much even when they are under so much opposition, and they still continue to do the right thing! They point out that they are doing the work of God for all the right reasons and not the wrong ones, and are even earning their own keep when they enter each town or city.

Anders Edstrom said...

i've had a lot questions lately about the idea that we pay pastors and that eventually as a pastor i will be paid my congregation. Paul worked another job while he was with these churches so is this something we as future pastors should be doing something else like Paul did or is it Biblical for us to be paid by our congregations?

Mason Bragg said...

What I find most intriguing about this passage is the fact that it truly is directed toward God. Paul gives God all the glory through his encouraging language and unselfish attitude. As I continue to read Paul's words, the less I think of them as his own. I think God is clearly speaking through him, especially when I read a statement that says, "we treated each of you as a father treats his own children." This is one the same characteristics that Christ had when He was around. There is definitely a connection between Paul's words and God's heart.

Daric Geyer said...

I find it interesting to learn how seriously people in that time considered calling on God as a witness. By today's standards it has lost all meaning and has no merit when used. Our culture has taught us that words are cheap and are not to be trusted. I wonder what it would have been like in a society where the words you speak are taken to heart so readily. It makes me wonder how we got to the state we're in and why it doesn't seem to matter to anyone.

Andy said...

2:14-16 is definitely fuel for Anti-Semites everywhere. It is easy to see how so many people have mis- interpreted portions of scripture such as these. Pauls is using some pretty strong words and directing them straight at Jews. I like the idea that you (Dr. Schenck) propose about it being from temple authorities. That makes the most sense because they were the ones who had the most at stake (to lo$e) from Christianity. They made their money from the Temple systems and these Christians were saying that you no longer needed to go to the Temple...That's gonna hurt their pocketbooks. Just like they wanted Jesus to die for much the same reasons they will be persecuting Christians for having the same conclusion as Jesus.

Joel Clark said...

I am drawn to the middle section of this chapter, verses 5 through 12. Paul establishes himself, Silas and Timothy to be worthy examples of a Christian. The examples he specifically chooses to use are those of parents, a mother in verse 7 and a father in verse 11. For those of us who find ourselves in church leadership roles we are being called to act like parents to the congregation. Paul emphasizes this example in both 1 Timothy 3:4 and 3:12; church leaders must first be able to manage their own household.

Ken Schenck said...

Anders, we'll see in 1 Corinthians 9 that Paul actually defends his right as a minister to be materially supported by the Corinthians. He refuses that right, I think, so that he is not entangled by the strings of expectation.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that Paul had to deal with the issue of asserting his sincerity in preaching. This is a common issue today because of all those who are in fact using their opportunities with an audience to manipulate or take advantage of others. We will likely encounter many who do not believe we are in ministry solely in order to serve God and spread His message. Unlike Paul, however, I have a feeling we will have to do more than call on God as our witness to convince people today.

Andrea Meredith

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to me in this chapter how much intense effort Paul puts into defending His call and sincerity to preach the "Gospel of God." I know that today in churches Paul is revered as the Apostle who wrote over two-thirds of the NT, but this letter being his first letter (chronologically), I wonder if Paul had to defend himself from his past as a persecutor of the church, even though he had moved past that. He reminds them of his pure motives and also how he suffered alongside the Thessalonians. Paul ultimately reminds the church that He does not seek human approval, but only from God.
Joel Larison

Anonymous said...

To me, verse 10, seems a little bit prideful.Paul reminds the church about how holy, righteous and blameless he was among them. Perhaps,however, it was not pride but simply a statement of fact and reality. This verse challenges me to live the kind of life where I will be able to, humbly, say those things about myself. I also think it is important to have a correct understand about what holiness, and righteousness actually are. It is obviously some different from perfection.
-Rachel Arend

Jeremy Armiger said...

I find this whole chapter to be example after example of what should or should not control the motives of church leaders or missionaries. It glimpses at what the call of God means and how leaders should treat and guide God's people. It also gives an example of ways that we should justify our call by God, noting that it is He who called us and not our own evil motives... That may be a bit of an over-generalization but it seems to apply...

Elizabeth Goshorn said...

It was interesting to read about Paul using God as his witness that he was the real deal, that he was not making this stuff up. Today we sometimes use the phrase "As God is my witness" to try to prove to someone that we are being truthful, and yet it does not seem to hold much authority anymore. When Paul said this, it meant a great deal and what he said was taken very seriously. Now, we say it and might not actually mean it; we use it to save ourselves from getting into trouble, or we do not follow through with whatever God was witnessing to.

Anonymous said...

In chapter two, Paul shows the extent of his love for the church. First, he loves the church so much that he ministers to them from the greatness of his heart not for selfesh gain (vs 2-6). Secondly, he Loves the church so much that he shared his whole life with them (vs 8). Thirdly he loves the church so much that he gave everything inorder that they might live lives worthy of God; such that he toiled, suffered, and worked day and night(vss 9-12). I am challened to have the same Love for the church and its advancement as Paul. His love commitments were astounding.

Jason lefler

TJ said...

When dealing with perfection it is so hard to actually find a serious answer to such a dilemma. As humans, in general it seems, we are incapable of discovering what exactly “perfect” even rightly means. Yet with all the different opinions that people create we begin to attempt to argue what perfection means, even when we have no exact way of really finding out what it is. Creating yet another situation where we end up jumping into different thoughts just to figure out if we are right or wrong. Perhaps we should focus more on what is actually the example of what IS “perfection” then on what can be.

Chris Bello said...

I found that this chapter Paul did a really good job assuring the Thessalonians on who he was and his intentions of writing this letter. In the beginning part of the chapter we can see that Paul wrote to them saying that he is not writing to them out of boastfulness or to impress them, but because he was sent by God and he wants to share what the Lord has done in his life with the Thesssalonians. Once again Paul is using his own personal experiences to teach to the Thessalonians. This allows Paul to get personal with the readers, which we can already see within these first two chapters.

Anonymous said...

I found it interesting how the theme of children is used throughout this passage. In verse 10, Paul states that they were like children to them (those they were speaking to). Then he moves to talk about how they cared for the people like nursing mothers care for their children. Soon, he moves to speak about how the people are like children for Paul has dealt with them like a father deals with his own children. Each of these include different people, but in the end they all fit into the category of being like children. I also found it interesting how Paul used God as an example of a witness.

Kristi Moore

Anonymous said...

The first two verses really caught my attention. The way Paul says that the work he has done has caused him to suffer and be ill treated. But he goes on to say "we had courage in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid great conflict" This is a great message to Christians saying that sharing the word and love of God is not always easy and can bring persecution but God will always be with us.

sean schwarze

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that Paul points out how they were "gentle" with them. This shows the importance of really nurturing the young believers. They took time to care for them as a father would. I often wonder if those of us that have been Christ followers for some time really make enough effort in this area. If we are to be what Paul describes himself being to the Thessalonians... Do we put in enough effort and time?

-Matthew Aspinall

Anonymous said...

I love the statement in vs 4 where Paul is talking about speaking for God not for man. Paul knows what needs to be said and he isnt going to change it. This passage is a great example of the church being like a family and having a real genuine relationship. I mean it states that everyone was there for the good times and the bad times. Paul and Silas were even there they were like the mothers caring for their kids.

Chris Scheuerell

Zach Vincent said...

What a chapter! This has a great deal of encouragement, love, joy, and comfort. Paul first comforts them by showing them what they believe was not a hoax or a embezzlement. Then he reminded the Church how hard he and his companions worked for them to know the Gospel because they loved them. Then he gave the church an encouraging word ("you are our pride and joy" essentially) at the end of this passage to help them get through persecution.

The interesting aspect of this chapter, as revealed to me by this commentary, is the extensive talk about the importance of the gospel.

Marta Tillett said...

Out of this chapter, the verses that struck me the most were verses 4, 5, and 6. I think it is excellent that Paul, Silas and Timothy have the confidence that they were "approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel." What does it mean to be entrusted? Does this apply to modern day Christians? Because we most likely have all heard the Good News and we all have the Bible in our hands--can we have such confidence in ourselves?

I also deem it noteworthy that Paul, Silas and Timothy had pure motives when they were preaching, and they did not attempt to please the people. Does the word "greed" in verse 5 apply to the greed one could have when trying to win the affection of the crowd? And perhaps this all ties in with chapter 1 and being "inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," since hope should not come from the flattery of men.

Gwen said...

What did Paul mean (in Thessalonians) when he spoke of holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness? And how does this change how we think of perfection today? There may be a connection between holiness and how Paul acted towards the Thessalonians. Note 2:10 in which Paul compares his interactions with the Thessalonians to that of a father encouraging his children. Paul’s purpose for this is so that they “might walk worthily of God.” (2:12).

steve.hands said...

The imagery Paul uses about nourishing the Thessalonians as a nurse would seems odd to me. Did men at the time Paul was writing use tender feminine imagery? Was this a signature type of imagery linked with Christianity? I also wonder about Paul's faith in his claims that his message comes straight from God. I find it hard to pinpoint when God is speaking through me or not. How can Paul hold such confidence about his preaching and teaching?

-Steve Hands

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that, in 2:16, Paul writes that "the wrath has come upon them [the Jews?] at last, whereas in chapter 1 he wrote of the "coming wrath" from which Christ rescues. I wonder what Paul means in 2:16 when he writes that they have already experienced this wrath.
I also wonder what exactly tore Paul, Silas, and Timothy away from the Thessalonians for a while.

-Sarah Meyer

Sharon said...

Verse 9 really does make sense in light of the whole patronage system of that time. I never considered the sort of unspoken obligations that might be expected if you accepted the monetary support of a church. Interesting how Paul works to establish his authority as one approved by God to speak to them. I suppose at that time he may have appeared to just be someone who stirred up debates and caused riots everywhere he went, making it necessary to clarify his intentions. Overall this section seems to be very encouraging and an expression of Paul’s love for them.

Anonymous said...

I find the imagery that Paul uses in verses 7 and 11 moving with the proposition that they cared for the people as both mothers and fathers.

I am curious if the cultural setting would have fully accepted this imagery in that the feminine imagery is given first. My understanding was that this was a male dominated culture. How would they have received this?

Adam Otto

Anonymous said...

The last verse mentions the wrath of God, which i often think of as an exclusivly Old Testament term. It has often puzzled me as to how the wrath of God can coexist with his love for humanity. And if that wrath was satisfied on the cross,(one explanation, not nessecarily mine) why do we see it here in this verse? I have many other thoughts babout this, but will not post those here.

Matthew Potter

Jessica Kratzer said...

I thought it was a very good point that the invoking of the name of God in truth was such a serious thing to do in verse 2:3-4. It shows a major cultural difference between us and them. People us God's name so flippantly and when they see that they could miss the power and sincerity behind what Paul is trying to communicate.