October 10, 2011

Tuesday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 118, 1 Kings 8:12-21, 1 Thess. 2:1-13

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

The Roman world was rife with travelling "preachers" selling their various religions and philosophies for a price. It is not surprising that Paul has often been accused of being just another of them. This charge comes not only from modern skeptics, including many inside the Church, but also seems to have been prevalent in Paul's own life time. Surely his opponents and detractors would use such a charge to discourage people from listening to or believing the Gospel, and, apparently some in Thessalonica accused him of it, for 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 seems to be a defense of Paul's legitimacy as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The false teachers sold empty promises at high prices to the poor and hopeless masses of the Empire. Using psychological/emotional manipulation they induced emotional experiences in their followers, which they claimed was the work of their deities. The experiences relieved the people's mind-numbing despair and left them with a good feeling, for which they gladly paid large amounts of their small incomes. Some of the false teachers began to preach heretical versions of Christianity, finding their way into the churches Paul established, and often finding the Christians easy targets for their scams. The church at Corinth is an obvious example of this, and cults continue to use these tactics today. Many of their converts are former church members who do not know the Scriptures or the faith well enough to resist their manipulative methods. This is one reason why we should spare no effort to learn and understand the Scriptures and worship in a Biblical church.

Paul says the Thessalonians know Paul and his fellow ministers are not like the others (2:1). They know, "our entrance unto you." The false teachers sought comfort for themselves, but Paul and Silvanus suffered great physical abuse for the Gospel. At Philippi they were publicly flogged and imprisoned (1 Thess. 1:2, Acts16:22-24). In Thessalonica a mob took to the streets with the intention of killing them (Acts 17:1-10).

Paul says his ministry among the Thessalonians was free of the manipulation and tricks of the false teachers (2:3). He used no "deceit," meaning false teachings or watered-down doctrine to attract crowds. He used no "uncleanness," which is preaching Christ for personal gain and fame (see also verse 6). Nor did he preach with "guile," meaning he did not use psychological/emotional tricks to manipulate and sway the people. It bears mentioning that watered-down doctrine, personal gain, and psychological/emotional manipulation have become standard methods of drawing people into the church today. Preaching has been exchanged for motivational pep talks; and worship has been patterned after rock concerts and sporting events, all in the effort to please the people and make them feel good about being in church. But Paul says he does not try to please the people. Instead of using tricks, he trusts God to reach people through the faithful preaching of the Gospel. It is impossible to imagine Paul going into a city with a band playing the music of the pagan culture, or having the crowd sing emotional songs in a semi-hypnotic fashion to get them ready for an emotional sermon, long on anecdotes and flattery (2:5), but short on doctrine. Such were the ways of the false teachers, not Paul.

Instead of "selling" the Gospel, Paul was not "burdensome" by receiving money from the Thessalonians (2:6). Though, as a minster of the Gospel he had every right to financial support (1 Cor. 9:1-14) he, and his fellow servants of Christ laboured night and day because they "would not be chargeable unto any" (2:9). While the false teachers grew wealthy on the gifts of the people, Paul and his companions supported themselves through Paul's work as a tent maker. They probably made tents during the day and taught about Jesus at night and in the Synagogues on the Sabbath. He reminds the Thessalonians of this, saying, "For ye, remember, brethren, our labour and travail" (2:9).

The difference between the character and behaviour of Paul, Silas, and Timothy is shown in verses 7, 8, and 11. Their concern was for the spiritual good of the Thessalonians, not their own fame and fortune. He compares them to a nurse or "nanny" who cherishes the children trusted to her care. Again he says they were "affectionately desirous" of them; they cared about the Thessalonians and wanted them to know Christ. In this desire they gladly gave not only the Gospel, but also their own souls to the Thessalonians. These words are very similar to those Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:15; "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." This expresses well the feelings of all true ministers of the Gospel. We desire to spend and be spent in the service of God's people because they are dear to us. Verse 11 compares their labours to those of a father comforting and teaching his children.

The Thessalonians know Paul speaks the truth here because they are witnesses (2:10). The Thessalonians saw the lives and behaviour of Paul with their own eyes. But God also saw it. God also knows that they behaved themselves "holily and justly and unblameably" for the cause that the Thessalonians would walk (live) worthily of God who called them into His Kingdom (2:12).

Verse 13 begins to describe the way the Thessalonians received the ministry of Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. They not only saw how the ministers lived and noted the sacrifices they made, they also saw that the Gospel they preached was not like the doctrines of the false teachers; it was the word of God. It is important to note that the holy living and sacrifices made by Paul testify to the truth of his message. Just as Peter and other Apostles would not have been willing to suffer for a lie, Paul and his companions would not be willing to endure their trials merely for the sake of making money from a false religion. They obviously believed in what they taught, and this lent credence to their words. Ultimately, however, it was God, not Paul, who enabled the Thessalonians to believe the Gospel. Through His Spirit He enabled them to see that it was the word of God, and by His Spirit He made it effectual in them. Paul did not need to use tricks and gimmicks to reach people for Christ. The Gospel does that by the power of God. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful... and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

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