1 Thessalonians chapter 2

Jari Rankinen
Reija Becks

Read or listen the First Epistle to the Thessalonians - chapter 2 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)

The work of the apostle 2:1-12

Paul was not the only preacher of his day. There were teachers who would tour the towns and villages, teaching astonishing doctrines. They often said that they were sent by a god or gods and claimed to proclaim a heavenly message to their hearers. The life of the preachers usually revealed their true intentions. Often, they aimed at something quite different from conveying a divine message. By whatever means they bled the gullible listeners of their money, requested to be respected, and lived at the expense of others. Their lives clearly showed them as frauds who sought to live a comfortable life off sincere people. It is apparent that there was a tendency to see Paul too as a religious swindler. The inhabitants of Thessalonica opposing Christianity certainly made the accusation that Paul is only one deceiver among others. This accusation reached the apostle's ears. With that in mind, he begins to think back of his ministry in Thessalonica.

Paul's work in Thessalonica had not been in vain. An indication of this is the church of Thessalonica itself. Where a Christian church is born, valuable work of God’s kingdom has been done. Paul came to Thessalonica from Philippi, where he had been mistreated (Acts 16). However, this suffering did not stop his missionary journey, but God gave him the courage to move on. Man-made obstacles could not stop the triumph of the gospel.

In verse 3, Paul begins to answer the accusations made against him in Thessalonica. His proclamation is not a lie, nor is he intending to deceive people. He is not trying to benefit from his listeners through wrongdoing. The persecution that Paul faced testifies to this. If his message were a lie, he would hardly be ready to suffer for it. Paul is certain that the living God called him to be an apostle and gave him the task of proclaiming the gospel. Even if the gospel is not pleasing people, preaching the cross must not be abandoned. God gave him the mission. Paul wants to please only the Giver of the task, not people. A self-serving swindler would never think in this way.

In verse 5, Paul repeats what he said above. He has not sought to please people, nor has he wanted to get money for himself from the listeners. This talk that Paul might be a deceiver among many others is thus proved to be groundless. God is witness to all of this because nothing is hidden from him, and he also knows Paul’s heart. Paul has not sought appreciation from anyone. As an apostle of the Almighty God, he would be entitled to it. However, he does not want to be a grand church leader but is content with the part that Jesus assigned to his apostles (Matt 20:24-28). Also, the fact that Paul does not yearn for praise from people proves that the talk of the apostle's deceit is not true.

So, Paul does not want to present himself as a highly revered apostle, even if he could do so. He prefers to use another image of himself: he is like a mother to whom every child is immeasurably dear. The apostle's love for the church is clearly shown in verse 8. Paul says he gave his life to the church. This does not mean that Paul sacrificed his life for the church, even though he might very well have been ready even for it. Giving his life describes in this case the close relationship between the church and Paul. The apostle gave his whole heart to the church. To make it on his own was a matter of honour to Paul. This is what Paul emphasizes in many of his epistles (e.g. in 1 Corinthians 9). He does not want to live at the expense of the congregation but makes his living by working with his own hands. We know that Paul was a tentmaker by profession (Acts 18:3). Apparently, it was this profession that he practiced in Thessalonica too. During the day he was earning his livelihood, and in the evenings he proclaimed the crucified Christ to the inhabitants of the city. While ministering in Thessalonica, Paul cared for the whole congregation, each member in it. He was bringing up the church like a father raising his children. In particular, Paul taught the members of the church to walk as a Christian should: because God has adopted us as his children, we must live up to this precious position.

The listeners’ response 2:13

Many of those who heard Paul's teaching regarded him as an apostle of God. They believed that Paul was not proclaiming his own messages but the word of God. God himself convinced the hearers of this through the word proclaimed by the apostle. Paul’s statement may seem offensive when he says that he brought the word of God to Thessalonica. How can anyone claim to speak the words of God? Still, the right way to regard Paul is the way the Christians of Thessalonica viewed him. Paul is God’s chosen instrument (Acts 9:15) through whom God speaks. It is not his own ideas that Paul writes. We hear the voice of God in the words of the apostle. Therefore, we can equate the words of Paul with the word of God.

Suffering of Christians 2:14-16

Tribulation has always been part of the life of the Christian church. At different times and in different areas, God’s people have suffered persecution in various forms. The holy cross, which Luther says is one of the hallmarks of the Church, has always been present in one way or another in

the life of the Church. Paul was persecuted in Thessalonica. The persecution had apparently continued, and now the target of persecution was the local congregation. The Palestinian Christians had been harassed too. The Macedonian church faced the same as the churches in Palestine. This formed a bond between the churches. The churches followed the same path. They shared the same faith and had to pay the same price for their faith. Common suffering is part of the communion of saints.

As opponents of Christians, Paul specifically mentions those Jews who do not care about Christ. They walk in the way of their fathers; their fathers killed the prophets of the Old Covenant. The Jews were responsible for killing Jesus and now for persecuting Christians. Paul particularly experienced this as true. What happened to him in Thessalonica tells of the attitude of many Jews towards both Paul and the gospel he preached. The apostle says that these Jews are enemies of all mankind. They prevent people from hearing the message about Jesus and his cross. In this way, they try to prevent the birth of the faith through which people would receive salvation on the day of wrath. The wrath of God rests on those who oppose the church. On the last day, his wrath will fall upon them, and they will receive from God the punishment they deserve. When speaking of Jews as enemies of the church, Paul by no means says that Christians should hate the Jews who hate them. The apostle’s teaching in Romans 9-11 is clear. The Jews must not be hated, but they should be considered God’s chosen people, whose conversion to Christ we may prayerfully wait for. Passing judgement on the enemies of the church is not our job but God’s.

What the apostle longs for 2:17-20

The church in Thessalonica is very dear to Paul – after all, he is its founder. Now the apostle is separated from this church. He says he was torn away from the Christians of Thessalonica. Paul uses a word that can mean the loss of a child. He is like a father who has been separated from his beloved children. Despite this physical separation, the church of Thessalonica lives in Paul’s heart. This is a good example of what the communion of saints can be in practice. Paul longs for the church dear to him and would like to visit it soon. The desire to carry out this plan is certainly intensified by the fact that Paul had to leave the newborn church so quickly. He has tried twice to go back to Thessalonica, but Satan has hindered his plans. Paul does not see the need to tell how Satan did this. It may be that Satan used illness, or Paul’s opponents, or quarrels in the Corinthian church. The Christians of Thessalonica are Paul’s crown, or better translated his ‘garland’. The garland of victory is a prize for a work well done. This is exactly what the church in Thessalonica means to Paul. It is evidence that Paul's work as an apostle has not been in vain. This is a matter of honor and joy for him now and will be so on the last day.