1 Thess 2:1-6 – You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.
Paul has spent the first chapter giving thanks for the Thessalonians. His comments were along the lines of: We thank God for his work in you, and here are several pieces of evidence of his presence. At the end of the chapter they are living as healthy functioning Christians, free from idols and living every day in light of Jesus’ second coming. Not that they were setting dates, or trying to identify the antichrist. Rather they lived conscious that, Let us live our lives as if the end were upon us. Paul will mention this again in 2:12 – “we are encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” In this passage, “kingdom” is the future kingdom, when Christ will return; and “glory” is shorthand for our future resurrection
Now in chapter 2 Paul turns the focus away from the Thessalonians toward the team that had evangelized them, the people he mentioned in 1:1 – “Paul, Silas and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians”.
So in chapter 1, his theme is: “before the presence of God, let’s look at you”
In chapter 2, it becomes: “before the presence of God, let’s look at us”. We can sum this up in v. 10 – “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers”.
A lot is riding on this truth, because if the apostles are phonies, then naturally the new disciples are going to say, Maybe this whole gospel thing is a fake too.
Here we must examine not only what Paul says, but also ask why he says it – and this is a little tricky, because we don’t have access to his mind.
One explanation is that people were accusing Paul of being dishonest, or a coward; that he made converts, and when trouble came along he abandoned them and ran away.
This could be so, but he doesn’t say that that is the problem.
The other explanation is the better one, that Paul is developing further what he said in 1:6 – “you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” “Imitate us!” he said, and here in chapter 2, this is who we are and how we live as apostles. In part that meant that, Paul was an evangelist; and they were evangelistic. Not that they were full-time evangelists per se, but that as Christians a normal part of their lifestyle was sharing the gospel with others and inviting them to believe.
So I suggest that his point in chapter 2 is this:
If you Thessalonians are going to share your faith; plant a church; visit another town to spread the gospel – then you had better imitate us as evangelists.
Paul uses the phrase “God is my witness!” which is a powerful thing to say, but also dangerous. We can paraphrase it as: “I invite God to contradict me if what I am saying isn’t the truth!”
Paul uses the phrase in a good sense. Unfortunately, too many church leaders throughout history have used the defense, “I am accountable to God, not to man!” as camouflage. To demand an accounting is supposedly an insult to “God’s man,” whom God will correct – sin private! – if he needs it. No, Paul leaves no room for this nonsense: he says, “My life is an open book! To give one example, when you make donations I will tell you exactly where they money goes!”
Paul is acting just as Samuel did, many centuries before:
1 Sam 12:3 – “Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
And didn’t Paul say the same thing to the elders of the church of Ephesus:
Acts 20:28-35 – “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Right now, I invite you right now to go through 1 Thess 2:1-6 and underline what Paul did do right, or didn’t do wrong. I will start us off in v. 3 – they did not have impure motives = something unholy
[Some of the things they mentioned] – greed – next week, we will see that Paul supported himself, working day and night; flattery = pay attention to rich people, tell them they are capable of understanding things which others cannot; authority – insist on how important they are; please people but God – “please people” not in the sense we us it, “I am too much a people-pleaser,” but to change the message so that people you want to impress will like you better = in 1 Cor 9 – Paul made it easier for people to listen to him, he spoke to Jews one way, and Greeks another, using words and concepts they would understand – but he did not tailor his basic message
A philosopher from the century after Paul said this – he wasn’t a Christian, but was a man of high ideals:
But to find a man who in plain terms and without deception speaks his mind with frankness, and neither for the sake of reputation nor for gain makes false pretensions, but out of good will and concern for his fellow-men stands ready, if need be, to submit to ridicule and to the disorder and the uproar of the mob … I feel that I have chosen that role, not of my own volition, but by the will of some deity. (Dio Chrysostom, Oratory 32, trans. Crosby)
Of course, back then, just like today, there are preachers who make a big show about their knowledge and their power, but they keep talking about money. If you “sow a seed” with our organization, then God has to bless you with money and success. But it has to be with our group, don’t just bless a poor beggar in the street. This is an epidemic, there is a whole “Christian” television network that is mainly this sort of trickery.
Here is an example of a problem with money – this advertisement is sellings “Anointing Oil created with virgin Galilee and Jerusalem olive oil, scented with biblical essences and flower extracts from the Holy Land”. And it goes for $18.95 for a fluid ounce. (You can go to WalMart and get liters for that price!). The ad then quotes James 5:14, that if anyone is ill, let the elders of the church anoint him or her. While it doesn’t promise anything specific, the ad is certainly hinting that their oil is more powerful than just any old olive oil.
The big three temptations for many people are: money; sex; power. Money we see everywhere. Sex is not necessarily the biological act, but it can also be trying to impress people of the opposite sex. Power – well there are people who seem to say, Don’t give me money, I don’t want sex, but my thrill comes when you do what I tell you, think the way I tell you to think.
Thee false apostles of today: fall into all of these temptations. They don’t want to suffer like Paul and Silas did in the Philippian jail; instead they want to stand in front of thousands of people who are hanging on every word.
As we close today, let’s go to God in prayer, and ask: What are my motives in sharing the gospel? Teaching the Bible? Having my devotions? Any part of our spiritual lives. And let’s use these verses from the Psalms as our guide:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
“You want to share the gospel? Then do as we do!” 1 Thess 2:1-6 [Sermons on 1 Thessalonians, Week 6], by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica