Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 1: 4.The Apostles’ Approach
1 Thess 1:5,6 You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
There have obviously been mutterings about the way the apostles had behaved when in Thessalonica because when we come to chapter 2 Paul enters into a long passage (v.1-12) about how they had behaved with integrity when they were there. Perhaps that muttering came from the Jewish community, the unbelieving part who were out to pull down the apostles and their ministry. The first glimmer of this defensiveness comes in verse 5 of chapter 1 when he says, “You know how we lived among you for you sake.” There he starts reminding them of the interaction there had been between the apostles and the new church coming into being. The basis of their work had been personal relationships. They had not preached ‘from a distance’ so to speak like so many visiting speakers do when they come to a church. They speak and move on with very little personal contact except with the top leader(s). The apostles lived among these people for a number of weeks at the very least, possibly a lot longer, and the new believers saw how they lived godly lives and used them as examples to follow.
In chapter 2 he starts reminding them how they came, in a sense, in great weakness having just suffered persecution before but that hadn’t stopped them fulfilling their ministry: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.” (2:1,2) That was the background to all that happened and showed their commitment to the Gospel and to the new believers.
But then he goes on to speak about their right approach to the people of Thessalonica to whom they brought the Gospel: “For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.” (v.3) They came with complete integrity. They were open and honest and did nothing underhand. No, the truth was they came in completely the opposite way to that (rumoured?) approach: “On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men 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 men, not from you or anyone else.” (2:4-6) No, quite to the contrary they came not as self-centred purveyors of some cult message but as messengers of God. They didn’t come with human methods, they didn’t use flattery to win over people, they didn’t appear nice people while trying to get money from them and they didn’t come looking to win praise and a reputation. No, they were straight forward bringers of the Gospel.
He goes on to remind them how they were in their personal dealings with them. He starts, “As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you,” (2:6) i.e. we could have made demands of you to provide financially for us. No, he goes on later, we worked to provide for ourselves: “Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (2:9) But more than that, their attitudes towards them throughout their time there had been one of humility and gentleness: “but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” (2:7,8) They exhibited care and gentleness while they were with them, sharing their very lives, being with them the whole time. As we noted earlier, they worked out of relationship with these people, and when you do that you have to act well.
He emphasises their integrity and honesty in all their dealings with them, reiterating again the depth of loving relationship they had with them: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (2:10-12) No, they had been holy, righteous and blameless in all their dealings with the Thessalonians. They were there, they were witnesses to the truth of this – and so is God before whom they stand and to whom they are accountable (implied). Again this strong emphasis on relationship. Earlier he had said they had been like a mother caring for her children. Now he uses the analogy of a father who urges his children on in life to achieve and do well. They had encouraged, comforted and urged them on. It wasn’t only the way they had spoken but what they had said; they had been all out for these people, looking for their best as they received the Gospel and went on in Christ.
Whatever had been said in the gossip or rumours that the Jews in opposition had spread after they left, was not true. That this is almost certainly what happened is confirmed by what we read in the historical account in Acts. While still in Berea, where they had gone after Thessalonica, we find that “When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up.” (Acts 17:13) The unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica had it in for Paul and the others and took it on themselves to do all they could to oppose them, which included spreading false rumours about them. For this reason Paul has had to defend the way they had behaved when they were there. Their behaviour had been faultless!