A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 2: Paul’s Example
In Part 1 we saw that Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time, and in response to his preaching a church was established. People had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They became a good example for all the believers in Greece.
Previously, Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his conduct while he was with them: “You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Th. 1:5). His life matched his message; he lived consistently and was not a hypocrite. Let’s learn more about the example set by Paul, Silas and Timothy.
Paul reminded them how he brought the gospel to them by asking them to check their memory with three phrases: “You know” (2:1,5,11); “You remember” (2:9) and “You are witnesses” (2:10). Paul did this to defend himself against criticisms raised by his opponents after he left Thessalonica. They had accused him of such things as heresy, impure motives, craftiness, flattery and greed – not the kind of person one should imitate. They attacked the messenger in a way that also discredited the message. By defending his character, Paul also defended the gospel. God used this incident to provide a written description of the example that the Thessalonians imitated, and we should imitate as well.
“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” (1 Th. 2:1-2 NIV).
Their visit to Thessalonica had been effective, as there had been a radical change in the lives of those who turned to God from pagan idolatry and formed a Christian congregation.
Before Paul came to Thessalonica, he and Silas were in Philippi where they healed a demon-possessed slave girl. When the girl’s owners realized that they could no longer use her to make money by fortune telling, they had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped of their clothes, flogged severely and thrown into prison (Acts 16:37). Paul and Silas suffered in Philippi, but didn’t quit. Instead, they went to Thessalonica where God gave them courage to preach the gospel in the face of opposition. The Jewish leaders caused a riot and Paul and Silas left the city. In spite of this opposition, Paul was eager to preach these truths: that all had sinned and were separated from God; that Jesus was the only way to heaven; and that salvation was a free gift from God accepted by faith alone (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
Paul practiced what he believed: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). Paul wasn’t courageous by nature (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:5). Where did he get help to face opposition? It was “with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition” (2:2).
“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 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 support from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you” (1 Th. 2:3-6).
Why did Paul persist in preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians despite its unpopularity? Paul says it was not for any of the three reasons given by the opposition. First, Paul was not a false teacher. He didn’t promote his private conviction, but instead preached God’s truth. Second, he didn’t encourage people to indulge in immoral behavior and do whatever they liked. Third, he did not deceive nor delude his hearers with fine words. The Greek word used here describes a lure for catching fish; it was used for any sort of cunning for profit. Paul faced the same accusation of craftiness in Corinth (2 Cor. 12:16).
Then he told why they continued to preach even though it led to trouble: God had entrusted them with the gospel; It was God’s message, not theirs; They were not trying to please people but God; They knew that God’s opinion counted more than that of others. The person who seeks to please God makes decisions based upon the principles found in His Word.
Paul then countered two more reasons given by the opposition – flattery and greed. They never used flattery to influence others or to please people (2:4). They didn’t preach for money, even though they were entitled to support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-11). Personal profit was never Paul’s aim (Acts 20:33). He said that God was his witness as only God can know our motives. And Paul didn’t promise prosperity.
Paul’s Gentle Love
“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” (1 Th. 2:7-8).
After dealing with the accusations against him, Paul gave more information about their behavior in Thessalonica. Paul’s team behaved like a nursing mother caring for her children. They were gentle, protective and loving. As a mother puts the interests of her baby ahead of her own interests, they put the interests of the Thessalonians ahead of their own. As a mother expends energy day and night for her baby, so they spent time and energy shepherding the Thessalonians. They cared about them individually. What a contrast to the false accusations!
Paul’s Hard Work
“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” (1 Th. 2:9).
Paul was a hard worker, a tentmaker by trade. He could have relied on the support of others, but he worked to pay his own expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding new believers, he was making and repairing tents.
In his second letter to Thessalonica he wrote: “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day … so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this … in order to make ourselves a model for you to imitate” (2 Th. 3:7-9). He worked so he wouldn’t be a burden to the poor and persecuted, and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Th. 2:10).
Paul described their conduct in three ways. First, they were “holy” – set apart to God from sin. They had a good relationship with God. Second, they were “righteous” in character and conduct. To the Corinthians he wrote that if drinking wine or eating meat offended anyone, he wouldn’t touch either (1 Cor. 8:13). Also, he told Titus, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (Ti. 2:7). Third, they were “blameless” towards God and people. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but that they had confessed and knew that “God … tests the hearts” (2:4).
Paul set a high standard of integrity. This is the standard of living that we should aim for; not one of wealth, but one of integrity. It is the pattern of life of those who desire to please God.
“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” (1 Th. 2:11-12).
Paul not only cared like a mother, but he also coached like a father. In that culture the wife did most of the nurturing and the husband was responsible for the training. Paul’s goal was that they “live lives worthy of God.” This training was one-on-one discipleship: “We dealt with each of you.” A father coaching and training his children would include three elements: “encouraging, comforting and urging.” True discipleship takes time and patience. In order to grow to spiritual maturity, a new Christian needs all of these elements of discipleship. For the trainer to know what a trainee needs, he needs to get to know him personally.
What can we learn from Paul? First, he was an apostle. While we don’t have apostles today, as they were the founders of the Christian Church (Eph. 2:20), we do have elders to provide leadership in the local church. Second, Paul was a preacher, particularly to the Gentiles. The mission to spread the gospel is a responsibility for all believers, especially those with the gift of evangelism. Third, Paul was a teacher who wrote a significant portion of the New Testament. Elders, preachers and teachers can learn from Paul who said he was a servant to the Church (Col. 1:24-26). He worked hard to bring people to the Christian faith and to help them grow in it.
Is our lifestyle drawing people to Christ? Let’s follow Paul’s example and live lives worthy of God. His key message was the gospel. His motive was to please God. His manner of living was one of courage, gentleness, hard work and holiness. He showed love to new believers. He was bold, honest, full of integrity, and a toiler. His speech and behavior brought glory to God. The Thessalonians became model believers by imitating Paul’s example. Whether we are elders, preachers, teachers or servants, we can all imitate Paul.
Published, February 2009