Read the Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2
Sharing the Gospel (2:1–12)
Thus far in his epistle, Paul’s approach to encouraging the believers in Thessalonica has been two-fold. First, Paul reminded the church of their identity in Christ, as he noted that they were “in . . . the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:1), that they were “elect by God” (1 Thess. 1:4), and that they had believed the message of the gospel (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6). Second, Paul reminded the church of their own example, for they had already borne much spiritual fruit (cf. 1 Thess. 1:6–8). This change in the lives of the Thessalonian believers meant Paul’s ministry with them “was not in vain” (1 Thess. 2:1). Next, Paul reminded the church about his own suffering in Philippi, which included being falsely accused, imprisoned, and beaten (cf. Acts 16). This reminder would have helped to validate Paul’s gospel message, as well as to warn the church about the cost of following Jesus Christ.
While Paul did not explicitly defend his apostleship in this letter,in this passage he does remind his readers that he had shared the gospel with them in a particular way, including: in order to please God (cf. 1 Thess. 2:4), without flattering words (cf. 1 Thess. 2:5a), not with a pretext of greed (cf. 1 Thess. 2:5b), not seeking praise from men (cf. 1 Thess. 2:6), with an affectionate gentleness (cf. 1 Thess. 2:7–8), and without partaking of their material resources (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9). Given his brief ministry in Thessalonica, as well as his abrupt departure from the city, it may be the case that in this passage Paul was simply trying to prevent these new believers from questioning their faith. In 1 Thess. 2:10–12 Paul reminds the church that they were witnesses of his life, including the way in which he delivered the gospel to them. Observe in 1 Thess. 2:7 Paul compares himself to a nursing mother, while in 1 Thess. 2:11 Paul likens himself to a caring father. Paul was parenting the church.
Accepting the Truth (2:13–16)
In 1 Thess. 2:13–16, as further evidence of the truth of the gospel message, Paul again reminds the church of the effect that the gospel had on them. Note two important truths that stem from 1 Thess. 2:13. First, in this verse Paul refers to his message as “the Word of God which you heard from us.” While Paul surely shared some Old Testament Scriptures with the church, he also preached Jesus Christ to them—and Paul refers to his entire message as “the Word of God.” Second, in this verse Paul refers to “the Word of God which also effectively works in you who believe.” The primary work in view here is the birth of faith, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17; cf. Isa. 55:11). Paul’s teaching, then, is that the Word of God is the divinely designed conduit though which God births faith in the hearts of unbelievers and nourishes the faith of the saints.
Earlier, Paul wrote to the church, “You became followers of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:6). Indeed, in his letters Paul frequently wrote and encouraged believers to imitate both him and Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9). Yet, 1 Thess. 2:14 is a unique verse in that here Paul reassures the church, noting that they “became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea.” Paul’s point in this passage seems to be to encourage the Thessalonian church with the teaching that their own imitation of suffering and experience of persecution was no different than the persecution being endured by the Judean churches. Note that there is safety in patterns, crowds, and “old paths” (Jer. 6:16). Said differently, the identical results that the gospel produced both in Judea and in Macedonia—among differing peoples and cultures—was a validation of the truth of the gospel message.
Longing for Fellowship (2:17–20)
Acts 17:5–9 details Paul’s abrupt departure from Thessalonica, as he was forced to secretly leave the city at night, in order to avoid a civil riot that his gospel message had provoked among envious Jews and others from the marketplace. Given Paul’s short time with the new church, and his parental emotions for the new believers (cf. 1 Thess. 2:7, 11), he naturally longed to visit the church and to reassure them that they were not orphans. Yet, Paul notes that “Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18) from visiting the fledgling church; however, he does not specify what this Satanic roadblock entailed. From Paul’s general exhortation here we can be reminded that “Satan walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), as not even Paul was exempt from this danger. Further, we must remember that other believers, especially those to whom we have ministered, ought to be our glory, joy, and crown.
- If you only had a short time to instruct a new body of believers, especially one that faced the possibility of persecution, what doctrines would you focus on?
- In the past, how has the example of other Christians in your life or even in history encouraged you in the faith (cf. Heb. 12:1–2)?
- How can believers balance the need to have a good reputation with all men (cf. 1 Tim. 3:7) with not living for the approval of others (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3)?
- Have you ever experienced the so-called “fellowship of suffering” (cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:3–7; Phil. 3:10) with other believers and with Christ?
- Does your heart, like Paul’s, long to be with the family of God? Do you attend church out of habit, duty, joy, or for some other reason?