Paul began preaching the gospel in Macedonia somewhere around the year A.D. 50. After some success, he was forced to leave Philippi. He and his group journeyed west 100 miles to Thessalonica. After a short ministry there, they were again forced to leave (Acts 17:1-10). Probably less than a year later, Paul heard that the believers in Thessalonica were being persecuted. Paul wrote a letter to reassure the believers that their faith and sufferings were not in vain. As he writes to encourage them, he reviews his ministry and relationship with that church.
Trying to please God (verses 1-6)
Paul reminds them that he preached despite persecution: “You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition” (NRSV). Since the gospel always comes with opposition, the readers should not be surprised if they encounter difficulties as well.
“For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” The ancient world had its share of traveling snake-oil salesmen, and whether people were accusing Paul or not, Paul defends himself against possible misunderstandings.
A critic might have said: Paul gave his sales pitch in Thessalonica, but only a few gullible people fell for it, and they had no money, so Paul left to try his luck somewhere else. He didn’t really care about the people who fell for his message. So Paul responds: Our time in Thessalonica was not a failure. We are not trying to trick anyone — we are serving God, delivering his message, and that’s what we did. We get beaten up for our gospel, but we keep preaching because that’s what God sent us to do.
“As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others.” There is no evidence to support any accusation. Paul does not fit the pattern of a traveling trickster — there was no flattery, no self-promotion, nothing shady going on.
Working hard, helping others (verses 6-8)
Paul could have asked for some financial support, but he did not: “Though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children.” Although teachers were normally paid by their students, Paul did not ask for payment — he did not want people to question his motives (1 Cor. 9:12). He was as gentle as a woman taking care of a baby. He supplied their needs, but did not ask them to supply his. That is evidence of sincerity, and along with it, the truth of the gospel.
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” Paul cared for the people so much that he shared his life with them. This may have been a cliché expressing friendship.
Things to think about
- Do I know anyone who has been tricked into following a false religious message?
- How can I tell the difference between a deliberate fraud and an honest misunderstanding?
Author: Michael Morrison