Alternate Title: Effective Christian Leadership
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Sunday School Lesson for September 9, 2001
In this chapter, Paul defends his ministry to the Thessalonians as an authentic apostle and witness of Christ. As we have noted earlier, he and his missionary companions were met with severe opposition upon their arrival in the city, and continued to face spurious charges from their opponents on an ongoing basis. This passage (2:1-12) may be easily divided into three sections, each containing the statements "you know" (see 2:1; 2:5; 2:11), "you recall" (2:9), or "you are witnesses" (2:10). At each point in this apostolic defense, Paul appeals to the personal knowledge that the Thessalonian believers possessed concerning the character and integrity of their spiritual leaders and their witness to the saving power of Christ (This analysis is suggested by F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary, 24).
Paul and His Motives (2:1-4)
In this first section, Paul speaks concerning the Thessalonian’s personal knowledge of his initial visit to the city—a visit that resulted in the establishment of the Thessalonian church. The statement "you know" introduces a series of three major facts related to this visit and the motive of the missionaries:
Verses 1-2: First, Paul’s visit to them was "not in vain"—Here Paul declares that, despite the suffering they had experienced "in Philippi" (Acts 16:19-24, 35-39), their ministry to the Thessalonians was indeed fruitful. Leon Morris observes that the word translated "vain" denotes the idea of "emptiness," and is a "strong repudiation of any thought that Paul had frittered his time away in aimless pursuit. He had come with a definite aim, and he had secured what he had aimed at" (The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 13, 43). Such humiliating and painful experiences (note that the words "suffered" and "mistreated" indicate abuse and shameful treatment) as they had known at Philippi could very well have intimidated them, or at least diverted their attention away from their calling and mission. However, the apostle claims that their previous sufferings actually served to fill them with "boldness" in courageously and freely declaring "the gospel of God, amid much opposition." To declare such a message—one of purely divine origin—in a hostile environment required nothing less than a "supernatural endowment with which God equips those who put their trust in Him" (Morris, 43).
Verse 3: Secondly, Paul’s message did not have its source in evil—Now Paul asserts that his "exhortation," or preaching—the content of which was the "gospel of God"—did not originate from evil motives or intentions. The necessity for this declaration was based upon the "many wandering charlatans" who frequently traveled throughout the Greek world "peddling their religious or philosophical nostrums, and living at the expense of their devotees" (Bruce, 26). Unlike the false-prophets who sought to deceive and exploit, the apostles spoke from integrity and holiness. Note how this is asserted negatively:
Verse 4: Thirdly, Paul’s goal was to please God, not men—Seeing himself as one who was both "approved" and "entrusted" by God to function as a conduit of "the gospel," Paul determined to please his Lord and Master at all costs. That is, Paul saw himself as "having been tried out by God, and then trusted for service" (Morris, 45). Consequently, his singular, all-consuming ambition was to thoroughly satisfy the One who "examines our hearts," even if this resulted in hardship, mistreatment, abuse, or rejection. Thus, he "could not afford to deceive his hearers, nor could he dare to seek their approval if doing so would contradict his commission from God" (Wanamaker, 96). It was not to men that Paul would ultimately give account of his life and preaching, but to the very Savior and King who had called him to salvation and service.
Paul and His Conduct (2:5-8)
In this section, Paul speaks in more specific terms as he depicts the nature of his conduct while serving among the people of Thessalonica in particular, and the world in general. Again, it is critical to observe that the apostle appeals to the personal experience and knowledge that the Thessalonian Christians possessed concerning the missionary trio—"you know." Yet, even more significant is the fact that Paul was keenly aware that God knew the truth concerning both his personal integrity and motivation—"God is witness." There are three negative facts, followed by two positive ones:
Verse 5: In the first place, Paul did not employ deceptive measures—He never attempted to flatter them with slick words like the first century street-corner philosophers were fond of doing (see Wanamaker, 97). Neither did he employ a "pretext for greed." That is, he did not conceal or cloak an ungodly lust for financial reward. Again, his only desire was to be pleasing to his Lord.
Verse 6a: In the second place, Paul did not seek the praise of men—He was no glory-hound, nor one who lived for the approval and applause of men. Rather than seeing himself as a celebrity in the spotlight, Paul maintained that "he himself and his colleagues were but ‘earthen vessels’ in which the treasure of the gospel was placed" (Bruce, 31). Unlike other men, Paul was not looking for or depending upon "the satisfaction that comes when one’s work is praised" (Morris, 46).
Verse 6b: In the third place, Paul did not abuse his apostolic privileges—Certainly, Paul could have flexed his apostolic muscles and demanded that the people accept his preaching at face value. He could have "asserted [his] authority" by insisting upon special treatment and amenities, or allowed himself to be exalted as a "holy man." However, Paul and his missionary friends refused such things, choosing rather to earn the respect of their brethren by means of their "style of life among them" (Wanamaker, 99).
Verse 7: In the fourth place, Paul displayed motherly concern for the welfare of the Thessalonians—In this interesting verse, Paul reminds his readers that his style of ministry, or philosophy of leadership, was "gentle" like that of a "nursing mother." He viewed the Thessalonian converts as his very own children and devoted himself to "tenderly" caring for them and providing for their every need.
Verse 8: Finally, Paul exemplified authentic Christian love—Here, the apostle speaks of the "fond affection," or deep and abiding love, that he had for the people of the church. This love led him not only to "impart" (to share through personal relationships) the gospel message to them, but also to give them their very "lives." According to Morris, this means more than simply saying they were willing to lay down their lives for their brethren, but that they were willing to place themselves at their disposal "without reservation" (33). He continues: "No other attitude would befit the preachers of a gospel which proclaimed as Lord and Savior one who ‘emptied himself’ (Phil. 2:7) for the enrichment of others . . . . Any doctrine of the Christian ministry which presents the minister as a ruler in the church is unworthy of the precedent set by the church’s Lord and Master; in accordance with that precedent he is not a ruler but a servant" (33).
Paul and His Personal Example (2:9-12)
In this final section of our assigned passage, Paul calls upon the Thessalonian congregation to "recall" the manner in which he discharged his apostolic duties. In doing so with full integrity, he provided a worthy example of Christian service.
Verse 9: They were to remember how Paul worked hard and responsibly with his hands—Paul wanted to place no financial demands upon the new converts at Thessalonica. Therefore, he found employment outside the ministry, probably as a leather worker who specialized in making tents (Acts 18:3), while experiencing "labor and hardship" among them. Wanamaker describes Paul as the typical artisan who "worked from dawn to dusk, often for little more than enough money to survive on, and had very little social status" (104). He earnestly desired to be different than the other traveling preachers who depended upon such maintenance for their ministries. His concern was "not to be a burden" to anyone to whom he had "proclaimed . . . the gospel of God." However, once Paul had departed from a city in which he had established a church, he did accept financial support as Philippians 4:16 reveals (see Wanamaker, 103).
Verse 10:They were to remember how Paul served God with integrity—Here he describes his Christian ministry and personal behavior, to which the Thessalonians were "witnesses," by means of three special terms:
Verses 11-12:They were to remember how Paul provided stimulating encouragement—Like a dedicated and loving "father," Paul sought to lead his spiritual "children" to conduct their Christian lives, or to "walk," in such a way as would be proper for those who had been graciously called to salvation—"into His own kingdom and glory"—by God Himself. Also note how he emphasized his ministry to the Thessalonians as individual believers—"each one of you." Again, three terms are employed to depict how he gave them such personal spiritual leadership and encouragement. While each of the three are to some degree synonymous, they are combined in order to communicate a sense of urgency (see Morris, 52-3 and Bruce, 36):
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: The relationship between suffering and Christian service—What do you make of the fact that God did not spare even the great apostle Paul from severe pain and ministerial heartache? How can opposition, resistance, persecution, and other such difficulties actually make us stronger Christians and more determined and dedicated servants of the gospel?
Two: The connection between motive and message—How does the inner, unseen spiritual life of the teacher or preacher affect his message?
Three: The nature of true Christian leadership—What are some of the factors that made Paul’s philosophy and style of leadership among the Thessalonians unique? How does his leadership model differ from the typical corporate model employed by many in today’s church?
Four: Encouragement by means of example and personal relationship—How important is it for Christian leaders to "walk their talk"? Why did Paul choose the concepts of motherhood and fatherhood to characterize his feelings for the Thessalonians? How important is it for Christian leaders to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually "connected" to their people?
Five: The goal of all Christian leadership—What should be the ultimate aim of the Christian leader or witness? Hint: Check out verse 12.