When Others Helped You

Explore the Bible Series

December 14, 2008


Background Passage:  I Thessalonians 2:1-16

Lesson Passage:  I Thessalonians 2:1-16




Some months ago, I read a book about logic, based on the teachings of Socrates.  Dr. Peter Kreeft (philosophy professor at Boston College) reviews the teachings of the ancient Greek logician, and, of course, encourages contemporary readers to think clearly and coherently.  In particular, Kreeft points out several fallacies that mar sound logical reasoning.  One of these fallacies, the ad hominem argument, appears on I Thessalonians Two.


Paul’s enemies employed this kind of false reasoning to discredit the apostle’s message.  Their argument must have run something like this.  Paul, they asserted, was a charlatan who, motivated by greed, took advantage of the Thessalonian believers.  Therefore, his message could not be true because Paul had serious flaws in his character and motives.  In other words, they attacked Paul’s character to discredit his message.  The ad hominem approach attacks the person instead of answering the argument, and, unable to refute Paul’s sound reasoning from the Old Testament (concerning the identity of Jesus), these Jewish leaders resorted to assailing Paul’s integrity. 


Paul enjoyed the benefits of a thorough education.  We know that he attended rabbinical school, but it seems clear that he also acquainted himself with Greek philosophy and poetry (he knew, for instance, the philosophical views of the Stoics and Epicureans and was familiar with Cretan poetry).  The apostle knew that the Jewish leaders had reasoned poorly; yet, he answered their criticism. 


A very wise pastor once warned me about the danger of self-defense; in fact, this dear man gently instructed me to never defend myself.  Instead, he reasoned, I should let the Lord be my defense.  While I see the wisdom of this man’s counsel, apparently there are times when God’s people should offer a defense to meet personal attacks.  Paul certainly thought it appropriate to offer this justification for his behavior in Thessalonica.  As I see it, Paul answered this assault because he believed the integrity of the gospel was at stake.  He understood the vulnerability of preachers to personal attacks, but his primary concern centered on the integrity of his message. 


The chapter makes two appeals. First, Paul expressed his confidence in the fairness and integrity of the Thessalonians.  He knew these fine people would remember his conduct among them and make sound, reliable judgments about his character and work.  Second, none of these accusations stood up under careful, fair scrutiny.  Paul was confident that his track record would speak for itself.


Lesson Outline:


I.                   Paul’s Defense of his Character and Work (vv. 1-12)

A.    Paul’s suffering for the sake of the gospel (vv. 1-2): Prior to visiting Thessalonica, Paul spent some time in Philippi, a city where he and Silas suffered greatly (See Acts 16).  In addition to imprisonment, the two missionaries were scourged; yet, such shameful mistreatment had not hindered Paul from bravely preaching the gospel in Macedonia.  When the missionary band came to Thessalonica, the opposition to the gospel continued, and the new converts witnessed, first hand, the determination of the preachers to spread the message of Christ despite intimidating opposition.

B.     Six disclaimers concerning Paul’s preaching (vv. 3-6): The Jewish leaders made serious charges against the apostle, and it is not hard to identify their erroneous claims.  Without specifically stating the accusations, Paul defended himself on six fronts.

1.      “not of deceit or uncleanness”: The word translated “deceit” means “error.”  Paul defended himself against the error of sensuality.  Apparently, his detractors accused him of sexual misconduct (sadly, a common occurrence among false teachers). 

2.      “Nor was it made with guile”: The word “guile” was commonly used to describe the bait used by fishermen.  Enemies of the gospel accused Paul of using his considerable persuasive skills to lure the Thessalonians into a false religion.

3.      “not to please men, but to please God”: The apostle’s only aim focused on serving God.  Leon Morris, in his excellent little commentary, observes that Christian preachers often succumb to the temptation to accommodate (compromise) their message to the desires of their hearers.  Paul claimed he did not preach an accommodating gospel in Thessalonica. 

4.      “we never used words of flattery”: “Flattery” translates a word that denotes fair words used to lull someone into a false sense of security.  Once flattery has done its work, it renders its victim incapable of discernment and vulnerable to attack. 

5.      “nor as a cloak of greed”: In this context, “cloak” denotes a medium of concealment.  Paul’s opponents had apparently claimed that the apostle used the gospel as a ruse to take financial advantage of his hearers.  This accusation clearly stung the apostle.  He reminded his readers of his work in Thessalonica.  The text implies that Paul worked at his trade (tent making) so that he might not burden the infant church (vv 9-12).  This claim, it seems, has particular application to some segments of American evangelicalism.  While most hard working ministers do not cash in on the gospel, disturbing trends have surfaced in recent years.  In particular, I have concerns about the “health and wealth” preachers and some of the mega churches. In many cases, I fear that these segments of the evangelical world have become monuments to American greed, consumerism, and selfishness. Paul’s example stands as a damning indictment to such unworthy conceit. Paul’s motives, in contrast to greed, arose from the heart of a nurse caring for an infant, loving and gentle.  Moreover, the apostle underscored his point by observing this important principle of ministry, “… but also our own selves’ (v. 8).  Pastoral ministry involves deep, costly love, love so deep that it requires a pouring out of the man’s soul (Greek word “psyche”). 

6.      “we did not seek glory from men”: In a sense, this is a restatement of Paul’s concern expressed in point three.


II.                Paul’s Thanksgiving for the Faithfulness of the Thessalonians (vv. 13-16)

A.    Paul thanked God for the openness of the Thessalonians (v. 13): The apostle had preached the gospel, and the Thessalonian believers received the message as the word of God.  Paul used two different words to describe their receptivity.  The first denotes receiving a message as one would accept news from a friend or acquaintance.  The second word reflects a slightly different meaning, to welcome the gospel as one would embrace a long-awaited guest in the home.  Not only did these believers embrace the gospel, but the message of Christ continued to transform their lives.

B.     Paul thanked God that the church in Thessalonica followed (imitated) the example of the believers in Jerusalem (vv. 14-16): Like the church in Jerusalem, the Thessalonians had experienced hostile opposition to their faith in Christ.  In both cases (Jerusalem and Thessalonica), Paul observed, Jewish religious leaders had spearheaded the persecution, and their actions had provoked the wrath of God.  This opposition had a long, tragic history that included hostility toward the Old Testament prophets and the Lord Jesus himself. 


III.             Paul’s Desire to See the Thessalonians (vv. 17-20)

A.    Paul’s absence from Thessalonica (v. 17): As highlighted in last week’s lesson, Paul had left Thessalonica several months before he wrote this epistle; therefore, he had not seen his friends in quite some time.  He expressed his feelings in very strong words (literally- “since we were orphaned of you”).  While in Berea, Paul had apparently sent Timothy to check on the Thessalonians, but this contact did not satisfy the apostle’s desire to enjoy fellowship with his brothers and sisters.

B.     Satan’s opposition to Paul’s work (v. 18): Clearly, Paul believed in a malevolent being that controls the world’s sinful desires and actions.  This belief may seem superstitious or naïve to modern people, but the textual evidence is unmistakable as to Paul’s convictions.  He thought that Satan had prevented the apostle’s return to Thessalonica.

C.     Paul’s treasure and reward (vv. 19-20): The apostle concluded this section with a tender, moving assessment of his investment in the Thessalonians.  He had little to show, as the world might see, for his life of self-sacrifice.  It appears that he had little more than the clothes on his back and perhaps a few earthly possessions.  What legacy might such a man leave?  His legacy centered on the people to whom he had ministered.  Paul used three images to express his confidence in these folks. They were his hope, joy, and crown.