1 Thessalonians 2 v 1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you
We have been introduced to the believers at Thessalonica in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to them. They were famous! Everyone had heard about what had gone on in their city. A mighty work of the grace of God had occurred amongst them through the ministry of Paul, Silas and Timothy. This power had been demonstrated to all and no one was in any doubt about the remarkable nature of the entrance of the Gospel to the hearts of many.
The first letter has an interesting structure. When Paul wrote this letter he wrote it like we would write it. There was a beginning and an ending but no chapters – probably only page numbers. I found myself chuckling a little when one worthy commentator said this “Paul closes every chapter of his letter with a reference to the Lord’s second coming.”
The Chapters of the Bible were only put in place in the 13th Century, by Cardinal Hugo de Sancto Caro in AD 1248 when he was preparing a concordance for the whole of the Bible. Up until then all of the books of the New Testament were books without divisions. However the Cardinal must have recognised the emphasis in this letter of the second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ – because every one of the five chapters DOES end with a reference to the 2nd advent –
1 v 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
2 v 19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.
3 v 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
4 v 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
5 v 23 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This last verse marks the closing paragraph of greeting and farewell that lasts to verse 28.
But I am sure that if Paul had known that his letter was going to be scripture, and divided into chapters then it is certain that Paul WOULD have arranged his letter into chapters, with thoughts of the Lord’s return given a prominent place.
Chapter 2 is an account of Paul’s own missionary work in Thessalonica. It is about the nature of the mission, the success of it and his own behaviour amongst the population of the city and the Thessalonian believers.
Why does the Apostle show a need to defend himself by describing his methods? Because there were those, particularly amongst the Jewish community in Greece and Asia Minor, that had it in for him! Those who were so bitterly persecuting the Christians at Thessalonica were also militantly engaged in a campaign to blacken Paul’s character.
We can recall from Acts 17 how the relatively short mission at Thessalonica had been brought to an end by a public riot and serious legal charges against the missionaries – so serious that they had to leave the city in a hurry by night. Paul’s critics took advantage of his sudden exit and tried to undermine his authority and maliciously smear his name. We can work out the kind of wicked things that they said from Paul’s own defence. It was not in his nature to put into writing the details of their words by reporting them verbatim. But we can deduce that their slanders went something like this. With sneering voices, the Jews would speak to the Thessalonian converts in these terms -
“This man Paul, the so called rabbi, ran away and hasn’t been seen nor heard of since. He is plainly insincere and driven by the most proud and self-centred motives. He is just like any of those other worthless philosophers who tramp up and down the Egnatian Way peddling their new ideas. He is a charlatan just like the rest. He is only trying to get what he can out of susceptible weak people – money, prestige and power. So when he was opposed, and became under pressure being in personal danger – off he ran. He doesn’t care a bit about you poor disciples of his – he’s gone! You are abandoned! His own skin is more important to him than yours!”
Now we can imagine that under such an outpouring of abuse against Paul such as this that many of the believers could be carried away with it. Paul and the others DID have to leave in a hurry. They had NOT returned; and they might well have felt tempted that they were abandoned. The critics’ case could have sounded plausible.
Putting ourselves in Paul’s position this would have felt very painful. Whenever we are misrepresented; when lies are told about us; when our motives and character are being questioned, we too can become upset and we will naturally want to defend ourselves.
But we know that we won’t get anywhere with our critics, convinced as they are of their rightness. It is not to them that we address our defence.
So we will want to speak to those who are most affected by the untruth – those who once were grateful for what we may have done for them. This Paul is doing in this letter – in chapters 2 and 3.
First he defends his conduct while he was in Thessalonica – Ch 2 v 1–16. Next he explains why he had to leave the city – v 17–20, and then in Chapter 3 his inability to return but also his intense desire and determination to go back to them as soon as possible.
As we come then to the text in the first 12 verses let us notice, in this Defence from Paul, 6 Negative things about his conduct and 6 positive things! Now I didn’t say six bad things and 6 good things – rather 6 aspects that have a negative description and 6 that have a positive description.
Here they are.
V1 – He did not come IN VAIN when he came to Thessalonica. V3 – He did not come DECEITFULLY V4 – he did not come WITH A DESIRE TO PLEASE MEN V5 – He did not come with FLATTERY OR COVETOUSNESS V6 – He did not come to SEEK PERSONAL GLORY OR ESTEEM V9 – He did not come to be a BURDEN TO THE BELIEVERS.
When Paul came
V2 – He was BOLD in the face of opposition V7 – He was GENTLE like a mother V8 – He was SINCERE in affection V9 – He was HONEST in his work V10 – He was EXEMPLARY in his behaviour V11 – He was FATHERLY in his comfort and exhorting.
These qualities are a comprehensive description not only of how Paul ACTUALLY behaved and worked, but a declaration about how ALL Christian work should be carried out by Christian workers. So it will help us greatly as a church to realise our own responsibilities as we work for the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ here in the place where He has put us.
So let us consider and meditate on these elements of Paul’s defence one by one. This morning we will think about the 1st 3 negatives.
V1 – He did not come IN VAIN when he came to Thessalonica.
1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:
Paul is saying here that the mission mounted by himself, Silas and Timothy was not empty of purpose – it was not aimless. We can readily turn the negative around and say this – the mission had purpose. It had a sincere purpose and design.
The way that Paul puts this in verse 1 has echoes of ch 1 v 9
“our entry – the manner of our coming to you”
– the way that we approached you – by first preaching in the synagogue – seeking to bring the truth of the Gospel from your own scriptures – and then how non-Jewish people became aware of the Gospel too – we came honestly.
Now Paul adds the thought of effectiveness – not in a boastful way, but in a clear statement of fact. The assaults of Satan in persecution did not annul their labours in Thessalonica.
In another letter Paul tells his readers at Corinth this –
1 Corinthians 15 v 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
Not in vain in the Lord. No work for Jesus Christ is done in vain! Paul in both texts uses the word KENOS, which means empty.
We can recall the parable told by Jesus of the wicked farmers who rented a vineyard while the owner went away – recorded in Mark 12, and Luke 20 When the owner sent for the rent the wicked tenant sent him away EMPTY – KENOS.
Mary in her Magnificat prayer said in Luke 1 v 53
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
But thereafter the word KENOS is translated vain but still means empty.
NOT vain means not empty. When something is not empty then it does indeed contain something – there is something of substance in it – and the Gospel mission to Thessalonica, far from being without purpose or empty-handed, there was a power in what happened that could not be denied. The Thessalonians had observed the lifestyles of the missionaries and had by grace been drawn to love and trust the missionaries’ God, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is exactly what had been designed. This is how God today wants His Gospel to be spread – we have a commission – to live for Christ so that men will want Him too when His Holy Spirit graciously moves on them.
My dear believing friends let me encourage you. Yesterday some of us went out into the High Street to preach the message of salvation in public. Was this in vain? Was it empty? Is there anything in the message of salvation for sinners in Barnstaple? Of course there is! Just because there are those who make light of the Gospel, and those who refuse to listen and those who despise the saviour and His servants – does not mean that this effort is in vain – is empty! It is because of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ that is being proclaimed in truth from God’s word that the message will never be in vain. We would love to see people come flocking to services and repenting of their sins as a result of the preaching. But has it ever occurred to you that there are those who heard the Gospel and the message that the world will be judged – and that all men will have to give an account to God one day – that when such appear before the Lord He will say to them –
“You are responsible – you heard about your sin and how to be saved – my servants clearly told you to repent – you wasted your opportunity – be banished to outer darkness for ever.”
Our message is never in vain – it is never empty. We would always like to be a savour of life unto life as Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 2 v 15
For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: 16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
Our mission to the world and in particular to Barnstaple is never in vain! It is never empty of purpose. God is sovereign. Paul believed that his work was never in vain – even that the cruel treatment that he was given at Philippi in the jail, was not empty and without purpose. He confirmed this to the Philippians in their letter –
Philippians 2 v 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.
Let us be encouraged in our evangelistic and personal work my friends – and do not listen to the devil who would discourage you by questioning the continued value of our outreach in these difficult days of apathy and indifference! And may we believe God’s thought to us from Isaiah 55 v 11
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, (empty, in vain) but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
The Thessalonian Mission was not in vain. Paul and Silas and Timothy did not come in vain to the people of Thessalonica.
V3 – He did not come DECEITFULLY
We do not leave out verse 2 – rather we will come back to it in a couple of week’s time. The Next negative is in verse 3
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
I am reliably informed by a number of the commentators that there were travelling teachers in the first century, teaching pagan philosophies, who commonly used their persuasive appeal in their doctrines to gain financial advantages and exploit the gullible. Satan really knows how to oppose the Gospel doesn’t he! He suggests to the minds of the enemies of the gospel that Paul, Silas and Timothy were those kind of men.
But of course this was not the case with the three Christian Missionaries. The Thessalonians had the opportunity to observe their holiness, their modesty, their respect and dignity as befitted messengers of the King of kings. So Paul uses this phrase not deceitful, not unclean, not in guile.
Here he speaks of his message – the exhortation. The word in the Greek is PARAKLESIS, which means “a calling to one’s side.” A stirring address is implied here – a persuasive sermon – and moving speech – AN APPEAL – with the intention of bringing about a change in the hearers.
Paul was good at this – it was one of his gifts. But the nature of his message was NOT OF ERROR as in a delusion of some kind – the meaning of deceit here. This was not a false message from a dodgy source. This was a message from the Living Almighty God Himself! Some may call it fraud – but it was not! This was a genuine Gospel standing in sharp contrast to the delusions and errors of false teachers who sought to mislead in a wily way.
Neither was it an UNCLEAN message. The Greek word here is AKATHARSIA, which can refer to moral impurity. False teachers both in Corinth and Thessalonica abounded who taught that vice was good and that it should be consecrated to the service of sensual religion.
Peter describes them in 2 Peter 2 v 18
For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
Of course Paul did not bring such a message.
And the message or appeal was not made with GUILE. This is the actual word that means deceit. It indicates craftiness or subtilty – and Paul’s message was none of these things. On the contrary it was an OPEN message – transparent – nothing hidden and was true in all of its details. The first time that this word is used in the New Testament is in Matthew 26 v 3
Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him.
Of course it had to be that way because they could not take Him openly for fear of the people. Paul was similarly accused of deceit at Corinth – In 2 Corinthians 12 v 16 he says
2 But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.
This was a little bit of apostolic sarcasm – he was reflecting to the church at Corinth that this was what he had been accused of. It is like this. Paul is saying, as we would say when accused of something unjustly “I have been deceitful and tricked you with craftiness – this is what they are saying!”
In this way Paul in verse 3 is refuting the accusations of error, impurity and deceit.
He did not come with a wrong source for his message – but the right one – from Jesus Christ Himself.
He did not come with a wrong motive – an impure motive – but with every pure intention as is reflected in the Gospel of love and holiness from Jesus Christ Himself.
And he did not come with the wrong method – in order to deceive anyone – but with an honest and clear presentation of pleading with their hearers to turn from their wicked ways – to the Lord Jesus Christ.
My friend you may be here this morning and you do not know this message in your heart. You may even be here under some kind of obligation to come – or you may feel that it is the right thing to do – to be in Church.
But Paul’s message is the same message that is sounded out week by week from this pulpit too – that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! That there is only one way to be right with God – and that is in a relationship with God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ – and that you can only have a relationship with Him when you first turn from your sins – your own personal preferences and choices in life in which you follow your own appetites and will. That to God is sin – He calls everyone to examine their life and see whether that life comes up to the standard that He requires. If it does not then there is trouble ahead on the judgement day. The standard is that set by Jesus Christ the God man – and his life was perfect! And no one else has reached that standard with his own efforts. It follows that you and I are in trouble – unless a change happens, and Christ Himself comes to live within us. Only when that happens – through a miracle – through a supernatural occurrence of grace – God coming into the soul of a man or woman, boy or girl, can there be any hope of life in the future.
Is this your experience my friend? Have you come to God in repentance yet? Has He forgiven you all of your sins and blessed you with the presence of His Holy Spirit in your life? That is your need this morning – to hear and believe this message that Paul preached – and is as valid today as it was 2000 years ago!
Paul preached out of a deep responsibility towards God – knowing why he and the others were there in that city. So we come to the third negative -
V4 – he did not come WITH A DESIRE TO PLEASE MEN
4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
Let us recall what had happened to Paul and Silas just before they came to Thessalonica. Philippi! Beating, prison, earthquake. How did they dare to preach Christ in another city having been so badly treated?
It was because they knew that they were men approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel. They believed themselves to be privileged stewards of a very valuable item – the message of the Gospel. Not only were they trusted with its care they were charged with the responsibility of preaching it faithfully. Such preaching would bring them inevitably into conflict with people in authority and others.
If they set out to be acceptable to all men, to be popular evangelists and to be commended by all men – then there would have been something wrong! Paul and the others came to Thessalonica with a desire to please God! They believed that they were under the scrutiny of God who tested their hearts and were approved by Him.
They believed that God had trusted them.
And they believed that they were constantly being searched by God.
These things banished any possibility of dishonesty from their hearts and stirred them up to fearless and persistent gospel preaching. They were not there to please men.
And we can learn that nothing provides a better restraint to our self-seeking in our ministry for the Lord God than a constant awareness of God in our hearts. We need to see our tasks for Him as given by Him. Our actions and our words are always before Him.
2 Corinthians 2 v 17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
Work for the Lord Jesus Christ in extending His kingdom via the local church will be free from impurity, insincerity and slackness. Instead we will be seeking to please him in every way – with honest witness, hard work to contact people and we will keep our promises. Are we prepared to look into these things from this passage and be ready to follow the excellent example of Paul the Apostle and his two colleagues? May the Lord help us all in this – for His names’ sake.