First Thessalonians Chapter Two:
Chapter Two Overview:
v.1: Fruitful ministry; v.2: Boldness in the face of fearful, trying circumstances; v.3: Confidence in the purity of the message which Paul and his fellowlabourers brought; v.4: They were not self-appointed rogue preachers, but sent of God (cf. Romans 10:15); v.5: Godly ministers shun these two evils: flattery and covetousness; v.6: They sought glory neither from the world nor the church; v.7: Motherly tenderness; v.8: Remarkable love, pouring out their lives in the service of the brethren; v.9: Ceaseless labouring; v.10: A testimony of pure conduct; vv.11-12: Fatherly care and instruction; v.13: Effectual calling, effectual sanctification, all glory to God; v.14: Obedience in sufferings of both Jewish and Gentile believers alike; vv.15-16: Unbeliever’s hatred of Christ and His people; vv.17-18: Whole-hearted striving of godly ministers to see and to fellowship with Christians; Satan’s opposition; vv.19-20: Paul’s cherishing of Christ’s people.
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:”
– The brethren knew that Paul’s ministering to them was not in vain, either in the worthiness and truthfulness of the message which Paul preached, as some suggest (vv.3-6); or in that his preaching unto them had yielded the desirable fruit of repentance (1 Thessalonians 1:3-10; 2:13-14).
Though we read in Isaiah a prophecy of Christ lamenting that His labours had been in vain because of the impenitence of those who witnessed them (Isaiah 49:4), yet it cannot be said in an ultimate sense that he laboured in vain; for the very next verse says that though Israel was not gathered, yet the Messiah, widely rejected as He was, would still be glorious in the eyes of the LORD. So we see here that the glory of labours for the Lord is not dependent upon man’s being converted by them; but on the particular purpose for which God sends them, as well as the fact that a thing truly done for the glory of God is glorious because of the one for whom it is done. The potency and success of any man’s ministry is not to be measured by the number of penitent hearers; consider the ministries of Isaiah and Jeremiah for an example of this truth. No true preaching is ultimately in vain, for God’s Word shall not return unto Him void, but it shall accomplish that which God pleases (Isaiah 55:11; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5), though many Gospel pleas go unheeded, and many hearing them still choose sin unto death and hell; see Romans 3:3-4.
Though no Biblical preaching is ever truly in vain, even if it be completely rejected by the hearers, yet it seems quite clear here that Paul is saying that his ministering unto the Thessalonians was not in vain in that it had much fruit among them, for he here says “our entrance in unto you… was not in vain”, which draws our focus back to 1 Thessalonians 1:9, and Paul’s “entering in“, which in the Greek is the same word, “eisodos” (εἴσοδος); and ch.1 v.9 recounts the fruitfulness of the preaching unto the Thessalonians. Also, our present verse is introduced with the word “for”, which necessarily refers back to the preceding context, and not to what comes after. Therefore, in saying his entrance in unto them was not in vain, he is not talking here about the worthiness of the message, as he does in ch.2 vv.3-6, but of the efficacy of that message upon the elect, see ch.1 vv.4-5, cf. ch.2 vv.13-14; ch.3 vv.5-6.
“But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
– Harsh experiences can be traumatic and can instill faintheartedness in us. Paul neither once nor twice, but five times suffered “forty stripes (lashes) save one” at the hands of the Jews (2 Corinthians 11:24). This tells us something of the unnatural resolve of the saints. Many have suffered for their causes so terribly who do not know Christ, but the scale of the suffering of saints for Christ is unsurpassed. The love of Christ constrains us. What strength God sends for the preaching of His Word! Often, persecutions which would otherwise quench natural resolve, instead make Christians even more bold. “The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak” Matthew 26:41; however, God’s “strength is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9. The less we lean upon the arm of the flesh for support, the more abundantly we find strength in the arm of God to bear us up; and we will preach through suffering, shame, and contention. Thus Paul says that even after he and his fellowlabourers “had suffered before” (before they had preached unto the Thessalonians), yet they were still bold in their God to speak unto them “the Gospel of God with much contention”; the same Gospel for which they had been so persecuted.
“For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:”
– As Peter denied following cunningly devised fables (2 Peter 1:16); even so Paul affirms the truthfulness and sincerity of their exhortation unto the saints of Thessalonica. The threefold denial of falsehood here uses three words which are all somewhat related. The spectrum of what Paul here denies is having preached false doctrines, and having preached for false motives. They preached pure and truthful doctrines, with sincere motives. What are the motives that govern your preaching, or else your lack of preaching? Is there anything which you ought to confess before God?
“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.”
– Allowed or approved of God. Paul and his fellowlabourers were not self-appointed. They were chosen of God, just as Christ chose His apostles; see John 15:16. The Word of God teaches much about the moral qualifications of a minister. These are not to be lightly regarded, but meditated upon with gravity, sincerity, and care; see James 3:1.
Paul was undeniably chosen both unto salvation and unto the ministry; the circumstances of that choosing being very dramatic; see Acts 9:1-19. Though the circumstances of a calling to the ministry in this age are less magnificent in appearance than those of Paul’s; nevertheless, we must be called to the ministry, and that calling is not of any private revelation alone, but must be recognised by the Church of God. Many people use the example of Paul’s Damascene conversion and his subsequent calling as a validation of their desires to minister; a sort of vague qualification that somehow transcends the need for any recognition by other saints; yet even in the case of Paul as recorded in Galatians 2:1-2,9, he was not a rogue preacher operating on his own mandate without the approval of God’s ordained Church and ministers. His calling was externally confirmed by Ananias, James, Peter, and John; three of whom were apostles, and at least two of whom were personally given their calling and authority by Jesus Christ before His ascension. If God calls you to the ministry, He will manifest that through the approval of other saints, and necessarily also those who have valid positions of leadership within the Church; and were it otherwise, men of all sorts, called and uncalled alike, would all have the same licence both to speak and to be heard amongst the people of God. We also see God’s ordaining of men to the ministry through other men of God in the case of evangelists: “And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Romans 10:15).
One way of knowing if a man is called of God or not is the content of his preaching. There are many in this age who boast of a mighty calling of God upon them to preach, whose doctrine doesn’t even qualify as off-centre, but is outright damnably heretical. Paul was “allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel“. This Gospel is not at all pleasing to the natural man; see Luke 6:26; John 3:19-20; Romans 8:7-8; 1 Cor 2:14; Gal 1:10. Does the world speak well of you? Do they (without need of conversion from sin unto righteousness) love what you have to say, and the Jesus you speak of? Do they (without remorse and repentance) receive or approve of what you say? Is what you preach totally pleasing to them? If so, then you are no Gospel preacher, but a compromiser; capitulating so as to comfort goats and wolves, whilst letting the sheep starve; sparing the chaff but discarding the wheat. To say otherwise is to call God a liar.
God tries the hearts. It is Him alone that we should strive to please with our preaching. With this truth governing our preaching, we will be drawn away from error on all sides. It will keep us from being compromisingly amiable, and tolerant of sin; and it will keep us from being unloving, burdensome, and grievous to those to whom we preach. It will keep us from heresy. It will drive out goats, convert lost sheep, and shepherd the Lord’s flock so as to keep them near to the Great Shepherd who will drive away the wolves. Let the fear of the Lord and submission to His Word and wisdom govern any ministering to which the Lord calls us.
“For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:”
1) “as ye know… God is witness.”
– Paul calls on heaven and earth to witness the veracity of his ministering to the Thessalonians. Whatever our manner of ministering, it can be tried against this passage and others like it. Does your ministering rely on people-pleasing, and not troubling their consciences? Do you feel that to preach a message more in keeping with the Bible might drive certain of your congregation away? Then preach the unpolished truth all the more! See Galatians 1:8-10. Better that Christ be in the midst of two or three sincerely gathered in His name, than that Christ be absent from the midst two or three thousand who gather in vain, merely attaching His name to false doctrines which comfort the flesh, having no desire to please Christ either in spirit or in truth; see John 4:23-24. Do not lend your voice to comfort the flesh of men, for heaven and earth will testify against you if you do.
2) “flattering words… cloak of covetousness.”
– There is truly nothing new under the sun. It seems as though these words were written by a man intimately acquainted with today’s “word of faith” televangelist heretics. What better way to inspire copious donations than to tell undiscerning sinners things that make them feel more comfortable about continuing in their sin? The antinomian abuse and twisting of the concept of grace is a favoured tool in the hand of Satan to suppress and numb the consciences of men even more than they already are by nature. The lamentable and shameful result of this lawless cheap grace is that some of the most intolerable hypocrites in this whole world are living out their abhorrently loose lives in the name of Jesus Christ, and so the Name of God is blasphemed in the world because of them; see Romans 2:24.
“Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.”
– It can be difficult for a godly saint to avoid gaining the admiration of people who love the Lord and His ways; and so, to protect people from giving inordinate admiration to one another, those who are more gifted in godly traits ought to be all the more deliberate in seeking that God’s name be glorified for any good in them; and that their own names be as much forgotten as possible. John the Baptist speaking of the Lord Jesus declared: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30). Does your heart see this as a must? Or an optional extra? Being that the Lord must increase, and that we must decrease; it is only right that we sincerely labour to make certain of both. We must be careful that this is not a feigned effort. This is an undertaking primarily of the heart, in prayer to God; for pride is always with us; see Matthew 23:5-12; Romans 2:28-29; 3 John 9-11. It is also important to caution any of the brethren who are too eager to compliment ministers and godly saints, as this can be used for flattery, or else can be a stumbling block for the godly saint.
Not only did Paul not use his ministry as a means to gain the approval of men; he also did not use his ministry as a way to gain their money. Many are far quicker to say “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox” (1 Timothy 5:18) than to emulate Paul who laboured night and day to avoid being chargeable unto the brethren (1 Thesslonians 2:9). It is not that a minister should not receive a wage from them; but that, where necessary, by virtue of any calling that demands so, he must be willing even to suffer want if the brethren truly cannot give what is needed, and if the earning of a decent wage by other employment would put too much strain on the ministry. Being that so many brethren live in impoverished circumstances, such a calling is not uncommon; see Matthew 6:19-24.
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:”
– Paul’s gentleness to this congregation was that of a nursing mother. He was no more likely to be a burden to them than a mother would be to her newborn babe; but he served them lovingly and diligently. This is the first of two examples of parental love in this chapter. One of motherly gentleness and care; the other of fatherly exhortation, comforting, and charging; see v.11. Are you willing to treat the brethren under your care as if they were your own children? Can you give them such love as that? This is the love that Paul had toward his brethren. This is yet another element of the apostle which we ought to emulate. “The most unbending authority may be blended with the most unwearied love. And the two ought ever to be blended. These are the two great principles of God’s government, and your family government should resemble His. The unwearied exercise of love will prevent your authority from degenerating into harshness; the unbending exercise of authority will prevent your love from degenerating into foolish indulgence.” – James Cameron, Three Lectures to Christian Mothers, Lecture II.
“So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”
– Paul’s words here do not mean that we are of more value than the Gospel; but rather, if we preach the Gospel merely with our mouths, and it is not accompanied by a Christ-like heart and practice, then it is of little value and shows but little love. Many boast that they do not preach the message of the Gospel, but instead claim to live it; and they reckon that this will suffice, regarding such an approach as an alternate means to deliver the Gospel. This is foolishness, as no man’s example will ever give anyone the saving knowledge of what they must do to be saved, for that would point to a works righteousness; and the notion of a works righteousness denigrates the holiness of God. The reason of the hope that is within me is not my good living, for I come short of the mark every single day; it is instead because Jesus lived and died to justify me from the sins of my wretched life that I have hope.
But the other extreme would be to merely preach the Word without being careful to maintain good works (Colossians 1:9-10; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8; James 2:14-26). This truth has application for how we behave toward believers and unbelievers alike. Accurate doctrine unattended by good works and gentleness is little better than warm affectionate kindness with no preaching of the truth.
Paul here gives us an example of how he was willing to have imparted both his own soul and the Gospel. This verse therefore proves that we are not the Gospel, as so many try to say; for Paul under the inspiration of God differentiates between the two.
This is a very high standard and a very high calling. To impart one’s own life and soul for the good of others, whether it is reciprocated or not; this is the essence of imitating Jesus Christ, and so this is one of the goals of sanctification, that we in this same way should love one another, imparting unto the brethren our own souls.
“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.”
– A minister who has “business hours” outside of which he is not to be disturbed, is a man whose heart is set upon himself. Paul’s days and nights were spent in the service of those whom God gave to him that he might minister unto them. He laboured night and day, ministering and labouring with his hands. There is no time of the day or night, neither any day of the week, when the Christian’s call to serve is not to be answered. Even in the case of a pastor who has a wife and children; in the hours, or specific days which he might set aside to be apart from the members of his congregation for the sake of his family, those are never times when he is free from being a husband and a father. Such roles are ministries also, and are his chief responsibilities; even more important than his responsibility to his congregation. This, however, should never be used as an excuse to neglect ministering unto other members of our congregations, for remember, God tries our hearts; see v.4.
“Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:”
– Again Paul calls heaven and earth to witness, in this case, the purity of his conduct. The apostle here describes his ministry under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he himself was raised up as an example of both a Christian and a minister; (1 Timothy 1:16; Acts 9:1-19). Therefore, let us meditate upon the words “holily and justly and unblameably”, for so is our conduct to be; especially if you are a minister; (Titus 1:5-9; James 3:1). What would heaven and earth witness concerning you?
“As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,”
– As he did in v.7, Paul here again expresses parental care for his brethren. This time he speaks of a fatherly care. He exhorts, comforts, and charges them. These three words are pivotal to our understanding of how a minister is to serve. Without properly understanding what they mean, we cannot properly apply these principles.
1) The Greek for “exhorted” (παρακαλέω: parakaleō) has numerous shades of meaning, but the overall sense is that of encouragement. It is not merely ordering people to do things. It is tender. It can mean to call near; to invite; to beseech. It does not mean to bully someone into fearful compliance.
2) The word for “comforted” in Greek (παραμυθέομαι: paramutheomai) again strongly implies tenderness and love. It means to calm and to console.
3) Lastly, the Greek for “charged” (μαρτυρέω; martyreō) is related to the word for witness or martyr (μάρτυς; martus) and according to Strong’s it means: “to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e., to affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something, or that he knows it because taught by divine revelation or inspiration… testify.” Lofty as this definition is, Paul did not merely say this of himself, but of his fellowlabourers also; he said: “we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you…” To me the application seems to be that ministers are to be those who have much spiritual experience, and not a merely theoretical knowledge of spiritual things. This is not to be confused with fantastical manifestations and charismatic experiences; but rather it is one who has an experiential knowledge of the truths of the Word of God; typically, one whom the Lord has brought into and delivered out of many trials, and who thereby knows personally much of the Lord’s faithfulness and sovereignty. With such intimate knowledge, and according to the Word of God, is a minister to charge his brethren. Wisdom of this sort cannot merely be read, or learned in a seminary; though it must be said that it cannot be known apart from the Word of God; for the Word of God is that by which we must interpret our experiences if we wish to remain in the truth. We must learn these things alongside our meditations on the Word of God. A minister ought to know God intimately if he would lead suffering saints to Him. Personal intimacy with God is so vital for every saint, but especially for a minister. For example, it is far better to tell people of “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) if you have known it personally. It would be discouraging to tell a saint of that peace only for them to find out that you yourself have never known it.
The gentleness of Paul’s exhortations to the brethren does not undermine the importance and weight of what he charged them to do. Tenderheartedness should never be used as an excuse to avoid serious and weighty charges; but the serious and weighty charging of the brethren should never be done without due gentleness, remembering always the fruit of the Spirit; see Galatians 5:22-23. There are times for sternness with one’s flock, but if that is your typical first resort, then you are likely too harsh in your approach and should search the intentions of your heart prayerfully. Christ was very gentle with His sheep, yet He did rebuke His disciples. “Our perfect Lord felt no inconsistency in altering His tone of voice to Peter from ‘blessed art thou’ to ‘get thee behind me, Satan’”. Maurice Roberts, The Thought of God. See Matthew 16:15-17,21-23. See also Matthew 17:24-27. Christ was not without anger, but He reserved that anger for certain circumstances and people. He overturned the tables of the money changers, and scourged them; Matthew 21:12-13; and He pronounced woes on the Pharisees and Scribes; Matthew 23. Use neither a gentle disposition as an excuse to withhold weighty charges from the brethren, nor use the seriousness of the exhortations required as an excuse for a callous and hard spirit.
Paul also declares here that he and his fellowlabourers “exhorted and comforted and charged every one of” them. His ministering was to the whole congregation, and not merely to a collective body, but to every individual in it. There were no stray believers who were left without having been personally ministered to. And seeing as how we all stray, we all need to be sought after when we go astray. We all need to be cared for. We all need that brethren come to us and see how we are doing spiritually. We all need counsel. Ministers especially ought to seek the blessing, edification, and sanctification of each individual Christian insofar as they possibly can; as each individual Christian without exception is unfathomably precious to Christ; therefore, be careful how you tread; and care for each one personally.
These are the characteristics of godly ministering. They are parental, intimate, loving, tender, challenging, edifying, unfeigned, and wholehearted. Without these characteristics, what benefit do we expect from any attempt to minister unto God’s people? Is this the manner in which you serve the brethren? Search your heart. This is the way in which the sanctification of believers is to be promoted by elders; to which the apostle now turns:
“That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”
– To “walk” implies direction, progress, and effort. It is here in the present tense also; we are to continue and to persevere in walking worthy of the Lord. We are to glorify God by living in a manner that is zealous for His glory, that reverences Him, and that seeks to show the salvation of God in Christ to be a glorious display of the power and righteousness of God. We are to walk in a manner that vindicates God’s character and commands, as well as His judgements against an ungodly world, which often uses the poor conduct of those who feignedly call upon His Name, as well as using the conduct of backslidden Christians as excuses to justify their sin and to blaspheme God, see Romans 2:24.
The cultivation of a godly character is both the evidence of our conversion and the charge given to us by God in light of our conversion; see Matthew 5:13-16. In and of ourselves this is impossible, for without the Lord we can do nothing; see John 15:5;, cf. Matthew 19:26. It is such good news, though, that we will not be called unto God’s kingdom and glory on condition of the worthiness of our walk, as taught by the Pelagians, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many other works-righteousness cults. Our text says that we are to “walk worthy of God, who hath called us unto His Kingdom and glory.”; see also Col 1:10-14 & Romans 8:28-30; 11:29; Ephesians 2:8-10. That being said, let no man take this solemn charge lightly. Those who take the commands of God as optional, and take them as some light thing, and not as being imperative; these bear the fruit of hypocrisy, and “by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20); see Matthew 7:16-23. Consider the solemn truth, that we are to follow “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” (Hebrews 12:14-16).
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
– Paul here teaches us something crucial about soteriology. If the implications of this verse (and many others like it) are honestly acknowledged, then the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace must be embraced.
Paul here thanks God for what the Thessalonians did. They did indeed receive the Word of God “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God…”, but if that was their doing, by their own will and power, which is the teaching of all synergistic views of salvation (Pelagianism; semi-Pelagianism; Arminianism; Romanism etc.), then God is owed no thanks in particular for what they did of their own free will and power; that is a notion that defies all sense and reason. This verse is very similar to 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5.
In Philippians 1:29, we do not read of being given a passive faith which we are left with to either exercise or neglect. Instead, we read that “to believe“ (an active present tense verb) is given unto us in the behalf of Christ. The fact that I believe; the fact that I exercise faith; this is something which God has given to me, or wrought in me. In Philippians 2:13 we read: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Do you will or do anything pleasing to God? Do you reckon that you work such things in yourself? According to this verse, it is God, and not yourself, which works these things in you; and to Him alone belongs the glory.
Acts 13:48 says: “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Synergists must read this verse back to front: “as many as believed were ordained to eternal life”; for such is their teaching. The same is true regarding the Lord Jesus’ pronouncement in John 8:47: “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” Here Christ states that the reason why His audience did not hear the Word of God was because they were not of God, and that they would have heard the Word of God had they been of God; so then, one must first be of God in order to hear God’s Words; and being of God makes it inevitable that one will hear God’s Words. In spite of such clear pronouncements in Scripture, synergists still believe that you become one of God’s elect people by hearing the Word of God in a saving way. The synergistic teaching on here is more akin to saying: “He that heareth God’s words is of God: ye therefore are not of God because ye hear them not”. A direct quotation of this verse is the opposite of the teaching of synergism.
In John 10:26, Jesus says: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” Jesus here states that the reason why the Pharisees to whom He spoke persisted in their unbelief was because they were not of His sheep. This means that they could not merely believe themselves unto becoming sheep; but rather, they believed not because they were not of His sheep; for Christ’s sheep hear His voice, and He knows them, and they follow Him; even those not yet brought into the fold, they will do likewise when the Good Shepherd calls them; (John 10:27). Again, synergists must read this back to front: “Ye are not of my sheep, because ye do not believe”.
In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we see that the Lord is not knocking on the doors of people’s hearts seeking permission to enter, as people often try to insert into Revelation 3:20, disregarding the context. Instead, we read: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He sovereignly commands us to see Christ in a saving way.
Lastly, in Ephesians 1:15-20 we read of Paul’s desire and prayer that the Ephesians might know: “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, Which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead,” (vv.19-20). Of great significance here is the fact that we believe “according to the working of His mighty power“; which power, in particular, is here declared to have raised Jesus from the dead; and all of this is notably the monergistic working of almighty God. This reminds us of that incredible truth written just a few verses later in Ephesians 2:1: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins”. See also Ephesians 2:3,5.
Paul in our present verse exhorts and encourages his brethren with the widely despised doctrine of God’s effectual calling, stating that “the word of God… effectually worketh also in you that believe”, reminding us of Philippians 1:6; 2:13. We must remember this so that the glorious doctrine of effectual calling remains in our hearts as more than a matter of mere theological interest. Is Calvinism our intellectual pursuit? Is it a mere hobby? Does it puff us up with pride because we have knowledge of it? See 1 Corinthians 8:1. This glorious doctrine ought to instil a humbling praise and worship for the Lord in our hearts, as it did in Paul’s, recorded in Romans 11:33-36, which awesome benediction immediately followed and was founded upon the doctrine of election which he taught in chapters 9-11.
Our text also notes something else that is important for us to consider. If we truly take the Bible as the Word of God, and not merely as the word of man, it will affect the way we live. Do we live as though we really believe the grave and weighty truths contained in the Bible? Our present verse tells us that the Word of God “effectually worketh“ in those who believe. This is an encouragement to those whose lives are marked by holiness, but a warning to those whose lives are marked by the practice of sin.
“For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:”
– The previous verse speaks of God’s elect receiving the Word of God, and regards such receiving as being to the praise of the glory His grace alone, (Ephesians 1:6); and that is because we believe according to the working of His mighty power (Ephesians 1:19-20), ourselves having nothing that we did not receive, (1 Corinthians 4:7). From this, the inspired apostle moves on to our present verse to speak of the fruit of the Thessalonians’ conversion, which was that they became followers of the Judaean Christians in that they also suffered persecution, just as he taught previously. 1 Thesslonians 1:4-5, which teach on election, lead directly to v.6, wherein we read that those who are elect of God receive the Word, and that in much affliction; for conversion necessarily brings forth fruit, and this fruit is despised of those in the world; and so, being hated by the world is inescapable for saints who live according to their heavenly calling. Persecution to one degree or another is the inevitable case for believers who will live godly (2 Timothy 3:12), as all who are of the flesh hate God and His ways (John 3:19-20; Rom 8:7-8), and carnal men also despise those who fruitfully imitate the Lord and strive to walk worthy of Him (John 15:18-23), for such people let a light so shine which men by nature hate, which also reinforces and echoes the nagging of their consciences; a faculty of their mind which they so often despise and disobey; which is the work of the law written on their hearts. Insofar as we are like God, to that same extent is the carnal mind at bitter enmity against us.
In what ways are we persecuted? If we are not receiving such treatment, then why? Are we preaching the truth enough? Are we walking worthy of God insofar that we convict those of their wickedness who despise their own consciences? I am reminded of a story which, although having more than one version, is most often told as follows. John Wesley’s conscience once became troubled when he had not been ill-treated for three days, and he sought to search his heart before God and prayed wondering if he had become carnal in his preaching. He moments later found cause to praise God in that a rock, which was thrown by a man who hated him, narrowly missed his head, to which he responded: “Thank you, Lord! I know I still have Your presence.” May the Lord make us to live so that the ungodly would be tormented in their hearts at the sight and sound of us; not so that we might be persecuted, but so that they might be saved!
As noted above, Paul here describes it as a fruit that both the Thessalonian and Jewish believers suffered persecution by their godless neighbours. Paul then turns his attention to the Jews who had remained in their vain traditions rather than receiving the Lord of Glory, whom they murdered by nailing Him to the accursed tree. Though often heralded as a noble people by many in the dispensationalist camp, let us consider the manner in which Paul spoke of the Jews. It is very condemning, and that under the inspiration of God. Yet, if we were to speak of the modern nation of Israel in the same manner, we would likely be accused of anti-semitism by the modern Church. Observe how the inspired apostle spoke of them:
“Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
– As testified by Stephen immediately preceding his death which was the first martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ (see Acts 7); the Jews have a long and bloody history of rejecting their own prophets, often through gruesome murders. It was no different when the Lord Himself visited them in the flesh. Their murder of Him was cruel and merciless. It was also hatefully and shamefully executed with dishonesty, guile, and slyness. The Jews also persecuted the apostles and the believers, warring against every variety of godly person; from the least saint, even to the Lord Himself. But even further, the Jews strove to halt the promised Gospel from going out to the Gentiles; see Matthew 23:13. These are grave sentiments when considered in light of Matthew 25:41-46; Luke 10:16; 1 Thessalonians 4:8.
This constant and deep-seated hatred which the Jews have expressed for God and His ways has made them a most accursed people, unparalleled in their accursedness by any other nation. A fierce judgement is upon them, as our text says; “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”; “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48; cf. Romans 3:1-2).
“But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.”– As is a recurring theme in Paul’s ministering, and particularly in this epistle, we read here of yet another expression of great tenderness and affection for the brethren which he also openly expressed to them, not holding back his affections from them. What a rebuke that is to the coldness of heart which is so common to us.
Paul and his fellowlabourers continued to think upon the Thessalonian believers and to pray for them. Having ministered unto them personally, they were not finished with them as soon as their time in presence had ended. They endeavoured abundantly that they might see their faces again, out of sincere love to them.
Satan hindered them from ministering unto the Thessalonians to the degree which they earnestly desired; that is, in person. What hinders you? How much desire is there in you to minister unto the brethren? Does Satan need to expend much effort to dull your affections? or is your heart sufficiently dull of itself? Pray that the Lord would conquer Satan’s efforts against you, but especially that He would conquer the inherent lovelessness of your flesh.
Consider that Satan hindered the fellowship that Paul sought with the Thessalonians. Satan is industrious, and likely more zealous than you, and he possibly hates God more than you love Him. Considering this grave possibility, in what ways do you think Satan might be at work to disrupt or destroy fellowship in your congregation, or with other saints? Do not presume him to be idle, no matter how calm things might be at present, but: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour;” (1 Peter 5:8).
“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? For ye are our glory and joy.”
– Here we have a remarkable statement of Paul’s love to those whom God loves. Paul states: “ye are our glory and joy.” Is it not sometimes that those who need ministering to seem more like a burden than a delight? Only the Lord can give us this love; for who of us has such love by nature? That we are lacking in this love is not an acceptable state in which to continue. Here is cause for open, honest, and frank confession; faith in and desire for the Lord’s mercy and sanctifying power; as well as earnest supplication. What a blessing it will be to those who earnestly seek from the Lord the strength and ability they need to minister to the brethren with a hearty and unfeigned love, for: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).
Christ loves His bride so much that He endured unfathomable and infinite torment to free her from the hell which she has earned through her own sin. Christ gave thirty-three years of life, and every single moment of it, perfectly and wholeheartedly, without grumbling or complaining, whilst fulfilling the law of God perfectly even amidst temptations, and died the most agonising death in all of history under the penalty of divine retribution earned by those for whom He died; and He even now continues to make intercession for His bride.
Does your attitude reflect the love of God for His people? Though you are sinful, is there a desire in you to love the bride of Christ more? Do you see her as important? Do you love that which in all creation is most precious to the Triune God? Search your heart, and confess what lovelessness there is in you, petitioning the Lord for the blessings which you need to bless His beloved people; that you might serve and give yourself for the most beloved of all the Lord’s creation; for in so doing, you bestow love upon Christ, and it will not be forgotten by Him.
Search your heart and ask yourself what is your hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are God’s people your glory and joy? Search your heart before the Lord in prayer, and sincerely confess before Him what coldness you uncover.