When we get to the second chapter of this epistle, the apostle Paul reminds them of how it was that the gospel was first brought to them. We know that Paul was only there for three successive sabbaths, and so we can see here just how much authenticity can be contained within such a short space of time.
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: 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 . . . ” (1 Thess. 2:1–12).
Summary of the Text
Paul begins the second chapter by reminding the Thessalonians how Paul and his companions had first arrived in their city, and how it was not a vain entrance (v. 1). Even though they had been shamefully treated at Philippi (Acts 16), that did not make them hesitant in Thessalonica, even though there was much turmoil there (v. 2). Paul then moves into a description of his ministry approach, which is a paradigm of true ministry. They were not deceitful, they were not unclean, they were not tricksy (v. 3). Since God had entrusted them with the gospel, they spoke as men who needed to please the God who sees the hearts of all men (v. 4). Paul then swears here—as God is witness—they did not flatter, and they did not use ministry as a blanket to hide or cover up their greed (v. 5). Although as an apostle he could have set up an expense account, but they did not. They did not seek to be a burden, and did not seek for glory, from the Thessalonians, or any others (v. 6). Rather, they were gentle with them, the way a nursing mother is (v. 7). Because the Thessalonians were dear to them, they sought to impart the gospel to them, along with their own souls (v. 8). He reminds them of how they labored night and day in order to avoid being a financial burden to them, and in order to be able preach the gospel for free (v. 9). You are witnesses, Paul says, and then he swears again—God is also witness—just how holy, just, and unblameworthy they were (v. 10). They knew how much like a father they were, in exhorting, and comforting, and charging (v. 11). The point was that the Thessalonians might learn to walk worthy of God, the same God who called them into His kingdom and glory (v. 12).
Glory, Gold and Girls
When ministries go astray, it is very common for the problem to be located in one of these three areas—glory, gold, and girls. And because sins are like grapes—they come in bunches—it is not unusual to find that some ministries shipwreck because of all three. It is therefore striking that Paul, when recounting the blameless nature of his ministry among them, touches on all three points.
First, we see that Paul says “nor of men sought we glory” (v. 6). They were not after glory. Second, he also says (repeatedly) that they did not have a cloak “of covetousness” (v. 5). They were not financially burdensome (v. 6). They labored night and day to prevent the expenses from falling on the Thessalonians (v. 9). They were not after gold. And third, Paul says that their appeal did not make room for “uncleanness” (v. 3). He uses this word in a sexual sense a little bit later in the epistle (1 Thess. 4:7), and his use is overwhelmingly a reference to sexual sin in other places (Rom. 1:24; 2 Cor. 12:2; Gal. 5:19; Eph 4:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5). They were not after girls. So the ministry is not to be used as a means of impressing the girls.
A Mother and Father in Ministry
The way God created us, children require both a father and mother. Children need tenderness, and children need toughness. We see here that the demeanor that is characteristic of both good fathers and mothers are supposed to be present in godly ministry. We see that clearly in this passage. Let’s start with mothers (v. 7). The ministers and leaders in the church are supposed to be kind and gentle (epios) as they care for the flock. They are supposed to do this as a nursing mother (trophos) would behave as she cherishes (thalpo) her children. So what we are talking about is the epitome of tenderness. All of this is stereotyping, of course, and perfectly monstrous.
At the same time, ministers are also supposed to be fathers in the church (v. 11). You remember, Paul says, how we behaved in your midst as fathers do with their children. The three characteristics of this kind of paternal care that Paul mentions are exhortation, encouragement, and charging. The ministry team at Thessalonica wanted the Thessalonians to stand up straight. They wanted the Thessalonians to be upright and courageous. We see later on in this letter that this is exactly what they did do.
The Grace of Walking Worthy
This section concludes with Paul explaining the whole direction of his pastoral ministry with the Thessalonians, which lines up nicely with the direction of his pastoral ministry with all believers, as we see elsewhere in his epistles. He wants to present every man perfect or complete in Christ. That is what he is after (Col. 1:28). He is not aiming low.
In this place, God had called the Thessalonians into His kingdom and glory (having done so entirely by grace), and then he crowns this comment by saying that the Thessalonians had been exhorted to walk worthy of God. But break this down, and reflect on the deeper meaning that has to be here. How is it possible to walk worthy of grace?
Doesn’t grace mean that we are unworthy? Doesn’t worth mean that it is not grace? There really is a mystery here. Jesus tells us that after we have done everything that He requires of us, we should respond by saying we are worthless servants, and only did what was required (Luke 17:10). But this same Jesus says, also of a servant who did what he should have done, “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21, 23). What is it to be worthy in the light of God’s grace? It is to know that you are not worthy, and in that knowledge, by faith alone, to stand up straight. You are standing in the grace that is Christ, so stand up straight.
Here is the paradox in a nutshell: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). What do we need? We need mercy and grace. Where do we come? We come to the throne of grace. How do we come? Not as craven, not as crawling on all fours—we come boldly. This is a knot that no sinful man can untie. The only one who could untie it is Jesus Christ, which He has done, and He is the only reason we stand.