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Paul’s Ministry in Thessalonica April 13, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Thessalonians that his initial visit had not been a failure. This stems from the fact that:

  • he had suffered persecution and ignominy at Philippi
  • God showed His divine power by enabling him to discharge his duty in the midst of conflict.

In particular, his teaching:

  • did not contain fallacies that would have deluded them
  • was not influenced by any impure desires
  • was not characterized by fraud or malice.

Indeed, God had assigned him the office of an apostle, and He had committed His Gospel to him; thus, he does not attempt to obtain the favor of others, but he aims to devote his endeavors to Him. Also, the Thessalonians know that he stood aloof from avarice and ambition, and God is his witness in this regard. Moreover, although he deserved to be received by them with a higher degree of respect, he voluntarily abased himself before them; he was even prepared to lay out his life for their benefit. He exercised an intimate affection for them.

Paul then reminds the Thessalonians that during his initial visit, he labored with his own hands to earn a livelihood – refraining from exercising his right to be furnished by them with food and other necessities. He calls them – and God – to affirm:

  • his fear of God
  • his faithfulness
  • the fact that he had given no occasion of complaint among believers.

He taught and admonished them as their pastor. In particular, he exhorted them and admonished them in their calling, as God has saved them and blessed them in Christ.

Now Paul gives thanks to God as the Thessalonians have received the Gospel reverently and with the obedience it deserves. This enabled them to courageously endure persecution by Jewish and Gentile non-believers – joining their brothers in Judea in suffering. Indeed, the Jews had killed the Son of God, and their fathers had killed their own prophets. Paul concludes by asserting that the Jews tried to remove the hope of salvation from the Gentiles; thus, they fill up the measure of their judgment and condemnation, and they are in an utterly hopeless state as they are pursued by the judgment of God.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had preached the Gospel to them in the midst of persecution. Calvin offers an interesting take on this point:

He says, therefore, that his visit to them was not a failure…He supports this with two arguments. The first is that he had suffered persecution and ignominy at Philippi; the second is that a great conflict was prepared at Thessalonica.

Now if I had been in Paul’s position, I would have thought, “I faced a great deal of opposition in Philippi and managed to escape that dangerous situation. I then faced a great deal of opposition in Thessalonica. This must be a sign that my ministry is a failure; if my ministry was meant to succeed, God would have blessed it and facilitated my preaching.” Yet somehow God gave Paul the wisdom and strength to take a counterintuitive view of his difficulties – they were actually intended to confirm him in his ministry. Now this does raise the question of how believers should distinguish failures in ministry that stem from inherent sinfulness from failures that God has designed to promote Paul’s counterintuitive perspective. Clearly the Holy Spirit plays a role in this regard, though it is difficult to see how one can make these distinctions in practice.

In verse 9, we see that Paul refrained from imposing a financial burden on the Thessalonians when he visited them. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

For it is the law of Christ, as the apostle teaches elsewhere…that every church furnish its ministers with food and other necessities. Paul, therefore, in laying no burden on the Thessalonians, did something more than his office required of him. In addition to this, he did not merely refrain from incurring public expense but avoided burdening anyone individually.

Regarding “the law of Christ,” I assume that Calvin is referring to Luke 10:1-24 where Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples. Now since Paul appears to have applied this rule on a case-by-case basis, i.e. he asked some churches for financial support while sparing others this burden, does this imply that Jesus’ rule was not meant to be applied broadly? Perhaps Jesus was actually evaluating the spiritual health of those who were visited by His seventy-two disciples (instead of presenting a command to be obeyed by all churches in all generations). On the other hand, we know that Paul was so concerned about the spiritual state of the Corinthians and the Thessalonians that he did not burden them financially. Perhaps the “law of Christ” regarding financial support of ministers is context-driven, and so one can only apply it with spiritual discernment.

Verse 9 also states that Paul held a second job to support himself while he preached the Gospel to the Thessalonians in his primary position. Now this situation is difficult for me to fathom; did Paul have any time to himself while he was in Thessalonica? Did he ever have any opportunities to relax and unwind? How many hours did he sleep on average – or did he even sleep at all? Perhaps modern tentmakers can offer some insights on this point, although I have difficulty picturing tentmakers who hardly sleep. Also, a modern tentmaker should be reasonably successful in their primary position; thus, they should maintain a reasonable sleep schedule to be successful in both of their roles. How could Paul have been successful in his ministry if he had little time to sleep, eat or drink? Should modern tentmakers follow Paul’s example in sacrificing food and/or sleep? Clearly God blessed Paul in his ministry, yet one must wonder if modern tentmakers are called to lead a more balanced lifestyle.

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