I. What they were not. This list of disclaimers probably relates to accusations that regularly were thrown at Paul himself or used as propaganda to create disaffection of his converts from him (cf. Galatians 1:10). Paul knew that Jesus had said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against your falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11, 21). Paul recounted his experience in Philippi as an example of Jesus’ instructions; “But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” (2) The teachings of Jesus on this surely were a comfort and probably gave him motivation to correct the record of any ill-motivated and false accusations.
A. Their exhortation did not arise from error (3). Paul was not unclear either as to his call or as to his message. He had not made a mistake in preaching to those at Thessalonica. Not only did Paul and his company exhibit courage and zeal, they presented “the gospel of God” in clear, confident, accurate terms.
B. Their exhortation did not arise from impurity (3). Here he does not use the word “impure” or “unclean” in relation to his own moral life (though he certainly could make that claim also) but he refers again to the content of his message. It was not soiled in any way by the inaccuracies of human philosophy or religious syncretism. It was a message of absolute truth concerning eternal matters and the way of forgiveness and eternal life. There is no room for error or admixture of religious hunches. Some commentators relate the word to the ecstatic propensities of some of the pagan religions designed to create sensual engagement (A. T. Robertson).
C. Their exhortation did not arise from any attempt to deceive (3). The preachers did not seek converts to themselves by feigning a message that they had contrived. There was no religious deceit involved but only a straightforward, unadulterated presentation of truth received from God concerning events that could be tested through historical investigation and comparison with the words of the prophets.
D. Their work among them was not an attempt to please men or curry favor with them (4). Paul had no motive to go to Thessalonica and preach to them and instruct them from Scripture (Acts 17:3, 4) apart from his unshakeable persuasion that Jesus is the Christ, risen from the dead, the judge of all, and the only hope for forgiveness and eternal life. Had he been there to lure men into an orbit around him and an idiosyncratic philosophy, he chose a strange path and one that was obviously and utterly selfless. Had that been his motive, it backfired grotesquely (Acts 17:5. 10).
E. Consequently, they did not use words of flattery (5). Their goal in speech was the abasement of all men as sinners and as hopeless apart from the redemptive consequences of a crucified Jew. There is nothing flattering to human pride in the gospel, nothing that strikes confidence in human merit, righteousness, or worthiness. It is most unflattering for it begins with the assumption of human condemnation, and justly so, and human corruption as the source of death. It assumes the legitimacy of God’s anger against men, an anger to be placated only in the merit of another. Nothing flattering to human pride resides even by inference in the gospel. If one is to find consolation and joy in the gospel, it will be at the absolute expense of human pride and will not base its credibility on human ability or goodness.
F. Their ministry was not a pretext for greed (5). Never did Paul seek to coerce any material advantage from those to whom he preached. He taught the churches to give in order to support a pastor that God would give them, and he accepted offerings when churches out of their own convictions about sowing to the Spirit would prompt them (Galatians 6:6-10; Philippians 4:14-20). In fact, his support in Thessalonica had come from the work of his own hands (9) and eventually the recently founded church in Philippi. He had to be content with both hunger and need to carry out his call as an apostle. In the early days of the mission to the Gentiles, only the church at Philippi had communicated with him in the matter of helping support his temporal life while he preached words of eternal life (Philippians 4:15). But see 5:12, 13 for Paul’s instruction to provide for those who would be the resident teachers among them.
G. Their interest was not to seek glory from people (6). He already had determined that human glory was killing, the sure path to eternal destruction (Philippians 3:7, 8). He had determined to glory only in the cross (Galatians 6:14). He would not seek to appear wise or strong but would allow any appearance of wisdom or power to be found in the message of the cross enforced by the effectual calling of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
H. They did not oppress them by claiming apostolic rights (6). In 2 Corinthians 10:7-11 he explained something of the authority granted by Christ himself to the apostles, authoritative but for “building up and not for tearing down” (10:8). He explained his foregoing of his apostolic rights to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:7-9—“humbling myself … robbed other churches … did not burden anyone, … I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.”
II. What they were
A. They had boldness in God (2). Though mistreated, though persecuted, though hunted down, their message of eternity transcended any earthly concern and gave them boldness in spite of the specter of lethal threat. They did not give an example of fearfulness or uncertainty but of unshakeable confidence in their message and its urgency.
B. They were gentle as nursing mothers (7). This boldness and utter certainty of the truth did not produce roughness or a peremptory spirit in them, but, in harmony with the character of their message of grace, kindness, and mercy they were as tender as a mother nursing a baby. This is quite distinct from the accusations made about them as well as from the deportment of the false teachers.
C. They were “affectionately desirous” of them and their eternal well being (8). According to the analogy just used, Paul expressed the deep affection of these messengers of truth for the former idol-worshipers God-fearing Gentiles, and unconverted Jews. Each of these could prove to be persecutors, but God converted some of them through Paul’s message and inflamed his heart toward them with Christian love. He wrote that they had become “very dear to us” (8). Such is the fellowship of regenerate, Christ-loving, gospel-believing minds wherever they are found. Immediate affection arises from the common source of saving grace and the love of Christ.
D. They were holy, righteous, and blameless (10). In accord with the righteousness set forth in the gospel, Paul and his group conducted themselves. They did not preach God’s holy wrath and then act in an unholy manner. They did not point to justification by imputation of righteousness and then seem to care little about righteousness. They did not show forth the blameless life of Christ as necessary for our salvation and then be careless of blameworthy speech, attitude, or action. Their lives among the Thessalonians were consistent with the gospel that they preached.
III. What they did. Their ministry was consumed with the gospel.
A. We declared to you the gospel of God (2). Paul knew, that despite the appearance of weakness or inarticulateness, he was not deficient in knowledge (2 Corinthians 11:6). Those who preached a gospel different from his gospel yet claimed to be his equal were “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:12, 13). So, Paul used his authority as a blessing and an advantage to the Thessalonians as he spoke to them the absolute truth of God, Christ, forgiveness, wrath, eternity, and invincible grace. Nothing is more important in life or in death than the gospel—the good news that God in infinite wisdom and mercy made a way for forgiving and justifying sinners.
B. They shared the gospel as well as themselves (8). As Christ gave himself for their salvation, so the apostle and his cohort gave themselves to the Thessalonians. They preached, lived and worked among them for their sake. If they were to have time to give the gospel and instruction concerning its implications for mind, heart, and practice they must be willing to plant themselves there as long as God allowed; they gave themselves in order to give the gospel. So it is with all kinds of missionary labors. In giving ourselves to God and the gospel, we give ourselves to the world.
C. They labored, toiled, and worked to support themselves in order to proclaim to them the gospel of God (9). Again, we see Paul’s emphasis on the discipline and uprightness of their action in order that they might proclaim the gospel. They did not ask for “flowery beds of ease” because they followed Christ and obeyed his command to preach the gospel. To execute the call to preach, they must find a way for support. “We labor,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “working with our own hands.” The Philippians sent aid to free them from some of their labor that they could have more time for ministry, but till then they did not shirk the task of work in order to teach.
D. They exhorted, encouraged, and charged the converted ones, the believers, the elect (11). Paul considered his converts to be his own children and he implored them as a father in the gospel. True believers need constant and consistent instruction. The world has pressed us into its mold and now, till the day we die, we need to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds, in order to discern what is good, acceptable, and perfect, the will of God” (Romans 12:2). To overcome indwelling sin, the grip of the world, and the deceit of the mind requires a continual influx of instruction and challenge from the word of God, “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
IV. Why they did it (4) – “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”
A. They were approved by God (4) Paul was set aside as the apostle to the Gentiles. Timothy and Silas were on the apostolic mission and in the constant company of apostles. They learned their doctrine and the way of expressing it from Paul (1 Timothy 6:2, 3, 20; 2 Timothy 2:14, 15; 3:10, 14). They were workmen that were not to be put to shame for they rightly divided the word of truth. Also, they were approved in their lives as Paul already has demonstrated in his description of life among the Thessalonians.
B. Entrusted with the gospel (4) -As approved by God, they were entrusted with the gospel. This message was unchangeable, set in eternity, reflected the eternal purpose of God, unfolding true glimpses into the glory of Christ, and completing the revelation accumulating through the ages in the Law and the Prophets. This message came by way of revelation and the recipients were stewards of another person’s property. They ere “stewards of the mysteries of God” and “it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:1, 2).
C. In accord with the revelation given, they spoke, adding nothing, subtracting nothing retaining the pattern of sound words given to them. They were ambassadors for Christ, “God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). To distinguish his ministry from imposters, Paul told the Corinthians, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
D. In order to please God, not men – Their eye was set singly on the glory of God as manifest in the truth of God. They did not flatter men or seek glory from men, as Paul already has made clear, but they did not doubt God’s wisdom in his revelation, and believed, therefore, that he would glorify himself through it. Obedience is well-pleasing to God, and particularly the kind of obedience that refuses to tamper with God’s word but speaks it clearly and faithfully.
V. What happened.
A. Their labor was not in vain (1) “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.” Paul introduced this section by anticipating the result of his kind of ministry—a God-given message, a God-authorized mission, and a God-glorifying determination. Had man- or self-centeredness been his motivation in any way, he might have achieved results, but they would not be unto salvation; they would not be to the hope of eternal life; they would not be to a true knowledge of God. It was not in vain in that the message was true, indeed the very word of God (2:13) and all of its historical details, necessary for the conceived result, actually occurred (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2, 14). Or vanity could be in the character of their faith (Galatians 3:4; 4:11) like the seed sowed on rocky soil that springs up and then dies for lack of root (Mark 4:5, 6). Paul knew that the message was true, however, so their faith could not be in vain that way; also he had seen their perseverance under tribulation, so he perceived their faith to be of a genuine sort—still maturing—but enduring in the face of destructive blasts.
B. Paul was enabled to give consistent exhortation to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (12). To the degree that perseverance depends on right and true doctrine, Paul had been enabled to give them that and to indicate the kind of life that was consistent with this gospel. As seen above, Paul had exhorted, encouraged, and charged them toward this by a continual description of how gospel truth would lead to personal transformation and heavenly-mindedness. They were called to God’s kingdom, not an earthly kingdom; they were called to reflect, observe, and enjoy God’s own eternal glory, not the passing do-dads of a meretricious and gaudy human attempt at splendor.