The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians
1- The Apostle's Laborious Service (2:1-12)
+ 2:1, 2: The second chapter starts with defensive statements denying allegations which the enemies of Christ's Gospel had put forward after St. Paul's departure from Thessalonica. He reminds the Thessalonians that his visit to them (Acts17:1-9) was on the heels of his and Silas' suffering pain, hatred, humiliation, wounds and imprisonment because of false accusations in Philippi, raised by some who gained much money through the fortune telling of "a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination;" when the spirit left her at Paul's rebuke, the girl's owners' rage, at their consequent loss of revenue, led them to incite the crowd to strip, flog and imprison Paul and Silas - despite Paul's Roman citizenship. (Acts 16:11-34)
Pressured by the Romans, Paul and Silas were compelled to depart from Philippi. (Acts 16:39 & 40) This treatment, coupled with fierce resistance, failed to lead St. Paul to a supine or complacent life; rather, his resolve to evangelize in Thessalonica was strengthened or, in his words, ".....we were bold in our God to speak unto you the Gospel of God with much contention." (1 Thessalonians 2:2) Thus his visit to Thessalonica was neither in vain nor inconsequential; rather, he was rewarded, and his determination bore fruit.
+ 2:3-7: St. Paul proceeds to describe his service to them as a service characterized by absolute truth, and untainted with a hunger for worldly praise, lusts or material benefits, as was the case with self-serving false teachers: "For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile." (1 Thessalonians 2:3) His quest was the Lord's glorification, while pleasing God Who searches our innermost depths - hence, the God "...Who tests our hearts." (1 Thessalonians 2:4) Similarly to other servants, whom God chose and entrusted with His Gospel, St. Paul did not rely on eloquence, human intelligence, satisfaction of desires, or flattery of others in pursuit of rewards or personal gains derived from God's work.
St. Paul had previously declared his motto in his epistle to the Galatians: "For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) He also said, "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others,....." (1 Thessalonians 2:6)
He adds, furthermore, that it was possible for them to seek that which they deserved, namely, honor, dignity and authority, as Christ's apostles and pillars of the Church, being content with people treating them with due awe and respect; rather, St. Paul and his co-servants served as apostles "....not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ..." (Galatians 1:1), their role Model, Who said: "I do not receive honor from men." (John 5:41) He asserts that he and his co-servants treated the Thessalonians with utmost care and gentleness, "just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7) - while appreciating their capabilities, their approach envelops them in love, tenderness and selflessness, awarding them the necessary care and supervision which ensure their growth in the knowledge and grace of God.
+ 2:8-12: St. Paul continues, saying, "So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:8)
Behold, the trustworthy servant revealing the extent of his selflessness, as a faithful disciple of the Person who called him! He learned from his Master that a servant's service is unlimited: "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate ... his own life also, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) Furthermore, as he said at the conclusion of his third evangelical journey on his way to Jerusalem, when he bade farewell to the elders of the Church of Ephesus: "....chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:23 & 24) And to those who wept at his departure, imploring him to desist from his trip to Jerusalem, he said, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13)
Given the Jews' constant resistance to him and hounding, he anticipated death for the sake of those he served and loved. In order for him to support himself and avoid burdening them with his needs, he worked day and night as a tentmaker - that being his trade. (Acts 18:3) Thus, by avoiding the risk of becoming weak and disheartened, he projected to those he served the image of someone completely liberated from all pressures, hence: "....you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me." (Acts 20:34) Also, "And we labor, working with our own hands." (1 Corinthians 4:12)
He repeated the same message in his second epistle to the Thessalonians: ".....for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you." (2 Thessalonians 3:7 & 8) Again this principle was echoed in his first epistle to the Corinthians: ".....Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ." (1 Corinthians 9:12) St. Paul applied this doctrine despite his right, as a servant of God, to earn his livelihood through service - as the Bible says: ".....for the laborer is worthy of his wages." (Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18) Also, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9:14)
He invoked their witness and God's witness to his uprightness throughout his service to them: "devoutly and justly and blamelessly," in godliness and chastity, and without a hint of untoward behavior which could lead to reproach, hence, ".....we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, ...." offering love and encouragement, to lead them into a steadfast and mature faith, such that "....you would walk worthy of God Who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12) Having accepted the kingdom through faith and baptism, the ultimate goal of their faith is to be glorified with Him in His heavenly kingdom.
2- Giving thanks to God for the Thessalonians' steadfastness in the faith despite persecutions (2:13-16)
+ 2:13, 14: St. Paul reiterates his thanks to God "without ceasing," because his evangelism, words and instruction, was not simply accepted by the Thessalonians as the unfruitful "word of men," rather, welcomed "as it is in truth, the word of God" - both living and effective, "which also effectively works in you who believe." Their resolve when faced with persecution and resistance was a sure sign of their true and strong faith. They thus "......became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus." This is because the Thessalonians "......also suffered the same things" from their own countrymen [the Gentiles], "......just as they (who are in Judea) did from the Judeans." Evil constantly resists good, and Satan's resistance to the evangelism of salvation is relentless: "....a man's enemies will be those of his own household." (Micah 7:6 and Matthew 10:36)
+ 2:15, 16: St. Paul pauses in these verses to express, reluctantly, his "great sorrow and continual grief" caused by the Jews' stance towards him - his "countrymen according to the flesh." (Romans 9:2 & 3) Most of them rejected the faith, despite their having been the intended first fruits of salvation, followed by the gentiles. But alas! they "....killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us ..." They have, furthermore, impeded the apostles' progress, inciting their imprisonment, stoning and murder, using all means of ensnarement available, thus "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved." In so doing, they managed, at all times, to "...fill up the measure of their sins."
St. Paul concludes that the Jews, through their deeds and resistance to the truth, "they do not please God;" similarly, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8) "and are contrary to all men." This is because in their self-satisfaction, their monopoly of knowledge, and their considering themselves to be the sole elects of God, having a special regard, they treat others with condescension and disdain, viewing them as unclean, while stripping them of their relationship with their Creator Who "loved the world" (John 3:16) and "Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Those Jews who persist in their rejection of Christ unto the end, do indeed travel down a doomed path, since "wrath has come upon them to the uttermost." (1 Thessalonians 2:16) [These verses materialized through the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, only about two centuries after this epistle had been written.]
3- St. Paul's unrealized desire to visit the Thessalonians (2:17 - 20)
(to be continued)