The first letter to the ekklesia of the Thessalonians provides a remarkable overview of the gospel’s advancement when the message is spoken with power and the Spirit, when the hearers are divinely enabled to believe and follow the pattern of the Lord laid down before them, and when God approves, entrusts, and observes the gospel minister, in this case Paul, Silas, and Timothy – missionaries who preached the gospel from town to town throughout much of the Roman Empire. In the second chapter, Paul begins to expand upon much of what he introduced in the opening chapter, specifically verses 1:4-6 but adds more detail and draws more fully upon the knowledge and remembrance of his audience towards his time spent there.
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 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. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 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.
In opening the section, Paul points to the knowledge that the Thessalonians had with regard to how he and the others came to them and the evident results, or fruit, that was produced. Not in vain is a little difficult because it can be a reference to results that came from their ministry, but as it relates to men, it can also mean that they did not come empty-handed. In other words, the possibility exists that Paul is setting up the argument that they did not come to take or receive with empty hands, rather than came with hands full and ready to give and minister.
Next, he appeals to the suffering that they endured in the town they ministered in prior to Thessalonica, namely Philippi, and how they were beaten and imprisoned. This is well-chronicled by Luke in Acts 16:11-40. While this may have been a discouragement to many missionaries or gospel preachers (as it would’ve been for me), Paul is emboldened to continue preaching in the midst of additional conflict, which as it relates to Thessalonica is documented in Acts 17:5-15. This will be a subject he broaches later in this second chapter of Thessalonians.
In the third verse, we find the trio beginning to unfold the heart of their defense against those who would slander their gospel ministry, perhaps questioning their message, methods, manner, and motives which likely included insinuations of greed for money and capturing their women (Acts 17:4). This first line of defense confronts the accusations that they were false teachers with a false message, “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive.” The content of their message was true, they were not sexually impure or devious towards the women, and they were not hucksters pulling a bait-and-switch. Surely the area during this period was ripe with false teachers who preyed on weak women and were motivated by greed (2 Timothy 3:6; 2 Peter 2:1-22).
This brings us to the heart of today’s post, “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.” Here we see the triad of negative motives listed in verse 3 contrasted with divine approval, divine entrustment, and divine observation. First, we read that they were approved by God. This first attestation towards the validation of their ministry is the Greek word, dokimazo, which carries the idea of to test and then approve of the results, in this case an on-going approval. Paul assures the Thessalonians that they have been tested and approved by God, that their ministry was not self-derived or self-conceived but by means of the testing and approval by God in their commissioning. In elevating this to the highest court, namely God, Paul is intertwining his mission of preaching the gospel with the will of God. In other passages, a similar idea is conveyed, see: Acts 9:15; 13:1-4; 15:40; 16:1, 2; 1 Tim. 1:2,12, 18; 6:12, 20; 2 Tim. 1:5, 13, 14.
Next, we see the divine entrustment, “to be entrusted with the gospel.” This testing and approval was not for nothing, it was for a purpose, namely to administer the gospel to the lost. Here we see that the trio was entrusted with this task. This word is related to the word often translated as faith, yet here it connotes the idea of placing confidence in. Only after being tested and approved by God did they carry with them the “confidence” of God, if we may put it that way, to preach the message of the gospel without error, without impurity, and without deception.
Finally, they were observed by God. Paul moves to the manner of their ministry, not that it was to please men or tickle ears in order to win their approval, rather it was to please God. It is God alone who is able to test the hearts. Man cannot determine or judge motives, specifically as it relates to Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Their detractors were unable to see the heart, they were unable to observe their motives at the deepest level. However, this depth was not beyond the seeing eye of God and after having been tested and approved, then entrusted with the Gospel, they were under the watchful observing eye of God who saw beneath the externals to the heart. This appeal to the watchful eye of God is doubled down in verse 5, “God is witness,” which follows a repeating theme of calling his audience’s attention to the God who sees.
Throughout the opening chapters of this letter, we have laid down for us a pattern of ministry, a pattern of gospel reception, and a pattern for discipleship. If one were to look around the evangelical landscape, even if only briefly, does it look like this New Testament pattern? Hardly. It’s likely, we would find it riddled with men who have ascended to high positions of power in churches, denominations, or so-called ministries, falsely claiming the name of God, who are errant in their doctrine, impure in their interactions with women – in other words using their position/power for sexual means, as well as being deceptive, typically for monetary gain. Unfortunately, there are also those who may have begun with proper motives but have fallen into these same particular trappings. How then do we respond to those who are not only in these positions of perceived authority but then demand allegiance and obedience from those who would follow them? Simple. Leave.
“Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4