Category Archives: 1 Thessalonians

Approved, Entrusted and Observed by God

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. 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. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 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         

A Pattern of Faith

 

You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. 1 Thessalonians 1:5b-10

In the passage above, the believers in Thessalonica are being commended for their faith in responding to the word that was preached with power, the Spirit, and conviction (1:5a).  The theme of this section is that the consequences of their faith had reverberating effects locally, nationally, and internationally. Not only was their faith not kept in isolation, it wasn’t unique to them, rather it followed a pattern set down by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. By following the example set before them, they became a pattern in and of themselves for others to follow.  At its heart, this replicating effect of the gospel is the nature of discipleship.

Writing under divine inspiration, Paul begins his commendation of the Thessalonians by highlighting the fact of their imitation of him, his fellow gospel ministers, and more importantly, the Lord.  This pattern is alluded to in verse 5b, “You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake” where the character of the messengers validated the quality of the message.  The godly character displayed to the Thessalonians in the face of affliction over the course of the trio’s several month ministry served to establish a pattern of faith, obedience, and holiness for them to imitate and they did just that, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.”  The idea of imitation is literally to mimic, or to copy.  We might say they were gospel copycats of the pattern that was shown to them.  The foundation for this pattern of both Paul, his co-laborers, as well as the Thessalonians was the Lord Himself.  His obedience unto death blazes the trail and establishes the pattern for all those who would take His yoke upon them and learn from Him.  Practically, the Thessalonians were spiritually downstream of the men who had preached the gospel to them and patterned a life of godliness, but these men were themselves simply downstream of the Lord.  The headwaters for the pattern of faith, and faith itself, is The Founder and Perfecter of our faith, The Apostle and High Priest, The Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3; .  

This pattern of follow the leader is not unique to this letter, rather the Apostle Paul elsewhere makes a similar exhortation for believers to follow him, in so far as he is following Christ:

  • 1 Cor. 4:16
  • 1 Cor. 11:1
  • Eph. 5:1
  • 1 Thess. 2:14
  • Heb. 6:12           

Part of the pattern, specific to the Thessalonians, was the reception of the gospel with joy, in spite of the circumstances of affliction.  Certainly Paul, Silas, and Timothy provided an example for both gospel proclamation and gospel obedience, but in addition to that, they modeled how to live a God-honoring life in the face of persecution.  Recall that in Acts 17, the trio were in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, resulting in the conversion of a “great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.”  But this caused the Jews to be jealous and incite a riot, a riot which led to the incarceration of Jason and the exile of Paul and Silas to Berea.  It is therefore within reason that since one of their own, Jason, as well as Paul, Silas and Timothy, were persecuted for the Gospel, those who remained in Thessalonica who had embraced the message of the gospel, likewise had been afflicted by persecution.  This pattern of imitating the reception of the gospel with joy in the face of affliction is further emphasized in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 

“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.  For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews….”  

Often, in various ways, shapes, and forms, the gospel is accompanied by affliction (Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”).  But the Thessalonians were more than just imitators, they were replicators, “so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.”  Expanding on this, in verse 8 we read

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

Not only did those who believed in Thessalonica become imitators of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, and our Lord, but they became examples themselves.  Their embrace of the gospel became a pattern for others. Additionally, the “word of the Lord” literally echoed or reverberated from them first locally, then nationally, then internationally.  In summation, this is the pattern of discipleship. Let’s review it for the sake of clarity.

The gospel was preached by our Lord, fulfilled by His coming, and ratified by His death, resurrection, and ascension.  Paul had heard of it first hand from our Lord. Presumably Silas and Timothy had heard it second hand, but all three were witnesses to its truthfulness.  More than that, they followed the pattern given them, whether from Christ directly as in Paul’s case, or from others who ministered the gospel to them. Further, they became examples for others to follow, in so far as they were following the example of Christ.  The Thessalonians likewise embraced Christ and began sharing His gospel through proclamation and their life that accompanied it. In turn, they became a pattern to those in Macedonia, Achaia, and beyond. This. Is. Discipleship. It is the pattern of faith that must be replicated if the gospel is to spread locally, in our own neighborhoods and cities, to nationally, and internationally.  It began with Christ, continued with 3 men, spread nationally, then internationally. This is how the whole world gets turned upside down (Acts 17:6).

 

A Conduit for the Word and Power

In my line of work, there are times when we request inspections and reports on the condition of underground conduits or pipes to ensure that they remain able to function without blockages, leaks, or collapses.  The ideal conduit remains in original, or near-original shape, in-tact, and free of obstructions to allow water (storm, sewage, etc.) to travel easily without having the flow impeded or diverted. Typically, this flow is regulated by some sort of mechanical device, i.e. valve, gate, weir, or other.  By way of analogy, those who teach, preach, or otherwise communicate God’s Word are to likewise be conduits such that the Word may flow through with power apart from hindrances. If the human being is God’s conduit, then the Word is the material flowing through the conduit and the power is the rate or force at which the Word flows through the conduit all of which is regulated by the Holy Spirit.

Writing under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encourages them in the faith by reminding them that the Gospel he spoke to them came not only in word, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with conviction.  

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”  1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

In the passage above, we see that Paul has assurance in the election of the saints he ministered the gospel to in Thessalonica because the effectiveness of God working through the message preached and the evidence wrought in the production of fruit in their lives (vs. 4).  He indicates that the gospel came, not only in word, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. That the gospel came with words in significant. Paul, Silas, and Timothy spent 4-6 months ministering the word in Thessalonica.  In Acts 17, we are specifically told that Paul reasoned with them in the synagogue for three straight Sabbaths on the necessity of Christ’s death and resurrection in which he said, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” Acts 17:3  It was necessary for them to use words in their communication of the truth of who Christ is, His life, death, and resurrection.  However, our passage states this in the negative, “not only in word.” This lets us know that words were necessary, but not sufficient in and of themselves.  Instead, the word must be accompanied by power.

Preaching or teaching, here we will simply combine them to mean communication of God’s Word, must be accompanied with power.  Absent of power, the communication, which may be true, orthodox, and accurate, is simply a lecture. It’s nothing more than reading a facts sheet.  There’s nothing to distinguish the powerless preaching of God’s Word from a university seminar lecture. It’s weak and unplugged from the source of power.  No one walks into a room, turns on an unplugged lamp in order to read a book in darkness! Yet this dimness clouds the man who preaches God’s Word apart from power.  This power, according to Vincent, is the “power of spiritual persuasion and conviction: not power as displayed in miracles, at least not principally, although miraculous demonstrations may be included.”  This power is what has been called by some unction, though there is a contingent opposed to such language. (NOTE: This is in NO WAY related to the Roman Catholic sacrament of extreme unction.)  

In trying to wrap our minds around this difficult concept, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes

“What is this [unction]?  It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner.  It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavors of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”

This concept of power in preaching the Word is further illuminated in some of Paul’s letters, particularly to Corinth:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18

“And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 2:3-5

“For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” 1 Corinthians 4:20

We might also consider: Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Acts 4:33; Acts 13:9

The conduit doesn’t have the power in and of itself.  God is the source of the power, the conduit’s responsibility is simply to allow the power to flow through, apart from hindrances.  What are these hindrances? It could be eloquence or the desire for great oration and wisdom apart from the simplicity of God’s Word.  It could be pride of knowledge, a desire to let everyone know that you have a depth of knowledge which is self-validating. It could be sin: laziness, lustfulness, selfishness, anger, envy, jealousy, etc. which can completely stop the power or cause it to leak sufficiently out of the conduit.  Obstructions, leaks, and other defects could be enumerable, therefore it is all the more critical for God’s conduit of the Word to seek the face of God and actively work, by the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit, to stay in the presence of God, evidenced much like the glowing face of Moses who shone in the presence of God and veiled his face when he knew the shine had left.

This brings us to observe that the gospel did not come in words only, but in power AND the Holy Spirit.  From our analogy earlier, which breaks down as all analogies do, we concluded that the Holy Spirit was the Regulator of the Word and the power, controlling both the content that flows through the conduit and the force at which it flows.  This is all the more true when we consider the nature of preaching itself as the communication of divine truths in divine power to produce divine results. It has been said that as Charles Spurgeon would climb the stairs to his pulpit, he used to say with each step, “Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit.”  The minister of the gospel’s reliance on the Holy Spirit is of critical importance, indeed it’s mandatory. Reliance on God the Holy Spirit is inversely proportional to reliance on self, the more of the former, the less of the latter…and unfortunately, vice versa.  I have often said, if the Holy Spirit is not accompanying you into the pulpit (or in whatever manner God may have you speak), then sit back down and be quiet.  

The word that was preached to the Thessalonians came with power and the Holy Spirit and produced, “full conviction”.  Preaching the Word with power by the Holy Spirit, necessarily makes demands and brings the results of that which it demands.  Here, it is summarized as, “with full conviction.” Others have translated it as “with full assurance.” Those debates aside, it’s clear that this is the result of the power-filled, Holy Spirit regulated preaching.  It may bring conviction of sin, as in the case of the Thessalonians who heard the Gospel and were brought to repentance of sin and faith in Christ. Though we must hold in tension the reality that it may also bring hardness of heart, as it did with many of the Jews in Thessalonica who heard the exact same message, yet it led them to riot and assault Jason.  Similarly, this preaching may bring assurance of faith, in other words edification, to genuine believers. Genuine preaching always demands and brings a response.

Our passage does not stop there, however.  Some translations, such as the ESV above, end the sentence after “full conviction”.  However, the construction of the Greek sentence joins full conviction and the subsequent phrase that is not seen above.  It perhaps should read, “and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”  The difference is that the ESV translation above makes the character of the “conduit”, keeping with our analogy, a loosely related add-on statement whereas it appears the original sentence construction that their character is integral with the message they preached with power and the Holy Spirit.  The Thessalonians knew what kind of men Paul, Silas, and Timothy were by observation! They knew that the conduits who brought them the word in power and with the Holy Spirit, while not perfect, were nevertheless sound, without obstructions or deflections that would hinder the Word. In other words, the character of the messenger helped to validate the quality of the message.

Preaching the word with power and the Holy Spirit has become glaringly absent in today’s churches.  It seems this can only be due to either obstructed or leaky conduits or a failure to preach with power and the Holy Spirit.  Whatever the cause, it is evident when the power and Spirit are present, yet it is also evident when it is lacking.  Let us conclude by giving the last word to Lloyd-Jones

“Do you always look for and seek this unction, this anointing before preaching?  Has this been your greatest concern? There is no more thorough and revealing test to apply to a preacher.”