In his first letter to the young believers in Thessalonica, Paul finds it necessary to provide a defense of his ministry against those who had apparently sought to discredit the missionaries – Paul, Silas, and Timothy, as well as their message, methods, manners, and motives. After reminding the Thessalonians of the personal nature of their ministry there, building upon the introduction of Spirit regulated, power filled word delivered to them, the evidence of their faith, and the divine appointment of the trio’s ministry, Paul circles back for his final defense in 1 Thess. 2:5-13
5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
In opening this section, beginning in verse 5, we find both the methods and the motives cleared of any wrong. First, by stating, “For we never came with words of flattery,” Paul acquits the ministry team of attempting to speak with language that would draw an audience, essentially tickling ears with deceptive words for selfish ends, in this case the greed for money. Isn’t interesting that even in the first century, Paul, et.al. had to clear themselves of any motive to get rich or profit from the preaching of the gospel. How desperate are we for the model of Paul, Silas, and Timothy today?
In order to buttress this defense, he makes his third appeal to the Thessalonians, as you know, but doubles down with an appeal to God “as a witness.” Recall that in the last post we saw that it was God who tested – then approved the results, entrusted these missionaries with His gospel, and then subsequently was the One who observed his messengers by testing the hearts. Building upon that, here is a clear call to the witness of God, by way of count the third such appeal, that their methods and motives were pure.
In the next acquittal, Paul moves to a second defense of their motives, namely that it was not a desire for fame or glory, doxa, from the locals or anyone else. Here we have the two chief motives, not only in Paul’s day, but in ours as well – money and fame. How easy it is to draw crowds with words of flattery to gain profit and power. Those who would peddle the gospel have been a blight upon Christ’s Kingdom since it’s inception, see Simon Magus in Acts 8:9-24. These two motives are followed up with the curious statement, “though we could have made demands as apostles* of Christ.”
Presumably, these demands or burden, which we see intertwined with their role as apostles, was not directed towards their right for fame or glory, rather it would appear they had a right to be a financial “burden”. In other words, Paul is saying that he and his team had a right to receive financial payment for their time spent and ministry among the Thessalonians. Here, briefly, we must keep in mind that these three men were not equivalent to today’s “local pastor”. These men had left home and had been traveling for months, if not years by now, to minister the Gospel of God among those where Christ had not been named. Such a trip could only be financed by receiving funds from others, self-financing if independently wealthy, or by supporting the ministry from self-employment. Paul will expand upon the denial of this first means, which he calls a right, and the affirmation that they did indeed support themselves in verse 9.
Having briefly laid down these acquittals, we then see the movement in verse 7 towards positive statements on the manner and methods of their Thessalonican ministry. First, a statement on their manner, gentle, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” This baby-like gentleness, a limited word used in the New Testament, is elsewhere used as description of a servant of God, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient….” 2 Timothy 2:24 This is how Paul describes the manner of their ministry, gentle, but then he provides a picture to describe this gentleness which conveys the idea of a wet-nurse who, not with the children of others, but cherishes her own children.
Building upon the genuineness of their affections, verse 8 is a positive statement on the trio’s motives, namely the impartation of not only the gospel of God but their own lives. This, more likely than not, was a root of their missionary success (humanly speaking). These apostles were not traveling salesmen looking for fame or a profit, they did not have distorted motives to capture weak women, or to disrupt the city for no reason and then move on to the next town. Instead, they were personally invested. This sharing of life together happened over at least three weeks (perhaps longer), but it was time spent working together, as we’ll see, no doubt eating, living, praying, with one another all the while communicating the gospel of God. It was Acts 2:42-47 in practice yet again. This sharing of their whole selves, far more than just the impartation of knowledge, provided a type of family relationship which Paul could appeal to as a defense of their ministry. This we see in verse 9.
“For you remember, brethren,” again, a common method of Paul to appeal to the Thessalonian remembrance of their ministry time spent with them, however this time it is followed with a specific call to remember, “our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.“ Here, in verse 9, we see further commentary on what began in verse 6, namely that Paul and the others were specifically rejecting their right to financial remuneration, because they did not want to be a burden to the people while proclaiming to them the gospel of God. Instead of receiving assistance, which we would have a hard time justifying as a salary (it would’ve more likely been living expenses, food, shelter, etc.), we see that the missionary trio labored and toiled, working night and day. This is consistent with Paul’s ministerial philosophy in other cities. (see also: Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Cor. 9:6-15; 2 Thess. 3:7-10)
In the final verses of this defense, we see Paul addressing the manner or character of the apostles and the method of their teaching. These are contrasted against earlier statements concerning character, such as in 1 Thess. 2:1-4 and above from 1 Thess. 2:5-6. Specifically we see the combined call again, to the Thessalonians and God, of their witness to the trio’s holy, righteous, and blameless conduct. Similar to the earlier statement of their gentleness, as a nursing mother, here the comparison is that the exhortation and encouragement was like a father with his own children. The fact that Paul has thus far used familial terms such as brethren, babies, nursing mother, and now fathers, further illustrates the intimate and close-knit relationship that the trio shared with the Thessalonians. This makes his appeal to their memory, recalling the time spent there, all the more important. These aren’t acquaintances or strangers who passed on the street; this is family.
Finally, this fatherly character describes the manner, the encouragement and exhortation describes the method, and the statement “charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God” describes the content of the message, far removed from ear-tickling, best life now drivel. Walking here is the familiar and rather favorite word of Paul, peripateo, which describes the consistent pattern of effort in the Christian life to be obedient and conform to the pattern of Christ.
This defense of the apostle’s ministry is evidence that the accusations were serious attempts to undermine the gospel and the work of the Spirit in the lives of those who had embraced the gospel. It was and is nothing less than spiritual warfare. On the one hand, we must always be ready to give such a defense, giving stress to the fact that we ought avoid all appearances of evil or anything that might give opponents a foothold to discredit the gospel in our own lives or as it works in the lives of others. On the other hand, while we should remain vigilant and discerning of those who would claim to preach the gospel of God, by observing their manner, methods, and message – certainly, it can sometimes lead to great difficulties, including a hyper-critical spirit if we claim to know their motives. Perhaps, as a filter we ought to conclude with Paul,
“15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
*MacArthur makes a distinction here that Paul was an apostle of Christ, while Silas and Timothy were apostles of the church. This seems a false and arbitrary distinction. Scripture indicates that there were others referred to as apostles, apart from the 12 + Matthias + Paul; see Acts 14:14, Galatians 1:19, 2 Cor. 8:23