Does Paul Have a "Feminine Side"? (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16)Related Media
1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you – it has not proven to be purposeless [in vain].32 2 But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition.
3 For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. 5 For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is our witness – 6 nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, 7 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, 8 with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. 9 For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe. 11 As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, 12 exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory.
13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe. 14 For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, 16 because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely (1 Thessalonians 2:1-16).33
I’m sure you have already noted my choice of a title for this message. It is interesting (and providential) that we would come to this passage on this Father’s Day, a passage in which Paul likens his ministry to the Thessalonians as that of a father to his children – the perfect Father’s Day text. It is indeed an excellent text for this special day because it is all about godly, spiritual leadership. Such leadership is needed in the church and in the home. But my choice of titles comes not only from Paul’s comparison of his leadership to that of a father, but also because he likens his relationship to this church as that of a nursing mother to her child. Thus, there are both masculine and feminine qualities to be considered when seeking to imitate Paul’s leadership. Hopefully, you can now see why I chose the title that I did. My task in this lesson is to show how a godly leader (or father) needs to have some feminine qualities as well, assuming that I am reading this text as I should.
I must also warn you that the subject matter contained in our text is becoming a passion with me. I believe that Paul’s motives and methods are the key to having a gospel impact on our world, and particularly in that increasingly growing number of countries that are “closed” to missionaries. I’m simply trying to forewarn you that Paul’s methods need to be taken seriously, just as his motives and message should be. So let’s get right to it and see how Paul can speak of himself and his ministry34 as he does.
My Approach in This Message
The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians is brimming with Paul’s thanksgiving and praise to God for the health and vitality of this new congregation of believers. Paul’s confidence is due to the fact that the sovereign God who chose these saints for salvation is the One who will complete His good work in them. The evidences of this are already apparent in their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3).
In his introduction to his epistle in chapter 1, Paul looked first at this work which God had initiated and which God was bringing to maturity. He then looked at the evidences of God’s sovereign work in the lives of these saints. What had happened to them was truly a miracle. They had turned to God from their idols. They had joyfully embraced the gospel even though it brought them suffering and persecution. Their example had been proclaimed abroad so that many others were impacted by what God was doing in their lives.
In chapter 1, Paul only briefly refers to the ways God’s power and the transforming nature of the gospel had been demonstrated in his life and in the lives of his two associates, Silvanus and Timothy:
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. You know what kind of men we were among you for your benefit (1 Thessalonians 1:5, CSB; emphasis mine).
Paul has withheld his much more extensive description of the power of the gospel through him and his colleagues until our text in chapter 2. He sets out to show that the gospel was not only empowered and authenticated in the lives of the Thessalonians, it was also empowered and authenticated in the lives of those who proclaimed it.
In verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2, Paul will call the Thessalonians’ attention to the way in which he and his associates suffered for proclaiming the gospel, not only in Thessalonica, but also in Philippi.35 Then, in verses 3-12, Paul will remind these beloved saints of the godly motivation and conduct he and his associates demonstrated while living out the gospel before them. In verses 13-16, Paul will once again call attention to the fruit which their divinely empowered ministry produced among these Thessalonians.
As I have read and pondered Paul’s words in our text, it occurred to me that the godly attitudes and actions of these divinely empowered messengers are in stark contrast to the descriptions of the false prophets and teachers which we find throughout the Bible.36 False teachers are everything that Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy (and all other true Christian leaders) are not. So my approach will be to look at each of the traits Paul sets forth and contrast them with the traits of false teachers that are revealed to us in the Bible. I will then seek to demonstrate how the godly characteristics of the apostles are mirrored in the Thessalonians. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy are most definitely different from the false teachers, but those who come to faith in Jesus are very much like their teachers, and so the Thessalonians are described in ways that are similar to the motives and conduct of Paul and his friends. So, Paul and his friends are very much unlike the false teachers, but the Thessalonians are very much like their teachers in the faith.
As I conclude this message, I will seek to show how many implications and applications this text has for us. It certainly speaks to fathers about fathering and to Christian leaders about leadership. I believe it also speaks loudly regarding one of the most effective means of evangelizing and making disciples. With this said, let’s press on to contrast Paul and false teachers.
Paul and Religious Hucksters
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
The first characteristic to which Paul calls the Thessalonians’ attention is his willingness to suffer for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of the lost:
1 For you yourselves know, brothers and sisters, about our coming to you – it has not proven to be purposeless. 2 But although we suffered earlier and were mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of much opposition (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
Paul’s arrival at Thessalonica must have been but a few days after he and Silvanus (Silas) were severely beaten and then imprisoned in Philippi.37 Surely the evidence of this must have been apparent to all who saw Paul. And not only this, Paul had made it clear that what happened to him would likely happen to them if they trusted in Jesus.38 Suffering was something Paul would gladly bear for the sake of God’s elect, just as our Lord was willing to suffer in order to achieve our salvation:
18 Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are perverse. 19 For this finds God’s favor, if because of conscience toward God someone endures hardships in suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if you sin and are mistreated and endure it? But if you do good and suffer and so endure, this finds favor with God. 21 For to this you were called, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep but now you have turned back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).
17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you (Philippians 2:17).
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body – for the sake of his body, the church – what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).
How different is this Christ-like view of suffering from that of the false teachers, who avoid suffering at all costs:
10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me – 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:10-15, emphasis mine).
And so Paul is able to distinguish himself from “counterfeit apostles” by testifying to his sufferings, which set him apart from those who are in it only for the perks of “missionarying” (that’s what Mark Twain called it in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).39
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am talking like I am out of my mind!) I am even more so: with much greater labors, with far more imprisonments, with more severe beatings, facing death many times. 24 Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. 26 I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, 27 in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing. 28 Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:22-29)
11 See what big letters I make as I write to you with my own hand! 12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:11-12, emphasis mine).
Hucksters are not willing to suffer for the sake of their message. And so Paul calls attention to the way in which he and his colleagues have identified themselves with the Suffering Savior, and thus testifies to the authenticity of their ministry.
Paul now focuses on his40 motives and methods in ministry in verses 3-5:
3 For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts. 5 For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is our witness (1 Thessalonians 2:3-5).
The more I studied verses 1-12, the more I realized how God-centered Paul’s ministry was. Paul’s ministry was God-centered in the sense that his ministry originated from God. He speaks in verse 3 regarding where his ministry came from, where it originated. The gospel was entrusted to Paul by God, who approved him and appointed him as His ambassador.
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that by revelation the divine secret was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly. 4 When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into this secret of Christ. 5 Now this secret was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power. 8 To me – less than the least of all the saints – this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ 9 and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan – a secret that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things. 10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God because of Christ’s faithfulness. 13 For this reason I ask you not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory (Ephesians 3:1-13).
This was a source of constant amazement and praise for Paul:
12 I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen (1 Timothy 1:12-17).
Paul was a steward of the gospel. Since the gospel was entrusted to him by God, Paul was responsible to God for the task God had given him:
1 One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. 3 So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:1-4).
What a difference this made in Paul’s motives, methods, and message. His motivation was to be faithful to God and to please Him. One cannot seek to please men and to please God at the same time:
Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ! (Galatians 1:10; see also Matthew 6:24)
And so Paul can declare that his ministry does not seek human applause or rewards. His message is the simple gospel, which is offensive to Jews and Gentiles, apart from divine intervention (see Romans 3:9-26; 1 Corinthians 1:21-25; 2:1-5, 11-16; Ephesians 2:1-10). Since Paul relied upon God to empower his words and to draw the elect to Himself, he did not employ deceitful or manipulative methods.
14 But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. 15 For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing – 16 to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? 17 For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, just as God has shown us mercy, we do not become discouraged. 2 But we have rejected shameful hidden deeds, not behaving with deceptiveness or distorting the word of God, but by open proclamation of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience before God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, 4 among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).
Religious hucksters get their message somewhere other than from God. Their message and their methods are designed to appeal to the flesh, rather than to rely upon the Spirit of God to convict and to convince. Their methods are manipulative, and they employ seduction, greed, and fleshly pleasures to win a following. Their reward is the satisfaction of their own fleshly desires, almost always including financial gain.
11 The dogs have big appetites; they are never full. They are shepherds who have no understanding; they all go their own way, each one looking for monetary gain. 12 Each one says, ‘Come on, I’ll get some wine! Let’s guzzle some beer! Tomorrow will be just like today! We’ll have everything we want!’ (Isaiah 56:11-12)
1 But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. These false teachers will infiltrate your midst with destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them. As a result, they will bring swift destruction on themselves. 2 And many will follow their debauched lifestyles. Because of these false teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep . . . . 10 especially those who ndulge their fleshly desires and who despise authority. Brazen and insolent, they are not afraid to insult the glorious ones, 11 yet even angels, who are much more powerful, do not bring a slanderous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these men, like irrational animals – creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed – do not understand whom they are insulting, and consequently in their destruction they will be destroyed, 13 suffering harm as the wages for their harmful ways. By considering it a pleasure to carouse in broad daylight, they are stains and blemishes, indulging in their deceitful pleasures when they feast together with you. 14 Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children! 15 By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 yet was rebuked for his own transgression (a dumb donkey, speaking with a human voice, restrained the prophet’s madness). 17 These men are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm, for whom the utter depths of darkness have been reserved. 18 For by speaking high-sounding but empty words they are able to entice, with fleshly desires and with debauchery, people who have just escaped from those who reside in error. 19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:1-3, 10-19).
7 So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet these men, as a result of their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and insult the glorious ones (Jude 7-8).
16 These people are grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain. 17 But you, dear friends – recall the predictions foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 For they said to you, “In the end time there will come scoffers, propelled by their own ungodly desires.” 19 These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 16-19).
6 For some of these insinuate themselves into households and captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions. 7 Such women are always seeking instruction, yet never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:6-7).
In verses 6 through 8, Paul moves to the gospel messengers’ attitudes and actions with regard to spiritual authority:
6 nor to seek glory from people, either from you or from others, 7 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, 8 with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thessalonians 2:6-8).
For many hucksters, the primary temptation is that of money or sex.41 For others, it is power and the glory it brings – in other words, there is the temptation of feeding one’s ego. In reality, all of these temptations come with positions of prominence and power. Paul has already indicated that as a steward of the gospel,42 his desire is to please God, rather than men, to be faithful to the message, rather than to gain followers at any cost.
Paul believes that having authority is not the same as being authoritarian and dictatorial. Being in a position of power does not give one the right to demand that those under his (or her) authority serve them. Like our Lord, Paul and his colleagues did not abuse their authority by a heavy handed use of power. This is in accord with our Lord’s teaching:
25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
How different it was with those “evil shepherds” who the Bible describes in the Old Testament and the New:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them” (Ezekiel 34:1-4, emphasis mine).
So it was also with those false apostles who had slipped in and deceived some of the Corinthians. Notice how Paul distinguishes his ministry from theirs:
20 For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. 21 (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing (2 Corinthians 11:20-21).
Let us not fail to recognize just how much authority God had given to Paul as an apostle. His commands as recorded in the New Testament are to be regarded as the commands of Christ.43 False prophets and apostles claim authority which they do not possess.44 The point at issue is how Paul and his colleagues use the authority they legitimately possess. As Jesus indicated, secular authorities use their position and power to abuse and to take advantage of those under their authority. Paul used his position and its authority to serve others, rather than to use his authority as an excuse to be served.
This is the point at which Paul chooses to liken his heart and his ministry to that of a nursing mother:
7 although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children, 8 with such affection for you we were happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, emphasis mine).
I’ve watched my wife care for our children in this way, and my daughters have done the same with their children. There is something almost entirely selfless about the process of caring for a nursing baby. The baby is helpless to do anything to serve or care for its mother. Instead, the infant is constantly “taking” from its mother and giving little (other than perhaps a smile) in return. The baby will wake its mother to be fed or changed time after time, often in the middle of the night. (As one friend said, “You stuff it in one end and scrape it off the other.”) The early weeks (or months) of a baby’s life can be summarized in three words (at least as far as its mother is concerned): “give!, give!, give!” The mother’s “authority” gets little response from the child, but her selfless service sustains life and promotes the growth of that child.
Paul uses this imagery to describe a significant aspect of his ministry. This, I would submit to you, is Paul’s “feminine side,” if you are willing to describe it this way. We know that Paul can “get tough” if he needs to (look at the Book of Galatians, for example); but he also has a very tender, very gentle, side, and the Thessalonian saints have seen it for themselves. Religious hucksters are not interested in selfless, sacrificial service. They wish to be served, and they will use their (alleged) authority to force others to do so.
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled over them” (Ezekiel 34:1-4, emphasis mine).
“They tie up heavy loads, hard to carry, and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing even to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4).
20 For you put up with it if someone makes slaves of you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone behaves arrogantly toward you, if someone strikes you in the face. 21 (To my disgrace I must say that we were too weak for that!) But whatever anyone else dares to boast about (I am speaking foolishly), I also dare to boast about the same thing (2 Corinthians 11:20-21, emphasis mine).
Sadly, as Paul indicates above, some liked to be treated badly; some loved to be pushed around. In their minds, this is what real leaders do. More often than I wish it were true, I’ve heard young Christian women say that they wanted a “leader” for a husband, a leader all too much like those Paul exposed as frauds in 2 Corinthians. Somehow they cannot look upon men who are kind, gentle servants as leaders, and yet Paul commended Timothy as a leader for just these qualities:
19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon (Philippians 2:19-24, emphasis mine).
What is somewhat disturbing about Paul’s words is that here in Philippians he is not just seeking to contrast the selfless servanthood of Timothy with the self-serving, high-handed ministry of religious hucksters who are not believers. It seems fairly clear to me that Paul is saying that Timothy is a rare jewel in Christian circles because most Christians, too, were seeking their own interests ahead of the interests of others. How rare Paul and his companions were. No wonder their conduct set them apart and adorned the gospel they proclaimed.
First Thessalonians 2:8 serves as a kind of transition verse. It follows up on Paul’s analogy of a nursing mother by calling attention to his deep affection for the Thessalonian saints. It also states that Paul was not only motivated to share the gospel with those he loved, he went beyond this by sharing his life with them. Paul did not minister in some distant, detached, manner. He was intimately involved in the lives of those he served, and he opened his life up to them. (This is, of course, consistent with the imagery of a nursing mother, for this is surely how she cares for her beloved child.)
But verse 8 also serves as a bridge to what he is about to say in verses 9 and 10:
9 For you recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery: By working night and day so as not to impose a burden on any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, as to how holy and righteous and blameless our conduct was toward you who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
Elsewhere, Paul has made it more than clear that an apostle of Jesus Christ has the right to be financially supported, to the extent that he could provide for his family.45 But he also indicated that this was a right that he happily set aside in order to enhance the effectiveness of the gospel that he proclaimed.46
While Paul sometimes did receive gifts from other churches which allowed him to devote himself fully to ministry, he very often supported himself and those he served by working with his own hands:
1 After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them, 3 and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). 4 He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them (Acts 18:1-4).47
What a contrast Paul is with the charlatans and religious hucksters of bygone days, his day, and ours, who are merely in it for the money (or other perks) “ministry” provides:
11 The dogs have big appetites; they are never full. They are shepherds who have no understanding; they all go their own way, each one looking for monetary gain. 12 Each one says, ‘Come on, I’ll get some wine! Let’s guzzle some beer! Tomorrow will be just like today! We’ll have everything we want!’ (Isaiah 56:11-12, emphasis mine)
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them – to the shepherds: ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the choice animals, but you do not feed the sheep! (Ezekiel 34:1-3, emphasis mine)
14 Their eyes, full of adultery, never stop sinning; they entice unstable people. They have trained their hearts for greed, these cursed children! 15 By forsaking the right path they have gone astray, because they followed the way of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:14-15, emphasis mine).
16 These people are grumblers and fault-finders who go wherever their desires lead them, and they give bombastic speeches, enchanting folks for their own gain. 17 But you, dear friends – recall the predictions foretold by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 For they said to you, “In the end time there will come scoffers, propelled by their own ungodly desires.” 19 These people are divisive, worldly, devoid of the Spirit (Jude 16-19, emphasis mine).
11 I have become a fool. You yourselves forced me to do it, for I should have been commended by you. For I lack nothing in comparison to those “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 Indeed, the signs of an apostle were performed among you with great perseverance by signs and wonders and powerful deeds. 13 For how were you treated worse than the other churches, except that I myself was not a burden to you? Forgive me this injustice! (2 Corinthians 12:11-13, emphasis mine)
Do we hear what Paul is saying to the Corinthians in this last verse? He is saying that he is lightly esteemed because he ministers to these saints free of charge. It would seem that the higher the charge for “service rendered” the higher the esteem of the Corinthians for this individual. I often hear Christians say something to this effect: “People don’t appreciate ministry if they don’t have to pay for it.” According to Paul, this is a wrong way of thinking.
I would suggest that such people think about this for a moment. How much are we required to pay (in money or deeds) for the salvation that was provided for us by the “hard labor” of our Lord Jesus Christ? We paid nothing because salvation was given to us as a gift of grace. Wouldn’t it have been inconsistent for Paul to have talked about the grace of God in salvation and yet demand that he be well paid for the ministry he performed? If people do not value what they do not pay for, that is something that needs to be addressed and corrected. It is not an excuse to minister on the same basis as the religious hucksters.48
Now we come to the “masculine side” of Paul’s ministry. Here, in verses 11 and 12, he describes his ministry by using the analogy of a father and his children.
11 As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his own children, 12 exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you live in a way worthy of God who calls you to his own kingdom and his glory (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12, emphasis mine).
Fathers and mothers have different roles to play in the family. Paul has already described the way a nursing mother cares for her child, selflessly nourishing and caring for her beloved offspring. There is a sense in which Paul’s ministry was like that. But as an infant grows into childhood and then beyond to adulthood, the father has a very important leadership role to play.49 He exhorts, encourages, and expects certain things of his children. We can easily understand why so many Proverbs begin with, “My son. . . .” Much of Paul’s ministry consisted of teaching the Word of God to believers:
17 From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, telling the elders of the church to come to him. 18 When they arrived, he said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I set foot in the province of Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, and with the trials that happened to me because of the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I did not hold back from proclaiming to you anything that would be helpful, and from teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus. . . 26 Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of you all. 27 For I did not hold back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:17-21, 26-27, emphasis mine).
We can be assured that Paul also taught much to the Thessalonian believers.50 No wonder Paul could speak of the election of the Thessalonians in chapter 151 and yet not feel it was necessary for him to explain what he meant by that term. Just as Paul taught the Thessalonians, fathers are to teach their children. This was not just so at Thessalonica, but everywhere:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
We should note that Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 (“exhorting,” “encouraging,”52“imploring”53) are not words which describe the demands and threats of an autocrat; these are words which describe the efforts of a father or leader who, by teaching and exhortation, seeks to persuade the less mature to walk in the path of godliness. Again, note the mood as well as the content of Proverbs. This should not be a mystery to the fathers of Thessalonica because they had observed the way Paul had taught them like a father. They only needed to imitate Paul when they sought to train up their children in the ways of the Lord.
Speaking of Proverbs, this might be a good time to point out the deliberate contrast between “Dame Wisdom” (Proverbs 8) and “Madam Folly” (Proverbs 7). Dame Wisdom calls out to all, offering the instruction of wisdom to those who are simple. Madam Folly whispers seductively from the shadows, seeking to seduce the simple and thereby lead them into the path which leads to death. False teachers would not be characterized by exhortation, encouragement, and imploring. Indeed, such purveyors of trouble most often seek to turn the simple from the instruction of parents.
The Thessalonians’ Response to Paul’s Ministry:
Illumination and Imitation
1 Thessalonians 2:13-16
13 And so we too constantly thank God that when you received God’s message that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe. 14 For you became imitators, brothers and sisters, of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, because you too suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they in fact did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us severely. They are displeasing to God and are opposed to all people, 16 because they hinder us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they constantly fill up their measure of sins, but wrath has come upon them completely (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
I have to confess that I initially agonized over whether or not to include verses 13-16 in this message. Sixteen verses seemed like a lot of ground to cover, and I was uncertain as to how closely verses 13-16 were linked with verses 1-12. I now see verses 13-16 as very closely related to the first 12 verses of chapter 2. Not only did God authenticate the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:5), God authenticated the gospel message through His messengers: Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. This is exactly how God intended it to work:
7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:7-11).
1 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and with much trembling. 4 My conversation and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? We don’t need letters of recommendation to you or from you as some other people do, do we? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, 3 revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Now we have such confidence in God through Christ. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as if it were coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who made us adequate to be servants of a new covenant not based on the letter but on the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:1-6).
The slick, smooth, manipulative rhetoric of the religious hucksters attracted men to them and to their persuasive powers. Paul rejected such verbal gimmickry and proclaimed the good news in simple and straightforward terms. When the Holy Spirit empowered and authenticated the gospel message, the Thessalonians received it as the Word of God, and not merely the words of men. Because of how Paul and his colleagues lived and preached, the Thessalonians recognized their words as God’s Word. Their motives and methods drew men’s attention to God and to His Word, rather than to them. That was the way it was supposed to be for they were stewards of the gospel, entrusted with it, and commissioned to declare it plainly to men.
But what I find most interesting about these last four verses of our text for this lesson is this: Because of the motives and methods of the messengers, the Thessalonians became imitators not only of Paul and his associates, but also of the churches of Judea. The message Paul preached was the same message that was proclaimed in Judea. And when people believed God’s Word and it worked powerfully in them, they responded in the same way. The Jewish believers in Judea embraced the gospel as the Word of God, and they were persecuted by their (unbelieving Jewish) brethren for doing so. Nevertheless, they joyfully suffered for their faith in Jesus (see Acts 5:41-42). Now, the Thessalonians hear the same gospel, and they likewise believe it as the Word of God. Like their Jewish brethren, they are persecuted by their (Gentile) countrymen for their faith, and they joyfully endure it.
The link that I came to see in our text is the relationship between verses 1 and 2 of chapter 2 and verses 14-16. The gospel messengers (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy) willingly suffered for proclaiming the gospel, not just in Thessalonica, but also in Philippi (2:1-2). Now, because of the way they lived out the gospel that they proclaimed, the Thessalonians have not only trusted in Jesus for salvation, they have also become saints who joyfully suffer for living out their faith. The Thessalonians not only embraced the gospel message, they imitated those who brought it to them. I believe this is a profoundly important truth, which we must explore further in a moment.
Our text raises a very important question: Does persecution and opposition justify decreasing our openness, honesty, and integrity in proclaiming the gospel? When I was overseas, a friend asked me what I thought about lying. Unclear as to what he was asking, I asked him to explain. “You, know,” he said, “lying about the fact that you are where you are because you are a Christian and because you are seeking to convert people to faith in Jesus?” This issue of honesty and integrity in taking the message of the gospel to lost men and women is especially critical in the light of the growing number of “closed” countries to missionary activity.
I don’t mean to say that I have all the answers to some very difficult questions, but when Jesus said that He was “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) how could we ever communicate the truth to men in a way that is deceptive? Paul was very clear in stating that his message and methods of communicating it were honest and straightforward. Deceptive methods are inconsistent with the gospel message. That is what Paul is saying. He is saying even more than that. Paul is saying that it is deceitful to proclaim the truth and yet fail to live it. There must be a consistency of lifestyle, message, and methods.
Not only is this necessary because we are stewards of the gospel and because we must seek to please God and not men, it is necessary because those who come to faith in Jesus Christ through our witness will tend to imitate us in the way they live their lives and proclaim their faith. If we are sneaky Christian witnesses, they will be the same. Paul was bold in his witness, and he joyfully endured suffering for the sake of the gospel. The Thessalonian saints became imitators of Paul and of their Jewish brethren in Judea. John Piper once said (I wish I could remember exactly when and where, but he has likely said this on numerous occasions), “There is no closed country if you are willing to die for the sake of the gospel.” Paul would agree, and so should we.
Okay, it is probably time for me to explain further why I chose to look at Paul’s “feminine side” on Father’s Day. The answer is simple: Because it is right here in our text, and in other biblical texts as well!
It is not surprising that the secular (non-Christian) world thinks of leadership in “macho” (allegedly, manly) terms. That was a conversation Jesus had with His disciples more than once.54 The disciples (like most Israelites) wanted a “macho Messiah,” who would cast off the yoke of Roman bondage. That helps us to understand why the crowds in Jerusalem could herald Jesus as the coming king at the beginning of the week, and then at the end cry out for the crucifixion of Jesus and the release of Barabbas at the end of the week.
Godly leadership requires both toughness and tenderness, not one of these to the exclusion of the other. Spiritual leaders must fearlessly contend for the faith, but they must also be gentle and kind:
2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity (1 Timothy 3:2-4, emphasis mine).
24 And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth 26 and they will come to their senses and escape the devil’s trap where they are held captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-26, emphasis mine).
The challenge for every leader is to determine when to be tough and when to be tender. In many instances, we must be both – at the same time. The perception that spiritual leadership is heavy on “toughness” and light on “tenderness” is wrong. Paul used one analogy of a nursing mother and another of a nurturing father to describe his leadership. We should strive to be like Paul, manifesting both dimensions of leadership.
Some may think of marriage as a blend of toughness and tenderness – the father is tough, while the mother is tender. I realize there is a measure of truth in this, but in some cases, mothers may need to toughen up, or fathers may need to lighten up. I would view the wife and mother’s tenderness a little differently than some might. I don’t think that the wife is just there to counterbalance her husband. I look at her tenderness as I do spiritual gifts. She is tender, not only to add this element into the parenting mix, but to help her husband to learn to become more tender. So too, the husband is there to help his wife to become tougher at times than she is naturally inclined to be.
I was thinking of David, Abigail, and Nabal (1 Samuel 25) in this regard. Nabal, the fool, would not listen to anyone (verse 17), and express the gentleness, kindness, and gratitude that was due to David and his men. When he foolishly refused David’s request, David lost his temper and set out to kill not only Nabal, but every male in his household (verses 13, 21-22). Abigail not only showed kindness toward David and his men, she appealed to David not to act in a macho manner, for this would not set a precedent for his rule over Israel (verses 23-31). Her gentleness was instructive to David, at a very critical time in his life. She did not merely “offset” David’s tough guy mentality; she helped to change it. I believe that God gives wives to husbands to help tenderize them when and where it is needed.
Let us remember that the leadership qualities for which we should strive are not just the qualities that we see in Paul; they are the qualities that we see in God the Father and in our Lord Jesus Christ – qualities that glorify God:
18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the Lord by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18-19).
6 The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7).
1 “Here is my servant whom I support,
my chosen one in whom I take pleasure.
I have placed my spirit on him;
he will make just decrees for the nations.
2 He will not cry out or shout;
he will not publicize himself in the streets.
3 A crushed reed he will not break,
a dim wick he will not extinguish;
he will faithfully make just decrees.
4 He will not grow dim or be crushed
before establishing justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait in anticipation for his decrees” (Isaiah 42:1-4).
28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”Matthew 11:28-30
Nowhere is the tenderness of our God seen than in His offer of salvation through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in His tender care for His sheep:
Hear what the Lord has to say, O nations. Proclaim it in the faraway lands along the sea. Say, “The one who scattered Israel will regather them. He will watch over his people like a shepherd watches over his flock.” (Jeremiah 31:10)
11 “‘For this is what the sovereign Lord says: Look, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a cloudy, dark day. 13 I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from foreign countries; I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land. 14 In a good pasture I will feed them; the mountain heights of Israel will be their pasture. There they will lie down in a lush pasture, and they will feed on rich grass on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will make them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. 16 I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them – with judgment! (Ezekiel 34:1-16)
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . . . 27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:11, 27-29).
As such, the Lord Jesus is the model for all Christian leaders:
1 So as your fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings and as one who shares in the glory that will be revealed, I urge the elders among you: 2 Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. 3 And do not lord it over those entrusted to you, but be examples to the flock. 4 Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that never fades away (1 Peter 5:1-4).
In his first epistle, Peter reminds us of something that we see in our text in 1 Thessalonians 2 – a good leader not only exhorts and encourages; he sets an example for others to follow, an example that is consistent with what he teaches. On this Father’s Day, let us seek to be the kind of leaders that God has called us to be, the kind of leaders who will not only be followed, but imitated.
Since Paul’s stewardship, message, and methods are all about the gospel, this would be a good time to remind you of just what the gospel message is. The gospel message is that all men are sinners, displeasing to God and deserving of His eternal punishment (Romans 3:9-20). We are incapable of earning God’s favor by means of our best efforts. The Law of Moses was given to show us just how far short of God’s standard for righteousness that we fall. Jesus Christ was sent to this earth, not only to live a perfect life – one that fulfilled all the requirements of the law – but to die in the sinner’s place so that he or she could have eternal life. Salvation comes when undeserving sinners acknowledge their sin and renounce all efforts at seeking to earn God’s favor, choosing instead to trust in the work of Jesus Christ in our place (Romans 3:21-26). In other words, we are saved, not by our works, but by faith in the work of Jesus Christ (Romans 4; Ephesians 2:1-9).
My friend, the gospel is God’s invitation to experience the tenderness of God through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. But if you should choose to refuse this offer of God’s tenderness, be warned that God is tough on sin, and on sinners who reject His offer of salvation. As Paul put it,
16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God (John 3:16-18).
22 Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God – harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off (Romans 11:22).
3 We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. 4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. 6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed—and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).
The gospel is the offer of God’s tenderness in salvation through Jesus Christ. It is also the warning to those who would reject this offer, for those who do so will eternally experience His toughness, the toughness of eternal torment. Does this sound harsh? Would you rather it be watered down or put in fine print? As stewards of the gospel, we must tell it like it is.
Finally, Paul’s words in our text call our attention to the subject of work. He reminds the Thessalonians that when he was among them, he labored hard, night and day, so as not to be a burden to any of them (1 Thessalonians 2:9). This is entirely consistent with what Paul says elsewhere:
33 “I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine provided for my needs and the needs of those who were with me. 35 By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1-23).
I cannot help but observe that Paul’s practice underscores his preaching. The way he lived while in Thessalonica enabled him to exhort the Thessalonians as he did:
But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you. 12 In this way you will live a decent life before outsiders and not be in need (1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12, emphasis mine).
6 But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us. 7 For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give ourselves as an example for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this command: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” 11 For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. 12 Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. 13 But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. 14 But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
Being a hard worker should characterize every Christian;55 it is also a quality that underscores one’s testimony:
The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need (Ephesians 4:28).
5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, 6 not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Obey with enthusiasm, as though serving the Lord and not people, 8 because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good, this will be rewarded by the Lord (Ephesians 6:5-8).
17 Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. 18 For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
We know that work is God’s appointed means for a man to provide for himself and for his family. But what Christians don’t seem to appreciate enough is that work is also one of the most effective ways of advancing the gospel. It is clear from Paul’s teaching and from his practice that he often chose to provide for his needs through secular employment rather than by paid ministry, even though this was a biblical right he could claim.56 One reason for this is that it set Paul apart from the religious hucksters of his day, who were always motivated by money, and who ministered only for the status and the money it produced.
From what I read in Acts 17 and in 1 Thessalonians, I conclude that many of the saints at Thessalonica were Gentile pagans who came to faith, not as a result of Paul’s synagogue preaching, but as a result of his public ministry in the marketplace. In my mind’s eye, I can see Paul working at his trade in the marketplace, not unlike what I see when I visit the Farmer’s Market in Dallas. All the while his hands are busily engaged in making tents (or related products), Paul is free to talk with those who pass by, or with those who have made a point to come and learn from him. I am convinced that his work did not keep him from ministry, but put him in a place where he could minister.
Now there are cautions that must be stated. I’ve watched young seminary students “talk theology” with one another on the job, neglecting their job as they have done so. Our employer doesn’t pay us to evangelize others or to spend time on the phone or the Internet when we are “on the clock.” Paul was his own boss, so he had freedoms that we may not have. We should give our employers a full measure for what they are paying us, but we can also demonstrate our faith by working hard, practicing teamwork, encouraging others, and so on. We can always arrange to meet for coffee after work or on the weekend. Let us be careful not to rob our employers in the name of being witnesses.
With that said, let’s focus on some of the ways that business can be a powerful means of proclaiming the gospel. There is a new concept of missions that is rising in popularity. It is called “Business as Mission.” Actually, it is not a new concept at all. It is as old as men like Joseph and Daniel and is the practice the Apostle Paul speaks of several times in the New Testament, including our text. When missionaries went to foreign lands as doctors or nurses or agricultural experts, they were (and often still are) welcomed for the contribution they could make to a society. But those who go to evangelize and plant churches are not well received, especially in countries where Islam or Hinduism refuse to allow those who seek to convert people from their ranks.
Christian missions have responded to this dilemma in several ways. One way is to label that nation a “closed country” and cease missionary efforts (while hoping that some would smuggle in Bibles or make the gospel available through radio or the Internet or other such means. The other way is to enter the country “in disguise.” I have no problem with those who honestly represent themselves as Christians, but in a number of cases, these efforts cross the line of honesty and integrity. Also, the disguise is so badly carried out that everyone figures out that this is deception. If a storefront business is so badly run that it can never make a profit, it takes little time to realize that funds are flowing in from outside the country. Being a bad businessman or craftsman or scientist reflects badly on the gospel.
But there is another – better – way, and that is through the “business as mission” approach. Highly skilled entrepreneurs who are Christians committed to sharing their faith can offer a closed nation an opportunity to benefit from a well-run, technically advanced, business. The business makes a profit, creating jobs and improving living conditions for many. Because it is profitable and beneficial to the community and the country, the government may very well tolerate its existence, even though it understands that it intends to make the gospel known to their citizens.
This is frequently the case in the realm of education. When a high quality Christian school is established in a non-Christian community, parents of other faiths (even faiths strongly opposed to Christianity) eagerly seek the superior education offered by the Christian school. This happens not only on the elementary and high school levels, it also works at the college and university level. Highly skilled Christians offer their services to those in hostile or closed countries, and yet they are welcomed because of the contribution they make to society. And in this context, they not only live out their faith before these people groups, they also proclaim their faith in meaningful and appropriate ways.
There is yet another benefit to this approach, in addition to the fact that it is biblical and effective. It is economically good stewardship. Rather than having to raise funds to be supported as missionaries (something that needs to be done in some contexts), these “tentmaker” Christians find employment abroad. In many cases, they are well paid for their services, even better paid than if they remained in their homeland. I know of those who are seeking Christians to work overseas, and yet workers are often hard to find.
Here’s what I would like to see. I would like to see young people challenged to consider business as mission. I have recently attended two excellent conferences that were conducted on the campuses of Christian colleges, addressed to potential businessmen and businesswomen, challenging them to live out their faith in the realm of business. I’d like to see Christian colleges and universities preparing young people for national and international business careers, where they can have a significant impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ.57 I’d like to encourage students to take foreign language courses before and during college. I’d like to see students major in highly desired fields, with skills that are in high demand overseas, and at the same time, be equipped to live out and share the gospel. In short, I’d love to see us encourage young people to follow Paul’s example and to become “tentmaker Christians,” who can take the gospel to any place in the world, including “closed countries.”
There is a Proverb that I have always loved. It goes like this:
Do you see a person skilled in his work?
He will take his position before kings;
he will not take his position before obscure people (Proverbs 22:29).
If you are highly skilled, diligent, and passionate about the gospel, I believe you have a great adventure ahead of you. Consider taking the road less traveled, the road which was often taken by Paul and which is being chosen more and more often today.
If you are a Christian in business, I challenge you to seek out ways to link up and network with those who are seeking more effective ways of proclaiming the gospel to lost people around the world. And if you are “merely” employed in a secular job, I would urge you not to accept the misconception that this is second class service, or that your only contribution is giving to those who go as “full-time” ministers. Your job is not “just a job;” it is the opportunity to live out and to proclaim the gospel.
Think about the critical needs of our day. There are famines and natural disasters, deep water oil wells spewing forth raw petroleum, widespread unemployment, and great issues related to health and sanitation. Where are the Joseph’s? Where are the Daniel’s? Where are those with wisdom so great that a heathen nation would promote them to positions of power and prominence if they could serve their nation? The needs and opportunities are great. “Tentmaking” or “Business as Mission” is a powerful, yet biblical, way to serve mankind, and yet to do so in the service of the King of Kings. That is something that we should learn from Paul. Let us not merely embrace his message; let us likewise embrace his methods, to the glory of God and to the good of mankind.
32 The point here is not whether or not the first mission to Thessalonica was purposeful; the issue is whether this mission was profitable or a failure. One can purpose to do great things and fail to achieve them. Thus, several translations render “in vain” (NASB, ESV, NKJV) or “a failure” (NIV, NLT). I think I would paraphrase Paul’s words this way: “Our coming to you was not a fruitless effort.” This was a successful mission, and he wants the Thessalonians to think no less of it.
33 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at:
34 I realize, as you should also, that when Paul appears to speak of or for himself, he also speaks of and for his associates, Silvanus and Timothy.
35 We know from Acts 13 and 14 (and also later in Acts) that they were often persecuted for the preaching of the gospel.
36 The primary texts from which I have derived these negative characteristics are: Isaiah 56:11-12; Jeremiah 3:15; 23:1-4; 31:10; Ezekiel 34:1-16, 23-24; Matthew 23; John 10:10-15; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2, 11:12-30; 12:11-13; Philippians 2:1-8, 17-24; 2 Timothy 3:6-7; 4:1-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3, 10-19; Jude 4, 7-8, 10-13, 16-19.
37 See Acts 16:16-40.
38 See 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4; also Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12.
39 Twain, through Huck Finn, was referring to the religious hucksters who traveled up and down the Mississippi River collecting funds for the evangelization of the heathen – or so they claimed. In fact, they were money-grubbing frauds.
40 Let the reader understand henceforth that though I speak of Paul in the singular, I am referring to Paul and to his two associates when I do so.
41 Let me be clear that these temptations are present for all leaders, whether hucksters or genuine Christians.
42 See 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.
43 See 1 Corinthians 14:37; see Paul distinguish his own opinions and convictions from the Lord’s commands in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.
44 See Deuteronomy 13; 18:20-22; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.
45 See 1 Corinthians 9:1-14.
46 See 1 Corinthians 9:15-23; also see Acts 20:33-35; 2 Corinthians 11:7-12 (although here Paul states that e did accept gifts from others, so that he might minister to the Corinthians at no cost to them).
47 Luke goes on in Acts 18:5 to tell us that when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia with a gift for Paul, he then devoted himself completely to proclaiming the Word of God.
48 I am well aware of those texts which instruct the saints to take care of those who minister to them (1 Corinthians 9:4-14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). I am one who has been generously cared for by those I serve. But let us highly regard those, like Paul, who have chosen to serve without remuneration, and let us beware of those who are overly concerned about getting paid what they think they are worth. There is too much professionalism in ministry these days. I would strongly recommend you consider buying John Piper’s book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
49 I’m not suggesting here that a father has no role to play in raising an infant, but experience has taught me that at this early stage, mothers play a key role.
50 See 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4; 5:1.
51 1 Thessalonians 1:4.
52 It is noteworthy that the CSB, NIV, KJV, and NKJV all render this term with the sense of “comforting.”
53 I much prefer “imploring” (NASB, CSB) or “urging” (NIV) to “insisting” (NET Bible). There is a sense in which both fathers and Paul must “hold the line” on certain truths, but when it comes to godliness, it doesn’t happen by demanding; it happens by teaching and exhorting, and a lot of prayer. This is why the apostles “devoted themselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Even if one were to understand the term in the sense of “insisting” or “charging,” two of the three terms have a less than authoritarian tone.
54 See Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-30.
55 I realize that unbelievers can be hard workers as well, but not for the same reasons as the Christian. Both non-believers and Christians can also become workaholics, which is also a problem of priorities.
56 See 1 Corinthians 9:1-23.
57 I have attended conferences at Houston Baptist University, Dallas Baptist University, and most recently have talked with the president of Emmaus Bible College, where they have just started a school of business. What an exciting opportunity this is!