1 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 ESV
Paul was under constant pressure to defend his apostleship. While not one of the original 12 disciples of Jesus, Paul had received his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles directly from Jesus Christ Himself. But his opponents, of which there were many, questioned the validity of his claim to be an emissary of Christ. And so, they would attempt to undermine his ministry by raising doubts concerning his authority to speak and the veracity of his message. He was just a man, they claimed. His message was not from God, but nothing more than the self-delusional rants of a self-appointed apostle.
So, Paul was forced to validate his ministry and message. In the opening line of his letter to the Galatian church, Paul wrote: “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). Just a few verses later, Paul told them:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Galatians 1:11-12 ESV
And Paul went on to explain to them how that revelation came about.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles… – Galatians 1:13-16 ESV
Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, confirms Paul’s description of that event and provides us with further details.
Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. – Acts 9:1-2 ESV
But while on his way to Damascus, fully intending to continue his persecution of the followers of Jesus, Paul had a life-changing encounter.
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” – Acts 9:3-6 ESV
Saul (his Hebrew name), blinded by the light and bewildered by this unexpected change in his itinerary, made his way to Damascus. In the meantime, God appeared in a vision to Ananias, a Christ-follower living in the city, informing him to lay hands on Paul to restore his sight. Ananias expressed his reluctance because of Paul’s reputation for animosity against Christians, but God insisted that this was all part of His divine plan for Paul.
“Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 ESV
And years later, Paul would stand before King Agrippa and recount the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. And he would add the words of the message he received when Christ confronted him.
“But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:16-18 ESV
But what does all this have to do with chapter 2 of the book of 1 Thessalonians? Everything. Because in this chapter, Paul is reminding the believers in Thessalonica of the day when he and Silas first appeared in their city more than a year earlier. In the interim, enemies of Paul had been spreading rumors and suggesting that he was not what he claimed to be. They had been casting dispersion on both his message and his motives.
Yet Paul reminds them that he and Silas had arrived in their city after having been beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. The city officials in Philippi had forced them to vacate the premises because their presence had resulted in a riot. And Paul reminds the Thessanlonians:
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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV
If Paul was claiming to be an apostle in order to get rich or famous, he was less than successful in his efforts. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to know that his only motivation was to declare to them the gospel of God – even in the midst of conflict.
And Paul had the same message for the believers in Galatia. If he was simply out to gain the favor of men, he was failing miserably. In fact, if Paul had wanted to win a popularity contest, the last thing he would do is present himself as an apostle of Christ with a controversial message of sin, judgment, and salvation. That’s why Paul told the Galatians:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 ESV
And Paul assured the Thessalonians believers that, despite what others were saying, he and Silas had been anything but deceptive or dishonest in their motivation.
For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive… – 1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV
They had not been out to please men, seek glory, or get rich. But they had been approved by God and entrusted with the gospel message. That’s why, when they had suffered in Philippi, they hadn’t abandoned their mission, but continued their efforts to spread the gospel – even in the face of extreme opposition and personal pain. If Paul and Silas had been in it for what they could get out of it, they would have thrown in the towel a long time ago. But as Paul makes clear, their motivation had been and continued to be pure.
Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT
Paul was anything but a people-pleaser. And his message was far from politically correct. He was an in-your-face, no-holds-barred kind of guy who delivered the message of the gospel unapologetically and with no attempt to water it down to make it more palatable and acceptable.
In taking the gospel to the Gentiles, Paul had faced opposition from the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, who still questioned the validity of uncircumcised Gentiles having access to salvation. If nothing else, they believed these Gentiles had to convert to Judaism first. But Paul had stood his ground, demanding that the gospel message put no such requirements on Gentile converts. Salvation was based on God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And Paul had also faced opposition from the Gentiles, who resisted his efforts to convert their people to this new religion or cult, called The Way. Paul’s message of the gospel was resulting in conversions among the Gentiles, leading these new believers to walk away from their false gods and their old ways of life in order to serve the one true God. Because the gospel brought about life change, these conversions were having an influence on the local communities and their economies. And, according to Luke, that’s exactly what happened in the city of Ephesus.
Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. – Acts 19:18-19 NLT
The gospel was powerfully transformative. It changed lives. And that was why Paul was committed to carrying out his God-ordained mission to share the gospel. He was motivated by love and compassion, not greed and fame. And he reminded the Thessalonians that he and Silas had come to them like innocent children, free from guile and with no ulterior motives. They had displayed the same kind of love as a mother who feeds and cares for her children. She does so sacrificially and willingly, and not for what she can get out of it.
And Paul assured them that “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They had given their lives away. They had sacrificed. Rather than demand payment for their services, they had willingly shared all that they had. And they had risked all for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of the handful of Thessalonians who had heard and received it.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.