13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!
17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13-20 ESV
While there had been those who accused Paul and Silas of being in the ministry for what they could get out of it, Paul strongly denied their charges. He insisted that “we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT). Their purpose had been “to please God, not people” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NLT). And with God as his witness, Paul asserted “we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT).
Now, Paul uses the Thessalonians themselves as witnesses to his defense. He recalls how they had gladly heard and received the message of the gospel.
…when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT
They knew from their own experience that the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone was real and life-changing. Upon believing, they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit, which was proof that the words of Paul and Silas were from God and not from men. And Paul could not stop thanking God for the life-transforming power of the Gospel. He even reminds the Thessalonians that this power to change lives was still at work in them.
…this word continues to work in you who believe. – 1 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT
The word they had shared had worked. It had produced in them true and lasting life change. For Paul, that was the bottom line. It was all the proof needed to substantiate his ministry and message. The Thessalonians had gotten far more out of Paul and Silas’ ministry than they had. And before they considered listening to the false claims leveled against Paul and Silas, they needed to look at the fruit in their own lives. They were living proof of the validity of the ministry and the message of these two men.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provided them with a much-needed reminder of the transformation the Gospel had made in their lives. He wanted them to see and appreciate the stark before-and-after contrast of their encounter with Christ. The Gospel had been far more than just another message from the lips of men. It had been radically transformational and eternally significant.
Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT
This was true for the Thessalonian believers as well. They had each experienced a remarkable alteration to their habits and behaviors. Faith in Christ had resulted in the fruit of the Spirit. If they were ever tempted to question Paul’s motives, all they had to do was look at the impact of his message on their own lives. They had been cleansed, made holy, and restored to a right relationship with God.
And Paul adds another aspect of their experience that gave proof of the Gospel’s veracity and power.
…you suffered persecution from your own countrymen. In this way, you imitated the believers in God’s churches in Judea who, because of their belief in Christ Jesus, suffered from their own people, the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 NLT
Their own persecution at the hands of their countrymen was proof of the Gospel’s power. Their lives had changed and their friends and neighbors had not been happy with the results. They had become lights in the darkness, exposing the sinful condition of their fellow citizens. And the result had been persecution. And Paul assures them that this was normal and to be expected. It was further proof of the Gospel’s power. Their suffering on behalf of their faith in Christ was exactly what the believers in Judea had experienced. It came with the territory.
Jesus Himself had warned, “everyone will hate you because you are my followers” (Mark 13:13 NLT). He had told His disciples that they could expect to be hated by the world.
“The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:19-20 NLT
And this hatred by the world was nothing new. The message of God’s redemptive plan for mankind has always met with resistance. Paul recounts how the prophets of God, who had carried His message of repentance to His disobedient children, were met with rejection and even faced death at the hands of those they were trying to save. And the apostles of Jesus were having similar experiences as they took the message of God’s offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone to a lost and dying world.
To the world, the message of the Gospel was non-sensical. The claim that the God of the universe had sent His Son to take on human flesh and die on a cross to pay for the sins of mankind sounded ridiculous. And the very fact that the salvation offered by God required an admission of sin and the need for a Savior, made the Jews uncomfortable. Paul pointed out the incomprehensible nature of the Gospel in his first letter to the church in Corinth.
Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT
The Gospel has and will always face opposition. But Paul insists that those who stand opposed to God’s gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death will fail. Paul flatly states that in their attempt to reject the Gospel message or its messengers they “fail to please God and work against all humanity as they try to keep us from preaching the Good News of salvation to the Gentiles” (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 NLT). Sadly, their efforts do little more than anger God and add to their debt of sin. And, as Paul told the believers in Rome, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT).
For Paul, the physical separation from his spiritual children in Thessalonica was difficult. He longed to see them and to continue his ministry among them. It had been more than a year since he and Silas had first visited their city, and a lot had taken place during that time frame. He was proud of them, but his pastoral heart longed to be with them. But, Paul insists, he had faced some serious opposition that kept his desire from becoming reality.
…we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ESV
Paul believed in spiritual warfare. He was fully convinced that his ministry was opposed by the enemy of God because his ministry had been ordained by God. His commission placed him on the front lines of a battle that was taking place in the spiritual realms but that had real-life implications.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT
Paul was well aware that he faced human opposition, but he also knew that the primary force behind it all was Satan himself. And yet, he remained “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and he “put on all of God’s armor” so he would “be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11 NLT).
And, fully prepared for the battle in which he found himself engaged, Paul found the motivation to fight the good fight by focusing on the fruit of his efforts.
After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! Yes, you are our pride and joy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 NLT
Doing battle with the enemy was well worth it because it meant the difference between souls being saved or remaining lost. Resisting the opposition was essential if the message of man’s reconciliation to God was to continue being spread. The joy of watching lives be transformed by the power of the Gospel is what kept Paul going. And while he may face opposition in this life, he knew the day was coming when all his efforts would be repaid with eternal life.
…what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:18 NLT
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.