Paul’s Work in Thessalonica  
By Paul Robison

“One day a mother was sitting by her daughter in church and explained that her grandfather was a preacher, and her great-great-grandfather was also one, and that her great-great-great grandfather also did his share of preaching.  To which the girl replied, ‘Wow!  We sure come from a long line of grandfathers, don’t we?’” (Rowell).  Here’s an announcement that was found: “A model preacher has been found to suit everyone.  He’s is 26 and has been preaching for 30 years.  He has a burning desire to work with the teenagers, and spends all his time with the older folks.  He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work.  He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.  He wears good clothes and has a nice family.  He gives liberally each week and stands ready to contribute to every good work that comes along.  He makes 15 calls a day on church members, spends all his time evangelizing the unbelievers, and is never out of his office” (Holland).  Someone else wrote this good warning to preachers: “We are only conduits, not the source.  We are vessels, not the contents.  We are messengers, not the message.  And what power we might demonstrate in support of the message must always be credited to Him from whom all power proceeds.  If we fail to give God the credit, we will deceive ourselves about how powerful we are.  And then when temptation comes, chances are we will over-estimate our power to resist” (F. L. Smith).

Yes, we preachers don’t always get it right, but also remember that all of us are commanded to preach to some extent as we work to share Christ with others.  The great apostle Paul was a great missionary and preacher.  Let’s examine a text today that illustrates how he preached and how he behaved.  We will also look quickly at the background for Paul’s work in the congregation at Thessalonica.  Turn with me to 1 Thessalonians, chapter 2.  We’ll look quickly at five ways that Paul preached and five ways that Paul behaved.

First of all, we note that Paul preached boldly.  Let’s read vv. 1-2: “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.  But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in much conflict.”  Let’s recall quickly some things that were read in our reading from Acts 17:1-15 about Paul’s work in Thessalonica.  Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica after having been mistreated in Philippi.  They went to the synagogue, which was Paul’s customary way of beginning his evangelistic work in a city, and spoke on three Sabbath days.  In this setting, Paul proclaimed that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah.  Now remember that Messiah means “anointed one” or “king”.  Some Jews and many God-fearing Gentiles (among them a few prominent women) were persuaded by Paul to become Christians.  The Jews that Paul did not persuade did not take losing these members lying down, but stirred up a riot and attacked Jason’s home, where the evangelists had been staying.  Not finding Paul and Silas, these Jews dragged Jason and some more Christians before the city’s rulers.  They accused the Christians of treason—teaching Jesus as a new king, instead of the emperor.  After paying bail, the Christians were given their freedom.  The Jews of Thessalonica later go down to Berea and stir up another crowd against the Christians there, so Paul flees to Athens.  Paul wanted Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, but they didn’t catch up with Paul until he was in Corinth (Acts 18:5).  So what did we learn about the congregation in Thessalonica from the books of Acts?  First of all, we see that is was composed mostly of Gentiles who had previously adopted Judaism.  Secondly, we see that these Christians live in a very tense environment with some very hostile Jews who know how to create problems.  Thirdly, we see that Paul had to leave this group only after being with them for about one month.  Fourthly, we see that Timothy continues to work with this group after Paul’s departure.  So Paul is writing to a very young congregation that has experienced some intense persecution, and he reminds them how they boldly preached the Gospel, despite their former mistreatment in Philippi and their continuing conflict with the Jews.  He writes to praise and to encourage.  A good two word summary would be "Be hopeful!" 

Are we boldly presenting the Gospel to others, despite the obstacles in our way?   A brother called me not long ago about our using the publication “House to House” to let others know about the church.  He said that we were doing well to mail it to others because it will help foster a positive image for the church.  Then he made this statement: “I hope you are planning to knock doors in the areas where this publication has been mailed; otherwise, you will be missing a golden opportunity!  You can’t expect much results until you go and talk with people personally to see where they stand concerning their faith” (Davis).  Sometime this summer, let’s go boldly and do this personal follow-up!

Secondly, Paul preached truthfully.  Notice what he says in verse 3: “For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.”  The hostile Jews have probably been hurling false accusations against Paul and his companions to the brethren: “They don’t preach the truth!  They want to seduce you!  They are real tricksters!”  Notice how Paul responds to each these charges.  Their preaching is not doctrinally in error, but it is the truth.  The uncleanness of sexual immorality associated with so many of the pagan cults was not a part of Paul and his fellow workers' message.  They did not use deception to gain a following or get people's money.  Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s preaching was doctrinally sound, morally pure, and scrupulously honest! 

Let’s preach just as truthfully as well.  “There was once a preacher who had a daughter suffering from leukemia.  She went into remission, but later the dreaded disease came back and took the little girl’s life.  The following Sunday, this preacher used Isaiah 40:31 for his text: ‘But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’  Then he said, ‘There are three stages of life.  Sometimes we mount up like the eagles; we are on top of the world.  Sometimes we run but don’t grow weary; we just go through the routine.  Sometimes, the best we can do is walk and not faint.  That’s where I am right now, I need your prayers.’  One of the members said, ‘At the moment that he was at his lowest, he preached probably his most influential sermon’” (Russell in Larson-Elshof).  This preacher was like Paul: doctrinally sound, morally pure, and scrupulously honest.  Let’s follow their examples when we share the Gospel with others!  Let's preach truthfully!

Thirdly, Paul preached responsibly.  Let’s read verse 4: “But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.”  The main verb here is “we speak” or “we preach”, and everything else in this sentence serves as a modifier to continue to refute Paul's false accusers.  “Paul's preaching could not have proceeded from error, for he was entrusted [like a steward] by God with that message.  He was not impure for he had been [and was still being] approved by God.  He was not a trickster, for he aimed at pleasing God, not men” (Morris, NICNT).  Paul took his stewardship of the Gospel seriously and handled it responsibly. 

Do we take our sharing the Gospel with others responsibly?  Do we preach the good news about Jesus and His church or do we try be ecumenical and say that all religious groups are pretty much the same?  And do we preach to gain God's approval or men's popularity?  Do we preach that following Christ is a daily marathon involving discipleship or that it is a weekly sprint involving just going to church?  Let's take our stewardship of the Gospel seriously and preach responsibly!

Fourthly, Paul preached plainly.  Let's read verse 5: “For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know ...”  We can hear Paul's opponents once again: “Oh yeah, that Paul, he's a smooth talker!”  “Paul and his fellow workers had peached plainly; they had not attempted to gain the confidence of the Thessalonian brethren by insincere [praises].  The Thessalonian brethren know this reality, and Paul calls on them as witnesses” (Kelcey). 

Are we preaching plainly?  “We should all be very careful not to say things that we don't mean” (Edwards), and we should not try to elevate others insincerely, just to win their favor.  Let's preach plainly!

Fifthly, Paul preached sacrificially.  Let's read the later part of verse 5 and then 6: “nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.”  Paul is refuting his opponents once again: “Oh yeah, that Paul, he'll milk you for all your worth!”  “The idea of preaching the Gospel with the thought of monetary gain was especially abhorrent to Paul.  He strongly avows that they had not preached the Gospel pretending to love the souls of men, but all the while having covetous designs in their hearts. ... He appeals to God as a witness to the truthfulness of his denial of greed as a motive” (Kelcey).  Paul argues that, as apostles, they had every right to ask for financial support, but they refused to do so.  This shows that they were not greedy, but preached sacrificially. 

In the same way, we should never try to manipulate others just for the sake of financial profit.  Let's don't add to the scams of the so-called TV evangelists!  There was a cartoon showing a well-known preacher putting stacks of dollar bills into a brief case.  Underneath the picture, the caption read: “No, God is not dead; yes, God is bread!”  Let's preach sacrificially.

Paul then reminds the Thessalonian brethren of their behavior when they were with them.  First of all, he says they behaved gently.  Look at verse 7: “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”  What an unusual statement and comparison!  Instead of being demanding and bossy, these preachers acted with great sensitivity and affection.  It was with the same tenderness that a nursing mother shows towards her babies!  Does this sound like “hell, fire, and brimstone” so often associated with preachers?  The same Paul who used to handle Christians like a gangster was now handling young Christians with great tenderness!  Christ's love really CAN make a difference in people's lives! 

“A state trooper was given an award for his service by a governor, and the governor had remarked that this trooper hadn’t once roughed up a drunk or used excessive force on anyone.  A curious man approached the trooper and asked: ‘How can you be a state trooper for 15 years, dealing with the kind of stuff you deal with, and not have been very stern?’  The trooper replied immediately: ‘Two things.  First, when I have to break up a fight in tavern, I never say to myself that there’s a drunk.  No, I always say that there’s a man—someone’s husband, someone’s son, someone’s neighbor—who got drunk.  I try to think of him as a man, not a crime.  Second, the Bible says that a soft answer turns away wrath.  So whenever I walk up to the car window, I always speak a little softer than the person I’m speaking to’” (Kesler in Larson-Elshof)  Let’s behave gently.

Next, Paul behaved transparently.  Notice verse 8: “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.”  Look at the great emotion found in these words!  This was more than just Paul, the scholarly rabbi.  “‘Affectionately longing for you’ shows a deep depth of desire.  They not only gave these people a message but also a lifestyle—they spent themselves in service to them” (Kelcey) in a very open and personal way, wearing their hearts on their sleeves.  Since these brethren had become so dear, these preachers were “afire with an obvious care for their hearers.  To these missionaries, souls were more than just statistics” (Kelcey). 

Do we love people this openly?  Do we share our lives with them this freely?  Do we see that sharing the Gospel is more than just providing great information?  The old saying still rings true: “People don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.”  “Someone once asked a renowned anthropologist, 'What was the first sign of civilization in a culture?'  She replied, 'A healed femur.'  She explained that this showed that someone had cared for another person, someone had done their hunting and cooking while the leg healed.  The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization'” (Rowell).  Let’s behave transparently!

Next, Paul behaved industriously.  Look at verse 9: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the Gospel of God.”  Turn for a moment to Philippians 4:16 and let’s read what is there: “For even in Thessalonica, you sent aid once and again to my necessities.”  Paul did not want to be a financial burden to the young Christians in Thessalonica.  He gladly took funds from the Philippian brethren, but he also continued in his tent-making as well.  It seems that Paul and his companions worked around the clock at their trade, but still had time to preach the Gospel as well.  Note how he concludes that it was the Gospel of God (he was just the messenger, while God was the author).  Paul challenges his readers to remember their lifestyles.  Their hard work shows they that were not tricksters and that their visit had not been in vain. 

Do people see us working in this way?  Does the fact that we are Christian employees make a difference in our work world?  Someone wrote this little poem: “If faith produces no works, I see That faith is not a living tree.  Thus, faith and works together grow; No separate life they ever can know.  They’re soul and body, hand and heart—what God hath joined, let no man part” (H. More in LOG).  Do we remember that what gives the Gospel its power is the truth that it comes from God Himself?  He continues to be the author!  Let’s behave industriously!

Next, Paul behaves exemplarily.  Notice how he describes his company's behavior in verse 10: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly, and justly, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe.”  Paul continues to hammer against those who had accused them falsely.  The Thessalonian believers and God also knew the consistency of their exemplary lives, no matter what the Jewish opponents might have claimed otherwise!  These missionaries had been devoted to God’s service, they had been upright to God’s Word, and they had been without reproach in living out God’s ethics.  They were exemplary in their conduct. 

Could we call on others and God as witnesses to our exemplary conduct?  Someone has said: “God has no more precious gift to a church or an age than a person who lives as an embodiment of His will, and inspires those around him or her with the faith of what grace can do” (A. Murray in Rowell).  Devotedly, justly, and blamelessly—could these words describe our character?  Let’s behave exemplarily!

Lastly, Paul behaves lovingly.  Notice verses 11-12: “As you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged [or implored] every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”  “Exhorting, encouraging, and charging give emphasis to the teaching that was done; thus the change of metaphor from a nursing mother to a [guiding] father is very appropriate.  The evangelists had manifested the affection and earnestness of a sincere and pious father [working with] his own children” (Kelcey).  They were concerned and cared as only a father can care.  We see again that deep feelings are expressed in this comparison.  The teaching is done so that each member might offer to God the very best that he or she can, as each submits his will to God’s will, as each lives out their daily lives in harmony with their relationship to their Heavenly Father! 

Are we trying to teach one another to live lives under God’s control?  Are we helping others to pursue God’s dream over the American dream?  Do we treat and love each other as if we are all family, all united under our loving Lord?  “One man told about the last spanking he got.  He had just turned 13, and felt like he had arrived.  His father called to him, ‘Charles, come help me weed the garden?’  He replied back, ‘No, it’s my birthday, don't you remember?’  He then said that his father set a new 100 yard dash record, was in the house quickly, and was spanking him all the way to the garden for his sassy remark.  He weeded until the moon shone, but then his father told him to clean up for they were going to take him out for a surprise supper.  Then Charles recalled: ‘He gave me what I deserved earlier, and then he gave me what I did not deserve.  The birthday supper was grace’” (Swindoll in Larson).  Oh, for the wisdom to treat each other like a loving father!  Let’s behave lovingly!

“We are only conduits, not the source.  We are vessels, not the contents.  We are messengers, not the message.  And what power we might demonstrate in support of the message must always be credited to Him from whom all power proceeds” (Smith).  What a powerful example we saw in God’s Word today as we looked at Paul’s great mission work in Thessalonica!  What a high standard he sets for us!  He preached boldly, truthfully, responsibly, plainly, and sacrificially.  And then he and his fellow workers behaved gently, transparently, industriously, exemplarily, and lovingly.  Someone made this interesting observation: “False teachers invite people to come to the Master’s table because of what’s on it, but true teachers invite them to the Master’s table because they love the Master” (Hanegraaff in Rowell).

What are you preaching and teaching to others?  Are your motives pure like those of Paul?  Do others see Christ living in you?  If you’d like prayers to be a better and more consistent teacher, we invite you to make that request.  If you’d like to express your love for Christ and make Him your Master Teacher through confessing your sins and your faith in Him as God’s Son and being buried with Him in baptism in order to rise with Him to a newness of life, we encourage you to let that be made known as well