I Thess. 2:1. “But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
It’s been over a week since I wrote the last study in Thessalonians, so you may want to go back and look at the previous post, “Not in Vain,” to get yourselves back in the context for this verse.
Paul’s work in Thessalonica was not a timid effort to be nice, to be popular, to be accepted by all the people there. His work was bold, carried on with power in spite of immediate and violent opposition. I believe that we must show the love of Christ to people when we are trying to win them to Him; however, sometimes I have to wonder how much time we’re wasting on today’s very popular concept of “building relationships” instead of presenting Christ. And that concept, by the way, is not new. It seems we are always looking for new and exciting ways to spread the gospel, ways that will appeal to the pop culture. In doing so, we use the methods of pop culture. Seems to me that it would be more effective to be radically different from pop culture in our efforts, so that we don’t just blend in. Jesus certainly didn’t blend in.
All right. Just a tiny little rant there. Moving on.
Paul’s reference to his experience in Philippi is important. He had just come from a public flogging and being imprisoned with his feet locked into stocks. Read the account in Acts 16:23-24. A Roman flogging was no light punishment. It would never be forgotten, and Paul experienced it several times. It was horror, leaving many victims dead or comatose when it was over. It was the same flogging Jesus endured before He was crucified. The ancient Romans certainly seemed to find delight in inflicting horrendous punishment against their enemies! After the shame of a public whipping, Paul and Silas were thrown–literally–into a nasty, dark, foul-smelling jail cell and endured the indignity of having their feet locked into stocks, making it impossible for them to avoid aggravating the horrible wounds on their backs if they wanted to lie down. When Paul says they were shamefully entreated, he isn’t kidding. Shame was an important feature of Roman discipline. Also, as a Roman citizen Paul should never have had to endure such indignity, and that is why he insisted that the officials of the city come and personally conduct him and Silas out of the prison. What had been done to them was illegal.
And yet. And yet, as soon as they were freed and physically able to travel, these two men chose to continue the work of the gospel in a city that was unfriendly, fully aware that they were risking similar treatment in Thessalonica. I am humbled by their courage.They could do what they did only because they were fully aware of an inescapable commission. Remember Jonah? He tried to escape God’s commission and ended ignobly in a whale’s smelly belly. I wonder if Paul and Silas thought about that!
I believe that Paul and Silas were still moving carefully when they reached Thessalonica. Their clothing must have aggravated their wounds, to say nothing of the dust and discomfort of heat on their journey. Their physical pain was almost certainly obvious to those who heard them preach, making it clear that to heed their message was a dangerous thing, bearing serious consequences.
And yet. And yet, the people there who accepted the Good News were open in their own allegiance to Christ.
Paul says that in spite of all they had endured, they were bold in our God to speak the gospel. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe it is important and very interesting to understand the information I’ve gleaned about the verb speak that Paul used here. It is derived from two words that literally translate as “all speech.” It shows that state of mind when the words flow freely, the attitude of feeling quite at home with no sense of stress or strain. There is confidence in that kind of freedom. The verb is always used in the New Testament to describe the preaching of the gospel. It indicates the free and confident manner the missionaries had, with no sense of restraint or fear.
It is my personal observation, through 60+ years of hearing preaching, that preachers who use the Word as their sole authority are both eloquent and confident; both relaxed and fearless, unrestrained by self-consciousness when they handle God’s Word. I’ve heard many stories over the years about young preachers who were awkward in their earliest preaching experiences, but who gradually became more confident as the beginning of the sermon was finished and they began to dig into the Word, preaching with power and authority as the truth of God’s Word settled their hearts and minds. I believe this is what happened to Paul and Silas in Thessalonica.
“With much contention.” There are two possibilities in the interpretation of this final phrase in the verse. One is that it refers solely to persecution from without; the other is that it refers to an internal struggle against the apostle’s inner fears. I like the position that it covers both internal and external opposition. Paul and Silas were, after all, only human; surely they feared and dreaded more physical pain and humiliation.
And yet. And yet they overcame their inner contention that would have resulted in their just sitting down and being quiet, facing the possibility of further persecution in the boldness of their knowledge that God would not forsake them. They also persevered in spite of the vocal and organized opposition to their preaching.
I am reminded of the third verse of the old hymn Just As I Am: “Just as I am, though tossed about, With many a conflict, many a doubt. Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!”