In Truth

I Thess. 2:13. “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”

So much in this verse. We could dwell on Paul’s proclivity toward unceasing thankfulness. Or we could discuss the difference between man’s words and God’s Word; the truth of God’s Word being so much more powerful than anything man can say.  However, what really strikes me this morning is the power of God’s Word. Paul says it “effectually worketh in you that believe.”  

Paul’s message was not of human origin. We’re hearing an awful lot of human-engendered rhetoric these days, as we always do before an important election.  I’m fully aware of the importance of the November polls, and I’m also fully engaged in the politics. I understand the issues very well, and fear greatly that we’re about to tumble into an abyss that will change my America forever. BUT—I’m really, really tired of all the speechifying, accusation and counter-accusation; the attempts to vilify and denigrate on a personal level, and the very transparent lying. 

What I never get tired of, after all these years, is God’s Word. I’ve read through the Bible every year since I was in my sophomore year of college, and still I’m excited to start all over again in Genesis.  That’s because God’s Word is truth, always and in every part, and there is something new to be gleaned because God’s Word is so rich and deep.  It takes a lifetime to begin to understand it, and then we get to go to heaven and it all becomes crystal clear! 

In this verse, when Paul says “the word of God,” he is not talking about the Bible we have today; he is talking about the oral preaching of the gospel, empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Paul was speaking Spirit-ordained truth, and it was making a difference in the lives of his hearers. 

Don’t you love good Bible preaching?  Can’t you sense when the preacher is immersed in the Word, and is empowered by the Spirit as he speaks?  There is nothing better than to hear God’s Word being preached and taught from the heart.  

Works (worketh) in this verse is energeo, meaning it is operative and productive, continually producing an effect in the lives of those who believe it. That is, it energizes us and creates change in our lives, giving us the power and perseverance to keep on keeping on as it changes our thinking and our hearts. 

God’s Word is power. Tap into it.  You’ll be glad you did. 

Exhorted, Comforted, and Charged

I Thess. 1:11-12. “As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as  a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, Who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory.”

These two verses mark the wrap-up of Paul’s defense of his ministry in Thessalonica. As always, there is a depth of love and tenderness that we should not miss.  In these two verses, Paul mentions the nature of his work with his converts, the elements of the work, and the aim  of the work. 

Nature: ” As a father”  paints a clear picture of the devoted, loving, and consistent nature of Paul and Silas’ ongoing ministry with the new believers. The phrase every one of you indicates that the work of discipleship was individual as well as corporate, much as a father would go one-on-one with his children, and also would address them as a family.  If you are a parent, you know that each child in the family has a different need, and yet the whole family needs to understand the behavior and the heart that is expected of the family.  

In verse 7 of this chapter, Paul used the picture of a nursing mother’s tender regard for her newborn. In this verse, he switches to the sterner, yet still loving, concern of a devoted father as he fulfills his task of training and discipline. What a powerful combination!  Tender, loving mother; stern, loving father.   Powerhouse team. 

The Greek word for children  here is tekna, expressing both the tender love of the writer and the immaturity of the new converts. 

Elements:  Three elements are mentioned: exhorting, comforting, and charging. 

To exhort is to make a strong appeal; in this context, the appeal was for the new converts to adopt godly living, both inwardly and outwardly.  That’s a whole sermon in itself!

To comfort is to encourage, soothe, and inspire,  To charge is to solemnly declare, to insist.  When we look at what Paul wrote, we’re looking at his heart.  What an example he is!

Aim:  “That ye would walk worthy of God.”  To walk in this context denotes moral conduct. In the Greek, the words is a compound of peri, “around,” and pateo, “to walk.”  The word includes the whole round of daily living. We are to walk around in a manner worthy of God; worthy in every single aspect of our lives. Whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God ( I Cor. 10:31). 

Worthy (axios) has the root meaning of weight, describing a walk that is of equal worth or weight suitable to a holy and righteous God Who also has the overwhelming love to provide salvation for mankind.  Walk worthy (Col. 1:10). 

Who called you unto His kingdom and glory: This is what God has done for us. Amazing grace!  Undeserving, we have been gifted with the incredible privilege of His kingdom, His glory! This is why we must “walk worthy.” We are called to a higher standard because we are children of God!  Our lives must reflect the Holy Spirit within us at all times, in all we think, do and say. 

 

Holy, Just, Unblameable

I Thess. 2:10. “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.”

I am immediately reminded of Micah 6:8. “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Could this verse have been in Paul’s mind as he worked and lived among the Thessalonians?  I’d like to think so. 

It’s interesting that Paul combines both the new believers and God as witnesses of their behavior.  The believers could assess only their outward behaviors; God understood the motives of their hearts.  Paul’s conscience was clear before God and man. 

Holy, just, blameless. Holy,  in this verse, is hosios, meaning devoutly, piously, religiously.  It describes the inner lives of Paul and Silas. The word justly is dikaios, and describes outward conduct that meets the standard of what is right and good.  

Unblameably is amemptos, and is the assertion that no charge against the missionaries can be supported in any way. 

Paul and Silas not only believed the gospel; they lived it.  Everything they did was to the furtherance of preaching the gospel. 

Labour and Travail

I Thess. 2:9. “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: For labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. “

I often wish I could read the Bible in the original languages.  I think we miss a lot in the translation. Greek, especially, is full of specific meaning that English doesn’t always express. 

Labor, in this verse, is the Greek kopon. Kopon indicates the weariness and fatigue arising from continued strenuous activity.  The second word, travail,  is mochthon, which indicates the outward difficulties that must be overcome–such as the resistance of the Jewish leadership in the city.  The first, kopon, relates to the active exertion required; the second, mochthon,  is the exhausting effect of that labor. 

So then, I have to ask myself, “When was the last time I was full of weariness and fatigue because I travailed in the work of sharing the gospel?”  There are many days when I come home from my work feeling drained emotionally because what I do is listen to people’s heartaches all day long.  Sometimes their stories are overwhelmingly sad, and no one with a heart could possibly hear that kind of pain without being affected by it.  But that kind of weariness is not from  my efforts to share Christ, although that is a large piece in my overall ministry.  How many of us actually pour ourselves out in an effort to share the gospel? 

Also clear in this verse is that Paul and Silas were determined not to be a financial burden to the Thessalonians.  They would not be chargeable; they maintained financial independence, thereby being answerable only to God for the work they did.  They earned their own keep, and by doing so they kept a dignified independence as preachers of the gospel and were also able to refute the accusations of seeking personal gain by their preaching. 

The word preached in this verse is ekeruxamen, meaning to proclaim a message as a herald, to proclaim loudly and publicly as an authorized messenger. Again we see the absolute conviction Paul and Silas had that they were commissioned by God to do His work.  They worked, they preached, they taught and discipled their converts. They were wholly and steadfastly faithful in the work God had called them to do, always being careful that the way they lived and treated the people around them was consistent with the gospel they preached. 

You can’t ask for better role models than they were. 

Gentle Among You

I Thess. 2:7-8. “But we were gentle among  you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”

Paul is so eloquent. I am reminded again that every word in the Bible is inspired of God, so it should not surprise me that Paul speaks with such beauty.  The words that stand out are gentle, nurse, cherish, affectionately desirous,our own souls, dear unto us. Let’s take a look just at the words today. 

Gentle: There is some dispute among translators about whether this word is actually gentle, or that it should be babes, as in a small baby.  There are complicated reasons for the dispute, and probably good arguments for both. I’m just going to land on what seems more reasonable to me, with the clear understanding that I may be wrong. God knows. 

In the context, gentle seems to make more sense. Remember that Paul is defending their behavior as preachers, missionaries to the people in Thessalonica.  In verse six, he made it clear that he carries the authority of apostleship, and could have behaved in a very authoritarian and demanding manner.  So it makes sense for him to say, “But we were gentle. . .”  Also, Paul’s next figure of the tenderness of a nursing mother with her baby is completely consistent with the word gentle.  In other passages, Paul used the word babes to denote spiritual immaturity, similar to Peter’s writing in I Peter 2:2 which is so familiar to us. 

However the original text reads, it is clear here that Paul is denying allegations of force or self-gain. He and Silas were gentle, even childlike, in their approach to the people in Thessalonica, No threats, no coercion. Just Jesus. 

Nurse: This word can refer to a mother nursing her baby, the nourisher of her child, which is done with great tenderness and love, often with mother and child gazing deeply into each other’s eyes. I’ve read about studies that show the explosion of new neurons in a baby’s brain during the nursing process when this intimate eye contact is held.  What an apt picture of the nourishing care Paul gave to his new converts, gazing at them with love and devotion as he taught them the truth of the new Way. Wouldn’t you love to have been there? 

Cherish: The origin of the word in this context is to warm, like a bird covering her chicks with her feathers to keep them safe and warm. Beautiful. The new converts were cared for and protected in every possible way by Paul and Silas. 

Affectionately desirous: This phrase seems to depict the way a mother hovers over her newborn, full of love and wonder at the miracle of his birth.  It pictures the depth of emotion Paul and Silas felt over their “newborns.” 

Our own souls:  Paul is stating clearly here that they came to preach the gospel first and foremost; but also to offer the love of their own souls to the people in Thessalonica. The words here is psuchas, meaning their inner being, their entire personality.  I have four children.  I gave birth to them, and nursed and cherished them. More than that, over the years they were in my care my husband and I poured ourselves into them, giving them not just our words but our very being.  I understand that kind of love. That is what Paul is describing toward his converts. 

Dear unto us: The Thessalonian believers became the objects of agape, a high, persistent love which sought only the true welfare of the objects of that love. Paul and Silas’ love for the new believers was pure and untainted by selfishness or worldly gain. 

Please take the time to ponder over the importance of every word in these verses.  There is such depth, such an abundance of unselfish love.  It warms my heart. 

 

 

Flattering Words

I Thess. 2:5-6. “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness; Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.”

Paul continues his defense of his work through the twelfth verse of this chapter.  I’m taking it a bite at a time because I am so impressed with how little change there is in the human heart and mind down through the centuries. Paul is denying accusations of schmoozing the Thessalonians for his own personal glory; he is denying accusations of using the preaching of the gospel as a cloak, or mask, to cover his personal greed.  In the NIV Bible, verse five is translated as “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed —God is our witness.”

Religious charlatans have always existed. People have always willingly given money or possessions to those who claim to be God’s representatives. What we forget is that God established His method for this time as His Church.  Any group or individual operating outside the church needs to be carefully scrutinized through the filter of God’s Word before we give it our financial support.  Paul was accused of doing what he did purely for reasons of personal gain. Again, I have to ask who in his right mind would endure what Paul endured in order to get that elusive personal gain. Makes no sense. 

When Paul spoke and wrote lovingly to the people, he did it from a heart of compassion for them and not to simply flatter them into doing what he wanted them to do.  The only personal gain for him was the satisfaction of knowing that the gospel was being established and would continue to bear fruit.  He was God’s man. We need more men such as he was. 

Paul continues his defense in the next verse.  Here is how it reads in the ESV: “Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.”

The sense here is that Paul and his co-workers never looked for the praise of man. They never asked for nor expected special treatment, but worked hard and willingly to accomplish their goals.  Paul even points out that he could have felt entitled, as an apostle of Christ, to be treated with deference and given all kinds of perks.  They chose not to place any burden on the people to whom they ministered, demanding and requiring no special financial assistance or any other kind of aid from them. 

This is not to say that we shouldn’t take care of God’s workers.  It is right and necessary that we do what is just to support the people who are our shepherds and ministers.  It becomes a problem only when those ministers get to feeling entitled and look first at the financial package when they are seeking a new place; or when the people feel burdened beyond reality by the financial demands of a pastor, teacher, missionary, or other worker.  Personal gain, whether financial or fame, is not the right motive for serving God. 

Pleasing God

I Thess. 2:4. “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak;  not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”

Paul continues his defense of his work by making it clear that God had entrusted him, and Silas, with the incredible privilege and responsibility of carrying the gospel  to others. If his motives had been to promote himself (my ministry, my work, my success) he would not have been able to preach  with power and confidence in the face of sure persecution.  You have to believe in your mission with every ounce of your heart and soul to forge ahead, knowing you will suffer. 

Verse three contains the negatives; that is, the things Paul was not guilty of doing.  Verse four balances  that with the positives; that is, what he was doing under God’s authority.  Think about this for just a bit:  Paul believed with every bit of faith he had that God Himself had commissioned him for the work of the propagation of the gospel.  He had met God face to face on the Damascus Road, and knew with certainty what his lifework was going to be.  He may have doubted himself at times, being subject to weariness and discouragement just as we all are.  But he never doubted for a moment that God had set his feet on the path of evangelism, and even at the end of his journey, facing a miserable death, he could say  all that he said in the book of Philippians about completing the race, finding his strength in God, knowing the peace that passes understanding, and knowing that God would provide all his need. 

I believe that we 21st-century believers are going to need that kind of steadfast faith in the years to come.  The world, even the United States, is not a lover of Christianity.  Satan seems to be winning a lot of battles lately.  I find great comfort in knowing that in the end, praise the Lord, Satan loses the war!

Allowed of God could also be translated approved of God.  The sense here is that they had been tested, tried, and given the stamp of God’s approval to do the work. They were not beginners in the work. Each had been a believer of some years, and gained the approval of their sending church. God didn’t send children out into the world.  He sent men; mature, tested and found worthy of  the work they were to do.  It is also important to see that their ministry was not a self-chosen work, but a work chosen for them by God. For Paul, Silas, and Timothy it was the work that was important, not the workers.  There’s an important key to success in that order of priorities. 

The statement that their work was not as pleasing men, but God is also a key factor in their success.  Their converts grew in the Lord, becoming a model church for all time, because Paul and his helpers did not focus on how to please men.  Their whole concern was to please God. It is NOT implicit in that priority that to please God is to displease men.  Paul was very concerned for those to whom he ministered, and developed many close personal friendships with his converts.  Truth:  When we please God, we will also be empowered to reach the hearts of men. 

Some scholars hold that to please implies to serve. I think that bears thinking about. 

God tries, or proves, the heart.  Paul stresses that God is testing (trying, proving) their hearts (kardias), or the very depths of their inner life. The heart is the seat not only of feelings and emotions, but also of the understanding and the will.  It lies at the root of man’s moral nature and determines moral conduct. That is why, in Luke 10:27, Jesus told the rich young ruler that he needed to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind.  One’s whole being needs to be given to God completely, with nothing held back.  No reserve. 

And now I need to go talk to the Lord about all this.  Amazing how His Word lays conviction on the heart. 

Godly Motives

I Thess. 2:3. “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness nor in guile.”

Have you ever done or said something with the best intentions, and found yourself being accused of ulterior motives?  It’s not a good feeling, is it?  Even after all my years of living and working with people, it can still hurt when someone accuses me of something I never intended. How much more, then, was Paul offended when his missionary efforts were maligned?  After all, why would anyone endure what he endured if it were simply to further his own name?  That is what he was accused of, and this verse is the beginning of his defense of his work.

Exhortation:  The message Paul preached was an exhortation to turn from idols to the true and living God.  Simple, uncomplicated.  He was accused of insurrection.  Satan will always take the truth and wrap all kinds of garbage around it, and then offer it to us because it contains the truth.  And we are often foolish enough to not see what we have to digest in order to find the truth.

Deceit: There was nothing dishonest in Paul’s message.  It was all truth, all the time. There was no hidden message, no unseen lure to deceive imperceptive people.  Straightforward preaching of God’s Word is always going to do at least two things:  Appeal to the sincere seeker after truth, and infuriate those who have an agenda to promote themselves or some other cause outside of lifting up Christ.

Uncleanness:  Satan has always used sexual impurity as a tool against the cause of Christ.  Paul himself is often excoriated as a mysogynist because of his teachings on the spiritual headship of the man, both in marriage and in the church.  Some have inferred that he was a homosexual.  Casting sexual inuendo against God’s man is a pretty effective way to question his ministry and to dampen his effectiveness.  The trouble is, the accusation of uncleanness is then carried over to the teaching, casting it into dispute because of the accusations against the teacher.  There was nothing but pure, holy gospel being preached. The Word of God is pure beyond our understanding. To disparage it is grievous sin. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote.

Guile: Guile is pretense; craftiness, cunning, an almost pleasant way of deceiving others.  Believable but false charm.  There was none of that with Paul.  He spoke clearly what he knew and believed, and there were no sinister aims or motives behind his preaching.  His heart was that all should hear the wonderful news of Jesus Christ and His gift of salvation to all who would believe.

No deceit, no uncleanness, no guile.  Pure exhortation to turn to Christ.  So simple, yet so complicated.

Shamefully Entreated

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!”

Back Home

Back Home

This photo hangs in the hallway near the room my mom lived in for the last two years of her life. I was touched by its beauty and its truth.

I got back home around 1 a.m. today, Sunday. Long flight, long day. But being there was such a blessing, and I’m so very thankful for those who made it possible for me to go. Everything went well. The services were centered on the things of the Lord. Mom would have been very pleased. It was great to see family and friends, and to share memories of Mom with many who loved her.

Tomorrow, I’m going to try to get back to normal. We’ll see how that goes 🙂