1 Thess. 2:1-12
2 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. 9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
It’s one thing to know something of a man’s intellect. It’s quite another to learn of his affections. Should anyone set himself to study the epistle to the Romans, for example, he would discover something of Paul’s mind. But here in this epistle, and in chapters two and three to be precise, he would find something of the apostle’s heart. Why I speak of this in this context is for no other reason than what I’ve often said to you. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. And the matter of the heart is the matter with which these verses, at root, deal – at least regarding the issue at hand.
We’ve spent a number of weeks in the first chapter of this epistle. We saw there something of what marks an exemplary church. That being the case, if the first chapter reveals something of an exemplary church, chapter two speaks of an excellent ministry. And so, I put before you the question, if only to introduce what lays before us. Of course, it goes without saying I ask also to bend your minds to the subject. It stands to reason – it’s the excellent ministry that produces the exemplary church; the church doesn’t produce the ministry. Therefore, the question(s), if the exemplary church is to be, must be posed and advanced without apology: “What precisely is an excellent ministry” “How does it look?” “How can we tell if we’re engaged in such ministry?” “How is it characterized?” “How does it manifest itself?”
The simple answer to these questions is this: Intense, selfless concern for both the truth and the church marks an excellent ministry. Find these things, and you will have found an excellent, Christian ministry. If there is no such concern, if these things are absent, and to the degree they are in fact absent, there will be no such ministry. Surely, we can evaluate where one is in relation to ministry by this. If he has no concern for the truth and the advance of the truth, if he lacks genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of the church, then neither is he fit for any kind of ministry, leadership or otherwise.
For Paul, these were the driving factors of his missionary endeavors. In preaching the gospel, persuading those with whom he came in contact, planting churches, and writing his epistles, his was an intense and even selfless concern for the truth and for the church. We find this to be true of Paul wherever we find him. And we find this concern fleshed out in the verses before us. To the text then…
The Character of an Excellent Ministry: The Heart of the Matter
Note, first of all, how Paul states that his missionary visit to these folks was not in vain. “…you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain” (v.1). It’s without question Paul and those with him had results in Thessalonica. Success met this band of preachers. Their preaching had great effect and impact. We saw that and made much of it back in the first chapter. It also goes without saying their visit was not without purpose. Paul and his merry men weren’t aimlessly running about the Macedonian countryside, stumbling across the occasional city, with no good reason. But I don’t think this is what Paul has in mind when he says their coming to them was not in vain. Far better is it to think in terms not of result or purpose, but intent, or motive. Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to them not without sound and pure motives, but ones both honest and sincere. Character is at issue here. Of first and utmost importance, those who minister, and who wish to minister with any effectiveness, must have this character question settled. Excellent ministry possesses a certain noble character. The hearts of those who minister must be right. Indeed, the best of men are men at best. But the best of men are the men required.
In stark contrast to this is what many think. Character far too often takes a back seat, if given any consideration at all. Things like success in business, success in various leadership positions, success in educational pursuits, and ability to work a crowd: things like these are dreadfully seen as keys to excellent and effective ministry. We will not camp here. But we need to be mindful of this: ability in these areas, while they might have their place, is not the foundational thing in Christian ministry. Character is the foundational thing. Character is key. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
The Content of an Excellent Ministry: The Gospel
Verse two speaks of the content of the excellent ministry. I will only speak of this in passing. But I will speak of it because it must be spoken of whenever it presents itself. Paul writes that they declared to them the gospel of God. The content of an excellent ministry is the gospel of God. We could spend hours on this alone – the phrase is so full and rich. Questions advanced and answered, which need to be answered, and asked by the professing church, even and especially, but not exclusively, a ‘church’ bent on keeping the bible on the shelf, are numerous. What is the gospel? Who is God? Who is Christ? What did He do? Why did He do it? For whom did He do it? What did Christ achieve? What must I then do? What if I don’t? What is justification? What is sanctification? How shall live in light of the Person and Work of Christ? [Am I free? Am I a slave? And of course, the answer to both is ‘yes.’ Christians are free from sin and the power of sin, which is the Law, and at the same time a slave to righteousness – it can be no other way for one united to Christ!] The content of an excellent ministry is therefore the cross. The content of an excellent ministry is therefore that which is an abomination and offense to men. We know that. We feel the weight of that. It prevents us from speaking of it to others. Perhaps it even prevents us from speaking of it amongst ourselves. What’s needed, therefore, is what Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy had, namely boldness.
The Confidence of an Excellent Ministry: God
In v. 2, that’s exactly what Paul says. He says they had boldness. Put verse 1 and 2 together, and you end up with this great contrast. ‘Our coming to you was not in vain,’ he says, ‘but we had boldness…’ In other words, ‘we came not without the right motive or soundness of character,’ ‘On the contrary, we had this great courage in our God to declare to you the gospel…’ Now, you will have noticed these two verses speak much of the struggles this band of preachers had. Acts 16 and 17 record those for us. And if we went there, we would find the kind of treatment delved out to them. In Philippi, en route to Macedonia and Thessalonica, as a result of their gospel activities, a crowd rose up against them. The civil authorities stripped them down to their underwear. They were then beaten with rods, thrown into prison, feet fastened in the stocks. After their arrival in Thessalonica, and over the course of three weeks, and due to their preaching and teaching at the local synagogue, they were again done in. Some from among the religious establishment, the local theologians if you like, went downtown, gathered a rather rough and tumble bunch, and went about in mob fashion looking for these preachers. As it happened, those who cared for Paul, who were concerned for his safety, sent him and his band of merry men away by night. This is the precise historical background here. So, when Paul writes these first two verses, we need to see them against this canvass. “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But [or, on the contrary] 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.” Conflict followed Paul. Wherever he went, there it was. It met him in Philippi. It chased him to Thessalonica. It’s almost as if excellent ministry and conflict go hand in hand. Where there’s one, you find the other. But notice what he writes. He says that this opposition didn’t stop him. He continued preaching. He declared to them the gospel of God despite the antagonism.
Why he did so was because he had boldness. He had boldness in our God. He had great confidence not in himself. He wasn’t the source nor the reason for their courage. Their boldness was tightly tethered to their relationship with God, to the Author and source of that which they proclaimed. What is it to have this kind of boldness? If we don’t have it, we will not speak truth when called upon to do. This is a very crucial thing. Excellent ministries, biblical ministries, depend on this. To have boldness in God is to be empowered by him. It’s to be moved by him to do that which you would not do naturally, in and of yourself. It’s to be so confident in God, to be so full of him, and so mindful of him that all you want to do is speak for him, having no concern for yourself. That is the best way I can explain it. You are just so energized and emboldened because He is God that you speak things people … hate…or don’t like ordinarily. It gets you in trouble. But you say it anyway, even if your wife rather you didn’t.
The text (let’s always keep it before us):
“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.”
If in fact Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy were questioned regarding their motives, if part of their opposition had to do with anything undermining their character, and thus give credence to the emptiness of their ministry endeavors, does it make sense they would endure so much nonsense? Integrity is here manifested by the willingness to suffer for the truth. There was nothing vain about Paul’s ministry in this regard. There’s no insincerity or hypocrisy. People don’t suffer and endure conflict without good reason. There’s no indication here that these men were in it for their self-interests, whether that be power, to make a name for themselves, to feather their nests, or whatever. Of concern for Paul was the truth, not himself. Truth mattered to him. Truth drove him; it was to be defended and declared at all costs! Even his own comfort! He suffered for what he knew to be true. He SUFFERED for it. And he says to the Thessalonians that they knew this. Once in each of these two verses, appeal is made to what the Thessalonians themselves knew. They knew this about these men. Therefore any notion, any criticism that may have come their way, that might’ve attempted to discredit their ministry as anything less than excellent, you see, is called into the public court of all men, as it were. Leon Morris, the commentator writes:
“Paul’s emphatic calling of the Thessalonians to witness did two things. In the first place it showed his confidence in them. He had no fear that they would succumb to the propaganda being put before them. In the second place it demonstrated that all the facts required for his vindication were facts of common knowledge. Neither Paul nor the Thessalonians had any need to search for material to prove his bona fides. An accusation of insincerity could scarcely stand in the light of such public knowledge of the man and his work.”
Paul had nothing to hide. These folks knew him. They knew his heart. They knew his character. They witnessed him endure much opposition, and with much confident boldness.
“What precisely is an excellent ministry” “How does it look?” “How can we tell if we’re engaged in such ministry?” These are the questions we’ve begun to answer. My hope is that as we answer them more fully in the weeks ahead, our ministry will be shaped by what we discover. Whether ministry amongst ourselves or to an unbelieving world, there is much for us to gain in these verses.