1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
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1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 Biblical Commentary
These verses continue Paul’s defense of his ministry (and that of his colleagues, Silvanus and Timothy) in Thessalonica. In 2:6 (this translation) or 2:7 (NRSV), Paul uses the word “apostles” (plural). While I have not been able to find another reference to Silvanus (known in the book of Acts as Silas) or Timothy as apostles, apparently Paul considered one or both of them to be apostles—if only one, probably Silvanus.
Judging from the defense that Paul stated in 2:1-8, we can deduce that the apostles were being charged of error and deception (2:3)—of using flattery to manipulate their hearers (2:5a)—of greed (2:5b)—and of seeking personal glory (2:6).
Paul reminded the Thessalonian Christians that, not only had he and his colleagues not profited financially from their ministerial work, they had instead experienced a good deal of suffering as a result of their faithful proclamation of the Good News. They experienced persecution in Philippi and conflict in Thessalonica (2:1). Paul categorically denied all charges one by one (2:1-6).
He closed that section by reminding the Thessalonians how gentle he and his colleagues had been with them—”like a nursing mother” (v. 7). He said that he and his colleagues were “affectionately longing for you.” They had given the Thessalonians, not only the Good News, but also their souls, “because you had become very dear to us” (v. 8).
1 THESSALONIANS 2:9-12. REMEMBER!
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and travail; for working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached to you the Good News of God. 10 You are witnesses with God, how holy, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved ourselves toward you who believe. 11 As you know, we exhorted, comforted, and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 to the end that you should walk worthily of God, who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory.
“For you remember, brothers, our labor (Greek: kopos) and travail“ (Greek: mochthos) (v. 9a). Paul began chapter 2 with the words, “For you yourselves know” (2:1). Now he calls the Thessalonian Christians to remember that which they already know. They don’t have to wonder about Paul and his colleagues. They have no reason to believe the false charges that they hear from Paul’s critics. They better. They have only to call to mind that that which they have seen with their own eyes—that which they have experienced first-hand in their dealings with the apostles.
The Thessalonians had not seen greed or deception. Instead they had seen the apostles working (kopos) and travailing (mochthos). The word kopos suggests wearisome labor—exhausting work—unremitting effort. The word mochthos is similar to kopos, but emphasizes even more strongly the exhausting nature of the work.
“for working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached to you the Good News of God“ (v. 9b). In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul will remind them that he and his colleagues did not “eat bread from anyone’s hand without paying for it, but in labor and travail worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8).
Paul’s trade was making tents (Acts 18:3). The tentmaker would cut leather and use an awl to stitch it together—or weave goat’s hair to make fabric. A tent of any size would require much weaving (goat’s hair) or cutting and sewing (leather), and the resultant tents would be quite heavy. Tent making was not a profession that a dilettante would choose to pursue. However, for an itinerant such as Paul, it had some advantages. The tools required (knives, awls, needles) were inexpensive and portable, allowing the tentmaker to leave on short notice—carrying the tools required to resume business elsewhere.
Paul’s point is that he and his colleagues have supported themselves financially, while also preaching the Gospel. They did this so that they might not impose a financial burden on the Thessalonian converts.
Paul was not categorically opposed to receiving financial support. He accepted support from believers in Philippi who sent him gifts (Philippians 4:13-19). He also quoted the verse from the Torah that said, “You shall not muzzle the ox when he treads out the grain” (Deuteronomy 25:4).
• In his first letter to Timothy, he quoted this verse from Deuteronomy to defend the practice of giving financial support to elders who preach and teach (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
• In his first letter to the church at Corinth, he defended his right to expect financial support from people to whom he was ministering. But he went on to say, “Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the Good News of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).
Paul and his colleagues understood that accepting financial support could provide an opening for critics, so they went great lengths to protect their reputation. By refusing support, they could easily defend themselves against charges of greed.
Paul’s work as a tentmaker has given rise to the phrase, “tentmaker ministry,” which is used today for ministries where the minister works at a secular job to provide his or her own financial support.
“You are witnesses (Greek: martys) with God“ (v. 10a). A martys (witness) is someone who has firsthand knowledge of something, and is therefore able to verify it or testify to it.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that, not only have they witnessed the apostles’ righteous behavior, but God has also witnessed it. Is there is a veiled threat here? Is God looking over the shoulders of these Thessalonian Christians? Will God tolerate their criticism of the apostles? If the Thessalonians fail to serve as faithful witnesses, won’t God hold them responsible for their treachery?
“how holy (Greek: hosios), righteously (Greek: dikaios), and blamelessly (Greek: amemptos) we behaved ourselves toward you who believe“ (v. 10b).
• The Greek word hosios means sacred, holy, or pious. The hosios person is one who performs righteously—who does what is right.
• Dikaios means “righteous” or “just.” The person who is dikaios-RIGHTEOUS will try to live his/her life in accord with God’s will. The person who is dikaios-JUST will deal with other people fairly and honestly.
• Amemptos means blameless or faultless.
With these three words, Paul claims that he and his colleagues have adhered to a very high standard of ethical/moral behavior toward those to whom they brought the Good News. The Thessalonian Christians have seen this, and know it to be true.
“As you know“ (v. 11a). Again, Paul says “as you know” (see 2:1, 2:9). In this instance, he means that they know the compassionate nature of the apostles’ work among them.
“we exhorted (Greek: parakaleo), comforted (Greek: paramutheomai), and implored every one of you, as a father does his own children“ (v. 11b). Paul uses three words to describe his work (and that of his colleagues) among the Thessalonians. NOTE: Some translations divide the verses differently here, placing the following three words in verse 12 rather than verse 11.
• The Greek parakaleo is a combination of para (alongside—to the side) and kaleo (to call). It can mean “to exhort” or to strongly urge, but it can also mean to encourage or to comfort.
• Paramutheomai means to comfort, encourage, or console.
• Martyromai is related to the word martys, which means a witness. It means to bear witness or to affirm.
These three words, used together, give a picture of the apostles using every means of persuasion at their disposal (but only positive persuasion—not punishment). Their posture was that of a father or mother trying to shepherd his/her children to keep them on the right path—always watching for the one who was about to stray—giving this one a nudge in the right direction—and then that one.
This is what Paul meant earlier, when he said, “We were well pleased to impart to you, not the Good News of God only, but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us” (2:8).
“to the end that you should walk (Greek: peripateo) worthily (Greek: axios) of God“ (v. 12a). Some translations say, “live worthily,” but the Greek word is peripateo, which means “walk.” From very early times, Jews used the word “walk” to speak of the manner in which one conducted one’s life (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9; Psalm 1:1; 119:3). The New Testament continues that tradition (Romans 6:4; 13:13; 1 Corinthians 7:17; Ephesians 4:1, 17; 5:8, 15; etc.)
What does “walk worthily” (axios) mean? A person who has been accorded high status in life needs to honor that gift by living in accord with high personal standards.
In this instance, God has called these Thessalonian Christians “into his own Kingdom and glory” (v. 12b). They need to keep in mind that they are constantly in the presence of the King of Kings, so they need to hew to the very highest personal conduct.
This is a point at which the evil one has warped and distorted the world in which we live. In many cases, those who have been accorded high status (celebrities, entertainers, sports figures, and politicians) exhibit conduct so sleazy that I am at a loss for words to describe it. In some cases, they have gone on record as not owing anyone anything (in terms of setting an example). In some cases, they trade on their “bad boy” or “bad girl” persona as a way of gaining publicity.
As Christians, we need to be careful not to honor that sort of behavior. If God blesses us with high status, we need to be careful not to succumb to the temptations that it brings.
If we achieve high status, we need to be aware that the evil one will turn up the heat—will tempt us in ways that we could scarcely have imagined possible. One of the great tragedies is when a celebrity who has linked his/her name with Jesus then falls into some sort of disgraceful behavior that dishonors the Lord that he/she claimed to serve.
“who calls you into his own Kingdom and glory“ (v. 12b). As I was preparing this exegesis, I happened to run across an article about people who had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. The article was accompanied by photos of those being honored—dressed in fine, conservative, formal clothing—kneeling before the queen (who was standing) while the queen tapped their shoulders with her sword. We can be certain that those being honored practiced in advance so their behavior in the queen’s presence would be appropriate.
I saw that Elton John had been knighted some years earlier. I am quite sure that he left his ducky suit at home—and that he modified his sometimes outrageous persona to honor the fact that he was in the queen’s presence.
With that in mind, consider how you should dress and act when invited into the throne room of the King of Kings—before whom even the Queen of England will someday kneel and present her homage.
Again, the evil one has warped our sensibilities here. In our desire to make sure that everyone feels welcome in church (a good motive), we have encouraged people to come as they are—wearing tank-tops, shorts, flip-flops, or whatever (a bad outcome). We need to recover a sense of awe in the presence of the King—and wearing respectful clothing is one way to do that.
1 THESSALONIANS 2:13. WE THANK GOD WITHOUT CEASING
13 For this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when you received from us the word of the message of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also works in you who believe.
“For this cause we also thank God without ceasing“ (Greek: adialeiptos) (v. 13a). This brings to mind the entreaty that Paul will make toward the end of this letter, when he charges the Thessalonian Christians, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks! (5:16-18).
Things have not always been comfortable for Paul and his colleagues in their relationship with these Thessalonian Christians, but they have maintained thankful hearts.
“that, when you received from us the word of the message of God (Greek: logos theos—word of God), you accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God” (v. 13b). When someone comes proclaiming salvation, the first question to be answered is, “From whence cometh this new word? The Thessalonians had to decide whether Paul’s preaching was something that he had made up—or whether it came from God, as Paul claimed. If they had thought it might simply be Paul’s invention, they could not have accepted its claims on their lives, especially once they began to experience persecution.
So Paul gives thanks that they received his preaching as the word of God—which it was.
“which also works in you who believe” (v. 13c). The word of God was continuing to work in the lives of these Thessalonian Christians—guiding them, strengthening them—blessing them—helping them to grow in faith.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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