(1 Thess. 2:1-2 ESV) 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.
Paul’s missionary trip to Philippi is recounted in Acts 16. It was there that he and Silas were imprisoned and ultimately converted the Philippian jailer.
Chapter 17 recounts the founding of the church in Thessalonika —
(Acts 17:1-10 ESV) Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go. 10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
The accusation that Paul and Silas taught “that there is another king, Jesus” was likely accurate enough, even though they did not teach rebellion against the Caesar.
It’s interesting that so much opposition arose from among the Jews. It’s not entirely obvious why the Jews would have been jealous of Paul (or Jesus) as neither would have urged the closure of the synagogue. The Jews had been praying for a Messiah for centuries. Why did Jesus so upset them?
The text doesn’t say. Commentators often suggest that it was a theological disagreement among the Jews, with many rejecting the claim that Jesus is the Messiah. My guess is that it was also about social prestige and authority. A shift in a congregation’s theology would trigger a shift in who had influence and got to be a big shot (as is true in church today). When so many accepted Paul’s teaching, those who disagreed lost honor and social standing — and so they sought to run Paul and Silas out of town — to regain their former positions of influence.
(1 Thess. 2:3-6 ESV) 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.
Paul next addresses the purity of his and Silas’ motives. Evidently, it was common for traveling philosophers to seek praise and payment for their teaching.
(1 Thess. 2:7-8 ESV) 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.
Tom Wright comments,
In his dealings with the Thessalonians themselves, as a result, Paul could afford to be gentle, caring and loving. He wasn’t secretly out to gain anything from them; he simply and genuinely wanted the love of God to embrace them, and as he worked among them he found that his own love was drawn out to them as well. Those who have had the privilege of being ministered to by people with this motivation know how wonderful it is when pastors share with them not only the gospel but their own very selves. Those of us who have had good Christian friends, at school, college, work or in social life, will know the same thing.
And, in case anyone supposes (if we find ourselves being cynical as we read Paul) that Paul is praising himself too much, we should reflect that he could hardly have written all this—and the scribe taking Paul’s dictation could hardly have copied it down—if it wasn’t true. The Thessalonians would recognize this self-portrait when they heard the letter. The question for all Christian ministers is: if we were to describe ourselves like this, would anyone recognize who we were talking about?
Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 96.
Ultimately we see Paul not merely as a preacher or a theologian, but as a pastor. He loved the people with whom he worked. He taught the gospel not only to please God but out of his compassion for the people he was teaching.
(1 Thess. 2:9-12 ESV) 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.
Again, Paul reminds them of what he did while he was among them. As he also tells the Corinthian congregation in 1 Cor, Paul did not ask for pay but earned his own support by hard work (tent making).
Paul goes from referring to himself as a mother or wet nurse to being like a father among his children. Paul never shies away from mixing a metaphor.
His goal was to call the converts “into [God’s] own kingdom and glory.” This is about becoming a part of the church, of course, but the language looks ahead to the Second Coming when the Kingdom will be fully realized and each Christian’s full glory will be revealed — a glory given to each of us by God himself.
Now, to us, “Kingdom” is a theological word and we debate its exact meaning in a very abstract way. But to Paul’s readers, “Kingdom” means a people ruled by a King. The Roman Empire was a kingdom made up of many lesser kingdoms. People thought in those terms.
“His own kingdom” means a kingdom and a king not like Rome. Rome is not God’s own. And “glory” generally speaks of the presence of God, who is pictured in heaven as surrounded by glory. To be called into “glory” is to be called into the very presence of God — which makes sense in light of Rev 21-22, which pictures God coming to earth to dwell among his people.