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TEXT: I Thessalonians 2:1-12
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #3: Paul's Defense
Today, with God's help, we'll move on in our study of Thessalonians. The two Letters were sent to a church long ago in a place far away. But they are not artifacts, of interest to historians only. They are the Word of God and speak as directly to us as they did to the people way back then. The words of God are like His mercies: They are new every morning.
If you read the Letter straight through, you'll notice how different the mood of chapter 2 is from chapter 1. The first chapter is entirely positively. Paul is thanking God for his friends in Thessalonica. He remembers their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope, and he knows why they're doing them: Because God has chosen for holiness.
He looks back on their first meeting. His sermons were not just listened to politely, but they were received for what they were: The Word of God. The Word came to them in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. The Word changed their lives. Formerly pagan, they turned from their idols to serve the Living and True God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.
What Son? The Son whom God raised from the dead-that Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! Who, in His death and resurrection, delivers us from the wrath to God.
Sacred emotions have gotten the better of Paul. What starts off as a modest thanksgiving ends up as a glorious celebration of God's Saving Work in Christ!
Paul has had his party, but now it's over. In chapter 2, he starts defending himself. He doesn't specify the charges made against him and he doesn't name the ones who are making them. But, if you read of his time in Thessalonica and compare it to what he says here, you get a pretty good idea of what they were saying about him-and who were saying it.
THE ENEMIES AND THEIR CHARGES
Paul spent three weeks in Thessalonica. He started in the synagogue where, opening the Scriptures, he proved This Jesus, whom I preached to you, is the Christ. Most of the Jews were not persuaded, but the visiting Gentiles were. They went out and told their friends, and by the next week, the whole city turned out to hear the little man.
The Jews were supposed to be the light of the Gentiles. But they had forgotten their high calling and turned inward. When they saw the Gentiles flocking to hear the Word of God, they envied Paul, and stirred up the mob against him and his friends. When they couldn't locate them, they grabbed a man named Jason and hauled him off to court charging him with harboring the traitors. He was released on bail, and that's all we know about him.
As for Paul and Silas, they got out of town and went on Berea, Athens, and Corinth.
His enemies, though, stayed home. When they couldn't lay hands on him, they did the next best thing: they laid tongues on him. They began a campaign of slander and gossip.
What was he accused of? At first, he was called an enemy of Caesar. But no one took this seriously. Paul was a Roman citizen and loyal to the Empire. If Plan A fails, go to Plan B.
If Paul cannot be made into a traitor, then call him a scoundrel. That's what they did. Why would a man who could make a good living in the tent-making business, go into preaching? He did it for five reasons, they said:
These are the charges laid against him.
They were always taking up collections, the gossips said, and the money is going into Paul's pocket. By their own admission, they have all things in common-including the pretty girls! Paul is loafing all day long and becoming famous all over the world. And what he really gets a kick out of is bossing people around.
Did the church believe these things about Paul? Not yet, they didn't. But gossip has tremendous power over the minds of men. Tell a lie often enough and people start believing it. Even if they know better!
Paul respects the power of lies and he counters it with the power of truth. That's what we have here. Paul's defense of himself and his ministry.
Why does he do this? Is he thin-skinned? Overly sensitive? Prickly? No he's not that way at all. He defends himself because he knows his enemies are not after him, but after the Gospel. If they can discredit him, they can nullify the power of his message.
This leads me to an observation: The world judges the Gospel-not on its own merits-but by the people who believe it. The reasoning is sloppy. Why not judge mathematics by the character of your math teacher? If he beats his wife, then two plus two does not equal four! But it does. Math does not depend on the character of those who teach it. Neither does the Gospel. It is true-whether we are worthy of it or not. The Gospel preached by drunk hypocrite is no less true than the Gospel preached by an Apostle or an angel!
But the world doesn't see it that way. So the Lord wants our lives to polish the Gospel and not to tarnish it. We do this, not in church (because the lost don't come to church), but in the world-at work, at home, in the neighborhood, on the road. Everywhere, our lives either grace the Gospel or disgrace it. Speaking to servants, Paul tells them to honor their masters lest the name of God and His doctrine be blasphemed. To wives, married to unsaved men, Paul says to be quiet and submissive at home that the word of God be not blasphemed.
We should not care what others think of us. Unless it hinders the Gospel. Then, we should care, and do everything in our power to support the Gospel by a solid life and a good reputation.
This is what Paul is doing here. He's not defending himself so people will admire him, but he's doing it so they'll admire Christ, whom he preaches.
THE STARTING POINT
How does he do it? He doesn't appeal to authority. He doesn't say, How dare you criticize me! Don't you know who I am? There's nothing like this in here. He also doesn't abuse the people who are whispering against him. The fact that they're bad, after all, doesn't mean he's good.
He defends himself, firstly, by appealing to their own knowledge. What kind of man was he--to them? Was he a crook to them? Was he after their girls? Did he ask for their praise? Was he a layabout in Thessalonica?
They knew better than this! But if they saw the kind of man he was, why would they listen to the gossip that said otherwise? They didn't have to take Paul's word for it; they didn't need reference. They had a first-hand knowledge of the man, and they should have trusted their eyes.
You yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.
Paul and his partners were not empty suits. They were the Real Deal. The Thessalonians knew it and should remember what they already know.
Now to the charges. In the first place, they said Paul was looking for an easy life. Tent making is hard work, but talking up religion? Any lazy fool can do that!
But, if Paul was a lazy fool, why did he accept persecution for Christ's sake? He suffered at Philippi and was spitefully treated. The story is told in Acts 16. He was arrested, beaten, and jailed without a trial. Suffering here refers to the physical pain they inflicted on him-whips, chains, shackles. But that wasn't the worst of it. He was also spitefully treated. This means insulted, ridiculed, laughed at and treated like dirt.
That would hurt anyone, but Paul more than most others. He was both a Rabbi and a Roman. This means he was used to respect. In Israel, he was a young man on the rise; in the Empire, he was a citizen which made him somebody. But the Philippians treated him like a nobody.
Having suffered these things, a lazy man would quit preaching and go back to the dignified life he had known. But did Paul do that? No he didn't.
We were bold in our God to speak to you the Gospel of God in much conflict.
Womanizing was the second charge. Paul may not be a lazy bum, but he's a lecher for sure. But was he? Was he after the girls in Thessalonica? He wasn't.
Our exhortation did not come from deceit or uncleanness, nor was it in guile.
Did he teach women? Of course he did. Were some of them young and pretty? Sure they were. Did Paul find them attractive? I suppose he did. But there was no uncleanness in his mind or underhandedness in his method. He treated the older women like mothers and the pretty girls like sisters in all purity.
He wasn't trying to win their confidence in order to take advantage of them. The Thessalonians didn't have to take his word for it, they knew it.
If he's chasing the girls, he must be after personal glory. He wants to be somebody, somebody famous, revered, remembered.
If this is what he wanted, he sure went about it the wrong way. Instead of seeking men's favor, he sought their good. He spoke-
Not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts, for neither did we use flattering words-as you know-nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as Apostles of Christ.
Paul is a devout Jew, brought up on the Law that forbade taking God's Name in vain. There was no sin more serious in Israel than this one-I will not hold him guiltless who takes My Name in vain the Lord said. But Paul is calling the Lord to pass judgment on what he says. He didn't trim the message to make himself popular. Or even tolerable.
If he did, he made a mess of it. Nothing was more ridiculous to the educated Gentile than the Resurrection. This-in one word-summed up Paul's message. That's all he preached-God raises the dead. This made him a laughing stock everywhere he went.
Except in the synagogue, where the people believed in Resurrection. Had Paul preached One Resurrection he would have been welcome in the Jewish assemblies. But he didn't preach One resurrection; he preached Two. Yes, of course, God will raise the dead at the end of the world, but first He raised the Messiah, whom you and your rulers crucified! If his preaching was foolishness to the Greek, it was a scandal to the Jew. It was deeply and personally insulting. Every good Jew knew his people were sinful, but nobody thought they would kill their King. Why, if they did that, God would cut them off, and they wouldn't be special any more. Right Paul said. No wonder they tried to kill him in every city!
Paul is not flattering the people, but telling them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Nobody who wants glory on earth will ever do that.
If it's not glory he's after, it must be money. But he isn't. Preachers have a right to your money. The Bible says so. Let him who is taught share with him who teaches in all good things.The laborer is worthy of his hire.If we sow spiritual things, is it some great thing that we reap carnal things? This is doubly true of Apostles, who are preachers to the world and pastors of the Church Universal.
Had Paul sought a good salary, no one could have faulted him. But he didn't. He and Silas,
Labored and toiled night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
He is not exaggerating for effect. He preached in public, taught and counseled in private, and made a living working with his hands, despite his physical handicaps. He did all this work without getting a dime in return. In some places, he took the offerings that were given to him, but not in Thessalonica. And, once again, they knew it-
You remember, brethren, our labor and toil.
Finally, he was not after power. It's amazing how intoxicating power can be. Men live on it and can't get by without it. If it weren't so serious, it would make you laugh: little men puffing out their chests, ruling little churches with an iron hand.
Paul was not under the power of power. Instead of dominating the people, he treated them with all the tenderness of a nursing mother. Just listen to the words: gentle, cherish, affectionate, pleased, dear. A bit later, he changes the figure of speech: the man who is as tender as a nursing mother is also as kindly as a loving father.
For Paul, ministry was not about taking, but giving. He didn't want their money or their praise or their women or their submission.
WHAT HE WANTED
All he wanted was for them to walk worthy of the God who calls [them] into His own kingdom and glory. At the end of the chapter he calls their salvation his hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing.
The critics have been answered and Paul is justified. He is not the crook they said he was, but a man of integrity, Not sinless, not without faults and blind spots, but a man of God through-and-through.
We need men like Paul in the ministry. We don't need his gifts half as much as we need his character. But where does the character come from? It comes from God.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Said the poet. But if the whole power and wisdom of God are needed to make a tree, what's needed to make a Paul? It is His power and wisdom and grace. Are we praying for pastors? Are you praying for me? Are we praying for God to build the character of men already in the ministry and to call good men to it? Maybe we have not because we ask not.
But character is not for pastors only, but for all Christians-including you. Your witness depends a great deal on the kind of person you are. Do your neighbors hear you fighting with your husband or wife all day and half the night? Do people at the mall see you gawking at pretty girls? What do the bill collectors think of your character? And what about your boss? Do your work habits beautify the Gospel or make it ugly?
Character matters because the Gospel matters. It's worthy of all acceptance whatever kind of person you are. But it's more likely to be accepted if you're the kind of person Paul was. So grow in grace. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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