Study Notes

1Thessalonians 2:1-20


The book of 1Thessalonians is chronologically the first book of the New Testament to be written. Remember that Paul had spend just three sabbaths in Thessalonica preaching the gospel and planting the church. Now, less than a year later, he is writing to them. The book has three basic divisions: Paul is first reviewing their past, then he will encouraging and exhorting their present walk, and finally remind them of their blessed future - the rapture of the church and the return of Christ.

As we look at chapter two this morning, Paul is calling to their remembrance what happened in the past.

2:1-2 Mistreated In Philippi

We read about the occasion that brought Paul to Thessalonica in Acts 16. Paul and those he traveled with landed in Philippi. Not finding a synagogue to teach at, they went to the river where they supposed that the few Jews in town would gather for prayer. Finding only an assembly of women, they began sharing with them. Lydia got saved, and asked the group to stay at her house.

One day, while they were walking along, they passed a slave-girl who was possessed with a demon. This gave her supernatural powers of fortunetelling, and her owners made a lot of money off of her ability.

The slave-girl began following Paul and the group, crying out

Acts 16:17-18 ..."These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.

Her owners were not too thrilled about this. They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities. The chief magistrates of the city had them stripped and beaten with rods, then thrown in jail with their feet fastened in stocks.

You'd think that would be a good opportunity for complaining. But instead, we read,

Acts 16:25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;

Suddenly, and earthquake rocked the prison, opening the doors and unfastening the chains. But instead of escaping, Paul led the jailer to Christ. The next day, they left the city, and traveled on to Thessalonica.

You can imagine what shape they were in when they met the Thessalonians. Backs still scabbed and scarred from their beating, it would have been very easy to lay low, to simply look for a job making tents, looking for the occasional opportunity to quietly share Christ with one or two people. But they they didn't shy away from preaching publicly - they proclaimed the gospel boldly. We read in Acts 17,

Acts 17:2-3 And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and {saying,} "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."

Again, they experienced opposition. The Jews became jealous and rounded up wicked men from the market place to form a mob. They went to Jason's house where Paul was staying, and, not finding Paul, grabbed Jason and some other believers before the city authorities.

There was indeed much opposition in Thessalonica.

2:3-7 Not With A Pretext For Greed

It really amazes me that people enter the ministry to get a name for themselves, to be famous, to be rich, to be served by others. In the Bible belt, there are hundreds of Kenneth Copeland imitators, Benny Hinn wannabes, Kenneth Hagin hang-ons, each of them waiting for their big break. Hoping that their church will be the next big story with the television shows and megabucks coming in.

Others around the country are trying to be Robert Schuller. Compromising the truth of the gospel, instead presenting a feel-good message, hoping that if people feel good about themselves when they come to church, that will translate into a big church, lots of money, their big break.

Paul didn't come like that at all. His motives weren't to get rich. He didn't deceive with a watered-down gospel, he didn't try to be a people pleasing feel-good preacher. He never flattered anybody to get on their good side, he never tried to build his own kingdom of popularity.

Instead, he cared for people. Like a mother cares for her children, Paul was concerned with people's eternal destiny and their spiritual growth. In spite of the opposition, even when he was afflicted with physical beatings, public protest and ridicule, he endured and he cared.

Do you love people like that? Are you more concerned with other's repentance than your reputation? Are you focused more on others' salvation than your safety? Paul was - and so was Jesus.

Why? Because they knew that they were entrusted with the gospel - just as we have. Jesus said,

Mark 16:15 ..."Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

Paul wrote,

Rom. 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...

1Cor. 9:23 ...I do all things for the sake of the gospel

We have been entrusted with the gospel. That means that God has placed trust in us to proclaim it, to share it. Can God trust me? Can God trust you?

2:8-9 Imparting Our Own Lives

Part of witnessing to people is serving people. Imparting the gospel often means imparting your life to someone. When Paul got to town, he didn't give a big sob story - "My back is so sore, they really beat me badly in Philippi." No, he simply began to serve. He didn't sit around and wait for people to give him money - he got a job. He didn't wait to be served - he served. He didn't wait to be waited on - he labored.

It always grieves me when I hear preachers saying, "The offering is down this month... we need to take up a special offering to meet the church's expenses." The fact is, that guy should be looking for a part-time job to help alleviate the church's expenses! Didn't come to town to be a burden to people - he came to be a blessing to them.

Now, the case is clearly made in Scripture that,

1Cor. 9:14 ...the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

But if a preacher is hindering the work of Christ by begging for money, that is wrong. Paul told the Corinthians,

1Cor. 9:12 ...we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

Paul wanted to make sure that nothing bad could be said about his ministry of the gospel. So he worked and labored so as not to be a burden or a hindrance.

2:10-12 Exhorting

While Paul's body was working, his mouth was speaking. Three things he made sure to do as these people's pastor, like a father would to his children: Exhorting, encouraging, and imploring.

Exhorting means to be urging strongly, to be giving warnings or advice. While most people enjoy being encouraged, many do not like to be exhorted. But ministers of the gospel are commanded by God to exhort people.

There is of course a right way and a wrong way to exhort. The key to godly exhortation is the charge that Paul gave young pastor Timothy:

2Tim. 4:1-2 I solemnly charge {you} in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season {and} out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

That is the key to godly exhortation: great patience and instruction. I don't expect that if I yell, "I'm warning you people, you'd better get rid of that cable television!" that it's going to do a bit of good. But if I lovingly instruct you, explaining the dangers of brining immoral pollution into your home, and then I'm patient with you as I allow God to let these things soak deep into your hearts, then I'm exhorting in a godly way.


Encourage people to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23), encourage them to continue in the faith (Acts 14:22); encourage people to do right in their marriages (Titus 2:4). Sometimes I encourage you like Judas and Silas did:

Acts 15:32 And Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message.

Encouragement keeps us going, it gives us strength to do what's right. You coaches know how encouragement helps your players perform more skillfully. You teachers know how encouragement helps your students try more diligently. You employers know how encouragement helps your employees work more cheerfully. How much more do the people of God need to be encouraged by others!


You parents know that when exhortation doesn't do it, when encouragement doesn't do it, you're reduced to imploring - begging. Sometimes as a pastor, that's all I have left - to beg you to repent from sin. To implore you to break off that relationship, or to do what is right. You haven't listened to exhortation, you haven't responded to encouragement, so here I am begging you. That's how much I love each of you - I'm willing to beg to see you walk in a manner worthy of God.

2:13 The Word Of God

The reason that the Thessalonians were so radically changed was because they received the message not as being from Paul, but from God. A lot of people treat the Scriptures like a collection of quaint stories, or a book of past wisdom, something to be read along with "other important books."

For example, the Unitarian Universalist Association includes in their belief statement, "We believe that personal experience, conscience, and reason should be the final authorities in religion. In the end, religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We put religious insights to the test of our hearts and minds." Gag me! What a load of nonsense! Fortunately, we know that

2Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

"But," you may say, "You can't use the claims of the Bible to validate the Bible!" The Bible has proven itself to be the inspired Word of God. Take any subject, and the Bible will be proven to be completely accurate. The Bible, without a single re-issue, is more scientifically accurate than the textbooks that are changed every year. The Bible is proven to be more historically accurate with each archaeological discovery, while man's theories are continually changing with each discovery. The Bible is prophetically accurate, without a single error in foretelling the future, while even the best psychics today are happy to have a 40% accuracy rate.

Testimonies abound of intellectual men and women who sought to prove the Bible wrong, yet discovered its supernatural inspiration and gave their lives to Jesus Christ. The Bible is undeniably the Word of God. And if you truly believe, it will perform its work in you.

Hebr. 4:12 For the Word of God is living and active...

Like a living entity, the Word enters in through your ears and eyes and changes you from the inside out. That's how the Thessalonians received it - not as Paul's words, but God's Word - and that's how it changed them so radically.

2:14-16 Suffering Hostility

The Jews were persecuting the Judean Christians, and the Thessalonians were suffering the same thing from their own countrymen. Paul takes the opportunity to interject a comment about those Jews: they killed the prophets, they killed Jesus, they drove out evangelists.

Paul says that they are hostile to all men. It sounds like they're just being hostile to Christians - how could Paul say that they are hostile to all men? Because in preventing them from hearing the gospel, they are keeping them from being saved.

The Measure Of Sin

In hindering the work of the gospel, these Jews were filling up the full measure of their sin.

God is a God of mercy, but there is a limit to mercy. The limit comes when God would no longer be just if He did not judge someone's sin. People who continue in wickedness without being destroyed are living only by mercy. In the days of the flood of Noah,

Gen. 6:5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

God gave them a limit: if they continued on this path, they would be destroyed in 120 years. You see, justice demanded that they be judged, but mercy allowed justice to wait 120 years.

As we go through the Old Testament, we see that mercy constantly delaying justice. God could have judged the Amorites in Genesis 15, but as he told Abraham about his descendants spending a long time away from the land of Canaan, He said,

Gen. 15:16 "Then in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete."

The Amorites were given mercy - another 400 years to repent before they would be judged, as we read about that in the book of Joshua.

The world is in another time of mercy now. Justice is crying out for blasphemers to be judged, for the wicked to be silenced, for the God-haters to be destroyed. But God continues to be merciful until justice must be given.

2Pet. 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Just like the Jews of Paul's day, there are wicked people attempting to hinder the spread of the gospel. They are filling up the measure of their sins, and one day, justice will demand that mercy has had enough time.

2:17-18 Thwarted By satan

Paul had been absent in person, but certainly not in prayer. His heart was continually toward Thessalonica. But he was prevented from returning. How? He simply says, "satan thwarted us."

Of course, we know all about this, don't we? After all, Paul told the Corinthians, that he didn't want to be taken advantage of...

2Cor. 2:11 satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

I wonder though... Are we ignorant of his schemes? I think we often are. When we read that "satan thwarted us," the Greek word translated "thwarted" means "to impede one's course by cutting off his way." How does satan get in the way? We see in the book of Daniel that Gabriel was sent to give Daniel understanding as soon as he began to pray about it. But in the spiritual realm, he was withstood for three weeks before being able to get to Daniel. That is one way satan can hinder you, by delaying things in a spiritual realm.

What about the earthly realm? How does satan hinder us there? In Paul's case, it probably had something to do with the problem in Thessalonica. Remember that the mob who went looking for Paul couldn't find him, they grabbed Jason and some other believers, brining them to the city authorities.

Acts 17:9-10 And when they had received a pledge from Jason and the others, they released them. And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea...

What was this pledge? It most likely was a promise that Paul and Silas wouldn't return to Thessalonica. Jason's fear of men and the Jews' hatred of the gospel were both used by satan to produce this pledge and prevent Paul from returning.

Another way satan hinders us in this world is by afflicting us materially and physically. We see in the book of Job that satan had Job's wealth destroyed and stolen, his children killed, and his body horribly afflicted with disease. Often, loss of material wealth, death of family, and sickness prevent us from performing our service in the kingdom of God.

But this is where we need to put on the brakes and remember something: satan can't do a single thing to you without permission from God Himself. God's permission was needed to afflict Job. God's permission was needed to afflict Simon Peter. And God's permission is needed to afflict you. That's why the Scriptures reassure us,

Col. 1:16 For by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things have been created by Him and for Him.

Strange as it seems, the devil has been created for God, to accomplish His purposes. That's why I never give the devil credit for any affliction. By faith, I can trust that God is in control.

Rom. 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose.

I don't need to focus on the devil. I just need to focus on loving God.

2:19-20 The Coming Of Christ

Paul wanted to see the Thessalonians again because they brought him great joy. There are few things that bring me more joy than seeing people that I've led to Christ walking worthy of their calling, growing in the Lord, and learning the Word.

This doesn't just bring joy on this earth. Paul points out that the people we lead to Christ will be our glory and our joy when Christ returns. You see, although salvation is given to all who believe, and we are not saved by our works, the Lord is going to reward us for the work that we've done in His name.

Paul also called the Philippians,

Phil. 4:1 joy and crown...

And the Scriptures tell us,

Dan. 12:3 "...Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The crowns of reward that we will receive will be partly based on our faithfulness to share the gospel with others. They will also be based on us persevering under trial (James 1:12), longing for Jesus to return (2Tim 4:8), being faithful until death (Rev 2:10). Jesus told the church in Sardis,

Rev. 3:11 'I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.

Don't become weary in well-doing. Keep persevering under trial, keep longing for Jesus' return, keep being faithful, and keep sharing the gospel. If you do this, no one will take your crown.

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