COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 2:5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: 6 Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." KJV (1 Thess 2:5-7)
It may appear strange that Paul makes such a strong appeal to the manner in which he delivered the Gospel to the Thessalonians. Some might be disposed to think it is of little consequence HOW the Gospel is delivered, as long as it is preached. There is an element of truth to this, but it is by no means the whole of the matter. The Scriptures teach us that a contaminate manner of presentation corrupts and taints the message itself, luring people away from the Lord instead of drawing them to Him. Carnal manners eventually cannot mingle with the Gospel of Christ. When motives are impure, it is not long until the words of the Gospel will not fit into the preacher's mouth. The listeners are then disadvantaged by the message preached. A thought that is wrapped in a carnal package cannot remain pure. If men attempt to carry [what they think to be] the Gospel of Christ in a container created by the wisdom of men, the results they obtain will not glorify God. If the priests of old could not carry out their office with unholy means (Lev 10:1-2), you may be sure the ministers of the Gospel may not do so. That would be equivalent to the Savior coming into the world as a Pharisee, Scribe, or Lawyer. It would be like Him attempting to deliver the Gospel in the words of the tradition delivered by the elders of Israel. Christ's distinction was seen in His MANNER as well as His message. Not only did He bring the truth of God to men, He did it as One who was "meek and lowly in heart" (Matt 11:29). He never allowed His appearance to overshadow the message, nor did He attempt to make the message palatable to disinterested souls. So the godly teacher and preacher are noted for their manner as well as their message. Their manner will not chaff against the one with a tender heart, nor will it appeal to the one who is hard of heart.
GOD IS WITNESS CONCERNING OUR MANNER
" 2:5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness." There is a good reason why Paul elaborates on their manner or entrance among the Thessalonians. A flawed message and a carnal approach can never move men to turn from idols, serve the living God, and wait for His Son from heaven (1:8-10). Holy objectives cannot be realized by worldly means. It is not merely that worldly methods are unlawful, they are impotent. They CANNOT produce godly results. This is why Paul did not preach with Roman rhetoric or Grecian wisdom. He did not wrap the Gospel with practices from which Jesus came to deliver us (Gal 1:4). After confirming the conversion of the Thessalonians was real, Paul now tells them WHY it was.
FLATTERING WORDS. "Flattering words" are smooth sounding words that lead the listener to think more high of himself than he ought to think (Rom 12:3). They are exaggerated praise-like "buttering" someone up. The English word for a person resorting to this practice is "fawner." It is to seek favor by overstating the value of a person. Some contemporary synonyms are "apple-polishing" and "pandering." This type of approach moves the pretender to wink at people's sin, and address them as though they were not sinners. It vaunts the seeming worth of human nature, and assigns value to human traits and accomplishments that God does not honor. A speaker using "flattering words" would never tell a person out of Christ that he was "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1-2), or that the wrath of God is upon him (John 3:36), or that God commands him to repent (Acts 17:30). Such would paint the lost person as not too lost, and the sinner as not too sinful.
When young Elihu finally spoke to Job and those with him, he said, "For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my Maker would soon take me away" (Job 32:22). David said, "The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips" (Psa 12:3). Solomon counseled, "meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips" (Prov 20:19), and "a flattering mouth worketh ruin" (Prov 26:28). Peter referred to "flattering words" when he described false prophets. "For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature" NIV (2 Pet 2:18). Flatterings are ministers of Satan, not God.
On a more practical note, "flattering words" would accentuate the human will, tone down the enormity of sin, and accent human goodness. Such words leave people thinking more of what THEY can do than what God has and can do. They make people comfortable with putting off coming to the Savior, and delaying obtaining mercy.
Paul says they did not use such an approach "at any time." Had they used "flattering words," they might have avoided the beating and imprisonment in Philippi, and the need to leave Thessalonica by night. They might have escaped the confrontation with the Jews in the Thessalonian synagogue. But such an approach would NOT have brought men to Christ, causing them to turn from idols, serve God, and wait for Jesus from heaven. They refused to present their doctrine in a way that pleased men.
A CLOAK OF COVETOUSNESS. Other versions read "a pretext for greed," NASB "a mask to cover up greed," NIV and "secretly desiring to profit ourselves." BBE As reprehensible as it is, there is a phenomenal amount of personal fleshly gain realized in the realm of religion. Some men actually use so-called Christianity to become independently wealthy. A "cloak of covetousness" moves men to seek their own gain rather than God's glory. It deceives men into placing the accent upon this present evil world rather than the world to come, where worldly treasures have not part.
We are living in a time when covetousness is exalted in the professed Christian community. Book writers, musicians,
singers, motivators, entertainers, etc., are all about us. They come in the name of the Lord, yet demand high salaries. They market their goods at exorbitant prices, and amass great wealth to themselves. Can you imagine men paying to hear Jesus or Paul preach? Or, can you envision Paul selling his Epistles for personal gain? He did not preach in this manner, and the Thessalonians knew it.
Jesus declared the manner of the Kingdom when He said, "Give, and it shall be given unto you" (Lk 6:38). The primary objective of those who labor for the Lord is to give, to dispense, and to pour out. They have no need to be covetous, for the Lord cares for them. At the point a person attempts to serve the Lord for "filthy lucre," or out of a covetous compulsion, he ceases to be a servant of God and becomes an idolater (Col 3:5).
WE DID NOT SEEK GLORY FROM MEN!
" 5b-6a . . . God is witness; Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others . . . " Remember, the Apostle is accounting for the genuineness of the Thessalonian's conversion by declaring the way in which he conducted himself among them.
GOD IS WITNESS. Paul calls God to witness to the integrity and accuracy of his statements. This is not a mere formal statement-a form of oratory designed to underscore what has been said. By saying "God is our witness," NIV Paul is saying the day of judgment will confirm the truth of what he has said. Also, this is a form of an oath, where an appeal is made to God to validate what Paul has declared. He knew that God, through His anointing, can "teach" the hearers if the messenger is from God or not. As it is written, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things . . . These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" NKJV (1 John 2:20-27). Because the Thessalonians had turned to God to serve Him, and because Paul preached the Gospel in a befitting manner, he could call upon the Lord to confirm his motives, knowing that He would.
SEEKING GLORY FROM MEN. The servant of God is distinguished from all other servants. It is the manner of men to seek glory and praise from one another. Solomon said, "So to seek one's own glory is not glory" (Prov 25:27). To seek glory from men is to order your life so men will honor you. It is to preach and teach with the aim of pleasing men and receiving applause from them.
Jesus set the tone for His Kingdom when He affirmed, "Yet I do not receive testimony from man" (John 5:34). Again He said, "I do not receive honor from men" (John 5:41). And again, "And I do not seek My own glory" (John 8:50). If Jesus had courted the favor of men, He never would have been delivered over to Pilate and Herod. He knew and taught that a person cannot seek God's favor and that of man at the same time.
During the latter part of Christ's ministry many of the chief rulers of the Jews believed on Him. Yet, "because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." In explaining this circumstance the Holy Spirit said, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:42-43). Thus, these rulers altered their conduct because of their preference for the adulation of men.
Their rejection at Philippi did not constrain Paul and Silas to water down their message in order to be accepted by men. They took up their cross and followed Jesus! They did not tailor their message to avoid conflict in Thessalonica, or anywhere else. This matter was so serious that Paul once said, "If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Gal 1:10). Earlier, Paul declared what motivated him to preach the Gospel of Christ. "But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts" (2:4). Now he tells the Thessalonian brethren this is confirmed by the response they had to his Gospel.
Holy men and women seek to please others in the sense of bringing them good and edifying things. "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification" (Rom 15:2). In this case, the pleasing is not praise being heaped upon the one bringing the message, but the spiritual satisfaction that comes to the hearers when they are edified, built up, and strengthened in the faith. That is the result God-sent messengers seek.
No spiritual good will come from catering to people, seeking their approbation, and shaping the Gospel so as to remove the offense of the cross. As you must know, there is altogether too much of this in our time. None of us should work to make the Gospel distasteful, or be offensive in our presentation of it. But neither should we seek to make it appealing to the flesh. To do so is to seek honor and glory from men.
What Paul preached did not come from men, and it was not designed to bring the honor of men to himself. It only had an appeal to those who were convicted of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11). If men did not receive what he said, he did not change his words to make them more agreeable to the flesh. His dominating desire was to please God in his preaching and teaching. He knew that God's good pleasure would move Him to work through the message, bringing men and women to Himself.
NOT BURDENSOME, BUT GENTLE
" 6b. . . when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." The gentleness of the Apostle comes through in this text. The receptivity of the Thessalonians constrained Paul and Silas to conduct themselves in this considerate manner. The NASB reads, "even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." The NRSV reads, "though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ." The NLT reads, "As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you."
BURDENSOME. The demanding, or burdensome, approach Paul could have taken was not in order to destroy the people. As he once wrote, "For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction" (2 Cor 10:8). Notwithstanding, with some people, as the Corinthians, Paul had to resort to this manner: i.e., "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord" (1 Cor 7:10). He also strictly charged the Corinthians to deliver a fornicator in their assembly "to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord" (1 Cor 5:4). He also spoke in this authoritative manner to the Galatians. "If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed . . . You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal 1:8; 5:4). Indeed, there were times when Paul spoke with undeniable authority.
Being "burdensome," or demanding, was not wrong of itself. It was, however, a manner that was not appropriate for the tenderhearted. If people rejected the Gospel, or were hardened against it, neither Jesus nor the Apostles were gentle with them (Matt 23:13-51; Acts 13:10,46). But when people were humble and contrite of heart Jesus and His Apostles were gentle with them. It is not Christ's manner to break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax (Matt 12:20). However, whoever rejects the appointed foundation Stone will suffer the consequences: "Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" NKJV (Lk 20:18).
Those who are tender toward the Gospel will receive a tender and gentle response from God and those who have His Spirit. Such will be treated as the Thessalonians, who turned from idols to serve God and to wait for His Son from heaven.
GENTLE AND CHERISHING. The gentleness of reference is spiritual consideration, not a mere fleshly inoffensive manner. Being "gentle" is taking care not to hinder the work God has begun. It is being careful not to "destroy" the work of God in the people (Rom 14:15,20). Being "gentle" is the opposite of lording it over God's heritage (1 Pet 5:3). This attitude of gentleness was reflected in Jacob's consideration for his household. When Esau suggested they travel together, Jacob said, "My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die" (Gen 33:13). That is how Paul was with the Thessalonians. They were not advanced spiritually, but they were devoted and tender of heart. Thus, as the Savior, he led them "gently" (Isa 40:11).
This is precisely the attitude seen in the blessed Savior when He said, "I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (Matt 11:29-30). Blessed is the spiritual leader who can recognize tender hearts and be gentle among them. Recovery and growth will be experienced under such a ministry. Those, however, who are obstinate, refusing to yield the obedience of faith, forfeit their right to such considerate ministers.
A NURSING MOTHER. This is a most tender scene. Young believers are like infants who are crying out for milk, yet cannot speak plainly or explain why they are hungry. By likening himself to a mother nursing her children, Paul is acknowledging his responsibility to feed and nourish those converted under his ministry, or that of others. We will see the gentle manner in which Paul will instruct the Thessalonians when they had an incorrect view of the coming of the Lord (Chapter 4). The tenderness of their hearts, and their desire for the things of God, were matched by the gentle and considerate teaching of the Apostle. He cared for them as his own "children" (2:11).
God is greatly to be praised for both obedient children and tender instructors. He has a way of bringing such individuals together, making them a comfort to one another.