COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 2:5So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. 9For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." KJV (1 Thess 2:8-9)
Professional and institutional religion does not have heart. In them, there is really very little concern for people. The institution and a personal career take the precedence over personal interest in those called "the flock of God." Every religious institution has a history of hurt people, ground to powder under the wheels of the progressing establishment or profession. All of this has depersonalized the modern "church," contributing to its fulfillment of the descriptive appellation, "Babylon the Great" (Rev 17:5). From the bloody persecutions of the Roman Catholic Church, to the calloused institutionalism of our day, "heart" has been largely removed from the Christian community. We have much the same situation as existed when the Scribes, Pharisees, Lawyers, and Sadducees, driving the institutional wheels of Judaism. They pioneered a professional religious spirit, with recognition being given purely upon the basis of appearance and fleshly distinctions (Matt 23:5-7). They did not require spiritual substance, only strict conformity to the institution. The chapter before us shows a total absence of heartless religion, standing in stark contrast with the general religious tone that is around us. Here we will see how those with the Spirit of Christ minister, and the extent to which they will go to bring the Gospel of Christ to the people.
AFFECTIONATELY DESIROUS OF YOU
" 2:8a So being affectionately desirous of you . . . " Other versions read, "affectionately longing for you,"NKJV "a fond affection for you," NASB "We loved you so much," NIV "So deeply we do care for you," NRSV "yearning over you," DARBY "we felt so devoted to you." NJB This is obviously a very strong and personal expression of spiritual love. It declares a firm and unusual attachment to the Thessalonian brethren. The expression reminds us of Christ's words on the eve of His betrayal: "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15). Only a godly person can fathom the depth of this word.
As I have noted before, this was not the response of the Apostle to all congregations or individuals. To the Galatians he said, "I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain" (Gal 4:11). Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish" (2 Cor 12:20). Of one man he said, "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works" (2 Tim 4:14).
The strong affection Paul had for the Thessalonians was the response of a spiritual man to those who heartily embraced the Gospel of Christ. While there is a sense in which we love all men, including our enemies (Lk 6:27), it is not with the same love we have toward those who are in Christ Jesus. This is "brotherly love," which is loaded with kind affection (Rom 12:11). It is the kind of love that comes from being "taught by God to love one another" (1 Thess 4:9). This is a love in which we "prefer" one another in "honor" (Rom 12:10). Such love is "unfeigned," or unpretentious, and is "fervently" expressed from a "pure heart" (1 Pet 1:22) toward those who are living by faith.
From time to time, you will hear people say that God "loves everyone the same." Some have gone as far as to say the Lord loves the lowliest sinner as much as He loved Paul the Apostle. Nevertheless, this is foolish talk, and ought not have a place in our speech. There are people who are "greatly beloved," or "highly esteemed" by God-like Daniel (Dan 9:23). God cannot say of every man what He said of David, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart" (Acts 13:22; 1 Sam 13:14). He does not call every man His "friend," as He did Abraham (Isa 41:8), or "My servant," as He did Moses (Num 12:7). In old times, God did not speak with every man "mouth to mouth," or "face to face," as He did Moses (Num 12:8). There are people toward whom special favors are extended by the Lord of glory. As it is written, "The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry" (Psa 34:15). A foreshadowing of this distinctive love was seen in Israel. "For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, And I have loved you; Therefore I will give men for you, And people for your life" (Isa 43:3-4). This love for men is brought to its highest in the body of Christ, who are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Pet 2:9).
The highest expression of Divine love is found in God's love for His Son-"This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt 3:17). God's profound love for the Son is expressed in these words, "For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does" (Matt 5:20). Confirming God's love is NOT an unconditional love, Jesus said, "for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God" (John 16:27). And again, "And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him . . . If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him" (John 14:21,23).
All of this is not unrelated to our text. The Thessalonians had found a special place in Paul's heart because of their bold response and commitment to the Gospel of Christ. He enjoyed being with them. As with the Philippians, Paul's desire for them flowed from his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. "For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ" (Phil 1:8). There is a fellowship with Christ that goes beneath the surface-one in which the very heart of Jesus is experienced by the believer. When this takes place, those who are especially dear to Christ become dear to us also. There are disciples whom the Lord loves in an unusual way-like John (John 20:2). They not only are close to Jesus, but lean upon Him in a more profound way (John 13:23).
This closeness to Christ is not the result of mere religious discipline, or a favorable personality. It is the outcome of a hearty embrace of the Gospel of our salvation. Those who put themselves at risk by taking hold of the truth are endeared to those who declare that Gospel. So it was with the Thessalonians. Paul wanted to be with them.
WILLING TO IMPART THE GOSPEL AND OUR SOULS
" 8b . . . we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us." Willingness is a Kingdom trait, and is realized in Christ Jesus. Prior to the New Covenant, few people were noted for being "willing" toward God. But that is not the case now. We are "willing" when our desires are brought into harmony with the will of the Lord-a most remarkable circumstance. This is the situation prophesied by David in the 100th Psalm. "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." The NASB reads, "Thy people will volunteer freely in the day of Thy power."
Isaiah described the effects of such willingness in these words: "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land" (Isa 1:19). This is the opposite of having a "stiff neck" (Psa 75:5), "hardness of heart" (Mk 1614), and being stubborn and rebellious (Psa 78:8). Where willingness is not found, grace has not been received.
In its essence, willingness is the very spirit of Christ Himself. It involves the abandonment of personal considerations in preference for the will of God. Thus, Jesus said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God . . . My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work . . . nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done" (Heb 10:9; John 4:34; Lk 22:42). In our case, willingness involves receiving a new heart and spirit, having our hearts circumcised, and being made a new creature in Christ Jesus.
WILLING TO IMPART. To "impart" means to share something that has already been ingested by the person who is sharing. In the strictest sense of the word, you cannot "impart" what you yourself have not experienced. This is nothing less than "rivers of living water" flowing from the "belly," or inmost part of one's person (John 7:38). Imparting is not the communication of a lifeless creed or sectarian dogma. It is not swelling the numbers of a religious sect by perpetrating the teachings of that sect. Rather, it is sharing something that gave life to us, and will give life to others.
THE GOSPEL OF GOD. At its heart, the Gospel is "the Gospel of God" (Rom 1:1; 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Pet 4:17). It is the announcement of "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11). It proclaims how God set Jesus "to bless" men, in turning them from their iniquities (Acts 3:26). It tells men that God sent, sustained, raised, and exalted the Lord Jesus Christ-that He has made Jesus "both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). The Gospel proclaims that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor 5:19).
It is one thing to be willing to "impart" such a Gospel under favorable circumstances. It is quite another to be willing to do so when envious Jews reject what is preached, cause a riot in the city where it was preached, and are the cause for having to leave that very city (Acts 17:1-10). One of the acid tests of an approved minister of the Gospel is whether he remains willing to preach in the face of adversity. When Peter and John were strictly charged by the Jewish council "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus," they responded, "we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard" NIV(Acts 4:18-20). That is a willingness to impart the Gospel of God-even in the face of personal harm. Such were the circumstances under which the Thessalonians heard the Gospel.
WILLING TO IMPART OUR OWN SOULS. Here again, the superior nature of the Kingdom of God is clearly seen. It moves people to do what is utterly unreasonable to the flesh. When Paul says they were willing to impart their "own souls," he is saying they were willing to give their lives so the Thessalonians could receive the Gospel. That is clearly the very spirit of Christ, who gave Himself for us (Gal 2:20; Eph 5:25). Jesus said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). At the lowest end of this condition, the true minister will put himself at a disadvantage in order that the Gospel might be known by others (Gal 2:5). At the highest end, he can say, "neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
And how is it that the Thessalonians received such marvelous consideration? Is this something enjoyed by everyone who heard the Gospel? It was their response to that Gospel that so moved Paul: "because you had become dear to us." NKJV As with the Lord Jesus Himself, those who followed Him and eagerly received His word, always got more than the others. That soul that presses hard after Christ will not be disappointed! Both Jesus and His faithful servants will pour themselves out for such hungry and thirsty souls!
LABOR AND TRAVAIL, NIGHT AND DAY
" 9For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." Here is a profound consideration! Because the Thessalonians had received the Gospel "in much affliction" (1:6), the messengers were careful not to be the source of additional burden to them. They preached the Gospel to these suffering saints in great personal inconvenience. With "toil and hardship," Paul writes, "we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you." NIV He is referring to a work that was hard, or difficult, as well as lengthy and inconvenient.
OUR LABOR. This is a description of work that wearied the worker, nearly wearing him out. It is no casual and easy labor to which he refers. Paul was willing to "gladly spend and be spent" for the sake of those receiving the Gospel under much duress (2 Cor 12:15). As the travels associated with the Savior's ministry "wearied" Him (John 4:6), so the Apostle became fatigued with the labors that attended his preaching. As he said elsewhere, "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Tim 2:10).
The "labor and travail" to which he refers was not the preaching itself, but the work in which he engaged to support his labors. Following his departure from Thessalonica, we learn that Paul's "craft" was tentmaking. Because this was the same trade as that of Aquila and Priscilla, "he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers" (Acts 18:3). It was this trade to which Paul referred when he said to the Ephesian elders, "You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me" (Acts 20:34). He also mentioned this practice to the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:12).
Frequently, Paul forfeited his right to be supported by the fruit of the Gospel. He did so in Corinth, lest those who questioned his Apostleship would think him to be covetous (1 Cor 9:6-15; 2 Cor 11:8-9). In the case of the Thessalonians, they had enough burdens without having any additional ones placed upon them.
NOT CHARGEABLE. The meaning of the words "not chargeable" relates to the reason why Paul worked "night and day." It was "in order not to be a burden to anyone." NIV Among other things, this confirmed the Apostle did not seek His own interests, but those of others. He was living out this principle of the heavenly Kingdom: love "does not seek its own" NKJV(1 Cor 13:5). And again, "in honor preferring one another" (Rom 12:10). And again, "but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil 2:3).
Paul wanted nothing to detract from the Gospel and its great benefits-not even undue concern for himself. Even though he worked "night and day," yet he apparently was not able to make ends meet. We learn from his letter to the Philippians that "again and again" they sent "aid" for his "necessities," while he was in Thessalonica (Phil 4:16). Still, he would do nothing to be a burden to these afflicted Thessalonians. For this reason, God brought him what he needed from another quarter, commanding his sustenance as He did Elijah's.
In a way, he helped to carry their burden by not placing an additional one upon them. How unlike the Lawyers, to whom Jesus said, "Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers" (Lk 11:46).
WHILE WE PREACHED THE GOSPEL.NIV Here is an interested perspective. Paul does not say he worked night and day, and preached the Gospel on the side. Rather, he preached the Gospel while he worked and toiled night and day. His vocation was preaching. His avocation, or secondary activity, was tentmaking. Further, the language strongly suggests that he preached WHILE he worked.
Ponder the circumstances under which Paul and his brethren preached to the Thessalonians. They experienced the aggressive opposition of the Jews. There was also a disturbance in the city and among its officials. They toiled night and day, working with their hands. They expended their energies in the preaching of the Gospel. They were mindful of the newborn Thessalonians, who themselves were undergoing affliction, as well as the joy of the Spirit. That sort of activity is nothing less that the presentation of the body as a "living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Rom 12:1). Such labors will not be forgotten by God, for they are "a work of faith and labor of love" (Heb 6:10).