Exploring the Scripture
When teachers, philosophers, or parents wrote letters of advice to children or students in Paul’s day, they used reminders of their relationship and shared history. Today’s passage focuses on such reminders, as Paul reminisces about his first trip to Thessalonica.
Acts 16:16-40 records the difficulties Paul experienced in Philippi, just before he traveled to Thessalonica. The Philippians accused him of greed, unlawful conversions, and deception. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul refers to the suffering and opposition he experienced in Philippi. God gave him the courage to share the gospel despite the opposition. When he testified to the Thessalonians, he used no deceit or trickery to convince them. Paul spoke the truth from the heart to please God, not human beings. They are his witnesses that he did not flatter them, seek personal gain, or try to promote his worth by seeking their approval and praise. The defense of his conduct gives us an insight into the behaviors of others who sought fame and financial gain by evangelizing.
In verse 7, Paul refers to himself, Silvanus, and Timothy as “apostles.” The Greek word for “apostle” meant “one who is sent” and was not a title or officer of the church. All who were sent by the spirit of Christ to share the Good News could be called apostles. Paul often used the term for outstanding men and women, who were diligent, Spirit-filled leaders among the Gentile churches. He recognizes that he and his companions could have made demands common for traveling rabbis, philosophers, and teachers. Such sought payment for their instruction, wanted comfortable accommodations and demanded privileged treatment from their followers. Paul, however, earned his living to avoid burdening the infant churches with his needs.
Some philosophers taught by scolding and insulting their students. But Paul’s team spoke gently, like a nurse caring for her children or suckling a baby. Later in the chapter, Paul switches to the image of a father lovingly caring for his child. Both images reinforce the idea the new disciples in Thessalonica are young in their faith and must continue to mature in the gospel. Paul is ready and willing to help them on that journey.
Paul’s ministry went beyond words to the ministry of presence. He and his team remained in Thessalonica long enough to get to know the people. Only when they knew the people’s hearts and minds could they encourage the witness that went out from Thessalonica to other areas. Ministry is an empty shell if the minister does not offer the gift of self and presence while sharing the gospel.
Paul’s rehearsal of his evangelistic methods was more than casual reminiscences. They served as a model for the Thessalonians to follow in their mission to others. “Do as I did,” Paul was telling them. Avoid seeking privileges and status. Minister humbly and fearlessly, even when faced with persecution. Go live among the people and get to know them. Nurture them as they grow. Speak the truth gently, with transparency, guided by the Holy Spirit. Witness for the glory of God, not human gain. And God will bless the work in the future as in the past.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Paul’s team began the mission in Thessalonica after persecution in Philippi and despite opposition in Thessalonica.
- Paul’s team avoided trickery, deceit, flattery, and false pride as they shared the gospel. They intended to please God, not humans.
- Instead of demanding payment or privilege, Paul and his leaders earned their living, spoke gently, and tenderly nurtured the new converts.
- The Thessalonians followed that model of ministry as they continued to spread the gospel.
Questions to Consider
- What helped the Thessalonians move from being imitators to models of ministry?
- How would you translate Paul’s model of ministerial ethics from the 1st century into today’s world?
- When have you been tempted to profit by your calling as a minister?
- When have you found yourself placed on a pedestal by the people despite your wish to avoid status and honor?