Today: [1 Thessalonians 2:] Keeping Focus in the Midst of Criticism. If you ever intend to do anything more than march in place till Jesus comes, you will get criticized. In 1 Thess. 2 Paul communicates with a group of people who witnessed horrible mistreatment and slander against him because of his ministry. How he responded is an example for us to follow when we are handled deceitfully by those who think they are doing God a favor for doing so.
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[1Th 2:1-20 KJV] 1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: 2 But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. 3 For our exhortation [was] not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4 But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. 5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke 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: 8 So 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. 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. 10 Ye [are] witnesses, and God [also], how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: 11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father [doth] his children, 12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory. 13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received [it] not [as] the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. 14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they [have] of the Jews: 15 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: 16 Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. 17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. 18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us. 19 For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [Are] not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.
Paul defends himself in v. 1-2 of our chapter referring to the shameful treatment he received at the hands of the Jews recorded in Acts 17. In Acts 17:5-6 the Jews stirred up an outright riot and apprehended Paul’s host Jason and dragged him before the magistrate of the city. They accused Paul of rebellion against Caesar, and as a result, Jason was required to pay a bond to answer for Paul’s conduct while in the city. As a result Paul quickly left and made his way to Berea. At Berea, the Jewish contingency was more thoughtful about Paul’s teachings until the Thessalonican Jews showed up to repeat the false accusations against him. Again they were successful in discrediting Paul, and he made a quick exit moving on to Athens where his famous message on Mar’s hill was delivered.
All of this tumult left a stain on Paul’s reputation as the Jews having driven Paul away now turned and accused him of cowardice for going from them. Thus Paul refers to these events in his letter back to the Thessalonians reminding them of the very different outcome of such upheaval in Philippi when the entire city and the city leaders were brought to heel after mistreating Paul unlawfully, being a Roman. In making these statements, Paul is implying that he fled first Thessalonica and the Berea not because he was a lawbreaker or for reasons of cowardice but out of concern for the welfare of those connected with him as new converts in these communities.
Paul reminds the people in v. 5-6 that at no time did he use flattering words or man pleasing messages while with them. Neither did he take anything in terms of support in his entrance nor exit among them as other apostles have done. Kitty and I have experienced this many times when facing opposition in churches where we minister even if an offering was given we have turned the funds immediately back to the church and often added large sums more beside for the sake of the integrity of the message.
It is a fact if you are going to do anything in terms of fulfilling your call you are going to be insulted, accused and vilified by others with many and varied motivations for doing so. Jesus taught that this would be the collective experience of His disciples declaring in Luke:
[Luk 6:26 KJV] 26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.
Preaching the gospel in truth and reality is not for the faint of heart. If you for one moment are concerned about what people think or what your peers in ministry might say about something you do or do not do it will be a great distraction. At the same time, Paul insists (v. 7) that his demeanor in the midst of mistreatment was that of gentleness as a nurse cherishing her children. In other words, you cannot let rejection, slander, abuse and outright lies cause you to take on a hard or defensive exterior. Paul was under brutal persecution but (v. 8) remained affectionately desirous toward the people to impart to them the gospel, the good news of God in the midst of challenging circumstances for him personally. In the middle of all of this they made every effort to behave themselves admirably and beyond reproach although all over their efforts were in vain for they now have to defend themselves to the very people they sacrificed so deeply for.
Paul goes on in v. 11 to remind the people how he exhorted and charged them as a father would his children that they would (v. 12) walk worthy of God who had through salvation in Christ called you to His kingdom and glory. For this cause (v. 13) Paul was continually thankful because they did receive his message not as the word of men but as the word of God which it was in truth. He was then effectively received at the time while with them as he mentions, but that is tempered by the fact that now he has to spend so much effort in his letter to now defend both his conduct and his character to the same people.
What all of this defense Paul makes of himself means is that you have to maintain a big heart and a thick skin even with those in support of what you do in the ministry. For us, there is never a day that goes by without the most obscene remarks made against us not by unbelievers but by those who claim to be devout Christians whose commitment to Christ in their view is only adequately expressed in their vitriol and false witnesses against us. For this reason, we adopt the posture that we never answer our critics. In all our years of ministry, it is rare if at all we have ever seen a critical person change their mind or repent of the filthy and ungodly behavior toward us all (in their view) in the name of Christ. Their behavior is no different from followers of Islam who treat each other fairly but are taught that they have permission to mistreat infidels with any indecent, cruel and evil manner they wish and will be rewarded for doing it. The cruelty of Islam finds its equal in many Christian’s hearts who will conduct themselves with infamy toward anyone they choose to mistreat, and they feel they are to be rewarded in heaven for conducting themselves so. These Christians, unfortunately, are a vocal minority whose savagery and argumentive behavior blasphemes the character of Christ all the while their peers nod in tacit approval of their actions, saying nothing lest they too fall victim to their mistreatments.
In verse 17 Paul laments the brevity of his visit with the people in Thessalonica and states that he intended to return to them but was hindered in so doing. Kitty and I have endured this experience more than once. The most demonic opposition we faced in times past was ministering in an established and well-respected church in Chesapeake, Virginia. The people in this congregation received us with happy hearts, but the leadership horribly mistreated us and bum rushed us out the door after a long day of exhausting ministry, locking it behind them on a cold night without so much as a fare-thee-well. They ostensibly claimed they were merely protecting the flock, but in reality, the pastor was in sexual sin of which the leadership was aware, and they couldn’t wait to get rid of us for fear it would have come out which of course it did within a year when things fell apart. The sad fact was that there were relationships damaged by all of this that have never been repaired very similar to what Paul is addressing in this chapter. We would have never done anything to harm these people but only to bless and help them but they in turn because of a controlling spirit and what amounted to sorcery and witchcraft mistreated us all in the name of defending the sheep and protecting the flock.
In spite of all the difficulty Paul suffered from the Jews and being hindered by Satan himself to return to the church there, his heart was still toward them (v. 19-20) calling them his hope, and crown and joy of rejoicing because even in the midst of difficulty his attention was not on the troublemakers but on those who willingly and gladly received the message. This should be a lesson when you do face difficulty don’t put your attention on the problem people but upon the ones with honest and loving hearts. Many times decent people are neglected and set at naught because leaders spend all their time putting out fires and pointlessly defending themselves when their time would be better spent on loving the ones who would never draw attention to themselves and just want to know more about Jesus.
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