The Church of the Thessalonians (2)
C. E. Hocking, Cardiff
2. SOME LESSONS IN PLANTING 1 Thess. 2. 1-16
Quotations are from the Revised Version
The Scriptures are extremely rich in metaphor. There are distinctions to be observed in their use. When the preaching of the Gospel is in mind the work is presented as the scattering of seed. The broadcast and the indiscriminate nature of the work are emphasised in this. However, when the establishing of a corporate testimony for God is in view, the metaphor used is that of planting. The preparation of the soil, the seasonableness in the purpose of God, the individual character of the work and attention and care are highlighted thus. The plant pulsating with life, drinking in that which is nutritious to it, basking in the elements vouchsafed to it in the providence of God, develops in its many stages and ultimately produces fruit after its own kind. What a parable of the assembly planted in a district for the delight of God and the blessing of man! The church of the Thessalonians, a unique phrase suggesting a delightful unity in plurality, whilst located on the earth, has God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as its true sphere of life and sustenance, 1. 1.
But it is an important principle to note that the ‘fruit of the labour answered in character to him who laboured. The work manifests the workman’. Whilst the apostle’s work may for convenience be considered separately from himself, it is important not to sever absolutely that which God intends us to see as a whole. The apostle’s life supported what he preached. The man’s conduct confirmed the message. How essential it is for others to see this in our service today.
An Outline of Contents
Let us look at chapter 2. 1-16 to detect the character of those who were instrumental in planting the church at Thessalonica. The portion may be conveniently considered in two parts. In verses 1-12 we have the messengers, Paul and his companions, and the message they proclaimed. Slander is silenced by reference to their sincerity. In verses 13-16 we read of the Thessalonians and the reception of the message. Here their suffering is emphasised. These paragraphs are virtually expansions of chapter 1. 9. The messengers’ ‘manner of entering in’ is developed in verses 1-12 whilst the way in which the Thessalonians ‘turned unto God from idols’ is stressed in verses 13-16 (cf. also 1. 5-6). Viewed from the stand-point of the ministry of Paul and his companions, the development of the whole passage may be shown as follows:
- Their Boldness, v. 1-2; they waxed bold to speak the gospel of God.
- Their Faithfulness, vv. 3-6; entrusted with the gospel they spoke accordingly.
- Their Tenderness, vv. 7-9; they not only imparted the gospel of God but their own souls also.
- Their Firmness, vv. 10-12; their many sided authoritative ministry.
- Their Success, vv. 13-16; their message was accepted and became effectual in the lives of their converts.
The background of verses 1-12 is one of insinuation, slander and violence. How easy it is to infuse suspicion! The service of Christ demands great grace and the character of the servant and his service must be above reproach. Note
the Boldness of the Servants, vv. 1-2
The outrageous treatment meted out to them at Philippi did not deter these courageous brethren in their presentation of Christ at Thessalonica. Not that they were naturally bold, neither were they confident on account of guaranteed protection from the authorities. On the contrary, they were bold in their God to speak. What need there is for rightly placed confidence in the God who ‘keepeth watch above His own’. ‘Conflict’ is an apt word to express the conditions of outward affliction and inward stress so often experienced when the gospel of God is preached even today. Sufficiency for this is found only in God. We should all take up the challenge and boldly present the claims of Christ whether in the chifling atmosphere of indifference or that of heated opposition.
Right motives prompted these men in their work for God. To boldness and endurance is added
Faithfulness and a good Conscience, vv. 3-6
in all that was done. Their exhortation, directed to appeal to and stir up the feelings, was ‘not of error’ but indited by the Spirit of truth. Neither was it ‘of uncleanness’; there was no impurity of purpose or motive. Plausible, insincere modes of leading souls to Christ were avoided; their work was not ‘in guile’. All attempts to make the message popular were strictly avoided, by not ‘using words of flattery’. No ‘cloke’ disguising or concealing avaricious designs was used by them, nor were they ensnared by a desire for ‘glory of men’. They displayed no high-handed authority, as apostles of Christ. These criticisms may well have been sown by their antagonists after their departure, for the devil is the slanderer and does not cease his activities when outward persecution has been exploited. But God was to be praised for the moral strength imparted to these who had been proved of Him before being ‘intrusted with the gospel’. Grace had called to service, grace equipped for service, and now Paul and his companions had discharged their responsibilities in accord with this for, ‘so we speak’. As stewards their ambition was to please God, not man, in single-eyed devotion to Him who had appointed them (cf. 1 Cor. 9. 17; Gal. 2. 7; 1 Tim. 1. 11). The sense of both privilege and responsibility is heightened throughout the paragraph by constant reference to God, vv. 2 (twice), 4 (twice), 5. He proves the heart, v. 4, and whilst the saints may be called upon to establish their outward integrity, they call upon God to witness the inward motive that prompts it all, that which is beyond mere man to discern, v. 5. The manner of their walk and the motive of their ministry was delightfully free of all self-interest. They served as good stewards, faithful to their God and desiring only the good of others. Such are the men God would use to plant churches.
Up to this point their work has been approached from a somewhat external and negative standpoint. We have seen that the work was not carried out in error, uncleanness, guile, by pleasing men, using words of flattery, a cloke of covetousness or seeking glory of men. At most this amounts to a cold presentation of their righteous conduct. Now Paul develops the internal and more positive aspect of their ministry namely
Tenderness in Service vv. 7-9
How movingly he shows their hearts’ yearnings for them! This was love indeed, which seeks not its own. Their ministry ‘in the midst of’ them, was of an intimate nature. All around them were those who made demands on them, depended on their care. Theirs was the part of a nursing mother, their loving interest going so much beyond the demands of faithfulness and duty. They were gentle, for these were their own children in the faith and they drew them close into the warmth of their bosom, and fondly nursed them, cf. Deut. 22. 6; Luke 22. 27; Eph. 5. 29. But even above the extreme tenderness of their relations with the Thessalonians these men had deep yearnings for their spiritual progress. They were ready to spend and be spent and to impart even their own souls to them. Though fatigue and hardship were their lot, they worked in order that these saints might not be put to expense in their material support, v. 9 (cf. 2 Thess. 3. 8). The accent was on imparting, not accepting, for they had ‘become very dear’ to them.
Dare we hope for such happy results and manifest progress if this type of devotedness has been significantly absent from the initial phase of a work? Souls saved, aye and churches planted, need to experience the gentle, cherishing and yearning exercises of those instrumental in their establishing. It is not simply a question of counting decisions, but devotedness and utter selflessness furthering the spiritual development of those blessed through the ministry.
But this is not all. To a steward’s faithfulness and a nursing mother’s devotedness, they added
a Father’s Firmness, vv. 10-12
commanding respect and submission. They acted ‘as a father with his own children’. The children needed direction and encouragement. Before reference is made to this, however, he reminds them that, before the Thessalonians and the allsearching eye of God, they had behaved themselves ‘holily and righteously and unblameably’ toward them. Their actions are under review here, not their character, and whether viewed Godward and upward, manward and outward, or selfward and inward, they were beyond reproach. Their authority was moral and not official as they taught the Thessalonians that they ‘should walk worthily’.
Again, their authority was personal and specific. They did not generalise, neither did they treat the saints as a whole. They dealt with each one since their needs were so different. By ‘exhorting’ the saints, they challenged them to Christian living. Many needed to be encouraged to persevere. Others needed the stronger charge to serve the Lord in reverence and godly fear. But the many-sidedness of the ministry had one object in view. Those spiritual men desired that the converts should habitually live as befitting their divine call. May we not detect two motives for a worthy walk here? The first is the grace of God stressed in presenting him as the ‘God, who calleth you’. He is the Inviter ‘into his own kingdom and glory’. Thus the brightness of the future, into which grace has invited us, is a spur to worthy behaviour. But there is also the fact that God is the witness of all we do, v. 10, and is even the prover of our hearts, v. 4, and witness of our motives, v. 5. We need to walk in the awareness of His nearness, realising all is seen by His all-searching eye.
Let us note one final characteristic of the planting. It is remarkable to see
the Truth which had been Imparted
to this young church. They had little background to help them assimilate such teaching. The planters introduced such truths as election, 1. 4; 2 Thess. 2. 13, the resurrection of dead saints and the rapture, 1 Thess. 4. 13-18, the wrath coming upon the earth and their deliverance from it, 1. 10; 5. 9, the coming in glory and the sharing of the saints with Christ in that day, 2 Thess. 1. 10. The doctrine of the Trinity is here, the Father, 1 Thess. 1. 1; 3. 11; 2 Thess. 2. 16; the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, 1 Thess. 1. 5, 6; 4. 8; 2 Thess. 2. 13; the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son, 1 Thess. 1.10. We might briefly notice that in connection with the Lord Jesus we are taught that He is equal with God, 1. 1; 3. 11; 2 Thess. 1. 12, the Messiah of the Jews and Lord, 1 Thess. 2. 14-15; 1. 1; 4. 1. He died, 2. 15; 5. 10; was raised, 1. 10; 4. 14, and is now in heaven, 1. 10; 4. 16. He is the subject of the gospel message, 3. 2, and source among many other things of grace and peace, 1.1; 5. 28. He is coming again as Deliverer for His people, 1.10; 5.10, taking them to be with Him forever, 4.17, and will subsequently deal with the world in judgment, 2 Thess. 1. 8; 2. 8. The personality and activities of Satan are also treated, 1 Thess. 2.18; 3. 5; 2 Thess. 3. 3. Practical truth had also been taught as they were exhorted to sanctified living in all departments of fife, 1 Thess. 4. 1-8. The tripartite nature of man is within the scope of entire sanctification, 5. 23. Faith, hope, love, the great Christian graces, each form major themes, 1. 8; 3. 2; 2.19; 4.13; 3. 12; 4. 9; see especially 1. 3 and 5. 8. Still there was much to be dealt with, 3. 10. Their moral and spiritual education was far from concluded. Nonetheless, a very sound foundation had been laid and this partly explains the healthy spiritual tone of the work.
How fundamental it is for the satisfactory progress of a work to ensure that the truth of God is treated as adequately as time permits. The spiritual fibre of a church is directly related to its apprehension (not merely comprehension) of the mind of God. In N.T. times it appears that the whole counsel of God was imparted to all the saints in the atmosphere of the church. This was considered to be the ideal training ground. We do well to challenge ourselves with this today. All too often we hear the plea for something of a superficial nature for young people. Often too, those with exercises to serve the Lord feel that the depth and help for which they yearn are sadly absent in the curriculum of the church. Many these days are encouraged to seek training at the school or college to equip them for service. Where can this lead? The assembly is the N.T. school and departure from the scriptural order in this, as in anything else, can produce no lasting good. God is too wise to have made a mistake in anything. But let us realise how far short of meeting the need conditions at large prove to be. We need a very definite return to the Word of God, an enriched handling of it in an expository fashion, a teaching both of its meaning and application. Consecutive ‘labouring in the word and doctrine’ is a crying need. The Lord’s commission is still demanding our faithful discharge, ‘teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway’. Not only then is it necessary to plant the work in the right way, but there is a demand for continual feeding of the saints with a view to spiritual development and the encouragement of gift for the furtherance of the work.
To be followed by ‘The Model Church’.