Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 309 - January 1882
Such was the vivid and powerful effect of the Apostle's visit to Thessalonica. There was an unmistakeable and deep impression produced by the conversion and walk of the saints there on those outside, around and everywhere. Their faith went forth as a living proclamation of the truth; "so that we need not to speak anything." How happy, when the work is in such power and freshness as to leave the workman free for other fields white already unto harvest I What glory to the Lord, when the very heathen aroused and amazed by the result in power before them cannot but talk of the true God and His Son!
Now, the Apostle draws a good sketch of his "entering in," as to its character and bearing on the saints themselves, an internal picture, as before we were told of its external effect.
"For yourselves know, brethren, our entrance unto you, that it hath not been vain. But having suffered before, and been outraged, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation [is, or was] not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile; but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God that proveth our hearts. For neither at any time were we with speech of flattery, as ye know, nor with a cloke of covetousness, God [is] witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children; so yearning over you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye became beloved by us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and our toil; working night and day that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye [are] witnesses, and God, how holily and righteously and blamelessly we behaved ourselves to you that believe; just as ye know how each one. of you as a father his own children, we [were] exhorting you, and comforting, and testifying that ye should walk worthily of God that calleth you unto His own kingdom and glory" (Ver. 1-12).
The apostle could confidently appeal to the inner consciousness of the brethren. The entering in of Paul and Silas, which they had to the Thessalonian saints, had not been empty. A divine purpose of grace, reality in pressing the truth on consciences, and energy of the Holy Spirit, had characterised their service, and produced corresponding results. And no wonder; for it was the love of Christ constraining to the love of perishing souls, which (knew not God nor the power of His resurrection who had tested death even for them. Assuredly too, it was neither an ostentatious show nor a holiday visit, but an errand so serious in the eyes of their visitors, that no object by the way or on the spot detained; " but having suffered before and been outraged, even as ye know, in Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict" (Ver. 2).
Their injurious treatment at the hands of the Gentiles in Philippi no more daunted their unconquerable faith and love than the subsequent persecution by Jewish spite and jealousy at Thessalonica. No experience of suffering can turn aside those whose mind is to endure all things both for Christ and for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Hence their confidence: "we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict." If there was the assurance that the glad tidings were God's, they were emboldened in God to speak out, whatever the opposition or violence that environed them. So, if the apostle had now to exhort the saints in Thessalonica that no one might be moved by their affliction, it was not, as a dilettante divine, laying on the shoulders of others a burden which he would not move with his own finger. From the first he was called to suffer for Christ's name, as distinctly as to bear that name before both Gentiles and kings and sons of Israel, to open their eyes that they might turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they might receive remission of sins, and an inheritance among those that are sanctified by faith in Christ. And in this he wrought with burning earnestness, to which "much conflict" refers, rather than to mere external trouble on the one hand, or that wrestling for the saints against the wiles of the devil, of which we hear in Col. ii. 1, on the other hand. He walked and served in the truth he taught.
"For our exhortation [is, or was] not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile; but even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God that proveth our hearts " (Ver. 3-4). There was as good a conscience as boldness and endurance. There was integrity of heart, the very reverse of playing a part, instead of becoming the victim of delusion and so misleading others. Error was as far from the exhortation as impurity, nor was there the least intent to deceive, which "guile " expresses,; but the truth was pressed holily and sincerely; and so spoke these blessed labourers, as became those who knew they had been approved of God to have the gospel entrusted to them. Grace forms responsibility, as grace enjoyed in the soul maintains its force livingly. They had God before them, God that proveth the hearts, not men to please whose breath is in their nostrils: wherein is man to be accounted of?
This is a grave and abiding principle, as true and important now as when Paul thus spoke of himself and his companion in the service of Christ. One cannot serve two masters. Patrons and congregations are not the only snares. Desire of influence, dread of disfavour, party, ecclesiasticism, may interfere with allegiance to the Lord, and righteousness in that case will surely suffer, perhaps truth itself. So Satan works in Christendom to the dishonour of Christ. The attempt to serve more than one is fatal; for a man will either hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. If a labourer in faith regards himself as approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, he will only the more take heed to himself that the ministration be not blamed, but in everything commend himself as God's minister. Only he will seek to hold fast liberty as much as responsibility in the Spirit, with the written word as his sole rule. An apostle had the same direct responsibility to the Lord as the least labourer in the gospel, and, as we see here, owned it for himself as he urged it en others. It is no question of right but on Christ's part; it is solely of responsibility on ours. This maintains His glory and our obedience. To us there is, and there is but, one Lord, Jesus Christ, to whom are all things, and we through Him; as there is one Guu1, the Father, of whom are all things, end we unto Him. May we be imitators of the apostle, as he was of Christ.
But there is the snare of mammon as well of a master rival to Christ; and we cannot servo God and mammon. Hero, too, the. apostle could appeal to the experience of the Thessalonian saints. "For neither at any time were we with speech of flattery, as ye know, nor with a cloke of covetousness, God [is] witness; nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome [or, stood on dignity] as apostles of Christ " (Ver. 5, 6). Those with whom Paul and the others were conversant could bear witness whether his speech was that of flattery or words of truth and soberness. God was his witness whether covetousness was concealed under any pretext. But there are other ways in which the corruption of our nature is apt to indulge and betray itself. Hence many a man who would not stoop to flattery and may not be covetous is vain or ambitious. How in these respects had Paul and his companions carried themselves? " Not seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as. apostles of Christ." He sought their blessing in the testimony of Christ, not theirs but them for God's glory; and, instead of claiming just consideration in carnal things as sent of the Lord on spiritual service, there was thorough self-denial in devotedness to Christ.
Now he turns to the positive side of their walk and work. "But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children" (Ver. 7). The figure of a parent, even a mother, fails to convey the tender care of a love which has its spring in God Himself. Babes need a nurse, which all mothers are net; but a nurse cherishing her own children is the just figure here employed, not a hireling for another's offspring. " So yearning over you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye became beloved by us " (Ver. 8). Where else is there anything to compare with this in unselfish love, unless it be in the persevering faithfulness of grace which watches over the same objects in their growth and difficulties and dangers afterwards? " For ye remember, brethren, our labour and our toil: working night and day that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God" (Ver. 9).
Paul wrought with his own hands in Thessalonica as in Corinth, whence he wrote to them, that he might be chargeable to none. Yet if anyone was entitled to say, like Nehemiah, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down," it was the apostle, who truly did in another sense come down, and so much the better did his great work, though never was there a greater mind than his who thus laboured manually night and day during his brief stay among the Thessalonians. "Ye [are] witnesses, and God, how holily and righteously and blamelessly we behaved ourselves to you that believe." He sums up hi appeal to the believers and to God Himself, as only one could do who exorcised himself to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men always. " Just as ye know how each one of you as a father his own children, we [were] exhorting you and comforting and testifying that ye should walk worthily of God that calleth you unto His own kingdom and glory" ( Ver. 11, 12).
Love adapts itself to the wants of these loved. So did the apostle when the saints needed more than the food of babes. And what earthly father over made good his relation to his own children as Paul to his beloved Thessalonians? Each one and all were objects of unremitting and considerate vigilance. Exhortation, comfort, testimony never failed to stimulate, cheer, and direct in the ways that befit the God that calls unto His own kingdom and glory. There He will have His own with Christ soon and for ever; in that hope, and worthily of it, He would have them now to walk. Such is the aim of a true workman of Christ; and no lovelier picture can anywhere be found than appears in the simple sketch here drawn by the apostle.