Lesson 5: The Manner of His Preaching: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on 1 Thessalonians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error deceit or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.

Paul turns to a defense of the apostles’ behavior while in Thessalonica. “Defense” suggests there had been accusations, but there is no direct evidence of this. He acknowledged that apostles had the right to material support (1 Corinthians 9:3-7), but he also knew of Christian preachers who, in his view, were greedy “peddlers of the word of God” and whom he contrasted with himself in his preaching of the Gospel “without charge” (2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Corinthians 9:12). He spoke of these charlatans in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:17). The question asked Paul in verse 16 is “who is sufficient for these things?” One might expect the answer, “No man.” But Paul implies in this verse that the apostles are sufficient. Not in themselves, nor by their own resources (†2 Cor. 3:5); but Paul like every true apostle is sufficient. The many, that is, the false apostles who have been troubling the Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:13), are not. They are hucksters, peddlers. They think of personal advantage and profit (†2 Cor. 11:20); they adulterate God’s Word, the message of salvation, to suit their interests (†2 Cor. 11:4); and so Paul applies to them the figure of the unscrupulous petty tradesman or peddler who thinks only of using every tricky means to make financial profit. In contrast, the ministry of Paul and his apostolic comrades stands the test; they can be trusted with the life and death issues of the Gospel.

In his defense Paul clearly faces the accusation that “he was no better than the usual series of wandering preachers.” But he persisted in his message despite hardships, which shows that he was concerned for the truth, not private gain. The word rendered “appeal” has the original meaning of “a calling to one’s side,” that is, a call with a view to being helped. It acquired other meanings such as “entreaty,” “exhortation,” and “encouragement” (it is similar to the word rendered “Comforter” in John 14:16, etc.). Here it means “request,” “appeal.”

The second accusation was more serious: “impure motives” or “uncleanness” denotes moral impurity. The charge is startling to modern ears, and it must always be borne in mind when interpreting early documents that sexual impurity was a regular feature of many of the cults of antiquity, especially those from the East. Ritual prostitution was carried on in connection with many Temples, the idea apparently being that “one brought about union with the god by union with one of his consecrated ones.” The Jews, at least in later times and perhaps as early as this, frequently brought the accusation of immorality against the Christians. It has apparently been suggested in Thessalonica that Paul and his companions had been associated with such practices, and the apostle repels the charge with resolve.

The third accusation is that of using “trickery.” Paul’s actions (which the Thessalonians personally observed) demonstrated both his sincerity and his motives (which they could not observe but which Paul explained here). His method was not trickery and he did not seek to mislead, or deceive them, but was straightforward.

† (2 Cor. 3:5) Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God,
† (2 Cor. 11:20) For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.
† (2 Cor. 11:4) For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted--you may well put up with it!

4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

In strong contrast to the improprieties of 2:3, Paul said he spoke out of the best motives, realizing that God had put his heart to the test. He and his companions did “not” speak . . . “to please people, but God.” Having been approved (“shown by testing to be genuine”) “by God,” He “entrusted” them “with the Gospel.” God would not have blessed their work if their motivation had not been right. Paul saw himself as a steward entrusted by God to carry His message of salvation to lost men and women (1 Corinthians 9:17). Paul, who views himself as under God’s constant scrutiny, would not dare to serve with the wrong motives.

Paul’s preaching could not have been filled with error, for he was entrusted by God with the message. He was not impure, for he had been approved by God. He was not a trickster, for he aimed at pleasing God, not people.

The word translated “approved” basically means “to test.” But “to test” readily passes over to the meaning “to approve by test.” Since the Gospel is of divine origin, no one may take it upon himself to proclaim it. God chooses his messengers and He tests them before committing the gospel to their trust.

Paul says his motives are pure, “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” Paul in fact might serve people, but he never served with the aim simply of pleasing them. If he served them, it was in the spirit of “ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (†2 Corinthians 4:5). So now he says that his aim had been to render service that would be well pleasing to God.

That pleasing God could not comprise merely outward deeds, but was concerned with inward motives, underlies the reminder that God tests (or, “keeps testing”) people’s hearts. We are apt to misunderstand references to the heart in the Scriptures, for we often use the term to denote the affections. But in antiquity the affections were thought of as located in the intestines (“bowels of compassion”). The heart, even though it might sometimes be used in a sense not far removed from our own, stood for the whole of our inner life, thought and will as well as emotions. Here the meaning is that God searches out the whole of our inner life. Nothing is hidden from Him.

It could be that some false teachers came into the church to discredit Paul’s ministry. This would account for his emphasis in verses 1-12 on his divine appointment, approval, integrity, and devotion to them (Acts 9:15; 16:9-10).

† (2 Corinthians 4:5) “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.” “We preach . . . Christ Jesus the Lord.” Believe me, dear reader, you and I are helpless when we give out the Word of God. There is an enemy opposed to us, and he binds the minds of people.

Paul had stuck to the essential truths of the gospel. He didn’t try to impress with great oratory, something very popular at that time, but he kept his preaching very simple and put the gospel on the lower shelves so everyone could understand it. What is the essential truth of the gospel: “Christ’s death on the cross provided salvation for all those who believe in Him” (1 Co. 2:1-2{9]). This verse underscores another central aspect of Paul’s message: Jesus is Master, or Lord, of all believers.

5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.

Here Paul moves on to the integrity of the messengers. “Never” covers the whole period; no room is left for exceptions. Paul denies, then, that he and his companions had ever made flattery their method. It is a matter of using insincerity as an instrument of policy, as a means of persuading another to do one’s will. “You know we never used flattery.” The trouble in the early Church was that there were people who did use flattery in an attempt to cash in on their Christianity. Paul “never used flattery.” He could have; he was one of the best educated men of his day; but he never used enticing words when speaking of man’s wisdom, never flattered the people to whom he preached. The Thessalonians knew that Paul preached in words easily understood, in straight-forward language with no frills on his words. He preached with boldness and in terms that could be understood by his hearers.

The second charge refuted also contains the idea of insincerity. The term “mask” denotes a false pretext that conceals the real motive. It is used of putting forward something that is plausible and that might well be true in itself, but that is not the real reason for doing whatever deed is referred too. So here Paul denies that evangelism had been simply a cover for an underlying “greed.” By greed he means an eager desire for what one does not have. Basically it is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), for it exalts itself to the highest position; it regards itself with a veneration that amounts to worship. Paul’s words are a warning to all his readers to be rigorous in their self-examination.

Note that Paul evokes two witnesses; the Thessalonians and God Himself, to attest to the apostles’ character (see also 2:10; Deut 17:6; 2 Corinthians 13:1)

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