By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli

Sometimes we think the success of a man like Paul lies in something he had that we can’t have. Before you decide for yourself, study this passage. Here Paul reviews his successful (“not in vain” – v. 1) ministry at Thessalonica.

Verses 1-12 describe The Character of Paul’s Ministry. At least eight characteristics stand out.

1. Boldness (v. 2). It wasn’t an easy boldness. The level of suffering and shameful treatment at Philippi was extremely intense (see Acts 16:12-40). As Christians, we must expect this if we are to live for Jesus as we should. The publishing of the gospel is always met with “contention” (conflict).

2. Honesty (v. 3). This is defined by three negatives:

• “Not of deceit.” This refers to the source: Paul who was not in error.

• “Not of uncleanness.” This refers to his motives: They were not impure.

• “Not in guile.” This refers to his methods: They were not deceitful or tricky. To preach the truth is worthy of upright heart and straight-forward dealing.

3. Responsibility to God (v. 4). Paul did not try to please men, but God. This was his goal for two primary reasons:

• God gave him the responsibility. In other words, God tested and approved Paul trustworthy with the gospel.

• God would be the One Paul was answerable to. The words translated “Allowed” and “tried” are the same Greek root. The idea here is that Paul was God’s tested and trusted man. However, he would stand before Him and be tested again. We all will.

4. Unselfishness (vv. 5, 6). This was manifested in more than one way. Paul did not use flattering words. Such speech suggests a self-seeking person. Neither did Paul wear a “cloak of covetousness.” In other words, he was not coveting money or power. He was not hiding his greedy motive under some pretext. Nor was he seeking “glory” from them. He wasn’t out to win people’s praise.

The word translated “burdensome” literally means “in weight.” Some think Paul means the weight or burden of financial support that he refrained from putting on them (compare with v. 9). Others think he is referring to the weight of apostolic authority. In other words, he wasn’t “throwing his weight around.” Either way, his unselfishness is the point.

5. Love (vv. 7, 8). The love expressed was very tender (v. 7) and deep (v.8). In verse 7, the “nurse” is a nursing mother. That is the level of gentleness of Paul’s love. His love was such that he would freely sacrifice his own life if need be. The word “souls” is used here in the sense of “selves.” The gospel ministry requires that one give himself to it and to the people he ministers to.

6. Industry (v. 9). The words “labor and travail” are sometimes translated “toil and moil.” (They rhyme in Greek, too!) These words suggest weariness and pain. Paul worked “night and day” to avoid burdening this mission church with his financial support. Did any success ever come without unsparing work?

7. Blameless behavior (v. 10). The word “Holily” means conscious of and respecting God. The word “justly” can be toward God (righteously) or toward man (rightly). The word “unblameably” probably means behavior with which men could find no fault. How often the gospel is undermined by careless conduct. We must give our hearers reason to respect the message.

8. Careful instruction (vv. 11, l2). Verse 11 shows the nature of this instruction: exhorting (urging), comforting (encouraging), and charging (testifying). These words remind one of a father giving instruction. So Paul was both mother (v. 7) and father (v. 11) to his people.

Verse 12 shows the object of Paul’s instruction: His converts’ “walk.” The gospel doesn’t quit when people get saved. It puts demands on their lives as children of God and citizens of His kingdom.

Verses 13-16 reveal The Manner of the Thessalonians’ Response.

1. They received Paul’s message as God’s word (v. 13). The gospel is God’s truth, but its effectiveness is conditional on man’s faith.

2. They received the gospel in spite of persecution (vv. 14-16). While suffering at the hands of their countrymen the Thessalonian Christians followed in a pattern already set (1) by the churches in Judaea, (2) by the Lord Jesus and the prophets and (3) by Paul himself. Verse 16 shows what Paul saw in store for unbelieving Jews on that score.

We see, then, that Paul’s success was not dependent on apostolic power, but on characteristics of ministry any of us can have. Certainly he might still have been unsuccessful if the people had not responded favorably. (No doubt, many at Thessalonica did not so respond.) Still, when God’s people minister in the pattern displayed here, hearers will be more likely to receive the message as God’s true word.