Overall, this is an encouraging letter to the Thessalonians, but you can’t miss the fact that Paul is admonishing some of the members and perhaps even some of the leaders of this church. Who is he admonishing? The irresponsible.
How are they being irresponsible? They were being irresponsible when it came to their money and time. And what was the cause of this irresponsible behavior with regard to money and time? The source of the problem was an inaccurate understanding of the hope of Christ’s return. Satan couldn’t shake their faith so let’s see how he distorted their understanding of hope and then totally derailed some of them in their practice of loving others.
In some of Paul’s letter, the problem is clear. Paul states, this is the problem. You got to fix this. Here, the problem is not so clearly stated. It’s a bit hidden in the overwhelming praise and gratitude he has to God for this church. But the clues are there. You have to piece them together like a mystery novel. You have to realize that Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t spill any unnecessary ink when he pens his letters. He doesn’t use filler words. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word is chosen deliberately and with great care.
If this is the case, you have to ask yourself, why does God inspire Paul to write a defense of his motives and his actions while he was among them. Is he just being overly defensive? Listen to what he says in 1 Thess 2, starting in v3. 1 Thess 2:3-4 [READ].
Paul is addressing false teachers who have impure motives. Their intent is deception. What is their goal? You would think, these guys went into the ministry because they want to live for God. They want to please God. But no, their goal is to please men, not God. You hear that and think, why would anyone want to please men? Pleasing men is such a terrible goal, esp. for a minister of the gospel. But pleasing men was the penultimate goal, it wasn’t ultimate. The ultimate goal is found in v6.
1 Thess 2
6 and we didn’t seek glory from people, either from you or from others.
Pleasing men is not an end in itself. Pleasing men is a means to a greater end, which is to receive glory from the very people they are striving to please. What is their methodology?
1 Thess 2
5 For we never used flattering speech…
By Paul saying–we never used flattering speech–he is basically making a contrast. I didn’t do this, but some of you, you know who you are, you are using flattering speech. We all know what flattering speech is. I’m sure there are some brown nosers in your classes or at your workplaces. And it happens in churches, too. Oh, you’re so good at that. You’re such a good speaker. You’re so good with people. You’re such a servant. Their use of these words is to on one level, please the intended audience of these words, but in the end, the people dishing out the flattery are looking for something to gain for themselves. They want to be glorified themselves. They seek glory from people and they use flattery to get people to be loyal to them.
1 Thess 2
5 For we never used flattering speech, as you know, or had greedy motives…
Again, Paul is not wasting any words. He is saying, we never had greedy motives while we were serving among you, Thessalonians, but there are some in your midst who are greedy. Greedy for what? It’s not clear at first.
Let’s continue reading from verse 7.
What is Paul talking about here? He’s talking about finances. He is saying, as an apostle, he had every right to be a financial burden to the congregation. But he choose not to take any money. Instead, he worked night and day as a maker of tents. That was his side job. He was a tentmaker. Paul has a father’s heart and these Thessalonians are like his kids. I have 3 boys and I would rather work several jobs than to be a financial burden toward my kids in the future. I want them to enjoy good food and I’ll eat cheaper food if that’s what it takes, and so as a father, why would I want money from my kids if it caused them to suffer even a little bit? Even if they didn’t suffer and they had plenty of money, still, I would have a hard time taking money from them. Because I’m their father. I’m here to provide for them, not the other way around. This is a father’s heart. And Paul is like a spiritual father for these Thessalonian brothers and sisters.
Some of the members here know that I work part-time. And to be honest, it is not easy for me to receive money because I fully understand and appreciate Paul’s heart. In fact, it’s a burden to receive money for doing God’s work. I did it free of charge for many years as a bi-vocational minister. So to this day, my heart is that I don’t want the money. If my business grows and there is no need for me to receive money, I know some folks here will fight me on this but at that point, I really don’t want to receive the money. I will pastor free of charge.
If anyone could justify receiving money from church, it was Paul. He made so much impact in his generation. Doesn’t it cross your mind–why on earth was Paul of all people working on tents for goodness sake? He could have been praying more or writing more letters or starting more churches or preaching more sermons, but he is working constantly, night and day, so that he can support himself financially while doing everything the Lord commanded him to do and his To Do list was quite long. He probably had zero down time. The gospel came into his life in power and the Holy Spirit fueled his energy and zeal so that while outwardly his body might have been wasting away, but inwardly he was being renewed day by day, to the point of staying up late sewing tents together while everyone else was sleeping.
Paul lived this way and this is in sharp contrast to some false shepherds who had greedy motives. Do you see the issue Paul is trying to address? He is not only exposing false teachers by their motives of wanting to get rich on the backs of other brothers and sisters. He is also seeking to be an example in the areas of financial responsibility and time management.
To understand this more fully, we need to take a look at 1 Thess 4:9-12. Here, Paul makes an odd reference to love and leading a quiet life of minding your own business. 1 Thess 4:9-12 [READ].
Paul starts by commending the Thessalonians for their love for one another. In fact, their love is spilling over to the entire region of Macedonia. But right after talking about their love, he encourages them to lead a quiet life and to mind their own business. Loving someone versus leading a quiet life and minding your own business–these two don’t seem to go together, do they?
Paul elaborates in his second letter to this church, 2 Thess 3:6-15 [READ].
Paul is contrasting his behavior and the behavior of his companions, Timothy and Silas, with the behavior of some of the brothers at Thessalonica. In terms of financial responsibility, Paul was blameless. He didn’t take money from the church not because he didn’t have the right to take the money. He didn’t take the money, v8-9, because he wanted to be an example of a fatherly shepherd who will gladly burden himself so that the people he is serving don’t have to be burdened by him being there. Doesn’t that sound like Jesus, who says come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest? Give me all the burden, I will carry most of the burden, in exchange, take my burden which is easy and light in comparison.
Paul didn’t want to burden others so he gladly put more burden on himself. Compare this attitude with the attitude that some of the brothers at Thessalonica started to adopt. They quit their jobs and stopped working. Instead of working to support themselves financially, they burdened others by taking handouts from brothers and sisters who continued to work. It sounds like these misguided brothers showed up unannounced in the daytime, v11, during the middle of a fellow brother’s work day and prevented him from getting his work done. These brothers who quit their job are not only leeches, but they are nuisances.
How did some of the brothers get this way? Like many things, I’m sure it started with good intentions. If every day, you walk out the door and you’re not sure whether or not you’re going to come back home alive because the persecution is so intense, I think you would start placing your hope in the coming of Jesus. Some of them must have thought, it’s getting so bad in the Roman Empire that we must be in the Last Days. Jesus’ return must be just around the corner.
We can speculate that perhaps there were even some in the church who said, Jesus is coming back on such and such day. They put a date on Christ’s return. That’s why Paul has to reiterate in 1 Thess 5:2–
1 Thess 5
2 For you yourselves know very well that the Day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
No one can predict the precise date of the coming of the Lord. We just have to be ready. Jesus can return today. He may return thousands of years from now. 2 Pet 3–to God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. God is not delaying his promise. Or God hasn’t forgotten about his promise. Jesus will return, as promised, but when is he coming back? Nobody knows. If someone says they know the precise date of the Second Coming of Christ, as many have already predicted dates in the past, tell them, you’re a liar. Someone please show them this verse–1 Thess 5:2. Jesus’ return will come like a thief in the night. All we can do is to be prepared every moment.