1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. 2 We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 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. 5 You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. 6 We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like young children among you.
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Why we do something often motivates how we do something or our method for doing something. If I am eating something like rice just because it will provide my body with the nutrients that I need to perform everyday kinds of tasks, I might woof that bowl of rice down pretty quick so I can get back to doing what I was doing. But when I sit down for a steak, I eat it differently. I cut the steak into small pieces, I actually chew my food, and I think about what I am doing. I don’t usually have to think about chewing, but when I am eating a steak, I think about it. I eat a steak differently than I eat rice because I am not eating the steak just for nourishment. I am eating the steak for enjoyment. Why we do something often influences how we do something.
Or think about it like this. I ran a little bit yesterday for exercise. I don’t like to run. So I plod along, putting one foot in front of the other, step by step, looking at the time, trying to distract myself, just trying to make it to that magical 1 mile marker so that I could stop.
Last week you probably heard stories about the guy in Ohio who let loose his exotic animal collection, opening their cages and allowing them to roam free. His collection of animals included things like wolves, cougars, grizzlies, lions, tigers, and bear, oh my! Now if I was in Zanesville, OH, like I was a few weeks ago, and I came across one of these animals, I would probably run a little bit differently than I did yesterday when I went for a little job. You run differently when you are running for your life than you do when you are running for your health.
Why we do something influences how we do something. Our motivation influences our method. That is what our scripture is about today as Paul tries to share with the church in Thessalonica the reason why he does what he does, going around from town to town, sharing the love of Jesus. He shares it out of a love for God and a love for neighbor which influences how he shares this love. Let’s look at our scripture.
It looks like Paul is under attack again. This guy just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. We spent some time recently looking at Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi where Paul was under attack by Jewish followers of Jesus for making it too easy to follow Jesus. No circumcision, no food laws, no ritualistic cleansings, just Jesus. What Jesus and Paul seem to be saying throughout the New Testament is that the Old Testament moral laws still apply, but what we call the purity laws maybe aren’t all that important and can be a bit of a stumbling block for people wanting to follow Jesus. Those that did keep the purity laws didn’t like this too much. And Paul makes mention of this in verse 2 where he says that they had been treated outrageously in Philippi. I don’t know what all that means, but it must have been pretty severe for Paul to even mention it. Read 2 Corinthians 11 sometime and you will hear about how Paul in his ministry career had been beaten with canes and whips, shipwrecked, stoned, and jailed. He isn’t just complaining about someone calling him a name. When he says he was treated outrageously in Philippi, it must have been something worth noting. But now, here in Thessalonica, Paul is under attack for something else altogether. You would think that he would learn his lesson! He is under attack because some people believe that he has impure motives. What might those impure motives be? To even begin to guess we need to look at the city of Thessalonica and some other sources in the Bible for additional clues.
Thessalonica was a port city, located on the Aegean Sea. The Navy would have had a base there and it would have been a major location for commerce. It was even the capital city of more than one empire throughout history, so it was a pretty important place.
We find a brief account of Paul’s missionary trip to Thessalonica in the book of Acts, chapter 17. Verses 1-4 say this, “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.”
This sounds like a successful stop in the missionary journey of Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Some Jews became followers of Jesus and many of the God-fearing Greeks did the same. And it wasn’t just any old Greek off the street that became a follower of Jesus that day. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, makes sure to mention that these Greek converts were prominent women. Like I said, this was a successful stop in their missionary trip, but perhaps not everyone would see it that way.
If we pick back up in Acts 17 with verse 5 we read this, “But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.”
The Jews that were not persuaded by Paul’s three consecutive Sabbath-day sermons got jealous and they went into town, found some rough dudes in the market place, and started a riot. I love that, but not because riots are a good thing. They went into the city and found some random people that looked like trouble and they used these trouble makers to do what trouble makers do… make some trouble. They went to Jason’s house, and I have no idea who Jason is, but they go to his house because evidently Paul has been staying at Jason’s house. They grab Jason, take him before the city officials, along with some other new converts, and start complaining about how he has housed this Paul guy who has caused trouble all over the world teaching that there is a different king named Jesus. And the city officials fine them and send them home.
What is up with that? The Jews, who don’t particularly like Caesar in the first place, accuse these Jewish and Greek converts of not liking Caesar. They find trouble makers in the city and encourage them to cause trouble so that they can complain about Paul, who has caused trouble around the world. This would make a good reality television show, wouldn’t it? And the reason that we are given for all of this turmoil is because the Jews were jealous of Paul.
So when Paul says in our text for today that he was accused of having impure motives in his missionary work in Thessalonica, I come back to those who were converted during this trip, particularly the prominent women. Based on the information that we have, I assume that Paul is being accused of trying to convert these prominent women because of their money and their power. They were prominent women in a prominent city, an area of commerce, a port city. These women had resources at their disposal and Paul is being accused of trying to woo them to follow Jesus so that he could gain access to their money and power. The fact that our text says that certain Jews were jealous says to me that maybe they were used to tapping into those resources, but I can’t say for sure.
This would be like going to Chicago and working to convert Oprah or to D.C. and trying to convert Michelle Obama. If you get them on your side, it could be very beneficial. Oprah has money and power; Michelle Obama has money and power. It would be like going to Alaska and trying to convert Diane McEachern (who did you expect?), the leader of the Occupy the Tundra movement in Alaska. If you only try to convert prominent people, if you only seek to get the support of rich and powerful people, you can be accused of having impure motives, and that is what seems to be happening to Paul. The Jews in Thessalonica are accusing him of only being after a share of their power, their money, and their authority. And I really wish that I could say that this never happens in Christianity today.
Too often we hear accusatory stories of pastors or church leaders that are only after money and power. Of course that isn’t the only reason that they are doing what they are doing, but it can seem like they are only after your money. When someone looks into the camera and tells you that God will bless you if only you give your bank account number to the church treasurer, they might have impure motives.
The temptation to exploit people for personal gain is a problem that goes back at least 2,000 years to the beginning of the church, and surely back as far as the beginning of time. I admit that I can be a bit cynical, but when someone does something nice for me or wants to offer me the deal of a lifetime, I always find myself wondering, “What’s in it for them?”
I got a phone call on Friday as I sat at the church working on this sermon and it came from a large hotel chain; a high-end, fancy-pants hotel chain. And they wanted to offer me three nights at one of their lovely resorts over the holidays for the low cost of only $160. He then read off to me the locations that were available: Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, and so on.
Obviously, he wasn’t trying to just do me a favor and offer me a good deal on a hotel room. He was trying to fill their hotel rooms in vacation destinations during Thanksgiving weekend and the Christmas holiday, when these places often sit empty. It wasn’t hard to figure out what was in it for him.
So Paul is accused of have impure motives, likely because he was trying to tap into the wealth and power of the Thessalonians. But Paul defends his motives in verses 4b-6, “We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.”
Paul didn’t go into Thessalonica with the intention of getting rich. He didn’t go in with the intention of pleasing people. He went there with the intention of doing what he felt God had called him to do. He says that they could have tried to flatter the people or impress them, but that wasn’t their goal. Their goal was to please God. Their motivation was to be faithful.
Our motives influence our methods. Why we do something changes how we do something. In the end of verse 6 Paul says that as apostles of Christ, he and his companions could have asserted their authority. They could have pulled out their credentials and showed the people that they were ordained by the Virginia Mennonite Conference for congregational ministry and that they had studied at the finest seminary in Harrisonburg, VA. That is good for something, right? But they didn’t.
What Paul is saying is that he could have gotten tough on the people when he was preaching to them and he could have really pushed the fact that he had a revelation of the risen Christ when he was traveling on the road to Damascus. He could have hammered away at the fact that he spent time with and learned from some of Jesus’s closest companions. He could have explained to them that he had studied under the greatest teachers of both Judaism and Christianity and that therefore he was better equipped to make theological decisions related to who the Messiah is. Paul could have just said, “I’m smarter than you, darn it. Listen to me!” But he doesn’t.
Verses 7-8, “Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
Verse 7 is a challenging passage to translate, and I think that if we worry too much about the exact wording we can miss the forest for the trees. Some translations say that Paul and his companions were gentle, while others say that they were like young children. Some versions say that they cared for the Thessalonians as a nursing mother cares for her children, and other versions simply say as a nurse cares for children. The reasons for these differences have to do with the fact that the Bible is really, really old and was written in languages that are not spoken in the same way today. But the point that Paul seems to be making is that he and his companions could have pulled out their credentials and shoved the Gospel message down the throats of the Thessalonians, but instead they approached the Thessalonians in a gentle way, the way a caring person would look after their children. They did this because they love God and they love the people of Thessalonica. They were delighted to share with them not only the Gospel, but their lives as well.
They shared the good news out of love for God and out of love for others. This is the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment. Love God and love your neighbor. Love your neighbor like a mother loves her children.
How does a mother love her children? Some words that come to my mind are indiscriminately and unconditionally. To say that a mother loves indiscriminately means that a mother loves all of her children the same, regardless of any differences between one and the other. Imagine an expectant mother sitting around all day, hoping for her unborn child to be born with a full head of blonde, curly locks of hair. When that child is born and comes out with straight brown hair, she isn’t going to love it any less. She isn’t going to take it back to the hospital and ask for an exchange because she wanted a child with curly blonde hair and she got one with straight brown hair. Sure, she might have preferences in hair types, but she isn’t going to love that baby any less.
And to say that the mother loves her child unconditionally means that there is nothing that a child can do to make the mother love her less and there is nothing that the child can do to make the mother love them more.
We all have hopes and expectations for our children. Everyone wants their child to be a doctor, a scientist, or even president. But not all children can be these things. Do you love your child less because they aren’t rich and powerful? What about if they have a physical or mental handicap? I doubt it. The love that a mother has for her children is unconditional.
So when Paul says that he and his companions cared for the Thessalonians as a mother cares for her young children, I have to imagine that Paul cared for them indiscriminatingly and unconditionally. Paul did not discriminate based on whether someone was a Jew or a God-fearing Greek. He did not discriminate based on their gender. He did not discriminate based on their power or their wealth or their prominence. He just loved them like a mother loves her children. And even though some of the Jews harassed and had the new converts thrown in jail, I have to imagine that Paul loved them unconditionally, even though they might be seen as enemies to the faith.
Our method says a lot about our motivation. If you share the love of Jesus with only the rich and powerful, maybe you are looking to get something in return. But when you share the love of Jesus with people like a mother loves her child, indiscriminately and unconditionally, not expecting anything in return, it shows that you are following the commandments to love God and love your neighbor.