1 Thessalonians 2:1–12
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our visit to you was not in vain; but though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had the courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from error or uncleanness, nor is it made with guile; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never used either words of flattery, as you know, or a cloak for greed, as God is witness; nor did we seek glory from men, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. BUT WE WERE GENTLE AMONG YOU, LIKE A NURSE TAKING CARE OF HER CHILDREN. SO, BEING AFFECTIONATELY DESIROUS OF YOU, WE WERE READY TO SHARE WITH YOU NOT ONLY THE GOSPEL OF GOD BUT ALSO OUR OWN SELVES, BECAUSE YOU HAD BECOME VERY DEAR TO US.
For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Bethlehem Baptist Church exists by the grace of God and for the glory of God. "From him, through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever and ever!" (Romans 11:36).
Three Priorities of Bethlehem Baptist Church
Therefore we can best describe the three priorities of our church like this:
- We exist to reflect the grace of God back to him in worship to his glory.
- We exist to apply the grace of God to each other for our upbuilding of faith and love to the glory of God.
- We exist to extend the grace of God to unbelievers for the ingathering of the elect from every tongue and tribe and people and nation to the glory of God.
In other words, we exist to be stewards of God's manifold grace—to minister it in such a way in worship and nurture and evangelism that he gets all the glory.
The Priority of Upbuilding in Faith and Love
Today we focus on the second priority, namely, the application of God's grace to other believers for their upbuilding in faith and love. This covers all that we do to each other in the church. It is a huge topic. But I am only going to touch a small but very precious part of it. I want us to think together about sharing our own souls.
So I invite you to consider Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12.
Paul the Defendant
The reason Paul writes the way he does here is because he has taken the witness stand as a defendant. You can hear the accusations of his opponents just beneath the surface. Verse 3: Our appeal does NOT spring from error or uncleanness! It is NOT made with guile! Verse 4: GOD has entrusted us with the gospel! We do NOT speak to please men! Verse 5: We NEVER flattered; we NEVER coveted anyone's money. Verse 6: We did not seek any man's praise. Verse 9: We worked night and day and burdened nobody. Verse 10: You and God are witnesses—our behavior was holy and righteous and blameless!
These are the words of a defendant. He has been slandered. Luke tells us in Acts 17:5 that when Paul planted the church in Thessalonica, the Jews were jealous and set the city in an uproar. It doesn't take much imagination to guess what they were saying. And, of course, their aim is not so much to discredit Paul as to discredit his message and the apparent work of God among the new Thessalonian believers. The Thessalonians had experienced something powerful, and if it is real, the unbelieving Jews are in trouble.
Defending the Election of Believers in Thessalonica
Paul is down in Athens a couple hundred miles away, and he hears from Timothy what is happening back in Thessalonica only weeks after he had been there. So he writes this letter—not so much to defend himself, though that is part of it, but to defend the truth of the believers' election. Verse 4 in chapter 1 is the main point of the first two chapters: "We know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you." That was THE crucial issue: had God really been chosen by God?
Paul writes to confirm their calling and election by God. His argument is tailored to the situation. He aims to vindicate himself and Timothy as utterly truthful and reliable witnesses of the gospel. And he aims to remind them of the evidences in their own lives that God had indeed chosen and saved them from their sin and delivered them from the wrath to come.
"What You Saw in Us and Experienced in Yourselves"
You can see these two focuses (of Paul's integrity and their newness) in 1:5–6. "We know that God has chosen you." Then comes the argument: "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit."
In other words, what you saw in us, and what you yourselves experienced was not a sham. It is the Spirit-given evidence that you are chosen of God. Your opponents were confounded when we argued from the Old Testament in the synagogue and when I bore first-hand witness to the resurrection of Jesus. So now they can only resort to slander and defamation. Do not be sucked in by it. Remember the sort of persons we were among you, and how you yourselves were changed.
An Often Unnoticed Side of Paul
I am glad that Paul was forced into saying some of the things he said in these chapters. They show us a side of him that we might otherwise have missed. I want us to focus on 2:7–8.
We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves (literally: souls), because you had become very dear to us.
This is a somewhat misleading translation because when it says that Paul and Timothy "were ready" to share their own souls, it gives the impression that they were on the brink of doing so but didn't. That is not what the Greek says. The NIV has it right when it says, "We were delighted to share with you not only the gospel but our lives as well."
But I still prefer to keep the word "souls" (instead of "lives" or "selves") because it IS the literal meaning and catches the sense of intimacy that seems to me so important to Paul here.
So I would render verse 8 like this:
So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were delighted—we were eager—to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own souls, because you had become very dear to us.
Flourishing Gospel and Sharing Souls
The truth that I would draw out of this text for our help this morning is this: WHERE THE GOSPEL FLOURISHES, PEOPLE SHARE THEIR OWN SOULS.
We can see the gospel flourishing if we look again at 1:5–6. "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord." The gospel did not fall powerless on rocky soil in Thessalonica. It flourished and the result was that Paul and Timothy proved to be a certain kind of person, and the Thessalonians became their imitators.
What kind of person? Answer: the kind of person who shares his own soul. So I commend it to you as a firm and sweet truth: WHERE THE GOSPEL FLOURISHES, PEOPLE SHARE THEIR OWN SOULS.
Let's ask three brief questions:
- What is it to share your own soul?
- How does the gospel cause this to happen?
- Why is it important for us to do this?
1. What Is It to Share Your Own Soul?
It is NOT just sharing the gospel. "We were eager to share not only the gospel, but also our own souls." You have not shared your own soul when you have only shared information—even the most valuable information.
It is NOT just working hard for someone. Verse 9 says this is part of what Paul gave of himself: "For you remember our labor and toil." But this is not the heart of Paul's self-giving. Notice verse 17: "But since we were bereft (literally: "orphaned") from you, brethren, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face." These are the words of a friend, not an employee. The giving of his soul was not just information and not just work.
When you share your soul, you let a person in to see what is really there. You do not conceal your true feelings about things. A shared soul is a shared passion or a shared fear or a shared guilt or a shared longing or a shared joy. Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own souls—their joy and guilt and fear and longing and passion.
You can see Paul doing that in the first three chapters of this letter. In 2:17 he shares his great desire to see them. In 2:20 he says that they are his joy. In 3:5 he shares the intolerable burden it was in Athens not knowing how they were doing: "When I could bear it no longer, I sent that I might know your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor would be in vain." In 3:7 he speaks of the comfort of his soul and in verse 10 he shares his deep longing to see them face to face.
We would do well to ask whether we are writing or speaking that way to anyone. Is the gospel flourishing in your life?
Are you sharing your own soul with anyone?
2. How Does the Gospel Cause This to Happen?
We can see in 2:7 and 8 at least two things that moved Paul to share his own soul with the Thessalonians.
2.1. First, when the gospel flourishes, it makes a person gentle. Verse 7: "We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children." The gospel imparts a nurturing spirit to those who believe. The closest thing Paul can think of to describe what the gospel does to the heart when the gospel flourishes in it is the tender-heartedness of a nursing mother with her suckling child. True gospel gentleness begets a holy intimacy. It inclines the soul to share itself with other believers.
2.2. Second, when the gospel flourishes, it gives a person sweet affections and kindly feelings toward other believers. Verse 8: "So, being affectionately desirous of you . . . you had become very dear to us." We hear a lot today about love being a decision or an act. So you can act in a loving way even when you are feeling out of sorts with someone. Well, that's true as far as it goes. But it is not all that happens when the gospel really flourishes.
The gospel causes believers to feel affection for one another. Someone may say, "Well that's just Paul's response to the gospel. He must have been an emotional sort." No, both Paul and Peter command all Christians to experience affection for fellow Christians. Romans 12:10, "Love one another with brotherly affection." (This represents two Greek words: philadelphia, which means brotherly love, and philostorgoi, which means loving with strong affection.) Christians should have a heart for each other, not just a dispassionate commitment to do good. 1 Peter 1:22, "Love one another earnestly from the heart." Not just love each other with dutiful deeds and decisions, but EARNESTLY, FROM THE HEART!
When the gospel flourishes, it has the same effect on the heart as a great tragedy like death. Those of you who have ever been sick enough to think that you might be dying know what I mean. When the world starts to pass away before your eyes, some things become extraordinarily precious—like fellow believers, even ornery ones. Brothers and sisters that were annoying, or frustrating, or unreliable, or homely, or callous—somehow now in the face of death, their abrasive oddities are turned to precious imperfections, like the torn doll, or the moldy scrapbook, or the crib in the attic covered with dust.
"Everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ has crucified the flesh" (Galatians 5:24). And so where the gospel flourishes, people live in the constant presence of death and resurrection. Their minds and hearts return again and again to the terrible and wonderful realities of death and life. And so we live on the brink of eternity and we look at each other with a kind of constant wistfulness and there arises in our hearts again and again the sweet affections of some long farewell or some wonderful reunion.
Where the gospel flourishes, there are sweet affections and kindly feelings for our comrades in the cause of Christ. And where there are sweet affections, people share their own souls.
Finally, we ask . . .
3. Why Is This Important?
The gospel-humility of a shared soul gives great glory to God. The gospel-freedom of a shared soul gives health to the mind and depth to Christian fellowship and worship. But I want to focus in closing on the power that a shared soul gives to long and hard ventures of ministry.
Most things of enduring value take a long time to achieve. Missionaries who leave a deep mark for Christ usually give a lifetime to a people. Pastors who build deep and powerful churches for the cause of Christ give 20 years of their life in one place, not 20 months. And Christian statesmen who aim to change the laws and customs of a nation are willing to endure 20 years of setbacks in pursuit of the final victory.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759. In 1780 he was elected to the House of Commons in the English Parliament. James Boswell called him a shrimp, he was so short. But in 1807 the little representative of Yorkshire sat stunned as the entire House of Commons rose to honor him for his relentless battle in Parliament for over two decades against the English slave trade. Sir Samuel Romilly gave a passionate tribute to Wilberforce,
When he should lay himself down on his bed, reflecting on the innumerable voices that would be raised in every quarter of the world to bless him; how much more pure and perfect felicity must he enjoy in the consciousness of having preserved so many millions of his fellow-creatures.
After 20 years of defeat in session after session of Parliament, Wilberforce walked out that night through the snow of the London Streets with his old friend Henry Thornton, and said, with joy in his bright eyes, "Well, Henry, what shall we abolish next?"
Where did Wilberforce get the strength to press on in a seemingly hopeless dream of abolition for over 20 years of setbacks? At least part of the answer is that in 1792 Henry Thornton founded a new community of evangelical politicians and churchmen who lived and worshiped together in the community of Clapham near Parliament. They became known as the Clapham sect and were derisively called the "saints" by their opponents.
There was John Venn the pastor, Zachary Macauly the editor, Henry Thornton the banker, James Stephen the attorney, William Wilberforce the statesman, and others. They were devout Christians. They were political conservatives, and for the most part wealthy. But they spent their wealth solving human problems and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. They pioneered Christian philanthropy and created institutions for Christian missions and humanitarian services. And they were passionately committed to the abolition of the slave trade. And they stirred each other up to love and good works!
How did Wilberforce hang tough for 20 years of setbacks? He banded together with some brothers. And he shared the passion of his own soul. And in that Clapham community, soul to soul, they kept each other hot until the victory came.
Where the gospel flourishes, people share their own soul. And where souls are knit together in the cause of Christ, there is power for the long hard ventures of ministry.