Paul’s Motivation for Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)

Snake OilIn the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians Paul tells the church they ought to imitate him as he imitates Christ. In fact, the church is doing just that: they have become a model for other congregations in Macedonia and Achaia. But the prayer does not really explain what Paul means by “imitate me,” he begins to outline some of the ways the church can follow his model in chapter 2. Paul reminds the church how he conducted himself when he was in the city, providing some details on what he sorts of things he models for them in imitate. Abraham Mahlrebe suggested that this description of Paul’s motivations for ministry are not really apologetic, but rather he intends to present himself as an example of moral behavior he expects out of his congregation. Although this might sound arrogant to the modern reader, Greco-Roman philosophers often set themselves as a moral examples for their students to follow.

But Paul is also trying to separate himself from the typical traveling teacher that plagued the ancient world. For Example, the sophist used their oration skills to gain popularity and wealth. Paul contrasts his motives with those of the sophists or other philosophical mountebanks. Like snake-oil salesmen in the American old west, the traveling teacher was a well-known character in the Greco-Roman world. Bruce Winter suggested that Paul was distancing himself “from the habits of the sophists, who entered the cities of the empire with great pomp in order to gain an audience and disciples for their teaching” (Cited by Green, 112). Gene Green cites Dio Chrysostom as an example of a philosopher who set himself up as a model to be followed (in contrast to other philosophers and sophists):

But to find a man who in plain terms and without guile speaks his mind with frankness, and neither for the sake of reputation nor for gain makes false pretensions, but out of good will and concern for his fellow- man stands ready, if need be, to submit to ridicule and to the disorder and the uproar of the mob—to find such a man as that is not easy, but rather the good fortune of a very lucky city, so great is the dearth of noble, independent souls and such the abundance of toadies [flatterers], mountebanks, and sophists. (Dio Chrysostom , 32.11)

In 1 Thessalonians 2:3 Paul claims he did not have “Impure motives” or a moral error (ἀκαθαρσία). When he preached the Gospel, Paul was not trying to get people to believe his message out of a desire to use them immorally. The noun is used for uncleanliness, for dirt and refuse, even the contents of a grave (which a Jew would have considered very unclean). Not surprisingly the word has a connotation of sexual sin, Paul uses the term elsewhere for “every kind of immorality” (Wannemaker, 95).

It is an unfortunate fact that people who attain power use it to sin sexually. This is quite evident that high government officials seem to use their power to be immoral, whether for sexual affairs or quasi-legal bribery. Unfortunately this is as true for religious leaders in our own day. There are people who take advantage of their position in the church to gain sexual favors; it was true in Paul’s day, and it is true in our day.

Paul also says he was “not trying to trick you” when he preached the Gospel in Thessalonica. A snake-oil salesman intends to trick the audience. This word (δόλος) is often translated as “deceit” or “treachery” (BAGD). In non-biblical Greek, the word is used for baiting a hook, a cunning plan to deceive. The most obvious example in the Greek world was the Trojan horse. Paul is not trying to trick people into accepting the Gospel so he can later hit them up for huge donations. Paul had no other motive that to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There was no trick involved, no catch, no hidden clause or fine print. What Paul taught was all there was, and he was successful in Thessalonica because of this.

It is possible Paul is responding to attacks against his character made by opponents either by Jews from the synagogue or the Thessalonicans themselves. It is even possible people in the congregation wonder about Paul’s motivation for preaching the Gospel in their city and founding the church. After all, Paul was only in the city for a short and he left under suspicion of “turning the world upside-down” (Acts 17:5-9). He left Thessalonica after Jason posted bond, possible giving credence to the rumor that Paul was preaching the gospel for the money and did not really care about the church.

One way to define yourself is to describe what you are not. For example, I might say I am a Christian, but not like those guys on TV or like those people who predict the end of the world. In saying this, my intention is to define accurately what I do believe by contrasting myself to more well known “characters” from our culture. Paul does not want to be seen as a sophist anymore than I want to be seen as goofy people claiming to be Christians.Paul’s point in these verses is to remind the readers he is different than the popular philosophers and hucksters they knew well, he genuinely cared for them as he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, it is easy to dismiss the Gospel because people who claim to be Christians have used their power to to terrible things. People use religion to con people into giving them political power which they abuse to enrich themselves. But not every Christian is trying to manipulate people for money and power! How does the contemporary church convince the culture it is “not like those people?” If Paul is a model in this passage, how do we follow that model and avoid moral and intellectual error?

10 thoughts on “Paul’s Motivation for Ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6)

  1. I completely agree that all too often, Christians today are seen negatively because of the behaviors of Christians in power or political light. People will act in an unloving, hateful, and judgmental way while claiming to be Christians. I see this most with cultural issues such as abortion, situations regarding the LGBTQ, or gender/race equality. People make bold statements in the name of Christianity, which can negatively impact Christians as a whole.

    Paul was authentic. He said things exactly how they were – no trickery, hidden agenda, or sugar coating. He combined bold and honest truth with love and encouragement. The problem today is that people have the bold and honest truth, but they leave out the unconditional love that is crucial to both Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings (1 Thess 4:8; 2 Thess 1:3; John 13:34; Matt 5:43-48). As the body of Christ, we need to rise-up like Paul with boldness and love. We cannot expect to sit on the sidelines and let people know who we are and what we stand for. I believe that we need to be truthful, confrontational, and bold. However, we cannot forget the critical piece of love. Not only do we need to speak truth, but we need to live it out and show the world exactly what the love of God looks like – and in order to do that, we must take action.

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  2. Too often do we hear on the news nowadays about some famous preacher of a megachurch or a theologian getting arrested for fraud or any other scandal that is not considered a “practice what you preach” moment. P. Long mentions how important it was to Paul to be different than those sophists or any other “typical travel teacher.” Paul wanted people to know that he was authentic. That Jesus Christ is the real Messiah. In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, Paul makes an effort to tell the Thessalonian church that he has not come to trick or wear a mask. But his intentions are to spread the truth of Jesus Christ. I also think Paul was right to reassure the church that he wasn’t there on the wrong terms. We do not ever seem to have people actually state that they are not fake. In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 says we should test all prophecies embrace what is good and reject what is evil. I believe Paul wanted to make sure people knew him as the real deal and he truly wanted to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. I think the way to follow Pauls model and to avoid moral and intellectual error is to constantly be in God’s Word. By studying and meditating on God’s Word we can better equip ourselves for living out what God says and the more we learn and practice, the more authentic we become.

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    • I appreciate the different ideas and principals that you explained throughout your post. I believe you hit some great points that I didn’t really think about in my comment about this post. One thing that stood out to be that you talked about was the element of being authentic. I believe that element of being authentic in the Christian life is very pivotal. That retrospect of being authentic plays a role in the modern day as well. A lot of times we come across certain circumstances in which we change as we are to please someone or to accommodate their way of thinking or living. Whereas, we should always be living in a way that pleases God. We must always be truthful in what we actually are claiming to be. That element of coming in contact with truth plays a big part in how authentic a person is (John 17:17). Such as, if someone is always lying then that element of being authentic is slowly but surely diminished in our lives through the lens of other people. The truth is always necessary in which to get an understanding for ourselves and from other people. Another point that exhibited throughout your post was the simple fact of staying consistent in God’s word. Understanding that studying and always being present within your Bible is vital to not only our spiritual growth but to the element of leading others to Christ (2 Timothy 2:15). No one will listen to you if you don’t know what you’re talking about.

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  3. The longer I live, the more people I come across who claim themselves as Christians but live their lives in a way that no one would ever identify them like this. The word “hypocrite” is used often by non-believers, or people who once believed, were wrong, and no longer believe. These groups of people often claim all Christians to be hypocrites because of the few that have entered their lives, living in a way that nowhere near reflects Christ. I am not saying that true Christians are perfect, but the difference is that true Christians are trying their best to live like Christ and it shows. Paul the Apostle dedicated his life to live for Christ and aspire to be like Him while sharing this with others. He is a great example of what a true Christian would look like and what we should imitate. It is not that we should aspire to be like Paul because we worship HIM, but because we worship Jesus and Paul reflects the qualities of Jesus. 1 John 2:6 says, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
    Of course, the fear we might have is that non-believers are looking at the wrong people, identifying all of Christianity with the hypocrites that have entered their lives, and proclaiming that we are all living a lie. Or, we might fear that ignorant people will follow the hypocrites lead, assuming that what they are doing is truly the Christian way. The Thessalonians are instructed to practice brotherly love, which they were already doing and Paul congratulates that, but it is constantly reinforced in the Bible, one reason being that those who do not believe will see the love that believers have for them and they will respect that. “By doing so, they may well ‘win the respect of outsiders”…Given the Thessalonians’ tense relations with their neighbors because of their conversion and commitment to Christ Jesus, this ‘code of conduct’ makes good sense” (Longenecker, 70). As followers of Christ, the more we ACTUALLY follow Him and develop His attributes (which we should be doing anyway!), the more respect we will get from “outsiders.” This should not be the only goal of living out our faith, of course, but it is a very important one because when we live out our faith and the truth of Jesus, the more people will come to know Him too. Who He TRULY is and not what hypocrites make Him out to be. Amen!

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  4. Today, we are faced with many stereotypes that are perpetuated through media and the isolated experiences of those who speak of them. The challenge is to distance ourselves from the stereotypes that other Christians have created for our religion and the members within it, and communicate not only what we truly believe, but who we are and the motives behind our actions and beliefs. This is a very similar situation to what Paul faced, as he clarifies his own reasons for ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6, describing how he has come with pure motivations, not of monetary profit, glory and respect, or sexual favors, but because of the message that he believes in. He proved this to the people by not only creating comparisons between himself and a nurturing mother, but also by being self-reliant, and allowing his actions to speak volumes in addition to his words (Longenecker & Still, 2014). In the same way, we should be defining ourselves not only with the beliefs that we align with, but also by taking a stand against what we do not. Furthermore, we should also be demonstrating the characteristics that we define ourselves by. Paul did this by supporting himself throughout his ministry and not relying on the churches he visited to care for him. What action might you need to take in your own life to exemplify your beliefs within your lifestyle?

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  5. How can world leaders use their power for sex. when that is not when it is supposed to be used for. It is supposed to used for the impact of the community in a positive way. As well as the people in their lives too. It is important to remember who is around you and to server God with your body.

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  6. Upon the topic of Paul’s defense of himself to the Thessalonians there is a sense that we cannot fully blame the Thessalonians for their lack of trust in Paul. If all they have experienced in the past, as P. Long describes, are “sophists or other philosophical mountebanks” then they have perfect reason to be suspicious of Paul and his Gospel message. Bruce Longenecker in his book Thinking Through Paul describes Paul’s defense of his ministry in Thessalonica as “instead of being slick-talking, people-pleasing, glory-seeking, charlatans driven by greed and gain, theirs was a sincere, sacrificial ministry in Thessalonica” (Longenecker, 67). Most obviously Paul’s best aspect of his defense is the fact that Paul was, as Longenecker states, sincere in his ministry there in Thessalonica. Paul’s argument for unselfish or immoral reasons for ministry in Thessalonica withstands and holds true because of Paul’s character. For example, a liar may say many times that he is telling the truth but those who know the liar know he speaks lies, whoever an honest man’s statements are confirmed by his character and morals. Paul’s example to us today as western world Christians is to live as Paul did, this is not to say we ought to all be missionaries, travel, and or write letters to churches. But instead we ought to live and follow Paul’s example in the way he lives above reproach. Just as Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 to live a life above reproach, Paul does that himself. If we are, as Christians today, are suspected of immoral motivations for preaching the Gospel, our lives and character ought to speak enough for us to show that we remain and abide in God. Not preaching or sharing God’s word for personal benefit, but instead for the glorification of God the Father.

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  7. One of the most influential aspects that helped the contemporary church separate from others is the metaphors they used in the passages of 2-17 Thessalonians. As Longenecker explains these metaphors were used to illustrate the nature behind their mission in Thessalonica (Long, 67). These metaphors were very effective and changed the opinions of the multitude of people who believed Paul’s intentions were impure. The first metaphor Paul mentions is in verse 2:7 where he describes his mission to be like a nursing mother for her children. This metaphor paints a picture to the Thessalonians on how Paul was going to go about nurture the word of God to them. Through this metaphor, Paul was affirming that his ministry was going to cause them no harm but instead take a loving approach to teaching them. Moving along the passages in chapter 2, Paul again uses another persuasive line that indicates his desire to build a personal relationship with the people. Not only does Paul want to preach the gospel but also wants to speak on elements of his life. Overall, Paul’s metaphors really help him gain credibility and contributed to the increasing number of followers he gained in Thessalonica. By being able to distance himself from “those people”, Paul had much more success in his ministry in Thessalonica. Even though he was kicked out, Paul showed his abilities to convince a crowd through speech.

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  8. When it comes to Paul’s ministry, it is critical to understand why Paul did the things during his time of ministry. On this matter, it is clear that Paul had a specific purpose and reason for why he continued his ministry. According Dr. Phil Long, one of Paul’s motivations behind his ministry was never done out of flattery or to trick people (Long, 2019). In other words, it is clear that Paul’s intentions of his ministry were to get the people he ministered to understand and accept life based around the Lord. Furthermore, as pointed in out in the second paragraph of Dr. Long’s post, Paul is making it clear that the intentions of his ministry is to separate himself from the secular society. Paul’s core mission of his ministry is to have people seek approval from God and the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 2: 5). This verse is a clear indication that Paul did not perform his ministry for himself; rather, his ministry was meant for individuals to seek the real truth in life, which is the Lord. At the end of the day, Paul always used his ministry to demonstrate what it means to live a life Christ and God.

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  9. Looking at the different elements and ideas that are presented within this blog post we come to see the correlation of aspects between that day in age that Paul was present in and the modern day that we live in. As we go through our Christian lives I believe it is vital in our spiritual growth to be able to evangelize to others that follow the faith of Christ but more important those individuals who may be lost and don’t follow the word of Christ. Being able to pull those individuals in is a pivotal aspect into building God’s kingdom that we must succeed at. It allows us to be able to really speak on God’s behalf in which we are making that bridge from Him and non-believers to cross (2 Corinthians 5:20). Thus, we must walk how God walks and and talk as He does in our natural lives that we can inherit that relationship to non-believers. Therefore, to convince those individuals that we are not like corrupt individuals or hyprocrites to God’s word we must stay genuine and consistent in the way that we live for Christ. By us staying genuine that bring that element of love and the aspect that you care for their relationship with not only you but with Christ as well. Helping them to realize you’re going to always be there for them (Hebrews 10:24). Furthermore, this was Paul was trying to accomplish in Thessalonica as people were being hyprocrites he wanted to be the poster child for ethical and spiritual goodness in the Christian life. His heartfelt concern for those people to be better in living for Christ creates those elements of love and being selfless (Longenecker, pg. 165). Thus, I believe for us to be able to follow that model that Paul is creating in this passage we must also stay consistent in good moral behavior. Just as Paul did we must stay steadfast in not only God’s word but the action of living as Christ as well.

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