Paul’s Honesty and Gentleness
“We never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (vv. 5–6).- 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8
People love to be told what they want to hear. Who among us has not turned an ear to those who reinforce our high estimation of ourselves, while ignoring those who are critical? We tend to look for confirmation of what we want to be true about ourselves, not for our flaws to be revealed to us.
This desire has characterized men and women alike for millennia, and flatterers have taken advantage of this longing to enrich themselves in many different ways. Ancient writers recognized this, with even the great philosopher Aristotle authoring works that give signs for how to recognize disingenuous words. Then, as now, purveyors of false religion frequently used flattery to gain a hearing so that they could then convince audiences to give them money.
The Apostle Paul was sometimes accused of being a flatterer and a preacher greedy for gain (2 Cor. 8:20–21). Some people had told the Thessalonian church that Paul was guilty of such vices, so the Apostle defends himself in his epistles to the Thessalonian Christians. Paul reminds them of how his behavior among them demonstrated that he was not out to please men or to enrich himself (1 Thess. 2:1–4). In today’s passage, Paul stresses that he did not come to the Thessalonians with words of flattery or a pretext for greed. Paul spoke only the truth, even when the truth might not win him any friends, and although he could have appealed to the Thessalonians for financial support, he made his own way in Thessalonica (vv. 5–6).
Paul and his companions dearly loved the church at Thessalonica. They were ready to share not only the gospel but even their own selves—they were ready to go above and beyond for the Thessalonians’ sake. Paul says they were as gentle with the Thessalonians as a nursing mother is with her own children (vv. 7–8). In the ancient world, nursing mothers were often hired to feed the children of other people. A tender bond frequently developed between a wet nurse and the child she was paid to care for, but it could not compare to her love for her own children. Paul and his coworkers had such love for the Thessalonians, giving us a model for ministers. John Calvin comments, “All that would be . . . true pastors must exercise this disposition of Paul—to have more regard to the welfare of the Church than to their own life, and not be impelled to duty by a regard to their own advantage, but by a sincere love to those to whom they know that they are conjoined, and laid under obligation.”
Greed and flattery are particularly unbecoming in the character of an ordained minister of the gospel. However, laypeople are warned against these vices as well. Let us pray that the Lord will increase in us the courage to say what is true when it needs to be said and to avoid an inordinate love for the things of this world.
Passages for Further Study