Paul’s Pure Motives
“Our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (vv. 3–4).- 1 Thessalonians 2:1–4
The Apostle Paul spends most of 1 Thessalonians 1 expressing his thanksgiving for the Thessalonian Christians, for their faith and godliness. In chapter 2, he begins the body of his letter, starting with a description of his initial ministry among them.
Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:1 reminds his readers that his coming to them was not in vain. The transition “for” that begins the verse in the ESV indicates a connection to what came before. All that Paul said in chapter 1 about the Thessalonians’ faith, missionary zeal, and endurance in suffering proved that his ministry in Thessalonica, though short in duration, was not without fruit. The Thessalonians were the good soil of which Jesus speaks, and Paul’s sowing the seed of the gospel was producing a harvest (see Mark 4:20).
The Apostle defends his ministry because some people were criticizing his work in the hearing of the Thessalonians. To understand why some Thessalonian Christians might listen to these criticisms, we need to consider the first-century religious context of the Thessalonians. In that era, many would-be philosophers and leaders of new religions traveled from city to city, seeking to gain an audience. Some of these individuals believed what they were teaching, but others were charlatans who sought to take advantage of men and women for their own financial gain. Although Paul preached the gospel of the one true God, it was easy for his opponents to accuse him of exploiting his students just as other teachers did.
Thus, Paul responds to the criticism of his ministry by appealing to the purity of his message and his motives. His godly motivations are evident, Paul writes, in that he continued his work even after his shameful treatment at Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2). Acts 16:11–40 explains that when Paul preached the gospel at Philippi, he was beaten and imprisoned, and in Acts 17:1–9 we read of his ministry in Thessalonica after his release from jail. If Paul was preaching in order to gain a comfortable life, he would have ended his ministry after his suffering in Philippi. His continuing in ministry shows that he preached the gospel for the right reasons. His desire was to please God, and the Lord “approved” him. God tested his heart and found that he had the right motivations for his ministry (1 Thess. 2:3–4). Paul also had the right message, one that did “not spring from error” (v. 3). He preached the true gospel from a heart truly devoted to God. Let us always do the same.
One commentator, writing about 1 Thessalonians 2:4, says that if we are focused on pleasing God, pleasing the world will not be all that important to us. As Christians, we are called to share the true gospel because our hearts are truly dedicated to Christ and want to please Him. Let us seek to please God no matter the cost.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 4:2