2 For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shame-fully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 2:1-2
The band of missionaries had encountered significant resistance in Philippi. They did successfully share the Gospel with some there, as we have the record, and then they moved on to Thessalonica. Acts 16,17 It is quite likely that some who were persecuting them at Philippi simply followed them and continued to cause trouble, since it appears from the above reference that such trouble was upon them from the moment they got to town. The main issues in Paul’s letters especially always seem to be persecutions from the Jews, about the Messianic message, and persecution from the pagans, who saw the Gospel as a direct threat to their idol worship and the eco-nomy and power-base it generated.
Under strong anointing from the Holy Spirit, Paul and the others declared the Gospel and “those with ears to hear” responded: The new local church was born in spite of the opposition. And it was born with such power that its reputation spread by word of mouth widely through the whole of Macedonia and Achaia, even preparing folks for the arrival of Paul and his team before they had plans to visit some areas.
For 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 entrust-ed with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is wit-ness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 2:3–6
As is a theme in so much of Paul’s correspondence, very early on in the birthing of the Church many apparently were climbing onto the bandwagon of the Gospel message with ulterior motives. Religion and mysticism and things “occultic” and “spiritual” are always very attractive fields of enterprise to unscrupulous people who lust after power and money. Human beings value their souls and the state of their souls above all else, and for those who can discover how to bind people to themselves through the fear of death and of the supernatural and what might happen beyond death, the flow of riches and the pleasures of power can become almost godlike.
Those who were seeking to undermine Paul’s efforts were such people… religious deceivers who were after control and personal gain and glory. Paul understood his commission to be a trust from God, one which gave him the right to ask much of those to whom he ministered, but which right he deliberately chose to deny to himself so that nothing he or his team did would risk dimming the light of the Lord’s Glory.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own 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. 2:7–8
This is the heart of true ministry!!! The only motive we can rightly hold is the eternal wellbeing of those to whom we find ourselves ministering. Our only judge is the Lord, and we must always under-stand that we have surrendered our lives to serve Him uncondition-ally. The bottom line of this service is to be found in our meditation upon the Lord’s command to us that we are to “love one another as He has loved us”. John 13:34–35; John 15:12–14 Paul uses the word “imitators” in the sentence above: We are to be “imitators” of the best of our mentors. Christ is the master teacher. He is the Pattern Son.
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward 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 walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 2:9–13
If we only, even once, can begin to grasp what this means. My thoughts regularly dwell on John. John, brother of James the Less, probably a cousin of Jesus, was a hot-headed teenager or early twenty-something when Jesus called him and his brother from their father’s fishing boat. Jesus seems to have had a special liking for John, at least John refers to himself as “the beloved disciple”, and it was John who was at Jesus’ right hand at the last Seder meal, a place of honor. It was to John, and not to his own half-brother James, that Jesus entrusted his mother, Mary, from the cross as he was dying. John knew Jesus very well when the Lord walked among us. And yet, perhaps thirty years later, when John was a prisoner in the mines on the island of Patmos and was given The Revelation, the Lord, his friend, appeared to him in his full divine Glory. And John fell to the ground “as one dead” and could not rise until his Lord gave him the grace to do so. Revelation 1:17
We all need to so see the Lord. We all need to understand who it is with whom we have to do, and to realize that we are very small… that “apart from Him we can do nothing” John 15:4–5. Until we do we are not going to truly enter in to the Kingdom of God as we are meant to enter it: We might see it, but we are not participating in it.
To draw from the image of the Tabernacle of Moses: We might find our salvation in the outer court. We can discover much of the light of truth and of worship in the holy place. But the Lord desires for us to meet with Him in the Holy of Holies where there is no merely natural light and He is all that occupies the room.
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and dis-please God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last! 2:14–16
Here Paul, himself, does put the blame for the death of Jesus upon the Jews. It was their refusal to receive their Messiah, to accept and understand “what was written” and the revelation that had been entrusted to them for over a thousand years, that put Jesus on the cross. By “the Jews”, Paul does mean “the religious leaders of the Jews”, and not the Jewish people, though in the economy of God the “sins of the Fathers are visited upon the children” Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9. (Our choices have consequences that always affect others.) As always, salvation is an individual choice, and each person, Jew or Gentile, accepting the Lord and the New Covenant becomes a “new creation” in Christ, with all curses broken. And Paul reveals in his other writings the strategy of God in allowing all of this to come to pass as it has so that through the Jews Messiah would enter the world, and through Messiah the Gentiles would be saved, and through the Gentiles the truly “called and elect” among the Jews would return to the Lord, so that at the end of the age “all Israel” will be saved.
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, 2:17
We see in that the persecutions that had begun in Philippi had inten-sified again Acts 17 at Thessalonica to the point where the little band of missionaries had to flee south once more, heading toward the larger city of Athens.
we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. 2:17–20
How does “Satan hinder”? Primarily by inciting those who he can “take captive at his will” 2 Timothy 2:26 to run interference against those who seek to serve the Lord. The enemy cannot touch the ser-vant of God, except by the Lord’s expressed permissions and if we yield the ground, and we who belong to the Lord have full authority to stand against “all the wiles of” the devil. Ephesians 6:10–12; Ephesians 4:12–16 If we are about the Lord’s business we may face resistance and even strong opposition, but as long as we do not move presumptuously we are going to accomplish the assignment that we have been given. Isaiah 55:11; Ephesians 2:10; Isaiah 46:8–11