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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: August 07, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:3).
Welcome to HBS. Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6.
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance (coming) in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.”
In chapter one we learned the assembly at Thessalonica was a model church. We know this because nowhere in that chapter do we find Paul correcting or rebuking them, as he did the saints at Corinth, Galatia, and Philippi. Instead, Paul acclaimed them for their faith, love, and hope, “ For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1:9-10).
“For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance (coming) in unto you, that it was not in vain:”
Here we go from the model church to the model man of God, namely, Paul, our apostle. As he explains why his “entrance” among the Thessalonians was “not in vain,” we must remember he’s not boasting, as some would have you believe, for he writes by divine inspiration. Plainly said, if he’s boasting at all, it is in the Lord for God is telling us what kind of people Paul and Silas were. Paul’s opposition not only attacked their message they tried to discredit them by saying they were not all they claimed to be.
At Philippi, Paul and Silas had been “shamefully entreated;” i.e., they were dragged before the magistrates and accused of a crime they did not commit. What was the real reason? Paul had restored a poor, demon possessed girl’s health in the name of Christ. But even more so because her owners had seen, with that restoration to normal health, “the hope of their (financial) gains was gone” (Acts 16:19). In short, Paul deprived them of their ill-gotten gains, and they were not pleased. Instead of receiving the benefit of a doubt, a legal privilege afforded every Roman citizen, and Paul was a Roman citizen, the magistrates yielded to the mob’s demands, tore off their clothes, and commanded they be beaten: “And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks” (16:22-24).
But it didn’t end there. They were “thrust into the inner prison” which is altogether worse than just being placed in jail. I read an article not long ago about Paul’s imprisonments and the writer said he spent about 25% of his time as a missionary in prison. Paul said he experienced “far more imprisonments,” than his opponents (2 Corinthians 11:23), and we recently learned of his brief incarceration in Philippi, but then there’s those two years he was imprisoned at Caesarea and two more years in Rome under house arrest. Furthermore, Paul wrote his final letter to young Timothy from the infamous Mamertine Prison at Rome.
Personally, I haven’t seen the inside of a jail cell and I’m thinking most of you can say the same thing. So to fully understand what Paul experienced we need to take a brief look at prison life in his day. Roman imprisonment was preceded by being stripped naked and then flogged with a device meant to inflict pain and suffering. It was a bloody, humiliating ordeal. The bleeding wounds went untreated; prisoners sat in painful leg or wrist chains around the clock. Mutilated, blood-stained clothing was not replaced, even in the cold of winter. In his final imprisonment, Paul asked for a cloak, presumably because of the cold, dank cell they had placed him in. Most cells were dark, especially the inner cells of a prison, like the one Paul and Silas inhabited in Philippi. Unbearable cold, lack of water, cramped quarters, and sickening stench from few toilets made sleeping difficult and waking hours miserable. As if all that were not enough, prison food, when available, was extremely poor. Most prisoners had to provide their own food from outside sources. Case in point, when Paul was in prison in Caesarea, Felix, the procurator, gave orders to the centurion that “none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs” (Acts 24:22-23).
Without a doubt prison life was cruel and unreasonable treatment for a criminal let alone an innocent man. I also want to point out the fact that Paul and Silas did not grumble about their maltreatment. I mentioned this because we suffer so little for the cause of Christ, and yet we complain so much. That thought takes us to verse 2:2:
“But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
Here we note Paul’s boldness as the risen Lord’s representative (1:1-2). He is not preaching mere opinion he proclaimed with deep conviction the very message the Lord had committed to him, and this in the face of fierce opposition. Everywhere he shared “the gospel of God” there were people who did not want to hear it. If unbelievers rose up against him and his message in one place he tried another. Here I need to point out that Paul was not naturally bold. We know this to be true because he asked the saints in Ephesus to pray “that therein I may speak boldly” (Ephesians 6:19b-20). And he was not a gifted speaker. In his first letter to the saints at Corinth, for example, Paul responded to the conflict caused by the rise of a popular teacher named Apollos. He was a model orator, while Paul apologizes that he did not come to the Corinthians “with eloquent wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:17).
Paul clearly said he and Silas “were bold in our God” but what does this mean? Paul’s saying he depended on the support of God. Only His powerful aid enabled Paul and Silas to persevere (stand strong) in the face of consistent and persistent persecution. The meaning here is the rejection and persecution they received at Philippi did not deter them in the least from proclaiming “the gospel of God” at the next major town. They did so “boldly” knowing full well they might face stubborn opposition.
Clearly, Paul and Silas didn’t allow anything to stand in the way of proclaiming the gospel of God’s grace. This begs the question, “What, above all else, prevents Christians from serving “the living and true God? What keeps people from consistently living for Christ Jesus and striving to make Him known to others?” Although more than a few hinderances to serving the Lord are mentioned in the Bible, fear being but one, after careful consideration I looked to Paul who said: “Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29).
I draw your attention, once again, to how the magistrates at Philippi had yielded to the mob mentality and treated both Paul and Silas unreasonably. They tore the clothes off of their backs, beat them unmercifully, threw them into the dungeon, and shackled their ankles to the cold and dank prison floor (Act 16:22-24). Then I recalled what Paul and Silas had done after leaving Philippi. They didn’t give up the fight and return home, they went straightaway to Thessalonica where again they boldly proclaimed the gospel in the face of bitter opposition. Paul writes of it in I Thessalonians 2:2: “But even after we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
We read in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 the long list of sufferings Paul had already then endured for Christ, and in conclusions say, The answer I believe is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ constraineth us” or in layman’s terms, “The love of Christ bears us along.” Although Paul had more reasons to quit the ministry than we’ll ever have, he couldn’t give up, because of the infinite love of Christ, toward him and a lost world. This is what bore him along, day-after-day, as resistlessly as flotsam on an ocean tide. Paul had many reasons to throw in the towel, as they say, but there was zero quit in him, even though the persecution and suffering continued year after year, until on his last journey to Jerusalem, surrounded by dangers and confronted with “bonds and afflictions,” he was able to say, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Then, years later, after more unreasonable persecution and imprisonments, did he regret the course he had taken? Not so much. In his second letter to Timothy we find this triumphant declaration: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-7).o, what kept him and Silas pressing ever onward in the face of so much opposition, persecution, and disappointment.
Perhaps you’re beginning to understand why I introduced our apostle Paul’s conduct as our model or our example to imitate at the start of this lesson. He had already shown his faithfulness while under extreme stress, so it’s safe to presume he would not now descend to craftiness, deceit, or dishonesty in Thessalonica. His own words here and elsewhere shine the light of truth on the subject: “Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
“For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
“For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:”
Here Paul responded to the false accusation that he practiced “deceit” in Thessalonica, i.e., something some people do to get money from people (Jeremiah 5:27). If you’re one of those who think preachers would never stoop so low as to use “deceit” to feather their nests, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. Most of the televangelists today would fall into this category. Paul called the false teachers in Crete “deceivers,” who taught “things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:10-11).
Paul was being accused of deceiving people (as he goes on to say) with “uncleanness,” a word which is usually associated with sexual uncleanness (See Numbers 5:19; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5). The reason that kind of thing is called filthy is because God said it is unclean. But how could Paul’s opponents lay such a charge at his feet? When he first preached the gospel in Thessalonica, “some of them believed... and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4). “Chief women” means they had some money. I personally believe Paul was being accused of deceiving these women with “uncleanness” in order to extort money from them, something that unscrupulous men do today. But those who use this tactic to separate people from their money usually are good looking and smooth talkers. Since that’s the case Paul would not be counted among them for his bodily presence was described as “weak,” and “his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10).
Paul was also accused of using “guile” (2:3), a word which means to disguise. It could also mean to bait someone. Any good duck hunter knows you can’t row out onto a lake or pond that would drive ducks away. So, instead of doing that you float decoys on the water to attract them. Similarly, if Paul tried to attract the “chief women,” by flaunting his masculinity he would have failed in the attempt. So, in this instance, when he was accused of using “guile,” his accusers meant he used another man, namely Silas, to romance money from these women in Philippi. I say this because that’s what “guile” means in 2 Corinthians 12:16-17. This is where Paul repeats what they were saying about him, that he had caught the Corinthians with “guile” by using Titus to get their money instead of going after it himself. I believe the same is true in Thessalonica. Paul was accused of using Silas to get money from the chief women.
The Sacred Trust
“But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.”
Here Paul talks about his motive in proclaiming the gospel of the grace of God, and since were to imitate Paul, our motivation ought to line up with his. We should want to share the gospel when the opportunity presents itself for the same reason Paul and Silas they “were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel...” This, again, speaks of the sacred trust between God and all true Believers for we have been given “…the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Sadly, if you asked a Christian today what is the gospel that saves in the dispensation of God’s grace, you would most likely receive a blank stare for your trouble. This vital message has gone missing in most of the churches today. That’s why people are unaware of it. But God’s salvation message must be proclaimed wherever and whenever the opportunity arises for He desires that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).
“Allowed of God” literally means God had examined Paul and found him fit for the ministry, thus entrusting him with this sacred responsibility.
“Which trieth our hearts” means that the Lord Jesus Christ examines him daily to see whether he remains fit for the ministry. This habitual divine scrutiny is the reason Paul seeks to “please God” rather than “men.” Therefore, God is the ultimate cause and motive of Paul’s ministry, not deceit, uncleanness, or guile (2:3).
But wait a minute, didn’t Paul elsewhere say he sought to please men? Yes he did, in 1 Corinthians 10:33.but consider the context. He’s not talking about changing his divine message to please men; he was talking about changing the messenger (1 Corinthians 9:20-23). If our apostle Paul lived next to a devout Jew today, he would refrain from mowing his yard and washing the family vehicle on Saturday. Similarly, if you were having lunch with a Muslim you should pass on the ham sandwich. Paul “went along to get along” in order to save some, but his message and his motive in speaking it did not change one iota.
“For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
“Flattering words” are not complimentary words. Flattery is complimenting someone excessively and insincerely in order to get something from them. For instance, men flatter women by telling them they are beautiful and intelligent in order to get their phone number. Preachers flatter people for similar reasons they just use a different dialogue. What words do they use? Well, let’s look to see how they flattered people in Jeremiah’s day. At that time in Israel’s history, faithful prophets were saying that the nation was so sinful that God was going to allow Nebuchadnezzar to take them into captivity. Flattering prophets were saying, “Ye shall not see the sword” (Jeremiah 14:13). Basically they were saying, “You’re not so bad. God would never judge you with seventy years of captivity in Babylon.” Today church leaders flatter people in the same way saying, “You’re not so bad. A loving God would never send anyone to hell for eternity.” If you know anything about God and what He has clearly said, then you know He would never say that. But did you know when you decide not to share Paul’s gospel and warn people about the wrath of God, the lost individual then thinks he or she is doing just fine. In not presenting the gospel to them, you are in reality flattering them into thinking that God would never judge him or her and that is simply not the truth.
Please know, “flattering words” aren’t always able to cloak “covetousness,” for men who are perceptive can often see through them. The unbelieving Thessalonian Jews knew Paul didn’t use “flattering words,” so they attacked his motive in preaching God’s message. They acknowledged he preached the truth, but claimed that he was only in the ministry for the money. How could Paul defend himself against such a charge? Good question. To defend himself against this false charge, he could point out that they knew that this wasn’t so. But only God knows our hearts, so in denying that he preached the truth to cloak his “covetousness,” he said, “God is witness.” Of course, God is not talking now, but someday He will do all the talking at the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ. The Lord will “make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (I Corinthians 4:5), and He will know whether you presented the unadulterated gospel because you longed to please Him, or your aim was to yourself or to “please men.”
“Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.”
Paul was accused of coveting the Thessalonians money, a charge he refuted in the verse above. “Glory” here refers to money, as it often does in Scripture (Isaiah 60:5-7, 61:6; Revelation 21:23-26), and Paul was being accused of coming to Thessalonica for the purpose of financial gain. Now, as an apostle of God, Paul could have burdened them by requesting financial support. He would have been well within his rights to do so, but he told the saints in Corinth he had the power to “forbear working” (I Corinthians 9:6). He chose not to use that privilege (v 12). Since he preached the gospel, he had the right to “live of the gospel” (v 14), but he had given up this right (v 15) to distance himself from all of the false teachers who were seeking the wealthy Corinthian’s money. In like manner, Paul waived his right to financial support in Thessalonica, choosing to labor as a tentmaker among them (2:9) to set an example for the Thessalonians who had impatiently quit their jobs after they had learned about the Rapture.
The bottom line is Paul is our example; he is to be imitated by every true Believer. In reminding you of that, Paul was always willing to turn down things he had a right to in order to save some: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me. What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (1 Corinthians 9:16-19).
Now how about you? While studying this Bible lesson, perhaps you’ve been thinking, “Presenting the gospel is not for me. People are paid to do that. I have a right not to be rejected by people. I have the right not to be laughed at for presenting the gospel.” If that’s what you’re thinking, the first thing you should know is you really don’t have that right. What does this book say? The Lord was “despised and rejected of men” (Isaiah 53:3), and Paul and his companions were “made a spectacle unto the world” (I Corinthians 4:9), “and the offscouring of all things” (v 13). If they didn’t have the right not to be scorned for boldly proclaiming the gospel, then neither do we. But even if you did have the right not to suffer for “the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1-4), why not be like Paul and give up your rights, and in so doing, please God, not yourself, by becoming the ambassador for Christ on earth that you are called to be (2 Corinthians 5:20).
(To be Continued)
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