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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: August 14, 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).
Welcome to HBS.
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 2:7-16.
Paul’s Conduct (continued)
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, has a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory” (2:7-12).
“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”
After reading that passage I am reminded of something I learned while teaching the Bible to school-age children and teenagers and my adult Bible students in their living rooms. It was an eye-opener and a game changer. I learned before you can teach someone you have to first reach someone. What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell, I liken this saying to something my mother used to tell me, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” Scripture defines that even more so in 1 Corinthians chapter 9. Please take the time to read the entire chapter, but for now we’ll drop in at verse 19. This is where Paul speaks of his proper conduct among all men:
“…For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” ( 9:19-23).
Staying in 1 Corinthians, flip a few pages to the right to chapter 13 and drop in at verse 13. Hopefully, this looks familiar to y’all. This is one place you’ll find Paul listing the three grace virtues that are to be practiced by every true Believer: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity (agape love, i.e., brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence), these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:19-23 we see Paul’s charity come to life, i.e., it became visible. We also learn that Paul was a “servant,” to all willing to be “all things to all men” to “gain some.” (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-8 and Ephesians 3:1-9). Some folks have misinterpreted that passage in a way that makes Paul appear to be inconsistent in his testimony. They teach Paul had two ministries, one to the nation of Israel and one to the gentile nations. So, when he was among his countrymen, he subjected himself to the Law of Moses, but when among gentiles he enjoyed his liberty in Christ Jesus totally apart from the Law. But think this through. If while among the Jews he reverted to Judaism and placed himself back under the do’s and don’ts of the Law, and then the following week when he mingled with the gentiles, he neglected to keep the Sabbath holy, and ate porkchops for brunch, what would happen once that information got back to the Jews? Would they not rightfully say, “I’ll never listen to that man again. Last week with us he was so careful to be subject to the ordinances of the Law. But as soon as he left to be with the gentiles, he ignored the Law of Moses. Therefore, he is two-faced; it was nothing but a charade.”
If you understand what you’re reading in the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles then you know he’s not inconsistent and those who hold the view I just mentioned should more carefully examine the Bible passage noting the word “as” in verses 20-22. Paul said, “as a Jew…” and “as under the Law” etc. Paul did not place himself back under the Law, but he did recognize their religious convictions and sensibilities, so that when he was with his countrymen he could sympathetically refrain from offending them. Paul asks us to do likewise. If you invite an unsaved Jewish friend to brunch, I pray you choose not to order a ham and cheese omelet. But that also applies to anyone who might be offended by something you do. For instance, some people believe it’s sinful to drink alcohol, so to keep from offending them the correct thing to do is refrain from ordering a two martini lunch. As Paul said, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:” Paul’s not talking about being weak physically, he means “weak” in the sense that he didn’t flex his spiritual muscles among those who are “weak,” as it pertains to the truth of God. He dealt with each person “gently.” Again, Paul did this for their sake and “for the gospel’s sake.” Think this through. The old adage “First impressions are lasting impressions” certainly applies. When you meet someone for the first time you’re most likely to get but one opportunity to impress or “reach” them, so you want to put your best foot forward, as they say, if you want to win them over.
Now, that carefully chosen word “gently” is the ideal segue to 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 so let’s turn back there and read the passage together: ““But we were (what?) gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”
What does the word “gentle” mean? At this point in time, Paul was already a spiritual giant in terms of being God’s called apostle to the gentiles entrusted with the saving message of His mercy and grace. But did he go around flaunting his spiritual muscles, as it were, hardly. The word “gentle” here means, “exercising God's strength under His control, i.e., demonstrating power without undue harshness.” Where the truth of God’s Word was concerned Paul could, by God’s grace, be bold as a lion but in his dealings with the Thessalonians and others his “entrance” was as “gentle” as a lamb.
Bible students asks questions and seek answers from the Bible, so with that in mind what does the word “nurse” mean? Having worked at a hospital for 29 years, I know what a nurse is and does, but why did Paul choose that term here? Did he mean a nurse to the children committed to her care or a nursing mother and her children. Inquisitive minds desire to know, so at this point I picked up my Greek Concordance and found the Koine Greek word for “nurse” is anatrephó (pronounced: an-at-ref'-o); Strong’s Greek #397, meaning, “to nurse up, nourish, to rear, bring up, educate. So then, Paul means to say as a mother imparts wisdom to her children, labors day and night for them without expecting anything in return, and would be willing to give up her life for them, so Paul, not only imparted the gospel of God’s grace to these converts, he was willing to labor night and day and suffer various degrees of persecution, and if need be, give up his life for them because, “ye were dear unto us” (2:8), or as he put it in verse 2:7, he was, “affectionately desirous” of them. That thought takes us to verses 2:9-10 and again emphasizes the teaching principle “to teach someone you need to first reach someone.”
“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:” (2:9-10).
Here Paul means to say while they labored among them “night and day,” they behaved honorably. Using Paul’s analogy of a loving nursing mother, in like manner, Paul and Silas’ conduct among the Thessalonians was exemplary and above reproach.
Remember what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:1: “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance (coming) in unto you, that it was not in vain: “In vain” means their
ministry among the Thessalonians was not missing the proper motivation. You see, Paul and Silas’ opposition not only attacked their message they sought to discredit the messenger in saying their ministry was wrongly motivated but those accusations were groundless and couldn’t stick. For in the next verse Paul said, “But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were (what) bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.” This statement verifies the purity of their ministerial work and the message they boldly proclaimed even after being “shamefully entreated” at Philippi. I dare say any con artist would seek other means of acquiring money or whatnot after suffering the persecution Paul and Silas endured, but Paul who was “bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God” pressed ever onward despite the stubborn opposition.
Therefore, Paul dis not patronize the Thessalonians. Instead he nurtured (educated) them in the faith as a loving mother nurses her children and tends to their individual needs. Said differently, Paul had “put on Christ” in order to reach these folks. If you were here for our study of Colossians, then you ought to be aware of what this means. For those of you who were not here I’ll explain. In Colossians chapter three Paul told the Colossian saints to “put off their own way of life.” But this means more than just stop doing those things that are contrary to God’s expressed will: “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;” (Colossians 3:8-9).
Instead, Paul encouraged them to live in a completely new and different way – in the way of Christ. The following verses explains what this looks like: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:12-17).
Paul reached the Thessalonians by receiving each one of them without prejudice and rejoiced in the fact that they were fellow members of the Body of Christ (1:2-4). As their spiritual father, he took a personal interest in them. He was sympathetic to those who needed a “gentle” word of encouragement, he was there for those who needed reassurance, in providing for his own needs he removed this burden from them, etc. In short, Paul practiced “charity” amongst these folks, i.e., he sought their highest good, in spite of the “contention” in order “to save some.”
Cause and Effect
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”
That verse brings to mind the difference between law and grace when it comes to cause and effect. Under the law, the Jews were told, “Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33).
That was the Law in a nutshell. Under the Law, God said, “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:5). We know that God meant they would live eternally if they kept His statutes, because when the Lord was asked what to do to inherit eternal life, He quoted Leviticus 18:5 (Luke 10:25-28). You see, under the law, men were saved by faith plus works, the specific works of observing the statutes and judgments of the law. That meant keeping the 613 commandments found in the Talmud, such as, circumcision, keeping the Jewish feast days holy, bringing animal sacrifices, and so on.
But while the law said “walk…that ye may live,” God’s grace presents a different cause and effect, as we can see from the words of Paul: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Do you see the difference? If the Jew kept the whole Mosaic Law perfectly, then walking in God’s statutes caused the effect of eternal life, but to break one commandment meant you broke them all (James 2:10-20). But under God’s grace, the eternal life we are given by faith, minus works of any kind, should cause the effect of walking “worthy of the vocation with which you have been called” (Ephesians 2:8-9, 4:1). Do you see the difference?
It was for this cause Paul said, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (2:13).
“The word of men” can come and go without having any effect in your life, but if you truly believe God when He said you have eternal life “in the Spirit,” shouldn’t this truth dictate how you live your life from here on out? That’s a rhetorical question; I believe y’all know the answer.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 isn’t the only place in Scripture where Paul gives thanks to God “without ceasing” for those who have come to know Christ Jesus as their Savior. Paul was in the business of saving souls and in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 he speaks of it saying, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.”
In that passage Paul calls those who will be in the presence of Christ Jesus at His coming in the clouds for His Church his “crown of rejoicing.” Since an unsaved person cannot be in the presence of the Lord, those who are there are most certainly saved. This is why the “crown of rejoicing” is called the souls-winner crown. For this labor of love, this burden for lost souls, is the greatest thing you can do for another person while on earth. It’s the one gift that keeps on giving day after day, and it’s the one gift that everyone needs. Case in point, the Lord suffered and died to “bring many sons unto glory” (Hebrews 2:10) and will one day be able to say with great joy, “Behold I, and the children which God hath given me” (Hebrews 2:13). Paul, in a lesser way, will one day be able to say the same thing, for soul-winning is rewarding, not only in this life, but in the life to come. Two O.T. passages confirm this principle:
“The fruit of the righteous a tree of life; And he that winneth souls wise” (Proverbs 11:30).
“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
Sadly, most Christians show little interest or concern regarding the Judgment Seat of Christ. They live as though they will never stand before the Lord and give an account of their walk (life). By the time they take this matter seriously it will be too late. But did you know in his letters Paul speaks of the following three crowns:
The Imperishable Crown (1 Corinthians 9:25)
The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
The Crown of Rejoicing ( 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
I don’t believe these are literal crowns that will be handed out, but rather they are honors bestowed upon those saints who earned them. Paul, for example, led many at Thessalonica to a saving knowledge of Christ. He rejoiced that they had been delivered from pagan idolatry to worship the true and living God (1:9). The Bible says the angels rejoice when one sinner is saved (Luke 15:7, 10), since that’s the case, surely heaven will reverberate with a glorious shout, something akin to the sound heard in the football stadium when a touchdown is scored, upon the completion of our redemption. In that day, the Lord is going to acknowledge all those who, like Paul, had a burden for lost souls. So then, Paul’s implying that a crown/honor will be bestowed on all those who had a role in someone’s salvation or contributed, in some way, to their spiritual growth.
“For ye, (y’all) brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:”
This verse speaks of the persecution the Thessalonians “suffered” for their faith in what God had said in this Dispensation of Grace. Paul likened it to the suffering of “the Jewish churches of God in Judea.” Now, two things ought to be crystal clear: 1) The world-at-large despises God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His message of grace. They simply do not want to hear it. The Thessalonian Believers soon found this out. 2) God’s Grace is evident and a factor in every single dispensation, but in the Dispensation of Law the churches in Judea were not grace churches (assemblies) they were kingdom churches: “These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:5-7).
So, as the Thessalonians had received the Word of truth from Paul and Silas it saved them and worked in them and through them effectively. In contrast, in ancient Greece there were more than few notable Greek philosophers, but did anything they say or write save anyone from God’s wrath to come – not so much. This brings to mind Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
The genuineness of the Thessalonian Believer’s faith reflected that of Paul and Silas: “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost (Spirit). So that ye were ensamples (examples) to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” (1:6-7).
Verse 2:14 tells us the Thessalonian Believers had suffered persecution from their own countrymen, even as the kingdom churches of God in Judea. That being said, it was mostly the Jewish unbelievers who stirred up the gentiles against the gentile Believers. At Philippi, it would seem the persecution arose directly from the pagan owners of the healed demon-possessed girl. But at Thessalonica it was the Jews who “set all the city in an uproar” charging the Believers with violating Caesar’s laws (Acts 17:5-7). And then again in Berea it was the Jews from Thessalonica who “came thither also” and stirred up the people against Paul, Silas, and Christ (Acts 17:13).
Divine Judgment Upon the Persecutors and the Comforting of Paul
“(So it was the Jews) Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
“Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us;”
Here Paul offers words of comfort to the saints at Thessalonica who were suffering persecution by saying they were not alone. The Lord Jesus Christ faced persecution daily, and the Jewish Believers in Judea faced it long before them. Paul and his companions were also persecuted; so, it goes with the territory, so to speak.
Here also Paul wrote his own countrymen (the Judeans) had killed the Lord Jesus Christ. But Paul knew full well they were not the only ones with blood on their hands. The Romans had a decisive hand in it and share in the guilt and shame (Psalm 2:1-3).
“and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:”
Paul also comforted them with the reassurance that they were the ones pleasing God. This was necessary because they were persecuted by religious people and might be wondering if these other religious people were in fact right with God in their persecuting, in other words, they were doing the will of God. Paul made it quite clear this was not the case, “…and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:”
“Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: (until Christ Jesus comes to take away His Church).”
Here Paul revealed what had offended the Jewish persecutors so much. They were outraged that gentiles could be saved without first becoming Jews. This exclusive attitude filled “up the measure of their sins.” The Jews’ opposition therefore to the work of the missionaries among the gentiles in Thessalonica was not due to the fact that they were seeking to convert gentiles. Their fierce opposition was due to the fact that Paul and Silas offered salvation to gentiles without requiring them to first become Jews.
“…for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”
That expression parallels Genesis 15:16. Often God allows His people to suffer the indignation of others simply because He is longsuffering toward the sinner, “not willing that any should perish.” Consequently, some will acknowledge God and what He has said while others remain right where they are, outside of Christ, and deserving of condemnation.
Paul comforted the Thessalonians by assuring them God would indeed take care of their persecutors, “For vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord” (Romans 12:19). When Christian vigilantes forget this truth and proceed to take matters into their own hand, they often disgrace themselves and “the cause of Christ” in the process.
(To be continued)
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