At first glance, this is an odd section; is this part of the introduction or has Paul been challenged somehow? Has someone called him a fraud since he left them? When he wrote to the Galatians and Corinthians that was the case… but not here, for as far as we know, Paul’s authority and motives had not been challenged in Thessalonica. Thus, if that is the case, why would he write like this?
In this section, Paul reminds the Thessalonians how he behaved in their midst. He had been badly treated in Philippi and had come to their city. In Thessalonica, his message was quickly opposed, but Paul preached the gospel anyway, because it was pleasing to God. He didn’t concern himself with the approval of people, for God’s approval was enough. He wasn’t looking for money; indeed, he supported himself by working while he was there.
Many received the gospel message, and these he cared for as though he was their father, with encouragement and loving concern, yet now he feels it necessary to remind them of this. Has he suddenly felt a need to hear their praise?
I think the answer to this riddle will provide us with some fascinating insight into both the psyche of Paul and into what is expected of all Christians- as well as helping to achieve the purpose for which Paul is writing. You will no doubt recall that Paul is writing them to encourage everyone in Thessalonica to remain in their faith while under persecution, and so this part of the letter should encourage them, but how?
Look carefully at the passage and you will see that Paul has linked together the message of the gospel with the way he is living his life. Notice in particular that he is trying to show that his motives are in harmony with his message, and that he acted it out. The message of the gospel is a message of love on God’s part, but delivering the gospel message was an act of love on Paul’s part, even more so after his treatment in Philippi and with the opposition in Thessalonica; he did it anyway to please God and so that they might be saved because Paul loved God and because Paul loved the Thessalonians: This was Paul’s love in action. There is no greater act of love than to share the gospel message.
What should the church at Thessalonica do to hold firm to the faith while being persecuted? Live their faith in love every day. What should we as Christians be doing every day? We should be living our faith in love in all that we do.
By taking this approach, Paul is also setting up the emphasis of the remainder of the letter.; again, his message to them (and to us) is that we must put the message we preach into practice in our lives.