We have been studying the book of 1 Thessalonians considering Paul’s message to these Christians on how to live in the light of eternity. We have seen in these Christians an amazing faith through great afflictions and difficulties. They were able to have this work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope (1:3) because they were waiting for Christ to return from heaven (1:10). Placing our eyes on eternity changes how we live our lives and gives us the courage and strength to endure great difficulties for the cause of Christ.
Now we have the tendency to read sections like 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 as merely Paul defending his apostleship. We noted this tendency when people read 2 Corinthians. But we have asserted that Paul defends himself with a greater purpose than just simply vindicating himself. Paul points out his conduct so that those who are reading his letter would learn from his example and do likewise. In the same way, Paul has a focal point and purpose to things he says in this chapter, which is revealed to us in verse 12.
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. (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV)
Paul’s goal for these Christians is that they would walk in a manner worthy of God. This is the purpose of life. This is the new lifestyle to embrace. This goal is so important that Paul uses three different words to show this purpose. He and his companions exhorted, encouraged, and charged them to walk in a manner worthy of God. So what does this look like as Paul writes to these Thessalonians? What does it mean to walk worthy of God? Paul showed these Christians what that looked like in how he came to them and how he acted when he was with them. So let’s read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 and see what Paul did when he was with them.
First, Paul reminds these Christians how he and his companions had been mistreated in Philippi. In Acts 16 we read about Paul and Silas being seized and dragged into the marketplace before all the rulers (Acts 16:19). The crowd attacked them and beat them with rods (Acts 16:23) and then they were thrown in prison. This event is what Paul refers to in these first couple of verses in chapter 2. Even though they had been shamefully treated in this way, they had boldness in God to declare to them the gospel in the midst of much conflict. Remember that it does not go much better in Thessalonica, as the Jews attack Jason’s house because they were looking for Paul and Silas.
Walking in a manner worthy of God is to have boldness in the face of opposition. We have seen in many of our studies, including in this very book, that Christians will face opposition. Christians will experience difficulties because of their faith in Jesus. Paul is expressing to these Christians what happened to himself and Silas because this shows that this is what Christians will experience. What these Thessalonians were going through regarding their affliction was not unusual. Peter offered the same encouragement to the Christians he wrote to.
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:12–14 ESV)
It is easy to take verse 12 out of the context. Peter is not merely speaking of the difficulty of trials. Peter is saying that Christians should not be surprised when trials come to test you and you suffer because of Jesus. Rejoice that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Our eternal perspective allows us to rejoice in suffering for the cause of Christ. We must expect this reality. We must expect mistreatment and suffering for Jesus’ sake. But understand this: we must still be bold. We must still proclaim God’s word even after being mistreated and knowing what difficulties will come for doing so. This is what Jesus proclaimed as well as the apostles (2 Timothy 2:12; Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). When else will we be tempted to deny Christ except when we are experiencing opposition and resistance! Jesus is telling us that we must remain bold toward God even when we are met with a strong resistance.
Second, Paul showed these Christians what walking in a manner worthy of God looked like by coming to them in purity. The concept of purity is so important that the apostle Paul will return to this teaching in chapter 4. But notice the kinds of purity he exhibits in his walk with God as he proclaims the gospel. Paul says that he does speak from error, impurity, or attempting to deceive. He did not come to them with words of flattery or a pretext for greed. He did not seek glory from people or make demands as apostles of Christ. There was nothing fake about Paul and Silas. They did not pretend to be their friends to get money out of them. The point Paul makes is that walking worthy of God means having pure hearts and pure motives. This is what Paul displayed to these Christians.
Notice what the gospel means for Paul and is to mean for all Christians. You can see it in verse 4. “So we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” We do not worry about pleasing people. We worry about pleasing God. God knows our hearts. God knows if we are trying to please him or please people. Friends, it is exhausting to live your life trying to please others. We even have a modern proverb to indicate how exhausting and vain such a life is: He who tries to please everyone, pleases no one. Pleasing people is an impossible goal because people’s desires are always changing. We do not live our lives to please people. We do not make decisions based on what other people think. We will not live our lives under the fear of the reaction of others. We live to please God. This is where knowing that God does not change is quite valuable. His character and his laws do not change so we have a target that does not move. We know what pleases and displeases God. We make this our aim as Christians. Living a life worthy of God means we will care about what God thinks. We are never underhanded with other people. We will keep our motives pure, knowing that God tests our hearts. Therefore we live to please God, not others.
Third, walking in a manner worthy of God is showing love for others. Listen to the descriptions Paul gives for how he came to these Christians. His first picture of his love for them is that they were gentle among them, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children (2:7). This is quite an imagery of gentleness. The nurture and care that one has for an infant is very gentle and compassionate. Paul genuinely cared for these people. Being a Christian is about having relationships with each other and genuinely caring for each other. Listen to verse 8.
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. (1 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV)
This is not a surface level love for them. Paul loved them to such a degree that he did not only share the gospel but also shared his life with them. They gave themselves completely to these Christians without reservation. We live in a time where we refuse to open up to each other. We stand aloof from others. We do not open up to others. We put our walls up and do not let people in. But that is not walking worthy of God. Paul showed what it means to be a Christian.
Now listen to the impact of this. Back up to the first two verses of this second chapter. What had happened to Paul and Silas in Philippi? They had been seized, dragged, and imprisoned. Would you be afraid to open up to people in Thessalonica after what you had just experienced in Philippi? Of course there would be a hesitation. Please note that when we read the book of Acts we see that Paul was only there for three weeks. But even in three weeks he can say that they knew that he cared for them because he shared his life with them. It did not take months or years before he shared his life with these people. He immediately opened up to them and shared the gospel and his own life. He showed his care for them, like a nursing mother cares for her children.
This love was further displayed in not being a burden to these Christians (2:9). He was not there for their money. He was not taking advantage of them. They were holy, righteous, and blameless in their conduct (2:10). Listen to the next picture he gives in verse 11. He was like father with his children. We need to consider that picture for a minute because I think we can have a bad picture of what the father/child relationship looks like. Does Paul think that the father/child relationship looks like being mean or authoritarian? Paul pictures his love for the Thessalonians as a father to his children which must include love and gentleness in how he taught them (which is what the rest of verses 11-12 reads). The father’s teaching is not through fear and intimidation. Teaching can be firm and done with love. Paul expresses that he taught them with love, like a father with his children.
Walking Worthy of God (2:12)
So Paul has spoken of how he had live his life before them with boldness to proclaim God’s message, showing a life of purity as he seeks God’s approval, and revealed his love for them as he shared his very life with them. He uses these aspects of how he came to these Christians to exhort each one of them, encourage them, and charge them to walk in a manner worthy of God. Now it is important that we do not misread this idea. Paul is not saying that we are earning this blessing or that we need to be worthy of what God has done. This is simply not possible. God does not tell us to be worthy of what he has done. We cannot be worthy of the love, mercy, and grace of God as displayed in Jesus. What God is telling us to do is live is a way shows that you understand what God has done. Live your life in a way that shows who you are. Live your life in a way that reflect what you have been called to.
Notice the rest of verse 12 to see what you have been called to: “Who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” We have been called into God’s kingdom and glory. Notice this great picture of living in the light of eternity. Do you see what you have been called into? You have been called into the glory of God and the kingdom of God! Eternity continues to be the motivation God puts forward to us for walking worthy. Listen to how Paul states this hope in Romans.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–2 ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)
God is calling you into his kingdom and his glory. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God though we suffering. This hope in God’s kingdom and glory is what compels us to walk worthy of God. This hope in God’s kingdom and glory is why we can be bold in persecution and suffering. This hope in God’s kingdom and glory is why we live in purity. This hope in God’s kingdom and glory is why we love others and open our lives to each other. Let us walk worthy of God, focused on the goal of eternity as we live before God.