1For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain,
2but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
When Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus preached the gospel to these at Thessalonica, they had just left Philippi, having suffered and been mistreated. Not giving up, however, they had the boldness and courage to preach the gospel to them despite the opposition. They didn’t make excuses about pain, fatigue, or inconvenient circumstances, and because of this, they could now say that their visit to Thessalonica was not in vain. God had saved many souls there.
3For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;
4but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.
They affirm the honesty and truthfulness of their motives in coming to them in the first place with the gospel and in the exhortations that they now give. They are not trying to deceive these believers or say things to look good and please men, but they are speaking the truth of God. Their purpose is to please God, for God knows hearts and judges motives. They know in their hearts that God approves of them and their actions. Furthermore, if they were trying to be popular, they wouldn’t preach the message of the cross amid opposition, especially after just being imprisoned for doing so.
5For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness--
6nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
7But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.
Their speech wasn’t flattering in nature as if they were trying to manipulate the Thessalonians or sell them something. They weren’t greedy and trying to gain something selfish from them. They didn’t seek glory from men, which even if they could have gotten, wouldn’t have been appropriate. They were apostles and could have flaunted their position and authority, but they did not, choosing rather to be gentle and caring.
8Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
9For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
They really genuinely cared about these people and shared the gospel with them as well as their own lives as they labored with them so as to not come across as freeloaders. They worked day and night so that they didn’t have to take any money or goods from these people which could have jeopardized their witness.
10You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;
11just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children,
12so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
They remind them again that they know as to how honorably and blamelessly their behavior was while they lived among them. They encouraged them and exhorted them as a loving parent would his children to live in a way that is characteristic of a child of the kingdom of God. Their discipleship was them showing the Thessalonians how to live out the Christian life practically as they taught them the truth of God’s Word. It is important that the Thessalonians approached this learning process humbly, respecting these who were their teachers.
13For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
14For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews,
15who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men,
16hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus are grateful to God that these Thessalonian believers did not just treat the gospel message as mere words of men as if it was another interesting idea making the rounds through various societies. They understood it to be the very Word of God, and they believed it. The wonderful thing about true faith in Christ and in His Word is that it accomplishes “its work” of changing people from the inside out. It changes people when they put their faith in Christ, and it continues to change them as they hear and believe the Word of God as they grow in Christ. The Word is how we are sanctified (John 17:17). It was clear that the faith of these believers led to life change as they became imitators of the churches in Judea, learning to follow Christ and walk worthy of Him. Specifically, their faith was evident by the fact that they suffered at the hands of the Jews on account of their faith in Christ (2 Timothy 3:12). The same Jews who rejected Christ, the prophets, and Paul and his fellow missionaries also persecuted the Thessalonian believers. This, of course, is not pleasing to God but hostile to all people because it keeps the gospel from moving forward to the Gentiles as God desired it to. This hard-hearted behavior on the part of the Jews only stores up more wrath on their account because of the increase of their sins.
17But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while--in person, not in spirit--were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.
18For we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, more than once--and yet Satan hindered us.
These faithful missionaries wanted to come and visit the believers at Thessalonica, and Paul in particular had wanted several times to do this. Yet each and every time their progress was hindered by the work of the devil. They weren’t able to be with the Thessalonians in person, but they were supporting them in spirit by encouraging them through this letter and letting them know of their prayers and love for them. Satan did not want the Thessalonians to have the encouragement of seeing these faithful men of God face to face. Sometimes God allows Satan to oppose us “successfully” so that He can cause us to draw from His well of provision alone and learn to lean more fully upon Him (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). All things are in God’s control, and He has a purpose in allowing Satan to oppose the saints. Rather than get angry at God or give up, Paul and his fellow missionaries wrote the Thessalonians a letter, for which we and they can be grateful. God always causes all things to work for the good of His children (Romans 8:28).
19For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?
20For you are our glory and joy.
Our honor, hope, and crowning joy is that, when we meet Jesus in the air at His coming, we will have passed on His gospel to many dear believers whom we love in Him. This is why John says in 3 John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” What a privilege it will be to be able to offer Christ a return on His investment which He has made in us. If we have been unfaithful, we will lack confidence at His coming and shrink away in shame (1 John 2:28). We will still be accepted, but we will suffer loss when it comes to rewards and honor (1 Corinthians 3:15).