top of page

Proper 26A 2nd Reading

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Lisa Michaels

Ministry can be difficult, and although some commentators argue that Paul sounds defensive in this letter to the church at Thessalonica; closer examination indicates that his words may be preemptive. Historically, many criticisms have been voiced against missionaries and itinerant preachers. Surely they were in it for the money, right? To be fair, certainly some have taken advantage of the people in the name of religion, but it is a generally understood assumption that a call to vocational ministry is not synonymous with a golden ticket.

It is, of course, odd to assume such a charge had been brought against Paul (and Silas and Timothy along with him). After all, this called and sent group, proclaimers of the gospel, were front-line ‘tentmakers.’ They had an apostolic right to support but refused it. To combine the terms “labor and toil” likely emphasizes that they are exhausted! They have worked to avoid being burdensome, “even to the point of hardship and deprivation.”[1] Their chosen trade was one that required many hours of work (hence the reference to working night and day), that paid barely enough to ‘get by,’ and that carried with it marginalizing social ramifications. Paul asked the Thessalonians to remember this, and in so doing, he “did not ask the church to affirm things they could not know (matters of inner purity) but things they saw daily for weeks or even months.[2] Paul asked the Thessalonians to truly know him/them. What would account for such sacrifice and vulnerability? The answer to this question begins with an assessment of relationship.

Just previous to this passage, we have a greeting to the Thessalonians as this letter opens. They are described as being remembered in prayer by their work produced by faith, their labor prompted by love, and their endurance inspired by hope in Christ.[3] They are depicted as imitators of the very author of this work, and the metaphors are personal. Paul, Silas, and Timothy see the Thessalonians as family. If the words are defensive; Paul is not only defending himself but the reader, as well, which is a little quirky. Is this a warning to the Thessalonians? They have already suffered and endured great struggles. Will they be further subjected to painful scrutiny on the basis of actually following well? Let’s be real. The answer to this question is undoubtedly, “Yes.”

It’s a good thing they have been prepared. Paul describes his care for the Thessalonians both as that of a nursing mother and an encouraging father. As a parent, I know what it is to desire the very best for my children, to give of myself without worrying about the expense, and even to plead persuasively that they would follow the call of God on their lives to be the people they were created to be, and to further the Kingdom of God, by actively making the most redemptive choices, moment by moment. This passage resonates, because Paul’s words are deeply personal. His heart is bleeding for these people he loves.

And then there is this pause—this breath—before verse 13. It’s as if something analogous to anxiety reaches its peak and then gives way, because after pouring himself into these passionate words, Paul stops and seems to say, “I’m so thankful that you listened… you did it… you followed our example. Remember how we were ‘pure, upright, and blameless?’ Well, you too…”

There is, of course, nothing that indicates things will get any easier for Paul, Silas, Timothy, the Thessalonians, or us; but that doesn’t negate the value of the ‘w’ord of God in Scripture or the ‘W’ord of God in Jesus. In fact, it underscores the significance of having these at work in our lives. This gospel—this call—they are not something merely human. None of us could possibly survive that! This is the very presence of God, working in and through us and making it possible for us to live with integrity, both as who we are and what we do.

[1] Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 102–112.

[2] D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 81–88.

[3] See I Thessalonians 1:3

Lisa Michaels

Follower of Jesus, theology student, author, blogger, editor, educator, wife, mom, and aspiring peacemaker

About the Contributor