Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:…
1. Luke was evidently left at Philippi, where he might have a good deal of doctor's work to do. Paul and Silvanus and Timotheus moved on. We wonder whether Paul will fight any more, or whether he will spend the remainder of his days in pious reflections; for a period is occupied in passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, where nothing was attempted. The fight seems to be over, and the smitten warriors are going home to anoint their wounds and wash their stripes in secret. But they came to Thessalonica, and, in the synagogue, Paul saw a battlefield, and instantly he stripped to the fight! We see now what he was looking for at the other places, and why he did not pause there.
2. "And Paul, as his manner was, went in." Paul was not an occasional attendant. Jesus Christ did not go now and then to the synagogue. It was a dull time to the early Christian when the Church was closed. Paul is here, as everywhere, the very model of a true Christian preacher. "He reasoned with them out of the Scriptures." He did not talk something which he had invented; he had a Book, an authority, and he believed that every word he said was written for him by the pen and ink of Heaven. Once let that thought go, and preaching becomes vain. A sermon is great only as it begins, continues, and ends in the Scriptures. Then he crowns his ministry by enforcing a distinct personal appeal. "This Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ." This was a sword with a point, a sermon with an accent. The preacher must have an object in view. Whatever Paul did was contributory to this great end. The difficulty with the Christian preacher is that nobody wants to hear his doctrine, but his particular way of putting it. I sat with reverence before the foremost judge of his day. His voice was feeble and indistinct; at times I had great difficulty in hearing him; but, oh, the anxiety not to miss one word! It was dry, it was argumentative, there was not a single flower of speech in the whole. Every one was there to hear what the judge would say, not how he said it. When a mumbling speaker reads a will, does anyone say anything about his manner? Each wants to know what he in particular is to get. Oh, could I persuade my hearers that I am reading the will of God, and that men were wise, that they understood these things!
3. Note the opposition which Christianity awakens. You may form a tolerable judgment as to the merits of a controversy by observing the way in which it is conducted. However quiet the town when the apostles entered it, they left it in a serious uproar. They came not to send peace on the earth, but a sword. Look at the opposition. It was —
(1) Little-minded. Where is the noble challenge to discuss a great question upon equal terms? How is Paul moved? By love. How is the opposition moved? By envy.
(2) Unscrupulous. Any stick will do to beat a dog with. The Jews, who would not have spoken to those "lewd fellows," made use of them to put down this religion of the Cross. If they had not been "lewd fellows," etc., they would have seen that they were being made use of. How Envy can stoop to take up polluted weapons, and search in the mud for stones to throw at Goodness! There is nothing too despicable for it to use to express itself in denunciation and contempt and penalty.
(3) Lawless. Never mind the dignity of the city, or the politarchs who reign over it. magistrates cannot stand against an uprising city; they will either dismiss the case, or take bail, or do something to get out of it. So the opposition prosecutes its mission to the end. This is true of all opposition to the Christian cause. There may be an honest opposition to some special ways of representing it; but to its purity, its self-sacrifice, its nobleness, its purpose, there can be no honest opposition. Yet how the Lord makes the wrath of man to praise Him! What said the enemy? "These that have turned the world upside down." There! that is a tribute to their power. Even the Jews did not dare to call it "a flash in the pan," "a nine days' wonder." They saw in it a world-exciting force, and we who are Christians become fearful just in proportion as we lose our conception of the grandeur of the cause which we have to handle. Then they become themselves again, "saying that there is another king." That is a lie! The apostles never said so, in the sense now put upon that word by their accusers, You can use the right words with a wrong meaning. We must not only speak the words of the gospel, we must speak them in gospel tones. Then the accusers proceeded to say, "one Jesus." There they were right. The apostles, then, had left no false or vague impression. Amid all the tumult, and uproar, and opposition, they had got this word well into the public memory — "Jesus."
4. Is this the end? It is hardly the beginning. The very first letter that Paul wrote was 1 Thessalonians What does he say to them? "For our gospel came not unto you in word only," etc. Paul spent at least three weeks in Thessalonica; how did he live during that time? He had no money; how did he live? How we ought to live — by working! How are you to live — by writing begging letters? This is how Paul lived (1 Thessalonians 2:9). These were not the men to be put down: they did not live on patronage. We now live on "subscribers," and therefore we do not live at all, and we breed a small race of men. Paul, Silvanus, Timotheus, fell to working, not eight hours a days and eight shillings for pay, but, according to the time bill, "night and day." "Two hours longer, Silvanus," said Paul, "and this tent will be done. If we sit up till three o'clock tomorrow morning, we shall just get bread enough to keep us going until the synagogue is open again." These were not the men to be put down!
5. When they said good-bye to Thessalonica, was it a final adieu? Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17. They wanted to go back to the old battlefield. When anything occurs nowadays, we become suddenly "not very well, and must go down to the seaside over Sunday." We think it better to be out of the way. How did Paul view the people whom he had won there? Said he, "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye," etc. These are the relations which Christianity would establish amongst us if we would allow it. Christianity would make a compact society of us — not living under formal rules, but under gracious inspiration.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: