A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 2:3-4. a). A steward.
It is true that the word ‘steward’ does not occur in the text. But the concept of stewardship is implicit in the phrase *entrusted with the gospel* (4). God had entrusted the gospel to Paul, as a householder entrusts his property to his steward. The apostle reverts a number of times to this concept when he wishes to express either his sense of privilege in having had the gospel committed to him (Gal.2:7; 1 Tim.1:11; Tit.1:3), or his sense of responsibility to be faithful to his stewardship (E.g. 1 Cor.4:1-2; 9:17; 2 Tim.2:2).
Before he develops his positive ministry of trusteeship, however, his sense of accountability to God for the gospel, he has some negative disclaimers to make in verse 3. His *appeal*, he maintains, did not and *does not spring from error*, since his message – the gospel of God – was true. Nor was it due to *impure motives*. The Greek is the single word *akatharsia*, which means ‘impurity, uncleanness’. It can refer to sexual immorality (as it does in 4:7), and it is possible that Paul’s detractors were hinting at this, since it was not uncommon among travelling teachers. Were they even insinuating that there was something suspicious about the ‘not a few prominent women’ who had been converted? (Acts 17:4). But probably NIV is right to render the word *impure motives* alluding to such evils as ‘ambition, pride, greed, popularity’. Thirdly, the missionaries’ appeal was not ‘made with guile’ (RSV): *nor are we trying to trick you*. That is, there was nothing devious about their methods. They made no attempt to induce conversions, for example, either by concealing the cost of discipleship or by offering fraudulent blessings.
Here, then, is a tremendous threefold claim. Paul insists that his message was true, his motives were pure and his methods were open and above-board. In these three areas his conscience was entirely clear. In what he said, and in why and how he said it, he was free from anything underhand.
It is over against error, impurity and guile, which he disclaims, that Paul now develops the stewardship metaphor: *On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel* (4). His emphasis is on God as the person to whom he was responsible. First, God had *approved* him. *Dokimazo* can mean both to ‘put to the test, examine’ and especially, as a result of the examination, to ‘accept as proved’ or ‘approve’ (BAGD). More simply still, it means to test and find genuine, and was used of both coins and people. Milligan refers to its technical use to describe ‘the passing (of somebody) as fit for election to a public office’. Just so, God had tested Paul and found him fit.
Secondly, as a result of the successful test, God had *entrusted* him *with the gospel*, making him a steward of it. Thirdly, God was the person he was *trying to please*, not men (cf. Gal.1:10). Fourthly, it is God who *tests our hearts*. This present continuous tense at the end of the verse is added to the perfect tense of the same verb at its beginning, because the divine examination is never final. *We speak*, therefore, writes Paul, as men who are tested by God, approved by God, trusted by God and are seeking to please God. No secret of Christian ministry is more important than its fundamental God-centredness. The stewards of the gospel are primarily responsible neither to the church, nor to its synods or leaders, but to God himself. On the one hand, this is a disconcerting fact, because God scrutinizes our hearts and their secrets, and his standards are very high. On the other hand, it is marvellously liberating, since God is a more knowledgeable, impartial and merciful judge than any human being or ecclesiastical court or committee. To be accountable to him is to be delivered from the tyranny of human criticism.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.