David Alves, one of our members, will be presenting a series of reflections on sermons given at Grace Church to aid us in considering and obeying God’s Word. Following is a reflection on the message recently preached by Andrew Smith, Sunday morning, September 27, 2015.
Just as mothers and fathers each bear unique but irreplaceably pivotal roles in the raising of godly, healthy children, attitudes that can be described as maternal and paternal are fitting for the raising of spiritual children. And are we not all spiritual children in one way or another, regardless of our level of maturity? Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church about his relationship to them before and after their conversion proves biblically convicting and instructive for being, and helping others to become, all the Lord intends for His redeemed image-bearers.
In verses 1-6 of chapter 2, Paul refutes and condemns a false misrepresentation of him and his fellow workers, which also are the obstacles to true faithfulness and fruitfulness every gospel minister (which obviously includes every Christian, in a broad sense) must overcome. In verses 7-12, Paul takes up his pen to demonstrate his true heart toward the Thessalonians and by extension part of the happy command laid on us as members of the new covenant.
- Acting like a Mother: Gentleness, Special Affection/Sacrificial Love, and Unselfish Labor (vv. 7-9)
In verse 7, Paul begins by declaring he and the members of his apostolic team were “gentle” among the Thessalonians before (and after) they were saved, in the same way a nursing mother is with the children she suckles. The manuscript evidence for gentle is most interesting; the NAS, ESV, HCSB, KJV, and NKJV all read “gentle” (both the ESV and the Holman note an alternate translation in a footnote), while the updated NIV, the New English Translation, and the Lexham English Bible all read some variation of “children” or infants.” There is only one Greek letter difference between the words for gentle and infant, and more manuscripts seem to tilt in favor of the “infant” reading. Either way, the concept is the same: Paul and his friends were kind, unthreatening, tender, approachable, and even relatable to the Thessalonians. Paul may be saying he got down on their level, spoke in a way they could understand, and was certainly not harsh or roughshod with them. In conservative circles, a high premium is placed on truth, and rightly so. Churches and individuals concerned with the evangelical slide into worldliness and apostasy are understandably concerned with the threats to biblical fidelity all around them, and so they may react in a caustic, angry, self-righteous, and cold way. Pride, as they are surely the only people who are biblically faithful in a sea of disgusting compromise, almost always fuels these flames. While strong defense of the truth and clear separation form error is part of genuine fidelity to Scripture, we are not serving God nor are slaves of all of His truth if we are virulent and abrasive towards those with whom we disagree. The God who is truth (Isaiah 65:16), who upbraided the Pharisees for their theological rebellion (Matthew 23), also commands gentleness and love from His people (Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 4:5). Striking the balance is why Spirit-filling is absolutely necessary, for only the omniscient God can teach us when to be blunt and when to embrace. Gentleness as a rule ought to characterize the interactions of believers with one another, as well as to the lost with whom we share the gospel.
Paul next describes in verse 8 the love he expressed to the Thessalonian believers. In the context, Paul is discussing the “coming” (lit. “entrance,” 2:1) to the Thessalonians he and his ministry partners had—the evangelistic coming which resulted in the saving reception of the gospel and the fruit-bearing lives that followed it which he describes in 1:2-10 (note that 2:1 begins with “for,” so the manner of his reception, which he explicates beginning in verse 7, is tied to the results he discusses in chapter 1). Yet, it is imperative to realize this love should only increase, flourish and mature among those who are already believers. The love and tenderness must not stop at conversion, or only be a ploy used to win people. It must be of an even greater degree and quality among those who know Him. “Fond an affection” is a very strong word in the Greek text, only used here in the New Testament. It has the idea of a strong, emotional, deep-seated yearning. It is a love involving the whole person. It is a love that wants to get up close and personal, to get its hands dirty. It was at least once used on a tombstone to describe the parental yearning for a deceased child. Is this how you feel about the Christians God has placed in your life? Or do you find a list of rationalizations about how God doesn’t care about emotions, or how you have to love other Christians but not like them, or reserve this attachment for only certain relationships? While differing levels of relationship are not inherently wrong, and while other Christians may possess traits that one finds distasteful or abrasive, an unwillingness to demonstrate holistic love to other Christians will find the chastening of God. Note further that this love compelled Paul and the other men to do something: They imparted the gospel and their souls to the Thessalonians. The love caused this impartation. Giving the gospel we get (of course, Christians need the gospel too, and more than the gospel!), but giving the soul? Paul means he gave himself as he ministered to them. He was not some detached, distant dispenser of sterile information, but he did it in the context of relationship and with pouring all of himself into what he did. He drew them into his life and in turn they let him into theirs (see the relationship that developed in 3:6). For Paul, there was no choosing between ministry and relationship, at least not always and everywhere. Paul could not minister on a long-term basis to people and not grow close to them and share himself with them. If the chieftain of all sinners could not withhold himself from other people, what is our excuse?
Finally, Paul demonstrated love by sacrificing himself for them. Verse 9 serves as an explanation of verses 7-8; it is an example of his love (again, note the “for”). This continual sacrificing of his time and bodily strength so as not to burden his beloved was a true expression of his love. He was there for them, for their benefit and blessing. Why should they pay him? No, he would work to support himself and would relieve the Thessalonians from any of that concern. They would know he was not there for what they could give him, but them (cf. 2 Cor. 12:14). Do you seek relationships and communion with other Christians primarily because of what it does for you, or are you willing to sacrifice yourself to meet the needs of the other? Obviously, utter and complete self-disinterest is both impossible and not at odds with love. It is not wrong to seek to meet your own needs, in itself. But, what is your primary motivation? When push comes to shove—when sacrifices must be made, what do you eliminate? Recognizing you are under the watchful eye of your heavenly monarch, who has entrusted you with His truth to minister to others, do you avoid even the appearance of ungodly self-interest, or do you try to get what you want at every possible turn?
- Acting like a Father: Modeling, Instruction, Production (vv. 10-12)
Just as healthy and godly children need both a mother and a father, so too Paul embodied both motherly and fatherly love to his Thessalonian friends. The first example is in verse 10, where he implicitly claims to be a model for them. How? In his devotion, his uprightness, and his blamelessness. Besides these words being themes deeply rooted in the Old Testament, hey describe the fullness of a right walk with God. “Devotion” means a holy, reverent, spiritual personal relationship to God; “uprightness” means one is behaving in accord with the righteous standard of God’s holy law; and “blamelessness” means Paul was unable to be credibly accused of unrighteous behavior towards others.
In all these things Paul was a man to be imitated—while working long hours, while suffering the effects of the persecution which brought him to Thessalonica, while shepherding a numerically growing and spiritually needy church at night. Do you realize your impact on others starts where his did—a holy, sacred, intimate, covenantal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you neglect communion with Him and personal obedience to Him in secret, not realizing you are cultivating habits which will negatively impact His body, the church?
Second, Paul provided fatherly instruction. The three verbs in the verse are all tied to the same goal: “to walk in a manner worthy of God” (v. 12). “Exhorting” is advice intended to incite action; “encouragement” is to come alongside to lift up or restore, especially in a tender way; and “imploring” is the word often translated “witness” elsewhere in the NT—here, it would carry the idea of a forceful command mixed with impassioned pleading based on witnessing personally where a given choice will lead. Good fathers present truth to their children; they do not hide it and they do not assume their children will figure everything out on their own. This quite literally would save numerous theological and practical errors among the brethren—how many of us can testify to some kind of immaturity or carnality that was all because we were ignorant of some aspect of truth? What if someone sat us down and said the choices we were making were wrong? How many of us would care? Yet fathers have a duty still to lovingly instruct, whether it is received or not. And so do we. Our God calls us to that.
Finally Paul was a producer. Verse 12 completes the thought in verse 11—the instruction is unto the goal of worthiness, but it is tied to two things: The God whose call saves men from sin and hell and the curse, and the present and future kingdom of Christ, where we live a heavenly life under the rule of our risen king. Paul was not trying to get mere decisions, or people who stopped screaming at their kids and paid their taxes. He was not trying to get people to be nicer, and he did not want people to merely manage their sins and strongholds. He was trying to get a quality of life that was radically reoriented to the things of God—the foundational realties of how God has created the world and what He is doing and will do to reverse the effects of sin and death.
And that is the role God calls us to have in the community which Christ purchased with His life and His blood—we are to be an instrument in His hand to draw the Christians around us, and the elect who do not yet know Him, into a majestically fruitful, surrendered, wise, and fragrant offering that images imperfectly but undoubtedly what will be when Christ returns to take the world as fully His.