Ministering With Affection
1 Thessalonians 2:7–12
The church is a family. People enter it by being born into it spiritually. And, as in a family, all members have responsibilities; and their commitment to and love for one another are necessary to create an environment of spiritual growth. The goal is to nurture toward maturity, giving everyone a sense of security and productivity within God’s family.
Through His Word, the Lord provides pastoral leadership, which should be administered carefully and lovingly for the growth and health of the church—especially a newly established one filled with immature believers, like the one in Thessalonica.
In this section of 1 Thessalonians, the apostle Paul explained how a pastoral staff should function. Emphasizing the gentleness and affection of a mother and the strong, loving authority of a father, Paul taught that a minister must have moral integrity, a spotless character, and a devout commitment to God. He must be a role model whom others in the church can emulate.
Paul was extremely patient and sensitive to the Thessalonians’ needs: “But we [his missionary team] were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (v. 7).
The phrase we were gentle among you reveals the character of Paul’s ministry at Thessalonica. He used the word gentle when telling Timothy, his son in the faith, how church leaders should serve a congregation (2 Tim. 2:24).
The word cherish means “to warm.” The picture is of a mother bird warming and protecting her young by covering them with her wings. This is how tenderly and compassionately Paul and his team treated new, immature believers in the faith: “So, affectionately longing 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 dear to us” (1 Th. 2:8). The word affectionately expresses the warmth and tenderness Paul felt for the Thessalonians. Although not in Thessalonica when he wrote this epistle, Paul still had the same nurturing love and care for the believers there.
This love was expressed in two ways: First, Paul’s team gave the Thessalonians the “gospel of God.” They gave them the Good News concerning salvation in Christ, which resulted in their redemption. Salvation is the most precious gift God can bestow on someone who repents because of its timeless and eternal benefit. It represents the apex of God’s genuine love.
Second, they imparted their “own lives [souls]” to them (v. 8). The word dear (Greek, agapetos) is a form of agape, referring to selfless, sacrificial love. That is the type of love Paul and his team felt for these Christians. They ministered to them as nursing mothers feeding their newborns. Paul nourished them on the milk of God’s Word with passion and tender affection.
Paul exhorted the church to remember how he and the mission team conducted themselves: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God” (v. 9).
In other words, Paul and his team brought the “gospel of God” to them at great personal cost. He never put a price tag on his ministry and worked long hours at the trade of tentmaking to support himself (cf. Acts 18:2–3). (Jewish fathers in the first century always taught their sons a trade.) Thus no one could accuse Paul of being in the ministry for financial gain.
Paul called his tentmaking “labor and toil” (1 Th. 2:9). It was difficult, wearisome work to the point of exhaustion; and he probably earned a low wage. He labored “night and day,” meaning he rose before dawn to work many hours in order to be free to minister later in the day.
Paul paid his way so he would not be a financial “burden” to the Thessalonian church. Many pastors today choose to work secular jobs while planting new churches or reviving established ones to avoid burdening the people to whom they minister.
Thus Paul could not be accused of being covetous, materialistic, or greedy; and no one could claim he preached for profit. His secular job afforded him the freedom to proclaim the gospel message boldly, without speaking to please men.
Paul pointedly said, “We preached to you the gospel of God” (v. 9). This was the entire focus of his ministry: to proclaim the life-changing message given to him by God. He spoke with urgency, seriousness, and divine authority. The gospel is to be proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, convincing people to give undivided attention to the only message that can lead them to salvation.
The church could attest to the conduct and character of Paul and his team: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (v. 10). Their works were untainted; transparent; authentic; and without reproach in morals, manners, and motives. The Thessalonian believers were eyewitnesses to the purity and integrity of Paul’s ministry and could silence any false accusations against it.
Paul called on the testimony of “God also” as his witness. The Lord Himself could vouch for him. Paul used three words that summarize how he and his fellow workers behaved: devoutly, justly, and blamelessly.
- Devoutly speaks of the mental attitude in service to the Lord. Words like holy, pure, pious, and religious describe Paul’s devout commitment to fulfilling his commission before God.
- Justly (or righteously) describes the manner in which Paul performed his ministry. It speaks of his moral integrity and upright character before men. These attributes need to be manifested in all Christians.
- Blamelessly means these men practiced what they preached. Their walk matched their talk. From what Paul said, he and his team were finely scrutinized, probed with questions, and thoroughly investigated. And they were found “blameless,” or faultless, in the eyes of both the unbelieving public and new converts to Christ, despite the lies hurled against them. Paul and the team received complete approval from God and man because of their testimony of honesty and godliness.
Paul and his team not only cared for the Thessalonians like mothers but also exhorted them like fathers: “As you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (v. 11).
Again, the phrase as you know reminded these new believers that they saw everything with their own eyes. The virtuous life and genuine love these missionaries evidenced was a pattern these believers were expected to emulate among one another and before an unbelieving world.
Paul discharged his responsibility to them “as a father does his own children.” A father will deal with all his children collectively sometimes and individually other times, instructing, training, and disciplining them. There is a balance presented in this chapter between the loving, gentle care of a mother and the firm, sterner role of a father.
The text clearly shows these Thessalonians were Paul’s spiritual children in the Lord. In calling them “children,” Paul acknowledged them as babes in Christ at this stage of their spiritual development. The fatherly image shows he envisioned the church as a family, corporately and individually, needing his paternal-like care and training.
Three words present Paul and his team’s approach to their pastoral oversight: exhorted, comforted, and charged.
- Exhort means to come alongside someone for the purpose of consoling and strengthening that individual. The idea is that of fortifying Christians, especially during trouble or persecution. Exhortation is especially true of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who brings comfort, instruction, and guidance into a person’s life at such times.
- Comfort means to bring encouragement. Paul encouraged these new believers to stay actively on course in their Christian walks.
- Charge involves providing a personal witness from his own experience and insisting how they should order their lives, especially if they were wavering in their faith.
Paul’s goal was to educate, edify, and exhort his spiritual children on how to live so that they might “walk worthy [befitting, suitable, and deserving] of God” (v. 12), whom they served.
Abruptly, Paul switched from what believers should be doing for God to what God does for believers. The One believers serve, he said, is the One “who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (v. 12). God is always working in the lives of believers to conform them to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29)—something no believer can do on his or her own.
The goal of God’s call is for Christians ultimately to live with Christ and share in His earthly Kingdom. What a glorious hope awaits the Thessalonian believers—and all who will follow Jesus Christ.