Chapter one of First Thessalonians introduced us to Paul the evangelist. Chapter two introduces us to Paul the pastor. It explains how the apostle cared for new believers in the churches that he started. Paul considered “the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28) a greater burden than all the sufferings and difficulties he experienced in his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Just as God uses people to bring the Gospel to the lost, so He uses people to nurture new believers and help lead them to maturity. The church at Thessalonica was born through the faithful preaching of Paul and his helpers, and the church was nurtured through the faithful pastoring that Paul and his friends gave to the infant church. This helped them stand strong in tile midst of persecution.
In these verses, Paul reminded them of the kind of ministry he had as he taught and cared for the young church. Three pictures of his ministry emerge.
The Faithful Steward (1 Thessalonians 2:1-6) Paul had been “put in trust with tile Gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). It was not a message that he made up or that he received from men (Galatians 1:11-12). Paul looked on himself as a steward of God’s message.
A steward owns nothing, but possesses and uses everything that belongs to his master. Joseph was a steward in the household of Potiphar (Genesis 39:1-6). He managed his master’s affairs and used all his master’s goods to promote his master’s welfare. Every steward one day must give an account of his stewardship (Luke 16:1-2). If he is found unfaithful, he will suffer.
The message of the Gospel is a treasure God has entrusted to us. We must not bury it, we must invest it so it will multiply and produce “spiritual dividends” to God’s glory. Some Christians think that the church’s only responsibility is to protect the Gospel from those who would change it (Galatians 1:6-9). But we also must share the Gospel; otherwise, we are protecting it in vain.
Faithfulness is the most important quality a steward possesses (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). He may not be popular in the eyes of men; but he dare not be unfaithful in the eyes of God. “Not as pleasing men, but God who tries [tests] our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). The Christian who “plays to the grandstands” will lose God’s approval. When we see the characteristics of Paul’s ministry as a steward, we understand what faithfulness means.
The manner of his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
Paul and Silas had been beaten and humiliated at Philippi; yet they came to Thessalonica and preached. Most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister. Paul was courageous-he was not a quitter. He had a “holy boldness” that came out of his dedication to God. Like the other Apostles before him, Paul boldly proclaimed the Good News (Acts 4:13, 29. 31).
His preaching was “with much contention.” This is an athletic term that means “a contest, a struggle.” The Greek world was familiar with athletic contests, and Paul often used this idea to illustrate spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:7). He used this same word in Philippians 1:30 where he pictured the Christian life as an athletic contest that demanded dedication and energy. It had not been easy to start a church in Philippi, and it was not easy to start one in Thessalonica.
The message of his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3a).
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error” (NIV). Here he assured them that his message was true. Six times in this letter he mentioned the Gospel. This message of Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:16) is a true message and is the only true Gospel (Galatians 1:6-12). Paul received this Gospel from God, not from man. It is the only Good News that saves the lost.
The motive of his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
He was not guilty of “uncleanness,” for his motives were pure. It is possible to preach the right message with the wrong motives (Philippians 1:14-19). Unfortunately, some people in Paul’s day used religion as a means for making money. Paul did not use the Gospel as “a cloak to cover his covetousness” (1 Thessalonians 2:5). He was open and honest in all his dealings, and he even worked at a trade to earn his own support (see 2 Thessalonians 3:8-10).
The method of his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6).
Paul did not use guile or trickery to win converts. The word translated “guile” carries the idea of “baiting a hook.” In other words, Paul did not trap people into being saved, the way a clever salesman traps people into buying his product. Witnessing and “Christian salesmanship” are different. Salvation does not lie at the end of a clever argument or a subtle presentation. It is the result of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
Paul hated flattery (1 Thessalonians 2:5). David also hated it, “They speak vanity everyone with his neighbor; with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak” (Psalm 12:2). I once read that a flatterer is a person who manipulates rather than communicates. A flatterer can use either truth or lies to achieve his unholy purpose, which is to control your decisions for his own profit.
Some people flatter themselves. “For he flatters himself in his own eyes” (Psalm 36:2 RSV). This was the sin of Haman, that evil man in the Book of Esther. He was so interested in flattering himself that he even plotted to slaughter all the Jews to achieve that goal.
Some people try to flatter God. “Nevertheless they [Israel] did flatter Him [God] with their mouth, and they lied unto Him with their tongues” (Psalm 78:36). Flattery is another form of lying. It means saying one thing to God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him (Mark 7:6).
The Loving Mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8) The emphasis of the steward is faithfulness; the emphasis of the mother is gentleness. As an apostle, Paul was a man of authority; but he always used his authority in love. The babes in Christ sensed his tender loving care as he nurtured them. He was indeed like a loving mother who cared for her children.
It takes time and energy to care for children. Paul did not turn his converts over to baby-sitters: he made sacrifices and cared for them himself. He did not tell them to “read a book” as a substitute for his own personal ministry (though good Christian literature can help young believers to grow).
Paul had patience with the new Christians. Children do not grow up instantly. They all experience growing pains and encounter problems as they mature. Paul’s love for them made him patient, because love suffers long, and is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4).
Paul also nourished them. First Thessalonians 2:7 can read, “even as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” What is the lesson here? A nursing mother imparts her own life to the child. This is exactly what Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. You cannot be a nursing mother and turn your baby over to someone else. That baby must be in you arms, next to your heart.
The nursing mother eats the food and transforms it into milk for the baby. The mature Christian feeds on the Word of God and then shares its nourishment with the younger believers so they can grow (1 Peter 2:1-3). A nursing child can become ill through a reaction to something the mother has eaten. The Christian who is feeding others must be careful not to feed on the wrong things himself.
A mother also protects her child. It was this fact that enabled King Solomon to discover which woman was the real mother of the living child (1 Kings 3:16-28). Paul was willing to give not only the Gospel but his own life as well. His love for the Thessalonians was so great he would die for them if necessary.
If we do not nurse the new Christians on the milk of the Word, they can never mature to appreciate the meat of the Word (Hebrews 5:10-14).
The Concerned Father (1 Thessalonians 2:9-12) Paul considered himself a “spiritual father” to the believers at Thessalonica, just as he did toward the saints at Corinth. “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15, NASB). The Spirit of God used the Word of God in Paul’s ministry, and many people in Thessalonica were born again into the family of God.
But the father not only produces children; he also cares for them. As he defended his own work against false accusations, Paul pointed out three of his duties as the spiritual father to the Thessalonians.
His work (1 Thessalonians 2:9). The father works to support his family. Even though the Christians in Philippi sent financial help (Philippians 4:15-16), Paul still made tents and paid his own way. No one could accuse him of using his ministry for his own profit. Later on, Paul used this fact to shame the lazy Christians in the Thessalonian church (2 Thessalonians 3:6ff).
Paul used the words “labor and travail.” It was not easy to make tents and minister the Word at the same time. No wonder Paul toiled “night and day” (Acts 20:31). He worked because he loved the believers and wanted to help them as much as possible. “For I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Corinthians 12:14).
His walk (1 Thessalonians 2:10). Fathers must live so that they are good examples to their children. He could call the Thessalonian believers as witnesses that his life had been exemplary in every way. None of the members of the assembly could accuse Paul of being a poor example. God had witnessed Paul’s life; and Paul was not afraid to call God as witnesses that he had lived a dedicated life, while caring for the church family.
His life was holy. Our word pious is close to it, if you think of piety at its best and not as some fake kind of religion. This same word is applied to the character of God in Revelation 15:4, 16:5.
His life was also righteous. This refers to integrity. uprightness of character. and behavior. This is not the “righteousness of the Law” but the practical righteousness that God works out in our lives as we yield to Him (Philippians 3:4-10).
Paul’s life was also blameless. Literally, this word means “not able to find fault in.” His enemies might accuse him, but no one could level any charge against Paul and prove it. Christians are supposed to be “blameless and harmless” as they live in this world. (Philippians 2:15).
His words (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). A father must not only support the family by working, and teaching the family by being a good example. He must also take time to speak to the family members. Paul knew the importance of teaching these new believers the truths that would help them grow in the Lord.
Paul dealt with each of the believers personally. “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children” (l Thessalonians 2:11 NIV). As busy as he was, Paul still had time for personal counseling with the members of the church. While it is good for church leaders to address the larger group, spending time with people on a one-to-one basis is also needed. Our Lord was never too busy to speak to individuals, even though He preached to great multitudes. To be sure, this is difficult and demanding work. But it is rewarding work that glorifies God.
Paul encouraged the new believers. Children are easily discouraged, and new Christians need someone to encourage them in the faith. The word exhorting means “to call to one’s side, to encourage.” It does not mean that Paul scolded them. Rather, it means he encouraged them to go on with the Lord.
Paul also comforted them. This word carries the same idea of “encouragement,” with the emphasis on activity. Paul not only made them feel better, but he made them want to do better.
Finally, Paul charged them. This word means that Paul “testified to them” out of his own experience with the Lord. It carries the idea of giving personal witness. Sometimes we go through difficulties so that we may share with new Christians what the Lord has done. God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (1 Corinthians 1:4 NIV).
What was the purpose for this fatherly ministry to the believers? His aim was that his children might “walk worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). Just as a father wants to be proud of his children, so the Lord wants to get glory through the lives of His children. “I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth” (2 John 4 NASB). Paul ministered to them in such a personal way because he was teaching them how to walk.
Every child must learn how to walk. He must have good models to follow. Paul instructs them to walk “worthy of the Lord” (see Colossians 1:10 and Philippians 1:27). We are to walk worthy of the calling we have in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:1). God has called us; we are saved by grace. We are a part of His kingdom and glory. One day we shall enter the eternal kingdom and share His glory. This assurance ought to govern our lives and make us want to please the Lord.
The verb in 1 Thessalonians 2:12 is in the present tense: “who is continually calling you.” God called us to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), and He is constantly calling us to a life of holiness and obedience. “But as He which has called you is holy, so be holy in all manner of conversation [behavior]: because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
This passage gives us a beautiful example of New Testament follow-up. Paul has shown us how to raise the babies. He outlined the method of discipleship. We must be faithful stewards, loving mothers, and concerned fathers.
No wonder the church at Thessalonica prospered in spite of persecution, and shared the Gospel with others for miles around. They had been born right (1 Thessalonians 1) and nurtured right (1 Thessalonians 2). This is a good example for us to follow.