1 THESSALONIANS 2 (and 3)
Today, Paul is talking about motives and perception. There are few more powerful things on earth than these, in directing people’s will and actions. If you believe that someone loves you, you will do almost anything they ask of you – trusting that their motives are pure and that they act in your interests. A church member’s perception of his/her leaders will make all the difference in the world to his/her attitude and behaviour towards that leadership. Will you obey or rebel? Will you accept their teaching wholeheartedly or will you sneer at it and ignore it entirely? Will you serve with a generous willing spirit – not needing to be asked twice – or will the leader feel that it is easier to push a juggernaut uphill?
“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (2:6-9).
True leadership does not seek praise from those it leads (a sign of real insecurity) and does not impose an aggressive authority (although the authority is genuinely from the Lord), but shares lives and, mainly by advice and example, influences the lives of those who are led. Scripture is clear that we must “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit” (Hebrews 13:17 (NLT)). Paul is well aware of this but does not want to impose his authority upon the Thessalonians, preferring to win their love, trust and support by his own kindness.
So they were like a mother – showing genuine care – and like a father – encouraging, comforting, and passionately urging mature behaviour in their charges. If they required the church members to recognise the genuineness of their love, then they in turn observed the genuine work of Christ in those believers. They had become “imitators of God’s churches in Judea” – because they had imbibed the same spiritual milk and inherited the same spiritual DNA.
For the second chapter in a row, Paul signals that there will be a “coming wrath” upon the ungodly (1:10 and 2:16). However, Paul is utterly confident that none of this will fall upon his spiritual children and that they will continue to make him a very proud father in the Lord. Each chapter of 1 Thessalonians ends with a verse highlighting the return of Jesus and the end of the age.
Ending where I began this chapter, let us examine our own hearts and attitudes towards one another; towards our God-appointed leaders, our brothers and sisters in Christ, our disciples, and our parents, biological and spiritual. How do we measure up? Is there a need for repentance or forgiveness on our part – never mind about anyone else!
1 THESSALONIANS 3
How is your faith? How is your walk with God? Are you continuing to resist temptation? These are the kinds of questions that Paul evidently sought answers to from his disciples. Paul went to all the trouble of sending his best disciple, Timothy, all the way from Athens to Thessalonica, just to check that everything was OK. Paul and his team were overjoyed: “Now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (v8). This was the kind of result that sent them ‘high-fiving’ – having disciples who were true to the gospel they had taught them and affectionate towards their spiritual mentors.
In return, Paul committed himself to pray regularly for them: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (v10). Their prayer was also that God would “…strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father, when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (v13). Notice how this chapter also ends with a verse about the return of Christ and the end of the Age.
“In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted…” (v4). Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will receive persecution; perhaps we should examine ourselves if we do not! Maybe we are either not speaking up enough or maybe we are remaining too much in a Christian clique where our views are glibly accepted?