Like a Mother, Like a Father (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)

Although he was an apostle, Paul says he was never a burden to the church. Paul may have taught his churches that apostles were worthy respect. If someone like Peter visited the church, the church should take care of his needs. But Paul never abused his apostleship as a demand for respect. It is even possible (based on 2 Corinthians) that there were some apostles that did insist on support from the churches in which they ministered.

Rather than being a financial burden, Paul was gentle, as a mother. The metaphor highlights a mother caring for her new born baby. There is a gentleness in the touch, trying to do what the child needs to grow properly. Obviously a new mother doesn’t toss her child around, she is gentle and tender.

Since Paul loved the church, he was delighted to share his life with them. The ESV’s “affectionately desirous” is a bit cumbersome, but the verb ὁμείρομαι has the sense of deep affection: “to experience a yearning affection for someone” (L&N). Psalm 63:1 (LXX 62:2) uses the verb, “my soul yearns / thirsts for God.”

Because of this deep love, Paul was delighted to share the Gospel. The preaching of the gospel was a pleasure for him. Some people have subjects that they love to talk about, and if you bring up that subject they will babble on for a long time, just pleased that you brought it up. A grandmother asked about her grand-kids, for example. They always seem to have “brag books.”

More than just sharing the Gospel, Paul was willing to share himself with the congregation. He did not simply “do the job,” he gave everything he had to the congregation. In sports, players talking about leaving it all on the field, holding nothing back. That is the way Paul did ministry, giving everything he had to reach his congregation.

Paul describes his work in the church as “toil and hardship.” Paul’s time in Thessalonica was short, and it was not an easy time. He had to work hard to support himself and his ministry. Planting church is very difficult work, doubly so in Paul’s case because he was planting a church in a city that had never even heard of Christianity.

Coaching BaseballMost people do not think of the “ministry” as toil or hard work. (You only work for an hour a week, etc.) While it is sadly true that some Pastors are not particularly hard workers, they are the exception and not the ideal to which most pastors aspire. There is a great deal of effort that goes into be an excellent pastor, and while it is different than other jobs, it is still a skill which ought to be respected by the church served by the pastor.

Paul was successful in Thessalonica because he had pure motives, because he was gentle like a mother, but also because he was encouraging like a father. The classic stereotype is that the mother is loving and caring, but the father is a stern disciplinarian. A father’s encouragement, however, can be one of the greatest motivations in a child’s life, just as is a mother’s love and compassion. Paul uses three participles to describe how he was like a father to the Thessalonian church.

First, Paul states that he exhorted the church. The differences between the meaning of “to exhort” (ESV), or “encourage” (NIV, παρακαλέω) and “to encourage” (ESV), or “to comfort” (παραμυθέομαι) are very close, the two Greek words can both be translated as encourage.  The verb “exhort”  means something like “to prod toward a particular action.” If I urge you to do something, that has a bit more punch than “I encourage you,” but the Greek word is the same. A similar word is used in Romans 12:1, where Paul “begs” his readers to present their bodies as living sacrifices.

Exhortation is something like a cheerleader, someone that builds another up and says “you can do it!” Think of the father who is trying to encourage his child to have confidence playing baseball for the first time – he builds the kid up and pushes just a bit so that there is confidence to “step up to the plate.”  Paul had to do that with his congregation:  He prodded them and pushed them to live  a life honoring to God, especially since some aspects of the Christian life are strange to the Greco-Roman world.

Second, Paul comforted the church. By comfort, Paul is looking more at cheering someone up, consoling, or helping someone who is experiencing a difficult time. The verb is used in the context of comforting someone who has suffered a loss, a death or other tragic event. For example, in John 11:19 people came to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

Striking OutNotice how closely related the concept of encouragement and comfort are related in Paul’s ministry. He could, as a father, encourage his congregation to excel in godliness, then comfort them in their weaknesses. Taking the baseball analogy from above, the father might “exhort” his child to step up to the plate, but when they strike out on three pitches without swinging the bat, he needs to comfort the child after a failure.

Third, Paul charged you to live lives worthy of God. Paul’s “urge” is “to be emphatic in stating an opinion or desire; to insist on” (L&N). When your father expressed his opinion on a topic, he often was not offering something for discussion, he was telling you what you ought to be doing, perhaps phrased in the form of an opinion. That is what Paul did as well. He showed from the Scripture how the new believers ought to believe and behave. This was not “his opinion” which was open for discussion, something to be accepted or rejected. Paul was telling his congregation how they ought to live.

The content of Paul’s insistence is that his readers live lives worthy of God. Imagine in your mind a scale, with God’s requirements on one side and our actions on the other. “Worthy” describes the balance of those scales, something that is impossible in our own power. Paul is urging his readers to set this lofty goal of spiritual growth for themselves, that they be worthy of the one that called us.

If God is your Father, then the goal of the Christian life ought to be living in a way which makes your Father in Heaven proud to call you his child.

5 thoughts on “Like a Mother, Like a Father (1 Thessalonians 2:6-12)

  1. Reading this post I can’t help but think of my own father and just how blessed I am to have him. He has always been there for me and has taught me so many valuable lessons about God and life. By having such a good experience with my earthly father it is easy for me to make the connection of God being my heavenly father, by the love and affection He shows me. P. Long breaks down Paul’s passage about him being like a father to the Thessalonians. He states, that when a father motivates their child, it can have a great effect on that child’s life. For instance, Paul was very consistent in making sure that he encouraged the Thessalonians because he knew the hardship they faced and deeply cared for them. My dad is the one person who is always encouraging me to be in the Word. With his example and encouragement, I can understand Paul’s devotion to the wellbeing of the Thessalonian church. Out of his love for Christ, Paul thrived at seeing other believers feel that same love for Christ and live out His ways. Being a Christian in Thessalonica was not easy and Paul knew how easily it was to fall away so he made it a priority to be the encouragement and the reminder of how to live a godly life. His letters affected the congregation in positive ways and created a healthy godly church.

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  2. When describing Paul, the idea that he had characteristics of both a Mother and a Father regarding the church in Thessalonica is not only accurate but illustrates the relationship well as described in chapter two; however, the proof of this is scattered throughout the book of 1 Thessalonians. In chapter 1, Paul encourages those within the church by describing what they have done well in his absence, such as becoming an example to those around them, and the great distances the gospel has spread on account of their actions (1 Thess. 1:7-9). The news of their faith was flooding through major cities as it would through modern-day news stations (Longenecker & Still, 2014), and Paul desired to encourage and empower them by telling them of the impact they were having on their world. In the same way that he was able to encourage them, he also desired to nurture them and help them to grow in their faith. In this way, he lovingly points out the challenges that they have faced, and some things that they need to change. For example, Paul admonishes the church for their struggles with sexual immorality and tells them exactly what is expected of them as believers in the future (1 Thess. 4:3-4). In this way, Paul acts as a father figure by calling out the infant church on their struggles and mistakes while directing them and laying the foundation they should be building for the future of their church. These examples of the comparison between Paul and the mother/father dynamic with the Thessalonian church show his love and care for the infant church, and many more can be found throughout the pages of first and second Thessalonians.

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  3. Paul said his ministry work was difficult and did not come easy to him. But others may have work that comes across as easy work but that is alwaysnot the case. You have no idea what they person went through to get where they are today with ministry work as a whole. It may seem like that person may be taking it easy at their church or job for ministry but what you do not know is how many lives they have maybe poured into already. Pouring into so many lives can take a toll on your mental health and maybe you need someone to do it to you now. If all you do is pour how can you get filled back up? It is not easy to do things on your own and thay is why you need God and family to help you along the way to make the process go smoothly and so they can fill you back up from all of your pouring.

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  4. Christianity is often summed up as a collection of people following a set of rules which may or may not equate to holiness. Not only did Jesus prove that statement wrong by showing us that our faith is enough for salvation, but He also lets us know that receiving salvation is just the beginning. Paul’s ministry goes hand-in-hand with this idea of grace (Rom 15:15-16; Acts 20:24). Paul is stern in the way that he asks the church to follow certain rules which may feel as though it is just another set of rules. As we get to know Paul a bit better, he seems to be more like a very loving “auntie” who is constantly on the lookout for the well-being of their niece/nephew. I say this because Paul is not always present but is helping from a distance (Paul does not use this imagery; he explains that he is more like a father or a mother speaking to their children).
    Due to the somewhat new concept of grace, Paul is constantly having to go back and explain his theology. He does not condone libertinism; he does not agree that they can sin in greater measure in order to glorify God through His grace (Rom 3:8, Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 183). He insists that believers must live a life worthy of Christ now. It would have prevented a lot of persecution if the Thessalonians accepted the salvation of Christ but continued living their lives as before. But Paul is not afraid of persecution and is only worried about pleasing God. The catch is that this task has no finish line, and the only way to “keep the law” is by accepting the grace of the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus that makes us blameless in Christ.
    Paul’s lack of monetary dependence showed that he was not after their money or what the churches could give him. He cares deeply about individuals’ growth as well as the growth of the church as a whole. In his ministry, Paul is “bound to a ‘gospel of God’ that accords with the Scriptures of Israel and is centered on the resurrected Son of God who is Lord, Paul’s apostleship is specifically for the purpose of bringing the Gentile nations to ‘obedience of Faith’” (Longenecker & Todd, 2014, p. 178). He makes sure to mend any broken relationships, but once that takes place, he goes back to loving, instructing, and correcting the church.

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  5. There is no doubt that Paul greatly impacted everywhere he encountered during his ministry. But, a metaphor that was important to Paul’s ministry was the metaphor like mother, like father. As stated by Longenecker and Still, the Apostle wanted the Thessalonians to please God and be authentic, not seeking the praise of other people (Longenecker & Still, 2014). This contributes to the importance of the metaphor because he wanted to provide a structure, while also presenting his message in a gentle and relatable fashion to the Thessalonians. Another aspect that is important to Paul’s ministry was the importance of fundamental values. Paul later addresses eschatological concerns with the Thessalonian Church, where he comforts them and teaches them important lessons before the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4: 3-12). Ultimately, Paul is embracing a role of leadership that is meant to unite the group of believers in the Church. When it comes down to it, Paul wants the people of Thessalonica to embrace the same mindset, and understand who their true commitment should be to. At the end of the day, the mother, like father metaphor is of great importance, and something that Paul relied upon while he was ministering to the people of Thessalonica.

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