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.
Most 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.
Notice 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.