In chapter 2, Paul continues to explore the relationship between his mission team and this church in Thessalonica. He reflects on the methods and the motives he had when engaging with this group.
Paul characterises the relationships between the team and the church using imagery based on other relationships, including family relationships.
Firstly he claims:
“as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”
So Paul is claiming that they could have simply taken charge and been able to call the shots, but they were like “young children”. What are young children like? Playful? Wanting to learn? Innocent? Dependent? Kind of a weird image to use when he’s supposed to be the big-hitter of an apostle. But I suppose that’s his point.
The imagery then switches to another relationship:
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.”
How does a nursing mother care for her children? If it is to do with the nursing part, the main thing is the availability and the attention of the mother. And it is sacrificial; it is characterised by the need of the child and for the child’s benefit and growth. Presumably, Paul is making reference to some kind of 24/7 policy for giving the Thessalonians what they needed – allowing himself to be drained of his knowledge and teaching for the betterment of the people. And this is motivated by love.
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
I have always liked this quote – “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. It makes me think of Christian life at its best, when people have integrity and share time – rather than hit-and-run evangelism. Paul goes on to describe another important feature of ministry as it should be:
“Surely you remember… 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.”
While they were on their mission trip, they paid their own way; they did not impose on Jason of Thessalonica financially.
Here comes another relationship simile:
For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God…
So, Paul and the team have gone from being like little children to being nursing mothers and now they have arrived at fatherhood in an image of ideal parenting.
There is one more relationship image in this chapter:
… when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought…
(Caveat: my own Bible’s version just says “when we were torn away from you” – so I am not sure if the translator just got over-excited with the family imagery going on in this chapter and decided to run with it– or if there were connotations of being an orphan floating around the words of the original text. So I may very well be reading too much into this.)
Paul claims he was “orphaned” metaphorically – perhaps a link back to being like little children – children that want to be with their primary carer above everyone else – in distress when they have to be left behind or, in Paul’s case, to be elsewhere.
Paul clearly sees the church in Thessalonica to be part of his family – a family bound together with interdependence, love and a desire to be together. It is interesting to note the variety of roles he saw himself and his team in – as a father, a mother and a child – and also conveying the distress of separation from them.
What’s your role in your family? I suppose that most of us have multiple roles – I am a mum, wife, sister, daughter, aunt, niece, cousin – it depends which relationship is in play at any given point. And in the church – do we feel like “brothers and sisters” as (I haven’t quoted here but) Paul keeps saying (although I suspect the “and sisters” are editorial but I don’t know)?
How much does your church feel/operate like a family? And who are you in it? (I’m just… the kind of relative you have to explain to your friends, once out of earshot…)