During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Tuesday, 1 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12
1. For you know yourselves, brothers and sisters, that our introduction to you was not in vain.
2. And, as you know, we had the courage to speak of our God to you, the gospel of God in great opposition, after having suffered and been insulted beforehand in Philippi.
3. Our appeal to you was not from error, duplicity, or subterfuge.
4. But, just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so also we do not speak so as to please people but God, who is the one proving our hearts.
5. Just as you know, we came neither with flattering words nor with a pretext for greediness. God testifies to it.
6. Nor glory seeking from people, not from you or from anyone,
7. although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles. Instead, we became as infants in your midst, like a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
8. So, longing in this way for you, we determined to share not only the gospel of God with you, but our very souls. That is why you have become beloved.
9. You should remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and effort, working night and day so as to not be a burden to anyone as we preached the gospel of God to you.
10. You and God are witnesses to how devoutly, righteously, and blamelessly we behaved to those of you who are believers.
11. Indeed, you know, like a father to his own children were each one of you,
12. Urging you, consoling you, affirming you to walk worthy of your God, who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory.
First, a textual note. For reasons I can’t understand, English renderings tend to put the opening phrase of verse 7 with verse 6, where it would read “Nor seeking glory from people, not from you or from anyone, although we had the power of authority as Christ’s apostles” as all verse 6. All my editions of the Greek New Testament list that phrase about authority being the first part of verse 7. It doesn’t change the meaning, but keeping it in the structure of the GNT allows for that great imagery of authority and power contrasted with being an infant.
Paul claims the gospel came from them not with error, duplicity, or subterfuge in verse 3. If we examine those we get three important claims for ministry. Paul says he was not in error. What he means is not that he doesn’t make errors, but the gospel he preached is not a mistaken one. Often it was claimed of Paul that he was preaching the wrong gospel or an altered version of it. Here he affirms he was not mistake about Christ, salvation, or the way of discipleship. he also claims that he did not have mixed motives. This is important, because a person could preach the right (no errors) but have duplicity. My reading of many churches, ministries, and pastors informs me some of them have sound doctrine but their motives are mixed in that they say it is all for the Lord but in reality they are promoting themselves. Subterfuge is a different kind of impurity Paul says is absent from his preaching. He never tried to trick the people. He was open, honest, and transparent. Any church or ministry that fudges numbers, lies about attendance, or plays politics to curry favor with a certain demographic is engaged in subterfuge.
I am fascinated by the use of infants as a metaphor. If you read it closely, he is not saying the Thessalonians became infants as he was the father. He is saying the opposite, he was like an infant, weak and lowly to them, rather than bossy and pushy. He waited for them to take the lead. I don’t know about you, but it is hard to do this. It is hard to wait, slow down, and allow others to lead. It must have been really hard for Paul. But that is what he did. No wonder he was able to write elsewhere, “I am crucified with Christ.” Crucifying our desires to control, frame, guide, and dominate is vital to spiritual leadership. And here, I would like to note, this is the opposite of what they teach in seminary and what the world defines as ‘real’ leadership. Paul says real leadership is celebrating how others grow into their role rather than grabbing all the headlines and sucking all the oxygen out of the room. I confess, I am a work-in-progress on this one.
There is a joke buried in verse 10. Paul outlines how devout, righteous, and blameless they were toward ‘those who are believers.’ Does this mean he was ungodly, wicked, and guilty to those who were not believers? I doubt it, but Paul’s choice of language is fascinating.
Questions For Application
- Paul says he was insulted in Philippi, but that didn’t stop him in Thessalonica. What insults and crude attacks have you worked through? How did it make you stronger?
- Paul lays it all out there that he wasn’t in it for the applause, the payday, or the recognition. What was his goal, and, more pointedly, what is your goal in the Christian life? At work? At home?
- Who do you share your very soul with? Why? Can a body of believers be called a church if the souls are not shared? Can a pastor or leader lead a church where the souls are not connected?
- What does a walk worthy of God look like in 2020 and in your world?