Last week we discussed that while Paul devoted himself to loving the Thessalonians as a pastor, as a father and a mother, these were people who took Paul’s teaching to heart. They lived as if what Paul was teaching them was true, and more important than the priorities they had before they met him. Paul could love them because they were more than just good students: they demonstrated the love which they received.
This brings us to our second point:
2. Personal Affection and Concern
This is the part of this lesson that stung me most, so I’ll say it upfront: this is the part of my spiritual life with which, frankly, I am most concerned. Follow me here for a second: most of the members of my local church live on the West Side of Little Rock, or in Maumelle, and they are together as a truly-local church. They live together. It’s a good thing. And it may even seem like a completely conventional or routine thing to them because that’s just the way it is.
But from my side of the blog (and te podium when I teach), I lack a real personal connection to people in this church. We saw it a couple of weeks ago when I lead prayer prior to another teacher's lesson, because I don’t know most of the names of people with requests. Now: that is probably in great part a function of living in Bryant rather than on the West side of Little Rock, and not because I am actively callous toward any of you. We simply live 40 minutes away. But because of this, there is a divide between myself and most of you that I need to take seriously because of what Paul says here. Paul says, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
“Ready to share with you our own selves,” he says – in the context that they had also shared themselves with him. In an ordinary letter like this one, this is a serious and sober challenge. In the ordinary life of the local church, Paul says that it’s not even enough that we should simply share a word together once in a while, or worship together. He says we should be part of each others’ lives.
This is the only place that the mothering and fathering Paul is talking about can really happen: if we are in one another’s lives.
Before my wife and I moved to Little Rock 4 years ago, we belonged to a local church in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, to a church about this size – but in a town with only about 14,000 people. We lived close enough to the church that my wife could ride her bike there – and in the car, it wasn’t 5 minutes to the front door of church. In that church, we knew people. They knew us. They knew where we lived, and we knew how to check up on them. They knew when our kids were sick, and when we were sick. We had dinner in each others’ homes.
In pointing this out, I am not saying that this is the Gospel – because plenty of people without the Gospel have close friends. Plenty of people are deceived that the Gospel is only a close sense of community. What I am saying is that, as Paul says elsewhere, the aim of the charge for the Gospel is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Somehow, this is the stuff that happens to people when they are full of the Gospel.
So my conviction this week from this ordinary text is that I don’t show enough love to people for whom I ought to have a Gospel-planted love. My only lesson to all of you from that is: be less like I am, and more like I ought to be – more like I commit myself to be in the future. I should find ways to be available to the people in this church, and to share myself with them in spite of the busy sorts of lives we all find ourselves in. The Gospel doesn’t just call us to occupy a building with each other once in a while: it calls us to give ourselves to each other.
There’s a reason for this, which I will explain in a second, in our third point.
3. Proclamation of the Gospel
This seems fairly ordinary. It seems almost like a cliché of the Christian life. But Paul says, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves,” and then “we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” When he was sharing his life with them, it was not merely for the benefit of good company or companionship; when he was toiling so that they did not have to support him, we wasn’t doing it just to have a decent character. The Gospel filled him with a desire for other people, and it also required him to make a place in their lives for himself and his message.
John MacArthur has said this about Paul’s inclination toward people for the Gospel:
[Quote MacArthur] Do you know what Paul was in terms of an evangelist? He was a Biblical evangelist in so far as he saw his responsibility not only as winning people but as maturing them, … Do you know what his priority was in evangelism? Discipleship.
I think one of the things that very often is missing in our evangelism … is a failure to really love the individual that we've led to Christ to the point where we feel this tremendous responsibility.
If you don't learn anything about evangelism, learn this. The best way to evangelize is to produce one reproducing disciple. … Paul knew that this running around creating spiritual infancy all over, leaving a whole lot of spiritual babes lying on their backs screaming was not the way to go at it because they weren't mature enough to reproduce. Better to spend yourselves on some individuals that they might become mature and that they might carry the Gospel. Jesus didn't speak to large crowds very often and even when he did he spoke in parables and they didn't understand it. He spent most of his time with 12 individuals, didn't he? That's really the heart of evangelism. He was committed to the priority of maturing the believers. He himself knew that was his calling. [end quote]Paul’s toil and giving of himself was for this reason only: so that the Gospel would actually take root in these people, and actually bring out a yield. He loved them for the Gospel’s sake; he worked for the Gospel’s sake.
But his purpose wasn’t just for them to hear the words. It wasn’t just to say something to them and let God sort it out for them. Paul says he loved them, and toiled over them, and was blameless before them, and preached the Gospel to them, and then he “exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” This is his fatherly concern for them – not just that they feel good about their love for Paul, or his love for them, but that they see the God-centeredness of it, and the God-exalting power of it, as it demonstrates the power of the Gospel.