30 October 2012

He Invested

by Frank Turk

For those interested, the whole sunday morning lesson this series is based on can be found here.

Our passage 1 Thes 2:7-12.
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 So, being affectionately desirous of you, 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. 
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: 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. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we 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.
It’s a beautiful picture of Paul’s care for these people, and the purpose of his care for them – But it is an ordinary picture: one which fits into everyday life because it is Paul’s intention that this faith these people have be a faith for everyday life.

So what is the ordinary life of the church?
1. Pastoral Care
2. Personal Affection and concern
3. Proclamation of the Gospel
4. Perfecting the Gospel

1. Pastoral Care
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children,” Paul says.  And then again, “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God.”
There has been a lot said about pastoral care in the history of the sunday school lessons, and I’m not sure I have anything new to add to that archive.  From my perspective, since most of us will never be pastors, thinking about that duty of pastoral care is at best a way for us to find things to pray about for the sake of our pastors.  The job they have taken on is, as Paul says, labor and toil, working night and day.

But what Paul says here about the pastoral effort is interesting in its own right.  It borrows from an Old Testament theme, which is the role of a mother and a father in the right upbringing, the right education and formation of a child into a responsible adult.

For example, it says in Proverbs 1:8-9, “Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Or Prov 3:12, “the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Or Ps 113:9, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.”

What Paul is telling us about his care for these people in bringing them up in the faith is that he has not come at this work as a kind of career move.  For him, it’s not a mere job.  He is giving something to these people that is more personal than that.  For him, it is literally not about the money since he worked for his own support in order to minister to them.  It is instead about forming these people into something for God by informing them from a position greater than the role of a mere teacher.  He did not simply step behind a pulpit or a rolling desk and preach to them.  He invested something in them that can only be described by comparing it to parenting – how parents invest themselves in children so that these children will know more than just the facts.  It recalls the charge in Deuteronomy 6: “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

So rather than belabor the point here that our pastoral staff ought to love us as a mother loves us, or as a father loves us, or both since Paul says that’s what he did, let’s put it this on our prayer list.   Let God bless our pastors with this kind of love for the people in their care at this church because this is a tall order.  It’s a lot to ask it of them, but I think we are all better served, rather than reminding them that we are needy people, to instead pray for them for the sake of God giving them the depth and strength to do that for us  -- when it is hard enough to do that for one’s own family every day.

Where I will belabor this point is on the other end of the love: Paul says he was able to do this for the Thessalonians “because you had become very dear to us.”  “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, 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.”  Somehow these people were lovable people.  And I think it’s easy to see how they did that if we see what Paul credits to them as a church under his shepherding:

In v.1:3, they are said to have “works of faith and labors of love and steadfastness of hope”
In v.1:6 “you became imitators of us” and “received the word with joy even in affliction”
In v.1:7 they became and example to everyone in the region
In v. 1:9, they turned away from idols, and gave up their old way of life for something new

In short, while Paul devoted himself to loving them 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.


Andrea said...

"Good post."

Seriously, I appreciate that Pyro does not play only to pastors,but also gives a good word to us poor sheep. I understand that Frank took this post from a Sunday School series. It is so important that we in the flock, whatever other gifts we use for our congregations, encourage one another to support and pray for our pastors.

In these days there are so many who claim to be speaking for God that go completely off text and even deny scripture altogether when it suits them. Thus I am grateful for a pastor who speaks the word clearly and consistently from the pulpit.

Before I even fully understood or could appreciate this about him, however, my pastor came to my bedside after I had just given birth to a baby (not out of wedlock, but that was a close thing) and had not set foot in his church for several years. He had been praying for me during my troubled pregnancy, and given the opportunity and invitation, prayed with me in the hospital for my child's health and well-being.

He is a Presbyterian who did not prevent me from joining his church even though my perspective as a credobaptist raised some eyebrows in the session when they examined me for membership. He did not ask me to baptize my children before they were old enough to repent. And when my husband professed Christ some years later and asked to be baptized full immersion, in the St. Lawrence River, in late September, he *did* it without question or complaint.

He answers questions, directs my husband and I to resources, and encourages me in my efforts as a Sunday School teacher and bible study leader. Along with his weekly sermon preparations, he serves at a local prison, our County Jail, a Nursing home, and three colleges in our community.

That seems to me to be just the kind of pastoral care that this post (and the passage from Thessalonians) is advocating here, and I am so grateful to have access to such a blessing.

Thanks especially, Mr. Turk, for reminding us that we lay believers ought to be striving to make it easier for our pastors to love and serve in this fashion.

Linda said...

Pastors need our prayers. One of my brothers is a Presbyterian Pastor.

How important it is to pray for all our pastors and teachers!

A praying Church is a caring church. Prayer teaches us how to truly care, love others and build each other up in Christ where we become active and involved in living the Gospel and not just preaching the Gospel> there are some people I've been chafed the wrong way and decided I needed to pray for myself and them. When I did, The Lord has taught me amazing ways of how to truly CARE and LOVE them whereas before I didn't.

One Pastor cannot do it all just like Moses couldn't.

Thanks Frank

FX Turk said...

You mean that the Gospel is not just something we receive but also something we obey?

It might mean the end of the Christian faith as we know it if such things get out.

trogdor said...

My wife and I were just discussing this passage and 2 Cor 11:23-29, reflecting on our experience as parents. We've both had some pretty significant big-people jobs, worked crazy hours, had loads of responsibility - but nothing compares to the daily pressure of concern for our children. When it comes down to it, the job is just a job, but our children are our children.

Before parenting, I read Paul's list of sufferings in 2 Cor 11 and maybe thought his addition of "the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" at the end was an oh-by-the-way, just one more thing to set himself apart from the Super-Apostles. I've suffered all this for the gospel, and I care about you, too.

Now that I have two daughters, I think I read this differently. I no longer think of it as an addition to the list, but as the crown of it. Everything else on that list is subordinate to it - it's not "this too", but "this over all".

Getting flogged would be horribly painful - but it would be nothing compared to seeing one of my daughters reject Christ and revel in sin. I think that's what Paul is getting at here. All the physical suffering was tremendous, but it was insignificant compared to seeing the sin rampant in Corinth, or seeing his beloved people abandon the truth.

Paul would rather be stoned or flogged again than watch Demas fall in love with the world and abandon Christ. John said there was no greater joy than hearing that his children were walking in the truth. I suspect there's no greater agony than seeing those you love reject it.

And to your final point - I know how I hope my kids will respond to this kind of love. I also know how they often respond, because they're 2 and 1, and also little sinners like their parents. The challenge for me as I receive this type of love is to respond better than an infant taking it for granted or a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Carl C. said...

I think we are all better served, rather than reminding them that we are needy people, to instead pray for them

This line was like a branding iron on my conscience, and I thank you dearly Frank for the advice. Sadly my self-serving mindset often overlooks the reality that is a pastor's sober, incomparable responsibility and calling. Theirs is one 'job' that has no simple description nor ease of fulfilment.

Thank you Lord for these servants and for placing them in your service for your kingdom. Grant them the grace and strength to faithfully bring you glory in their thoughts, speech and action. And patience to endure and teach nitwits like me.