One summer, years ago, I had the great privilege of working at a Christian camp ministry in Colorado. Sometimes I worked on the maintenance crew, and some weeks I worked as a counselor with kids in my own cabin. I didn’t realize it at the time, but during my times as a counselor, God was teaching me some very important parenting lessons.
Fatherhood is Scary Business
Becoming a parent is a lot like being a new counselor with a cabin full of campers. When the kids show up, you’re scared, you’re nervous. You don’t know them. They don’t know you, and you wonder if you’re going to do a good job. After a time, you get to know each other. You know their habits and tendencies, and they know yours. Because you’re all in the same cabin, the kids you’re living with get to see the real you. No hiding. No facades. During your time together you do your best to help the kids have fun, but also to help them grow spiritually and emotionally. Then, before you know it, your time is up, and those kids that you grew to love so much have to leave. You can’t stop it. It has to happen. But there’s so much more you need to tell them – and so much more you wish you could have done differently! All you can do now is to hope and pray that all the right lessons took, and that God will override your failures. The only real way to know for sure if you did the right thing is to wait and see how your kids run their cabins.
Paul was the Spiritual Father of the Thessalonians
Paul was the spiritual father of the Thessalonians. Others may have come in to “help raise the kids,” but he was their spiritual father. Paul could say the same to the Thessalonians as he did to the Corinthians:
“For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15).
As the Thessalonians’ spiritual father, Paul’s goal was to see that his children walked worthy of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 2:12).
His Work (v. 9)
A father works to support his family. Paul did this by making tents. He was very careful not to be a burden to the churches that he served (1 Corinthians 9:1-15). That’s not to say that he did not have a right to ask offerings of the churches he served, but he chose not to. In the church today it is the responsibility of the congregation to support its pastor, but it is wrong of any church leader to come into his ministry with the attitude that his congregation owes him. As a pastor, though the congregation is to support him, he is still their servant-leader and ultimately, he serves at the pleasure of God. Paul understood this, and as a loving father he did what he did out of love for his children, rather than obligation.
2 Corinthians 12:14-15
(14) Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
(15) And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
His Walk (v. 10)
A father must be a good example to his children. As fathers we can save our children a lifetime of grief and bitterness just by being consistent examples of God’s character. Where I have failed as a father it has been where I was in it for me. Where I have succeeded, has been where I was in it for God. The same holds true in any leadership position you or I might hold in a church.
Paul was a consistent and godly example and he was not afraid to call God as witness to that fact:
“For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a [cloak] of covetousness; God is witness” (1 Thessalonians 2:5).
“Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).
This was not boasting on Paul’s part. It was just honest statement of the facts. The Greek word for “holy” means to “carefully fulfill the duties God gives to a person” (Wiersbe, Be Ready, p. 49). It’s closely akin to the Bible’s concept of righteousness which means to “faithfully meet one’s obligations.” This same Greek word for holy is also applied to the character of God in Revelation 15:4 and 16:5. Paul, with God as his witness, could honestly say that he was holy in all things.
His Words (vv. 11-12)
A good spiritual father takes the time to minister to his spiritual children personally (1 Thessalonians 2:11). While it is important for a pastor to rightly divide the word from behind the pulpit, it’s just as important to tend to sheep on a one-to-one basis. But that responsibility does not just fall on the pastor’s shoulders. It is the responsibility of all believers to minister to each other. The New Testament is full of “one another” passages. Those passages are a study in themselves. The point is, we have a responsibility as believers in the church to minister too!
We are to encourage. The word “exhort” does not mean “to preach at.” It means “to call to one’s side, to encourage.” If I may use a football term, it means “to coach someone up.” It means taking a new or struggling player and showing him or her how they can improve their game.
We are to comfort. This is like exhort, but the emphasis here is on activity. We’re not just saying: “Be ye warmed and filled” (James 2:16), or saying: “Praying for ya!” We’re actually getting into the lives of others and actively ministering to needs. There needs to be a balance here, though, because you can minister to someone’s needs and simply encourage their continued dependence on you, or you can minister to their needs with the goal of getting them to the point of being able to take care of themselves. Paul’s idea of comfort was to encourage a believer through their current hurt with the intent of helping them move on to greater maturity.
We are to charge others. When you plug in a cell phone to charge up the battery, you’re transferring power from the charging device to the phone. We’re to do the same with our fellow believers. The word translated “charged” means “to testify (as a personal witness).” You can’t charge anything without power. So what was Paul charging his listeners with? His own experiences with the Lord. One way you and I can charge others is by sharing testimonies about how God has seen us through difficult times. On a more personal level, you can charge an individual believer by sharing with him or her what God has taught you about living for Him. There’s danger in that, because it means making yourself vulnerable. It means being willing to share your own failings, but explaining how God got you past them. So, dangerous, yes, like electricity, but with great power!
Nothing speaks more eloquently about the grace of God than the testimony of a life changed by it. It’s why God does not write the gospel in the heavens, or send angels house to house with the good news. He sends us.
His Goal (and Ours)
Paul’s goal was that those he discipled would walk “worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10; Philippians 1:27). He wanted everyone to know the God Who loved him! It was that love that motivated him, that constrained (compelled) him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) to serve God and others. It’s that same love that should inspire us to be just like Paul.
[Primary Source: Be Ready by Warren Wiersbe, Chapter three]