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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV
Paul has already compared his ministry among the Thessalonians to that of “a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV). He seemed to have no problem with mixing metaphors if it helped him drive home a point. In verse 7, Paul describes the manner of his and Silas’ ministry to that of children.
…we were like children among you. – 1 Thessalonians 2:7 NLT
Some translations read, “we were gentle among you.” This is because there are two different variants of this sentence found in the earliest manuscripts. One has the word, ēpioi, which means “gentle or mild.” The other has a very similar word, nēpioi, which can be translated as “little children.” It would seem that the second alternative is the one most likely intended because it fits with the flow of Paul’s logic. In the context of these verses, he transitions from comparing the spirit of his ministry to that of a little child, then to a nursing mother’s compassionate and sacrificial love, and ends with the paternal instincts of a father.
… you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. – 1 Thessalonians 2:11 NLT
By referring to themselves as “little children,” Paul was attempting to emphasize the innocence behind their motivation. They had been guileless and without deceit in preaching the gospel among the Thessalonians. Paul has already emphasized the integrity of their ministry by declaring “our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive” (1 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV).
It’s interesting to note how Jesus described one of His disciples, Nathanael, upon meeting him for the first time.
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” – John 1:47 ESV
The Greek word translated as “deceit” is dolos and it refers to “cunning and craftiness.” It was used to refer to a pattern of hypocrisy or dishonesty in one’s thoughts or actions. Paul is emphasizing their guilelessness, the complete absence of any manipulative efforts meant to distort the truth or deceive the Thessalonians. And Paul reminds them that he and Silas had gone out of their way to be a blessing and not a burden.
Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you. – 1 Thessalonians 2:9 NLT
As apostles of Christ, they could have expected and demanded remuneration for their efforts. When Jesus had sent out the 72 on their first missionary journey, He had instructed them, “remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7 ESV). Paul had shared this same idea with Timothy.
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” – 1 Timothy 5:17-18 NLT
And both Jesus and Paul had taken a Mosaic law and applied it to the ministry of elders, preachers, teachers, and apostles.
“You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” – Deuteronomy 25:4 ESV
They could have demanded payment for services rendered, but instead, they had chosen to pay their own way. They took nothing from the Thessalonians in return for their sharing of the gospel. Paul flatly denied any semblance of greed or avarice behind their efforts.
God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! – 1 Thessalonians 2:5 NLT
No, they had ministered out of a spirit of fatherly love, displaying a heartfelt concern for those under their care.
We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT
This parental point of view is something Paul talked about frequently. He told the believers in Corinth, “I am not writing these things to shame you, but to warn you as my beloved children” (1 Corinthians 4:14 NLT). He addressed the believers in Galatia with the same sense of parental care and concern.
Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. – Galatians 4:19 NLT
Paul was not interested in fame or fortune. His ministry was not a job or a means to earn a living. It was a divine calling and Paul took it seriously. Like a loving parent, Paul sacrificed constantly, giving up his rights in order to minister to the needs of those under his care. He had gone without sleep. He had endured trials and tribulations. In fact, Paul provided the believers in Corinth with a well-documented list of his “accomplishments” as an apostle of Jesus Christ and a father to the faithful.
I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NLT
Paul wasn’t bragging. He was simply driving home the reality of his daily existence. It would be ludicrous for anyone to question Paul’s commitment to his calling or to accuse him of being in it only for what he could get out of it. Paul truly believed it when he said, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21 NLT). And he was not afraid to give his life for the cause of the Kingdom and for the sake of the flock of Jesus Christ. He was happy to be able to serve God, sacrifice on behalf of Jesus, and share the good news of salvation to anyone who would hear.
But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy. – Philippians 2:17 NLT
And Paul was content with his lot in life. He needed nothing. He didn’t crave the favor of men. He didn’t desire an easier life. Fame and fortune had no appeal to him. He wasn’t in it for the money. He didn’t preach in order to become popular. Paul simply did what he was called to do – willingly, gladly, and contentedly.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:11-12 NLT
For Paul, the objective was clear. He was to preach the gospel. And when anyone heard and accepted God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone, he was to come alongside them and lovingly guide them in their spiritual journey. And Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his efforts to do just that in their lives.
…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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV
As important as salvation was, Paul understood that sanctification was equally as vital in the life of a believer. Salvation should result in transformation. Belief should impact behavior. An expression of faith in Christ should express itself in a life of dedication to Him, resulting in a radical change in both inward character and outward conduct.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.