A Commentary by John Stott

1 Thessalonians 3 Conclusion: A double commitment (continued).

Chrysostom (about AD 400) understood this, when commenting on Paul’s statement that the Thessalonians were his hope, joy and crown: ‘Of what fiery warmth is this! Never could either mother, or father, yea if they even met together, and commingled their love, have shown their own affection to be equivalent to that of Paul.’ And in another homily he spoke of his own pastoral devotion to his congregation:

There is nothing I love more than you, no, not even light itself. I would gladly have my eyes put out ten thousand times over, if it were possible by this means to convert your souls; so much is your salvation dearer to me than light itself…This one thing is the burden of my prayers, that I long for your advancement. But that in which I strive with all is this, that I love you, that I am wrapped up in you, that you are my all, father, mother, brethren, children.

Another and more recent example I would like to mention is that of Charles Simeon, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, for fifty-four years in the first half of the nineteenth century. An American bishop twice visited him in his old age and wrote: ‘the sweet, affectionate expression of his face, and the welcoming tone of his voice, united with the great softness and childlike simplicity of his manners, instantly made me feel as if I was in the presence of a father…’. And Simeon himself, preferring rather to commend truth and goodness than to castigate error and evil, used to beg younger clergy to ‘be gentle among your people’ as a mother with her family.

Here, then, is the double commitment of Christian pastoral leaders, first to the Word of God (as stewards and heralds) and secondly to the people of God (as mothers and fathers). We are ministers of the Word and ministers of the church. Another way of expressing the same thing is that the two chief characteristics of pastoral ministry are truth and love. It is these which build up the church, especially in association with each other. It is by ‘speaking [or maintaining] the truth in love’ that we ‘grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ’ (Eph.4:15). Yet this combination is rare in the contemporary church. Some leaders are great champions of the truth and anxious to fight for it, but display little love. Others are great advocates of love, but have no equal commitment to truth, as Jesus and his apostles had. Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth.

If, finally, we ask how we may develop this double commitment to Word and church, this balanced combination of truth and love, there is only one possible answer, namely by the power of the Holy Spirit, since he is the source of both. He is ‘the Spirit of truth’ (E.g. Jn.14:17) and ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love’ (Gal.5:22). Pastoral leaders, therefore, have no greater need than the fullness of the Spirit, who alone can lead us in the single path of truth and love.

Tomorrow: Additional note on Paul’s use of ‘we’.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.