A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 2:5-8. b). A mother.
The apostle again begins negatively. He is about to declare his mother-like love for the Thessalonians as his motivation in serving them, but before this he repeats his claim to be free of unworthy motives. Verse 5: *you know we never used flattery*, a word (*kolakia*) which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament and which expresses ‘the tortuous methods by which one man seeks to gain influence over another, generally for selfish ends’. *Nor did we put on an mask to cover up greed – God is our witness*, pretending to serve while in reality wishing to be served. *We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else* (6). All three evils (the flattery, the mask and the hunger for compliments) are illicit ways of using others to build up ourselves.
Paul now mentions one other trap which he and his companions avoided, which they could have fallen into *as apostles of Christ*. Since Silas and Timothy are both mentioned many times in the New Testament, but never as apostles like Paul and the Twelve, Paul is either using the plural of authority like the royal ‘we’ (saying ‘we’ but meaning ‘I’) or he is using the word ‘apostles’ in its more general sense of ‘messengers’, ‘missionaries’ or ‘envoys’. (Cf. Acts 14:4). Personally I prefer the former explanation, which seems to have a parallel in 3:1 (‘we thought it best to be left by ourselves’, when it is almost certain that Paul was left alone). What he might have done as an apostle was to be *a burden* to the Thessalonians, either by standing on his dignity and issuing orders, or by insisting on being paid (cf. v.9 and 2 Thess.3:8). Lightfoot thinks it ‘safer’ to include ‘both these royal prerogatives, so to speak, of the apostleship, the assertion of authority and the levying of contributions’.
Instead, *we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children* (7). The general contrast between an apostle’s authority and a mother’s tenderness is clear enough. But the precise application of the mother metaphor is uncertain, since some manuscripts read ‘gentle’ (*epioi*), while others startle us by reading ‘babies’ (*nepioi*), Textually speaking, either could be correct. The previous word in the Greek sentence ends in ‘n’. If *epioi* was original, then *nepioi* is explained by a copyist mistakenly repeating the ‘n’. If *nepioi* was original, then *epioi is explained by a copyist mistakenly omitting the second ‘n’. Which is the more likely of the two readings? Because the manuscript support for *nepioi (‘babies’) is older and stronger, and because such a bold image of being ‘babies like a mother’ is unlikely to be due to a scribal error, some scholars favour its adoption. Mixed metaphors are frequent in Paul, they argue, and the imagery is appropriate, even ‘beautifully correct. A mother fondling her children comes down to their level, uses their language, and plays their games’. She becomes ‘childlike with her children’. On the other hand, *epios* occurs elsewhere of the necessary gentleness of Christian leaders (even if only once,(2 Tim.2:24), and *nepios* (‘baby’), though it occurs several times in Paul’s letters, is always used in a derogatory way of the immaturity of his converts; he never applies it to himself. ‘Gentle’ certainly seems a more appropriate contrast with an apostle’s authority and a more natural development of the mother metaphor.
Paul adds that he was not only as gentle as a mother with them, but as affectionate and sacrificial too: *We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us* (8). Far from using them to minister to himself, he gave himself to minister to them. It is a lovely thing that a man as tough and masculine as the apostle Paul should have used this feminine metaphor. Some Christian leaders become both self-centred and autocratic. The more their authority is challenged, the more they assert it. We all need to cultivate more, in our pastoral ministry, of the gentleness, love and self-sacrifice of a mother.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.