A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians 2:1-3:13. Conclusion: a double commitment.
We have seen how Paul responds to his critics. He both defends his visit (2:1-16) and explains his non-return (2:17-3:13). In the course of his double *apologia* he has illustrated his pastoral ministry by four metaphors – the steward, the mother, the father and the herald. Like a steward he was faithful in guarding the gospel; like a mother he was gentle in caring for his converts; like a father he was diligent in educating them; and like a herald he was bold in proclaiming God’s word. From these four metaphors we may discern the two major responsibilities of Pastoral ministry for today. The first is to the Word of God (as both a steward to guard it and a herald to proclaim it), and the second to the people of God (as their mother and father, to love, nurture and teach them).
First comes our *commitment to the Word of God*. In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul refers to his message three times as `the gospel of God’ (2, 8, 9) and twice as `the word of God’ (13). It was Paul’s firm assurance that his message came from God, and that `his’ gospel was in reality God’s gospel. He had not invented it. He was only a steward entrusted with it and a herald commissioned to proclaim it. He must above all else be faithful.
Every authentic Christian ministry begins here, with the conviction that we have been called to handle God’s Word as its guardians and heralds. We must not be satisfied with `rumours of God’ as a substitute for `good news from God’. For, as Calvin put it, `the gospel…is as far removed from conjecture as heaven is from earth’. Of course we are not apostles of Christ like Paul. But we believe that in the New Testament the teaching of the apostles has been preserved and is now bequeathed to us in its definitive form. We are therefore trustees of this apostolic faith, which is the Word of God and which works powerfully in those who believe. Our task is to keep it, study it, expound it, apply it and obey it.
Secondly, there is *our commitment to the people of God*. We have seen that Paul expressed his deep love and care for the Thessalonians by likening himself to their mother and father. He felt and acted towards them as if they were his own children, which indeed they were, since he had introduced them to Christ. So he fed and taught them; he earned his own living so as not to be a burden to them; he was concerned to see them grow into maturity; and he was gentle and sacrificial in all his dealings with them.
Then in 2:17-3:13, it seems quite unselfconsciously, Paul gives a moving illustration of what he has been writing about. He lays bare his heart of love for them. He had left them only with the greatest reluctance, and had in fact been torn away from them against his will. He had then tried hard to visit them, but all his attempts had been thwarted. Waiting for news of them, he had found the suspense unbearable and so, though at great personal cost, he had sent Timothy to encourage them and find out how they were. When Timothy came back with good news, he was over the moon with joy and thanksgiving. And all the time he had been pouring out his heart for them in prayer. The fact is that his life was inextricably bound up with theirs. `For now we really live’, he wrote, `since you are standing firm in the Lord’ (3:8).
What is this extravagant language? I have sometimes asked myself. What is this loving and longing; this intolerable suspense when there was no news and this overwhelming joy when the news was good; this affectionate care and fervent prayer; this sense of intimate solidarity with them, so that his life was wrapped up in their life and theirs in his? My answer is that it is the language of parents, who are separated from their children, who miss them dreadfully, and are profoundly anxious when they have had no recent news of them. Pastoral love is parental love; that is its quality.
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.