25 November 2014

“But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” (vv. 7-8)

Psalm: Psalm 66


In verse 2 Paul refers back to his visit to Philippi, which took place just before his arrival in Thessalonica (Acts 16:19-24) and about which the Thessalonians would have known. In Philippi too he had offended the Jews and ended up in trouble. In the face of adversity, Paul recognised that the courage he needed comes from God (verse 2). Pleasing God is all that matters, not the opinions of human beings (verse 4). The opposition he suffered becomes, for Paul, a hallmark of his own integrity and that of the gospel (the good news about Jesus) itself. If it were not real, radical and powerful, he seems to say, it would not provoke such a reaction.

He moves on, perhaps to defend himself against charges of pomposity or arrogance (verses 5-6) or perhaps to contrast his methods with those of other popular philosophers of the era, reminding the reader that, despite the demands which have to be made as part of a call to discipleship, he and his companions were "gentle" among the congregation (verse 7). The Greek word 'homeiromenoi' used in verse 8 (translated "so deeply do we care") is a strong word, used only here in the New Testament. It carries the sense that Paul was so strongly attached to his fellow believers that he would have been willing to lay down his life for them. He was identifying with them, united with them in strong bonds of love and family unity - part of the same community, the community of Christ.

There is a homeliness about this early letter which reflects the nature of the early Church, meeting as it did in homes where infants and children would have been nurtured. Infant mortality was high in 1st-century Middle East, possibly as many as 30% of infants died in their first year. So Paul and his companions - adult males - are portrayed in the imagery of a tender nurse, caring for this infant church, seeking to feed and strengthen it through the precarious early days of life for healthy growth and an effective future.

To Ponder

  • Persecution of Christians takes place in many countries around the world and, some would claim, here in the British Isles as well. Is opposition to the gospel of Christ inevitable? How can the Church find a balance between being agitators and being well-regarded in the community?
  • Paul has suffered charges of arrogance and pomposity for over 2,000 years. Does this passage, with its declaration of deep love, help you to see him differently? In what way?
  • Use Psalm 66, which speaks of God guiding people through adversity, to reflect further on the 'Reign of Christ' today.

Bible notes author:  Jill Baker 

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