Teaching Like a Mother and a Father

For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

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. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, 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 2:1-12, ESV)

Paul knew that God had called him and his mission team to share the gospel with others, but he also knew that some people might distrust them, thinking they had ulterior motives for their actions. Caution was warranted, as there were people in their society who traveled and taught, seeking praise or profit, leading people astray and leaving them poorer in the process. In an attempt to dispel their concerns, Paul invites them to remember his conduct and those who served with him. Rather than taking advantage of them, he compares his mission team to loving parents who do all they can for the sake of their children. Paul’s example wonderfully challenges me in my own teaching.

Like a nursing mother. Have you watched how a mother of an infant picks up and cares for her child? She gently supports the baby where needed, holds it close, soothes it if it cries, and provides what it needs as she nurses it. In contrast to teachers who took advantage of those they taught, Paul and his team focused on caring for the believers in Thessalonica. Their genuine love and affection for the people led them to share themselves with the people, not just a message. Their teaching ministry was an act of love, not a way to make a profit or gain praise. They worked hard, “night and day,” so that they could cover their expenses and not become a financial burden on the believers. Paul calls the believers to remember his team’s conduct in ministry service there—done with pure motives, having done nothing wrong or deceptive.

Like a father. Paul adds to the parenting imagery by comparing his team’s ministry to how fathers guide and encourage their children. Paul’s team cared for the people like a nursing mother, but they also exhorted and encouraged them in their walk with God. They challenged the people to put into practice what they were learning from the gospel message. Taking it a step further, Paul exhorted them to shape their lives in a way that better reflected the character of God, who had called them into His Kingdom for their good and for His glory.

In these images of nursing mother and father I see two major aspects of our teaching ministries modeled for us. Like the nursing mother, we must be gentle, especially with new believers, loving them with a patient and generous love, sharing with them and caring for them as they grow. Like a father, we must urge them to grow to follow God more faithfully in their daily lives. It is not enough to “educate them” about the gospel or how God wants us to live as those who are in Christ. What we learn must, in turn, impact our attitudes and actions, something that doesn’t always automatically flow from mere knowledge. We need to challenge those we teach to live faithfully in light of what they have come to know about God and His call to us as citizens of His Kingdom—to “walk our talk.” Because personal change is often difficult, we must be prepared to encourage them along the way. Our teaching must make room for this kind of sharing and encouragement as people seek to follow God in obedience to His Word. It takes time to change life patterns, so we need both gentle caring and exhortation to support lasting growth.

I thank God for those who patiently and lovingly taught me the Scriptures, both before and after I came to faith in Christ. Many people were like “mothers” to me, sharing not only the gospel message, but themselves as well. I have also had many “fathers,” who urged and encouraged me beyond just knowing the truth of the Scriptures, but in living it out daily. I am grateful for their generosity in sharing their time and their lives with me. I hope and pray I can do the same for others.

Father, thank you for the example of Paul and those who served with him as they taught new believers in the growing church. Thank you, also, for those men and women who not only taught me to know your Word, but also to strive to live my life in grateful obedience to you, seeking to be more like you. These “mothers” and “fathers” are precious to me. Help me to follow in their footsteps! May my teaching in some way support and encourage others to walk in ways that are worthy of you. May this be true of me as well! Amen.

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