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. (ESV)
Paul used the imagery of a gentle nursing mother to remind the Thessalonians how he and his team had conducted themselves when they first brought the Gospel to them. This won’t be the last family example Paul uses in this chapter to describe the way he interacted with the people. He calls them brothers as he identified with them in work and conduct (vs. 9-10). But he also was like a father when he encouraged then in godly living (vs. 11-12).
Many people complain that God is a wrathful God and therefore don’t want to have anything to do with Him. They cite the many verses in the Bible where God commands complete destruction of nations, killing men, women, children, animals, and crops. Yet they ignore the many more passages such as Isaiah 40:11 where He describes His gentleness and compassion. I think Paul was like many of these people when he first encountered Christians and persecuted them. He took those passages that God intended for a specific time and place and applied them to his current situation, eliminating the spreading cult that followed Jesus.
It may seem hard to believe that Paul changed so much so that now he has become this gentle person. God changed Paul from the inside out. That is the only way it can be explained. Instead of focusing on why God would require the death penalty for a nation as He explained in Deuteronomy 9:4; he began to see the greater purpose of God in the redemption of mankind. He saw that Jesus was the Great Shepherd who carries all who come to Him close to His heart. With Jesus in his own heart, he was able to be a channel of gentle caring to those who needed salvation. He was able to demonstrate God’s heart for His people as described in Isaiah 40:11, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (ESV).
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)
How are we doing in this matter of approaching people with the Gospel? Are we being gentle, showing respect for other people’s feeling and what they believe? Can we do this and yet clearly express the hope that we have? My son recently went to Manti, Utah with others from various places in the U.S. to witness to Mormons. His goal was to explain clearly the difference between the Mormon and traditional Christian doctrines regarding God and Jesus. He followed Scripture in being a servant of the Lord, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient” (2 Tim 2:24 NKJV). Unfortunately, not all of the people who went were gentle. Some were aggressive and in-your-face.
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (Matt 23:13 NASB)
Obviously, Jesus had times when he got in the Pharisees’ face. He was blunt and condemning. But you can’t find any place in Scripture where Jesus heaped this kind of rebuke on the common people. On the contrary, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36 ESV). Why is there such a difference between Jesus’ words and actions toward the Pharisees and the common people? It is clear from these two passages that Jesus dealt with the leaders (the ones who should have known better and taught the people correctly) on a different level than those who had been mislead by these leaders of the corrupt religious system. The same should prove true in our attitude and behavior. We should deal sternly with those who oppose the Gospel and teach false doctrines but be gentle and compassionate with those who are their victims.
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:11 NASU) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 NASU)
If people are lost, it doesn’t matter what their favorite sin is (adultery, lying, homosexuality, etc.). It doesn’t matter what their social status is (rich, poor, homeless, or immigrant). It doesn’t matter what their race is. They all have the same opportunity to trust Jesus and become part of the family of God. Paul didn’t walk into Thessalonica, single out a subset of the population by any of these criteria, and demonstrate his love only for them. The same goes for those in Corinth, some of whom were guilty of various sins including murder, idolatry, and homosexuality (1 Cor 6:9-10). He didn’t ignore some and try to reach other. Not many of them were wise, of noble background, or influential (1 Cor 1:26), yet he shared the Gospel with them all. This is the standard by which we must also share the Gospel. We don’t make exception for one group or exclude another but must develop a love for all lost people and treat them the way we would anyone else we love, with gentleness and genuine care for their current needs as well as for their eternal needs. I think too many of us are willing to share the Gospel but not very much of our own selves.
Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. (Rom 12:13, 15-16 RSV)
Just what does it mean to share ourselves? Three levels come to mind, physically, emotionally, and socially. Physical sharing occurs when we contribute to the needs of the saints or all people (Gal 6:10), it usually takes some time and effort on our part. At least that is the picture portrayed when it is followed up by practicing hospitality (Rom 12:13). While it is good to provide funds for homeless shelters or cash or food for a food bank, it is another think to follow up with serving at any of those institutions. When we get in the mix with people we want to help and introduce to Jesus, it becomes more than just contributing but it becomes sharing ourselves. Handing a McDonald’s gift card to a homeless person is good but sharing ourselves happens when we take that person to lunch and sit down with him and listen to his story.
The emotional side of sharing ourselves is more difficult. Sure, you can look at rejoicing with those who rejoice and believe that is no problem. However, we are talking about loving the lost. The lost rejoice over many things, good things in life and sinful things. They rejoice in great ways and in inappropriate ways. They rejoice at the birth of a child and a same-sex marriage. As a Christian wishing to demonstrate concern and share the Gospel, there cannot be true rejoicing with those who rejoice over sin.
Emotional involvement has the most impact when it is on the mourning end of the spectrum. Mourning and walking through life crisis with people can be very taxing. Years ago, I did some counseling at a church and the training said that we could not afford to become emotionally involved with the problems of the counselees. Then the training I received at my current church said we are there to walk through these problems alongside the counselees. We are not detached dispensers of wisdom, but people who get to know and have great care for them. This is more in keeping with Romans 12:15. The same applies to working among people who need the Gospel. People don’t often listen to others who don’t demonstrate care for them.
When we are unwilling to become involved with people, especially people of low social status, we appear to be haughty as if we were somehow superior to them. It is nothing more than conceit. Sometimes it isn’t always our fault. We do have a message of assurance that we are going to heaven and they aren’t. We are in the family of God and they are not. Some see that as conceit and arrogance. That is a hard image to overcome. If we point out we were the same but our lives have changed, they respond with an accusation that we are self-righteous even though we attempt to explain that it isn’t us, but it is Christ’s righteousness and grace that changed us. This is why being consistent in gentleness and sharing our very lives is so important. It is the only way that they will see beneath their stereotyped impression of Christians.