Here I am. Witness against me before the Lord and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you. (1 Sam 12:3 NKJV)
Paul called the Thessalonians to be witnesses to his behavior toward them. Samuel asked the same type of question of the nation of Israel. He focused on four things that we all need to apply to our lives when dealing with others, whether they are in the Christian family or not. Stealing was the first issue but we don’t have to worry about that because we’ve never taken a pen from work, checked our facebook status, or played Pokémon Go at work, have we? I’m sure none of us has ever cheated anyone else either. Any time we don’t pay taxes when we should, like buying on the internet to avoid sales tax, is cheating on your neighbors. Giving copies of the music you ripped from an album to others is cheating the songwriters and performers. Oppression comes in many forms and verbal abuse may be the worse. Do we ever try to gain the favor of others by buying them gifts? I’ve seen enough of that with parents and grandparents who then expect to have their progenies “owe” them. What would happen if, at the end of our life, we stood up and asked everyone we have ever met to come and witness either good or bad how we lived our lives. Will people say we behaved in the same way as a good father does toward his children? God isn’t grading on the curve where the good balances out the bad because He wants us to be like Jesus and He had no sin in Him. He wants us to be like Him because He is a good Father.
Parents and Children
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (Eph 6:4 NLT)
Paul exhorted and encouraged the Thessalonians to walk in a manner worth of the Lord. The way he treated others is the way he instructed the Ephesians fathers to work with their children. When trying to help people get out of a sinful life style or to develop a godly lifestyle, it is really easy to alienate them. The same goes for our kids. The NIV says we should not exasperate or kids. I really like that word. The Encarta dictionary gives the meaning as, “to make somebody very angry or frustrated, often by repeatedly doing something annoying.”
Perhaps one of the best ways to frustrate another is to be inconsistent. That can take many forms. David was inconsistent in his actions. His sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband was inconsistent with his previous walk with the Lord. Paul was able to exhort the Thessalonians because his conduct was like a good father and conformed to his exhortation and encouragement.
My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 RSV)
Another way of being inconsistent is by showing favoritism. When dealing with children, this is really hard to do, especially when one kid is an obedient pleaser and another is a rebel. We have examples from the Bible with Jacob and Esau, David showed favoritism to his sons and got poor results. But the best example is the prodigal son, his brother and their father. Yet even in that situation, with a loving, patient father, the older brother still turned out to be angry and bitter. All we can do is be consistent in our walk with the Lord and following His instructions. Each person must be willing to submit to the Lord.
Changing the Rules
These twenty years I have been in your house; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you changed my wages ten times. (Gen 31:41 NASB)
Another way to provoke or exasperate children or other people is by constantly changing the rules. While Jacob wasn’t the most honest person in the Bible, his father-in-law, Laban, didn’t do any better. It was apparent that their culture promoted telling half-truths and manipulating others to get what they wanted. When we treat others, especially out kids or disciples in this way, they learn from our examples. Paul could tell his disciples that he treated them in the same way a good father does his children. This should be the way we treat others, whether they are our children, people at work, in our churches, or people to whom we hope to impart the Gospel of eternal life. This is a principle that Jesus taught when He said, “Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37 ESV). Think how confusing many cults are because they change the rules for salvation to suit the leaders.
The only way to keep from this kind of inconsistency is to be thoroughly grounded in the Word of God. Because He does not change (Mal 3:6), we can offer the message of salvation that isn’t based on a bunch of rules and regulations that change over time. It isn’t based on changing cultural demands or political correctness. The message of salvation is through Jesus Christ and no other (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We are sinners and we can’t save ourselves (Rom 3:23). We can only be saved by faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for our sins (Rom 10:9; 1 John 2:1-2). We demonstrate our faith by our obedience to His word (John 14:23).