July 10, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 (NRSV)
As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
The example of the Apostle Paul and his colleagues reminds us that our leadership isn’t all about us. It’s not about our success, advancement, or reputation. It’s about God’s kingdom and glory. We lead and live best when God is the main point.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I talked about how Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy portrayed themselves in a fatherly role with their Thessalonian “children.” It was common for popular philosophers in their day to compare themselves with fathers. Yet Paul and his colleagues used the father simile in an unusual way. Rather than stressing their strictness, even their harshness, the letter writers used the father simile to emphasize their personal relationship with each one of the Thessalonians. As “fathers” to their converts, Paul and his associates encouraged them rather than rebuking or even reviling them.
In another striking innovation, Paul and Co. used the common father simile in an uncommon way. In the first century A.D., children, especially sons, were expected to honor their fathers. In a culture shaped by honor and shame, it was a top priority for children to live in a way that reflected well on their fathers.
So, if Paul and his colleagues were like a father to the Thessalonian Christians, we might expect them to say something like this: “As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of us, your fathers in the Lord.” Indeed, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says something rather like this: “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:15-16). But in writing to the Thessalonians, Paul and Co. redirect the focus from the Thessalonians’ relationship with the letter writers to the Thessalonians’ relationship with God. They don’t say “Live a life worthy of us” or even “Imitate us.” Rather, in their fatherly role, Paul and his colleagues urge their converts to live a life worthy of God. Faithfulness to God is the point, not honoring the apostolic church planters.
Notice also how they describe God. God is the one “who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” This emphasizes the priority of God in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. Even though Paul and his associates had instructed the Thessalonians in how to live as followers of Jesus, they didn’t call for obedience to their teaching. Rather, what mattered most was the call of God in the converts’ lives. They were Christians because they had heard and responded to the call of God.
Notice, however, that the call of God is not only to initial faith in Christ. Those who had heard that first call are to live worthy of God “who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” The Greek original makes the ongoing call of God even clearer. It reads literally, “Walk worthy of God who is calling you into his own kingdom and glory.” The call of God continues in the life of a Christian all the way to the end.
Speaking of the end, the phrase “kingdom and glory“ points to the end of ordinary time. It envisions the time when God’s kingdom will cover the earth and God’s glory will be fully revealed. God isn’t calling us only to live in the moment. God is also calling us to live in light of the future. We live today with the assurance that someday we will share in the glory of God’s future. Thus, in his first letter to the Corinthians, after celebrating God’s ultimate defeat of death and our participation in the final resurrection, Paul makes a strong connection between the future and the present. He writes: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
So, when Paul and his associates see themselves as fathers to their Thessalonian “children,” they do not make their relationship with the Thessalonians all about themselves. They are not seeking their own honor as spiritual fathers. Rather, they are using their fatherly influence to encourage their converts to live in light of the kingdom of God and to strive for God’s glory.
The example of Paul and Co. challenges me to consider my own leadership in work, family, and other settings. To what extent do I make things all about me? How much is my primary concern my own success or reputation? Am I using my “parental” influence to point people to God, or to myself? As I reflect on my work as a leader, I know my motivations are sometimes mixed. But I also know that, in the end, I want to be like Paul and his colleagues. I want to be someone who is “urging and encouraging . . . and pleading” the people entrusted to my care to “lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” I want to encourage people to live in response to God’s call, seeking to honor God in all they do, and looking forward to the coming kingdom. I expect you’d like to be this kind of leader also.
Why do you think Paul and his associates used the father simile so differently from their philosophical counterparts?
When you think of living your life worthy of God, what thoughts come to mind? What feelings?
How might your life and leadership be different if you remembered that God is calling you into God’s own kingdom and glory?
Be intentional about encouraging someone today.
Gracious God, again we thank you for the example of Paul and his co-workers. Thank you for the way they understood and did their work. Thank you, in particular, for their use of the father simile. Thank you for their care for each person and for their posture of encouragement. Thank you that they didn’t make things all about them, but rather pointed people to you.
Help me, Lord, to be that sort of leader. Free me from my preoccupation with myself. Help me to lead people to you, so that they might know you more truly and love you more deeply.
Teach me, Lord, to live in light of your future, to live each day in response to your call. Give me ears to hear and a heart ready to obey. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Our Work Is Not in Vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.