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Reasons for Tender Gentleness

June 28, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 (NRSV)

. . . though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. 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.

Focus

The Christian gospel reveals a God who became humble and vulnerable in Jesus Christ, a God who did far more than point to a way of salvation. God’s way of relating to humankind invites us to a similar way of living, one in which we share with others not only the good news of God’s grace in Christ but also our own souls. In this way, we become not only deliverers of the gospel, but also demonstrations of the gospel.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

So far in our devotions for this week (Monday, Tuesday) we have been focusing on a curious passage in 1 Thessalonians. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy explain that though they could have exercised their authority as apostles, they chose instead to be gentle among the Thessalonians, “like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children” (2:7). I noted that while popular philosophers in the first century sometimes spoke of wet-nursing when talking about their work, they never went so far as Paul and Co., claiming to be gentle like a nursing mother as they led their followers. What, we might wonder, motivated Paul and his associates to act in such an unexpected way as they discipled their new converts in Thessalonica?

An answer to this question emerges from the next verse. After claiming to have been “like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children,” the writers add, “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” (2:8). Surely, their mother-like tenderness with the Thessalonians is an expression of their deep care for their converts. Because of the Thessalonians’ positive response to the apostles’ preaching, they had “become very dear” to Paul and his team. The Greek behind this phrase reads more literally, “you became beloved [agapetoi] to us.”

Notice that the church planters chose to share, “not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (2:8). The Greek word behind “selves” is psychē, related to the English word “psyche,” from which we get words like “psychology.” In Greek, psychē meant “soul” or “center of inner life.” To share your soul would have been an intimate, vulnerable act of welcoming someone into your inner life. It would involve sharing your deep thoughts and feelings. This is what Paul and his colleagues chose to do in Thessalonica.

Once more, what the writers describe here was not found among the popular philosophers of their day. In fact, the philosophers would have warned against such openness and intimacy, fearing that it would compromise a teacher’s ability to be demanding, even harsh, with their followers. As in the case of their wet-nurse-like gentleness with their converts, Paul and Co. once again parted ways with their secular counterparts. Why? Wouldn’t sharing the good news of God’s grace in Christ be enough? More than enough, even?

Apparently not, according to 1 Thessalonians. The writers believed that delivering the message of the gospel required exceptional openness and vulnerability. Why? Why did the apostolic leaders think they needed to share their souls in addition to the gospel?

The answer, I believe, lies in the very essence of the gospel. The good news of God’s grace in Christ is not a story of God saving us from a safe distance while enthroned in heaven. Nor is it a story of God simply giving us knowledge of how to be saved. Rather, the gospel focuses on God’s coming among us in Christ, taking on the humility of humanity and the humiliation of the cross (see Phil 2:5-11). God did not just communicate a way of salvation through Christ. Rather, God shared not only the good news but also God’s own self in Jesus, the Word of God incarnate.

Paul and his colleagues understood that the gospel required them to open their souls to the Thessalonians. It called for Christ-like vulnerability. Not only would this be consistent with the message of the gospel, but also it would be a persuasive demonstration of the gospel and its power. You may recall that back in chapter 1 the letter writers mentioned that “our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake” (1:5). Paul and Co. were the “kind of persons” that modeled the reality of the gospel. What they preached with their mouths they preached also with their lives.

The message of the gospel, delivered through messengers who embody the gospel, doesn’t just save souls for heaven. It also makes things different on earth. One of these areas of difference is human relationships. When the Thessalonians heard the gospel and responded in faith, they became more than just believers. They also became “beloved” to those who preached the gospel. They became “brothers and sisters” in the family of God (1:4, 2:1, 2:9, etc.). The gospel of God’s love in Christ leads to loving relationships among people who are united in Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-12).

This passage from 1 Thessalonians makes me think about my own relationships. I think about how I function as a leader. Could I honestly say that I share with people both the gospel and my own soul? If so, why is this? If not, why not? Moreover, I wonder if it’s true that those whom I serve have become very dear to me? If so, how did this happen? If not, why not? I wonder what are the things in me that keep me from developing the kinds of relationships described in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8. What are my hesitations? What are my fears? How can the truth of the gospel transform, not only my thinking and my speaking, but also my way of relating to others?

Reflect

Let me encourage you to reflect on the questions I just asked myself in the previous paragraph.

Act

Ask the Lord to show you one way that, in the next week, you might wisely and appropriately share part of your soul with someone.

Pray

Gracious God, I find the testimony of Paul and his colleagues both encouraging and challenging. I’m encouraged by the notion that the gospel transforms our relationships. It’s good to know that I might have through Christ relationships with others in which I can share my soul. And it’s wonderful to think that my openness might actually help folks to draw near to you. I love that idea!

But, Lord, I confess that I’m also challenged by what I read in 1 Thessalonians. On paper, vulnerability can seem right. It is what the gospel demonstrates and requires. But vulnerability is scary. If I share my soul with people, they can hurt me. I don’t like that idea. It doesn’t feel very safe. Indeed, it isn’t safe.

But you, Lord, gave up safety for the sake of love. You became vulnerable, first as a human being, and then on the cross. Ultimate vulnerability because of ultimate love. As I focus on what you have done for me, Lord, may I imitate your example. Help me to share myself with others so they might see your presence in me. May I speak and live the gospel for the sake of others and for your glory. 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 High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Audio on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: People Notice


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