When coming to the Holy Scriptures, there are times when they yield to the reader, perhaps searching along different lines, precious and unexpected lessons. If these are learned and followed, they mould him into the likeness of Christ. Such lessons from the Scriptures prove to us that they are not just the writings of men, but those inspired by the Holy Spirit, thereby, making them the Word of God.
We find an example of this in the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Written to young believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to give them encouragement and guidance in relation to misgivings about those of their number who had died before the Lord had come, it also affords us some insight into the character which marked the apostle. Hear him as he writes in the second chapter, “we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us”, vv. 7-8.
Our first introduction to the apostle is far different from this. Acts 9. 1 speaks of him thus, “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”. Here we see the natural man—the man in his own personal character and temperament, and we note the change brought about upon his conversion. Before, he was expressing the effects of birth in the lineage of the first man; after, he was expressing the effects of his birth in the lineage of the second Man. We are indebted to Peter for telling us what this second birth means. He writes, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises : that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”, 2 Pet. 1. 3-4. So here we have it, “his divine power” and made “partakers of the divine nature”.
What is the divine nature? There are two three-word statements in Scripture about the divine nature. They are “God is light” and “God is love”, 1 John 1. 5; 4. 8. We cannot divorce them; neither can we transpose them. Right from the very first chapter of the Bible we are brought face to face with light and then love. Without the light we shall never come to a knowledge of the truth (including that of salvation), and without the love we shall never appreciate the truth (also including that of salvation).
In his evangelism the apostle Peter shows us how he had received the divine nature. He had learned that God had yearned over a world filled with “corruption … through lust”. Echoing in our ears as we think of this is John’s testimony, “God so loved”, John 3. 16. Here the divine nature is expressed. “So” expresses the character, the quality, and the extent of the love. The character: the love of the divine nature. The quality: in absolute perfection. The extent: to exclude none. Paul, in embracing salvation in Christ, embraced also the partaking of the divine nature and it had produced in him that mother heart of love which he expresses here, 1 Thess. 2. 8.
Nor was it that the love came because there were “children” to be loved—rather the opposite. Because the love was there, the desire for “children” to be loved was there also. The Spirit of God hovered over the wastes of Genesis 1 in the darkness before the divine fiat “Let there be light” was heard and brought into effect, v. 3. Rachel cried to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die”, before ever a babe nestled in her bosom, 30. 1. And, be it noted, this was not just an impassioned outburst alone; it had been the deep yearning of her mother-heart for many a long day. Similarly, this desire of love is found in the apostle Paul, “being affectionately desirous of you”.
What a lesson the apostle holds out here: not to preach for preaching’s sake; not only to preach that souls might be saved; nor yet to preach that souls might be added to the church. Good as these motives may be, they will have differing degrees of appeal and commendability. To the apostle it would seem that there is a deeper motive: because the divine nature is a nature the very essence of which is divine love, and the deep desire of divine love is fruitfulness, the passion for “children” is such that divine love is left unsatisfied while barrenness toward God in this respect obtains.
Notice, also, after the birth the gentleness with which the apostle fondles the newborn ones. Tenderly he draws them to him with his “we were gentle among you”, 1 Thess. 2. 7. He had not been through so much of the anguish of divine love as to forsake them now that they had been brought forth. Rough handling now could maim for a long period, and prevent growth in the fulness of the stature of a man in Christ; hence he is gentle among them. Note it is not gentle toward them, though no doubt this was also the case. He watched over them not only to meet their need, but also to see that his own movements among them would be complementary to their growth.
So tender had the growth of love become in the apostle that he became “as a nurse cherisheth her children” to them. Here was no mere affection for children whoever they may be, but the deep love of a mother who had brought forth, and travailed for her own children. He regarded them very highly, for he had suffered for them therefore he was not lightly going to let them go now. He cherished them— he warmed them as a bird covering her young. How like his Master was the apostle, How often would I have gathered you as a hen does her chicks, Matt. 23. 37. Not only is the apostle such an one, but he is accompanied in his desires by those who were with him, “we … among you”, “we were willing to have imparted … our own souls, because ye were dear unto us”, 1 Thess. 2. 7, 8.
Here we have the yearnings, motives and action of the true evangelists giving themselves to those for whom the love of God had placed a deep yearning in them. The word cherish has also the implication of “warming by incubation”, Deut. 22. 6 LXX. This suggests constancy, protection and faith. The mother bird remains until the young are not only brought forth, but able to fend for themselves.
Such were these men; they not only brought them to the Saviour, but they fed them with “food convenient”, Prov. 30. 8, and protected them from the fierceness of external onslaughts as they watched them grow. Today many would consider the “food convenient” of these early evangelists to be solid food, when really the babe was requiring the “milk of the word”, 1 Pet. 2. 2. This is only highlighted by the very short stay, comparatively speaking, which Paul and those with him were allowed to make before there broke out the persecution of which the Epistle and Acts 17. 5-9 speak.
In considering the manner of these men, it must not be supposed that theirs was only a mother heart of love, on which we have so far focused much of our attention. The family consists not of mother and children alone, though they may form the main part and consideration of it, for they surely turn the house into a home.
We now turn to consider the other aspect in which the manner of these men is shown. Food convenient is essential to children, and so is fondling, providing it does not degenerate to fussiness and favouritism. But in addition to these, there is the upbringing of the children in the nurture (the training and discipline) and the admonition of the Lord, Eph. 6. 4. In this exercise we find the metaphor is changed—no longer is it “mother-heartedness”, though she will still play her part in this work also—but now it is “father-heartedness”. Father-heartedness is not to be considered austerity, nor is discipline to be considered severity.
In the wisdom of God, He has implanted love in the human parents’ hearts which shows itself in different ways in father and mother. As both are brought to bear upon the child, each plays its part in the moulding of its character. The mother with her nursing and caring, and the father with his admonishing and nurturing, show their love in differing aspects which, tempered together, provide the child with just that sort of handling that will stand it in good stead for the future. What an important work there is for God in the home!
The apostle uses the same metaphors for the spiritual life, and we see now his “father-heartedness” in his exhortation, comforting and charging these young believers, 1 Thess. 2. 11.
As both he and those with him, and the churches of God elsewhere, so these new believers were experiencing persecution as a result of making evident their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Does the apostle use heavy-handedness in order to bludgeon them into warfare with the enemies of the cross? No—he exhorts them in the things of God, showing them how they should walk worthy of God.
What do we mean by exhortation? We find that the apostle uses the word paraklesis (to call aside, to appeal to by way of exhortation, comfort, entreaty or instruction). See where the apostle has now put himself! Here he is: one experienced in like circumstances, he just comes alongside them. Taking them aside from the battle, he instructs them in the ways of God, (i) reminding them of the joy they are giving him as they continue stedfast in the faith, and (ii) encouraging them because they have received the Word of God as the Word of God, and not as so much the interpreting of men’s whims and fancies, v. 13. He goes on to confirm the Word in them, and them in the Word. How this would stimulate and assure them in the power of God working with them.
But not only does the apostle exhort, he comforts. This is another word from a similar root which means to call alongside to console and to encourage. Again we see the apostle acknowledging the painfulness of the experience of persecution through which these young believers were passing. With the tenderness of a true father, he consoles them in the fact that they follow other true believers, showing the truth of their position in that not only were the churches persecuted, but the apostles were chased out, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was killed by them, vv. 13-15. These persecutors were contrary to God and to men in so opposing the good news of the love of God. These persecutions are not forgotten before God and, for the unrepentant, the wrath is come upon those who perpetrate them to the uttermost, v. 16.
So in his “father-heartedness” not only does he encourage them in restraint against their persecutors by encouraging them to walk worthy of God who has called them to His kingdom and glory, but he reminds them that the sovereignty of God has all things in hand and, as is said in another place, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord”, Rom. 12. 19.
Now what of the third aspect, charging! This appears a forceful word, and so it is. It comes from the root for martyr or witness, who may or may not have to seal his testimony with his blood. Such is this “father-heartedness” of the apostle that he says, We are bearing testimony to this glorious gospel of the grace of God by life and lip together with yourselves, so that together we may live or die for His sake. How such an attitude softens forceful words into greater forcefulness!
Briefly we have looked at the “manner of men” they were as they moved among those young Thessalonian believers, 1 Thess. 1. 5, and we have cited one aspect only of the exhorting, comforting and charging— that in relation to the immediate persecution around them. It follows then, that in respect to these young believers’ fears in regard to their lack of understanding of the apostle’s ministry among them about the Lord’s return, 4. 13, the same “father-heartedness” would have been employed by the apostle and those with him, as has been very evident in the matter of persecution. What a lesson for us each to take to heart! Further, the outreaching of the divine love in this “father-heartedness” was to each one of them. The whole family must be built up—not just those who showed signs of promise, but each one of them.
How is all this to be effected? By coming alongside to help! This immediately reminds us that the work is the work of the Holy Spirit, a work which cannot be commenced or maintained by any other than the love of the Spirit flowing between “father” and “child”, and energizing both in their own spheres in the establishment of the local assembly.
May the Lord cause us to reflect on these things which are outside and beyond the realm of the flesh, but pertain to “his kingdom and glory”.