How did Paul and his team attractively adorn God’s life and the Good News with various aspects of character in action?
We sharpen the truth and make it more likely to penetrate into the consciences of others as we respond with a similar style as they did in 1 Thessalonians.
1 Thessalonians is the “family” letter.
Paul uses the word “brother” fourteen times, cultivating life-on-life ministry. Family relationship is the key to know how the team ministered. Paul begins with this end in mind. He teaches us how to draw on the rich resources and the adaptive creativity only available together in community as a spiritual family.
We can’ grow to become all that God has planned for us separate from the functioning Body of Christ. Everyone needs others to get close enough to know how we are wired and to accept us where we now are. This is more than socialization, moving into koinonia, ideally in a primal group.
We also need these people to commit themselves to release in and through us the highest and best God has without a personal agenda and without judging. These enriching relationships take time and mutual buy-in, stirred together with healthy, natural consequences. Mutual commitment to one another is essential to build the internal self-discipline required to grow us up in His Forever Family. It’s contagious.
From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:16).
Sadly, I’ve heard some people in a group choose not to meet because they don’t have a “part” in the group or have been hurt or feel tired from the daily grind. Jesus delights in His people. Where two or three are gathered in His Name, He is here among us, releasing life. He designed us with a necessity for community, to give and to receive. This is the fulfillment of our longing for “home,” the soil for growth.
“Since God himself is triune we are in the image of God only as we enjoy community with others” (Stanley J. Grenz, Created for Community).
In chapter two, Paul provides us with three pregnant, family pictures. These suggest the roles, responses and heart of those who minister…an older brother, a nursing mom and a coaching dad. Paul calls each of us simultaneously to all three roles. Becoming spiritual moms & pops is not a gender issue. We are the Forever Family of God, His children. How do we minister as servant-first spiritual parents who care deeply and invest sacrificially in a few at a time to ultimately reach the many? Jesus raised up followers relationally and calls us to do the same.
“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world (John 17:18).
Adorn God’s Life as an Older Brother (Character, 2:1-6)
All true ministry begins with credible character. Paul addresses them as “brothers,” reminding me that the team ministered like a good older brother. An older brother goes before his younger siblings. Through wisdom from experience and insight, he differentiates what is essential from what is occasional, unnecessary, or even harmful.
Jesus is a revolutionary who trained up servant-first change-agents to make disciples in every culture. His commission has always been to “all people groups.” His plan included investing two-years to train up His Twelve as agile disciples in three primal groups of four each. Then they could minister from a solid baseline DNA in various cultures with diverse people in the complexities of life…despite severe opposition.
Paul and his team learned to “read and adapt,” cooperating with their Divine Team-of-Three by varying their methodology to whatever they encountered in culture (not their message). They flexed without compromising revealed truth since they did not hold onto religious or cultural baggage. Eventually, they turned the world upside down, one person at a time, from the inside out. Note at least three marks of this “older brother” ministry.
1. Defines “success” through God’s lens (1-2)
Paul and the team had an unenviable track record. Persecution had driven them out of many previous cities, including Philippi. Jesus’ agile disciples will be out of sync with society and with our religious peers who hang onto the past. But the team had vision to redefine success as God does, as faithfulness rather than based on visible results (“our visit…was not a failure”).
And the team was tenacious, never missing a step, even in the face of suffering and insults. Nothing deflected them from confidence that God worked alongside them. Therefore, they could “dare” to pursue God’s course of planting local churches with the spiritual DNA to reproduce, even with defiant opposition. They began with the end in mind, with a flexible plan and ears attuned to the Spirit.
2. Appeals without any need to manipulate (3, 5)
God’s ideals are written on the hearts of the lost as Echoes of a distant Voice. Their appeal was aimed at the consciences of others, trusting God to work. No hidden agendas. Their exhortation did not spring from error or impure motives. They never buttered them up or masked a secret heart of greediness.
When we know who we are, with God backing His Gospel of Good News, who needs trickery. Jesus calls us to minister as He did. He stepped forward in compassion and empathy, and also talked straight. Both/And, full of both grace and truth (John 1:14).
3. Seeks to please God alone (4, 6)
Soldiers in the Kingdom of God must be tried and trustworthy. The treasure that we are entrusted with is beyond measuring. The team ministered to an “Audience of One” (or “Three-in-One”) without a concern for how others viewed them.
They never sought praise from others as men-pleasers, but from God alone. Ministry rises or falls here. Do we have this assurance that we are also “sent ones,” sent by our missionary Commander-in-Chief to penetrate our webs of influence, whether in our home, in our work environment or in our recreation?
Yes, we are still in-process on a journey. Yes, God gives us space to grow. And also, grow with these markers clearly set before us.
Adorn God’s Life as a Nursing Mom (Care, 2:7-10)
The second picture is of a nursing mom. It’s one of the most tender, intimate and close-up pictures imaginable. By contrast, try to imagine a nursing mom breast feeding from across the room, at a distance. No way! A mom eats healthy food. Digests it. The nutrients are then transferred into the milk that she gives to her infant, along with close, intimate touch, often accompanied by soothing words.
This represents the softer-edged character traits like care, sensitive empathy, and models the gentler-edged traits necessary for healthy growth. Paul sketches out a few concrete responses and attitudes.
1. Respond with gentleness and tenderness (7)
Some of the mother’s initial responses of unconditional love and acceptance, mercy and tenderness, set the tone for the journey of these spiritual children. This models the shepherd traits of our God (Isaiah 40:11) and our Lord (John 10:14-15 + 27-30).
2. Express genuine affection (8a & d)
Perhaps for the first time, young believers experience genuine community care and intimate relationships in a world that marginalizes them. Since we abide in Christ and He in us, at the instant of salvation we were drawn into this Community-of-Three. It’s their interactive love for each other poured into us and given away to others, the same love with which the Father loved the Son (John 17:26). Men, don’t be duped by society. We also provide the voice and touch to fulfill this yearning for authentic love and warm affection as a “nursing mom.” It’s part of being fully human.
3. Minister life from God’s Word (8b)
Give them the best start possible by laying down a firm foundation of the “main & plain” from God’s Word. Keep it simple and focused. Scripture is their spiritual food. Help them learn to enjoy feeding themselves with a healthy diet, especially rapidly and repeatedly reading one New Testament book, chapter after chapter.
4. Impart our own life in Christ (8c)
Jesus called His disciples to a life-on-life relationship: “Follow Me.” Paul also said “follow me as I follow Christ.” We can only impart our own lives up-close-and-personal.
5. Work hard to make disciples (9)
We all expended the twenty-four hours of time we were gifted with yesterday. Free up time to make ourselves available for people. Setting priorities is a choice. Our determined effort and hard work connects us together with God’s abundant resources in the high calling of changing lives. And this is one of the clear-cut commands that God gives us, to “make disciples of all people groups” (Matthew 28:19-10).
6. Model an authentic spirituality (10)
More is always caught than taught, especially early on in a young believer’s growth. We must continue to grow our own lives, modeling a harmony between what we say and what we do.
Adorn God’s Life as a Coaching Dad (Challenge, 2:10-13)
A coaching dad is important in each cycle of spiritual development. The ultimate value of this particular ministry, though, may kick in later on our spiritual journey, beyond the “beloved child” cycle, becoming more noticeable as the disciple matures.
1. Model an authentic spirituality (10)
This transition idea belongs to both a nursing mom and a coaching dad. Character is a cross-over verse, equally applicable to both. Spiritual integrity sharpens whatever is passed on since modeling is such a powerful way to teach.
2. Honor each as a unique, treasured child (11)
Recognize and draw out their individualized inner beauty. “Each of you” points to uniqueness as we deal with each as a one-of-a-kind treasure, an image-bearer of our God, valued beyond measurement. As in raising children, if we treat each the same, we will be treating them unfairly.
3. Challenge to meet specific circumstance (12a)
This series of three words suggests that they give us permission to speak into their lives whatever values and boundaries are necessary “on the spot” on their journey, like a good Barnabas. L-shaped listening (vertically to God and horizontally to people) opens us up as creative, flexible dads in LifeChange groups (also compare 1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Challenge them (“encouraging”) “Yes you can!”
Whisper inspiration to them (“comforting”) “Yes you’re OK!”
Bear personal testimony to them (“urging”) “Yes you must!”
4. Call them to the high adventure of Kingdom life (12b)
These young believers had experienced some of the visible signs and power of the Kingdom as they evangelized (“with power, with the Holy Spirit…”, 1:5). Consistently remind God’s people of our high calling to this heroic Kingdom adventure. It’s too easy to settle like Abraham’s nephew, Lot, forgetting who we are as God’s image-bearers.
What is this high calling for these brand new Christians…and for us today?
“Live lives worthy of God. He calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Note: this relational, Triune God reveals Himself both through His Family community (the object of much of this letter) and His Kingdom army (noted here). The concepts of God’s Kingdom and God’s glory are monumental and life-impacting, but too vast to deal with here. What I want to drive home, though, is this. When was the last time we thought deeply on God’s eternal call on our lives? Paul wants us to keep this destiny as our daily focus, called “into his kingdom and glory.” Pass-it-along.
5. Stir them to value God’s Word (13)
Unless Scripture is a vital, integral part of our strategy as Change-Agents to make disciples, those we relate with will never reach their God-given destiny. We can accomplish other good ends when we meet. However, the highest and best for sustained, long term growth is relational, biblical and intentional (Both/And/And from chapter one). When all three intersect, they release God’s Triune-life to the max, The ministry of the Spirit deepens this eternal life. God’s Word is not optional. It’s essential in every aspect of growth. Don’t handicap our spiritual children.
Summary: Some want to view only those who sit beside you with compassion “safe” in tough times. Not even a “nursing mom” only sits. Paul describes the holistic ministry that adorn’s God’s life. Such a life flows from character through compassion and including the love of a person willing to challenge us. So don’t settle for the world’s definition of “safe,” especially since the only truly “safe” one is God Himself.
This comes from part of chapter two in “Cultivating Disciples” available under the “Bible Resources/Books” tab.