By referencing the example of his own behavior while conducting the Thessalonian mission, Paul is able to provide a model that readily applies to the Thessalonians in their ministry of nurture and outreach.
v1. In the opening four verses, Paul calls on his readers to remember the mission that was recently held in their town. It was certainly not a "failure" - hollow, empty and wanting in purpose.
v2. Even before Paul and his team reached Thessalonica they faced persecution and now the situation is no better. If the mission had existed for financial gain or the like, then Paul and his associates would have given it away as a bad joke long ago, but they stuck to their task, and in God's power the gospel was presented.
v3. It cannot be claimed that the preaching of the missionaries was in error, or for immoral purposes, nor just a cunning marketing ploy to get money.
v4. The teaching was certainly not in error, as the missionaries presented a message entrusted to them by God. It was certainly not for immoral purposes, because both the mission and the message was approved by God. It was certainly not a marketing ploy, a trick, for it aimed to please God, not the people. God sees all things, for nothing in the inner life of a person is hidden from him, so if the mission was performed for other than the best of reasons, the Lord would know.
v5-8. In these four verses Paul goes on to ask his readers to remember some other features about the mission. First, Paul asks his readers to confirm that the mission was not designed to flatter; it was not designed to peddle human emotions, using words and methods to gain predetermined selfish ends. Second, the mission was not a mask, it was not a front; it was not designed to promote self-interest behind an acceptable front. Third, neither was the mission just a means for the self aggrandizement of the missionaries themselves. On the contrary, Paul and his mission team gave themselves to the Thessalonians as a parent nurtures their children. Paul not only shared the gospel with them, he shared his whole person; the missionaries shared themselves.
v9. Paul now reminds the Thessalonians that although he and the rest of the team had every right to expect the new Christians to support their work (cf. 2Thess.3:8, 2Cor.11:9, 12:16), he had, none-the-less, taken a gentle line with them, caring for their needs rather than expecting them to care for his. This was evidenced by the fact that the team worked at their trades while on mission so that the church would not have to carry the financial burden of their upkeep.
v10-12. In these final verses, Paul calls on his readers to recognize the positive features of the mission. It could only be said that the missionaries were upright in conduct - holy, righteous and blameless. They had acted in a caring way toward the new church and were "encouraging" (directing), "comforting" (giving cheer and inspiration) and "urging" (stirring the Thessalonians up to good works). All this was directed toward one end, that the members of this new church might live lives worthy of the Lord, worthy of the one who bids them to share in the splendor of His kingdom.
In verses 11 and 12 of our passage for study, Paul uses three words to illustrate a gospel ministry within a Christian fellowship. The words sum up Paul's ministry in the Thessalonian church and they serve as a useful model for a ministry that seeks to shape "lives worthy of God", worthy of the God who calls us into his glorious kingdom.
i] Encouragement, in the sense of directing, showing the way. Christian ministry, whether by an ordained person, full-time professional, or an unpaid member of the congregation, involves being a signpost both by the things we say and by the things we do. Discipleship is a difficult business and therefore we need a clear understanding of the Lord's mind when it comes to the matters of life.
ii] Comfort, in the sense of consoling, giving words of cheer and inspiration in the face of trouble. The way is rough and rock-strewn and so we will always need a helping hand. Again, Christian ministry involves consoling the downhearted, and we all get down at some time or other.
iii] Urging, in the sense of giving strong words to slackers. Each of us, from time to time, fall back in our dedication to the cross of Christ. We sit down on the side of the narrow way, or we even head off on the broad way that leads to destruction. It is when we drift that we need a strong word from those who minister to us. We don't need condemnation, rather we need to be stirred up to be what we are in Christ.
Here then is guide to the cure of souls. Let those who minister encourage the waverer, comfort the broken and urge those who are drifting.
1. What do you think has prompted Paul to write these words?
2. List the descriptions Paul gives of his missionary effort.
3. In v12 Paul gives three words to outline his ministry of encouragement in Thessalonica. Discuss the meaning of the three words.
4. What factors seem to hinder our meager attempts to encourage each other in the Christian life?