When I first read this passage in Thessalonians, it seemed rather routine to me. Here’s Paul, again, talking to a new church, encouraging them and instructing them. I had a hard time seeing it with fresh eyes, and if your purpose for reading the Bible is to find the key verses worthy of memorizing, you might want to turn elsewhere. But there’s another way of looking at it. When I looked at the passage as evidence of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians, I found in this passage a compelling picture of what discipleship looks like. To me, this passage indicates several key habits of a discipler as well as the blessings possible for a disciple.
First, Paul meets his disciples where they are. Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia and was a port city situated on a main road that spanned from Byzantium all the way to the Adriatic sea. The city was literally at a crossroads where people and ideas flowed freely between Jerusalem and Rome. It was not dominated by Jewish tradition, and when you look at this book, you won’t find allusions to Abraham, Moses, or any Old Testament scriptures. Paul, well-versed in Jewish belief and tradition, doesn’t communicate to the Thessalonians as a Jewish expert. Instead, he talks to them with full understanding of who and where they are in life.
This leads to another key point: Paul makes it about them, not him. He could build himself up as an expert, but rather than that, he goes out of his way to work for his disciples “night and day” so as not to burden them but instead bring the word at no cost to them or benefit to him (2:9).
It’s also easy to see that centering Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians is encouragement. He dealt with them like “a father to his children, urging and encouraging” them and “pleading that” they would “lead a life worthy of God” (2:11-12). Paul also called out the Thessalonians’ successes, and how they have become an example for other believers in the region (1:7-9). But this encouragement isn’t a one way street. The Thessalonians encourage Paul because of how they have grown in faith and put their faith into practice (2:19-20). It’s interesting how Paul as a discipler was encouraged and challenged by those he discipled.
Paul doesn’t stop there though. He demonstrates his care through action, not just words. Paul monitors the Thessalonians’ progress on their faith journey by sending Timothy to check up on them (2:3). He also prays for them (1:2-3). Paul does not keep the Thessalonians at arm’s length, but instead, shares life with them as they learn to imitate Paul. (2:8) To the Greeks, the contrast between word and deed was an important philosophical convention, and Paul makes sure that there is no difference between the Gospel and his own caring actions.
Obviously, if you’re a discipler or a small group leader, this passage is excellent guidance for you. But if your not and you want to deepen your faith, it serves as an encouragement for you to seek a discipleship relationship. If you’re seeking that discipleship, encouragement, and fellowship, then there is no substitute for real-time, face to face relationships. It’s time to join a small group. Hmm…didn’t the The Atlas come out last weekend? :-) The Atlashttp://theaterchurch.com/groups