Ministering with Affection
1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
All true affection for the sheep comes from the example of the Chief Shepherd who loved the sheep and laid down His life for them (John 10.11). Furthermore, Jesus’ ministry to the sheep continues in His present ministry as our Mediator who ever lives for us and intercedes for us before the Father (Heb. 7.25). Also through the ministry of His Spirit, Jesus comes to indwell us seeking to comfort us (John 14.18), teach us (John 14.26), love us (John 15.9), and abide with us unto the end of the age (Mt. 28.20). As such all pastoral theology ultimately can be traced back to Jesus and His example of what it looks like to love and lead the Church with genuine affection. Jesus’ style of ministry would fly in the face of many minsters who are cold and listless toward their people. No greater love has ever been shown in the church than that Jesus would not only lay down His life for the Church, purchase the Church with His own blood (Acts 20.28), but also demonstrate unrelenting goodness and patience for the Church (cf. Jer. 32.40). This is why Paul sought to emulate the patience of Christ even with an erring church like Corinth, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10.1). Again, all biblical shepherding is set on the health and purity of the Church that’s the purpose of Paul’s exemplary ministry:
2 Corinthians 13:9–11 9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete. 10 For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down. 11 Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Paul’s passion was for the church’s edification; for its maturity and growth. As the text above shows, this would demand a fine balance between patient sacrifice and pastoral severity. The affectionate shepherding of the apostle Paul consists of three things, namely affection that is proven, paternal and passionate.
The first point reminds us that Paul’s affection for the church was also a matter of personal integrity. That is why he feels the need to remind them of his commitment to them, “we proved to be gentle among you” (ἀλλὰ ἐγενήθημεν νήπιοι ἐν μέσῳ ὑμῶν). The textual issue here surrounding the word “gentle” which in the majority of the Greek texts (WH, NA, UBS 3, 4) uses the word (νήπιοι) meaning “infant” instead of “gentle” (ήπιοι) (most EVV). The reason for the discrepancy is because many Greek manuscripts use the term that means ‘infants.’ However, contextually the Church and scholars have had a hard time seeing how the metaphor makes sense in the context. Some also argue that Paul never compares himself to a child with this word and it always applies to the church. However, in verse 17 Paul will compare himself to an orphan who had been taken from his family (“taken away”, lit. ‘orphaned’ from: ἀπορφανίζω). The NET bible (along with other textual scholars, e.g. Philip Comfort) resolve the issue by connecting the punctuation and the grammar with the preceding phrase, that emphasizes Paul’s point of not taking advantage of the church in any way:
“although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became little children among you. Like a nursing mother caring for her own children” (NET)
With this textual background in mind, we may think about Paul’s proven affection for the church as Paul’s willingness to overextend himself for the sake of proving his love and affection for the church. Paul proved his affectionate child-like condescension for them by not lording over the church but rather, becoming like a child in terms of his purity, in terms of his trust and vulnerability and transparency with the church. The point is that his affection was proven, it was “among you” (lit. ‘in the middle of you’ ἐν μέσῳ ὑμῶν) Paul says. He lived with and among his people. He was ‘hands on.’ He did not hide or recuse himself from the church; Paul’s affections were demonstrable and the church’s conscience could bring in that attestation of his love for them because he had been among them. This was in keeping with Peter’s own words to the elders he exhorts to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5.2). We will return to the issue of compulsory shepherding shortly.
Paul is writing this short letter in part to reassure the church of his desire to return to them and be among them again. But in the interim, Paul’s gives metaphor after metaphor to describe his love and affection for them. He next moves to a paternal, specifically, a motherly metaphor of true pastoral care for the church, “as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children” (ὡς ἐὰν τροφὸς θάλπῃ τὰ ἑαυτῆς τέκνα). Paul did not just see himself as a babysitter, he saw himself with the commitment of mother. And also, Paul’s commitment to the church was also to provide nourishment and care.
Obviously these terms speak of the same basic reality of loving and caring for the church but they differ in that one term speaks of care while the other speaks of cherishing. What a marvelous portrayal of true pastoral affection and the nuance that the ministry requires. On the one hand, pastors have to provide the care that is necessary and so Paul, Timothy and Silvanus are described as nurses or nursing mothers who are tasked with the oversight of children (see, Loaw-Nida).
But Paul’s description also uses the term that means ‘to cherish’ to reemphasize his emotional investment in the church. There are many nursemaids that function as such on behalf of a mother and do a great job taking care of a child; cleaning the child, feeding the child making sure they are fed and taken care of in all their basic needs. However, this job can be done with indifference and apathy. However, Paul says he, “tenderly” (θάλπῃ) cared for the church. He did not love them because they were his kind of people, because they had so much in common, because they were of the same race, nationality, or because they had the same interests; He loved them in Christ and for Christ’s sake! Paul’s affection for the church shows what was at the root of his willingness to endure with the church, put up with the church, patiently disciple the church— it was because he cherished the church for Christ sake:
Colossians 1:28–29 28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29 For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
Paul’s ministry also consisted of genuine passion for the church, “Having so fond an affection for you” (οὕτως ὁμειρόμενοι ὑμῶν). Again, Paul uses a term here, “fond” (ὁμείρομαι) that is found only here in the NT. It basically speaks of a strong yearning or longing for something or someone. The ESV translating the phrase, “So, being affectionately desirous of you.” The term is somewhat synonymous with another Pauline term, “to yearn” (ἐπιποθέω, 2 Cor. 10.14). And so this word belongs to a word group of terms that speak of Paul’s zeal and strong desire for the church. Paul was so zealous for this that he was in fact jealous for the church’s purity and success:
2 Corinthians 11:2 2 For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.
Paul’s passionate affection led to one thing, a voluntary, willful, and “well-pleasing” (εὐδοκέω) ministry to the church that consisted in true discipleship and pastoral ministry. This ministry is further understood in two things. First there was a theological investment in the church, “we were well-pleased to impart to you the… the gospel of God” (ὁμειρόμενοι ὑμῶν εὐδοκοῦμεν μεταδοῦναι ὑμῖν... τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ). This text reminds us of Paul’s overall vision for the church. To see churches raised up and led by competent minsters that were equipped to faithfully instruct, teach, preach, and minister God’s word (Acts 14.23; 1 Cor. 4.1-5; Eph. 4.11-16; Col. 1.28-29; 2 Tim. 2.1-7, 14-15, 24-26; 3.10-17; 4.1-5). Paul saw himself as a new covenant priest who was continually offering up evangelical offerings to God on behalf of the Church.
Romans 15:15–16 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Of course this was all done through the preaching of the gospel of God. If we simply look at that phrase, “the gospel of God” (τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ), then we will be reminded that first and foremost the gospel comes from God, belongs to God, and consists of God. Paul often stresses his personal commitment to the gospel by calling it, “my gospel” (cf. Rom. 2.16; 16.25; 2 Tim. 2.8), but here Paul’s emphasis is on his commission to convey a message that comes from a divine source of origination. Paul’s emphasis reminds us that the gospel we preach is not our own. We did not invent, we cannot improve it, and we dare not edit it! Our duty as those who have received “the gospel of God” concerning His Son, is simply to proclaim it (cf. Acts 20.27; Rom. 15.19b).
Second, this passionate affection for the church also consisted in a personal and sacrificial investment in the church. Paul says he did not “only” invest in them theology, i.e. “the gospel of God”— but, “also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰς ἑαυτῶν ψυχάς, διότι ἀγαπητοὶ ἡμῖν ἐγενήθητε). We can see Paul’s emotional appeal here as he literally says that he imparted to them their own ‘souls’ (ψυχάς). In other words, Paul, and his companions, poured themselves out for the sake of these dear ones because he loved who they were in Christ. Put simply, Paul was a churchman and loved the church and gave his heart and soul for her service as an act of worship to God:
Philippians 2:17–18 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.
In all of this Paul shows that he followed his Master— he was no hireling. Jesus reminds us that, the hired hand cares nothing for the sheep:
John 10:11–13 11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 “He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.