Living God’s mission
1 Thessalonians 2.9-13
The week before last, I was in the lovely city of Adelaide at a National Ministers’ Conference organised by the President of the UCA, Rev’d Alistair McRae.
Many of you will remember Rev’d Jenny Tymms who worshipped as part of us before she moved to Darwin. I’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the input she gave us about ‘creative experiments’ in mission.
But first, let’s look at the Bible, shall we?
We’ve been hearing from 1 Thessalonians for the last few weeks. Of course, it’s a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian church in northern Greece. Scholars are pretty clear that this is the first letter we have written by Paul, and that he wrote it around the year 50 of the first century—that is, twenty years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, it’s very likely the earliest piece of Christian writing known to us.
(Hang on—what about the Gospels? They’re about what Jesus did aren’t they, and that was before the Apostle Paul? Yes, but 1 Thessalonians was written well before the first Gospel. That was Mark, written about fifteen years later around the year 65. We can be pretty clear that 1 Thessalonians is the earliest witness to faith in Jesus Christ that we have.)
In the first part of the letter, Paul shows how warmly he feels towards the Thessalonian believers. He says,
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1.2-3)
We might wonder if that is a formal thing, like a letter that starts ‘Dear Paul’, and proceeds to tell me I stink. But the warmth of this opening just continues. Paul says,
…we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (2.7-8)
He feels towards them like a nursing mother feels to her baby. And like a good father:
…we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (2.11-12)
And there’s yet more! When Paul was separated from the Thessalonians, he felt like a child bereft of his parents’ love:
As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. (2.17)
Paul really loved these people. He could be mother, father, even child to them. No doubt there were those among the Thessalonians who felt the same. Working side by side on God’s mission had brought them close together.
Paul needed this very personal ‘family’ language to express his affection for the Thessalonians. Yet Jesus says,
call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven.
Is there a problem here? A contradiction? Not so much. It’s like this: in the first century, the father was the absolute boss. It was a time in which the father’s word was unquestionable. And Jesus says No—there is only one Father we owe absolute obedience to, and that is our Father in heaven. The one Jesus called ‘Abba’, ‘Daddy’. Our motherly Father.