St. Paul’s ministry is both so fruitful and so apostolic that we might be tempted to think that such fruit is only for apostles, or bishops or pastors.
While none of us will ever have the same apostolic ministry Paul had and very, very few will ever have the scope of his ministry (maybe if you’re a pope or a patriarch you might), we can all minister in the same way that St. Paul ministered.
One of the keys to Paul’s amazing ministry to the church at Thessalonica and other churches is found in verse 8 of 1 Thessalonians 2: “So, affectionately longing 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 dear to us.”
This is the secret to any successful ministry, that the ministry is not just a sharing of the gospel of God, the message of salvation, but also a sharing of our lives. In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan popularized the idea that “the medium is the message.” In Christian ministry, the medium is definitely the message, and in the Christian ministry the medium is Jesus Christ incarnated in the flesh and now incarnated in us. You are the medium through which the gospel of Jesus Christ is propagated. You are both the medium and the message – you, and not just the words of the Bible that you might repeat.
Paul might have sent his weighty letters to churches such as the one in Thessalonica, but if he had not also ministered there with his life, his words would have carried little weight. It was because Paul was willing to spend himself (2 Corinthians 12:15) on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ, and the local churches to which God had called him, that Paul’s ministry was so fruitful in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul is able to spend himself utterly on behalf of God’s people because he loves them as Jesus Christ Himself loved them. This tough and fiery St. Paul, who can come to the churches with the refining fire of God Almighty, is at heart a gentle mother who lovingly nurses her baby (verse 7.) If you have ever seen the adoring looks a mother gives her closely held baby, the care which she takes to make sure he is well, and the fierceness with which she protects her baby, then you will understand the way that Paul treats the Christians at Thessalonica.
He is not only mother but father. Like any good father, sometimes he exhorts, sometimes he comforts, and sometimes he charges (verse 11.) Whatever is best for his children in Christ, Father Paul will do.
If Christians today had this kind of all-consuming love for each other, then they would say of the church in the 21st century in Tyler, TX and in all places, as they said of the early church: “See how these Christians love!” And souls would be added daily to the Church.
What Paul communicated to the church at Thessalonica (and his other churches) was a continuation of the beautiful life of love of the early church that is described in Acts 2:42-47, a church which devoted itself to the apostles doctrine, to fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers; to selling their possessions so that no brother or sister in Christ was in need; to worshiping daily together in the Temple; to the breaking of bread from house to house as they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart; and to the praise of God.
If we became imitators of the love of St. Paul and the churches to which he ministered, as the Thessalonians became imitators of the churches in Judea (verse 14), then we too might have favor with all and find that God adds daily to our churches (Acts 2:47.) But to do this, we must offer ourselves on behalf of others in love.
Prayer: Father, I thank You for Your affectionate love to me and all Your children. Thank You for the example of St. Paul and other loving ministers in Your Church. Grant me such an abundance of Your love in my life, that I seek those in my local Church with the love with which You have sought me.
Points for Meditation:
1. What would it mean for me to act like a father or mother in my church?
2. Meditate on your local church as being your family, and then meditate on how you may be more affectionately and intimately loving with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Resolution: I resolve to find one practical way that I can show affectionate love to the people in my local church.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson