But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8)
Certain life experiences often deepen the richness of certain Scriptural passages.
I’m a first-time father. I’m absolutely loving it! One of the things I love the most is watching my wife care for my beautiful daughter. And if there are two qualities that encapsulate my wife’s relationship to our new baby girl, it would deep affection and personal sacrifice. Taking care of an infant is literally a one-way street. The mother gives and gives and gives with zero reciprocity from the baby (other than the frequent “deposits” she so generously presents us). The baby can literally do nothing for the mom, and yet the mom gives her time, her energy, and her body to nurture and care for her child.
On top of (and seemingly antithetical to) personal sacrifice, my wife has a deep affection for our daughter. Despite the late-night/early-morning feedings, constant diaper changes, screaming fits, and “spit-ups,” my wife can’t get over how much she loves her. It’s not an uncommon thing for me to be drifting off to sleep at night only to hear, not a screaming baby, but by my wife saying to me, “I just love her so much.”
A mother’s heart overflows with love and affection and sacrificially gives herself for her child, with zero expectation of anything in return. The mother’s selfless, affectionate love for her child springs from, not the child’s ability to return the favor, but simply in the fact that it’s her child. She finds joy in her child’s smile, in those first steps, in rocking her to sleep and laying her in her crib. It's her child.
It is this motherly picture that describes Paul’s attitude toward his children in the faith. In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul describes his tender love for the believers in Thessalonica by comparing it to “a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” This “motherly” love had two qualities: deep affection (“being affectionately desirous”) and personal sacrifice (“ready to share...our own selves”). Paul’s deep affection and willingness to sacrifice for the Thessalonian believers has always been a conviction to me, but recently, this picture of “ministerial motherhood” has become far more real for me.
I can just picture Paul waking up in the middle of the night and thinking to himself, “I just love that church so much.” I see him getting out of bed and onto his knees, thanking his Heavenly Father for his children in the faith. I can imagine him getting up the next day and sacrificing himself for those people, giving up his rights, his comfort, and his own health for the spiritual growth of these young churches, with no expectation of anything in return.
He cared for them like a “nursing mother cares for her own children.” What a tender picture. His greatest joy was to see them grow, to feed them with God’s Word, and to watch them take their first steps in their spiritual walk. Few illustrations capture both the trials and the joys of ministry than the illustration of a mother with her child.
There are so many competing motives for those in the ministry. I can tell you what didn’t motivate Paul. He wasn’t trying seeking “to please man” (1 Thess 2:4); he wasn’t motivated by greed (2:5); he didn’t “seek glory from people” (2:6). He was driven by selfless, affectionate love for these people. If you have been called to be a minister of God’s word, what gets you up in the morning? Are you driven by “ministerial success”? Do you desperately desire name recognition? Are you driven by the financial blessings that comes through numerical church growth? Do you find your joy in being the keynote speaker at a conference, in having a large social media following, or the praise of your colleagues?
That’s not “ministerial motherhood.” That’s not selfless, affectionate love--it’s a heartless pursuit of self-aggrandizement. And it is an incredible temptation for those in the gospel ministry.
Pastor, how often do you thank God for your congregation? How often do you express that thankfulness to them? Is your affectionate, sacrificial love for them obvious, or do church members feel like they’re an inconvenience to you? Would you rather be locked up in your study than investing in the lives of your people?
As I look forward to the future opportunity (Lord willing) to shepherd a congregation, my hope and prayer is that the Holy Spirit will form within me a heart of “ministerial motherhood” toward my congregation.
I pray that, someday, if asked by my congregation what brings me joy in the ministry, I can say with Paul, “Is it not you?” (1 Thess. 2:19)
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