For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. 2 But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 8 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.
9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]
I remember it so vividly. The pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming was 80 years old, but fit as a fiddle. He was also the District President. And he was a strong leader. Direct and forthright. Clear and able to make his point. On one occasion he had cause to make his point with me. I had provided a funeral service for a man I had seen in the hospital…without his knowledge or permission. As a vicar, you’re really not supposed to do anything without permission. And he let me know.
But that’s not what I vividly remember. One Sunday he had preached on John 6:37, where Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” He so very eloquently and kindly laid out the gospel promise of Jesus. No one would be rejected if they come to Jesus in humble faith. He is open to all. His heart is open to all. He receives sinners. Such good news. And that Sunday, a young woman, as she left the church said with deep emotion in her voice and demeanor, “Thank you so much for that message. I really needed to hear that.” I don’t know what in her life made that so important, but I knew the message had a powerful impact on her.
I also vividly remember the way he would sign his letters…or at least one letter I happened to see. “He loves us so much!” How powerfully encouraging that was to me. Our God is a God of mercy, faithfulness, justice, and steadfast love. That is precious good news for me and for us all. When God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses, it says, “The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.'” And while it is clear that God is no pushover, but a God of justice and judgment, the comparison between God’s justice and his loving forgiveness, is 3 or 4 generations of justice compared to thousands of generations of love.
Paul speaks of his attitude toward the people at Thessalonica when he says, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (v. 7). There is a time for tough love. There were times when Paul was harsh. But on this occasion especially, his tone is kind and gentle, reflecting the very nature of God’s tender love for us. That soothes my soul and comforts my heart. I hope it does yours as well.