Some Christian teachers say that a believer should not give a testimony concerning himself. According to these teachers, to testify of our experience is to preach ourselves. Therefore, they advise others not to speak of how they have repented, believed in the Lord, received grace, and have been saved. These teachers insist strongly that we should preach only the Lord Jesus and teach the Bible, but should never say anything about ourselves. In 1 Thessalonians 2, however, Paul certainly speaks about himself. He gives a strong testimony of his living among the Thessalonians. He reminds them of the apostles coming and of their manner of life among them. Why did Paul emphasize this? He emphasized it because he was presenting a pattern of a proper living to the young saints. I hope that all the elders and leading ones will see from Paul’s example that we must be a pattern to the saints. In every local church there must be some patterns, some models, for others to follow.
In 1:6 Paul says to the Thessalonians, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Imitating is related to growing. In fact, in many ways to imitate is to grow. In a family children imitate their parents and older brothers and sisters. The little ones do not invent anything; instead, they imitate others. A very good illustration of this is in the use of language. A child learns the language spoken by his parents. He speaks the same language with the same accent. A child learns the language and the accent by imitation. This illustrates the fact that children grow by imitating their parents. Therefore, in a family to imitate actually means to grow. The children imitate their parents in many things—in gestures, in speech, and even in character. Parents are patterns, models, for their children. Whatever the parents are, the children will be also.
To give the new believers and young ones a lot of teaching is not the proper way to take care of them. The proper way to foster them is to show them a pattern. By showing them a pattern you water them, supply them, nourish them, and cherish them. This is fostering. If you find that your experience is somewhat lacking, point the new believers to different people in the Bible, for example, to ones such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and David in the Old Testament and Peter, John, Paul, and Timothy in the New Testament. We can present the lives of Bible characters in such a way as to foster the growth of the young ones.
If we give too much teaching to new ones and young ones, we shall damage them. Every mother knows that one of the most important matters in the raising of children is proper feeding. Caring for children is ninety percent a matter of feeding and ten percent a matter of teaching. This also should be our practice in caring for new believers in the church. We must learn to have ninety percent feeding and ten percent teaching. Feeding involves the presenting of patterns either from the Bible or from church history. By reading the biographies of saints throughout the ages, we nourish ourselves and experience a kind of fostering. The point here is that the best way to feed others and foster them is to give them a proper pattern. If there is no pattern, there can be no fostering. Only by having a pattern can we feed others.
In the book of 1 Thessalonians Paul was not preaching himself. Rather, he was feeding his spiritual children with his own living of Christ. This means that Paul’s way of living was used to feed his spiritual children. This was the reason he emphasized his coming to the Thessalonians, his preaching, his way of handling the word of God, and his manner of living.
In 2:13 Paul says, “And therefore we also give thanks to God unceasingly that, having received the word of the report from us of God, you accepted it not as the word of men, but even as it truly is, the word of God, which also operates in you who believe.” This verse indicates that the source, the origin, of the apostles’ preaching was God and not themselves. The Thessalonians received their word not as the word of men, but as the word of God. Here we see a governing principle: whenever we preach or teach, we must impress others with the fact that what we are saying is not the word of man, but is truly the word of God.
In verse 13 Paul says that the word of God operates in those who believe. Because the word of God is living and operative (Heb. 4:12), it operates in the believing ones. Once we receive and accept the word, it operates within us.
In verse 14 Paul continues, “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus; for you also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they also of the Jews.” The apostle taught the same thing in all the churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16). This indicates that all the churches should bear the same testimony of Jesus. Hence, they all are lampstands of the same kind (Rev. 1:9, 20).
The church in Thessalonica imitated the churches in Judea. Certainly reports concerning the churches in Judea reached the believers in Thessalonica. How could the Thessalonians have imitated the churches in Judea if they had not heard anything concerning them? They must have heard about the churches and the saints. These reports fostered the growth of the Thessalonian believers. Once again we see that nothing can foster a church or a saint as much as a true story about other saints or churches.
In verse 14 Paul points out that the Thessalonians suffered the same things of their own countrymen as the churches in Judea suffered of the Jews. This is a comforting, strengthening, and fostering word. When Paul wrote, the church in Thessalonica was suffering and was being persecuted. In the midst of their persecution, they heard about the sufferings of those in Judea. This report strengthened, comforted, and established them. It helped to foster them in their growth.
Verse 15 continues, “Who have both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and are not pleasing to God, and are contrary to all men.” Paul was wise in writing this verse. Here he is inoculating the believers against the eventual coming of the Judaizers. Paul injected a healthy warning concerning the Judaizers into the Thessalonian saints. Here Paul seems to be saying, “Brothers, don’t regard Jewish things as marvelous. The Jews are not for God, and they are not one with God. They killed the Lord Jesus, and they also drove us out. Be prepared, Thessalonians, for one day the Judaizers will come to you to undermine what we have done. Don’t take their word, for they are against us. They are contrary to all men, and they are not pleasing to God.” This surely was an excellent inoculation.
This inoculating word was also part of Paul’s fostering of the saints. Even inoculation is included in fostering. In caring for their children, parents seek to protect them from disease. Even in caring for a garden we try to protect the plants from disease or insects. Otherwise, disease may ruin the plants, and the insects may devour them, especially the tender parts. Therefore, in order to protect a garden, we may spray the plants with insecticide. We may say that in this verse Paul was giving the believers at Thessalonica a divine germ-repellent. He warned them not to have any confidence in the Jews or to give them any credit. On the contrary, the Thessalonians were to reject them.
Paul continues this warning in verse 16, where he says of the Jews, “Forbidding us to speak to the nations that they may be saved, that they may fill up their sins always. But wrath has come upon them to the end.” Paul points out that the Jews did not want the Thessalonians to hear the word of the apostles in order to be saved. This word is part of Paul’s inoculation.
In verse 17 Paul goes on to say, “But we, brothers, being bereaved of you for a little while in presence, not in heart, were more abundantly eager with much desire to see your face.” This word implies that the apostles considered the new converts precious and dear to them. Paul likened their departure from them to a bereavement, a loss they suffered from being separated from them and that caused them to miss them. In this verse we also see the apostles’ yearning over the new converts.
In verse 17 Paul seems to be saying, “Brothers, we have been bereaved of you. We wanted to stay with you, and we miss you very much. But although we are bereaved of you in presence, we are not bereaved of you in heart. In our heart we are still with you. We are very eager with much desire to see your face.”
Paul’s word in verses 15 through 17 is emotional. Because he was emotional, he could touch the emotion of others. When Paul spoke about the Jews negatively, he was emotional. Likewise, when he spoke about the apostles positively, he was also very emotional. Paul’s expression of deep emotion caused the believers to love the apostles and to shut out the Judaizers. This too is related to fostering children, to protecting them, to raising them without their being damaged by negative things.
Paul certainly knew how to foster the saints. He spoke about himself in such a way as to foster them and also to inoculate them. In fostering the Thessalonians, Paul pointed out to them that the Jews who opposed and persecuted needed to be shut out, but the Jews who came to them as apostles were lovable.
In verse 18 Paul says, “Wherefore we wanted to come to you, indeed, I Paul, both once and again, and Satan hindered us.” Because the apostles were carrying out the will of God, Satan frustrated them. Paul put the blame on Satan. In so doing he was telling the Thessalonians to shut out the Judaizers and to hate Satan. The apostles were eager to see the believers at Thessalonica, but they were hindered by Satan.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul concludes, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting? Are not even you, before our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” The Greek word rendered coming in verse 19 is parousia, a word that means presence. The Lord’s coming is His presence with us. In this light these two earlier Epistles were written. Every chapter of the first Epistle ends with the Lord’s coming back.
Verse 20 indicates that since the apostles were the believers’ nursing mother and exhorting father (vv. 7, 11), the believers, as their children, were their glory and joy. Apart from them, the apostles had no hope, glory, or crown of boasting.
Here Paul seems to be saying, “You are our hope, our joy, and our crown of boasting. Brothers, we are here only for you; we are not here for anything else. If we do not have you, we do not have anything. You are our hope, even as your hope is the Lord’s coming back. Without you, at the Lord’s coming back we shall be short of joy and glory. We need you! You are our hope, our joy, our crown, and our glory before the Lord Jesus at His coming.” Once again Paul expressed deep emotion in caring for his children. He certainly was a father exhorting his children. As such an exhorting father, it seems as if Paul was saying, “Children, we are here only for you. Without you, life is meaningless. If it were not for you, we would not want even to live.” Such a word from parents is deeply touching; it touches the heart of the children.
Would you not be touched deeply if your parents wrote such a word to you? Would you not be touched if they said that without you life is meaningless, that they are living on earth only for you? No doubt, when you heard or read such a word, your tears would flow. This kind of speaking fosters children and helps them to grow.
As a good father, Paul knew how to touch the heart of his children. If you are able to touch the heart of others, you will be successful in fostering their growth. The best way to foster others is to touch their heart deeply.