When it comes to serving in the local church, the Apostle Paul had much to say. However, we can also learn from his example. By example, I mean not only his actions, but his attitudes. The 2 letters written to the church in Thessalonica provide some good material to glean from Paul’s example. I have therefore identified 7 lessons that we learn from these two short epistles.
Thankfulness (1 Thess 1:2; 2:13; 2 Thess 1:3)
Paul begins both of the Thessalonian epistles with thanksgiving to God. He recognized that it was not him who instilled the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonians, but God (1 Thess 1:2–5). This is a crucial principle to follow when serving in the church. It can often be the temptation to think that success is due to our own abilities and talents. That may be true to a certain extent, but it cannot be true entirely. For it is God who gives His servants their talents and abilities. In the first epistle, Paul stated that he always continued to give thanks to God for his readers (1 Thess 1:2). In like manner he made a similar statement in the next epistle when he said that he was obligated to give thanks to God, for it was worthy (2 Thess 1:3). He knew that he could take no credit, but only thank God for such success as evidenced in the Thessalonians’ lives. This principle is also evident in 1 Thess. 2:13, where Paul thanks God for their reception of the word of God which he proclaimed. It would have been very easy for Paul to think that it was his words that these people received. However, he knew that God was responsible and not him. It is only when this perspective is kept that the Servant of God can remain humble like Paul and give continual thanks to the Lord for all that He does through us.
Acknowledgement of the Gospel’s power (1 Thess. 1:5; 2 Thess. 2:14)
In the context of thanksgiving, Paul reveals another crucial characteristic of ministry in the church. This is his acknowledgment of the power of the Gospel. It is the very truth of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). It came to the Thessalonians by the very power of the Holy Spirit with full assurance (1 Thess. 1:5). Again, Paul had part in leading some of these people to Christ (Acts 17). Yet, he recognizes that it is the Gospel of God that saved these people from their sins, not him. Whenever any church sees people come to Christ it, is paramount that we acknowledge that it is the power of the Gospel that releases people from the dominion of Satan, not us. Like the attitude of thankfulness, this principle must always be at the forefront of the servant of God’s thinking, or else he or she will become proud and attempt to steal the glory that is due to God alone. God will not share it (Isaiah 42:8).
Affirmative and Exhortive (1 Thess. 1:3-5, 1:6-9; 2:14; 3:12; 4:1–12; 5:11–22; 2 Thess. 1:3-4; 2:1–12, 2:15)
Throughout these two letters are references to affirmation along with exhortation. In 1 Thess. 1:3–5, 1:6–9, 2:14 and 2 Thess. 1:3–4, Paul affirms his readers in all that they did that was praiseworthy. He acknowledged that they had exemplified the Christian life. In 1 Thess. 3:12, 5:11–22, 2 Thess. 2:1–12 and 2:15, Paul exhorts his readers to be obedient to their calling. In 1 Thess. 4:1–12, he gives exhortation along with affirmation. The obvious pattern is that Paul clearly affirmed his readers in all that they did which was good, and yet he continued to exhort them to abound even more. Whether it is exhortation or affirmation, neither should emphasized to the neglect of the other. It is not an issue of giving a reason for pride in the hearts of believers when affirming them in their ministry, it is a matter of following the pattern of the Apostle Paul in affirming the flock and letting God take care of the issue of pride.
An Eschatological Attitude (1 Thess.1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-5:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10, 2:1-12)
Over and over again, Paul reminds his readers of their eschatological hope in Christ. When speaking of their conversion, Paul mentions how it secured their being saved from the wrath that was to come in 1 Thess. 1:10. In 2:19, he makes reference to the Lord’s coming in relation to his own hope and exaltation in His coming. In 4:13–5:10, Paul comforts his readers with the reality of the Lord’s coming as a basis for their hope. In 2 Thess. 1:7–10 and 2:1–12, he makes reference to His coming to judge those who oppressed them. It was a mindset that drove Paul to pen the words in these passages. Paul knew that even though we live in this world, it is not our permanent home. It is this mindset that must be possessed by we who serve in His Church. For if we have this mindset, then we will be able convey it to those who serve alongside of us.
Steadfastness Despite Suffering (1 Thess. 2:2)
Paul and his companions had suffered much. It was the opposition to the Gospel which instigated these persecutors to buffet these servants of God. It says in this passage that even though they had suffered in Philippi before they arrived at Thessalonica, they still had the boldness in their God to preach the Gospel to the Thessalonians. The opposition which they encountered was very great as not only evidenced by Paul’s statement here, but also what we learn from Acts 16. This passage records Paul’s arrival in Philippi and how he shared the Gospel. It was then that he casted out a demon from a slave-girl who was possessed. This then caused her owners to subsequently beat Paul and Silas with rods, strip them naked, and cast them into prison. Obviously, they suffered much, but they continued to preach the Gospel, not only in Philippi, but in Thessalonica. It is this steadfastness in the midst of opposition that conveys Paul’s attitude toward ministry. He knew that souls were at stake, and that he had divine mission to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. In this world, we are bound to face much opposition. It comes from outside the Church, as well as inside. Yet, we must never relent in doing what is right, but remain steadfast as the Apostle Paul did.
God Pleasers (1 Thess. 2:3–5)
Very much connected to the idea of persevering in the midst of opposition is the motivation to do so. This is the motivation to please God and not men. We see this principle in Paul when he says to the Thessalonians, “…so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God…” This attitude must be in the heart of anyone who serves in the church. Paul knew that the power unto salvation lied in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not in himself (Romans 1:16). He also knew that he had already been approved by God. Knowing this, it didn't matter what people thought of him or his style of ministry, for he was concerned about what God thought. This does not mean that he thought that he arrived and could not learn more, for he also recognized that God was always in the process of continually examining his heart for the sake of approval. It is also noteworthy to mention that this does not mean that Paul had no compassion for people, for the next few verses reveal his heart for people.
Parental Attitude (1 Thess. 2:6–12, 2:17–20; 3:1–10; 4:13–18; 2 Thess. 3:14–15)
As mentioned above, Paul had a deep sense of compassion for the people of God. Even though he did ministry in the manner which pleased God, it did not mean that he ignored people and used this God-driven attitude as a vice for such a practice. After his reference to his motivation for ministry, Paul recalls his treatment of the Thessalonians with these words in 2:7: “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” He goes on to say that they did not only impart the Gospel, but their own souls. These people had become very dear to the Apostle and his companions. He had a deep heart and felt compassion for them as a mother would her own children. There is no greater way to express human devotion and love. Later on in 2:17–20, he reveals his great desire to see them. In 3:1–10, he expresses his joy on hearing the news of their condition. Paul genuinely loved these people, and he was not afraid to express it. Paul also showed his affection for them, in that he continually exhorted them as a father, to walk worthy of their calling as God’s children. What a balance we see here in this beloved Apostle of God. He not only cared for those under his charge with compassion, but also with exhortation knowing that God desired them to be holy.