We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
The Book of 1 Thessalonians
Two launchpads for meditation. The first launchpad considers the context of the book of 1 Thessalonians.
Paul and Silas had shared the good news about Jesus to the Thessalonians for a period of about a month. Despite their short time of ministry, many Thessalonians believed. However, faced with persecution, Paul and Silas were forced to leave. Ever since leaving, the missionaries desired to return but were unable to.
Thus, 1 Thessalonians 2:8 should be understood within the context of missionaries who have been forced away from those to whom they have ministered. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 is part of a broader assurance to the Thessalonians that the missionaries’ absence is not because of a lack of love.
Given the historical setting of traveling sages out for profit and praise, it is important for the Thessalonians to understand the genuineness of Paul and Silas. Prior to verse 8, Paul writes in verses 2-6, “You know how badly we had been treated at Philippi just before we came to you and how much we suffered there. Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition. So you can see we were not preaching with any deceit or impure motives or trickery. For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.”
Despite the threat of persecution, Paul and Silas came to the Thessalonians and spoke as humble messengers. Additionally, rather than taking money from the Thessalonians, verse 9 indicates that the missionaries toiled day and night, earning money so as not to be a burden. Overall, their motives were pure.
In context, 1 Thessalonians 2:8 expresses the genuine and deep love of Paul and Silas towards the Thessalonians. Rather than delighting in praise and profits like other traveling teachers, Paul and Silas’ love for the Thessalonians overflows in a delight to share not only the gospel of God but their lives as well. Rather than taking from the Thessalonians, Paul and Silas gave of their whole selves- their time, energy, and inner emotional lives.
Although only developed over a month, the intimacy between the missionaries and the Thessalonians went deep. It is to this intimacy that we turn to next.
The Love of Missionaries
The second launchpad for meditation explores how the missionaries’ love for the Thessalonians is like parental affection. The language Paul uses to describe their love for the Thessalonians is uncommon, occurring no where else in the New Testament and only rarely in literature of the era.
The Greek term translated as “we loved you so much” can be understood as “desire greatly” or “long for”. Its uses outside the Bible include a burial inscription describing how the parents long for their deceased son. Paul and Silas loved and desired greatly the Thessalonians, like parents longing for an absent child.
Elsewhere in the chapter, Paul explicitly describes the missionaries’ relationship with the Thessalonians as like that of a parent. In verse 7, Paul describes the missionaries’ relationship with the Thessalonians like that of a nursing mother taking care of her own children. The metaphor of a nursing mother points to a nurturing, gentle relationship of tender, caring affection.
In verse 12, the missionaries are described as treating the Thessalonians like a father treats his own children- encouraging, exhorting, and urging them to live lives that God would consider worthy. The focus on moral instruction and behavior fits within the cultural context of the role of fathers in the ancient world. Fathers filled the role of socializing children into society. Being like fathers, Paul and Silas, re-socialize the Thessalonians away from society’s morals into the ethics of the community of Christians.
With Paul and Silas as models to follow, 1 Thessalonians 2:8 is an encouragement to not share the gospel for personal gain or in a loveless way. Share the gospel of God, but also share your time, energy, and inner emotional life. Allow your love for others to overflow in delight over not only sharing the gospel of God but your life as well.