Next Mother’s Day, instead of trying to find yet another mother somewhere in the Bible, maybe you could preach about pastoring. Get one of those carnations you’re handing out to all the mothers and pin it on your own shirt, and then read …
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 Thess. 2:7-8 ESV)
While the Thessalonian believers were all newborn-again spiritual infants, most of us serve congregations of all spiritual ages, including a few who have never learned to act their age. But no one outgrows their need for spiritual mothering, in keeping with Paul’s example.
It’s not clear whether verse seven originally read, “we were gentle among you” or “we were like children” (NIV). It’s the difference of one Greek letter. In either case, Paul didn’t throw his apostolic weight around like a CEO in a nursery. Pastors pumped up on authority hurt people.
“A nursing mother” suggests the dependence spiritual infants have upon us to provide them with the mother’s milk of the Word in sips they can digest. The phrase also adds an intimacy to the statement, “we were ready to share with you … our own selves,” (which can also mean our own souls). Our gospel preaching goes farther when our lives are an open book.
Notice, “taking care of her own children.” We’re not nannies. These lambs of Jesus are oursto nourish and care for. The Greek word for care means cherish, nurture; literally, to warm.
“Being affectionately desirous of you,” suggests yearning, like a new mom who keeps calling the babysitter every fifteen minutes. In verse 17 Paul said that when he was away from them he felt orphaned, homesick. Pastors aren’t quite ourselves without our people.
Paul’s description of his deep love for those believers almost feels over the top to me. I loved the congregations I served but I don’t know if I would have ever put it quite so strongly. And I know that some pastors grow so exasperated and exhausted by their people that they’d really like to wrap them in a blanket and drop them off at the fire station for someone else to raise. Mother Goose put it,
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Paul didn’t always feel so gushy about his congregations. Just ask the Corinthians or Galatians about the sting of his scolding. Nonetheless, this description of pastoring is our model. It doesn’t mean we put up with disobedient or faithless shenanigans. Discipline and meaty meals are part of pastoring, too. In fact, in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 Paul said there were some lazy and disruptive people who needed to go to “time out,” i.e., who the rest of the family should “have nothing to do with.”
Mothers, of course, dotheir loving even when they don’t feel like it. So do we. We also pray that the Spirit forms us to be the mother-like pastor our people need, remembering that their hunger is our responsibility, their crying calls for our comfort, their rest requires our quiet words of peace, and their maturity in Christ is our hope, our joy, and our crown of glory. Happy Belated Mother’s Day.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.