“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Paul did not set out to write this passage to instruct the readers on how a father relates to his children. Instead, he is describing good church leadership in terms easily understood by the Christians in Thessalonica. He is contrasting his loving leadership style with a more heavy-handed approach. He is writing about leadership, not parenting, and yet his whole point rests on the assumption that people know what a father is to do. Paul could make that assumption with the Thessalonians. I am not sure we can make that same assumption today.
So to understand Paul’s illustration can not only be instructive about leadership style, it also can remind us what fathering is all about. So Paul dealt with the church members like a father deals with his children – what does that mean? What does Paul assume is common knowledge about the role of a father?
A father is an encourager. He works to give his children courage to do right things and handle any and every situation without fear. He gives support to his daughter so she knows she has someone behind her as she serves the Lord. He spurs on his son to live for God with love and good works. In an age of “positive action” we must remember not to confuse encouragement with flattery. Sometimes encouragement has a corrective side: “Hey son, that was a harsh tone of voice. Come on, show some kindness!” Encouragement does not mean “all positive talk, all the time!” But when a father encourages, he does inspire, hearten, and cheer his child’s growth in Christ.
A father comforts. He knows when to stand by his child, hold his hand, or embrace him. Life can be tough. One time or another everyone experiences hardship, affliction, distress, challenges and difficulty. A father’s words can be soothing to his daughter. A father’s presence can bring her solace. Of course all this implies this father is aware of what is going on in the life of his son or daughter. There can be no comfort without an understanding of the pain. So a father works hard to be in touch with his child’s feelings about his life experiences. What grief is he facing? What troubles her spirit? What sins have taken their toll? A father receives comfort, assurance, and forgiveness from God and passes them all on to his children. A father at war with God is not going to bring much real comfort to his children.
A father urges. He charges (KJV), urges (NIV, NLT), and implores (NASB) his children to live a life worthy of God. Paul conveys a sense of urgency about this responsibility. A father vigorously and earnestly advocates godly living. Fathers need to consider what they are most passionate about with their children: what do I most often urge my children to do or accomplish? Good grades? A leading role in the musical? Sports? Some fathers constantly urge their children to excel in the classroom or on the field of play but rarely, if ever, appeal for godliness. Paul’s assumption is that a Christian father is going to be urging his son or daughter to be living for God above all else. Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage reminds us such urging goes beyond mere lecturing to modeling the Christian life for your children: “. . . showing you step by step how to live well before God. . . .”
Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonica his leadership style was like a father. In doing so, he reminds us what basic fathering is all about.