We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.
-1 Thessalonians 2:4
Back in Paul's day, traveling teachers would often come into town to give impressive speeches in order to attract paying students. It might have been easy for the Thessalonians to mistake Paul as one of these "Sophists." But, as Professor Amy Peeler of Wheaton College points out in a recent article, Paul uses his letter to say that unlike these traveling teachers, who were only out to make a personal profit, Paul was teaching among them to bring them into new life in Christ.
Peeler writes that Paul makes three arguments in his letter to prove that he is not like the Sophists. First, he points out that he is suffering from his commitment to preaching the gospel. He came to the Thessalonians after having left a storm of hostility directed toward him in Philippi, and yet he was still preaching the same message that got him in hot water now to the Thessalonians. Surely, "if he had been a teacher primarily focused upon his own comfort and betterment, he was obviously preaching the wrong message!"
The second argument he makes is that God has put a stamp of approval on his ministry. "Paul asserts that he and his fellow evangelists have been tested by God," Professor Peeler writes, and "God has testified to the truth of Paul’s message with power and the presence of the Holy Spirit. What better reference could Paul present?"
Finally, "Paul writes compellingly and with heartfelt intensity about his feelings for this community." He could have come in "and thrown his considerable apostolic weight around," Professor Peeler explains, but "Paul says that he and Silas cared so deeply for the Thessalonians that he gave to them, in addition to the wonderful news of Jesus Christ, their very souls. And they have given them as a nurse gives of her own body to provide milk for a child. Paul was willing to give of himself because he loved the Thessalonians so."
Paul writes that he does not preach and teach the way he does to please mortals, but to please God. And it is clear, from all our readings this Sunday that it is not possible to please God without love.
In a different letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that you can be clever, you can speak like an angel, you can command respect and you can move mountains, but if you do any of these things without love, you're no more than a clanging bell or crashing cymbal. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and it never ends. Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
You can find all our readings for Sunday HERE. Note that during ordinary time, we are using the readings from "Track 2"