Love Like a Mother
Passage: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9
I said last week that we were going to cover vv. 7-12 this Sunday, but as I began writing this lesson, I decided to make it two lessons. There’s just a lot of food for conversation and application in these verses. But let’s start with some review. Like I said last week, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is all about the character of Paul, Silas, and Timothy as they ministered among the Thessalonians. They were not like the travelling philosophers, many of whom were in it only for themselves. Rather, Paul, Silas, and Timothy were in it to please God and to help people; and their actions proved it.
Now, when we come down to vv. 7-12, there are two overarching metaphors that control this passage. Can you find them? (mother and father) A while back, Pastor Kit mentioned an article that had to do with the fact that children need both a “mommy” kind of love and a “daddy” love. Of course, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say these days, but we all know it’s true. Mothers and fathers tend to express love differently. (Mommy says, “Aw! Let me kiss your booboo.” And Daddy says, “Shake it off.”) And yet, according to this passage, our love for other people (and specifically those we’re mentoring) should resemble both the love of a mother and the love of a father. So this week’s lesson is going to be “Love like a Mother” and next week’s will be “Love like a Father.”
I want you to think big when it comes to application in this passage. Because the Bible says that we are supposed to love everyone. However, I think it’s also valuable for us to consider the specific context of this passage. What was the nature of the relationship between Paul and the Thessalonians? (evangelist-convert, apostle-church) Are any of you apostles? No, we don’t have those anymore. So bridging the interpretational gap, what are some other relationships to which this passage would apply? (pastor-church, teacher-class, parent-child, mentor-mentee)
Hopefully, many of you in here are in one of those relationships I just mentioned. In other words, there is someone you are pouring into and caring for on a spiritual level. What I’d like you to do right now is to write down the name of that person. If there are several people, you can write down several names. If you don’t have a piece of paper and a pen, just make a mental list. If there’s no one in your life who fits that description and you’ve been saved for some time, then your application today is to get somebody. If you can’t find another Christian, find an unbeliever and start pouring into him and sharing with him the gospel. If there’s no one like that in your life, I want you to write down a tentative name of someone you could minister to.
Now that you have that name, here is my proposition for this week: you must love that person like a mother (vv. 7-9).
I want you to see the image Paul is painting here. Do you see the word “cherishes” in v. 7? It was used outside the New Testament to refer to keeping someone warm with your own body heat. So the picture in v. 7 is that of a nursing mom hugging her baby close to keep him warm. There is perhaps no better picture of selfless love that of a mom with her baby. Can we just do a little bit of group meditation this morning? How does a mother love her newborn and what can we learn from that?
1. A mother is gentle.
(Now, just as an aside, there is a textual variant here. Some of your Bibles may read “we were infants among you,” in which case, the focus would be on the simplicity of Paul’s motives. However, either way, the idea of gentleness comes in with the word “cherishes” and the picture of a mother.)
So let me ask you this: are you gentle? Men especially, are you gentle? (It’s more instinctual for the ladies, but it’s important that we be gentle, too.)
Mothers have to be gentle because babies are fragile! You can’t treat a six-week-old like a three-year-old, nor can you treat a three-year-old like a ten-year-old. You can’t treat a ten-year-old like a sixteen-year-old, etc. The younger the person, the gentler you need to be. Also, certain personality types or circumstances call for a gentle touch. Nobody knows these things better than a mother.
I’m so glad my wife is gentle with our children. In our family, we’ve noticed that I enjoy the babies more as they get older, when I can throw them up in the air and tickle them and I’m not afraid of breaking them any longer. But Elise loves that little baby stage, when they’re so little and helpless. If it were up to me to keep that newborn alive, it would be in trouble. But Elise is patient and nurturing.
One of the areas in which we must express gentle, motherly love is with our words. Inconsiderate words can cause a ton of pain. If you’ve ever heard the little children’s ditty, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” it’s not true! Words hurt deeply. Sometimes I think we get the notion that as long as I am not being purposefully malicious in what I say, I’m off the hook. But the Bible holds us to a higher standard. Not only must you avoid being purposefully malicious, you must avoid being unintentionally hurtful. In other words, you need to think about what you will say and about how that will come across to the hearer. You say, “People are too sensitive.” That may be the case. But that doesn’t give you the right to be insensitive.
Gentle speech is especially important when it comes to mentoring relationships. There are few things in life that hurt as much as a harsh word spoken by a parent. Your friend at school could say that to you, but for your mom to say it to you cuts deeply. When we enter into a mentoring relationship with another person, we hold a tremendous amount of influence over that person. It is very important that we steward that influence by speaking gently.
2. A mother is compassionate.
There is this deep emotional bond that exists between a mother and her child. Verse 8 points this out (v. 8). The word for “affectionately longing” was used outside the New Testament to describe the longing of a parent for a child who had passed away. If that’s not picturesque language, I don’t know what is!
My dad had a little brother who died as a toddler. His name was Steven. To this day some forty-five years later, my Grandma continues to talk about Steven. Why? Because he is her son, and even though she only got to know him for a very short time, she loved him deeply and she misses him.
There’s a fallacy having to do with biblical love that is very common in the church. Many of you probably have heard it and perhaps even taken it for granted. The fallacy is this: biblical love is not an emotion. “You don’t have to like him; you just have to love him.” How many of you have heard that before? That statement is false. Biblical love includes emotions. Now, I get what people are trying to say when they say something like that. They’re trying to remind us that feelings without service is useless, kind of like faith without works is dead. Also, I think they’re trying to remind us not to wait around for a feeling before deciding to obey. Faith says, “I’m going to obey God now, even if it’s hard, and trust Him for the grace.” However, biblical love clearly has an emotional component to it! Just read 1 Thessalonians 2:8! Paul says, “We sacrificed (that’s the action side of love) because you had become dear to us (that’s the emotional side).” One of the greatest arguments for biblical love including emotion is 1 Corinthians 13:3– “Though I give my body to be burned, but have not love”–well wait a second. How can you give your body to be burned but have not love if love is nothing more than an action? You see, biblical love includes emotion–which means that if you do not have feelings for someone God has called you to love, then you’re not where God wants you to be!
Some husbands think they are fulfilling their God-given responsibility because they go through the motions of leading and providing, even though their hearts are cold to their wives. If that’s you, stop lying to yourself! It’s a good thing that you lead and provide for your wife (don’t stop doing those things!), but you are not fulfilling your God-given responsibility to love your wife if you don’t have any feelings for her! And don’t blame it on her, either! Don’t blame it on your circumstances. Don’t say that you’ve “fallen out of love” or make the excuse that you’ve never loved her. God joined you to your wife, so now it is His will that you love her emotionally, and He can give you the grace to do that.
One application of this emotional side of love is sympathy. Do you know how to empathize? Do you know how to provide emotional support? You say, “Pastor Kris, I’m terrible at that stuff.” God has gifted us all differently, so some of us are going to be naturally better at this than others, but we all have the responsibility to work on it. You can’t just say, “I’m terrible at that, so I don’t have to express empathy.” The Bible says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” So work at it! Pray that God would help you to empathize better. Pray, “Lord, give me compassion.” Try to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, so to speak.
I think it’s worth pointing out, some people are naturally more emotionally savvy, but no one is naturally loving. We all need God’s help to love other people! So don’t be ashamed to ask for God’s help. Then also, expect Him to answer! And that means getting up from your knees and giving it a try. Even if being compassionate is awkward for you and you feel like you’re all thumbs, I can almost guarantee you, the other person will notice that you are trying, and it will mean a lot to them.
As we come back to our passage, I want to ask you this. Why does a mother love her baby so much? It is because she carried that baby in her womb and gave birth to him or her! Notice the words “her own” in v. 7. In those days, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a servant to nurse a baby, rather than the baby’s biological mother. But Paul makes clear that he is referring to the baby’s own biological mother. Why does that matter? Well, it’s undeniable that there is a special bond between a mother and her biological children. (That is not in any way to say that a mom cannot love an adopted child in the same way, but it’s still different.) And in this passage, Paul probably uses that metaphor because the Thessalonians are his own “spiritual children,” so to speak. He led them to the Lord.
If you’ve ever led someone to Christ, you know that there is a natural bond that develops to where you want to see that person succeed. I pray that you all have the joy of experiencing that. It’s an awesome thing to be a mother physically. To give birth to a child and then help him or her grow up. In the same way, it’s a wonderful thing to be a spiritual mother or father–to lead someone else to the Lord and disciple them. If only one or two people in the church are having kids spiritually, then the church will grow really slowly. But if lots of people in the church are leading people to the Lord and discipling them, it can be an explosive, exciting thing. I hope that’s your vision for our church, and I hope you take part in that vision.
3. A mother sacrifices for her children.
What are some of typical phrases that you find in Mother’s Day cards? (“Thanks for all the little things you do,” etc.) If you were to do a study of Mother’s Day cards, I think you would find that mothers are known for self-sacrifice. From the moment a woman becomes pregnant, her life begins to change. Her body changes. Her schedule changes. Once her baby is born, her schedule really changes! Her entire life becomes entwined with those “littles,” as moms call them. It is staggering to think of all the ways my wife has already sacrificed and will sacrifice for our children. She does it every day. She is literally giving her life away to love and raise those kids. It’s a beautiful thing. And Paul did the same kind of thing spiritually. He gladly sacrificed himself for the Thessalonians (v. 8).
We’re coming up on the Christmas season–what’s the most precious gift you can give somebody? It’s certainly not money, is it? The most precious gift you can give is probably the gospel. However, at the same time, I should probably qualify that. Because how much does it really cost you to hand a tract to someone? Not very much, right? So the most precious gift you can give someone is the gospel within the context of personal self-sacrifice. The gospel is the most precious gift when it comes with a piece of yourself.
How did Jesus give us the gospel? He spoke it, for sure; but he also died on the cross for our sins. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:15, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls, though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.”
What would it look like for you to give the gospel along with a piece of your life? There was a church member last year who bought something from someone on Craigslist, only to find that the person who was selling the item had been affected by Hurricane Harvey and was having some major financial difficulties. But rather than just saying, “I’ll pray for you,” this church member took some time to learn more about the situation, prayed about it, and then followed up and gave the lady some money towards meeting her needs. That is an example of giving the gospel along with a piece of your life. I think another example of this is Matt Hubbard and Ray Rollfinke. Just ask either Ray or Cindi, and they will tell you all about the ways that Matt and Shaylene as well as Ken and Susie have helped them as they shared the gospel with them. There are many other examples as well, but those are just two that stand out. Are you willing to give the gospel along with a piece of your life?
What if you got to know your unsaved neighbors so well that they were comfortable leaving their kids with you while they went on a date night? What if you decided to call, text, or email your unsaved brother consistently and be kind, even though he doesn’t reciprocate? This sort of evangelism takes a lot of time and effort, but it bears good fruit. Always try to give a slice of your life along with the gospel.
Why don’t we give ourselves away more often? Because we think, “There’s only so much of me to go around!” And to some extent, that’s true. Simple math would say that if you cut the pie into ten pieces, then give one piece away, you are left with nine pieces. But I want you to see Jesus’ math on this issue (Mat 16:25). Jesus said, “If you keep all of that pie for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give it away, you will save it.” Verses like these free us to give our lives away like Jesus did! Because we know that by giving it away, there will only be more for us. It’s an amazing promise.
4. A mother expects nothing in return.
There are a lot of “You scratch my back; I’ll scratch yours” kinds of relationships out in the world. But the mother can’t love her baby like that because the baby can’t really do anything for her! What’s more, she doesn’t want to love her baby like that! A mom knows that for many years, this will be a very lopsided relationship. She will be doing almost all of the giving. And she’s okay with that. She joyfully accepts that responsibility.
Like a mother, Paul and his team loved the Thessalonians without expecting anything in return. One of the ways they showed the Thessalonians they expected nothing in return was by supporting themselves financially (v. 9). When Paul, Silas, and Timothy were ministering in Thessalonica, they worked “secular jobs” (we don’t know what Silas and Timothy did, but Paul was a tentmaker) so that they would not have to burden their new converts financially. They wanted the Thessalonians to know, “We’re not looking for anything from you; we’re just trying to help you.”
We talked last week about how to distinguish ourselves as evangelists (in the more generic sense of the term) from salesmen. Point #4 is an important part of that answer. People need to be confident that there is no “catch.” And they need to know that, not just because we say it, but because we show them that it’s true.
Paul expressed this same sentiment in another place in 2 Corinthians 12:14, where he said, “Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” Children don’t support parents; parents support children. So Paul says, “Of course I’m not going to expect anything in return from you, because I’m the parent; you’re the children.”
Sometimes mentors are tempted to get frustrated the people they are ministering to because those people are constantly requiring them to sacrifice. But if you go into the relationship with a different set of expectations and pretend you’re a nursing mom, suddenly it doesn’t seem so unusual. Babies are going to cry. They are going to need their diapers changed. And they can’t give anything back. But that’s okay. That’s the nature of the relationship.
Maybe you have a child or a friend or someone you are working with, and that person is costing you a lot of time, energy, and money. Instead of getting frustrated, be the grown-up, so to speak, and think of it like parenting.
You don’t become a parent because you want someone to serve you. You don’t become a parent to make money. If you ask a couple, “Why did you start having kids?” and they say, “Well, we were just kind of bored; we needed something to do,” that’s a bad sign! Your child may turn out to be a close friend one day, but you don’t have kids because you need a shoulder to cry on. However, on the flip side, it is important that I say this (and we’ll close with this). Anyone who’s been a parent knows that children do bless you. They are a blessing in ways you could never put a price tag on. So much so that parents often realize in amazement, “We are the ones benefitting the most form this relationship!” Our girls fill our lives with so much joy… Elise and I would never trade them for the world, no matter how much work they are! Anaya and Felicity and Mollie are our most precious treasures, and they bless us all the time.
And if you become a parent spiritually or you adopt some struggling Christian under your wing, you will find the same thing to be true. Yes, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. There’s no getting around that. But at the same time, you will be blessed beyond belief, and your life will be so much fuller because of it.