“But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).
Many Christians think of the apostle Paul as severe, strict and hard, but in fact the opposite is true. It depends on who he was dealing with. To those who sought to undermine God’s word he was severe, but to those who loved the Lord he was a gentle and loving teacher. Gentleness rather than severity will always win the day, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone” (Proverbs 25:15). Unbelievers see God as some ogre reigning from the sky, but to those who know Christ as Saviour, though He is a God of justice, we know He reigns in love, “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11). Our society does not value gentleness, instead it values assertiveness, aggressiveness and the demanding of rights, but for Christians it is a different matter.
The gentle man
Congregations often forget that the preacher, pastor and evangelist have feelings too. If Paul was a hard-hearted, merciless teacher, then it cannot be seen in these verses; instead they reveal him to be warm, loving and gentle. Paul treated people with gentleness. He cared for them like a mother or a nurse caring for her children. Even when he had to deal with those who had been snared by false teaching he exhibits his gentle spirit. “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). The aim of gentleness is to win people to the truth. A hard and belligerent approach will harden people and keep them away from the Lord. “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Paul, being no hypocrite, practiced what he preached, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit is in the business of making gentle people out of those who follow Christ. “Mildness and tenderness greatly recommend religion, and are most conformable to God’s gracious dealing with sinners, in and by the gospel. This is the way to win people” (Matthew Henry). This gentleness implies that Paul did not act as though he was a very important and superior person, rather he was willing to spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
The nursing mother
The word “nurse” (trophos) means “one who nourishes”, and refers to a mother watching over and feeding her children. In his commentary on this verse John Wesley writes, “But we were gentle – mild, tender, in the midst of you – like a hen surrounded with her young. Even as a nurse cherisheth her own children – the offspring of her own womb.” Paul, along with his evangelistic team, learned that the gospel message must be adapted to the needs of those they were ministering to without compromising the purity of God’s word. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Timothy 2:24). Maybe we can now grasp something of what Paul meant when he wrote, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
“Being affectionately desirous of you” and “You were dear to us” speak of Paul’s love and concern for the Thessalonian believers. The word “affectionately” (homeiromenoi) was used in a nursery setting, and suggests, in context with verse 8, a mother who would willingly give up her life to protect her young. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). It is highly likely that when Paul said, “Also our own souls” he was speaking on a deeper level of affection altogether. “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). Paul not only gave a message, but gave himself too. This meant that he devoted long hours, to the point of weariness, in order to minister to the believers under his care. As a loving parent, he was willing to forego his own rights rather than be a burden to the church. It is very rare to find believers that not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. The unwillingness to give our all to the work of God is probably the missing part of the jigsaw in our churches today. “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
Without this level of love, gentleness and commitment we become a burden to the church. Paul is a model of a true Christian, especially one that has the responsibility of guiding others to maturity in Christ. Paul truly had the nature of Christ in him, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) … “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Maybe we need to take a leaf out of Paul’s book and make this part of our character too. “To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men” (Titus 3:2) … “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Gentleness is not weakness or cowardliness. Gentleness is all about care and concern for others, especially the weak and vulnerable. It’s about putting your own desires on hold while we do what God wants us to do for another person.