By Connie W. Adams
Paul could hardly stand the waiting. There he was in Athens where he received a good “letting alone” after being called a “Babbler” and where his soul was grieved to see the city wholly given to idolatry. Yet, in the place where he needed the comfort of his friends and co-workers the most, he chose to remain alone. The reason was that he could not bear any longer the thought that his new children in the faith back at Thessalonica might be floundering under the oppression of persecution and wavering in their faith. Paul and his companions had established a large congregation there but had been forced to leave sooner than planned. But they were still in Paul’s heart. He had to hear how things were going with them and he was willing to face Athens alone so Timothy and Silas could go back and strengthen these babes in Christ (see 1 Thess. 3:1-8).
At last, after days, and perhaps weeks, of agony in his spirit, Timothy came and caught up with Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:5). He brought good news. The brethren at Thessalonica were doing well, continuing in faith and love. They remembered Paul very well and longed to see him. Then Paul wrote, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.”
True preachers of the word are as solicitous for the spiritual welfare of those they have led to Christ as a mother is over her own child, or a father for his whole family. When they hear that one whom they have led to the Lord has been overcome by the world and has turned aside, they “suffer loss.” That is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. “If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” When the fire, whether of persecution or final judgment, tries the work we have built upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, and some are found to be chaff, devoured in the heat, there is a great sense of loss for the one who tried to save the one who proved to be unstable. What a disappointment.
There is room here for much to be learned by both preachers and those whom they teach. Too often there is a great gulf between the teacher and the taught. The motivation of faithful gospel preachers (I do not speak here of mercenaries or glory seekers) is a mystery to many brethren in the Lord. They do not understand what makes these men “tick.” What drives them? For the most part, most of them could do much better financially. Why would a man forego pursuing a career, especially with the education and skills in communication such a man usually possesses to devote himself to study and the preaching and teaching of the word of God? Ah, my brethren, they have meat to eat that you know nothing about. You are their reward. Paul said as much about the Thessalonians. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thess. 2:19-21). To see you obey the gospel and be saved by the blood of the Lamb brings indescribable joy. Then to see you grow, overcome trials, resist temptation, mature into strong, active Christians that is our reward. But to see you weaken and fall into the snare of Satan, or to see you not growing and maturing that is our greatest grief.
But there is cause for soul searching among those of us who preach when we have reached the place that we have a harsh, bitter and vindictive attitude toward the very ones for whom we have expended such energy. Self-willed preachers can destroy that which they once sought to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. In fact, they can themselves become the fire to test the brethren to see if they are gold or chaff. How many churches have been wrecked by men who lost the vision of what their work is all about. We all need to learn from Paul. Circumstances forced him to leave Thessalonica but he was still deeply concerned for their souls. If Paul could not stay and work, he could part with the company of Silas and Timothy, though they would have been a great help and comfort to him, and especially at Athens.
All preachers do not have pleasant experiences every place they go. Sometimes they run afoul of those who cannot tolerate the whole counsel of God. Sometimes they are victims of infighting which began long before they arrived and will continue long after they are gone. There are “false brethren” and Paul listed them with the “perils” he faced for Christ (2 Cor. 11:26). But still, some men forget who they are and whose servants the brethren are. Isn’t it strange that the same brethren who are reported glowingly to be of a “mind to work,” “talented,” having great “maturity” and with good strong leadership skills, can suddenly become the meanest, most thoughtless, most unsound group you ever saw? Some men cannot even let it go after they leave for other regions. They have to meddle. They speak and write self-serving articles which continually take jabs and pokes at the objects of their displeasure.
For all such, we recommend the words of Paul concerning the Thessalonians brethren after he left them. He writes, “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse with her own children.” He said he was “affectionately longing” for them, that they were “dear” to him. Paul was willing to support himself lest he be a “burden” to them. His behavior among them was “devout,” “just” and “blameless.” He had “exhorted,” “comforted” and “charged” them “as a father does his own children” and all of that was to the end that they might “walk worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:7-12). How about it, gentlemen? Is that how you honestly feel about the brethren? Or is it “them vs. me”?
If all of us could absorb this truth from Paul and his behavior toward those brethren, it would solve many splits and splinters, restore peace, unjangle some nerves, and maybe save some souls which are ill-prepared for the judgment. Think about it, would you?
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 1, p. 3-4
January 6, 1994