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While Paul was in Athens he kept thinking about God’s Family in Thessalonica. Paul remembered how badly he’d been treated by the mobs there. He’d warned the Family that they’d be treated badly, too, but he still really wanted to make sure that they were doing okay. Finally, he couldn’t stand it any longer, so he sent Timothy to check on them.
Do you remember how we’ve talked about how a leader in God’s Family is meant to be a shepherd of the sheep? Both Ezekiel and Jesus talked about people who called themselves shepherds or leaders, but who did not take care of the sheep. Booooo.
In a few minutes I’m going to ask you if you think Paul was a good shepherd or a bad shepherd, so listen carefully.
Paul continued to work, work, work at spreading the Good News… but he still wondered, “Are those in Thessalonica standing firm in their trust in Jesus? Are they hurt? Is Timothy okay?” He thought of each of them name by name, face by face.
Finally, one day, Timothy returned with the news. And he told Paul all about how wonderfully the Christians in Thessalonica were doing. Woo-hoo!
So Paul (with Silas and Timothy) wrote them a letter…
To the church of the Thessalonians:
We’re so thankful as we pray for you. We remember your achievements produced by faith, your hard work inspired by love, and how the hope that you have in Jesus means sheer, dogged endurance in the life that you live before God.” (Sheer, dogged endurance is that never quitting heart of “I’m not going to stop. Not going to stop. Not going to stop.”)
We know that God has chosen you because our good news didn’t come to you with just words, but with power, the Holy Spirit, and a deep recognition of your sin and need for a rescuer.
God’s word is ringing out from you to people everywhere. Wherever we go we hear about your faith in God. We aren’t telling them about you, they’re telling us about you… And how you turned away from useless idols to serve the Living and True God!
Even though we just had suffered terribly in Philippi right before we came to you, God gave us the courage to be bold with you. (That only goes to show that our purpose was to please God! We weren’t after your praise or money.)
We were like gentle children among you. We shared our very lives with you along with the Good News. We loved you so much, like a mother with her newborn baby. We treated you like a Daddy does his children: encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God because He called you to share in His Kingdom and glory.
When we came to you, you responded as if our words were the very words from God — which of course they were! And this Word will keep doing its wonderful work in all those who believe.
We know you are suffering persecution like all of us… just like the prophets of long ago did and just like Jesus did.
Even though we’ve had to be away from you for a little while, our hearts are still with you. Do you know what gives us great hope and joy? Do you know what our reward and crown will be when we stand before Jesus when He comes back on the clouds? It‘s you! You are our crown and joy!
When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we sent Timothy to you to make you strong, lift you up, and keep you steady even though things seem shaky right now.
But now Timothy has just come back and has given us the happy news that your faith and love are strong, and that you miss us as much as we miss you. That news helps us to feel strong in the middle of our hard stuff. It’s given us new energy!
Well, what do you think? Does Paul sound like a good shepherd or a bad shepherd? Yes. Good. How could you tell?
Because his LIFE was all wrapped up and intertwined in the sheep — like a mother, like a father, like a brother. He cared. He was worried about them. He wanted to be with them, and it really hurt him when he couldn’t get there.
And it wasn’t as if Paul didn’t have hard stuff happening to him, too. Pretty much everywhere Paul went, he got lied about, whipped, beat up or stoned. So he had his own set of problems to face.
But Paul was so wrapped up in their lives, that their problems were also his problems. His letter was a way of running toward the sheep to help protect them.
That is the heart of a good shepherd. That is what a good father does. That is what a good leader does. It is not someone with a name tag or piece of paper or who does it just because it’s his job. It is someone who takes care of the sheep because he loves each and every one of them.
Oh yes, we thank God for you and are praying for you, day and night! May God our Father and our Lord Jesus let us come see you sooooon! And may the Lord make your love for each other and all people grow and flow and OVER-flow, just like our love for you overflows. And then may He make your hearts strong, blameless, and set apart as special before God when Jesus comes back with all His Shining Ones.
Remember what we told you… about how to live pleasing to God, and you’re doing great. But keep going. Don’t stop! Do it more and more.
And we don’t need to remind you to love each other. You’re doing that. But do that more and more, too! And add to that having a goal of living a quiet life, working hard with your hands so that when other people see your everyday life, they may respect you.
And I gotta make this clear to you. There is hope in the resurrection, so don’t worry about those believers you love who have fallen asleep in what some people call “death.” Our Lord is COMING BACK on the clouds. So be watchful, be clear-headed, be ready.
He died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. So encourage one another by reminding each other of these things, and build each other up, just as you’re doing.
Appreciate and hold in high regard and love those who work hard among you, who care for you and who scold you.
Live in peace with each other. Warn those who are idle and disruptive. Encourage the sad, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always put effort into doing what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Rejoice all the time. Pray non-stop, give thanks in every circumstance; for this is God’s will for you in Christ.
And don’t suffocate the Spirit.
Pray for us and give everyone a little kiss and read this letter to all the brothers and sisters. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Signing off, Paul, with Silas and Timothy.
Not long after that, Paul wrote them another letter. It was sorta like a PS to that letter that said: “Hey… We’ve heard your faith and love are growing more and more. We also heard some people are trying to trick you by saying we said stuff we didn’t say. So let me beat those wolves away and clear that up for you: No, the Day of the Lord has not already come. You didn’t miss it. You know that day will come as a surprise. So stand firm and live properly like we already told you. Don’t be lazy. Don’t be disruptive. Don’t be busybodies. And if anyone doesn’t obey these instructions, keep away from them until they learn their lesson. This is Paul, signing off.”
Paul is one of the best examples of a good shepherd in the Bible. He fed God’s lambs with God’s Word. He warned them of thorns and sins to not get caught up in. And he protected them from the wolves and their trickery. And this is just one group of sheep Paul is taking care of. In the stories to come, you’ll see more.