I apologize that I sent an unedited version of today’s post. Here is a corrected copy.
The word of the day is “affection.” In this season of the Nativity Fast we pray and fast to intensify our hope in the coming of our Savior. But are we just marking time before the Savior appears? In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, Paul reflects on his success among the Thessalonians. He recalls that he preached the Gospel to the Gentiles in Thessalonica. But in our reading, the apostle discloses that he earnestly desired to give the believers something more than the Gospel. He writes, “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (vs. 8). These words suggest that we must be busy serving the Lord even as we wait for him to appear. But following His example of love, our service should be permeated with warmth and affection.
Motivations for Gospel Proclamation
Paul refers to many motives for preaching the Gospel: to please others (vs. 4); to satisfy covetousness, that is “greediness” (vs. 5) (Strong’s #4124, 203); and to earn glory, that is, good opinion, praise, and honor (vs. 6.) (Strong’s 1394, 71). Indeed, Paul recognizes that some proclaim Christ because they are envious of the success of others (Philippians 1:15) (Strong’s #5358, 263), and some because of strife, that is, for the sake of debate (Philippians 1:15) (Strong’s 2054, 102). Others do it out of good will, he says. He adds that they should do it out of love. (Philippians 1:16).
Paul puts himself and his co-workers among the latter group. However, one can preach the Gospel for less than honorable purposes. Flattering words can be a “cloak for covetousness” (vs. 5). And what may seem to be rightful expectations of payment can hide the sinister aims of greed and deceit (vs. 3).
The Gift-Wrapping of Affection
But it is much more difficult to fake care and affection for others. Paul’s refusal to use flattery or to burden his flock with monetary demands were signs of his sincere fondness for them. Paul writes that he and his colleagues were glad to share the Gospel with the believers. Moreover, they were happy to give them their “very lives” (vs. 8) –in Greek, their “very souls.”
St. John Chrysostom asks, which is greater to preach the Gospel or to give one’s soul? He says to proclaim the Gospel is a good thing. But “to give our souls… is a greater thing than that” (NfPf1:13) because it is more difficult and costly.
Chrysostom says that the apostle and his companions were willing “spend their lives upon their beloved” (NfPf1:13). What was the reason that they were willing to devote their very selves to their flock in Thessalonica? The apostle answers, “You have become dear to us” (vs. 8).
We learn from today’s reading that our sharing of the Gospel requires more than passing along Orthodox doctrine and Holy Tradition. It also takes caring for those we desire to reach. Sincere affection must accompany our teaching. And genuine tenderness must motivate the witness to our faith in Christ.
The Apostle writes in 1 John: “By this we know love because He laid down his life for us. And we also ought [i]to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). This passage suggests that laying down our lives does not necessary mean to sacrifice them in one critical moment. Rather, Chrysostom speaks of “spending one’s live for others” (vs. 8).
St. Porphyrios recounts his long-term ministry as a chaplain at the St. Gerasimos Hospital in Athens. He writes, “I loved the church of Saint Gerasimos and the patients very much. I didn’t forget anyone. I visited all the patients… I lived there for thirty-three years as if it were a single day” (St.-Prophyrios 2018, 53).
So it is with parents, teachers, priests and pastors, homemakers, caregivers, workers, and servants of all types. Their days, months, and years quickly follow one after the other as they spend their time in countless acts of mercy and compassion. Only when these servants look back at the end of their lives can they see that they have obeyed the Lord’s command to “lay down” their lives for others in love (John 15:13).
During this Nativity Fast, it is a good thing to fast, pray, and meditate. But what does the Lord say we should be doing while we wait for His coming? (Luke 12:43). The Lord taught that we should be “faithful and wise servants” who are like stewards of a household. These overseers have the responsibility to make sure that all in the house have what they need (Luke 12:43). So also we should be busy serving the Lord by serving others. Yet as Paul carried out His calling to proclaim the Gospel with deep affection for His hearers, so we should carry out our service with tender affection for those the Lord has put in our care.
St.-Prophyrios. 2018. Wounded by Love: Denise Harvey Publishers.