The word of the day is “father.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 2:9-16, St. Paul breaks down the task of Gospel proclamation into three categories. The Apostles writes, “…you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children” (vs. 11). By studying the original Greek terms for these activities, we can better understand what the preaching and hearing of the gospel entail.
In our English OSB translation, Paul begins his profile of preaching by saying how he “exhorted” the Thessalonians. The Greek term is derived from the idea of “calling near.” The gospel proclamation thus “invites” and “intreats” its hearers to give heed to the message and respond to it (Strong’s #3870).
But there is a tone of urgency in that appeal that the word “implore” suggests. We hear it in 2 Corinthians where Paul writes, “We are ambassadors for Christ as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Likewise, in 1 Corinthians, Paul asserts that others may be teachers to the faithful. But he alone is their father. He says, “… in Christ, I have begotten you through the gospel.” (1 Cor. 4:15). As their father, he assumes the right to say to his spiritual children, “I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:17). Once again, the Greek term suggests an urgent appeal for the hearers to act on the message.
If the first feature of preaching is to stir up the hearers to act, the second is to quiet their apprehensions. The OSB translates this second element as “comforting.” This English word is true to the thought of soothing, consoling, and encouraging (Strong’s #3888, 191). When Peter replies to the Pentecost crowd, he gives an example of this feature of preaching. First, Peter stirs up the crowd. When the people realize the gravity of the appeal, they respond: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
Peter replies with words that bring relief to the troubled. He instructs them, “Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Then Peter returns to the first characteristic of proclamation as Luke reports, “And with many other words, he testified and exhorted them saying “Be saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).
The OSB translates the last feature of proclamation as “charged.” But what did Paul “charge”? The Apostle separates the answer to this question with the insertion that he is the church’s father. Eventually, Paul returns to the thought of instructing his flock to live in a way that is “worthy of the God” and in keeping with their calling into His Kingdom (vs. 2:12). The original Greek word means “to summon to testify” (Strong’s #3142). The thought is that preaching should attest to the evidence of the claims that the preacher is making. For example, Paul says, “You are witnesses and God also, how devoutly, and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe” (vs. 10). Concerning preaching the Good News of faith, those who proclaim it must be reliable and trustworthy witnesses of the truth and power of the gospel. Regarding responding to the message, those who hear the message must live in a way that testifies to their call into the Kingdom (vs. 12).
Preaching involves imploring, consoling, and testifying to the faith in Christ. But how shall we hear the proclamation of Christ as it implores, consoles, testifies? Paul writes, “we exhorted, comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his children (vs. 11). We can truly hear the message of Christ when we open our ears to it as children. That means that we must set aside whatever pride we have in our own understanding. As the Book of James says, we should “receive with meekness the implanted Word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). That is, we should listen to the message of faith with the tender humility of a child.
Meditation on the Scriptures during the Nativity Fast
This teaching should guide our meditation during this Nativity Fast. Meditation is not so much digging into a text for hidden treasure. It is opening our minds and hearts to the Holy Spirit as He speaks through the text. As a father urges his children to listen to what he says without objection, question, or distraction, so we should put on the mind of a child and attend to words of Scripture as the Lord speaking directly to us, pleading, comforting, and instructing us.