The word of the day is “ lives.” In our reading of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, St. Paul discloses that he earnestly desired to give something more than the Gospel to the Thessalonians. 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).
Motivations for Gospel Proclamation
Paul refers to many motives for preaching the Gospel: to please others (vs. 4); to satisfy covetousness, that is “greediness”(Strong/s #4124, 203); and to earn glory, that is, good opinion, praise, and honor (Strong’s #1392, 72). Indeed, Paul recognizes that some proclaim Christ because they are envious of the success of others (vs. Philippians 1:15) (Strong’s #5355, 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 goodwill, he he says. He adds that these do it out of love. (Philippians 1:16).
Paul puts himself and his co-workers among the latter group. Yes, one can preach the Gospel for secret purposes. Flattering words can be a “cloak for covetousness” (vs. 5). And what seem to be rightful demands for payment can hide the sinister aim of 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 not only to share the Gospel with the believers. They were happy to give them their “very lives” (vs. 8)– in Greek, their “very souls.”
St. John Chrysostom asks, which is greater the Gospel or their souls? He says to share the Gospel is one thing, but “to give our souls, is with respect to difficulty a greater thing than that.” (NfPf11:130 Chrysostom says that the Apostles and his companions were willing “spend their lives upon their beloved.” And the reason they were willing to so devote their very selves to their flock? He says, “You have become dear to us” (vs. 8).
We learn from today’s reading that our sharing of the Gospel means 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 to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16). This passage suggests that “laying down our lives” does not necessarily mean to sacrifice them in one critical moment. Rather, Chrysostom speaks of “spending ones lives 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. Porphyrios).
So it is with parents, teachers, priests and pastors, homemakers, caregivers, workers, and servants of all types. One day, one month. one year follows the other as their time is “spent” in untold acts of mercy and compassion. Only when they 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.”