The Nurture and Care of New Converts
Scripture: I Thessalonians 2:1-20
Paul enjoyed a fruitful ministry of preaching the gospel and seeing lives transformed by the power of God. However, when God is working, Satan is fighting!
This meant Paul also had to cope with the opposition his preaching generated, while at the same time trying to nurture and care for his new converts. His description of caring for those at Thessalonica provides wisdom for us today.
A person whose life has been transformed has a lot to learn about walking with God and pleasing Him, and it takes a combination of skills to guide and care for these new believers.
Paul likens these skills successively to those of a faithful steward (2:3-6), a loving mother (2:7-8), and a godly father (2:9-12).
I. Paul Faced Opposition at Thessalonica (2:1-2)
Before arriving at Thessalonica, Paul ministered at Philippi and received both personal injury and insult from the city leaders. Journeying on to Thessalonica, he again faced opposition and contention because of his gospel message. Yet he refused to be discouraged.
Rather, he boldly declared the gospel of God. As a result, God gave him spiritual fruit in the form of new converts.
We learn from this that a spiritual caregiver (a “discipler”) must not let opposition stop him from sharing the gospel. He must be courageous and share the good news about Jesus Christ with a holy boldness.
II. Paul Explains His Motives and Methods of Discipling New Converts (2:3-12)
A. A spiritual caregiver should see himself as a faithful steward of God’s gospel (2:3-6)
Paul asserts that his message to the Thessalonians was true and pure (2:3). He was open and honest in all his dealings. He recognized that God had entrusted him with the gospel, and, as a faithful steward, he did his very best to please God, knowing God would examine his motives (2:4).
As a result, Paul refused to use flattery (2:5)—attempting to win friends and influence people by appealing to their egos. Paul was loving and kind, but he always spoke the truth. He did not allow concern for popularity or financial gain to influence his treatment of new converts. Nor did he seek glory or praise from people (2:6a).
Evil ambitions, such as pride, greed, or popularity, were resisted and never allowed to gain a foothold in Paul’s heart. And, although an apostle, Paul did not throw his “weight” around by asserting his authority (2:6b).
B. A spiritual caregiver should treat his converts tenderly as a mother does her baby (2:7-8)
A spiritual caregiver must be gentle. Paul likens new believers to a baby needing the care of its mother (2:7). Just as babies take time and energy, so new converts require lots of time and energy. They must be taught how to receive the milk of God’s Word so they can grow spiritually (1 Pet. 2:2), and they need to be protected from false teachings.
Paul explains that spiritual caregivers must not only be gentle, but also be sacrificial. He says, “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (2:8).
This means that a spiritual caregiver must beware of becoming self-centered and autocratic, and must not allow the desire to protect their new converts to turn into the desire to “control” them.
He must teach his new converts how to apply Scripture to their own lives and how to live by biblical principles, no matter how other professed Christians may live.
C. A spiritual caregiver should treat his converts as a father does his children (2:9-12)
Paul now changes the metaphor and says that spiritual caregivers must care for their new converts as a father does his children. Paul said,
“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship;
we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (2:9).
Here we see just as a faithful father works hard in order to provide for his children, so Paul worked hard in order not to become a burden to his spiritual “children.”
Paul was a tent-maker by trade, and it is likely that he made use of this skill while ministering in Thessalonica. He did this in order to be able to care for his new converts without being a financial burden to them. Paul knew the difficulty and stress of being a bi-vocational caregiver, yet he gladly worked hard to be able to give his new converts the care and attention they needed.
Another reason Paul was willing to preach the gospel and make tents at the same time was that he wanted to be a good example to his new converts. He says, “
You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers” (2:10).
Here we see that a spiritual caregiver personally provides a godly example for his spiritual children to follow. There should never be a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
Instead, there should be a record of dependability and good conduct that serves as a lasting illustration of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Just as children profit from the life of a godly father, so new converts profit from the godly life of their spiritual caregiver.
This means that we are called to live in such a way that new believers can imitate us as we imitate Christ (2 Tim. 1:13). Paul explains the correct motive and actions:
“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (2:11-12).
Here we see that like a faithful father, spiritual care givers exhort and encourage their spiritual children to walk worthy of their high and holy calling. Paul knew that, like all children, his new converts needed much encouragement. Children are eager and enthusiastic, but they tire easily and lose interest quickly. So it is with new converts—they need lots of help and support as they take their first steps in following the Spirit.
Spiritual caregivers should be quick to praise their new converts and always ready to offer a hand of encouragement and friendship.
III. Paul Praises His New Converts and Exhorts Them to Steadfastness (2:13-20)
Chapter two ends with Paul praising his new converts for how they received God’s message “not as a human message, but as it truly is, God’s message, which is at work among you who believe” (2:13). He also praises them for becoming “imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea” (2:14a).
Then, Paul seeks to encourage them by letting them know they are not the only ones who face opposition and persecution. He tells them that Jews in Israel who have accepted Jesus as their Savior are being persecuted just as they are. Paul says,
“For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.
But wrath has come upon them at last!” (2:14-16).
It was not easy to be a Christian in Thessalonica, for the believers faced much persecution and suffering. Yet in the midst of suffering, they experienced “joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6). They not only heard the Word of God, they took it into their hearts and made it a part of their lives. As a result, they experienced the keeping power of God’s Word.
Paul states that the religious Jewish leaders killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove Paul out of the country. As they continued to oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ, they were filling up “the measure of their sins” and consequently “the wrath of God has come upon them” (2:16).
Note that Paul is not encouraging us to be anti-Semitic. Nor is he accusing all Jewish people of killing Jesus.
Most of the Jewish people who heard Jesus appreciated His ministry and loved Him. It was the few Jewish religious leaders who felt threatened by Jesus who plotted His death. We should always remember that Jesus said no man could take His life.
Rather, He would lay it down of His own free will (John 10:18). We should not blame the Jews for killing Jesus. We should blame ourselves, for it was our sins that nailed Him to the cross (Isa. 53:6-7).
Paul explains to his new converts that he did not leave them willingly; rather he left them under duress. It was like being “orphaned” from them (2:17), since he was their spiritual mother and father (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). He says,
“Since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us” (2:17-18).
He had made every effort possible to return to them, but could not. This information must have been very comforting to his new converts. Paul closes chapter two with an implied exhortation to be steadfast in the faith. He says,
“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at His coming?
Is it not you?
For you are our glory and joy” (2:19-20).
The nurture and care of new converts is both a privilege and a responsibility. May God help all spiritual caregivers to model their lives after the example of Paul who modeled his life after Jesus Christ.
Dr. Allan P. Brown teaches such courses as Christian Beliefs, Doctrine of Holiness, Wisdom Literature, Hebrew, Preaching Holiness, Romans and Galatians, and Letters to the Hebrews.
He has been on faculty at GBSC since 1996 and is the author of several books and articles.
Dr. Brown also speaks at churches, camp meetings, revivals and more.