Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 2:9
Big idea: Our hope in the gospel is in each other.
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he writes to people who were soaked in the ideology of the world. They assumed that whenever anyone did anything for them that they had an angle. People always have something they are trying to get out of every situation - with most people, most of the time, they would be right. It seems that most people are not looking for how they can serve but how they can be served.
But, as Paul explains, he came to them as a parent comforting a child. He came to them with love. He came to them, not like their own countrymen who sought to take advantage of them and tear them down, but with the love that comes from God. Jesus himself said: "The son of man came not to serve but to be served and to give his life a ransom for many."
Paul passed on that same kind of selfless love and service to the church at Thessalonica. So as he writes to them and they face various challenges from opposition on the outside and people trying to undermine Paul's authority on the inside, and as they try to live out the balance between the hope that they have in heaven and the desire to follow Christ in this present life, Paul tells them that he is not trying to manipulate them. His goal is not to take advantage of them, but to love them.
So what is in it for Paul? He tells us at the very end of the chapter: the joy and the crown that he seeks is the Thessalonians themselves. What he wants is not something that they can give him or some benefit he can gain from them. It is simply to have them with him when Jesus returns. The greatest hope that he has is not something material, not something of prestige or influence but simply to have them made complete in Christ and stand with him.
As parents raise their children, they ought to have the same kind of attitude. John the Apostle wrote: "I have no greater joy than to see that my children walk in the truth." He mean those he had led to Christ but his point is certainly not less true in earthly families. The goal is not the stuff we can get from our family. The goal is the relationship we can have with them, by God's grace.
In every dimension of our lives today, we have to resist the temptation to take advantage of others. We have to resist the temptation to always ask ,"What can I get?" and instead ask "Who can I serve?" Whoever we have fellowship with is a precious person made in the image of God and bought with the blood of Jesus. Surely that connection is worth more than anything this world could ever offer.
Older kids: Have you ever done something kind for someone in hopes of getting something in return? Has someone ever done something like that to you? How did that change the way you thought of their kindness? How did that change the way you thought of them?
Discussion idea: Why was Paul concerned the Thessalonians would think that he had his own interests at heart? How is the integrity of the gospel at stake in that situation?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help us to have the same kind of selfless love that he has for us and that Paul had for the church.