“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” (1 Thessalonians 2:11–12 ESV).
Paul the apostle saw his ministry as parental, especially in cities where he had pioneered the church. When writing his first letter to the young Thessalonian church, he reminisced over his fatherly function among them. The striking element to me is how he saw fatherly conduct as word-based. He could not father without his words. He had to open his mouth. He mentioned three ways in which he did this with his spiritual children. Oh, that we might do this for our literal children!
First, Paul remembers how he had exhorted them.
He had called them up to his side in order to urge them on. A man sets a tone within his household, so a good father will strive to create a safe atmosphere of love for his family. Brutal fathers will command from a distance, but a gentle and loving father will call a child to his side and speak. His words to his children are rooted in relationship. From that place of relational warmth a father is then able to exhort.
Life is a scary proposition for children, so they need to be urged on. We must show them the way. We must give them the Word of God for the situations of their life, patiently drawing out and answering their questions.
Secondly, Paul had also encouraged them.
To encourage them meant that he would console, comfort, or cheer up this young church. Some might naturally think of the mother as the encourager, even as Paul speaks of his more motherly focus earlier, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (v. 7). Yet Paul saw encourager at least partially as a fatherly responsibility.
Imagine a household where the father was a great stream of encouragement for all of his children. I’ve seen men like this, men who fill their kids with good cheer and great courage. Their children become attached to them. A father like this does not lose his masculine tone or male perspective, but words that flow from his lips lift up his entire family. While temporary results can always be found with a quick temper or outburst of wrath, ultimately this tactic creates a culture of discouragement within the home, so it is far better to lift them up with encouragement.
Finally, Paul charged them.
This means in part that he testified to them. Tell your children of God’s work in your own life. Testify to them of the lessons He has taught you, the ways He has met your inadequacies, and the corrections you have received. Let them ask you questions, giving them an opportunity to mine the heart of the man they love. Declare what Christ has done in you, giving appropriate details and charging them according to what you have learned of Jesus. Give them practical application on how to apply the wisdom and truth of God’s Word to their situation, just as you have applied it in your own life. Testify.
Ultimately, our Father in heaven relies heavily upon His word to shape and mold us. Let us be imitators of God, fathers who speak words of exhortation and encouragement to our beloved children, charging them as they go through life, taking special care to give them the Word of their heavenly Father.