“Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs . . . Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.”
If I was limited to using one word to describe the content of Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica, that word would be “emotion.”
It’s true that the book – like all of Paul’s epistles – contains a good bit of advice and counsel and even some theology dealing with something as heavy as the end of time, but through it all there is a recurring expression of emotion that is it’s distinguishing mark
Throughout the First Letter to the Thessalonians (I’ve just read Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, and I’ll quote from that version) Paul pines to return to this congregation. He’s proud of them, that’s obvious. He planted this church and he sees them as a light to those around them. But his love for them is genuine and personal. It’s not strictly business, it’s not just professional. Look at this: “You can’t imagine how much we missed you;” “We could not stand being separated from you any longer . . . ;” and when Paul prayed, he asked for “the bonus of seeing your faces again. . . ;”
How does this obvious and heartfelt emotion compare with what you and I feel about our own brothers and sisters in Christ? Is this how we feel about our own congregations? What was done in the Thessalonian church that might have fostered such emotion and enthusiasm?
Maybe one clue comes late in the book. Paul says “Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs . . . Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.”
I don’t think of myself as particularly good at this. I don’t think I concentrate enough on looking for and bringing out the best in others. It is heavy lifting, sometimes. This ability might be thought of as a spiritual gift – the gift of “encouragement,” for example, but, like every gift, it takes some real work to make it effective. If we’re going to be able to bring out the best in others, we can’t be scared of what their best will be. In other words, we can’t see ourselves as in competition with them and worry that we’ll be left in the dust if this person really finds his wings. That’s humility, and that is the attitude we must have if we are even going to be able to see the good in others and imagine what their “best” might be.
Like I said, I don’t consider myself as very good at this. But I have known a few people in the course of my life who were. A few people who actually saw my “individual needs,” that is, looked long and deeply enough to understand my uniqueness and my consequent unique needs, and who made an attempt to bring out the best in me. Those are the people I love to be around.
Those are the people I really pine for when I am separated from them.