For lots of people, there's nothing they wouldn't do for their nearest and dearest. Your relatives are people you have an obligation to love and care for (yes, even your weird Uncle Gene). But family isn't only made up of the people we happen to share DNA with. Family can be anyone that's important enough to join our inner circle. Or at least that's what the early Christians thought.
Thessalonica, I Am Your Father
The New Testament uses tons of family imagery. Remember God the Father and Christ the Son? Family ties are powerful symbols. Paul (and his anonymous pretender) even occasionally uses this parent/child language to apply to describe his relationship with the Thessalonian Christians:
• "We dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God" (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Father knows best.
• "Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith." (2 Thessalonians 1:4). He's one proud papa.
• "You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us" (2 Thessalonians 3:7). Do as I say, kids!
Does this mean they have to get him a card for Father's Day?
It's clear that Paul uses this image to convey his love for the Thessalonians. They're like his little brood of babies. He adores them and treats them delicately: "We were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children" (1 Thessalonians 2:7). Parent of the year, right there.
But he also uses this relationship to justify his concern for them. Unlike some of his other letters, Paul doesn't lay on the dad lectures too thick. But he obviously wants the Thessalonians to know that he has authority. When he preaches, they better be listening. Heck, Paul has so much dad power, some guy even pretended to be him when he wrote 2 Thessalonians. It's the ancient equivalent of forging dad's signature on a report card.
Siblings in Christ
So Paul is the dad and Christians are the kids. That means they're all brothers and sisters, right? But don't forget, Paul's also their brother. Um, weird. Is he his own grandpa, too?
• "For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you." (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
• "You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you." (1 Thessalonians 2:9)
• "For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith." (1 Thessalonians 3:7)
• "Concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another." (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
• "Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss." (1 Thessalonians 5:26)
• "But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters." (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
• "Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right." (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
Unlike the image of the father figure, when Paul casts himself as a brother, he seems to be putting himself on the same level as the Thessalonians. He's just one of God's children just like them. But seriously, respect his authority.
Happy Families Are All Alike
Even though most of the family images in these letters are happy ones (a parent caring for children, brothers and sisters living together in harmony), Paul also uses some familial images to indicate sorrow or sadness:
When, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again. (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18)
Poor family-less Paul. When he couldn't come to see the Thessalonians, he felt like an orphan.
When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!" (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
Paul uses the image of the woman in labor here to describe the how suddenly the end of the world will come. Notice: he doesn't refer to her as a "mother," just a "pregnant woman." Meaning these labor pains won't even lead to an adorable little baby in the end.
We Are Family
These family metaphors serve to show the connection between Christians. In the ancient world (and even today), family ties are really important. A family member is someone you have an obligation to love, to help, and to care for. Even though the Christians in Thessalonica aren't all blood relatives, Paul uses these images to emphasize the fact that they owe each other love and allegiance.