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Thoughts on the Way: A Nursing Mother

The Gospel must be given to others along with our hearts and souls. It must be given with passion, with love, with life itself.
Read Time: 4 minutes

Saul of Tarsus was a “great man.” We might call him “an up-and-comer” among the young scholars and rabbis in Israel. Saul was so zealous for the Law of Moses that he dedicated his life to searching out and capturing Jews who had left their places in the synagogues and the temple and who had followed a teacher from Nazareth in Galilee called Jesus.

And, once those “heretics” were “brought to justice,” Saul also oversaw their executions according to the dictates of the Law. He was standing nearby to observe when Stephen, a preacher of the new religion, was stoned to death (Acts 7:57-8:1).

Saul continued to throw himself totally into his mission, dragging more and more of the disciples of Jesus to prison. Then, one day, on his way to Damascus to arrest more believers, a great light from heaven suddenly flashed around him, and he fell to the ground.

The light blinded him, but he heard a voice and felt the presence of a man standing over him. He heard the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” All Saul could muster was a question: “Who are you, Lord?” The answer came immediately, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1-6 ESV). 

Saul had been a great scholar

Still blinded by the fierce light, Saul was led to Damascus and settled into a house, where he fasted and prayed for several days, trying to find some logic or reason in his recent experiences. Saul had been a great scholar, and as he prayed, it became clearer and clearer to him: Jesus, whose followers Saul had killed, was truly a man sent from God.

And sitting in that darkness, his mind must have gone from one Scripture to another until he began to understand the awesome fact that Jesus, whom his associates had crucified, was the Messiah and the Son of God, whom the Father had sent to redeem Israel. 

Then a disciple of Jesus, called Ananias, came to the house where Saul was and placed his hands upon Saul so that his vision returned to him. When he could see well enough, Saul got up and was baptized. From that moment, he was a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, even as he also carried a heavy burden:

Last of all [that is, all the witnesses to the resurrected Christ]… he [Jesus] appeared to me… For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Cor 15:8, 9).

Despite his shock on the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus must have recognized the voice of Jesus, quite likely, a voice that he had heard before, in and around Jerusalem. Before his temporary blindness, he must have caught a fleeting glimpse of Jesus’ face that he had seen before in Jerusalem.

Paul felt the wonderful gift of God’s grace.

Thus, the Apostle Paul (his new name) had heard his Savior, looked into his eyes, and felt the wonderful gift of God’s grace. From this point onward, he lived under the sheltering arms of that love:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20).

Saul, now known as Paul, had been reborn. The distinguished rabbi no longer expounded the intricacies of the Law of Moses, except insofar as to point out where that Law helped to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, the great teacher went everywhere to tell everyone about his Savior’s pure and perfect love and the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Along the way, he faced up to his past sins, and in doing so, he became an example to the worst of all sinners. Those who were weighed down by their guilt realized that if Jesus Christ could save a man like Paul, then he could save any sinner!

Paul was a living example of the height and depth of God’s love, which he sought to put before all mankind. He wrote to the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica:

You know that we dealt with you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
(1 Thess 2:11-12).

Throughout the rest of his life, Paul considered his associates and assistants as his sons and daughters, while they surely thought of him as their father. 

However, we have not exhausted the limits to which Paul extended himself to his fellow believers. In the same letter to the Thessalonians, he also wrote:

Just as a nursing mother cares for her own children, so we cared for you. (1 Thess 2:7-8).

The word “nursing” describes a woman feeding a baby at her breast. And the word “cares” (thalpo) means to keep warm, as a mother bird covering her young with her feathers (cp. Deut 22:6). It is also used for the love of Christ the bridegroom, who “cares” for his “bride: (Eph 5:29-31).

Paul paints a beautiful picture. A mother is suckling her baby in the warmth of her breast, with her love pouring out upon her child even while her milk nourishes the precious new life.

How fascinating to think that Paul, the learned rabbi, the author of Romans and Ephesians, the wise and eloquent teacher of Jews and Gentiles alike, could think of himself and his converts in this way. But he did:

Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad, and rejoice with all of you. So you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Phil 2:17-18).
I will very gladly spend and be spent for you. (2 Cor 12:15 ESV).

Paul continued: 

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well (1 Thess 2:8). 

This Greek word for “loved” (homeiromai) is very rare. It does, in fact, mean “love,” but it especially means “to yearn for or long for.” Some scholars tell us that it refers to the tenderness and devotion a mother feels toward her baby, a tenderness expressed in cooing and whispering intimacies, the “baby talk” of a mother with her infant.

This manner, says Paul, is the only way to convey the gospel to others. It must be given along with our hearts and souls. It must be given with passion, with love, with life itself. How else could we preach the gospel of the God who “spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” (Rom 8:32)? How else could we preach the gospel of Christ, “who gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4), who “poured out his soul unto death” (Isa 53:12 ESV)? 

George Booker,
Austin Leander Ecclesia, TX

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