“Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s a tempting refrain, especially for parents who live under the constant scrutiny of sets of small eyes. And it’s not always the wrong message. Children ought to wait until appropriate ages to do many of the things their parents do: drive a car, wear makeup, or trim the hedges with the electric clippers.
Recent research reveals that “do as I say, not as I do” can lead to discipline problems when it becomes a crutch for inconsistent standards: the mother who loudly yells at her children for making too much noise or the father who spanks his children for swearing despite cursing the neighbors when he thinks he’s in private. The research shows that modeling—teaching by example—affects behavior far more than telling your children what to do.
In several ways, the apostle Paul was a father to many of the earliest churches, having planted their seeds during his missionary travels. And when it comes to prayer, Paul’s letters practice what they preach. In today’s passage we see Paul exhort the young congregation in Thessalonica to the good works and habits that should characterize people who are followers of Christ. Among these exhortations is to “pray continually” (v. 17), and then Paul proceeds to offer his own prayer for the growing faith of the Thessalonians.
While verses 16 through 22 talk about our actions, Paul’s prayer in verses 23 through 25 focuses on God’s work of sanctification within us. He hoped for a thoroughgoing dedication among these new Christians, using the composite Greek word holoteles that signifies both wholeness and completion. Paul’s moral teaching makes it clear that our actions have consequences for our spiritual lives, but it’s God’s power that transforms.