Paul really loved the Thessalonian church. But he was also very worried about them. They were going through a very tough time; their trust in Jesus was being challenged by the community in which they lived; they were suffering for the sake of following Jesus. And Paul – separated from them as he was – found himself fretting constantly for them. He was worried that “the tempter had gotten the best” of them; that the work he and his co-workers had done amongst them had all been in vain. So they decided to send Timothy to visit the Thessalonians. Which was something of a sacrifice. It meant that Paul and Silas were left alone in Athens. True – Athens wasn’t quite as opposed to the gospel message as Thessalonica or Berea had been, but still..
Paul and Silas sent Timothy to Thessalonica for three reasons: to strengthen the Christians there, to encourage their faith, and to keep them from being shaken by the troubles they were going through. Timothy went to see if they still trusted Jesus. When life gets very tough, we need other CHristians to rally around us. We need strengthening and encouraging. We need to hear from those who have known God’s faithfulness through tough times themselves. We all go through times in our lives when we need a “Timothy” to come and visit us. And then we too can be a Timothy to others. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (1 Corinthians 1:3b-4)
Paul had worried that the Thessalonians had given up on trusting Jesus under the heat of social opposition. But upon his return Timothy reported that that was certainly not the case. The Thessalonians were still being faithful and loving. And what’s more, they recalled the visit of Paul and Silas with joy. It would have been easy for them to blame the missionaries for their present troubles. But instead they longed to see them again – just as Paul and Silas longed to see the Thessalonians.
And Timothy’s report was a great encouragement to Paul and Silas! They too were enduring suffering and troubles. What a “pick me up” it must have been for them to see that all of their hard work wasn’t being wasted; that the Thessalonians had remained strong in the faith and were standing firm in the Lord. If the Thessalonians had given up, I believe the temptation for Paul and Silas to do the same would have been much greater. But God is good!
By the end of this chapter, worry has been displaced by joy. Paul and Silas now constantly prayed with joyful hearts to God for the Thessalonians. And they also prayed for the chance to return to see them again, so that they might fill in the gaps in their faith. Just because the Thessalonians were “strong in their faith” didn’t mean that they understood all things perfectly.
I love Paul’s final prayer. He asked the Lord to make the Thessalonians’ love for one another and all people grow and overflow, just as Paul and Silas’ love for them overflowed. It’s easy to love people a little. Paul loved them so much that he fretted over them. Oh Lord, help me to love people like that. Let my love overflow for others. And not just for the people in my local church – for everyone. Lord, help me to not be content to see anyone die apart from you. Make me see the world and her people as you see it.
Why does Paul want their love to overflow? So that God would as a result make their hearts strong, blameless and holy as they stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. If my life is defined by love for others, then I will be living a godly life. Of course, only the Lord can make my love for others overflow. All of us, by sinful nature, are selfish with our love. Oh Lord – make my heart overflow. Let the ways I interact with others be defined by your character of love. Make me holy and blameless on the day you return. Please, make my love overflow.