Summary: Jesus return is the motivation for remaining holy and blameless to be ready when he appears so we can join him, so we’re worthy of him. Paul’s prayer is that Jesus would provide the power to do it.
As we read this section of 1 Thessalonians we get a real sense of Paul’s love for the people he ministered to. There’s no sense of this being made up, no pretence. Rather it feels quite genuine. He really misses them. He’s distressed that he’s had to abandon them just as they were becoming a stable church. He’s worried that they’re at such a stage of immaturity in their faith that the ploys of Satan might be successful in wearing them down, in leading them astray from the truth of the gospel.
You may remember a few weeks ago we saw how Paul used various metaphors to describe how he saw his ministry in the gospel. He spoke of being a steward of a great treasure, of being a mother to them, a father, a herald. And now he takes those middle 2 metaphors further as he describes how he’s felt since being separated from them. He says he feels:
In fact that word was also used for parents who have lost or been separated from their children. In other words he’s saying "We were bereft of you." We felt like you’d died to us. Far from there being any sense that Paul had abandoned them, as his detractors were suggesting, he felt like he’d had them torn out of his arms. And the agent of that separation, he says, was Satan. Satan was still at work stopping Paul from returning, he says. Now the means by which Satan was stopping him isn’t stated. It could have been through the surety, the bond, that Jason had had to pay to ensure Paul wouldn’t return. It could, though, have been the thorn in the flesh that he describes when he writes to the Corinthians. Or it might even have been some situation in the Church in Corinth that meant he had to stay to sort it out. But whatever it was, it was preventing him from doing what he longed to do, to return to them.
And why did he want so much to return to them? He longed to see them for the joy it would bring him to see their growth in the faith, v19, and also to strengthen them against the persecution they were facing vs2,3. So what was he to do? What do we do when the opportunities for ministry are greater than the resources we have to do them? We delegate. We find others to take up some of the load. And that’s what Paul does here.
He couldn’t go himself. But his longing for news about them was so great that he sent Timothy, his right hand man, to do what he was unable to do. His frustration at the lack of news eventually got too much for him, so he sent Timothy, even though it meant he’d be on his own again.
You may remember from Acts 17:15 that when Paul left Berea he went alone to Athens but when he got there he asked for Timothy and Silas to come as soon as possible because he wanted them with him. Well it seems Timothy had come but then with no news from Thessalonica Paul gives up the comfort and support of Timothy’s presence and sends him off to Thessalonica. And what does he expect him to do there?
A. To strengthen their faith
His first task is to consolidate the teaching that Paul had given them.
You see it’s not enough to see people come to faith. That’s only the first step. Their new faith then needs to be reinforced - strengthened. How? By adding to the structure the way you’d reinforce a building. In this case through more bible teaching, more experience of God at work, more encouragement that God is with them, more comfort in the face of suffering for Christ. Timothy would have spent his time answering their questions, pointing them to the Scriptures that Paul later reminds him are useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Secondly, he was
B. To keep them from failing under Persecution
v3: "So no-one would be shaken by these persecutions". Paul was under no doubt that the opposition he’d experienced from the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica would be applied to the new converts as well, so they needed to be supported.
In fact he’d warned them before he left that this is what they should expect, because it’s what we’re destined for; because this is the lot of Christians. We live in the world but we’re not of the world. Here’s what Jesus told his disciples during the last supper: (John 15:18-21 NRSV) "If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world -- therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you, ’Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me." So we shouldn’t be surprised when we meet opposition to the gospel; when people take out their rebellion towards God by opposing us.