Summary: Pauls’ pastoral concern on paper and in action
At the beginning of his book When Men think private thoughts Gordon McDonald tells the story of two men who are sitting alone at midnight – let me read it to you.
There is a desire in the heart of a man (and a woman) to know whether or not his life meant something, whether it has accomplished any worthwhile purpose. I believe that is a God-given desire to reflect on our lives because there is a day coming when we will go through the process for real and under the most serious circumstances – namely the day of judgement. On that day we will have our lives come under his scrutiny and we will receive from him his analysis of the kind of people we have been. But let me ask you what you think is going to count on that day. Let me give you a hint with some visual aids:
Football scrapbooks – kept since primary school.
My grandmothers patchwork quilt
My grandmothers teddy bear
The list could go on and on. Are these things going to last for eternity? Are they the measure of my life? Are they the things which will stand the test of the refining fire of heaven? No. Let me share with you what is going to count on the day of the Lord’s return – people. God made people to last forever, and from eternity’s point of view, what matters is what he has been able to use us to accomplish in the lives of people. Those are the clippings that will go in the scrapbook. You may build a thousand widgets in your lifetime, you may have places named after you, go to space but what is going to be measured on the final day is what the Lord Jesus has been able to do in your life for the sake of building the character of those who have been created in his image. When I look at 1 Thessalonians 217-35 that is the very thing Paul is concerned with.
If you can remember back chapter 1 of this letter concerned the Thessalonian church as a gospel church and chapter 2 was concerned with defending Paul’s gospel ministry amongst them. Paul writes to them to do two things: namely to give thanks to God for them and to give them assurance in the time of trial and persecution they are now facing. The last sermon I preached on this letter I shared with you how the Thessalonians had Warmly Welcomed the Word of God and as a consequence had been given the Cold Shoulder by the world. The passage before us this morning has two main themes:
Pauls’ Pastoral Concern on Paper
Pauls’ Pastoral Concern in Action
Pauls’ Pastoral Concern on Paper
The very fact that Paul has taken the time and the effort to write a letter to the church at Thessalonica demonstrates his pastoral concern for them. He has put it down on paper and sent Timothy with it so that they might be assured and encouraged. Let me set the context to this part of the letter. Paul has been speaking about the Jews, their opposition to the gospel, their unbelief and the fact that they were hindering the spread of the gospel and as a result God’s wrath was upon them. Now he begins verse 17 with the word ‘But’ – he wants to contrast himself to those people – he was not someone who was opposed to them or the gospel – the very opposite was in fact true. He then begins in verse 17 to pile up term upon term of his affection for these Thessalonian Christians.
Look at what he says:
‘We were torn away from you’ – literally orphaned. The Greek literally means bereft, bereaved. Paul feels like he has lost a loved one in being separated from these Christian believers. It is a bitterly painful experience for Paul.
‘We made every effort’ – this speaks of his heightened zeal to be with them. You know like in a film clip when a child is being torn away from a loved one – the struggle of every sinew and muscle to stay connected – that is what Paul is speaking of here.
‘Deep longing’ – the depth of Paul’s pain at this separation is once again revealed. You see there are farewells and there are farewells. When someone goes out for the night they shout bye, maybe even come and give us a hug and a kiss. But that is dramatically different from the family member being seen off at the airport who is emigrating to the USA – the farewell is much deeper. And that is dramatically different from the farewell at the hospital bedside of a loved one who is departing this earthly life. For Paul the separation was much more than just physical it was also spiritual. He cannot stress enough to these people how he longed to be with them.