17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).
In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them.
FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest.
For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again.
Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).
It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”
3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, 3 so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”
FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.
Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face.
Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.
6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”
FOCUS THREE: Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)! Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.”
Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.”
But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).