Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10. What does this passage tell us about Paul’s emotional attachment and relationship to these believers? What can we learn from it regarding how we should relate with those to whom we minister?
Paul’s depth of thought and confrontational tone (see, for example, Gal. 1:6, 7; 3:1-4; 4:9-11) sometimes make him appear dismissive of feelings and personal relationships. But this delightful interlude in 1 Thessalonians shows otherwise. He was an intensely relational evangelist along the lines of the Great Commission, which places primary emphasis on making disciples(Matt. 28:19, 20).
In the above passage Paul reveals his inner emotions. He misses the Thessalonian believers with “intense longing.” When Jesus comes, Paul intends to present the Thessalonian believers to Jesus as examples of his ministry. Paul is not content merely to be saved at the end of time; he wants evidence that his life made a permanent difference for the kingdom of God.
When Paul could “no longer endure” his intense longing for the Thessalonians, he sent a mutual friend to learn how they were doing. Paul was afraid that somehow Satan might lure them away from their original convictions. But he was comforted tremendously when Timothy reported that they were standing firm in the faith.
There is an interesting hint of a deeper dynamic in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. Paul rejoices at Timothy’s report that they have a good opinion of him and that they are longing to see him as much as he is longing to see them. Paul’s departure from Thessalonica was sudden, and he seems to have some uncertainty about how they viewed him and his absence. Thessalonian faithfulness made a big difference to Paul. Paul’s sense of personal worth was, perhaps, to some degree tied to the success of his mission. He was, after all, only human.
Timothy’s report brings Paul an intense experience of joy in his prayers to God. But his present joy does not squelch his intense longing to see them face to face and to complete their education in the Christian walk. However, unable to be personally present with them, Paul first sends an emissary, Timothy, and then engages the Thessalonians by letter. Those letters make up part of the New Testament corpus.