Paul is so distressed about his absence from the Thessalonians that he decides to forgo the companionship of Timothy in Athens in order to get firsthand news of their situation. His intense longing for them leads him to prefer being without Timothy rather than being without news of how they are faring.
Because Timothy’s mission is to be a substitute, or stand-in, for Paul, Paul does his best to boost Timothy’s authority with the church. Timothy is Paul’s “brother,” a “minister of God” and a “coworker in the gospel.” Some Greek manuscripts go so far as to call Timothy a “coworker of God.” This would be extremely high praise. Paul knows that the mission will be a difficult one, and he does his best to open the way so that Timothy will be received as if Paul himself had come.
Verses 3 and 4 give us an idea of what Paul would have said to the Thessalonians had he been able to visit them. The specific word chosen to describe their sufferings is typical of end-time passages, such as in Matthew 24:9-22. Affliction should not come as a surprise. We all have been warned about it.
Christian suffering calls to mind the events of the end, during which all true followers of Christ will face persecution (see Rev. 13:14-17). When suffering actually comes, we should see it as a fulfillment of prophecy and an encouragement rather than a discouragement. The purpose of prophecy is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future but to provide solid assurance amidst the challenges we face every day.
In verse 5, Paul reveals that he has an additional motive for sending Timothy. He is worried that the difficult things the Thessalonians have experienced might have resulted in their loss of faith. He is worried that his mission to Thessalonica might somehow have been in vain or empty of results.
What are things we can do, day by day, to prepare ourselves spiritually for the inevitable trials that life brings us?