In this chapter, Paul first hearkens back to his time with the Thessalonians. It wasn’t a very long visit (see Acts 17:1-9), and there was hardly time for Paul and Silas to build up the church there. They were able to win a good number of folks to Jesus, but overall his introduction to the Thessalonians was unpleasant. It was an unpleasantness that followed him onward from Thessalonica to Berea, where he had some peace there until representatives from the former showed up and started stirring up trouble.
As he recounts his time with the Thessalonians, Paul goes into his own motivations and actions during the three weeks he was there. He notes that “we were gentle among you…” and how they labored to avoid being a burden. He notes that the conduct of the ministry group was devout, righteous, and blameless. All three of these should be evident in the life of the church, especially if we are going to make a difference in the world around us.
Paul then goes on to note how the people who persecuted he and Silas are of the same mindset not only of those who killed Jesus but also persecuted the prophets of old. This is an important, though intermittent, theme in the New Testament letters: the continuity of the revelation of God from the Prophets, such as Isaiah or Jeremiah, to the Apostles. A good image is that they are the two spotlights shining on the subject, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is picked up in our doctrines of inspiration and other understandings of how God has worked: through one light shining on Christ from before He came, one light shining on Him after.
Taking a deeper look at 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, we see Paul expressing thoughts about his relationship with the Thessalonian church. He recognizes that he was not able to stay as long as he wanted while also noting that he did not leave of his own free will. He notes that they made multiple efforts to come back, but there was always some form of hindrance. Paul attributes that hindrance to the work of Satan.
Why would Paul wanting to go to Thessalonica be important enough for Satan to interrupt?
If he had gone, Paul would have been able to encourage the church. He would have been able to make certain the church fully understood the Gospel. He would have been able to help the church start spreading the Gospel. He also would have helped them see the implications of the Gospel for their every day life, including modeling it on an extended basis.
Instead, he is left with ministry at a distance, with a deputized send of Timothy (chapter 3) to help out. His encouragement must come through a letter and a friend, rather than just himself. The benefit, though, is to future generations: we have very few notes of Paul’s sermons—some are present in the book of Acts. All of them are short. His letters are extended, and he uses the extra space to fill in deeper and fuller thoughts.
What, though, could this possibly have to do with us?
For starters, we should long for the encouragement, teaching, and modeling of life that happens in our face-to-face relationships. If we are never with other believers for these purposes, we are missing out.
Yet we should also note that God works out the details of our lives in such ways that we do not automatically expect. God uses the difficulties of our life to amplify and expand how He uses us in the world around us. So we should seek and utilize whatever opportunities we find in front of us, even if it is not the one that we wanted.
Dig in, then, and take up that which is in front of you, be it a camera, a pencil, or a small group of people who need encouragement. Go for it. God will work out the rest of the issues.
After all, we’re entrusted with the Word of God. Let’s not sit on it.
1. “We” is fun in this passage: it could be either an editorial “we,” where Paul is primarily referring to himself but uses “we” because it sounds better; he could also be using “we” because it’s a broad reference to his entire team traveling and sharing the Gospel. I’m inclined toward him speaking on behalf of the group.
2. Paul’s statement of laboring to not be a burden (in 2:8-9) has often been used to club ministers who are paid for serving the local church or the Church upside the head. After all, Paul “labored” so as not to be a burden. A few notes: first, if your pastor is a ‘burden,’ then something’s wrong anyway; second, Acts records Paul as being there only about 3 weeks, so he didn’t set a long-term ministry pattern; third, again, if someone is burdening you and claiming it’s ministry, there is definitely something wrong.