Where have you experienced (apart from the present day) the desire to be with the one/ones you love? Maybe the separation was because of a long-distance romance. Perhaps it was the period of your engagement–the time in which you were waiting, preparing and longing to be fully one in marriage with your spouse. Perhaps it was a separation of parent from child or sibling from sibling, when lives, education and careers had created separation from those we love most.
For me, I think of when my husband and I lived apart before and during our engagement. In England, a little is a long way, so the three-hour train ride from Nottingham to Manchester seemed as far as the length of the country! What a joy it was when we finally lived in the same city. How much more joy when, after we were finally married, we were able to move in together and begin life as husband and wife.
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:17
This part of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church is full of passion, desire and a hunger for intimacy. Paul was no standoff apostle who kept his cards close to his chest. No! Here we see the abounding love Paul has for this church, revealing more and more of the character of the familial metaphors he used in Chapter 2 (i.e., ones of brothers and sisters, father and children, and mother and nursing child).
First, we hear of Paul’s eagerness to be with his church (vv. 17–20). He describes the loss of their separation as being orphaned (which in Greek can refer to parents losing their children as well as vice versa). They tried to get to Thessalonica, but were prevented. We don’t know what blocked them, only that Paul discerned it was of satanic origin (v. 18). Something happened, which forced their plans to change.
Second, we hear that eventually Paul and those with him decided to send Timothy to visit, build them up in their faith–especially in the persecutions they were facing–and find out whether they had remained faithful or had been led astray (3:1–5). To hear the latest news from Thessalonica took months! Today we can instantly message someone on the other side of the globe with our latest news, but Paul could have gone even a year or more without hearing from these believers. It was time for a catch up.
Finally, Paul recounts the encouragement (and presumably relief) they received when Timothy returned with good news. Not only was there good news of their continued “faith and love,” (v. 6a) but also that Paul’s longing was not unrequited: they longed for him just as he did for them (v. 6b). They were of one heart. Why? Because that’s the result of Christian community. We build one another up through faith. Those with whom we have labored, walked and prayed, pointing us to Jesus and vice versa, are those with whom our hearts are closely knit. It is a cause for great rejoicing when we discover others who similarly have had their own desires for intimacy and love found in the all-consuming presence of God, and all the more so when we’ve lived alongside them and have born one another’s burdens together.
Waiting. Whether we’re waiting for a person or the end of a lockdown, we anticipate
being together again
. This longing is much like our waiting for the return of Christ–not just that we will be reunited with Jesus, but also that that we will
be together once again. There will be a great rejoicing! Those who have been co-laborers, those who have been the fruit of our faithfulness to God, those who have poured out from their hearts into ours for Jesus’ sake... together we will all rejoice. When we wait we are never alone for we, like saints everywhere, share this confidence and hope for the future. In this life, reunions bring some joy and mutual building up of faith. In the next life, they will bring rejoicing, for our desire for intimacy will be fully and perfectly complete as we share in God’s presence together.
Questions for Reflection
- When have you ached for the presence of someone you love?
- What spiritual longings do you have? Who do you desire that you could see and spend time with so that you might mutually encourage one another in your walk with Jesus?
- What do you think Jesus calls us to when we are separated from those we love? What can we learn from Paul’s example?
- Is Christian community something you rejoice in or are hesitant about? Why?
- What do you think Paul meant by 3:8? Compare your Bible version to another (maybe the NIV or the NLT) to give more insight.
- Paul concludes the chapter with a prayer (vv. 11–13). Who could you pray this prayer for this week?
A prayer for this week (based on 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13)
Jesus, would you make us increase and abound in love for those who share this journey of faith with us, as well as for all mankind, just as You have abounded in love for us. Strengthen our hearts in holiness so that we might be ready when the final consummation arrives and we are with You fully and together with all your saints at last. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries