Absence makes the heart grow fonder, goes the saying. Paul said that separation intensified his desire to see the saints in Thessalonica. They had sent him and Silas off by night to Berea because of intense persecution. Possibly they had hidden them when the mob attacked Jason’s house.
Paul had not been able to return to Thessalonica. His concern for them was at fever pitch. So he wrote:
“But when we were separated from you, brothers and sisters, for a short time (in presence, not in affection), we became all the more fervent in our great desire to see you in person. For we wanted to come to you (I, Paul, in fact tried again and again) but Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NET).
Let’s note these important concepts in these verses.
1. Unlimited Communion.
Paul said the separation was physical, but “not in heart.” Brazilians have a special word for it: saudades. They’re proud that English doesn’t have a word to fit it exactly. It gathers up in one word homesickness, missing someone, strong emotional desire for a place or person. In fact, one Portuguese translation uses the word for Paul’s “great desire” to see these Christians.
Whatever word we use for it, Paul makes it clear that, in a spiritual sense, absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. The desire to see one another grows and to know that fellow disciples continue to develop and do the will of God.
2. Satanic Impediment.
How Satan thwarted Paul’s desire to see the Thessalonians is not specified. Possibly, through continuing persecution on the part of the unbelieving Jews, which Paul mentioned earlier in his letter (2:14-16). Whatever the means Satan used, however, Paul recognizes that evil forces are at work to keep us away from each other, to deprive us of the benefit of each others’ presence.
The word “thwarted” (“hindered,” NKJV; “blocked our way,” NRSV) was used as a military term in classical Greek of an army that would dig a large trench or break up a brick or stone road to prevent enemy troops from reaching it./1 It also was used of a runner who elbowed his competitor out of the race (see Galatians 5:7 for such a use).
We may not know how Satan works today to foul our fellowship, but there is no doubt he is still at work. And though we may not be able to point to specific situations or moments to identify his impediments, we do well to remember that he will upset godly plans at every turn and frustrate attempts to strengthen our fellowship.
3. Fraternal Glory.
When important figures or famous personalities arrive to visit a location, great preparations are made and pomp surrounds them at every turn. President Bush arrived in Brazil this month to visit Brazil’s President Lula (at the same airport, and the same time, I was flying out). The local media made much over the security preparations. Even the guard dogs got air-conditioned treatment at a top hotel that normally doesn’t accept animals, with food and water brought from the US.
In May the Pope will visit our area. The basilica at Aparecida, just down the highway from us, houses Brazil’s most revered Catholic image. The cathedral is being renovated. Among other treats, a special chair (might we call it a throne?) is being made just for his visit, as well as a new house for the pope to stay one night.
Ancient times also made much to-do over kings and powerful figures. Their “presence” (parousia) or arrival called forth great efforts to impress and please them.
The term is also used in the New Testament of Jesus second coming. But Paul takes the figure and changes it a bit here. Instead of the coming King receiving a crown (Christ has already been crowned), the “chaplet of glorying”/2 would go to those who had faithfully proclaimed the Kingdom. The crown: the converts themselves. This certainly is Paul’s hope, and their faithfulness will bring him great joy.
Whatever Satan may be doing today to hinder us, he cannot dampen our desire for fellowship with God’s saints. And though every spiritual desire will not be fulfilled here, our greatest hope is to meet the Savior at his coming with delight, because heaven will be populated with those who have been reached through our faithful service.
2/ A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the NT.
Satan may cut in on our fellowship, but he won’t have the last word.