When Paul visited Thessalonica he did what he did wherever he went – he went first to the Jews to tell them the good news of Jesus. For three straight weeks he taught in the synagogue from the Jewish scriptures – the Old Testament – about the Messiah, that he would suffer, and that he would rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah” (Acts 17:3 NIV).
The reaction he received was both positive and negative. “Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the market-place, formed a mob and started a riot in the city.” (Acts 17:4-5). It got so bad that Paul and Silas had to be sent away from Thessalonica – they went initially to Berea and then Paul ended up in Athens.
What if this happened to us? We’ve taught the good news of Jesus and a small number have become Christians. But there is so much opposition and threats against us that we must leave these new Christians and go elsewhere. Most of us would be concerned about those we left behind. Would they remain faithful? Would they fall away and return to their old lives? These are the same feelings that Paul had for the new Christians he left.
“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
You can hear the concern in the words Paul wrote to them. “When I could stand it no longer …” – he wanted to know what had happened. He was afraid that they had been tempted and the work he had done would have accomplished nothing in this Roman city.
Today we have many means of communication to find out how people are, but these were not available for Paul. So he sent Timothy to go to Thessalonica and find out how they were doing. From 1 Thessalonians 1 we discover that he was continually praying for them, as well. But he had to wait for news.
“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
All was well! Timothy brought a glowing report of their faith and love. Paul was encouraged by what he heard and thanked God for them, longing to be with them again.
When Paul was concerned, he prayed. But he also did what he could do – he sent someone he could trust to go and see what was going on. What a great example for us. Replace our worry with prayer and always do what we can do to encourage those we are concerned about.
Readings for next week: 1 Thessalonians 3-5; 2 Thessalonians 1-3