The First Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians
Second Chapter (Contd.)
3- St. Paul's unrealized desire to visit the Thessalonians (2:17 - 20)
Here, St. Paul reverts to addressing the message to those whom he had served. He expresses his love and outreach for them - though, "more eagerly to see your face with great desire." Nevertheless, they are ever-present with him in spirit, and he also states how he tried to see them(1) more than once, but was hindered by "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4) who always resists the work of God, and who obstructed Paul's intentions (probably through sickness, resistance, or travel-related impediments).
St. Paul proves his sincerity, in desiring to visit and reach out to them, by praising them and emphasizing their special status in his heart; the words he uses to describe them are filled with emotion, hence, "... our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing ..." not only here and now, but also "... in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming." The Thessalonians represent the fruit of St. Paul's service, preceding him before Christ's throne, on Judgment Day, and becoming his hope, in addition to his faith, struggle, giving, and all the sufferings he endured for Christ's sake. They are the source of his "joy" - since his toil was not in vain: his service drew them to the Lord. They are also his "crown of rejoicing" in addition to his "crown of righteousness." (2 Timothy 4:8) This is as though he were telling his Master: "Here am I and the children whom God has given me." (Isaiah 8:18 and Hebrews 2:13) Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he was sent by himself (alone), and returned with a large crowd that became the source of his pride, nay, more than this, they will add to his glory on Judgment Day, thus multiplying his joy, since they "... are our glory and joy." (2:20)
1- St. Paul dispatches Timothy to shepherd the Thessalonians and to strengthen their faith (3:1 - 5)
+ 3:1, 2: In the second chapter's concluding remarks, St. Paul expressed his yearning to see them, and his unfulfilled desire to visit them, due to obstacles posed by Satan (2:17, 18); he then proceeded to demonstrate his impatience with waiting any longer, by sending them Timothy - thus preferring to remain by himself in Athens, the city of idols which had rejected his message. St. Paul refers to Timothy and his mission as "... our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ [in other words, in spreading the good tidings and in preaching salvation], to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith(2) ...".
Sermons differ from all other speeches in that they employ the word of God, of which was written, "... is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32) Equally, this word of God is "... able to make you wise for salvation [hence, to accept salvation, to save your soul from death] ..." (2 Tim. 3:15), and "... able to save your souls, ..." (James 1:21). This is because the word of God incorporates the power of the life-giving Holy Spirit, Whose light illuminates the soul's darkness, giving rise to repentance and to the soul's rebirth.
Faith novices need consistent and constant follow-up and outreach; this fosters growth of their newly-born faith, perfects their knowledge, and toughens them - thus enabling them to withstand the forthcoming hardships.
+ 3:3 - 5: Trials await us all, since "we are appointed to this." St. Paul furthermore reiterates that "we would suffer tribulation," explaining that he dispatched Timothy "to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain." Indeed, Satan was capable of tempting them, since he had previously tempted the Lord Himself (Matthew 4:1 - 11), and he is capable of evil interventions which render our lives miserable. (2 Cor. 12:7 - 10, Ephesians 2:1 - 3 and 6:11 & 12)
Temptations are part of God's plan to strengthen our faith (James 1:2 - 4) and our will, and train believers on confronting persecutions initiated by the enemies of faith. Indeed, believers' sufferings, coupled with the world's adversarial stance towards them, are definite signs of the genuineness of their faith, and of their allegiance to the Savior. This was corroborated by our Lord when He told His disciples prior to His Passion, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:19) Suffering, on the other hand, does have its rich spiritual repercussions on the soul, since it tends to strengthen such great virtues as patience, tolerance, fellowship with others experiencing pain, trials or hardships, liberation from the vanities of this age, and protection against living a double life.
It should be emphasized that God does not forget those sufferings incurred in defense of our faith: "... if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together ..." (Rom. 8:17) Also, "... that the genuineness of your faith, ... may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ ..." (1 Peter 1:1), and "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." (2 Cor. 4:17)
Although we may not be spared temptations, God, when permitting them, grants coincidentally an unbeatable ability to accept afflictions thankfully from His pierced hand. Our Omnipotent God is indeed faithful to His promise, and "... will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." (1 Cor. 10:13)
2- St. Paul's joy at the Thessalonians' news which Timothy brought back (3:6 - 10)
Thanks be to God for the promising news which Timothy bore, proving Satan's failure to tempt them and to annul St. Paul's laborious service.
+ Here, St. Paul tells the Thessalonians that their steadfastness in the faith has been a source of comfort for him, despite the trials he endured throughout his service in Corinth; he also tells them that they "always have good remembrance of us," and that he knows how much they equally yearn to see him. He states that he experienced overwhelming joy, simply for being able to offer thanks to God on their behalf, though it couldn't be enough, in return for "all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God."
Joy is a gift which God grants His faithful servant; clearly, thanksgiving is first and foremost to God. As believers, it is incumbent on us to thank God, whenever we encounter those whose hearts were opened to the Lord, and to pray for their growth in the faith.
St. Paul subsequently addresses Thessalonica's believers, expressing his strong desire "night and day" to visit them and "perfect what is lacking" in their faith. This is because despite his having rejoiced at receiving their news, he knows that their faith, as novices, is incomplete; consequently, as a faithful shepherd for his congregation, he still feels committed to their service, to perfect their faith and see that it grows to maturity. Faith is a complete lifestyle, which starts as a small bud in need of constant nurturing and watering; this care will lead to the faith's edification, thus ensuring its steadfastness when faced with trials, persecutions and spiritual struggles. This is especially true when the prevailing environment, customs and lifestyles are at odds with the principles of Christ's law.
3- St. Paul's prayer for their growth and edification (3:11 - 13)
St. Paul's declaration of his desire to revisit the Thessalonians and serve them was by no means intended as a compliment; on the contrary, he sincerely entreats the Lord Jesus Christ to guide his path to them(3) or, put differently, to facilitate his way, and remove all obstacles, so that he might realize his quest.
+ St. Paul furthermore prays that the Lord help the Thessalonians' growth in Him, and that He might increase their love for one another and for others. A true servant prays for those he serves, so that their faith might grow, and so that their love might increase, not only for one another, but also for strangers and enemies. This is the sign of their allegiance to the God of love, one of Whose latter commandments to His disciples was: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
+ Finally, St. Paul prays that the Lord establish their hearts "blameless in holiness," and that their lives be chaste - not in conformance with the lifestyle which the world offers. He transports their minds to the Day of their standing before God the Father "at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints;" this is the Day when He establishes His eternal kingdom, when the faithful are glorified, and when the recompense is proclaimed both for the righteous, and for those who rejected the Lord (Matthew 16:27 and 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26) It thus behooves us to be prepared, and always ready, for that Day.
(to be continued)
(1) At that time, St. Paul was alone. Timothy had been dispatched to Thessalonica, while Silas tarried in Berea, to be close to St. Paul, after the latter had travelled to Corinth.
(2) 'Encourage you concerning your faith' is 'preach, or give you sermons' in the Arabic translation. This is what prompted a comment on 'sermons' in the next paragraph.
(3) The Bible makes no mention of St. Paul having visited Thessalonica a second time; nevertheless, it is well-known that, during his third evangelical journey through Asia, he was joined by Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius and Timothy who, arriving from Thessalonica, met him in Troas. (Acts 20:4 & 5)