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This Week's Script
Our Lesson this week reviews some of the history of Paul’s relationship with the church in Thessalonica. It follows Paul’s life from the time he leaves Thessalonica until he reaches Corinth; from which he probably wrote the letter to the Thessalonians. The main purpose of this lesson, I believe, is to show us how deeply Paul cared for the Thessalonians.
After Paul leaves Thessalonica he stops in Berea, Athens, and Corinth. He was restless wondering about how the Thessalonians were, because His departure was abrupt. 1 Thessalonians 2:17 gives us an interesting glimpse into Paul’s state of mind by the way in which he describes his sudden departure from Thessalonica. The phrase “torn away” (ESV) comes from a Greek word (aporphaniz) and means “to make an orphan” of someone. In other words, Paul likens the deep anguish he feels with that of a parent bereft of a child.
Paul felt as if he had been forced to abandon his child.
As if he had left the Thessalonians orphan. So, When Paul can “no longer endure” his intense longing for the Thessalonians, he sends a mutual friend to learn how they are doing. Paul is afraid that somehow Satan might lure them away from their original convictions. But he is comforted tremendously when Timothy reports that they are standing firm in the faith. There is an interesting hint of a deeper dynamic in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. Paul rejoices at Timothy’s report that they have a good opinion of him and that they are longing to see him as much as he is longing to see them. Paul’s departure from Thessalonica was sudden, and he seems to have some uncertainty about the way in which they viewed him and his absence. The Thessalonian faithfulness made a big difference to Paul. Timothy’s report brings Paul an intense experience of joy in his prayers to God. But his present joy does not squelch his intense longing to see them face to face and to complete their education in the Christian walk. However, after sending Timothy as an emissary and still being unable to be personally present with them, Paul then engages the Thessalonians by letter. Those letters make up part of the New Testament corpus.
The first chapter of 1 Thessalonians shows Paul’s heart full of warm concern for the believers there. Let us read verses 2 through 4 as examples of how Paul showed concern for them. Let us see the words Paul used,
1Th 1:2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
1Th 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
1Th 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
These were Beautiful and loving words that Paul used for the Thessalonians. This concern is nothing short of a miracle when you know his earlier history. There was a time in his life when he would have hunted out these same people and killed them in hopes of eradicating a gospel message direct from God. What he discovered is that in every age, God has protected His gospel and it will never be eradicated.
Paul had caught a glimpse of the unfathomable gift of God in Christ. His gratitude gave way to an irrepressible urge to share the good news with others. Paul was not content to bask in the blessings of the cross and be saved alone – No! – he felt compelled to share the gospel everywhere he went. “The love of Christ compels us,” he said. “Because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” 2 Corinthians 5:15.
It was the message that softened his heart toward fellow believers in the dramatic shift that went from savage killing to pastoral sympathy and concern. The effect of hearing and receiving the gospel message is the same today. Unless the message is allowed to change the heart, outward change of behavior is just that. Jesus used the image of “whited tombs” (Matt. 23:27) to describe the condition of outward goodly appearance, but inside was death and corruption.
Paul is a very good example of the following Ellen G. White quote,
“Every important truth received into the heart must find expression in the life. It is in proportion to the reception of the love of Christ that men desire to proclaim its power to others; and the very act of proclaiming it, deepens and intensifies its value to their own souls” CS p. 94.
Paul loved the Thessalonians and God loved them, because the love of God filled Paul’s heart and compelled him to love others as God loved. Until we catch a glimpse of the unfathomable gift on God in Christ, we will not love as Paul loved; we will no be grateful to Christ as Paul was. Until we do we will continue in our lukewarm-ness and our efforts to evangelize will be futile.