I think Paul would have failed in some of the schools of modern thought as to how to find and maintain happiness. He would have flunked the class that taught that we can’t be dependent upon anyone else for our own joy and fulfillment. He would have messed up on the essay question which probed at the connection between our well-being and the well-being of others. He would have failed on “Setting Boundaries 101” and crashed and burned in the class on “Keeping Your Emotional Distance in Order to Protect Your Emotional Well-Being.” For Paul, it seems, much of what made life worth the living was tied to the life that others were living.
For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. (1Thessalonians 3:8 ESV)
If there is any of Paul’s letters where knowing the context makes such a difference in understanding the letter, it’s Paul’s letter to the believers at Thessalonica. The first part of Acts 17 indicates that Paul was afforded three to four weeks to preach the gospel to those in Thessalonica. He was there long enough to have three Sabbath days speaking in the local synagogue reasoning with the Jews “from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'” (Acts 17:2-3). And while some of them believed, so did “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (17:4). But, incited by the Jews who would not receive the good news, Paul & Co. were run out of town.
Church planted in 3+ weeks. Great! New believers left on their own with but a crash course on the things of the gospel and implications concerning the kingdom. Not so great. Holy Spirit present among the believers? Absolutely. Mature believers in place to “make disciples” and teach them? Not so much.
And so Paul sends a follow up team back to Thessalonica to see how these newborn believers and their newborn church are doing. This first letter then to the Thessalonians, in addition to providing exhortation to these believers to keep on keepin’ on, also provides some pretty interesting insight as to the heart of the apostle as he waited to hear of the health of the church. And within that letter, Paul declares, I live when you stand.
While there is “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10), Paul was jazzed when that repentant sinner proved to be a firm believer. More than just being jazzed, it would seem Paul’s vitality was dependent upon knowing that those whom he had seen respond to the gospel were then living out the gospel.
Taking Paul at face value . . . assuming he’s not being overly dramatic . . . Paul indicates that his life’s energy was intricately tied to these believer’s life walk. To know that they were standing fast in the Lord . . . that they were persevering in the faith . . . that they were persisting in the freedom that was theirs in Christ . . . that they were pursuing the kingdom of God . . . was, for Paul, to live. Because they were walking the talk, Paul’s spirit was revived . . . his cup overflowing . . . his joy complete.
Seems like kind of a risky anchor to tether your boat to . . . someone else’s walk with the Lord. But such, it seems, is the heart of the shepherd. Such is the risk one takes who cares not only for the souls of men, but for the glory of God. Such is the roller-coaster ride one gets on when he cares not only for “decisions made” but for disciples grown.
Might God increase those within the body of Christ who care, as Paul did, for the spiritual health of others. That more of us within the church would be dropouts of the world’s school of wisdom which says, “You happiness should be dependent upon you and you alone.” That more of us would be like Paul and know a measure of life’s vitality tied to the spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ. That more of us would say with the beloved apostle, I live when you stand.
All because of grace . . . all for God’s glory.