It’s the repetition that grabs your attention–that this is a big deal to Paul. Twice Paul writes that he and his cohort “could bear it no longer.” Here’s a guy who’s been through it all, but this, this is beyond bearing. He’s been scourged and beaten with rods multiple times. More than once he’s been adrift at sea and ended up in shipwrecks. He’s been pursued as a traitor, driven by mission to the point of poverty, all the while enduring some chronic condition, a thorn in the flesh, that just wouldn’t leave him. He could gut it out through all that, but not knowing how the Thessalonians were doing? That, he could bear no longer.
He hadn’t had much time to establish these new believers in their faith before being run off (Acts 17:1-10), and he knew that these babes in Christ had been born into a hostile environment. So the longer he was away from them, the more he longed to hear how they were doing. He had been torn away from them (1Th. 2:17), time had passed, and he needed to know if their faith was faltering. So Paul waits in Athens and sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how this fledgling body of believers was holding up for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted them and Paul’s labor would have been in vain (1Th. 3:5).
Timothy returns with the good news that the power of the gospel had found root in this hastily formed congregation. And the evidence that these saints were “standing fast in the Lord” (1Th. 3:8) wasn’t just in what they continued to profess they believed, but also in how they continued to behave toward one another.
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.
(1Thessalonians 3:6 ESV)
Timothy brought back to Paul the good news of their faith and their love. They were holding true to Paul’s teaching. They were still really believing what they had said they really believed. Their works manifesting a living faith. But what I’m chewing on in particular this morning, is that the evidence they hadn’t been side-tracked was also found in the love they were showing to one another.
Jesus said such love would be the indisputable proof of the gospel’s transforming power:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ Jesus
(John 13:34-35 ESV)
If Timothy had come back to Paul and reported that the Thessalonians had turned on one another, it would have indicated that the hostile environment they were living in was being successfully leveraged by the enemy to compromise their calling. Even if Timothy’s recognizance had found evidence that this fellowship of believers was simply becoming cool and ambivalent to pursuing their community in Christ, to loving one another as Christ had loved them, it would have indicated that the tempter was gaining ground in choking out the fruit of the gospel with the weeds of care and concern brought on by the world.
And so, the apostle Paul breathes a sigh of relief. They continue to love one another, he hears. They are growing in their faith, he hears. Their gospel fueled fellowship evidence of the gospel’s enduring power. The love being lived out for each other proof that the kingdom’s influence was increasing and the world’s decreasing. Their abiding community a source of assuring comfort that the work begun in them was being perfected by the Spirit working through them.
Thus, Paul continues to encourage them to keep on keepin’ on . . .
. . . and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
(1Thessalonians 3:12-13 ESV)
Abound in love for one another, dear saints. It’s the good news proof of good news power.
By God’s grace . . . for God’s glory.