17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. 6 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— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? 11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 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. (ESV)
1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Satan May Be Powerful, But God Is Sovereign! (1 Thessalonians 1-3, Part 4)
More often than not, Paul was forced to leave a newly formed community of believers much sooner than he would have preferred. It was particularly heart-wrenching in the case of the Thessalonian church. In this passage, Paul details the Progression of his actions in Response to his forced departure.
His response develops through four stages:
(2:17-20) He and his co-workers earnestly sought to return to Thessalonica but were met with insurmountable obstacles, which Paul clearly recognizes as from Satan’s hand.
(3:1-5) Paul knows Satan’s schemes and acknowledges his concern for their vulnerability. And so, unable to bear the burden of separation any longer, Paul remains alone in Athens and sends Timothy.
(3:6-10) Upon Timothy’s return with a report full of good news, Paul’s spirit is lifted, his heart is full of joy, his prayers overflow with thanks to God. And significantly, Paul is stirred to pray all the more that he might be granted opportunity to see them.
(3:11-13) Finally, even as he writes this letter, Paul gives expression to his prayers. It is God who alone opens the doors and directs his steps. It is God alone who will guard and establish the Thessalonians’ hearts.
In summary, Paul’s ministry and the prayers that drive that ministry are under this banner: Satan may be powerful but God is sovereign!
(In the following, I leave several propositions together in a condensed arc, in order to highlight the big picture flow of Paul’s logic).
(This was originally posted on the Biblearc blog by Michael Lane on August 20, 2015.)