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, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.
Therefore, when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 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. 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. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5 (ESV)
James Grant writes:
Paul’s sending of Timothy back to this church was a profound sacrifice. This was not simply a wise leader making plans for Timothy to minister in Thessalonica. Paul was doing more than allowing Timothy to go back and minister to these Christians. Paul was communicating his love to this church in the action of sending Timothy because sending Timothy was a great sacrifice to the apostle. Notice what Paul says in 3:1: “Therefore, when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone.” Paul was willing to be left alone in Athens. Athens was one of the world’s oldest cities, a center for the arts, learning, and philosophy, home to Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, perhaps the birthplace of democracy, and a place that was hostile to the gospel. This city was full of idolatry provoked Paul’s spirit and led to his confrontation with the philosophers on Mars Hill. Paul was willing to be left alone in that great pagan city of Athens in order to send Timothy back to minister to the small church in Thessalonica.
Paul was willing to be left alone in a hostile environment – he was giving up a coworker in the gospel. These are opposite sides of this sacrifice. Being alone is one thing, but losing a coworker for the gospel is another level to this act of love. Can you imagine the benefits of Paul and Timothy ministering together in Athens? Our initial reaction to situations like this is to maximize the place where we are ministering and to keep our coworkers with us. Maybe part of the motive is for the gospel, but we also want to preserve our own comfort. But Paul made the decision to send his coworker back to Thessalonica and to minister in Athens alone.
But there was more to this sacrifice. Paul was not just choosing to minister alone. Paul was not just giving up a coworker. Did you notice how he described Timothy in verse 2? He was giving up a “brother.” I don’t think Paul was simply using this term to describe timothy as a brother in Christ. Paul’s relationship with Timothy was deeper than that. The bond between them was more than coworkers for the gospel. Elsewhere Paul called Timothy “my true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), and this makes us realize the depth of Paul’s sacrifice. No one else qualified to go to Thessalonica because no one else had the spirit and heart of Paul more than Timothy did. If Paul could not go, he would send his closest companion, his true child in the faith, Timothy.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 5
Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.