Friday 9th October 2020 – 1 Thessalonians – Timothy’s Mission in Macedonia
1 Thessalonians 3: 1 – 5
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labour had been in vain.
Paul experiences not just the pain of self-isolation, but the anxieties and frustrations of being cut off from a faith community. “I ought to be there” is a natural reaction when we hear of the needs of a family member or a friend – or (as with Paul) when there is no news of them. The hurt and regret that so many people have felt when lockdown regulations insisted “You stay where you are” will take a long time to heal. And for Paul there is a similar hurt in not being able to travel to where he is surely needed.
But think of Timothy, knowing that he is only the stand-in. Paul wanted to be travelling to Thessalonica himself, and the Thessalonians would certainly have preferred to welcome the “real” apostle. But between them they recognise that good may come out of this less than ideal compromise, and there is genuine hope for a strengthening of faith and mutual encouragement.
Paul is writing against a background of threat and persecution. Maybe the threat of the pandemic is still a factor in our life decisions – or maybe travel restrictions, lack of finance, or the loss of energy that comes through ageing are holding us back from what we hoped to do, and from where we hoped to be. Although Paul has seen the hand of Satan holding him back and blocking his way, finding another way forward now gives Timothy the opportunity to develop his own gifts and ministry.
Paul has to move on from thinking of himself as indispensable for the life of the community he loves and cares for. If I can’t manage myself to do what I once thought God was asking of me, maybe it’s time to look around and find someone else to take my place.
Loving God may we find ourselves where you want us to be and through the community of your people may we know encouragement in our daily living and strength to remain faithful to the end.
The Rev’d John Durell, retired minister, member of Waddington Street URC, Durham