Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians
“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.”- 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18
Conversion to Christ results in a number of changes for believers. For instance, we have a change in our legal status from unrighteous to righteous (Rom. 3:21–4:25). Additionally, we go from being slaves under the law to being adopted sons of God (Gal. 4:1–7). We could mention other changes, but we will today consider one that is most pertinent to our study of 1 Thessalonians 2:17–18, namely, the change from being indifferent or even hostile to Christians to having a true affection for other believers.
The Apostle John explains that one sign of having “passed out of death into life”—of moving from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God—is that we love other Christians (1 John 3:14). In today’s passage, we see evidence of that change in the Apostle Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Paul reveals his great longing to see and fellowship with the Thessalonian Christians after having been “torn away” from them. He refers here to the opposition of the Jews in Thessalonica to the gospel, which created an uproar in the city and forced the Thessalonian Christians to help Paul and his companions flee the city for their own safety (Acts 17:1–10). Paul was torn away from the Thessalonians—his departure from Thessalonica was not his own doing but was forced on him by enemies of the gospel. The Apostle and the others with him did not want to leave but desired to continue ministering to the Thessalonians.
So great was Paul’s desire to see the Thessalonians again that by the time he wrote his first letter to them, he had been endeavoring “the more eagerly and with great desire” to return to them (1 Thess. 2:17). Note that Paul wanted to see the Thessalonians “face to face.” Though he could communicate with them from a distance, this was not optimal. He wanted to be with them. Christians, simply put, want to be with other Christians. After all, when we love a friend or family member, we want to spend time with them, so because Christians love other Christians (1 John 5:1), they will want to spend time with fellow believers.
Paul left Thessalonica because he was forced to by external threats. Similarly, he had not yet returned to Thessalonica at the time he wrote 1 Thessalonians because Satan was standing in his way (1 Thess. 2:18). By afflicting Paul with an illness or some other hindrance—we do not know exactly what the devil did—Satan was keeping Paul away. But Paul truly wanted to be there.
If we truly trust in Christ, we will seek to spend time with other Christians. And if we want to spend time with fellow believers, our enemy will also do what he can to stand in the way of this fellowship. Frequently, it takes effort to visit with other Christians face-to-face, but it is an effort we should make. When we meet together, we build one another up and encourage one another to persevere in faith.
Passages for Further Study
1 Samuel 20:17
2 Timothy 1:4
3 John 14