Paul's heart for the church in Thessalonica oozes from every chapter of these books, but this passage is especially touching. Paul has already explained how his ministry team decided together to stay in Athens and send Timothy to check on them. But Paul gets very personal in verse 5: HE could stand it no longer. He had to know how they were doing. Specifically, he was afraid of the type of spiritual warfare they might have been facing from the enemy of our souls, the tempter. Satan had already stopped them from coming to Thessalonica again so he knew that something evil was afoot. He didn't know the form it took with the church, but he was afraid some temptation had come to them. The previous verses seem to indicate that he was particularly concerned about temptations away from faith based on the persecution they were facing. Whatever his concern, he reached a point where he had to know something about their faith.
What's interesting to me is the report Paul details from Timothy doesn't talk about their faith at all! He says there is news about "your faith and love" but all the specifics relate to love; The church has pleasant memories of Paul & his team, and longs to see them. That's it. It seems so innocuous to our ears, almost a courtesy statement. Yet Paul saw in this report something much, much deeper. He saw evidence of faith, of standing firm in the Lord.
The epistles of John were still decades from being penned, but the eternal truth from God must have been ringing in Paul's heart:
1 John 3:11, 14 11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. ... 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
1 John 4:6-12 6 We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Paul knew that Timothy's report reflected two evidences of faith:
- They loved other believers. Remember, Paul and his team had been run out of town by persecutors. If the church at Thessalonica was not holding firm to truth, they would want to distance themselves from people who were out of favor with persecutors. Instead, they not only embraced them, they longed to see them! And they even said they had "pleasant memories" of their time together - despite the riot and false accusations by their own countrymen!
- They paid attention to the apostles' teaching (1 John 4:6). They weren't rejecting God's messengers, because they were embracing the message. Today we listen to the apostles' teaching through reading and obeying Scripture. The church in Thessalonica cared about God's word.