Picture for a moment those first moments of a family reunion. The entire extended family is reunited— aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and others. They may come from around the country or even fly in from overseas. They have not seen each other in person for a very long time, so the hugs are warm and the greetings joyful. At last, they’re together again!
In a similar sense, Paul had an “intense longing” to see the Thessalonians (v. 17). They were like family to him. He’d already spoken of himself as both mother and father to the young church (vv. 7–8, 11–12). Now he referred to their separation with the word “orphaned,” which in Greek can mean not only children who’ve lost their parents but also parents who’ve lost their children.
Paul felt this way because the Thessalonians represented “our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes. . . . Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (vv. 19–20). In other words, when Christ returns and asks Paul, “How did you spend your life?”—he would point straight to the Thessalonians. They would be his “crown,” a reference to a prize in athletic games such as the ancient Olympics (Phil. 3:14). They would serve as evidence that Paul had lived faithfully for the glory of God.
Paul had gone on to Berea and then to Athens, stopping eventually in Corinth (1 Thess. 3:1). Since he couldn’t come himself, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica (3:2–5). His encouraging message: Don’t be “unsettled” or discouraged by persecution. In fact, he’d told them to expect trials as a normal lot of the Christian in a hostile world. They should stand firm and not give in to temptations to abandon the hard road of faith.
>> Among other consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic presented significant barriers to being together. This difficult situation reminds us to give even more thanks for God’s faithful fellowship (Deut. 31:8)!