3 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we (Paul, Silvanus, and possibly Luke?) 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. 3:1–3
Having found some sanctuary in Athens, Paul was very concerned that the young church at Thessalonica had been abandoned to the wolves without sufficient defenses: That there had not been enough time to lay the foundations of the Gospel and to let the mortar set up. His anxiety finally pressed him to the point of sending Timothy, apparently alone, several hundred miles back to Thessalonica to find out what the situation was. This would have been a nailbiter of a few weeks: There were no cell phones then. The roads and sea-lanes were dangerous, and especially so for solitary travelers. And Tim-othy was going back into hostile territory. Meanwhile, Paul, Silvanus, and possibly Luke were stuck in a huge and totally foreign city with no friends… three homeless guys living on the streets.
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. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and sup-ply what is lacking in your faith? 3:4–10
The fact that this letter went back to Thessalonica, and a second fol-lowed shortly after, seems to indicate that after Timothy came to them from Athens and strengthened the fellowship, he returned south probably with several of the Thessalonian fellowship as travel-ling companions. According to Acts 17 Paul had by then moved on to Corinth and had begun to lay the foundation for the fellowship there.
Timothy’s report then encouraged Paul, who wrote this first letter and sent it back to the fellowship with the emissaries. There may have been a second or even more interactions between the mission-aries and the new church while Paul was in Corinth, and the second letter was written and sent to further clarify some questions that had come up and to further encourage the fellowship.
I want to note here, as I have elsewhere in discussing Paul’s letters, the humanity of this apostle and the fact that he lived with fear and doubt and anxiety that he did not spend his time and energy rebuk-ing or “decreeing and declaring” away. He may have “prayed about it”, but “it didn’t work”, according to his statement above. This was the mighty Paul, and if he had to deal with such cares and worries and struggles as he followed his call, and his solution was to send a friend to find out how went the affairs of the fellowship about which he was concerned, and was not to “just pray about it” and to blame some demon for his panic attack, then who are we who imagine every difficulty we face into some sort of spiritual ambush and go to war in a prayer closet, but fail to simply find a practical solution to our problem and perhaps become the answer to our prayer?
One of the gifts of the Spirit which is too rarely spoken about is com-mon sense. Our Father has given us a great deal of liberty to make wise decisions about many things that He has chosen to put in our hands as stewards, using the wisdom and principles in the Word He has provided to us as a guide. About those things He very well may remain silent no matter how long we may rave and rant before him in our closets. It is very difficult to get an answer to a prayer that has already been answered, or for which the answer may be a practical decision on our own part. It is much easier for God to steer a moving object than it is for Him to put in motion an object that stubbornly refuses to move and is blaming Him for its inertia.
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 3:11–13