Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Separated but Not Forgotten

Part 4 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5




We were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart (1 Thess. 2:17).


The Pain of Separation 

John Fawcett (1739-1817) was born into a poor family in Yorkshire, England, and was orphaned at age 12. To survive, he accepted a lengthy apprenticeship to a tailor. Then, while still in his teens, he heard the great George Whitfield preach and became a Christian.

While serving his apprenticeship, Fawcett became active in a Baptist church and was often asked to speak. Then at age 25 (and newly married) he was invited to serve as pastor of a small church. The poor people of that little church were able to pay very little, and a lot of Fawcett’s pay came as potatoes and other produce. Once he and his wife Mary began having children, they found it difficult to survive.

Then Fawcett learned that the pastor of a large Baptist church in London was retiring, and he let the church know that he would be interested in serving them. They called him to be their pastor at a much larger salary, so John and Mary packed their belongings and prepared to move.

But then Mary told John that she didn’t think that she could leave the people whom they had both learned to love—and John told her felt the same way—so the two of them unpacked the wagon and let the London church know that they wouldn’t be coming. Fawcett served that little church for the rest of his life—54 years in all. [1]

Sometimes we don’t or can’t remain where we are, and we leave behind people we love. This is what the apostle Paul often had to do as he traveled from place to place planting churches. To the church in Thessalonica he wrote, “We were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart (1 Thess. 2:17). In other words, Paul had been separated from the Thessalonians, but he had not forgotten them.


Orphaned 

Paul and his coworkers had been “torn away” from the Thessalonians (2:17). [2] The Greek word for “torn away” (aporphanisthentes) means “to be orphaned.” [3] “Unlike the modern term, the word ‘orphan’ could refer to the child who had lost his or her parents or the parents who were bereft of their child, with the pain of this loss at the forefront.” [4]

Paul had been “torn away” from the Thessalonians “in person not in heart” (2:17). He wanted to see them again (“we endeavored the more eagerly with great desire to see you face to face,” 2:17). Paul had tried several times (“again and again”) to return to Thessalonica, “but Satan hindered [them]” (2:18).


Paul's Glory and Joy

Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his “glory and joy” (2:20). Paul was looking forward to the day of the Lord’s return when he would see the Thessalonians again (“our hope,” 2:19). On that day, the Thessalonians would be his “joy” and “crown of boasting” (2:19).

In the Macedonian games, the winning athletes were crowned with a wreath of oak leaves. The “crown” was “a recognition not only of their victory but also of their efforts and labor.” [5] For Paul, seeing the Thessalonians in heaven would show him that his labour had not been in vain (3:5). The “boasting” would not be a boasting about what he himself had done but a boasting about what God had done through him.


Sadness and Joy

This passage reminds us of two truths. First, there is sadness when circumstances cause us to be separated from one another. We can be separated by geography or by death. When a Christian we love dies, we grieve, but we shouldn’t “grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13).

Second, there will be joy when we meet again at the coming of the Lord Jesus. We long to see Jesus when he returns, but it’s not wrong to desire to see Christians who have died. It will be a day of many joyful reunions. 


Blest Be the Tie That Binds

I began with a story from the life of John Fawcett. Fawcett was also a hymn writer. His most famous hymn might have been inspired by his experience of almost leaving his little church.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

____________________

[1] Adapted from a hymn story on lectionary.org.
[2] See Acts 17:10.
[3] Paul has already described himself as a “nursing mother” (2:7) and a caring father (2:11) to the Thessalonians.
[4] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 150.
[5] Ibid., 154.