“Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. We wanted very much to come, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what is our proud reward and crown? It is you! Yes, you will bring us much joy as we stand together before our Lord Jesus when he comes back again. For you are our pride and joy.”
1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 NLT
The pain of separation from loved ones can be intense, especially when the parting was pushed upon you by the circumstances and against your wishes. Paul describes the pain of leaving the Thessalonians as being as intense as that of a parent losing his child. Paul assures the readers while he is physically removed from them; they are still in his heart. It seems some of Paul’s opponents are trying to convince the folks in Thessalonica that Paul really doesn’t care about them. Paul’s heart-pain argues a different position, as do his repeated attempts to return.
But the return visit never happened because Satan cut in and prevented the reunion. Satan “prevented” (NLT), “stymied” (The Message), or “stopped” (NIV) the homecoming. Ever wonder why Satan gets the blame for these plans being interrupted when on other occasions God is credited for changes to the travel itinerary (see for example Acts 16:6-10 where Paul is prevented from entering Bithynia by the Holy Spirit and concluded God had called them to go to Macedonia)? Was this just a human evaluation made in retrospect or did Paul have some supernatural gift of discernment? And just how did Satan blocked Paul’s plans? Jewish opposition? Thorn in the flesh? Political opposition? While we will never know for sure, the Thessalonians may have known exactly how Satan interfered.
Paul opens up his heart and pours out his affection for his brothers and sisters at Thessalonica. Not only was his departure from them against his will, but he tried again and again, albeit unsuccessfully to return to them. Not only were they in his heart even while separated by the miles, but he was filled with hope and joy because of their faith. Contrary to his critics who accused Paul of not caring about these people, the Thessalonians were Paul’s pride and joy.
I don’t know of anything that brings more joy to the heart of a minister than seeing people they love live out their faith. As John wrote, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father” (2 John 4 The Message). And I know there is nothing that brings more joy to the heart of a parent than seeing your children walking with God.