“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7).
Satan stopped Paul from visiting with the Thessalonians to monitor their development. But God opened the door for Timothy to spend some time with them. Timothy returned from his faith-finding mission with a positive report of their growth and steadfastness. He witnessed their faith and experienced their love. As a result he couldn’t wait to convey to Paul the good news of what he had witnessed.
Not that they were perfect, nobody is, but they were faithful and loving. That is what Timothy detailed upon his return. And that is what drove Paul to his knees in thanksgiving to God. Both Timothy and Paul focused on the positive when it came to the church at Thessalonica.
Had Paul sent a more critical stand-in to visit with them and report back to him might he have received a more pessimistic account? We know from the letters to Thessalonica there were some unhealthy things going on in this church. Instead of dwelling on the deficiencies, they chose to focus on the good qualities Timothy observed.
Wouldn’t this be a good step for all of us, to focus primarily on the good things others are doing? Isn’t this what Paul prescribed as the solution to the clashing of his two sisters at Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche, and their congregation – “. . .whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8)?
Paul did not naively “see no evil” with the church at Thessalonica. He was not afraid to address the shortcomings needing correction. But his overall impression was upbeat. Paul’s positive view of the church grew out of his heart full of love for them, a love that embraced them in spite of their imperfections. A couple of scriptures come to mind.
“Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12).
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
Look at the impact Timothy’s hopeful words made on Paul and his team. In the midst of their crushing troubles, they were brightened by the news of faith and love in Thessalonica. Some people who are going through a time of trial resent hearing about any joyful experience of a brother. But rather than react with envy, Paul reacted with thankfulness. It was knowing the good things happening in Thessalonica that kept Paul going!
A positive report can be a huge stimulus to perseverance. We need to love enough to see the good things happening among our brothers and sisters rather than unsympathetically pick a church to pieces. We need to love enough to speak joyfully about the good things happening with others rather than jealously respond with disapproval. We need love enough to rejoice with others, even when we are in a time of personal despair.
Knowing can keep us going.