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. (1 Thessalonians 3:6 NIV)
There is no question that Paul is overjoyed with the report that Timothy provides after his visit to the church in Thessalonica. I assume that when Timothy reports good news about their faith and love that each of these is strong and growing. However, Timothy says nothing about the number of people attending gatherings or about the amount of money being collected in the Sunday offering. What matters to Paul are faith and love.
What kinds of questions did Timothy ask? What did he observe? I can only speculate. I think that Timothy attended several gatherings, it doesn’t make sense to attend one service after traveling several weeks to get there. The gathering was probably in a home and I’m thinking that Timothy stayed in someone’s home and visited many others. During these visits he would have been able to observe people’s attitudes and what they were talking about. Were they full of confidence in God or were they full of doubt and fearful? Were they saying good things about one another and encouraging one another to love and good deeds? Were there obvious physical needs in the congregation or were needs consistently being met.
These kinds of things are much more difficult to track and put in a spreadsheet, but they are much more descriptive of a congregation’s health than attendance and giving. What would happen if we started examining the life of our congregations outside the Sunday morning gathering? Would we find strong and growing faith and love?
There is one other thing that is missing. The Thessalonians were loving out of their faith in God, but they were lacking in hope. The key to the good news is the hope of the resurrection and being able to spend eternity with Jesus. Timothy’s report does not mention hope. So Paul ends this section with a strong hint about where the remainder of his letter will be going.
May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. (1 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV)
There is hope. Jesus is going to return.
For my grandchildren:
Trust God. Love others. Remember that Jesus is coming.