So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 1 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV).
This and coming verses explain that Paul loved the Thessalonians. In context of chapter 2, it’s obvious he did. That’s not an ordinary thing. I find myself here in San Francisco this week not knowing how to react to the homeless. I’ve been to SF many times but I’ve never seen as many homeless people here as there are this year. What’s more, the city appears to be doing less and less to address the situation of so many folks needing genuine help. Many are drug-dependent; many appear disturbed; many need help with money, food, hygiene, and health issues. Our society tells us that we should be wary of such strangers. Jesus (and probably Paul) wouldn’t have hesitated to help but Dave does. What can you do to help someone who is in such desperate straits?
If nothing else, pray. I don’t know the strangers I pass on the street, and the people who yell and scream out of the blue for no reason, or the guy kissing the magazine on the subway give compelling reasons to be apprehensive at least. But I pray for them. I pray for them, and I pray God opens my path and my heart to find a way to help. Until then, I pray. Pray for health, pray for peace, pray for safety, pray for food and shelter and assistance. Jesus and Paul would probably do more; I pray, too, that God would enable me to do the same.
So, riddle me this Dave: how does “best to be left by ourselves in Athens” demonstrate Paul’s love for anyone but Paul? Did Paul only pray for them? I think the key is in the first words of the chapter coupled with the last words of Chapter 2. Recall that 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20 said “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” Paul says those things then immediately intimates that he was left alone in Athens because he loved the Thessalonians, whose love in Christ was Paul’s pride an joy. He was left alone in Athens because he sent his friends Silas and Timothy to other places to love on other people, including the Thessalonians.
I bet that Paul’s first inclination was to pray for his new friends and the other strangers in their midst. When you can’t do anything else because of distance, ability or even fear, you and I can pray because prayer is a real, tangible way to be involved. And in it, you’re never alone.
For further reading: Acts 17:15, Thessalonians 3:2.
Lord Jesus, show me ways I can help. Show me people I can pray for and help.