Paul Wants To Visit
17My friends, we were kept from coming to you for a while, but we never stopped thinking about you. We were eager to see you and tried our best to visit you in person. 18We really wanted to come. I myself tried several times, but Satan always stopped us. 19After all, when the Lord Jesus appears, who else but you will give us hope and joy and be like a glorious crown for us? 20You alone are our glory and joy!
1 Finally, we couldn't stand it any longer. We decided to stay in Athens by ourselves 2and send our friend Timothy to you. He works with us as God's servant and preaches the good news about Christ. We wanted him to make you strong in your faith and to encourage you. 3We didn't want any of you to be discouraged by all these troubles. You knew we would have to suffer, 4because when we were with you, we told you this would happen. And we did suffer, as you well know. 5At last, when I could not wait any longer, I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I hoped Satan had not tempted you and made all our work useless.
Paul could have used a smartphone in his time, or a wi-fi tablet because he was one relational kind of guy. An electronic Facebook is great – but better is the Heartbook and the “great desire to see you face to face” (v 17).
There’s an incredible sense of friendship, collegiality, even intimacy in these verses. The language is intensely personal. Paul was “torn away”; he can “bear it no longer.” His readers are his “joy and crown.” Against the common misunderstanding and stereotype of Paul as the last person you would want to invite as a dinner guest (all judgment and intolerance, as some say), here we see him as a man invested in people, delighting in relationships, desperate to see his friends again.
But there is a background fear in Paul’s longing to see his friends, fear that in the months of absence his friends may have lost their faith, given up under persecutions, quit because of their sufferings.
Many of us who read these verses nowadays can identify with both Paul’s joy and his fears. Many of us are older people who have worked in the church, run youth groups, taught Sunday School. And when we have the wonderful opportunity to meet former colleagues and fellow believers again, after years of separation, many of us have that same background fear. Do our friends still hold the faith?
Facebook can bring us back into contact with old friends. Some with whom we shared church or youth group. It’s always great to hear from them again, even better if we could see them face to face. But how are they doing as believers?
Here’s an encouragement. How many people this day are giving thanks to God for you, calling you their joy and crown, longing to see you face to face? Many, I bet.
Father God, you hold us all in your heart and keep convincing us that we are your crown and glory. Grant that we stay faithful to you and to our friends, that we might know the deep friendship and joy that come from the people in our heartbooks.