Ties that Bind
Ties that Bind
Words of Faith 3-14-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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1 Thessalonians 2
 But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.  For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us.  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 had not been able to return to Thessalonica to personally visit and encourage the believers there. Evidently, some people in Thessalonica were questioning and criticizing him suggesting that he really did not care about these new believers. They probably were characterizing him like the various traveling charlatans who came and took what they could gain from the people and then left without a thought.
This verse is one of the most revealing in regard to Paul's feelings for those believers. He used the term of endearment "brothers" once again in addressing them. He described his departure from them as a turning away forced on him by circumstances beyond his control. The verb Paul used here (aporphanisthentes) means literally "to be orphaned.” That is how strongly Paul felt the separation. This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament.
To Paul, it was as though his family was being torn apart when he left them. He hoped the separation would be brief, but it broke his heart to leave them as infant babes in Christ. Though he had left them physically, the believers in Thessalonica were still prominent in his thoughts. They were not "out of sight, out of mind" as some might say.
The deep feelings Paul had for these believers was demonstrated in that he and his companions had tried to return to Thessalonica on several occasions. There was a "tie that binds" felt in the intense longing for their brethren. For this team, the care and feeding of new Christians was not just an obligation those missionaries felt toward God. They longed with all their hearts to be able to care for these new believers in spite of the personal danger that faced them in Thessalonica.
Paul blamed Satan for his failure to be able to return. Sometimes we are a little too quick to blame the devil for every obstacle. Here the Word of God confirms that the Enemy was the source of this barrier. John Calvin commented on this passage writing that "Whenever the ungodly cause us trouble, they are fighting under the banner of Satan, and are his instruments for harassing us.” Indeed God permitted this to happen, but He was no more responsible for originating this problem than He is for any sin which His creatures commit and which He allows.
Paul's affection for the believers at Thessalonica was intense and profound. He did not try to return just once, but again and again, he sought ways to get back to Thessalonica. The Philippian believers were the only others who received such warm words of personal love from Paul.
Here, Paul voiced a rhetorical question to express the intensity of his feelings. In effect, he asked what would be the greatest blessing he could possibly receive at the judgment seat of Christ. They were! They were everything that was worth anything to Paul. They were his hope. Their development was what he lived for as a parent lives to see his children grow up to maturity, to produce and reproduce.
These people were his joy, they filled his life with sunshine as he thought of what they used to be, what they had become, and what they would be by the grace of God. They were his crown. They were the symbol of God's blessing on his life and ministry. They were his glory and joy, and not only his but also the glory and joy of his companions in labor.
Paul said in essence, "When life is over, and we stand in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming, you Thessalonians will be our source of glory and joy. You mean that much to us." This profession of affection should have removed any thoughts from the Thessalonian Christians' minds that Paul had not returned because he was unconcerned or selfish.
What do we gain from this reflection?
We live in a society of replaceable parts, disposable appliances, and interchangeable relationships. Our culture has built an efficiency into the systems of life such that people can be moved around and quickly replaced. Lifelong friendships are rare. Long-term pastorates are even rarer. In church life, pastors, congregations, assignments, and leaders can be easily replaced. This is the way of modern life. We tend to shrug it off. But Paul gives us insight into the broader life of relationship in the Spirit. There is a tie that binds in the culture of the Kingdom.
In ministry, I often talk with people who are uprooted from the church body where they came to know Christ, and it may take years for them to feel at home in another place. We hear of a founding pastor that is forced by circumstance to leave a congregation, and things are never quite the same for him or the people. God will surely get them through. The reality is that even though we are always "replaceable," such replacement is never without pain. The alternative is to join the world culture and live a shallow emotional existence, never connecting with believers, and always anticipating the next move.
Paul's words here drive us to face the real nature of relationships in Christ in the Kingdom. We are not called merely to be part of a nameless herd. We are called to relationships in the Spirit that are stronger than the bonds of family and blood. Jesus was once called by his mother and brothers to come away from those He ministered to. He answered by looking around at those He was caring for and saying, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother" (Mk. 3:34-35). These are the ties that bind.
Father God, draw me into deep relationships with those who love and follow You. Tie me ever so firmly to those who serve You and care for the Body of Christ. Give me an unbreakable tie to You and a heart deeply committed to those You love and are drawing into Your Kingdom. In Jesus' name.