Bearing the Burden Alone at Thessalonica

The journey of Paul from Philippi to Thessalonica is simply stated: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:1). Apart from the distance walked by the three preachers, a journey in excess of 100 km, there was the added problem that Paul and Silas endured: the painful effects of the beating they had been given in Philippi. Timothy was able to show his mettle as a caring young brother. They travelled light, no doubt, but Timothy would need to carry Paul and Silas’ kitbags as well as his own, while also looking well to their physical comforts as best he could on this long journey. We are not exaggerating their suffering, for Paul reminded the Thessalonians: “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suf­fered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention” (1 Thess 2:1–2). The Scriptures do say, “How beauti­ful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” BUT it does require faithful dedication and commitment to make feet go out to preach. Paul was not a ‘stay at home from the lecture’ type because it was cold or he had a slight headache. What a fine example he was setting for this young brother, Timothy. Older brethren and sisters need to set a dedicated example for our younger members to follow.

Persecution at Thessalonica

For three Sabbaths, Paul went into the synagogue and “reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ” (Acts 17:2–3). What an experience it would have been to stand with Timothy and listen to Paul’s biblical reasoning, establishing that Jesus, whom the Jews had crucified was in fact their promised “Christ” or Messiah. How valuable it is for older brethren, who have the ability to simply and clearly set forth the teachings of the truth, to encourage younger brethren to be with them as they tutor people in the gospel. Doing this lays the basis for strong and sound ecclesias in the future.

Things soon turned ugly as unbelieving Jews agitated and “set the city on an uproar” and attacked the house of Jason, hoping to drag out Paul and Silas. Let us realise that those doing this are termed, “certain vile fellows of the rabble” (v5 RV). Picture a group like the Hells Angels being seconded to come into one of our homes to drag out brethren who had given public lectures on Sunday evening. It would be a fearful experience for brethren and sisters to face such rough treatment. Though Paul and Silas were not there at the time, the situation was so serious that the brethren immediately sent them away by night unto Berea (Acts 17:10). How did young Timothy cope with all of this? Would he stand the test of faith under persecutions like this? Had Paul made the right choice in asking Timothy to accompany him and Silas? These developments in Thessalonica and what followed proved that he had.

On to Berea

The trio arrived in Berea and the first thing record­ed of them is that they “went into the synagogue of the Jews” (v10). Paul was so mightily impressed with the message and hope of the gospel that he was not ashamed to boldly enter a city and com­mence preaching there. Paul was like a paramedic, who, wherever he went, saw people suffering from a terminal disease brought on by sin. Knowing he had the only cure available for these poor stricken individuals, he quickly forgot his own comfort and personal need and immediately went to work, endeavouring to save people’s lives. We have that same message of salvation so let us never ‘pass by on the other side’, leaving one dying without offering the remedy to their problem. How refreshing the result would have been for Paul, Silas and Timothy here. We read: “They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. But soon, unbelieving Jews of Thessalonica arrived to stir up trouble and the brethren “immediately sent away Paul” to Athens.

Timothy sent back to Thessalonica

We can picture the discussion in Athens, as Paul and Silas, with Timothy, consider the events of the past months and seek a way to strengthen the young ecclesias just established. In Thessalonica, the young ecclesia was struggling to maintain the faith amidst the fearful opposition. It seems a ca­veat had been placed on Paul and Silas and security was taken from Jason, so it would endanger the ecclesia further if they returned. What was to be done? A solution was to send Timothy back there to strengthen the ecclesia. One wonders what went through Timothy’s mind when this suggestion was made. Etched into his memory he would have the vivid pictures of the beating that Paul suffered at Philippi and the fierceness of the mob who broke into the house of Jason. But we find he willingly agreed, no doubt remembering the words he had heard Paul say in Lystra, “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Timothy was sent “to establish” and “to comfort” the ecclesia. The spiritual maturity and capability of this young brother in his twenties is set forth by Paul in these words to the ecclesia: “When we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess 3:1–3). If you are a young brother, would you have the ability to fulfil such a charge if it arose? If you are an older brother, do you work with the younger brethren to help them develop that spiritual maturity needed to strengthen ecclesias? Paul gives us Timothy’s report after he fulfilled his mission: “When Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith” (1 Thess 3:6–7). A refreshing thing about Timothy’s report is that it is not ego-centric, telling what he did, he told them and he showed them, as sometimes we may endure as one tells of the work that they do in service of their Lord. Timothy reported on the state of the ecclesia, its faith and love and their remembrance of Paul and Silas and their desire to see them again. There is no personal comment on what he actually did himself.

❝To Paul, the work was more important than the personal privileges that his apostleship allowed him.❞

From Athens to Corinth

While Timothy was fulfilling his work of minis­tration, strengthening the ecclesia at Thessalonica, Paul moved on to Corinth. Acts gives a very impor­tant piece of information about the ethics of Paul and his mission work. Paul left Athens and went to Corinth: “and he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tent­makers by trade” (Acts 18:1). We are aware that Paul reminded the brethren and sisters that that was his practice. At Miletus he said: “Ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:34–35). Paul had done the same in Thessalonica: “For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9).

Imagine the positive impression that Paul’s discipline would have had upon Timothy. For him to witness this and those other disciplines that Paul placed upon himself, so that the gospel message would not be hindered, must have been a great education to Timothy, as indeed it should be to all of us! To Paul, the work was more important than the personal privileges that his apostleship allowed him. This applied not only in working for a living but also in the care of what he ate: “nothing [was] to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.” However, on the other hand, “For meat destroy not the work of God” (Rom 14:20). For he said, “if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Cor 8:13). Paul examined all that he did as the ‘apostle to the Gentiles’, ensuring that no personal privileges he took would hinder the work he was called to do. Oh that we could all grasp this principle and live it as Paul has asked of us: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Timothy Arrives in Corinth

Timothy returned from Thessalonica to Corinth where Paul was living and working with Aquila and Priscilla. On hearing the positive result in Thessalonica, Paul was urged on in his preaching (Acts 18:5). However, soon the threat of persecu­tion for the gospel’s sake again raised its ugly head, but Paul was encouraged to stay in Corinth by the Lord, who said to Paul, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (Acts 18:9–10). Let us realise that these words did not remove the threatening situation that was developing, for “the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal” (v12). In this fearful situation, it required faith to believe the Lord’s words, “no man shall set on thee to hurt thee”. In the two years that Paul was in Corinth, the brethren and sisters would have noted Timothy’s faithful service as he supported Paul in all ways he could. It was for this reason Paul could later write to the Corinthians, “I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every ecclesia” (1 Cor 4:16–17).

On leaving Corinth, Paul, Silas and Timothy went to Ephesus for a brief time and then to Judea and finally back to Antioch from where this mis­sionary journey had commenced. As we followed Paul and the events recorded of that journey, we have been particularly considering the development of the young brother Timothy. He was now around 24 years of age. What an amazing experience and education he had gained from the apostle to the Gentiles in those past three years. If you are a young person, what lessons have you noted that you can meld into your life of service in the Truth? And to the older members, what points have you noted in endeavouring to be a ‘father figure’ to the younger members, following Paul’s example in this?

As we consider the third missionary journey, we will see that Paul entrusts greater responsibility to Timothy, his beloved son in the Lord.