by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 2 Paragraph # 4 Study # 1 August 3, 2014 Dayton, Texas
17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.
18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
19 For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? [Are] not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
20 For ye are our glory and joy.
1901 ASV Translation:
17 But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire:
18 because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming?
20 For ye are our glory and our joy.
I. Paul's Description of the Thessalonians.
A. Begins with his "heart".
1. The "setting": having been 'taken from you'. The word Paul chose to use is not widely attested even in Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon and this is the only place in the New Testament where it is found. Multiple sources run to the idea of "being orphaned", but the root idea is not the condition of being "fatherless" (as the AV renders the root in James 1:27), but, rather, the attendant emotional upheaval caused by such events as the death of someone. The "death" issue is simply that of a "final" separation and, as such, heightens the emotional trauma by the spectre of final loss irremediable in this life. The use by Paul is hyperbolic (neither he, nor the Thessalonians, have died and the separation forced by the persecution has no legitimate sense of "we shall never meet again in this world"). He is making a case, though, for the condition of his "soul".
a. In 2:8 he had made the claim that he had "imparted to the Thessalonians his own soul".
b. Once the union of "souls" has been made, separation is emotionally traumatic. There is a witness to this reality in Paul's description of how much the "coming of someone whose soul is united with the distressed" lifts the pall of emotional strain (2 Corinthians 5:5-7).
c. This is not the only time Paul has been run out of town and away from those to whom he has ministered, but it is a classic illustration of how quickly and deeply Paul "connected" with those to whom he ministered.
d. In our text he says of the separation that it was "for time of an hour", translated "for a short time". This seriously raises the bar in terms of Paul's emotional upheaval because it is viewed by him as "for only a brief time". The union of souls was most profound if it caused such upheaval even though the separation was seen as "brief".
2. "In presence, not in heart".
a. Here, again, Paul is declaring that the "separation" was "only" physical, not "in heart". This makes the union of the souls even more impressive since the "only" thing that had been "forced" was the separation from the physical presence of the Thessalonians.
b. The strong implication is that nothing can make one "an orphan" in the heart if the souls are united, though most anything can destroy the relationship if the souls are not joined.
3. "We were abundantly diligent to see your face with great desire".
a. The order is reversed: desire always precedes diligence.
b. But actions speak louder than words: Paul actually wanted, almost desperately, to see the Thessalonians face to face.
c. This boils down to something so profound that it comes across as weird: a "soul" attachment that is obsessive for a group of people that he had only known for a matter of weeks. If this is not a work of the Spirit and a mirror of the heart of God, it is an unhealthy fixation that has the potential to drive a person over the edge of emotional stability (consider David's behavior at the death of his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 19 as an illustration of such emotional excess). Since we can hardly accuse Paul of unhealthy excess, we must conclude that his attitude is a reflection of the heart of God.
4. "Wherefore we [plural] willed to come to you, emphatically I, Paul, both once and again...".
a. Paul either uses a kind of "editorial 'we'", or his associates shared his powerful desire to return to Thessalonica.
b. The "emphatically I, Paul," implies that he thought that maybe the Thessalonians would not believe his "weird" emotional attachment, but it also implies that he felt like they really needed to believe it. This can only mean one thing: we have a potent need to see God as "committed to this high level of desire" and it is likely that if we never experience it on the human level, we will have some difficulty believing it on the "T"heological level.
5. "And the adversary prevented us".
a. This is a remarkable declaration about how potent the adversary actually is.
b. If it had been "the will of God", the adversary would not have been able to keep Paul from acting on his desire. This is Basic Theology 101: omnipotence is irresistible. So what have we here? An extreme emotional attachment going begging: do we "judge" God's works as evidence of His attachment a la the "actions speak louder than words" comment above? No. The Cross is the "action" that speaks louder than words.