I’m attracted to the affection that is clearly a part of the relationship between Paul and the people in the church at Thessalonica. There is clearly more going on here than just the relationship between a church leader and a church. There’s a friendship.
This is important for us to get, because in a world in which people were constantly separating themselves from one another—when if you weren’t from the same race and country and tribe and family, you were viewed with distrust, suspicion, and often outright hostility, the followers of Jesus were supposed to stand out and be different.
And what was supposed to make them stand out was not their doctrine and their belief, as important as those things may be. What makes the community of Christ-followers different is the quality of their relationships. This is so crucial that the apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:20 “Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
Do you really understand what this is saying? That the real test of whether or not you are truly following Jesus is not doctrinal correctness, or church attendance, or sacrificial giving or serving, but the quality of your relationships. What is going to attract the world to Christ is the quality of our relationships. When there exists in a community of believers true love and affection between people who are deeply committed to one another as friends, people will be drawn to that community.
And that’s what I hear existed with Paul and the church. And not just between Paul and the church, but between Paul and Timothy. Timothy has only recently come to Paul from Thessalonica, and with great reluctance Paul is sending him back, because he wishes that they had more time together. Ever had a friend like that? Where every visit is too short, and you are reluctant to part?
There are few things in our lives more powerful than our friendships. Imagine all of the good things in your life right now. And if the one thing that was taken away from it was your friends, would any of the rest of it mean much?
The quality of our friendships makes all the difference in our lives. It makes all the difference in our churches. And it makes all the difference in our world. The quality of our friendships—the sincerity, the openness, the authenticity, even vulnerability—has a lot to do with the effectiveness of our witness to the world. After all, how good can our Good News really be if we can’t learn to love one another?