Expected travel time from Athens to Thessalonica is four hours and 47 minutes. I presume that’s via automobile and paved road, not the way Timothy did it when Paul dispatched him to pay a call on the Thessalonians in A.D. 50. The purpose of the trip is given in Paul’s letter to that city:
“… when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. …” (Emphasis mine.)
What do you like to do on Thursday evenings? We have a Bible fellowship meeting at our house, and one of the couples who attends comes a long way to get here. They both work, and I suppose they have to eat and maybe shower beforehand, and they may arrive tired. It is possible that on some Thursday nights they would rather be watching a ball game, or idly leafing through a fashion magazine—or doing just about anything other than driving to our house for fellowship. But they come. Why? Is it worth it?
The question of what is “worth it” in life is always interesting. Last Thursday night this question hit me afresh as our fellowship group prayed for two of our group who are presently in Georgia, a journey they’re making by car. And why are they doing this? Because another couple in that state bought a house and are dedicating it to the Lord’s ministry in their neighborhood, and so the couple in our fellowship went down to encourage them. What do you figure—maybe $500 and $1,000 to fight expressway traffic to “encourage” someone?
The apostle Paul also thought that kind of thing was a worthwhile expenditure of time and resources. In letters to several churches, he said he was coming their way—not to bring money or clothing or parchments, but simply to “establish” their faith:
“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).
“Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36).
“… I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you …” (Romans 1:11).
“… when we could bear it no longer … we sent Timothy … to establish and exhort you in your faith … (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
“Establishing” is not converting. Someone may be converted but not well “established”: he or she may be unstable and easily shaken by testings and trials. He or she may be strong, but you can always use more strength. When our little fellowship group comes together on Thursday evenings, we are already believers and children of God. But our two hours together never fails to “establish” me more firmly in the faith than before. I always come away determined to believe God more and put to death sin.
Paul sent Timothy 313 miles to “establish” the Thessalonians so that they would not slip away. And it was so worth every mile.