“But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire“
Paul now describes the relationship he had with the Thessalonians since the founding of the church one year earlier.
The word “but” contrasts the experience of Paul’s team with the Thessalonians to the bad experiences in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16).
Again, Paul uses a thoughtful reference to brotherhood to appeal to what they had in common spiritually.
having been taken away from you
In Acts 17, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke ministered for three Sabbath days in Thessalonica, but then hostile Thessalonians chased them out of town. They left for Berea. Over a year elapsed before Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, while residing in Corinth.
“Then the brethren [in Thessalonica] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17: 10).
The words “taken away” means to make an orphan of someone. It comes from two words: from and to orphan (orphanizw). This is the only time the New Testament uses this word. The separation of Paul’s team from the Thessalonians for a year caused them emotional pain. Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. The persecution tore Paul from his family. The frenzy of persecution in Thessalonica forced the team out of the city and kept them from coming back.
for a short time
Paul’s sorrow was alleviated by two comforting thoughts. First, the separation was “for a short time.”
in presence, not in heart,
Secondly, the Thessalonians were out of sight, but not out of mind. Paul was not with them “in presence,” meaning physically, but he was with them “in heart.” Paul’s love for the Thessalonians was not mere sentimentalism that lasted just as long as he was with them. It is not by choice that Paul writes 1 Thessalonians from Corinth. He fled Thessalonica because of the intensity of persecution. He had a heart for the Thessalonians.
endeavored more eagerly to see your face
The word “endeavored” means to make haste. Paul’s team made great effort to return to Thessalonica. Paul did not use the absence as a pretext for forgetting them, as some of his critics insinuated. He wanted to make sure that he established them in their faith.
“For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?” (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10).
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established— that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Romans 1:11-12).
with great desire
The team had great motivation to return to Thessalonica, not because of obligation but because they loved the Thessalonians. It felt like the severing of a parent from a child. Paul redoubled his efforts to see the Thessalonians in the face of satanic opposition (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He yearned to see them again. He would never leave in a lurch those to whom he ministered.
Spiritually minded people have a heart for God’s own.
Our time on earth is short and unsure. Only in heaven will there be no more parting. We may never see some of our Christian friends again on this earth, but one day we will be with them for eternity.
True Christian fellowship does not reside on sentiment, but in our common bond in Christ.