Before he went to Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen the church there (1 Thess. 3:2). From Athens Paul moved on to Corinth (Acts 18:1). There he was rejoined by Timothy, who reported on the Thessalonian church, and Paul wrote a letter back to them to encourage them (1 Thess. 3:6).
The Bereans may have been “more noble,” but the Thessalonians had developed into a very healthy local church. Paul had no words of correction or criticism for them. He answered questions brought to him by Timothy, and he encouraged them in their faith—after all, the Jews were actively persecuting them, and so were the unconverted Gentiles (1 Thess. 2:14–16).
Paul praised them for standing firm. Their faith had become a model for other churches, and their witness had gone to neighboring cities (1 Thess. 1:7–8).
One thing that stands out in this letter is Paul’s loving concern for these people. Modern liberal Christians often accuse Paul of being harsh, strict, and narrow. It is assumed that he was clearly an egghead intellectual with no affection for ordinary people.
How different is the picture of Paul that emerges from this epistle. He prayed continually for the Thessalonian people (1:2–3; 3:9–10). He suffered for them (1:6). He worked at making tents so as not to be a financial burden to them (2:9). He encouraged, urged, and comforted them like a father (2:11–12). He longed to see them again (2:17). When he could not stand it any longer, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing (3:5). This is not a picture of a cold intellectual.
Rather than expose the Thessalonians to persecution, Paul fled to Berea and then to Athens (3:1). He let others continue his work. We see in this a real humility, for many people would find it hard to walk away from a prospering work. Paul realized that in the providence of God, the joy of laboring with the Thessalonians would be given to someone else. So he sent Timothy. He was willing to look like a coward in order to protect and prosper the church.