1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12 (AD 50-51)
(Most likely written during Paul’s 18 month stay in Corinth, referenced in Acts 18:18)
Paul ministered in Thessalonica for the grand total of three Sabbaths – less than three weeks (Acts 17:2). And he was hounded out of town by Jewish opponents who (ironically) raised a mob and accused him of disturbing the peace and rebellion against the Romans (Acts 17:5-8). Paul fled to Berea, followed by his Jewish opponents who tried to destroy his work. So after a short time he moved on again; first to Athens and then, after a failed attempt to revisit Thessalonica, on to Corinth.
To top it off, Luke pointedly described the Berean Jews as being of more noble character than the Thessalonian ones (Acts 17:11).
Note, then, how Paul spoke about the Christians of Thessalonica:
He thanked God and prayed for them often:
“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3)
He commended their faith, life and evangelism:
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you.” (1:6-8)
He told them he cared for them like a mother cares for her children, and became vulnerable with them:
“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (2:6-8)
Paul was not a pastor; his was not to run after a wandering sheep or deal with the day-to-day challenges of caring for a local church. He commissioned Elders for those tasks after he planted a church and moved on to evangelise the next place. If someone had preached the gospel somewhere already, he wasn’t interested in that place, but would instead come back very occasionally, if at all, to check in on ‘his’ churches while focusing on pushing the boundary of gospel witness ever further.
We all should live towards our brother and sister Christians as Paul lived towards the Thessalonians: prayerfully, thankfully, commending them, being vulnerable with them and with practical help. And if anything, social distancing and mandatory isolation increases, rather than decreases, the need for those behaviours and attitudes as people can feel ever more isolated.