1 Thessalonians 2:17-20: Our hope, our Joy, and our Crown of Rejoicing
Paul now changes the subject, he is no longer writing about when he was with the Thessalonians but He still cares for them and has great hopes for them, but he also fears for them since he left.
He was forced to leave Thessalonica after 3 Sabbath days (Acts 17:2). He and his associates must have felt orphaned from the believers there. But Paul still has them his heart, and he greatly longed to see them, and tried hard to do so. Twice he found his purpose frustrated, as he expressed it, “Satan hindered us.”
Paul ached for the Thessalonians. He wanted to see them because he cared about them. He loved them. Paul was concerned that all the persecution that resulted from his visit might be adversely affecting the people of the church. If you will, Paul was worried about these people.
The heart of a pastor: John Wesley wrote, “Do all the good you can, by all the means that you can, in all the ways that you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you can.”
“This is the heart of a pastor, the heart of Jesus, and the heart that every follower of Christ needs. If we want people to hear the message of the gospel, we must show it to them first.” –Rev. Bruce Goettsche, unionchurch.com
Verse 17a: “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you (separated and bereaved) for a short time in presence, not in heart…”
I don’t know who came up with the idea that Paul was cold and hard. You cannot read this letter without sensing the warmth of Paul’s heart and the depth of his love.
“…having been taken away from…” aporphanizo in Greek, means “to be made or caused to be an orphan and figuratively speaks of an unwanted separation as when one is torn away from, deprived of contact and society, or unwillingly separated from.” Paul sounds very parental here. He told us earlier that in some ways he feels like a mother to the church and in other ways he feels like their father. Aporphanizo can also be used to mean the separation of parents from children and a lover from his beloved. It was also used in a more general sense to denote the loss of any friend or relative. We see evidence of this parental heart here.
Just because you move away from your children, it doesn’t mean that you stop caring about them or being concerned about their well-being. You still long to see them, to spend time with them and find out what’s happening in their lives. A good parent is always concerned.
This verse clearly underscores the tender, intimate fellowship Paul had with the believers in Thessalonica and vividly portrays the desolation of soul he felt upon being torn away from his beloved converts. But although they were out of sight, they were not out of mind (“in presence, not in heart”).
Verse 17b: “…endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.”
I have always traveled a lot, all over the country. But it was always good to get home to my family and my church family. Much of then time I was gone from my church for weeks at a time. Believe me, I missed, not only my immediate family, but also my church family. There is just a special relationship between a pastor and his flock. We understand each other! They are our children! I worry about them when I am gone. My secretary always knew that if a crisis came I would be on the next plane home!
That’s why it hurts so badly when one of your sheep strays! At times, docile sheep can turn into malicious beasts, viciously snapping with sharpened fangs at the heels of a fleeing shepherd. As a result, pastors leave the ministry feeling hurt, abandoned, and abused. They may question their call to ministry, the meaning of Christian fellowship, and even doubt the love and compassion of God.
Every pastor has had this happen. Someone with whom you have agonized over and with whom you have prayed, for some unknown reason turns against you and attacks you. Some person you have loved to Christ, finds another church and another pastor is like losing one of your own children, it hurts!
But in Thessalonica it is the shepherd that is taken from them. I don’t know if Paul’s concern was that they will go astray, as sheep will do without a shepherd. Those who have seen sheep in person know that without a shepherd, sheep move about aimlessly, wandering here and there, getting lost, and generally paying little heed to the dangers around them. This is the spiritual state of the people without a pastor.
Verse 18: “Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.”
“Hindered” in Greek is egkopto, it means to knock or cut into, to impede one's course by cutting off his way; and hence to hinder, impede, thwart or interrupt. It means to make progress slow or difficult. It can also convey the idea of delay.
“Egkopto is a military term referring to digging a trench or breaking up a road. One of the countermeasures an ancient army would take against the opposition was to dig a massive trench that would prevent enemy troops from reaching its men. Another way to frustrate the enemy’s progress would be to tear up a brick or stone road so that he could not traverse it. Thus Paul depicted the powerful devil as supernaturally obstructing the apostle’s strong desire to revisit Thessalonica.” –John MacArthur
Behind this unwanted separation, and, in fact, behind the opposition of unbelievers that the Gospel was experiencing - is the opposition of the devil himself. It was he who "hindered" Paul and company from coming to them.
How did Satan hinder Paul? Remember, Satan is “the prince of the power of the air and is the spirit that is now working or energizing the sons of disobedience (all unbelievers)” (Ephesians 2:2). It is possible that Satan energized some of his children to somehow hinder Paul's ministry. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44). The main point is that Satan can hinder Christian work and workers. He has done it effectively in the past and will continue to do it today and in the future. However, was he really successful in his hindering of Paul? No, for although he meant it for evil, God used it for good, (Genesis 50:20), inspiring Paul to write this letter to the Thessalonians.
Already in this chapter we have seen three sources of opposition to the apostle:
•Opposition from the state (1 Thessalonians 2:2).
•Opposition from society (1 Thessalonians 2:14).
•Opposition from Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18).
While this might look like three enemies, it is really only one. Other Scriptures indicate that the state and society are often the channels of the devil's attempts to hinder the spread of the good Word of God. This is what Paul was encountering here.” –Stedman
Verse 19: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” AMP: “For what is our hope or happiness or our victor’s wreath of exultant triumph when we stand in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you?”
Verse 19a: “For what is our hope…”
What is hope? Is it a wishy-washy perhaps, or a kind of unsure optimism? The modern idea of hope is, to wish for, to expect, but without certainty of the fulfillment; to desire very much, but with no real assurance of getting your desire. For example: “I hope I win the lottery!” There is no assurance that you will ever win the lottery! But hope in God is an absolute certainty!
In Scripture, the Hebrew and Greek words translated hope is an indication of certainty. Hope in Scripture means “a strong and confident expectation.”
People are always hoping! But many are looking for hope in all the wrong places. The lottery, casino’s, card clubs, and race tracks come to mind. I was behind a man in a market one day, as he cashed his welfare check and bought dozens of lottery tickets. They are just hoping for their ship to come in. When my ship comes in, I will probably be at the airport!
Hope is one thing that keeps us going and gives us something for which to live. Without hope we could never deal with life’s problems. We would never be able to bounce back from life’s obstacles. Even the slightest glimmer of hope that our situation will turn around keeps us going. Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining.
But just because people are looking for hope in all the wrong places, and just because people get their hopes dashed on the rocks, does not mean that hope is unavailable for every person who looks in the right place.
The only thing that is hopeless is to be without Christ!
Ephesians 2:12 NLT, “In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.”
1 Corinthians 15:19: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.”
Titus 2:13: “Looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Colossians 1:5: “…The hope that is laid up for you in heaven…”
In our text, “Paul did not look back and give in to regret and remorse. Instead, he looked ahead and rejoiced. For the Christian, the best is yet to come. Paul looked ahead by faith and saw his friends in the presence of Jesus Christ in glory. In times of trouble and testing, it is important that we take the long view of things. Paul lived in the future tense, as well as in the present. His actions were governed by what God would do in the future. He knew that Jesus Christ would return and reward him for his faithful ministry; and on that day, the saints from Thessalonica would bring glory to God and joy to Paul’s heart. As the familiar song says, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus.” The fact that we shall one day stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ (bema) ought to motivate us to be faithful in spite of difficulties. We must remember that faithfulness is the important thing (1Corinthians 4:2). At the Judgment Seat of Christ, our works will be judged and rewards will be given.” –Weirsbe
Verse 19b: “…or joy…”
Paul uses similar language in Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”
And in 1 Thessalonians 3:9,10. Paul writes, “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?”
“Joy” in Greek is chara from chaíro, describes an attitude which is cheerful and glad. The world defines joy as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. The Bible defines joy as a gift of God, a fruit of His Spirit, which is independent of circumstances.
Believers are never under the circumstances, they are always joyful in any circumstances. “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” And in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
An old chorus we used to sing was:
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (Where?)
Down in my heart (Where?)
Down in my heart
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I have the love of Jesus in my heart (down in my heart)
And I'm so happy
So very happy
I have the love of Jesus in my heart
Verse 19c: “…or crown of rejoicing…?”
“Crown’ in Greek is stephanos from which we get the English name Stephen, the first Christian martyr, “the crowned one.” Stephanos means to encircle, or entwine. It referred to a garland given as prize to victors and was a symbol of honor. In Classical Greek the stephanos was used as a crown of victory in the ancient Greek games, it referred to a wreath or garland of leaves placed on a victor’s head as a reward for winning an athletic contest.
There are five heavenly crowns mentioned in the New Testament that will be awarded to believers.
The Imperishable crown: 1 Corinthians 9:24,25, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Those who faithfully run the Christian race, who crucify every selfish desire in the flesh.
The Crown of Rejoicing: 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Those who faithfully witness to the saving grace of God and lead people to Jesus.
The Crown of Righteousness: 2 Timothy 4:8, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Those who love the appearing of Christ, who anxiously wait and look forward to the day when He will return for His saints.
The Crown of Glory: 1 Peter 5:4, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” This is the pastor’s crown and will be given to the ministers who faithfully feed the flock of God.
The Crown of Life: Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The martyr’s crown is for those who are faithful in times of persecution. Some even to the point of death.
Verse 19d: “Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”
Paul didn’t say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the Judgment Seat.
Here we see Paul’s heart, how he felt about his followers? They were his hope because he kept thinking about what God was going to do through them. They were his joy both now and in heaven. They were his crown. His reward in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him. Not just in heaven, but right now they were the most important thing in the world to Paul. He is saying “I think about you night and day, I pray for you, and I never stop telling others how proud I am of you.” John said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).
“The great motivation of the apostle Paul was that the Lord was coming, the return of the Lord. This is a marvelous statement. Listen very carefully to what he's saying here, very rich. He says this, "Who is our hope? Who is it that we are hoping to see? Who is that which is all bound up with our future hope?" He's talking about his hope of eternal reward, his hope of eternal blessing. Who will be that hope? Who will fulfill that anticipation? And he secondly says, "Who is our joy? Who is the source of our eternal happiness? Who is the source of our eternal bliss? Who is the source of our eternal satisfaction?” –MacArthur
Paul said, ‘I'm going to boast about you in the day of the Lord Jesus. When I see the Lord Jesus you're going to be my boast, you're going to be my joy, you're going to be the fulfillment of my hope.’ Oh did he understand ministry. What he understood was, when you get to glory you're not going to get a crown for your glorified head. Your crown is going to be the presence of the people that you were responsible to lead to the knowledge of Christ, the people with whom you planted the seed or watered or harvested, the people whose lives were influenced by your teaching and your living and your praying. That's your eternal reward.” –MacArthur
2 Corinthians 2:14 NLT, “Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you.”
Verse 20: “For you are our glory and joy.”
The word “you” is emphatic in Greek. “You and especially you are our glory and joy.”
“The word ‘glory,’ doxa means ‘fame’ or ‘renown’ that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, ‘Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.’ It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ. Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom? You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” –bible.org
The believers at Thessalonica continually were a source of glory and joy for Paul. Their existence in heaven would also be an eternal source of glory and joy to Paul, Silvanus and Timothy!
“When the Christians at Thessalonica read this letter, it must have encouraged them tremendously. They were going through intense persecution and suffering, and perhaps some of them were tempted to give up. “Don’t give up!” Paul encouraged them. “Lay hold of the spiritual resources you have in Jesus Christ. You have the Word of God within you, the people of God around you, and the glory of God before you. There is no need to give up.” –Wiersbe
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).