1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5
Meanwhile, friends, since we’ve been cut off from you (but only in person, you are still near to our hearts) we’ve longed to see you again face to face. We wanted to come – well, I, Paul, did – many times, but Satan kept getting in the way. What hope do we have? What joy? What trophy can we brag about when Jesus comes if it’s not you? You’re all that to us and more.
So when we couldn’t stand it any more we decided to stay by ourselves in Athens and sent Brother Tim, our coworker in the spreading the Jesus story and the movement, to give your faith a shot in the arm. We didn’t want you to start second guessing because of all this trouble. Of course, you knew that you were sure to get in trouble, and you know we were up front with you from the beginning that you would face a lot of opposition – and it went down just that way. That’s why we sent Tim. I just couldn’t stand not knowing how you were holding up, and I was worried that you may have been tempted to give up and that our whole project was a wasted effort.
Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians is a pretty thin veil for his deeper concern about the success of his own efforts. He’s afraid that the new church may be (literally) shot to hell.
In the titanic, cosmic battle (in Paul’s mind) between Paul and Satan, the people of Thessalonica are pawns. The same way third world states were pawns in the cold war: each side calculating tactics and sending agents and reinforcements, fighting their battles by proxy.
This is another profound shift from the way Jesus treated people – as people with their own inherent value – that happens when Jesus is turned from a person into a religion. The stakes go up in cosmic terms, while the relative value of the people’s own interest goes down, all under the umbrella of “saving the world from the evil empire.” Call it Satan. Call it the USSR. Makes no difference: it’s still a facade.
Here’s another way to discern the difference:
When Jesus is concerned about the suffering of the people, he goes himself into the maw of death. When Paul is concerned about the people, he sends Tim to check the situation out and report back. It’s not that Paul isn’t earnest. It’s that his priorities are different, and therefore his strategy is different.
In the final analysis, people are not pawns, and any project that treats them as such, no matter how well-intentioned or titanic in scope, is in itself a betrayal of the noble causes it purports to stand for.
And the moral of the story: In whatever you do, lose your self-interest in winning a trophy, and treat the people involved like people.