I am certain that I never did grow in grace one-half so much anywhere as I have upon the bed of pain. ~ Charles Spurgeon
3 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions.
- The biblical account tells us that Jewish persecution caused Paul to move from Thessalonica to Berea and then to Athens (Acts 17.1-15). It also suggests that Timothy and Silas stayed in Berea when Paul moved on to Athens (17.14,15). We are not told when, but at some point, Paul is joined in Athens by Timothy and possible Silas. Timothy is then dispatched from Athens to provide strength (“establish”) and encourage (“exhort”) faith within the persecuted congregation in Thessalonica. Timothys third purpose is mentioned in verse 3a.
- “brother” – a term frequently used as a designation for fellow believers.
- “God’s coworker” – Paul often used the term “fellow worker” for someone who was engaged in mission efforts along side him. Here, however, he refers to Timothy as “God’s coworker”, thus identifying him as one who had his own ministry and could be trusted to adequately “establish” the church there.
- Not only is Paul supporting Timothy’s trustworthiness and authority to accomplish the further building of the church, he is also communicating the value of the church by sending such an individual.
- “that no one be moved” – literally means “to shake”. It is best understood to mean one is upset or agitated.
For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.4 For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.
- Paul’s concern for the church becomes more clear in verse 4. He didn’t want suffering to result in the church ceasing to follow Christ.
- “we are destined for this”; “we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction” – “inevitable”, not necessarily predetermined in the sense we usually think of the word destiny. The verb tense tells us that Paul told them over and over again that suffering would come.
- Although we seek to avoid suffering, and with great success in our context, the Bible is clear that we will encounter trials in our lives. Suffering does not weaken the sovereignty or love of God for his children by any means and it is not wasted on the believer. Instead, God uses it to mature us in our faith (Rom. 5.3-5; James 1.2-4).
5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.
- Paul sends Timothy not only to benefit the Thessalonians, but also himself.
- Here was see the apostle concerned and seemingly worried that the gospel fire of the small group of believers may have been expelled through suffering.
- In verses 3-5 Paul lists two weapons of Satan often employed against believers: 1) trials/suffering and 2) temptation. Christ encountered both as well. Believers must remember that Christ is bigger than both and remain committed to following him.
6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—
- Paul clarifies a timeline for us in verse 6. After Timothy’s initial visit (3.1-ff), Paul is writing this letter to further strengthen and encourage the church.
- This verse highlights two aspects of the church (1 theological, 1 practical)
- Perseverance of the Saints – “Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end” (Phil. 1:6). Therein is the promise of God that what He starts in our souls, He intends to finish. So the old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance of the saints is this: If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it. If you lose it, you never had it.” – RC Sproul.*
- Mutual edification of believers – Our lives are full of the unintended testimonies of those who live in spiritual isolation, while scripture frequently reminds us to encourage one another in faith and to live our faith with one another.
7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
- 3 benefits of mutual edification (living out our faith together):
- love (6b)
- confidence in God’s work (6)
- comfort to other believers (7)
- “distress and affliction” – can refer to emotional or physical distress. Their steadfast faith has proven to be a source of comfort for Paul.
- “For now we live” – the Thessalonians’ commitment to Christ greatly impacted Paul’s own life.
9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,
- A thanksgiving in the form of a question. Paul’s basic assertion is that the prayers he prays on their behalf seem small when compared to the amount of encouragement and joy their faith brings him.
10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
- “and supply what is lacking in your faith” – The word supply means ‘to complete or improve the condition of’. Paul desires to strengthen what they already possess.
- APP: There is never a time in our lives where spiritual growth should not be desired.
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,
- Paul’s prayer combines two aspects: personal desire and the sovereignty of God.
- “God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus” – note the equal omnipotence and sovereignty of the Father and the Son. This would be one of the earliest examples of early Christianity placing Jesus and Yahweh on equal footing.
12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,
- “make you increase and abound” – Paul’s prayer is not only that he would be able to assist in their spiritual growth through his physical presence, but that God would enable it even though he was away.
- “in love” – for Paul, love is the Christian characteristic by which all other virtues flow. The greatest and second greatest commands center around our love for God and our love for others.
- “and for all” – not only were the Thessalonians to love other believers, but they were to also love unbelievers as well, even those who were involved in persecution (Matt. 5.43, 44).
13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
- Verse 13 illustrates the importance of love as a governing characteristic of the believer.
- “blameless, sanctified hearts can only grow and bloom in the soil of a genuine and abundant love.” – D. Michael Martin. NAC: 1,2 Thessalonians. p. 113.
- “blameless in holiness” – acceptable before God because we are His set-apart possession.
- As believers, our lives should reflect the values and character of God (Martin, p. 113).
- “at the coming of our Lord” – love prepares us for the return of Christ by changing who we are. It is Paul’s desire that the Thessalonians be prepared to meet Christ and they might hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
* quoted from. For a concise article on the doctrine, click here.