So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.
But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments
1 Thessalonians 3 ‘Summary’: “Chapter 3 tells how Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, and how Timothy brought back word of the persecution they were undergoing – and especially of their patience and endurance amid that persecution. This is a powerful description of the patience of hope, which enabled the Thessalonians to endure their trials with joy.”
- Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible
1 Thessalonians 3:2 ‘encourage and strengthen’: “This was a common ministry concern and practice of Paul )cf. Acts 14:22; 15:32; 18:23). Paul’s concern did not focus on health, wealth, self-esteem, or ease of life, but rather the spiritual quality of life. Their faith was of supreme importance in Paul’s mind as evidenced by five mentions in verses 1-10 (see also vv. 5, 6, 7, 10). Faith includes the foundation of the body of doctrine (cf. Jude 3) and their believing response to God in living out that truth (cf. Heb. 11:6).”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
1 Thessalonians 3:5 ‘the tempter’: “Satan had already been characterized as a hinderer (2:18) and now as a tempter in the sense of trying / testing for the purpose of causing failure (cf. Matt. 4;3; 1 Cor. 7:5; James 1:12-18). Paul was not ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11; 11:23) or vulnerable to his methods (Eph. 6:11), so Paul took action to counterattack Satan’s expected maneuver and to assure that all his efforts were not useless (cf. 2;1).”
- John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ‘Joyful praise’: “Evidently Timothy got to Thessalonica and found to his pleasant surprise that the believers were standing firm in the faith. Paul meanwhile had gone to Corinth and here the good news reached him that his converts were bearing up courageously in spite of the pressures put upon them.”
- Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible
1 Thessalonians 3:8 ‘stand firm’: “When I have seen God’s people steadfast, my tears have fled. Yes, I have said, the Lord keeps the feet of his saints. He is a wall of fire round about his own. If it were possible, the powers of evil would deceive the elect, but it is not possible. The saints are steadfast, and each steadfast one cheers his minister and helps him lay aside his anxieties and rejoice in the certainty that the gospel will triumph.
“The steadfast become our life by stimulating us to greater exertion. I believe the steadfast help the minister to a high degree of usefulness. When the man of God sees his people living to God at a high rate of piety, he speaks many things that otherwise he never would have spoken. He glories in the work of God, and with no bated breath or trace of hesitation, he points to his people and cries, ‘See what God has done!’ He exults over his converts with a holy joy. He cries, ‘See what they used to be and what they are now! See how life has been made to spring up in the midst of death and how light shines where before darkness reigned.’ Take away the living evidences of divine power from the church, and you lower the preacher’s spirit at once and deprive him of power to demonstrate his commission by the signs that follow it. Of godly established Christians, I may quote the words of David, ‘Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. They will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate’ (Ps. 127:5). The best answer to all the opponents of the old-fashioned gospel is the godly zeal of a fervent church.”
- Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ‘Believers Presented to the Father at Christ’s Coming’: “In these verses the Apostle Paul encourages this church to remain pure, mature, and grounded in the faith all the way until they are taken home to glory to be with God. Paul expresses his desire to return to this church in order to minister to the people more (1 Thessalonians 3:11). But he also wants them to mature and become more sensitive toward the needs of their fellow believers. …
“First Thessalonians 3:13 is a rapture passage because the event it describes could happen at any time to the believers Paul is writing to. It also pictures the believers being ushered into the very presence of God the Father immediately. This is tied to Christ’s coming, though this is clearly not referring to Christ’s arrival to reign, but rather, His taking up of the church saints to heaven to be with Himself and the heavenly Father. Coming with ‘His saints’ has to do with bringing the souls of those who have gone before in order to give them a new body and usher them into glory in that resurrected state. This is exactly what Paul says in detail in 4:13-18.”
- Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation
Paul continues in the vein of encouragement for the persecuted church in Thessalonica, carrying over from the previous chapter. It is obvious that he loves the people who came to the Lord at Thessalonica.
But there is an odd wording that bothered me, in a way, until I dug deeper.
Paul talks of sending Timothy to them to ensure that all the evangelism team’s “labors might have been in vain.” As someone who has had a lot of failure, in a worldly sense, at street evangelism, I know that it is God’s effort. If I failed, I tried to go it alone without God paving the way by convicting the other person of their sin before I started sharing the Gospel with them.
I remember having the same reaction in watching a Bill Bright video. Bill Bright was the founder of Campus Crusades for Christ, now Cru. He was talking to the camera about sharing our faith with others as various people walked past him, one a famous NFL football player at the time. He introduced the football player as being his grandson, meaning that Bright had led someone to Jesus who in turn led the football player to Jesus.
In one view, it is God that does the saving; we are just the instrument. But we are all equally sons of God and brothers with Jesus Christ. There are no grandchildren and great-grandchildren. To be a good evangelist, even within a small group, we need to realize that.
But at the same time, when you lead someone to Jesus Christ, you must not simply abandon them, since they are equals, now, with you in the inheritance of eternal life. Thus, Paul, Bill Bright, and any good pastor of a church, has a burden of love on their hearts that they want to see that those who rely on them are continuing to be fed by the Holy Spirit. Yes, they recognize God’s role and their role, but since they were a part of the process, and an important part, they cannot just abandon those souls – for persecution, troubles, trials, and heartaches will come, sometimes in buckets.
The pastor at our church, the Sunday before writing this, gave a passionate sermon on giving life. He let the congregation know, although the leadership already knew, that he was a kidney transplant recipient. His sister was a perfect match, and he swore as he was being rolled into surgery that if he ever had the opportunity to “pay it forward,” he would not hesitate to do so. He prayed about what would be the perfect time to let the general congregation know. Could it be the perfect “gift” for a Christmas sermon? Or Easter, a resurrection of a sort? Then he got my e-mail with a plea that my wife needed a kidney. I had no idea about his own illness. He met with us, and we decided on a strategy. So, he let the congregation know that you are not giving a kidney to someone who needs it, you are giving life. He quoted from Psalm 139 that we were wonderfully made. We even have parts of our body that could save someone else’s life. His sermon had the same passion that I heard in the Bill Bright video, and I read in 1 Thessalonians 3 and in Charles Spurgeon’s comments on 1 Thess. 3:8 above.
Yes, we stand steadfast in the face of persecution, but we do not stand alone. God is within us and those who led us to the Lord have sent prayers on our behalf, long ago. And if possible, those who led us to Christ would, and sometimes do, stand with us, as Paul wished to return to Thessalonica.
If I have led anyone to Christ, may God be with them when the trials come, and that goes also for anyone who those people have led to the Lord, and on and on for all future generations.
Some Serendipitous Reflections
“1. If someone were to tell you that God promises a trouble-free life to those who are true Christians, how would you respond? What are you struggling with most right now?
“2. In what specific ways have you been encouraged by someone else’s faith? Have you told them about it?
“3. Which of Paul’s prayer requests would you want someone to pray for you? Do likewise for someone in your small group.”
- Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups
In the last statement, if not doing this study in a small group, pray in the manner of the Apostle Paul for you Sunday school class, your friends at church, or your family and neighbors.
If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.