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1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 NOTES

1 Thess. 3:1-13 EXEGESIS - The Concern Expressed

INTRODUCTION:  In chapter 2, in answer to the accusations leveled against the Apostle by the enemies of the gospel, Paul reviewed his ministry among the Thessalonians as a nursing mother and an encouraging father (2:1-12). Having then declared their thankfulness for the wonderful way the Thessalonians had responded to the gospel as it was in truth, the effectual Word of God (2:13), he addressed their common experience of suffering (2:14-20). As seen, verses 14-16 speak of the fact of suffering because of one's faith in Christ while verses 17-18 continue the thought of suffering, but address it from the standpoint of the cause-the fight or battle with Satan. Following that, in verses 19-20 he addresses the subject of suffering from the standpoint of our hope or that which motivated them to endure, faith in our future hope and rewards.

Now, even though he has basically silenced the false insinuations of his opponents regarding a lack of concern, in chapter 3 the Apostle not only continues to show their deep love and concern, but seeks to dull the pain of their separation from this body of believers. However, as Paul continues to express their concern and heart for the Thessalonians, we also see what motivated and guided him in his ministry to men. Not only does he expose a pastoral heart, but one that was directed by biblical goals and objectives. Again we get a glimpse of the great mission or objective of the Apostle as expressed in Colossians 1:28-29.

1:28 We proclaim him by instructing and teaching all men with all wisdom so that we may present every man mature in Christ. 1:29 Toward this goal I also labor, struggling according to his power that powerfully works in me. (emphasis mine)

As also stated in Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul's objective was to bring believers to full Christ-like maturity of faith according to the standards of biblical wisdom.

When a person puts their trust in Christ, he or she is born into the family of God as a babe in Christ. Babies need to grow. They need to learn to crawl, then stand, and then walk. As stated in chapter two, Paul saw himself as a spiritual parent to these believers and, as a parent, he was concerned for their growth in Christ. He wanted to see their faith developed and see them become more and more stable and mature. This is a repeated emphasis in this chapter, which shows his pastoral concern for the condition of their faith (vss. 2-3, 5, 6, 7-8, 10). Two key ideas of chapter three are spiritual stability and spiritual growth as expressed in verses 8 and 10.

In this we have an excellent example of pastoral objectives for elders, disciple makers, and parents. One of the biblical purposes of the church is the edification of the flock. For that to happen, church leaders must examine the situations they are facing with their people (i.e., Paul's separation, their pressures, the fact these were relatively new Christians, etc.), check out their options (what are the possibilities for this flock), and then develop procedures for accomplishing the critical biblical objective of building their faith. That is precisely what the Apostle did.

First, we see that there was the necessary burden and concern to want to do what was needed (vs. 1). Second, Paul then examined his options. He wanted to go, but due to the circumstance that led to his expulsion, he, as the leader and one they would easily recognize, could not at that point return. Remember, Paul had planned several times to return to Thessalonica, but was hindered by Satan. This undoubtedly refers to the security taken of Jason (Acts 17:9), which most likely included a guarantee that Paul would not return to the city. Thus, praying about and examining his options with his missionary team, Paul explained three ministries that he performed on behalf of these believers all of which were in keeping with their biblical objectives: (1) he sent a helper (vss. 1-8), (2) he prayed earnestly for them (vss. 9-13), and (3) sent this letter to encourage, instruct, and warn them all with a view to building them up even more in the Lord.

The Helper Sent to the Thessalonians (3:1-8)

3:1 So when we could bear it no longer, we decided to stay on in Athens alone. 3:2 We sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith, 3:3 so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 3:4 For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened as you well know. 3:5 So when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter somehow tempted you and our toil had proven useless.

3:6 But now Timothy has come to us from you and given us the good news of your faith and love and that you always think of us with affection and long to see us just as we also long to see you! 3:7 So in all our distress and affliction, we were reassured about you, brothers and sisters, through your faith. 3:8 For now we are alive again, if you stand firm in the Lord.

The Catalyst for Sending Timothy-Their Concern (vs. 1)

"So then." This opening conjunction (dio, "wherefore, on which account") connects this verse with the preceding chapter where the Apostle expressed his care for the Thessalonians. It was because of his concern and love for them that he not only would not, but could not abandon them when they needed spiritual growth. Again, this not only reveals pastoral concern, but a biblical perspective. Leading a person to the Lord is only the first step in the discipleship process.

"When we could bear it no longer." "Bear it" ("endure" NASB) is stegeo which means "to protect by covering, then cover up with silence" much as a roof over a house both protects from the elements and conceals. From this it came to mean simply "endure." Certainly we can see something of the pastoral heart in this-they were so concerned, they could no longer keep it concealed nor endure not doing what was needed. This demonstrates how effective ministry has its source not only in having biblical goals, but in loving concern and burden.

"We decided to stay on in Athens alone," or "We thought it best to be left behind" (NASB). The words Paul chose here are full of instruction. The first is eudokeo which means "to be well pleased, to willingly determine, to think it a good thing to do." It stresses the willingness, the positive choice. Too often, ministry is performed out of a sense of, "Well, if I have to." The option the missionary team chose was not done grudgingly. The second word is kataleipo, which meant "to leave, leave behind" or in the passive, "be left alone or behind, be forsaken." The word was used of leaving loved ones at death. It could carry the idea of being bereaved. The idea here is they needed Timothy in their present work, but because of their concern for this church, they were willing to be forsaken. It says much both of their heart for the people and for Timothy. Paul and his associates were not hirelings. They ministered and made choices out of loving concern for others.

The Character of Timothy-The Helper Sent (vs. 2a)

One of the great needs in the body of Christ is more Timothy-like believers, men and women who are mature and committed enough to be able to take on an assignment like this. Certainly, part of one's ability to do this depends on one's spiritual gift and training, but all believers should be able to do this to some degree if they have not been negligent in their own spiritual growth (Heb. 5:11-14) and if the church leadership is faithful to equip its members for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16). The problem is that (1) we have too many believers in the body of Christ who are in the condition of those discussed in Hebrews 5:11-14, or (2) they are so tangled up in the affairs of this life, they have no desire, burden, or time for ministry (2 Tim. 2:4; Heb. 12:1-2), or (3) the leaders of the church are simply not equipping others for ministry (Eph. 4:11-16; 2 Tim. 2:1-4).

Paul mentions two qualifications of Timothy's character in verse 2. First, Paul describes Timothy as "our brother." To be qualified to minister to others in true Christian ministry one must first be a Christian himself. "Brother" is basically a technical term for a believer, one who has been born into the family of God by the new birth.

Second, Timothy is described as "God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ." To be able to minister to others, we must understand and accept the fact we are to be more than simply a brother or a Christian. Being a Christian brother also means caring for the family and that means being God's fellow worker. But what exactly is a fellow worker? "Fellow worker" is sunergo from ergon, "work, deed, task, employment," plus the preposition sun, "with, together." This word refers to someone who is a team player. This is someone who does not seek to run or control things on his own, nor serve for selfish or personal agendas. There are two aspects of a team player in the body of Christ:

  1. He or she is one who is a fellow worker with God. The head of the body is the Lord Jesus. The church belongs to Christ, not us. This means we are to get our orders and spiritual strength from the Lord and allow Him to work in and through us. We work as God's fellow workers by submission to Him and by faith in His provision.
  2. This also means we are to work together with our brethren in Christ as a part of God's team. There is no such thing as a one-man team. We work to build up others and to help the body to function as a body. It means team work with each believer doing his share for the goals of the Head and the team.

In addition, sunergo brings out the fact that Timothy was a worker, which, in New Testament terms, means a minister or a servant of others. Selfish, self-centered agendas spoil our ability to not only be team players, but to work as servants.

The Charge Assigned to Timothy-His Objectives (vs. 2b)

As we work in and for the body of Christ, it is naturally important that we know what we are to do. It is so easy to get side tracked by our own personal agendas or objectives or by the objectives of people who want to dictate the priorities of ministry. It has been my experience that too often this is not in keeping with the major goals of the Bible (cf. Acts 6:1-7). Thus, we need constant evaluation here concerning our pursuits and activities as a church. An important question is this: Is what we are doing contributing to the mission, goals, and objectives of the Word for the body of Christ?

Timothy's objectives and thus his procedures were set down for him according to biblical aims. He was to return to Thessalonica to strengthen and encourage them as to their faith. What does this mean?

"Strengthen" is sterizo which means "to support, stabilize, establish, fix, strengthen." This word is used 14 times in the New Testament and in all but two of its uses, it is used metaphorically of providing some form of spiritual stability or strength.

It points up one of our basic needs-spiritual stability. Because of his fallenness, man is inherently unstable

emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and volitionally. It calls attention to our tendency toward fluctuations in moods, viewpoints, attitudes, and behavior caused by the variegated problems of life-trials, temptations, personal weaknesses, ignorance of biblical truth, eyes off the Lord, walking in unbelief or being weak in our faith or having the wrong objects of faith, etc.

So Timothy was to remove whatever instability he might find. But how was he to do this? The means emphasized in the New Testament for accomplishing this are:

  • The Word or Truth of Scripture (cf. Luke 22:32 with John 21; Rom. 16:25)
  • Fervent and consistent prayer (1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 2:17; 3:3)
  • Looking for the coming of the Lord (Jam. 5:7-8)
  • God's work through suffering (1 Pet. 5:10)
  • The exercise of our spiritual gifts on behalf of others (Rom. 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:12: Rom. 16:25; 1 Thess. 3:2)
  • Restoration to fellowship (Rev. 3:2-3)

Of course, the key to spiritual strength and stability is our faith, so Timothy was sent to "encourage you about your faith." "Encourage" is parakaleo which has (1) a prospective appeal meaning "to exhort, entreat to action," or (2) a retrospective appeal meaning "to encourage, comfort, cheer up, or help." It is the first word of the trio used in 2:11. There it means "to exhort." From the context of the next verse, here it means "to encourage."

"About your faith" points to the area that needs stabilizing and encouraging. "About" is the Greek huper, which is best understood here as "on behalf." The goal was to help them rest or trust in God's provision and control. Instability and discouragement is usually the result of a faith that is weak, out of focus, or focused on the wrong object. Paul mentions his concern for their faith four times in this section (vss. 1-8). One of the objects or goals of a firm faith is spiritual stability in the face of pressure (cf. vss. 3-4 with vs. 8). One of the goals of faith anchored in the Lord is stability in the ups and downs of life

The Conflict Facing the Church-The Concerns Described (vss. 3-5)

Verse 3a, "so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions," gives us the intended result or goal which is essentially the spiritual stability which comes from an active faith that rests in the Lord .

"That no one." These words bring to mind two items of importance for us. It reminds us that God intends for all believers to become spiritually strong and stable in the midst of the disturbing problems of life. Not only are we each to know that affliction is often God's will for our lives, but that we can experience His strength and supply in the midst of the affliction. This means that through our assets in Christ we all have the capacity and potential to become stable and strong believers. But what are some of the assets God uses to stabilize us? They include such things as:

  • The ministry of the Spirit who is described as the Helper or Comforter or Enabler (John 14:16), the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17), and the anointing whom God uses to teach us, guide us, and assure our hearts of His love as our Father (2 John 2:20; Rom. 8:14-16).
  • The Word which is alive, powerful, and active, and which teaches us about who God is and what we have in Christ-security, significance, capacity (Heb. 4:12). Though sinners, we are now accepted in Jesus Christ, we belong to the family of God, and we each have important gifts, talents, and a part to play in the plan and kingdom of God (Eph. 1:5-7; John 1:12; Col. 1:12-14).
  • God's plan for learning the Word (a new spiritual capacity for discerning truth, the privilege of private study, corporate study, and encouragement in large and small groups, etc.).
  • The privilege of prayer as a priest and as child of God.

"Be shaken" is saino, which originally meant "to shake or wag the tail." It was used especially of a dog wagging his tail to get his way, to allure, etc. It came to mean, "to beguile through flattery or draw aside from the right path." Remember, Satan told Eve that she would be like God if she ate of the tree and she fell for his lie (cf. vs. 5). But in view of the cause expressed in the words, "by these afflictions," it is better to understand this in the sense of "shaken, disturbed, moved, agitated." "By these afflictions" refers to the sufferings they experienced at the hands of their countrymen because of their faith and stand for the Lord Jesus as mentioned back in 2:14.

Verses 3b-4 point to the reasons why they should remain stable. Note the little word "for" in verse 3b. It introduces us to why we should not be disturbed or shaken. There are two things to note here:

(1) They should not be shaken because Paul and his helpers had taught them about the subject of suffering, especially suffering for their faith in Christ (cf. vss. 3b & 4). The principle here is that their knowledge of biblical truth, Bible doctrine, provided the basis for spiritual stability in the face of suffering in all its forms, only one of which is persecution.

(2) They were to remember that the trials or testings that come to us as believers are appointed by God. Undoubtedly, this only summarizes what he had taught them about suffering.

Afflictions are not accidents. "Destined" is keimai, which has the idea of "appointed," or as the NASB and NET Bible have translated it, "destined." Our trials are part of God's sovereign plan. Since we live in a fallen world and are called upon "to suffer for His sake" (Phil. 1:29), we should never be surprised by persecution (1 Pet. 4:12f.). As seen previously, Paul gave another reason in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. Sometimes God allows us to be persecuted to show the evil nature of men and the righteousness of His judgment when it falls.62, 63

Verse 5 again restates his concern and the reason he sent Timothy, only now he also adds the dimension of the activity of Satan as the tempter. "The tempter" is one of the many descriptive titles of the devil that reveal both his character and his activities or strategies. There is an important connection in this verse between the condition of one's faith and the work of the devil as "the tempter." One of Satan's constant objectives is to negatively affect our faith in the promises and truth of God's Word. He wants us to doubt God's love. He wants us to depend on our own strategies to handle life and on our human works rather than depend on the Lord and His love.

What exactly does the Apostle mean when he says, "and our toil had proven useless"? "Useless" or "vain" (NASB) is kenos, which means "vain, empty, fruitless, without effect, without reaching its goal." Paul knew that no labor in the Lord is in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). We have the Lord's promise that He will reward us for faithful labors. But he also knew, because of the workings of Satan, some of his labor could be annulled or tarnished as to its effect on the lives of others, i.e., hindered from reaching its goal. This is why the Apostle was so concerned about their faith and took steps to protect his labor. For an illustration of this compare the parable of the sower, the seed, and the soils (Mark 4:14f.).

By way of application, this should first remind us of the need to be prayerfully on alert for other members of the body of Christ, our spiritual family. Satan is at work day and night to neutralize our faith and nullify all the work that has gone on in building and training believers in the Lord. But also, I trust we see how the reality of Satan's activity and objectives actually impacted the heart and ministry of the Apostle.

The Comfort of the Apostle-News of Their Stability (vss. 6-8)

Verses 6-8 tell of Timothy's return and the rejuvenating effect this had on Paul and his associates. Timothy had a good report which declared the stability of the faith of the Thessalonians. The Apostle not only called this "good news," the same word used of the gospel, but he said the real meaning of life for them was found in seeing believers become strong and firm in their stand in the Lord. What a heart for people and God's purpose! What an illustration of true stability and other-centered living! Quite a contrast to the 'me' centered mentality of our day.

Here also we see Paul's joy over the combined elements of faith and love for which he was thankful. Earlier he had combined faith, love, and hope (1:3). The point is that a stable, growing, and active faith will lead to acts of love. An active faith-one living in the light of the gospel and the person of God and His promises-will be productive in loving ministry for others. A person's faith can be real, a genuine trust in Christ, but it can become dormant and unfocused and fundamentally unfruitful because of carnality or failure to walk and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (1 Cor. 3:3f.; Jam. 2:1f.; 2 Pet. 1:8-11).

The Prayer of the Apostle for the Thessalonians (3:9-13)

3:9 For how can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel because of you before our God? 3:10 We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith. 3:11 Now may God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 3:12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 3:13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

The Thanksgiving of the Apostle (vs. 9)

In Paul's thanksgiving to God, we get another glimpse of the heart and perspective of the Apostle. He was a thankful servant, one who always lived with the perspective of God's hand on his life. His heart was full of gratitude for the work of God in the lives of others. He recognized that coming to God in faith and changed lives was the work of God. He was but an instrument used of God. Here was a man who labored hard not because he was trusting in his hard labor, but because his faith was in the work of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Col. 2:27f.).

... Paul found words inadequate to express his appreciation for what had happened in their lives. The change in Paul's mood was radical; "all our distress and persecution" (pase te anagke kai thlipsei hemon, 3:7) has now become "all the joy we have" (pase te chara he chairomen) because of the steadfastness of the Thessalonians. His was no superficial happiness but heartfelt and sincere joy "in the presence of our God."64

The Prayer of the Apostle (vs. 10a)

This section reminds us that teaching the Word and praying for the saints go together. Remember what Samuel, the prophet of the Word, told the people? Note there are two parts to Samuel's statement: First, he said, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you." But he was quick to add "but I will instruct you in the good and right way" (1 Sam. 12:23). Then, we read in Acts, "But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). We see the same emphasis with Paul. In Acts 20:32 he said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God (the element of prayer), and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up (the element of biblical instruction)."

Finally, we might note what our Lord said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32: "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." Teaching and even spending time with people is simply not enough; we desperately need to hold up the flock to the throne of grace.

Well, how did Paul and his associates pray for the Thessalonians? "Night and day" does not mean once at night and once in the morning nor does it mean that all night and all day they did nothing but pray. It means they prayed during the night and during the day, i.e., regularly, consistently, and in earnest.65 Their prayer life was not a haphazard affair. This illustrates the reality of their own faith, their dependence on the Lord, and the genuineness of their relationship with Him. They believed God was in charge and that He answered prayer.

Then we see they prayed "earnestly." This is the Greek uper-ek-perissou, a triple compound word meaning "out of bounds, overflowing, super abundantly." They worked hard at praying because they meant business with God and believed He answers prayer.

The Prayer Requests of the Apostle (vss. 10b-13)

(1) That they might see them and finish what was lacking in their faith (vs. 10)

There are two requests here, but they blend together into one purpose, which was the desire to see them grow and mature in the Lord. It seemed that this great objective colored all that he did. He loved people, but he knew the greatest blessing he could give them was spiritual growth and stability.

"Complete" is the Greek karartizo. It means "to fit together or adjust, restore, repair, equip." It was used of setting bones and repairing fishing nets (Mark 1:19). Compare also Hebrews 13:21; Luke 6:40; Galatians 6:1. Spiritually, it has the idea of making something what it ought to be, i.e., equipped for ministry, stable, sound doctrinally, Christ-like in character, etc.

"In your faith" points to the area to be made sound or to be equipped, repaired, or restored, as the need might be. But to what does "your faith" (literally, "of the faith of you") refer? Some think it refers to "the faith" as the body of revealed truth (cf. Jude 3; Acts 6:7; 1 Co. 16:17; Eph. 4:13). Others think it refers to the personal faith of these believers as a synonym for their spiritual condition since one's spiritual condition is usually related to the condition of one's faith. While the personal pronoun "your" supports the latter view, we must bear in mind that one's faith is always connected to one's knowledge and application of the Word so they are ultimately related.

"What is lacking" is the Greek husterema, "deficiency, what is behind." It brings out an important principle. Our faith and our knowledge, application, and faith in the faith never reaches a point of perfection. There is always room for improvement and growth. No one ever arrives, not even the Apostle himself (Phil. 3:12-16; Eph. 4:13; 1 Pe. 2:2; 2 Pe. 3:18). Faith, as we are told in Romans 1:17, must grow from "faith to faith."

By way of application this would stress several things for us.

  • It doesn't matter how much I know or apply, there is always room for more growth and greater insight. Being puffed up or proud in my knowledge or its application is a sign of carnality or immaturity or both (1 Cor. 8:1-2). We all need a humble and teachable spirit.
  • We each need to keep studying and pressing on to know the Word better and to apply it more accurately and consistently (2 Tim. 2:15; Jam. 1:19-27).
  • We also need, like Paul, to be concerned about what is lacking in the lives of other believers. We need to be available to pray and work to help others grow in their faith as disciple makers, which is at the heart of the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20).

(2) That God might remove the obstacles to their return (vs. 11)

Verse 11 reminds us of several important principles, but first, the words, "direct our way unto you," are very instructive.

"Direct" is the Greek kat-euthuno, "to make or keep straight, straighten out, direct, guide." If we remember 2:18, we see the Apostle was praying for the removal of the obstacles placed in their way by Satan. So we are reminded of the battle going on to hinder the work of the Lord and of our need of God's direction and protection. Paul was praying for guidance and opened doors.

The translation, "may ... direct" represents the optative mood in the Greek text, which expresses a strong wish, often used in prayers. "God our Father Himself" points us to the focus of their prayer. "Himself" is emphatic in the Greek. It shows how Paul knew the fulfillment of his wish, as with everything, is in God's hands. The inclusion of "and Father" points to Paul's reliance on the fatherly care of God. They were casting this longing to be with the Thessalonians on the Lord and entrusting it to God's wisdom and sovereignty.

Paul recognizes the uselessness of personal efforts toward a revisit unless God "clears the way." At the moment, the path of return is untravelable (cf. 2:18), but Paul prays for the removal of the barriers.66

Finally, the inclusion of "and Jesus our Lord" is a strong affirmation of the deity of Christ. The verb is singular, but the subject is plural, the Father and Jesus. The Lord Jesus is associated with God the Father as the controller of the affairs of men and the powers of Satan. Regarding this point, Robert L. Thomas has an excellent comment here:

Two persons viewed as one (cf. John 10:30) possess power to open the way to Thessalonica once again; "our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus" is the compound subject of a singular verb (kateuthunai, "may [He] clear")-probably an indication of the unity of the Godhead (Ellicott, p. 46). Even if the deity of Jesus is not to be seen in such a grammatical feature (Best, p. 147), it must be understood, since only God is worthy to be addressed in prayer.67

(3) That the Lord might cause them to abound in love (vs. 12)

Continuing the use of the optative to express their desire for spiritual growth through the trials the Thessalonians were facing, Paul prays that they might continue to increase and abound in love. Regarding this desire Wiersbe writes:

Times of suffering can be times of selfishness. Persecuted people often become very self-centered and demanding. What life does to us depends on what life finds in us; and nothing reveals the true inner man like the furnace of affliction. Some people build walls in times of trial and shut themselves off. Others build bridges and draw closer to the Lord and His people. This was Paul's prayer for these believers, and God answered it: "the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth" (2 Thes. 1:3).68

Scripture makes it very clear that one of the chief marks of a Christian is love-or should be (John 15:12-17). Thus, in our walk with the Lord, as we grow in faith, we should also to be growing in our love for one another (1 John 4:7-13).

(4) That He might establish their hearts unblamable in holiness at the coming of the Lord, the rapture followed by the Bema, the Judgment Seat of Christ (vs. 13)

The holiness spoken of here is not positional holiness or positional sanctification that comes to the believer at salvation, nor is it the perfect condition of believers before the Lord after glorification and translation when we receive our glorified bodies. Rather, this is experiential. Positional sanctification is a part of our salvation and a gift given at the moment of faith in Christ. The Apostle would not pray for positional sanctification since that is an accomplished fact (see 1 Cor. 1:2 with 1:8 and vss. 29-30, which refer to the believer's position in Christ). In 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a carnal and divisive church, yet he declares they have been and are sanctified in Christ.

Further, "Since all believers will be transformed to be like Christ when He returns (1 John 3:2), Paul could not be referring to their personal condition in heaven."69 However, one of God's objectives for all believers is experiential sanctification or change into the character of Jesus Christ so that when we stand before the Lord at the Bema or Judgment Seat of Christ, we will be blameless (not sinless or faultless experientially) and will be able to receive rewards for faithful service.

There is an important connection between verses 12 and 13. Verse 13 begins with "so that" which introduces it as a result clause (The Greek has eis to + the infinitive to express intended result.). This is a further request, but one which is also a result of the preceding request.

As believers grow in their faith, and as their hearts are strengthened in love, their inner life is stabilized or strengthened with the result their inner motives and desires become more and more pure and blameless before the Lord. We will never face our sins in heaven, for they are remembered no more (Rom. 8:1; Heb. 10:14-18), but our works will be tested as to their quality. Are they the results of the work of the Spirit, or the product of selfish motives (cf. Gal. 5:16f.; 1 Cor. 4:1-5)?

Before God they should be holy, separated to God in their hearts and habits. Paul longed that when Jesus Christ would return He would find them blameless before men and holy before God.70

"With all His saints" is hagioi, the plural of hagios, "holy, set apart." Literally it means "holy ones," or "set apart ones." Though some would refer this to the angels who will accompany the return of Christ (cf. Mark 8:38, "holy angels"), in this context and with emphasis on the return of the Lord for believers in 1 Thessalonians it more likely refers to all who are His-all New Testament believers of the church age who have died and will return with the Lord, those spoken of in the rapture passage in 4:16. Of course some refer Paul's statement to both angels and believers.71 This is unlikely, however, as expressed by Thomas in The Expositors Bible Commentary:

Others present at this reckoning will be "all his holy ones." Their identity has been variously taken either as that of angels or of redeemed human beings, or both angels and redeemed human beings. The last possibility can be eliminated in that Paul would hardly include two such diverse groups in the same category. That angels alone are meant is unlikely in light of NT usage of hagioi ("holy ones"). Universally in Paul and perhaps the entire NT Jude 14 is debatable; it is a term for redeemed humanity, though usage in LXX and later Jewish literature differs. The redeemed are elsewhere associated with Christ at his return (2 Thess 1:10). Since human beings are the objects of judgment and their holiness is what is in focus (cf. "blameless and holy"), it is entirely appropriate to identify "the holy ones" as other Christian people joined with the Thessalonian Christians before the bema of God and Christ.72

Thomas L. Constable in The Bible Knowledge Commentary agrees:

The holy ones accompanying Christ at His coming are probably the souls of the saints who have departed this life and gone to be with Christ, whose bodies will be resurrected when He comes (4:16). That is, they are Christians rather than angels.73


Throughout this chapter the author has shown us a number of causes for concern that all Christians face in various ways and degrees as members of the body of Christ. So there is the need for growth and the strengthening of faith, but there is also the constant activity of Satan who is always working to hinder God's work through and in His saints. In this chapter, we have also found directions for how to strengthen believers so that those things that can hinder one's faith-like suffering, Satan's activity, and one's need of growth-are neutralized in their effect. In this, God uses four key elements: (1) the work of faithful servants who have a deep faith in the Lord and a loving concern for people, (2) fervent prayer, (3) the knowledge of God's truth, especially as it relates to suffering, to properly appraise the trials of life, and (4) living confidently in view of the coming of the Savior for His church. So once again in this epistle, we see not only a confident expectation in the second coming and the Lord's return for His church, but how our hope in the return of the Lord is to be a constant motivation for growth and faithful service.


1 Thess. 3:1-13 Extra Commentary

1 Thessalonians 3:1 "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;"

"No longer forbear": The agony of separation between spiritual parent, Paul, and his children in Thessalonica became unbearably painful (verse 5).

"Left at Athens alone": Paul and Silas stayed behind while Timothy returned (verse 2). This would not be the last time that Timothy went to a church in Paul's place (1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10; Phil. 2:19-24; 1 Tim. 1:3).

1 Thessalonians 3:2 "And sent Timothy, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:"

"Establish ... comfort ... faith": This was a common ministry concern and practice of Paul (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 5 mentions (in verses 1-10). Faith includes the foundation of the body of doctrine (Jude 3), and their believing response to God in living out that truth (Heb. 11:6).

"Minister of God": is a variant reading, probably substituted for "God's fellow workers" (1 Corinthians 3:9).

Paul's desire was to lead these Thessalonians into all truth. The very next best thing to being there himself would be to send Timothy. We have discussed before, that a Christian never stands still. If the Christian is not growing in the Lord, he will be losing ground. This is the very purpose of Timothy going.

He will get them off the milk and honey of Christianity and get them to the meat of Christianity. There is a growth in the Lord that comes from feeding on His Words every day. There is also, a growth that comes from facing problems and overcoming them with the Word of God.

Paul is highly recommending Timothy to them. He will build them up in their most holy faith.

1 Thessalonians 3:3 "That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto."

"Appointed": God had promised Paul future sufferings when He commended him to ministry through Ananias (Acts 9:16).

Paul reminded the Thessalonians of this divine appointment so that they would not think that:

(1) God's plan was not working out as evidenced by Paul's troubles, or

(2) Paul's afflictions demonstrated God's displeasure with him.

To think that way would upset the church's confidence in Paul and fulfill Satan's deceptive purposes (verse 5; 2 Cor. 4:8-15; 6:1-10; 11:23-27; 12:7-10).

The word "afflictions" is the same as tribulations. Let's look at what Jesus had to say about the Christians having tribulation.

John 16:33 "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."

You might say, why do we have tribulation?

Romans 5:3-5 "And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;" "And patience, experience; and experience, hope:" "And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

You can easily see the reason for tribulation, is to make us strong in the Lord. We must realize that we are nothing in and of ourselves. We realize that our strength is in Christ our Lord. Jesus, our leader, was afflicted, and we will be too if we are His.

1 Thessalonians 3:4 "For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know."

"Suffer tribulation": Paul had told them to expect him to suffer as he had already suffered before this Thessalonian experience (2:14-16; Acts 13:14). During (Acts 17:1-9), and following (Acts 17:10-18:11), his time at Thessalonica, Paul also knew tribulation.

The life of a Christian is not without problems (regardless of what some tell you). It is a life of self-sacrifice. Many ministers today are promising things to their converts that are not realistic.

We must learn to live victoriously during the problems. It rains on the just and on the unjust, but Christians have someone to go to in their time of trouble. We have Jesus to help us.

Romans 8:35 "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?"

 Romans 8:38-39 "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come," "Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

1 Thessalonians 3:5 "For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain."

"Know your faith": Paul was anxious to know the spiritual condition of this assembly.

"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 (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), not 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 (2:1).

Paul is aware that they have faced great tribulation, and he is not fully persuaded that they were able to handle the crisis. He is sending Timothy to check, and see if they stayed faithful. Paul knows exactly how the devil works. He will bring so great a temptation in our weakest area that many will fall.

He just cannot wait to find out if they had withstood or not. He is praying that they stood, because he had given them a strong enough foothold in the Word that they would not fall. If they fall, he feels his effort was in vain.

1 Thessalonians 3:6 "But now when Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also [to see] you:"

"Your faith and charity": Timothy returned to report the Thessalonians' trust in God, their response to one another, and to Paul's ministry. This news convinced Paul that Satan's plans to disrupt God's work had not been successful and settled Paul's anxiety (verse 7).

By the time Paul wrote this, he had already heard from Timothy that they had withstood the great temptation. He is delighted that they held strong in their faith and charity. Paul was pleased that they wanted him to come back and minister to them. He reminds them that he desires to come and see them as much as they want him to come.

1 Thessalonians 3:7 "Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:"

Paul was very pleased that his spiritual children had been strong in the faith. It seems Paul's afflictions and distress never stopped. Jesus had told Paul, He would show him what great things he would suffer. One of the highest callings we can have, is to suffer for Christ. Just to know that their faith had been so strong encouraged Paul.

1 Thessalonians 3:8 "For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord."

"Stand fast": Pictured here is an army that refuses to retreat even though it is being assaulted by the enemy. This is a frequent Pauline injunction (1 Cor. 16:13; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 6:11, 13-14; Phil. 1:27; 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:15).

We see from this, Paul has had new life breathed into his weary soul, because these, his converts, have kept the faith. When one Christian stands fast in the Lord, it gives the others courage to stand.

1 Thessalonians 3:9 "For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;"

"Render": (Greek antapodidomi), has the sense of paying back something owed. Paul repays God in the currency of thanksgiving.

"Joy": Paul, like John (3 John verse 4), found the highest sense of ministry joy in knowing that his children in the faith were growing and walking in the truth. It led him to the worship of God in thanksgiving and rejoicing.

Paul is so grateful of their stand for Christ; he has nothing to pray for them, but praise to God. Again, this is like a parent thanking God for a child who has been obedient to God. What a joy comes in knowing someone you led to the Lord has this much strength and stamina in God. Paul's joy is in his heart.

1 Thessalonians 3:10 "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?"

"Praying": As to frequency, Paul prayed night and day just as he worked night and day (2:9). As to fervency, Paul prayed super-abundantly (Eph. 2:20).

"Perfect" (literally complete): Paul's stay with the Thessalonians was so brief that he could not complete the work to his satisfaction. He longed for the opportunity to remedy the deficiencies (That which is Lacking), in their faith.

"Lacking": Paul was not criticizing the church but rather acknowledging that they had not yet reached their full potential, for which he prayed and labored (verse 10). The themes of (chapters 4-5), deal with areas of this lack.

We see from the "night and day", that Paul continuously prays for them. He prays in earnest. Paul desires to come and minister to them that they might continue to grow in this most holy faith they have begun in.

Romans 12:2 "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

1 Thessalonians 3:11 "Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you."

"Direct our way unto you": Paul knew that Satan had hindered his return (2:18). Even though Timothy had visited and returned with a good report, Paul still felt the urgency to see his spiritual children again. Paul followed the biblical admonition of the Psalms (Psalm 37:1-5), and Proverbs (Prov. 3:5-6), to entrust difficult situations to God.

God Himself is our Father. This is showing the unity of Jesus Christ and God the Father. They are one in Spirit. They are one in purpose. When we pray, we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. Jesus is the Way. Paul is praying that he will be able to see them again. Only God can cause this to be. Paul went where God sent him.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all [men], even as we [do] toward you:"

"Love one toward another": With over 30 positive and negative "one anothers", in the New Testament, love appears by far most frequently (4:9; Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5). It is the overarching term that includes all the other "one anothers." Its focus is on believers in the church.

"Toward all men": In light of the fact that God loved the world and sent His Son to die for human sin (John 3:16), believers who were loved when they were unlovely (Rom. 5:8), are to love unbelievers. Other New Testament commands concerning all men include pursuing peace (Rom. 12:18), doing good (Gal. 6:10), being patient (Phil. 4:5), praying (1 Tim. 2:1), showing consideration (Titus 3:2), and honoring (1 Peter 2:17).

The type of love spoken of here is the unselfish God love for all of mankind. He loves us even when we are unlovable. If we have taken on the name Christian (Christ-like), then we must have that unselfish love for every single person in the human race, that Christ had. The world loves, because of what we can do for them, or what we can give them.

God loves us in spite of all of our faults, asking nothing in return, except that we believe on Him. We must learn to love with the same kind of love that God has for us.

Mark 12:30 "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this [is] the first commandment." "And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."

1 Thessalonians 3:13 "To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."

"Unblameable in holiness": Paul prayed that there would be no grounds of accusation because of un-holiness (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Peter 5:16-17; Jude 24).

 "Coming of our Lord: Again, Paul used the term parousia to refer to Christ's second coming, repeating it for special emphasis.

"His Saints": Since this exact term is not used elsewhere in the New Testament of angels, but is commonly used for believers, it is best to understand the coming of the Lord to rapture all His church and take them to heaven to enjoy His presence.

"Saints" used here in the masculine plural, refers to holy people. These may be believers (see Eph. 1:1; 1 Thess. 4:14), or angels (see Mark 8:38). Considering the problem cited (in chapter 4), the former idea is likely in view here.

If we love the way Paul was speaking of (in verse 12), then we will be established in our hearts unblameable before God. We will be in right standing with the Father, because we have washed in the blood of the Lamb (Jesus), and been made righteous and holy before the Father.

The Christians are the saints. Jesus is coming as King of kings and Lord of lords, and the saints will reign with Him.

RICHISON-1 Thessalonians 3:1

"Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone..."


The word "therefore" gives a deduction of the gospel team's love for the Thessalonians (2:17-20). Because of his special association with the Thessalonians, Paul sends Timothy to encourage them in their trial.

when we could no longer endure it,

The word "endure" means in this context to hold back. He can no longer bear to leave the Thessalonians alone without help from the team. Unable to go to Thessalonica himself, he sends Timothy. Timothy was Paul's troubleshooter. The church suffered severe persecution, so they needed encouragement from someone from the gospel team.

we thought it good to be left in Athens alone

The Thessalonians expelled Paul from Thessalonica, and he went to Berea. Later, Paul traveled from Berea in northern Greece to Athens in southern Greece alone. He sent word back to Berea for Timothy and Silas to join him in Athens (Acts 17:15). Timothy and Silas did join him there.

Despite his need to have Timothy with him, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to encourage them in their trials (3:3). The Thessalonians did not drive Timothy out of Thessalonica like they drove out Paul and Silas. However, this assignment was a challenging mission. There is no evidence that Timothy protested against Paul in this task.

Paul could have used the full complement of his gospel team in a city like Athens. However, he chose to forego his need for others. The words "thought it good" means to be well pleased. This speaks to the motivation behind Paul's decision. He did not make this decision grudgingly. He knew it was the right decision based on the well-being of the Thessalonians. He accepted the responsibility without complaint.

Timothy and Silas left Paul alone in the world center of philosophical intellectualism, the city of Athens. Philosophers from around the Roman world assembled there. The city was given wholly to idolatry (Acts 17:16). It is always best to operate with teams in this kind of situation. However, loneliness is just one of those hardships a "good soldier of Christ" bears for his people. Paul made no great impact in Athens. He wrote no epistle to the church at Athens. There is no record of any conversions in that city. Evidently, he did not penetrate that city with the gospel.

Paul moved from Athens to Corinth after Timothy left for Thessalonica. There he formed a church and wrote two epistles to the church there. Timothy later joined Paul in Corinth.

Principle: Ministry involves a deep commitment to the people we serve.

Application:  Self-denial deprives the self of personal comfort for the sake of others. Ministry involves valuing the people to whom we minister to the point of self-denial.

1 Thessalonians 3:2a

"...and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith..."

and sent Timothy,

Paul personally sent Timothy, giving him the endorsement he needed to minister while in Thessalonica. If Paul could trust the credibility of Timothy, the Thessalonians could as well. Paul draws attention to three qualifications of Timothy to minister to the Thessalonians. He was the right man for the right job. He was the kind of man who could adjust to any situation.

Note how Paul views Timothy's ministry to the Corinthians:

"For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Corinthians 4:17).

"Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do" (1 Corinthians 16:10).

Principle: Effective ministry requires a selfless attitude.

Application:  Many people in ministry are out for what they can get. They seek their own ends. They feather their own nest. This is an indictment against believers of our day as well.  "And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them..." (Jeremiah 45:5).  A temptation of many today is to use ministry to advance their career. They want to be a big shot in the kingdom. We tread on dangerous ground here. God will by-pass people like this.  "But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:19-21).

3:2b:   "...and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith..."

our brother

First, Paul calls Timothy "brother." "Brother" is one who has entered the family of God. "Brother" seems to indicate equivalence in ministry with Paul. Elsewhere Paul calls Timothy his "son" because he was younger than Paul. Paul honors Timothy for ministry purposes. Respect is important in ministry, so Paul recommends him for ministry.

"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Paul and Timothy were poles apart in age, educational background, and nationality (Timothy was half-Gentile and half-Jew). Paul had extensive formal training while there is no evidence that Timothy had any. Yet, God united these men in ministry.

and minister of God,

Secondly, Timothy is God's minister. He is not primarily Paul's associate minister. Paul does not claim Timothy as exclusively his. Timothy represents not Paul, but God.

"Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:15-16).

"I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and generations, but now has been revealed to His saints" (Colossians 1: 24-26).

and our fellow laborer:  Thirdly, Paul calls Timothy a "fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ." A "fellow laborer" works together with someone else (Romans 16:3,9,21; Philippians 2:25; 4:3; Philemon 1,24). It takes co-operation to advance the cause of Christ. Timothy was a team player. He was no prima donna who sought the limelight. He sought no privileged treatment for himself. He served on the evangelistic gospel team with a great sense of teamwork.  "Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you" (Romans 16:21).  "...and Jesus who is called Justus. These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are of the circumcision; they have proved to be a comfort to me" (Colossians 4:11).

Principle: God needs brothers, ministers, and laborers for His kingdom.

Application:  The church of Jesus Christ needs workers. This seems to be a forbidden concept these days. Thank God, some are willing to give themselves to advance the cause of Christ throughout the world. If more people would get under the load, the job would be lighter. Will you allow Jesus Christ to harness you for His work?

3:2c:  in the gospel of Christ,  Paul views himself as a "fellow laborer" in the harvest fields. He also views Timothy the same way. He is a "fellow" minister with Paul. Paul does not look upon Timothy as competition. He is one with him in ministry. He gave glory to Jesus Christ to whom the glory belongs. We capitulate to Him in everything. In all work for Jesus Christ, He is Lord.

Principle: Proclaiming the gospel requires freedom from competition.

Application: Christians who capitulate to the cause of Christ do not look on others with a sense of competition. They cheer others in their efforts to share Christ with others.

3:2d:  to establish you Timothy's task was twofold: 1) to establish and 2) to encourage the Thessalonians. They needed confirmation and comfort in the Christian faith. They needed someone to come in to stabilize the situation. When churches become unsettled, they always need someone like Timothy.  The word "establish" means fix (firmly)

Principle: All Christians need spiritual stability.

Application:  Man is inherently unstable. Sin is at the root of instability. That is why some oscillate in their convictions. If people do not know the Bible, any wind of doctrine will sweep them away. They become vulnerable to false teaching.

3:3:  "...that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this"

 that The word "that" gives us the goal of Timothy's trip: establishing and encouraging the Thessalonians.

no one should be shaken by these afflictions;  The words "no one" indicate that Paul desires that not even one believer's faith is set back by "these afflictions." There was the greatest urgency that their faith is bolstered by Timothy's coming lest even one wavering believer be moved in the midst of these afflictions.

The word "shaken" is a graphic term. The word means literally to wag as of a dog wagging his tail while fawning or cringing. "Shaken" carries the idea of to unsettle like a dog's tail going back and forth. The Thessalonian Christians should not allow themselves to be shaken or unsettled by persecution. False teaching can disturb our souls. Some of them were so emotionally disturbed that they gave up their beliefs. Christians who are mature in their faith will not move from their moorings. Mature believers do not push the panic button.

"Afflictions" means pressure. It is anything that loads the soul. This trouble comes from direct suffering. It was an occupational hazard to become a Christian in those days. There was the awful danger that the Thessalonians would be enticed by the pleasant prospect of the easier life afforded by compromise or reverting to paganism. No doubt, there were plenty of smooth sympathizers on hand encouraging them to make just such a fatal move.

Principle:  Mature believers know how to endure affliction.

Application:  All Christians face pressure and duress in their lives. The issue is whether we suffer like a mature Christian or like an immature Christian. Tribulations should never throw a mature believer off course. God provides for the believer in such a way that he can have peace in the pressures of life. The mature Christian rests in that.

3;3b:  that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this"

For The word "for" establishes the reason why duress should not shake the faith of believers: this is in God's divine design for them.

you yourselves know  The Thessalonians knew they would face tribulation because Paul told them that they would face it when he was in Thessalonica (3:4). Paul leveled with them that they would meet such things if they became Christians. He never misrepresented the difficulty of becoming a Christian. He never painted a rosy picture of a bed of ease. The Christian life demands confrontation. True Christianity is not convenient. The brand of Christianity in the first century cost something.

that we are appointed to this  We can translate the word "appointed" by the word "ordained." God ordains us to affliction. When people become Christians, they receive a new kind of trouble. Affliction is God's appointment for us. God places affliction strategically in our lives for our personal growth. This is God's destiny for us that comes by His divine design.

Affliction is God's appointment for us. Trial is no accident. We can clearly see the folly of trying to evade persecutions. This was the appointed path of the Thessalonians. The word "appointed" here does not refer to past eternity but to present time. The Christian life being what it is and the godless world being what it is, makes afflictions and persecution certain. God says, "I have an appointment for you with affliction." We make appointments regularly. This is an appointment that I would prefer not to keep!

Principle: Affliction is in the plan and will of God for the believer.

Application: Some of us might say, "What did I ever do to deserve this pain in my life. What did I do wrong?" It may be that you did not do anything wrong. This is just one of the by-products of being the child of the King. You say, "I don't like these side-effects of Christianity." A disciple is someone under discipline. God appoints trial into our lives so that we will become more disciplined in the things of God.

3:4: "For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know"

For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you - Paul says he kept telling them when he was with them about the persecution to come (imperfect tense). He taught this repeatedly. Paul says, "Do you remember when I was there a year ago? I warned you of coming trouble."

that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know - The words "suffer tribulation" refers to suffering due to the pressure of circumstances or the antagonism of others (2 Thessalonians 1:6,7). This pressure from without hems the believer in a situation like a mountain gorge. God puts conditions in our narrow way and presses us into distressing problems.  God puts us into a squeeze play. Compression produces gold, and compression produces character in the Christian life. Christian suffering is inseparable from the Christian life. Christians face different kinds of affliction: persecution (1:6), imprisonment (Acts 20:23), derision (Hebrews 10:33), poverty (2 Corinthians 5:13), sickness (Revelation 2:22), and inner distress (Philippians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 7:5).

Tribulation tests whether we will spread the gospel at the risk of life or limb and whether we will claim the promises of God (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Faith accepts God's discipline and patiently endures trial (2 Thessalonians 1:4). A Christian has the assurance that the coming glory far overshadows present suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17,18). God's promises give us hope in the face of suffering.

Principle:  The mature Christian does not give up when things get tough.

Application:  It comes as a great shock to some Christians when trials come their way. Although God plans divine duress in the lives of Christians, they can have a sense of God's presence with them through it.  Christians can have a sense of peace in the midst of trouble. We can have stability during any pressure that comes our way. Christians have the equipment to be stable at all times, in good times or bad.  The mature Christian does not give up when the going gets tough. Most people cave into trouble. They give up by resorting to booze or drugs. They cannot look pain in the face, so they use some form of escapism. They will pay the piper for this. The mature Christian, however, knows how to cope with duress.

3:5:  "For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain"

For this reason, The reason Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica was the subtlety of Satan in discouraging the new church.

when I could no longer endure it, The word "endure" means to protect, or preserve by covering. It carries the idea of keeping off something that threatens - to bear up against or hold out against something. Paul was troubled that he didn't know the true spiritual condition of the Thessalonians.

"If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless, we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:12).

Because Paul was certain that persecutions were inevitable and had befallen the Thessalonians, he was deeply concerned about their spiritual welfare. He could no longer bear the suspense, so he sent to obtain firsthand knowledge of the condition of their faith. He wanted to assure himself that the Tempter had not won them over by his enticements.

I sent to know your faith,  Paul wanted to know the spiritual state of the Thessalonian Christians. "Were they walking with the Lord, or were they caving in to pressure?" "Did they have any faith?"

Principle:  The church persecuted is the church purified.

Application: The church of Christ is filled with fakers and phonies. People need to examine themselves as to whether they are genuine Christians.  No doubt, all phonies will throw in the towel quickly. Persecution always sorts out the fakers. The church popular is the church polluted. The church persecuted is the church purified. If the church receives nothing but a favor from the world system, then there is something wrong with the church. The world hates the church when it finds out what the church believes.

3:5b:  lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, The Bible calls the Devil "tempter" twice - here and in the temptation of Christ (Mt 4:1-3), where he tried to lure Jesus into moving away from God's plan.  The Devil used persecution to discourage Christians from living dynamic Christian lives. The "tempter" will destroy them by guile. Satan will slant their minds against God's will. He does not use honorable strategies like Christians. Christians limit themselves to systems that are biblical and legitimate. The Devil uses strategies consistent with his character.

PRINCIPLE:  Satan will use wiles to deceive us.

APPLICATION:  The Devil will take advantage of your vulnerability. He knows about your history. He knows where he can stick it to you.  Temptation is an awful thing, particularly when both Satan and your sin capacity join forces against you. At times Satan will move into your family and create marital problems. He hates harmonious Christian homes. He will invade the bedroom of Christian homes. Christians who withhold sex from each other will fall into the temptation of Satan.

3:5c:  and our labor might be in vain - The thing that Paul fears is that his labor should be in vain if Satan lured the Thessalonians from their faith. If Satan cannot keep people from coming to Christ, he will discourage them as Christians. It was Paul's constant concern that his ministry did not end in vain.

PRINCIPLE:  Satan can neutralize the ministry by deception.

APPLICATION: Nothing destroys ministries like complaining and arguments. Many ministries end in vain because of the disputes among leadership. Satan neutralizes the ministry by getting leadership at odds with one another.

3:6:  "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you..."

But now Paul now contrasts his apprehension about the state of Thessalonian spirituality with the good report of Timothy.

that Timothy has come to us from you, Timothy has now made it back from Thessalonica to southern Greece (Acts 18:5). He is now in Corinth with Paul and gives his report on the state of the faith of the church in Thessalonica. Paul knew of their saving faith, but he did not know the level of their sustaining faith. Our sustaining faith is the faith whereby we walk before the Lord. That feature of faith differs in every believer. Some believers do not build their faith. They genuinely know the Lord, but they do not know Him very well. Sustaining faith is progressive.

Principle:  Sustaining faith is the secret of weathering the storms of life.

Application:  Sustaining faith is progressive in its development. We can nurture faith so that it becomes robust. We can move from pre-school to kindergarten in our faith. Then we move from kindergarten to grade school and from grade school to high school. Eventually, we graduate from the graduate school of faith. Anywhere along the line, Satan can stymie our faith. We might hit a plateau and stay at that plateau for years. We call this a case of arrested spiritual expansion. This is a spiritual malfunction. If we do not advance in our faith, we move into a stagnant stage of our Christian life. The Devil will do anything in his diabolical power to get Christians into this state. He will try to alienate believers from the Bible - the source of their faith.

3:6b:  and brought us good news of your faith and love, Two characteristic attitudes of the Thessalonians were their faith and love toward the gospel team. They loved the gospel and the ministers of the gospel. Timothy's report sounded like the gospel - "good news." The New Testament often links the qualities of "faith and love" together. Faith precedes love. The order is important. Faith is vertical, and love is horizontal.

3:6b2:  and that you always have good remembrance of us, It is encouraging for Paul to know that the Thessalonians look back on his visit with fond memories. Paul says, "You understood why I had to leave Thessalonica. It was not because I wanted to leave you. I left under duress. Thanks for your understanding."

3:6b3:  greatly desiring to see us, The word "desiring" means to long for greatly, to yearn after. This desiring recognizes that there is a need for fellowship between the Thessalonians and Paul.  The Thessalonians had cherished memories of the gospel team. Note how the New Testament uses the Greek word for "greatly desiring:"

3:6b4: as we also to see you - The desire of the gospel team is reciprocal to the Thessalonians'. They felt the pain of enforced separation just as much as Paul desired to see them. There is a mutual love between the gospel team and the Thessalonians. It is always encouraging to a father's heart to know that his children walk according to the principles of the family.  Despite intense persecution, the Thessalonians remained true to the Lord. There is a point where we have to release those who follow us to the Lord. We must cut the apron strings at some point. It is arrogance to think that people cannot get along spiritually without us.

Principle: Dynamic faith produces mutual love.  Application: Dynamic faith produces mutual love. The closest fellowship that believers share is fellowship in the gospel. There is a special love among those who go shoulder to shoulder, sharing the good news of the gospel.

3:7:  "...therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith"

NOTE:  Verses seven through nine give Paul's response to Timothy's report.

therefore,  The "therefore" draws an inference from verse six.

brethren, Paul appeals to the common heritage in Christ that he had with the Thessalonians.

in all our affliction and distress  - "Affliction" refers to the pressure and tribulation Paul received from hostile people. As Paul writes First Thessalonians, he is in Corinth facing more problems. "When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, 'Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles'" (Acts 18:5-6).  The word "distress" denotes a necessity, calamity, or pressure imposed by either inner pressure or external circumstances. Distress refers to the pressure, constraint, or necessity of circumstances Paul faced while writing First Thessalonians in Corinth.

we were comforted concerning you by your faith - Timothy's report brought satisfaction to the souls of the gospel team when they saw the dynamics of the faith of the Thessalonians. The discovery of the sound state of the faith of the Thessalonians made all the difference in the world to Paul. Their faith encouraged Paul. He received renewed spiritual strength when he heard of their healthy spiritual state. This fortified him against pressing distress and crushing affliction he was currently encountering.  Given this good news, Paul could now move on without the deep concern about the church at Thessalonica.

Principle:  The test of our spiritual character is opposition.

Application:  The test of Christian character is opposition. If everything goes our way without opposition, that demonstrates nothing about the quality of our character. How we react to opposition is the real test. Do we lose our cool? Such tests are frequent in the local church. The more people, the more differences of opinion. God sends sharp experiences into our life to test the level of our spirituality. Do we have a dynamic faith that can go beyond the rejection and hostility of other people? The joy of hearing of the spiritual success of those we lead to Christ always encourages us to bear up under distress in ministry. This always renews our commitment to serving in the face of difficulty.  No man lives to himself, and no man dies to himself within the sphere of Christian ministry. When fellow servants within our purview have ups, their ups are our ups. When they encounter downs, their downs are our downs. We weep with them that weep, mourn with them that mourn, and rejoice with them that rejoice.

3:8"For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord"

 For now - Now, under the state of affairs of seeing the vigorous faith of the Thessalonians, the gospel team engenders a certain outcome - spiritual animation in the form of encouragement.

we live, - The news of the vitality of the faith of the Thessalonians put life and vigor in Paul's own ministry. This was a further catalyst for Paul's future ministry.

if you stand fast in the Lord - The condition for the flourishing and reviving of Paul's ministry is the Thessalonian steadfastness in the Lord. The words "stand fast" carried the idea of standing firm. Standing in the Lord gives sustaining power.

Standing also carries the idea of standing on guard against falling. It is Paul's heart to see the Thessalonians stabilized under pressure.

Principle:  Stability comes from the Lord, not self.

Application:  God often puts cheer into our hearts just at the time we need it. When life seems dark, God puts someone or something into our lives to encourage us. Because of this encouraging word, we can move on to further challenges.  We cannot allow people to move us off our spiritual moorings. If we keep our eyes on the Lord, that is 0/20 vision. Things will get blurry if we try to focus on people. Christians stand firm because of God's promises.

3:9:  "For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God..."

For what thanks - Paul asks a rhetorical question. What adequate thanks can Paul offer to God for the blessing he received from Timothy's report? He knows that all credit goes to the Lord. He feels totally incapable of giving thanks to God in a manner that would do justice to the way God worked in the lives of the Thessalonians.

can we render to God for you, - The word "render" has the idea to give back as an equivalent, to requite, recompense. It has the idea of a complete return. Paul wants to give a complete return of thanks to God for the Thessalonian Christians. Paul owes God an obligation for bringing the Thessalonians into his life. How can we return God's goodness to us? He was a man of gratitude to God.  Paul knows that he played a role in the lives of the Thessalonians, but he also knows that it was God who did the essential work.

for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God - True joy comes from true values. Paul was full of joy because of what God did in the lives of the Thessalonians.  The word "before" in the phrase "before our God" has the sense of Paul rejoicing in the presence of God. He is the source of all blessings. God did the doing, so God gets the glory. Paul's joy endures God's penetrating eye. His joy stood in the presence of God. Paul's joy is before God, and his thanksgiving is to Him. God is the ultimate author of spiritual victories and joy. He is the One to whom gratitude is due.

Principle:  God does the doing, so God gets the glory.

Application:  Christian workers need to be careful that they do not view their ministries as their personal success. We must give God the glory for His work among our people. We need to get a perspective on our role in the scheme of eternal things. None of us can adequately thank God for how He uses us.

3:10:  "...night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?"

 night and day - Paul and his partners prayed for the Thessalonians night and day. The team offered a consistent prayer for these people, believing that God would answer their prayers. The Thessalonians were hardly ever out of their prayers.

praying exceedingly - The word "praying" means to desire, to long for. Paul asks with a sense of urgency that he might see the Thessalonians face to face.  "Exceedingly" is a double compound word emphasizing the intensity of the prayers of the gospel team. Paul's prayer was fervent. The word "exceedingly" expresses strong praying - superabundant praying. He prayed beyond normal measure for this request. This is an extraordinary prayer over what one would normally pray. Paul prayed with extensive earnestness.

Principle:  Some situations need extraordinary, superabundant praying.

Application:  Have you ever entered extraordinary, superabundant praying? If not, try it. Carve out extra time for this special need in your life or the life of someone else and pray "exceedingly."

3:10b:  "...night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?"

that we may see your face - Paul made five requests for the Thessalonians:

1) to see the Thessalonians face to face,

2) to complete what is lacking in their faith,

3) to deliver them from Satan's obstruction,

4) that their love might enlarge to others,

5) to establish their hearts unblamable in holiness.

Paul's first request in his extraordinary prayer was that he might see the Thessalonians in person

and perfect - The second request Paul made in prayer was that he might have the opportunity to "perfect" the faith of the church in Thessalonica. The word "perfect" means to make fit, to equip, prepare, to render complete, to furnish completely, put in order, restore. "Perfect" comes from two Greek words: down and to mend or repair. Secular Greek used the term "perfect" for setting bones and for manning a fleet or outfitting an army so they would be thoroughly prepared to go to war. The New Testament uses this word for mending fishing nets (Mark 1:19). The upshot of these meanings is that Paul wanted to complete developing the faith of the Thessalonians so that they would mature in Christ.

Principle:  Our faith needs development.  Application:  It is one thing to express faith in the Lord Jesus' death on the cross for salvation, but it is another thing to grow in that faith. Are you growing in your faith? Is your level of faith the same it was the day you became a Christian?

what is lacking in your faith? "Lacking" means want, deficiency. Timothy's trip to Thessonalica found some deficiency or shortcoming in the faith of the Thessalonians. There was an area of faith where the gospel team was not able yet to impart to the Thessalonians.   The Christian never reaches a point of absolute completion of their faith. If we stop growing, then we plateau in our walk with the Lord.  The word "faith" isolates the area where they needed equipping. Christians need constant development in their knowledge of God's Word, its formation into principles, and application to experience. This is how we exercise our faith.

PRINCIPLE: All Christians have some areas where they need to grow.  APPLICATION:  There is no place of perfection here on this earth. We should not pray to be free from problems but that God would show us how to cope with problems. We should pray that we would equip our faith to meet whatever problem we might face.  There is always more ground to possess spiritually. We all have serious deficiencies that prevent us from obtaining a well-rounded faith.

3:11:  "Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you"

 Paul lifts a prayer of invocation for the Thessalonians in verses 11-13 to close his burden of verse 10. He makes this intercession to both God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now may our God and Father Himself, Paul not only calls God "God," but he also calls him "Father." The attitude of Paul's approach to prayer is to look to God as Father. As a son to a father, he presents his prayers to the Lord.  The mood of the Greek word here expresses a wish (optative). Paul does not know how God will answer his prayer. He expresses his prayer in the form of a desire to leave himself open to God's will.  The word "Himself" is very emphatic in Greek. Answered prayer always comes within God's sovereignty. The more we recognize our finiteness, the more we place ourselves into God's hands. It is the Father Himself who must undertake for us. Only an omnipotent God and a concerned Father can remove Satan's roadblocks and shelter us from his attacks.

and our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul, in addition, appeals to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer. Note how Paul naturally associates the Lord Jesus Christ on the same plane as God the Father. Both the Father and the Son are equally God. Both equally participate in answering prayer.  This sentence has two subjects (the Father and Lord Jesus Christ) and one verb (direct), showing the unity of the Father and Son as one in essence. Not only does the Lord Jesus Christ share the same position as the Father, but He also joins the same work as the Father.

Principle:  The more we orient to God, the more we cast ourselves upon His sovereign providence for guidance in our lives.

Application:  God providentially orders all events of the universe. Therefore, He can change circumstances in answer to prayer. None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, but God does. The only certainty we have is that God is in control of everything. He providentially manages the universe. He cares about us and our future.  The opposite of trusting the Lord is anxiety or worry. Anxiety never resolves anything. If anything, anxiety compounds our problems. Worry will not heal cancer or pay our bills. It might give us ulcers, however. Living by faith means we put our problems in God's providential hands. We commit ourselves to Him.  Christians do not depend on chance or luck to make their way through life. Non-Christians must go it alone. They sweat it out and hope that by chance, it will work out for the best. That is why some people sublimate with booze and drugs. They need something, or they will go crazy. They are not satisfied with their lot in life. They are never satisfied with their salary or their investments. They know life is short, so they are afraid of getting old. They must bear surgery, disease, and undertakers by themselves. They escape into pleasure and amusements. The Christian trusts in the providence of God.

3:11b:  direct our way to you.

The word "direct" comes from two words: down and straight. "Direct" literally means to make straight, lead, set right, guide aright. Paul prays that God would direct a straight path back to Thessalonica. In his second book to the Thessalonians, Paul asks God to lead their hearts to love for God and patient waiting for the Rapture.

Believers need God's direction in ministry. Paul prayed for open doors so that God would direct him to certain situations. Paul placed his plans into the hands of God because he knew that he was incapable of managing his ministry by himself. Paul sees God as managing the universe. If God sovereignly supervises events and people, then Paul can place his life into the hands of a sovereign God. This is what it means to have faith. We place faith in God's management of the universe. We do not have to know the future; we only have to know the One who does.

Principle:  We cannot dictate to God our plan.

Application:  God orders our steps and stops. At times He gives us the green light, at times the caution, and yet at other times the red light. If we run God's red lights, we might have a calamity. We obey God's signals so that we know for sure His direction for our lives.  We must pray that God will direct our ways and open doors.

3:12:  "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you..."

And may the Lord make you increase and abound  - The phrase "make you increase" means to make to abound, to superabound. The word carries the idea of multiplying. Paul prays that Thessalonian love will come in abundance by multiplying. The Lord is the source of multiplying love. A love that increases is stronger this year than last year.  The second word, "abound," means to be superabundant. Christians are to love each other extraordinarily. Christians love in a different way than non-Christians love each other. God expects Christians to excel in love. Mature Christians love more than in an expected way. Their love is surpassing. Love that is full to the brim is one thing. Love that overflows the container is another. People will receive the overflow of our love originating from God.  The combination of these words for superabundance reinforces the intensity of Christian love.

in love to one another Not all Christians love one another. Anyone can love the loveable. It is more difficult to love cantankerous and challenging people. There is little credit for loving the lovely. When we love the unlovely, that is a different issue.

and to all, - Christians should not restrict their love simply to one another. It should reach out to those who do not know Christ.

just as we do to you - Paul and his team claim to be models of love. Just as they loved the Thessalonians, the Thessalonians are to love one another.

Principle:  The more we are beloved, the more we should love.

Application:  God requires mutual love between Christians and a love that extends beyond the Christian community. The Lord gives us the capacity to love one another. We cannot take a seminar on Christian love. This love comes from God. The Lord has to do it in us.  True love tells the truth, not half truths. We do not say things about each other that are half-true, or, as the case may be, half false. We do not spread gossip about one another. It grieves the heart of God to watch believers fighting with each other.

3:13:  " that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints"

so that - Paul's aim is that the Lord might strengthen the Thessalonians in practical holiness. Abounding love produces stability in the Christian community.


He may establish your hearts - The word "establish" means to support. God wants to fix hearts and make them secure in His love. God is in the business of making our hearts firm and strong in the faith. Our hearts need stability from God.

blameless in holiness - To be "blameless" is not sinlessness. "Blameless" means to be free from all valid charges. A blameless person deals with any wrong in his or her life. This person does not cover his sin. He or she keeps short accounts with the Lord. When it comes to holiness, it is God's aim that we will be free from His censure.

before our God and Father - The word "before" means that Christians will give an account in the presence of God the Father at the Rapture. He will scrutinize our lives in unadulterated truth.

at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - The word "coming" means arrival. At the arrival of Christ (the Rapture), God will evaluate us in His very presence. When we stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ, we will stand there blameless because of the cross of Christ. Sin will not be an issue there. The issue is reward.

with all His saints - All Christians will stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The word "His" indicates that God will claim us as His own at that judgment. A "saint" is someone set apart unto God as His own.

Principle:  Love becomes more stable as we exercise His love in us.

Application:  The more we grow in God's love, our love grows stronger and more established. God does not call upon us to love in our own anemic love. God loves through us with His love, not human love.