1Thessalonians Chapter 3: The Apostle Paul’s Appreciation of the Thessalonians

Nov 20th, 2009 | By | Category: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1Thessalonians Chapter 3: The Apostle Paul’s Appreciation of the Thessalonians

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

1 Thess. 3:2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:

Paul was writing to the Thessalonians from Athens. When he was hunted down in Macedonia and Achaia far to the north, the brethren persuaded him to leave for the sake of safety. Jesus gave that advice to his disciples; namely, if they were persecuted in a particular city and even in a particular household, they were to wipe the dust off their feet and move on. Of course, as an apostle, Paul was unusually zealous.

Timothy accompanied Paul to Athens. Now Paul had second thoughts about having left Thessalonica. Even though the brethren had received the gospel wholeheartedly, he was very concerned about their spiritual welfare, fearing that the Adversary would undercut his short ministry there. He was nervous that something might go amiss because such severe persecution had occurred so shortly after their consecration, when they were but newborn babes. When Paul could refrain no longer, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to establish and comfort the brethren concerning their faith. Paul thus manifested much confidence in young Timothy. Also, by calling him “fellowlabourer,” Paul was highly recommending him.

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

“For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” How did the Thessalonians know they were “appointed” unto afflictions?

Comment: Paul had preached to them that the Christian is to take up his cross and follow Jesus, knowing that persecuting experiences will come. In fact, we are told that if we do not receive persecution, we are illegitimate children (Heb. 12:8).

Reply: Stated succinctly, “no cross, no crown.” If we do not suffer with Jesus, we will not reign with him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). Paul undoubtedly called attention to what Jesus said plus certain Scriptures. He said we are to expect persecution and not become faint-hearted because of it. “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Heb. 12:3). Most of the persecution in Thessalonica came from Jews who resided there as well as in Philippi and Berea.

Q: What did Paul mean when he said in verse 1, “We could no longer forbear”?

A: He was nervous about the welfare of the Thessalonians. Perhaps Timothy was hesitant to leave Athens and go to Thessalonica because he was concerned about Paul and did not want to leave him alone, but Paul urged Timothy to go. Paul was in Athens for only a relatively short time, and his wonderful testimony on Mars’ hill took place there (Acts 17:22–31). “I perceive, O Athenians, that you are too religious. You have many gods, of whom I will not speak. Instead I will speak of the one unknown God, the God who created us. We are all here because of Him.”

Comment: The Phillips translation reads, “And so at length, when the separation became intolerable, we thought the best plan was for me to stay at Athens alone, while Timothy, our brother and fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ, was sent to strengthen and encourage you in your faith. We did not want any of you to lose heart at the troubles you were going through, but to realize that we Christians must expect such things.”

Reply: Yes, that translation clarifies the true meaning in this case. With Phillips, as with the other new liberal translations, we must exercise caution to make sure they present the right point so that, in turn, we get the correct thought.

1 Thess. 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.

1 Thess. 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 labour be in vain.

Paul expressed a similar thought in verse 1 of this chapter. Indeed Satan tempted the Thessalonians—he persecuted them through the Jews under his influence. As Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). The Jewish religious element of Jesus’ day persecuted him, making snide remarks and trying to belittle or confuse him.

Paul had previously told the Thessalonian brethren that Christians should expect to suffer for Christ and experience persecution, but usually there was some time for growth and development before the persecutions came. With the Thessalonian babes in Christ, the persecution came almost immediately.

The Jewish religious element in Thessalonica were probably beside themselves when some of their members left the synagogue. Similarly, when some depart from our membership, a big hole is left, and we, too, are concerned. Therefore, it is a natural reaction to be alarmed.

However, back there all of the Jews should have left and followed Paul because of the quality of his message.

Comment: How touching that Paul was almost sick over yearning to know how the Thessalonians were faring!

Reply: Yes, he had both a motherly and a fatherly attitude toward them.

1 Thess. 3:6 But now when Timotheus 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:

When Timothy arrived with information, he reported that the Thessalonians were loyal to Paul and appreciated him. This attitude was in sharp contrast to the false apostles and teachers at Corinth, who tried to undercut Paul. It was good news that the Thessalonians missed Paul and wanted to have him return. His message had a strong impact on them—not only was the truth an attraction, but they were steadfast in it.

In addition to the verbal good tidings of faith and love, the Thessalonians probably also sent along a contribution to Paul. Generosity and financial support are only one aspect of love.

Other examples are prayer and moral and doctrinal support. Doctrinal agreement is very encouraging.

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

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

Paul was very generous in saying, “Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live.” Considering what Paul went through in suffering with Christ—being stoned, left for dead, etc.—did he mean that he would give up the faith if the Thessalonians departed? No, but his generous comments indicate that because he was so filled with empathy for them, their steadfastness boosted his morale. If he went out and preached again the next day, he would be a little extra bold because of the good news. People like to hear that they are appreciated for what they do or have done, and the expression  of such appreciation is in order as long as it is sincere and genuine and does not go too far. We are to avoid the type of false commercial front and flattery that were promoted by the book How To Win Friends and Influence People.

Q: Would the word “since” be preferable to “if”? “For now we live, since ye stand fast in the Lord.”

A: Either is correct. “If” carries the thought that the Thessalonians were to continue to stand fast in their faith.

1 Thess. 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;

In other words, “How can we thank God enough for all the joy we feel for your sake?” In the epistles to the Thessalonians, Paul subconsciously brought in God and Jesus in a very personal way, trying to get them to feel God’s pulse, as it were. Paul wanted the brethren to realize that God was for them, that Jesus was with them, and that whatever they suffered, better news awaited them upon Jesus’ return. In fact, the word parousia is used a number of times in this epistle because Paul kept holding forth the future hope. We do the same thing in principle by sacrificing what we might otherwise do inordinately in our personal lives because we are thinking of the future. As God’s people, we have faith and trust in Him and His promises, and that is why we laid our all on the altar. We are laying up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt. The world does the opposite—in their pursuit of happiness, they lay up bank accounts, stocks, bonds, etc., which will corrupt when economic collapse occurs some day.

Some deride the future life as pie in the sky and say that the here and now is what matters. However, the only here and now that matters is whether we are doing God’s will. The Scriptures tell us that if we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with him.

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

Paul prayed exceedingly, night and day, to be permitted to return to the Thessalonians. He prayed without ceasing, as it were. By reading the Book of Acts and the other epistles, we know that he prayed for other ecclesias as well. No doubt he had a long prayer list. However, his prayers in regard to the Thessalonians were especially admirable because he himself had suffered persecution there and most certainly would suffer again if he returned. What a great motive and example of self-sacrifice! He wanted to “perfect,” or bring to maturity, what was lacking in their faith.

Comment: Since the Thessalonians did not have the written Word—just oral recitations and fragments of the New Testament—the whole arrangement of Paul’s sustaining them and their interest in his activities would have been the subject of earnest, emotional prayer. They wanted to keep one another healthy spiritually. They did not have concordances, Volumes, and study helps to fill the gap.

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

Here the word “and” (Greek kai) would be better translated “even”: “Now God himself, even our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.” Almost invariably kai means “and,” but where context indicates otherwise, the meaning is “even” or, more rarely, “also.” Paul was praying that God would honor or favor his inmost desire to return again to minister to the Thessalonians.

Paul was trying to say, “I am not just a wishful thinker. I really want to come back and see you again.” Moreover, he said earlier, “Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (1 Thess. 2:18). Satan uses many means to consume our time, and some of them seem ordinary and common, for example, a duty to perform or an illness. The Adversary does not necessarily directly attack an individual, for his minions, the fallen angels, do his bidding. They think of all kinds of methods and distractions, especially when it comes to consecration. In the Parable of the Sower, birds (the fallen angels) came and devoured seed that fell by the wayside (Matt. 13:3–9,18–23). Others received the word “anon with joy,” but when the sun came up with its heat, they forgot and went their way. Still other seed fell among thorns. However, seed that falls on good ground prospers 30-, 60-, and 100- fold, based on one’s own personal talents and zeal. Thus there are four gradations: wayside, stony ground, thorns, and good ground.

1 Thess. 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:

Paul was suggesting that we should make allowances for one another when we have differences of opinion not based on principle. Many people are overly sensitive, and some even to the point that if they are criticized, we will never see them again. When someone steps on their foot—on a spiritual corn, as it were—they do not forget the incident for the rest of their life. We are supposed to be sensitive and yet not too sensitive. Otherwise, we will not endure, and a soldier must endure many hardships, spiritually speaking: going without meals, being deprived of sleep or sleeping on hard ground, not being able to bathe, etc.

Comment: The word “men,” supplied by the translators, should be omitted. Our special love is for our brethren, not for the world. Paul told us to do good unto all men as we have opportunity “but especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Therefore, verse 12 should read, “The Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you.”

Reply: Yes, “men” should be omitted, for the “all” would be the brotherhood, the ones who have received the truth and taken a stand. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to increase and overflow in their love for each other in their local circumstance and also for those beyond, for all brethren everywhere, for the Church as a whole.

Berea and Philippi were nearby, and Paul was suggesting that the Thessalonians were not alone in their experiences. For instance, the Thessalonian brethren knew about the earthquake that had occurred when Paul and Silas were in prison and the subsequent conversion of the jailer and his household (Acts 16:23–34). While the two were in prison, bleeding from the many stripes they had received (probably 40 stripes save one, that is, almost to the point of death), they sang hymns and the other prisoners listened. When the earthquake opened all the doors, the other prisoners were so shocked that they remained there, frozen, as it were. As they considered the singing and the earthquake, they felt that the invisible God was for them. Then Paul said to the jailer, “Do not worry. Do not kill yourself, for we are all here.” To hear Paul speak that way, the others would have thought, “We better pay attention and stay in our cells.” Of course the jailer then made sure that the prisoners were locked up again, for if even one prisoner had escaped, the Roman authorities would have taken his life.

Conventions have their place, that is, as long as we are not “convention-goers.” We need home-ecclesia stability, for excessive convention attendance adversely affects our studies.

1 Thess. 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.

“Coming” is the Greek parousia, and the preposition “at” should be “in” or “during.” “To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, during the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” Having been caught up to the third heaven, Paul knew that the presence of Christ was a period of time, and not just one moment (2 Cor. 12:2). While Paul could not utter the things that he saw in vision, they affected his vocabulary. Even though he kept the secrets, his understanding popped out in little fragments.

The object of “love” is to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before God during the parousia of Jesus.

Comment: It is interesting how the Lord permitted the seemingly simple word parousia to be mistranslated and misunderstood as an instantaneous coming.

Reply: Yes, the general concept is a moment in time instead of a period of presence.

Comment: Scriptural love is far deeper than brethren greeting each other at conventions with hugs and kisses.

Reply: Courtesy and recognition are one thing, but gushy excessiveness is not the love spoken of in the Scriptures, which comes from a knowledge of God and Jesus and their instructions, as well as the instructions of the apostles and the prophets.

“Holiness” was a problem in Thessalonica (and in Greece) because of the heathen worship of Dionysus and Bacchus, which incorporated unclean and lewd practices. Not being schooled in the Law and in righteousness, the people did not see that evil was connected with their immoral religious practices.

Jesus has not yet come “with all his saints.” There are different comings. In 1874 Jesus came alone. In 1878 the sleeping saints were raised, but the feet members still tarry today. In the apokalupsis after the marriage, Jesus will come with all of his saints and manifest his presence to the world.

(1998 and 1981 studies)

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