1 Thessalonians 3 Summary

1 Thessalonians 3 Summary
1 Thessalonians 3 Summary

Afflictions, suffering, and trials are an unavoidable part of life for believers in this fallen world.

Coming into this assembly tonight in the middle of the week – we all look real nice and well put together. But if we were to be able to somehow take a poll of the afflictions of life that are being experienced by each of us here, the list – I imagine – would be lengthy.

On that list would surely be:

•           Relationship difficulties

•           Health problems

•           Discouraging family dynamics

•           Work pressures

•           Financial hardships

•           Uncertainty about the future

•           Loneliness

•           Guilt

•           Grief

•           Disappointment by others

And that list would certainly go on and on.

And in the midst of all of our afflictions – great or small – God is calling us to trust him. As we suffer difficulties, God doesn’t want us to lose sight of him. He wants us to believe him – that he’ll take care of you.

If God is at work in your life, then he’s teaching you an inevitable lesson. And that lesson is that believers Respond to Afflictions with Faith.

And it’s that very lesson that we see at work in the life of the Apostle Paul and the church in Thessalonica which he’s addressing in 1 Thessalonians 3. So, please join me there in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 – where we’ll see this concept modeled for us of Responding to Afflictions with Faith.

Let’s read the first five verses of this chapter and then get into the details.

1 Thessalonians 3:1–5 AV 1873

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

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:

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

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.

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.

So, let’s find this principle of Responding to Afflictions with Faith – starting in verse 1.

Verse 1

1 Thessalonians 3:1 AV 1873

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

Wherefore

3:1 Wherefore

1 Διὸ

Paul begins this chapter by saying “wherefore”. This indicates that he’s pointing back to something he previously said.

And what he’s referring back to is what we saw toward the end of chapter 2 in verses 17-20. That was the matter of Paul and Silas and Timothy wanting to be with those believers in Thessalonica – but being hindered from doing so.

And Paul says that there’s only so much of that forced separation that he and Silas and Timothy could take…

When we could no longer forbear

when we could no longer forbear

μηκέτι στέγοντες

Now, Paul twice in other passages in the New Testament claimed that he could forbear or bear with or endure anything.

How much suffering do you feel like you can endure?

•           Well, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:12 that instead of demanding his rights to being compensated as an apostle, he and his fellow-ministers endured or forbore everything so that they would not hinder the Gospel of Christ from going forth.

•           And then as Paul is in 1 Corinthians 13:7 commending to those Corinthian believers the excellencies of doing everything they do motivated by genuine love for others, he says that one of the qualities of true genuine love is that it bears all things. And since Paul was a mature believer, he would have been displaying this virtue of love in his life and thereby he would have been increasingly bearing all things.

So, the point is that the apostle Paul had gotten to the point in his Christian life that he could bear or endure just about anything.

But there was something that even the apostle Paul could not bear. And that was being separated from those Thessalonian believers for a moment longer. He says that there was a point at which he and Silas and Timothy “could no longer forbear” to be parted from the Thessalonians.

So, what did Paul and Silas and Timothy do when they reached that breaking point? …

we thought it good to be left at Athens alone

we thought it good to be left at Athens alone

εὐδοκήσαμεν καταλειφθῆναι ἐν Ἀθήναις μόνοι

We’re going to discover that the “we” in this verse is referring to Paul and Silas – and not Timothy. As we considered in our last message, those two were forbidden from going back to Thessalonica as far as we know. And – again as we considered last time – that’s probably because Jason – one of the Thessalonian believers – had promised to his city’s rulers that Paul and Silas wouldn’t return there again.

So, Paul and Silas are the “we” who were left alone in Athens. But that geographical reference leads us to consider the broader scope of the timeline that Paul has in mind in this passage.

[S] So, let’s remind ourselves of the events involved here.

•           As you know, Paul and Silas were run out of Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9. Timothy was probably still in Philippi at that time.

•           Paul and Silas then went to Berea, but the unbelieving Thessalonian Jews followed them there and caused enough trouble that the believers in Berea had to send just Paul away from that city as well (Acts 17:10-15).

•           In the mean time, Timothy caught up with them from being in Philippi. And so, Silas and Timothy end up staying in Berea. But Paul goes to Athens (Acts 17:10-15), which would have been a 340 mile journey on land.

•           The believers who accompanied Paul to Athens were given an order when they arrived in that city to go back to Berea – where Silas and Timothy were – and to have them come to Paul there in Athens (Acts 17:10-15).

•           That much is fairly simple to attain from a reading of Acts. But it’s after these events that the chronology gets a little complicated.

•           We have Luke in Acts telling us that Paul was alone in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy after giving them the command to come to him there (Acts 17:16).

•           Then Paul after some period of time – and, again, apparently without Silas and Timothy – he decided to move on to Corinth from Athens (Acts 18:1).

•           Some surmise that Silas and Timothy came to Paul in Athens and then left again to go back north to Thessalonica. And I think that’s probably how we need to think about this and I’ll advocate for this in just a moment.

•           Then finally both Silas and Timothy come to Paul in Corinth from Macedonia (Acts 18:5). (Remember that Macedonia is the northern part of Greece where Thessalonica and Berea are, while Corinth and Athens are in the region of Achaia.)

•           But we need to reconcile the account in Acts to the information we have in 1 Thessalonians. Because in our text in 1 Thessalonians 3 it says that “we” thought it was a good idea to be left in Athens alone and to send Timothy. So, how do we fit someone or someones being left alone in Athens and sending Timothy back to Thessalonica?

•           I would reconstruct the situation as follows.

•           Paul goes down to Athens and asks for Silas and Timothy to come to him there. They do come. So then, Paul and Silas stay in Athens while they send Timothy to Thessalonica. But before Paul moves on to Corinth, Silas goes up toward Thessalonica to meet Timothy. Then both Silas and Timothy come down together to Corinth and meet Paul who is already there.

•           Finally, those three men were then all based there in Corinth for over a year and a half and wrote this letter at that point (Acts 18:11,18).

So, Paul and Silas thought it was a good idea to be left alone in Athens.

And as we’ve already considered, they sent Timothy back to Thessalonica…

Verse 2

1 Thessalonians 3:2 AV 1873

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:

and sent Timotheus

2 and sent Timotheus,

2 καὶ ἐπέμψαμεν Τιμόθεον,

But the believers in Thessalonica didn’t know Timothy all that well because he apparently wasn’t with Paul and Silas while those two were ministering in that city.

And so, even now in this letter, Paul decides to describe Timothy a little for these believers…

our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ

our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ

τὸν ἀδελφὸν ἡμῶν καὶ συνεργὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ

So, Timothy is identified by Paul as a believer – he’s a brother – and “our” brother, Paul says.

And he’s a fellow-worker with – and servant of – God in the sense that he was working to bring God’s gospel of his Son Jesus Christ everywhere.

And here was Timothy’s mission for which Paul and Silas sent him from Athens back to Thessalonica…

to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith

to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith

εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλέσαι ὑπὲρ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν

This word “establish” refers to the strengthening of something. From weak to strong or even from strong to stronger.

This is an activity that leaders in Christ’s church need to be particularly engaged in – strengthening their fellow believers’ faith.

•           As Jesus was telling Peter that he would deny him the night before he was crucified, Jesus commanded him that after he turned from his denial, that he needed to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32).

•           This is what the apostle Paul would do for the disciples – the believers – as he traveled throughout region after region. He would find them and strengthen them (Acts 18:23).

•           This is why Paul wanted to visit the believers in Rome (Romans 1:11). He wanted to impart some spiritual gift to them so that they might be strengthened in their faith.

•           And ultimately, it’s God himself who will use his servants and whatever other means he wishes to strengthen us – his people (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:17;3:3).

So, based on these considerations, might I suggest that we all pray – that as we gather together as an assembly – that this would be one result of our gatherings? That we would strengthen the faith of one another?

That’s what Timothy did for the Thessalonian believers.

He also comforted those believers.

•           This is what God does for you and me in all of our afflictions and trials (2 Corinthians 1:4). God comforts those who are cast down (2 Corinthians 7:6). Can you testify to that reality?

•           This act of comforting is also what believers are supposed to do for their fellow-believers – in particular, we have an example of this being urged on the Corinthian church which had just had to discipline a member for being disorderly. And thankfully that individual repented. And so, that kind of repentant brother needs to be – not disciplined anymore – but rather, comforted (2 Corinthians 2:7).

•           In two other places in the New Testament, Paul sent another believer to comfort an assembly – just like he did here with Timothy and the Thessalonians. He sent a man named Tychicus to the believers both in Ephesus (Ephesians 6:21) and in Colossae (Ephesians 6:21). Wouldn’t you like to be the go-to guy that was called in when an assembly of believers needed comfort? That was Tychicus.

•           And then Paul in the 4th and 5th chapters of 1 Thessalonians exhorts the believers there to comfort one another. They were to do that primarily with Paul’s own words as he’s teaching them in this letter (1 Thessalonians 4:18;5:11).

And no doubt this is exactly what God wants for us as well in this assembly and outside of this assembly in the context of fellowship with others believers. That we would be comforting to others and comforted by others.

Is this comfort what you look to do as you come to church on Sundays and Wednesdays? Is this the aim of your communication with your fellow Christians throughout the week – to comfort them as any of us have sorrows or afflictions or trials in our lives?

Wouldn’t it be great to be a Timothy or a Tychicus who was known for his ability to comfort his fellow believers? But the reality is that we’re all called to do this as we gather together and as the need arises.

Well, what was Paul hoping would happen from Timothy’s going to the Thessalonians after their forced departure from those believers? What was his intention for Timothy going to them and strengthening and comforting them?…

Verse 3

1 Thessalonians 3:3 AV 1873

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

that no man should be moved by these afflictions

3 that no man should be moved by these afflictions

3 τὸ μηδένα σαίνεσθαι ἐν ταῖς θλίψεσιν ταύταις

Paul wanted to make sure that no one in that church was moved by these afflictions.

This verb moved occurs nowhere else in either the New or Old Testaments. But in ancient Greek literature outside of the New Testament the word was used to speak of a dog wagging its tail.

https://ref.ly/logosres/lsj?ref=Page.p+1580&off=7333

And whether you own a dog or you’ve just observed one doing its “dog things”, you know what its like for a dog to wag its tail.

Our family unfortunately had to sell our dog Oreo back to the person who originally sold him to us. It was just too much for us after several weeks of us trying to make it work out.

But I’ll use him for one last illustration! When we had Oreo for the better part of a month, I observed this phenomenon of his wagging his tail. Sometimes it was sort of slow. But often the wagging could become quite fast. And interestingly, sometimes that fast wagging could even disturb him and he would seek to bite this thing that was moving behind him and irritating him.

And I think that’s sort of how Paul is picturing the potential impact of these afflictions on the Thessalonian believers – of course, in a completely non-humorous way. It’s as if the Thessalonians were the tail being wagged around harshly and even violently.

And you and I are amongst people in this very room who may at any moment be experiencing this kind of dynamic in life. Maybe you yourself feel like life is shaking you.

So, what has the power to cause this kind of violent shaking of a believer?

Paul identifies afflictions as the culprit.

•           Affliction is the label given to several unpleasant and painful realities – like the pains of childbirth (John 16:21) or being betrayed by family (Acts 7:10) or going through a famine and having no food to eat (Acts 7:11) or having to leave your home and place of residence because your life is being threatened (Acts 11:19) or being bound with chains (Acts 20:23) or even experiencing the pain of being widowed (James 1:27). Those realities of life are all identified as things that are afflictions for believers.

•           And the reality is that affliction in the life of a professing believer really tests the nature of your faith. Jesus reminds us in the parable of the seed and the soils that affliction causes a certain type of individual who receives the word with joy – but has no firm root in himself – to fall away from Christ (Mark 4:17). And certainly the opposite is the case. If you’re firmly rooted in Christ, then afflictions will come but you will remain. You will not fall away. You will bear fruit for God.

•           So, we shouldn’t feel like something strange is happening to us when we experience affliction in this life. Jesus basically promised all of his people that you will experience affliction in this world. But he adds – “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33).

•           The apostle Paul’s message to the believers in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch was “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

•           And contrary to what our flesh would want us to do – we’re to glory and even boast in afflictions. Because we know that afflictions work endurance in us (Romans 5:3).

•           And ultimately, afflictions will never separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35).

For the Thessalonian Christians, these afflictions would certainly center on the persecution in their city that led to Paul and Silas being run out of town. And no doubt the persecution continued against them after the departure of Paul and Silas.

And Paul didn’t want them to be moved or shaken – or wagged, as it were – by these afflictions and persecutions.

Well, how could the Thessalonians – or even we ourselves – not be moved or shaken by afflictions in our lives?

We need to know and be convinced of a vital truth concerning these afflictions in our lives…

for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto

αὐτοὶ γὰρ οἴδατε ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο κείμεθα

This word appointed refers to something determined or set.

•           It’s like the prophet Simeon told Mary, Jesus’ mother, that her child was set for the rise and fall of many and as a sign that would be rejected (Luke 2:35). Jesus was destined for that purpose. God had determined to use him that way.

•           Or like how Paul the apostle was set for the defense of the gospel (Philippians 1:16). It’s for that reason that he found himself in prison as he wrote his letter to the Philippian church. God has determined that he would be there in order to preach the gospel to those who there in that prison – and beyond.

•           Or like how God set or determined or appointed the Old Testament Law for sinners and unrighteous people (1 Timothy 1:9). That’s it’s purpose – to show lost individuals their need of salvation from their sin.

And you and I have a purpose. We have something that God has determined that we need to experience in this life. He has appointed us to this. And that is afflictions.

You may look at your afflictions and trials and difficulties and think that somehow God has temporarily lost control of your life. That he has perhaps abandoned you for the moment. And you’re just waiting for him to kind of reappear in your life and start blessing you again – and then you would know that he’s with you once more.

But the reality is that for all believers, God has appointed for us our particular afflictions in this life. Your suffering difficulties is no indication that God has abandoned you. To the contrary – your difficulties are God’s special appointment for you.

You’re not some anomaly because you’re suffering hardships. You are in the mainstream of Christian living and experience. Paul says “we are appointed thereunto”. Its not just the apostle Paul who was set for suffering. And it’s not just the Thessalonians. But its you and me as well.

And this is just one reason why I hate the so-called prosperity gospel. This false religion teaches: “that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for [you], and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosperity_theology

According to the prosperity gospel then, the more godly you are, the better your life will be. If you live for God – however that may be defined – God will in turn reward you with tangible physical blessings in this life. In fact, he’s actually obligated to do so.

The problem with this way of thinking is that it takes future blessings that we’re promised beyond this life and moves them forward in God’s timeline into the present age.

But the reality of the matter is that God has determined in this life that you will experience afflictions – rather than unmixed tangible blessings.

And the real problem with adopting the prosperity gospel is that – because it isn’t actually what God has promised his people – those who embrace this religion become disillusioned when God doesn’t come through for them in the ways that they’ve been led to believe that he’s obligated to come through for them.

It’s good for us to align ourselves with reality. And that reality for believers in this life is that we will suffer afflictions. But the far greater reality that we need to simultaneously keep in mind is that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – who himself experienced afflictions in this wicked world – that he has overcome this world.

And because of that – because Jesus died for your sin and rose victoriously over sin and death – soon enough you and I will enjoy an eternity free of affliction.

But for now – like our Lord and all of his apostles and all believers throughout history – we’re appointed for sufferings and hardships and trials. And God will see us through all of it.

And yet, our tendency is – and the tendency of the believers in Thessalonica was – to be kind of shocked as we experience these difficulties. And so, Paul needs to remind these folks that he used to remind them about this unpleasant reality when he was with them…

Verse 4

1 Thessalonians 3:4 AV 1873

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.

For verily, when we were with you we told you before that we should suffer tribulation

4 For verily, when we were with you we told you before that we should suffer tribulation

4 καὶ γὰρ ὅτε πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἦμεν προελέγομεν ὑμῖν ὅτι μέλλομεν θλίβεσθαι

So, with whatever time that Paul and Silas had with those believers in Thessalonica before they were forcefully parted from them, this matter of suffering afflictions is something that they addressed with them on apparently numerous occasions. The phrase “we told you before” could also be translated as “we kept on telling you before”. Like this was a repeated theme for Paul and Silas.

Because the unpleasant reality of suffering as a believer is one that the mind just doesn’t want to comprehend or pick up. So, that’s surely one reason for Paul and Silas’ repeated warnings about coming afflictions.

But another reason for the repeated emphasis on this reality of affliction in the life of a believer is that it was coming. That word “should” is translating a word that means “about to” – indicating imminence. Paul and Silas knew that both they and the Thessalonians were about to suffer tribulation.

And suffer tribulation they did as we saw in Acts 17 and as is mentioned in these two letters to this church.

•           This word – translated as “suffer tribulation” in English – is used in the gospels to describe the narrow and tight way by which we are saved (Matthew 7:14).

•           It describes the impact of a crowd of people gathering around Jesus (Mark 3:9).

•           So, there’s a tightness and pressure about this idea. Does that describe your being afflicted? You feel pressure from all directions? You feel squeezed and like there’s nowhere to turn?

•           In fact, Paul twice uses this word in 2 Corinthians with the added description that this tightness and squeezing of their inner men was “on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:4;7:5).

•           But we need to remember that this suffering tribulation has been the experience of God’s people for ages. Hebrews 11:37 reminds us that this experience of constricting difficulties in one’s life has been the lot of those who truly follow God by faith throughout the Old Testament and even now.

•           And while believers are commended for doing our best to relieve those who are experiencing this kind of tribulation (1 Timothy 5:10), ultimately it’s God alone who will completely and ultimately relieve us of these tight, constraining difficulties when Jesus returns. He will give us rest with all of his people at that time (2 Thessalonians 1:7). And the individuals who are currently troubling God’s people – themselves will be troubled on that day (2 Thessalonians 1:6).

So, Paul and Silas had told the Thessalonian believers these things before their forced parting. They told them that they would all suffer situations in their life that were tight and squeezing and full of pressure.

And so, that’s just what happened…

even as it came to pass, and ye know

even as it came to pass, and ye know

καθὼς καὶ ἐγένετο καὶ οἴδατε

So, the Thessalonian believers indeed saw – and were fully aware – that what Paul had told them would happen concerning their afflictions and suffering did indeed happen.

And again, I think this is referring to their forced separation by the means of the mob that ran Paul and Silas out of town and then would have turned their malicious intents toward the believers who were left behind.

… So, can you imagine seeing a group of individuals – or even just one individual – saved as a result of your verbal witness to them… and then as you’re ministering to them and trying to do your part to see them grow in the faith – that persecution arises to the extent that you need to leave them? And they’re left with no human resource to help them continue-on in their walk with Jesus Christ.

How would you feel about that? I think it would weigh heavy on your heart.

And that’s just how Paul expresses feeling about his having to leave the Thessalonians as he continues into verse 5…

Verse 5

1 Thessalonians 3:5 AV 1873

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.

For this cause when I could no longer forbear

5 For this cause when I could no longer forbear

5 διὰ τοῦτο κἀγὼ μηκέτι στέγων

So, this idea of forbearing is repeated from verse 1. It serves to bookend this section – here in verse 5 and back in verse 1.

Now, back in verse 1, it was stated that “we” couldn’t forbear. But in this verse now it says that Paul himself couldn’t forbear. It’s getting more personal as he continues to think about their untimely parting. It was a painful memory and reality for Paul, Silas, and Timothy altogether – but especially for Paul, personally.

And this personal concern led Paul to action…

I sent to know your faith

I sent to know your faith

ἔπεμψα εἰς τὸ γνῶναι τὴν πίστιν ὑμῶν

Paul wanted to know – are those Thessalonians still standing strong in their faith in Christ? So, he sent Timothy to check on them.

Paul wanted to know the status of the Thessalonians’ trusting Christ. They had made an initial profession. But were they clinging to Christ in the midst of their difficulties? Because one thing that difficulties does is to really test whether your faith in Christ is genuine. Will you stick with him even if he sends hard things into your life? Some don’t. Some leave him.

And behind every decision of a professing believer to stop following Christ, there’s a real, literal, and very evil being. There is a literal devil who is at work in this world and even among God’s people…

lest by some means the tempter have tempted you

lest by some means the tempter have tempted you

μή πως ἐπείρασεν ὑμᾶς ὁ πειράζων

So, Paul’s great desire and prayer was that this wouldn’t have happened to those believers in Thessalonica. He was greatly desirous that the Tempter would not have effectively tempted them.

This is of course referring to the ultimate enemy of God and his people – the devil.

This is his identification and activity. He tempts. He is the tempter. He influences an entices us to sin. He suggests subtly that we abandon God when times are tough. In our times of weakness and deep need, he offers “solutions” that are not in keeping with what God wants for us.

But – as you know – it’s this kind of temptation that Jesus Christ our Savior suffered himself from the devil. And so, Hebrews 2:18 shares with us the wonderful reality that because Jesus suffered temptation, he’s able to help people like you and me who are beset with temptations.

So, Paul’s question was – did the Thessalonians take this help from the Lord? Did they continue trusting this one who was tempted just like they were – yet without sin?

Because if the Thessalonians did give in to the temptations of Satan, that would mean that in a sense, all of the hard work of Paul and Silas and Timothy would be in vain…

and our labour be in vain

and our labour be in vain

καὶ εἰς κενὸν γένηται ὁ κόπος ἡμῶν

Now, there’s a real sense in which anything you do for the sake of Jesus Christ won’t ever truly be in vain. You will receive a reward – whether your efforts outwardly appear to be “successful” or not.

And yet, we understand what Paul’s saying here. He worked hard to proclaim the gospel to these folks. He and Silas labored among them – both working with their hands and trying to build these people up in their faith. They did this day and night. Paul and Silas had little rest for a significant period of time as they served these new believers.

And the thought that the devil might have been able to undo all of their hard work – was unbearable for Paul, personally.

So, what did Paul discover concerning the faith of the Thessalonians when he sent Timothy to them? We’ll see that next time in verses 6 and following!

[S] In the meantime, may the Lord help each of us to Respond to Afflictions with Faith.

What encourages you in this life? When things get difficult for you and you feel down, what is it that lifts you up?

The internet, of course, is full of ideas on how you can be encouraged. One Ph.D. author suggests that engaging in positive self-talk, watching uplifting videos on the internet, and seeking encouraging quotes are what you should use to encourage yourself.

https://www.goodfinding.com/encourage-yourself.html

Still others suggest that the key to being encouraged involves being proud of yourself, being your own best friend, keeping a good sense of humor, spending time on hobbies, exercising, and eating good food. Those are the things that are going to encourage you.

https://www.wikihow.com/Support-and-Encourage-Yourself

But for the believer, encouragement from God can take numerous forms.

In the passage before us this evening in 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10, Paul speaks of encouragement coming from fellow-believers – especially regarding the aspect of their faith.

As you recall, Timothy brought news to Paul concerning the Thessalonians’ faith – and that greatly encouraged him. And by the end of our passage tonight, Paul is going to tell those folks how he wants to come to them and reciprocate the favor by encouraging them. Their faith encouraged him and so he wanted to go encourage them.

So, what we see in this passage is this truth: Your Faith Encourages Other Believers.

Haven’t you experienced that? You hear of your fellow-believers standing strong – either in the present or the past – and there’s something about that that’s strengthening and encouraging.

Whether that be reading a missionary biography or hearing from a contemporary believer about undergoing trials but remaining steadfast in the faith – this’s encouraging to us.

And it was to the apostle Paul, as well.

So, let’s read 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 and then examine this passage in closer detail and be reminded of how Your Faith Encourages Other Believers.

Verses 6-10

1 Thessalonians 3:6–10 AV 1873

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:

7 therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress, by your faith:

8 for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.

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;

10 night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

As you might remember, we ended our last message with the apostle Paul wondering if Satan had effectively tempted the recent converts in Thessalonica. Had they fallen away from the faith?

Because if they did, that would mean that numerous aspects of Paul’s tireless labor among them would have proven vain or empty. And what a discouragement that would have been for the apostle and Silas and Timothy.

That’s why they sent Timothy to the Thessalonians – to figure out what was going on with them and their new faith in Christ.

And that’s where the note of contrast in verse 6 couldn’t be more welcome. He starts that verse with this phrase …

Verse 6

1 Thessalonians 3:6 AV 1873

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:

But now

But now

6 Ἄρτι δὲ

This is indeed a sharp contrast to what Paul had previously been sharing with the Thessalonians.

In the previous passage in verses 1-3 of this chapter, there was a lot of discussion about the agony that Paul and Silas were experiencing as they were kept from these believers in Thessalonica. Paul wanted so greatly to see these people and to know whether they were still walking with the Lord in the midst of their afflictions. And it was unbearable for them to have to wait so long.

“But now”…

Paul’s fears were allayed and comforted – he was encouraged – by hearing of the faith of these Thessalonians, he says, …

when Timotheus came from you unto us

when Timotheus came from you unto us

ἐλθόντος Τιμοθέου πρὸς ἡμᾶς ἀφʼ ὑμῶν

This in-and-of-itself was comforting and encouraging enough for Paul. Timothy’s return by itself would have been a great relief to the apostle.

•           Because this Timothy – who had been absent from Paul for quite some time – is the man who was known for his selfless service to the apostle (Acts 19:22).

•           Timothy was one whom Paul calls elsewhere his workfellow (Romans 16:21). Paul esteemed him as a true co-worker.

•           He was Paul’s dearly beloved son in the faith (1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2) who was faithful in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17).

•           He was one who worked the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:10).

•           He was a brother (2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1) and a preacher (2 Corinthians 1:19) and a servant of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1).

As Timothy and Silas completed their journey of over 300 miles from Macedonia to Corinth where Paul was stationed – the return of this man of faith would have brought great encouragement to Paul.

And yet, what was even better to Paul was the message that Timothy brought back from the Thessalonians…

and brought us good tidings

and brought us good tidings

καὶ εὐαγγελισαμένου ἡμῖν

This phrase in the English, “brought … good tidings” is actually the word from which we get the term “evangelize”. The concept is “bringing good news”. And of course, the best news one can ever receive is the message of forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ.

But sometimes this word refers to bringing other kinds of good news – not as good as the Gospel itself, but good nonetheless.

What good news did Timothy bring to Paul? …

your faith

your faith

τὴν πίστιν … ὑμῶν

Timothy brought good news concerning the faith of the Thessalonians.

•           It’s this faith of theirs that Paul remembered back in chapter 1 and verse 3 where he could recall that this  faith of theirs caused the Thessalonians to be engaged in encouraging work for the Lord’s sake (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           The faith of these Thessalonians was spread all over the place – in Macedonia – their region – and in Achaia – a region a little father – and even beyond that (1 Thessalonians 1:8).

•           And it was this faith that Paul and Silas sent Timothy to the Thessalonians to strengthen and encourage (1 Thessalonians 3:2).

•           But toward the end of our last message, Paul was very concerned that perhaps the Tempter had effectively tempted those believers. And so the status of the faith of those believers in Paul’s mind was in question (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

But now Timothy’s return to Paul with good news concerning the Thessalonians’ faith was a great encouragement to him.

And along with the faith of these believers, Timothy also had an encouraging update concerning their love

your … charity

your … charity

τὴν ἀγάπην ὑμῶν

That’s of course the idea behind the KJV’s “charity”.

•           This notable love of the Thessalonians is why Paul opened this letter commending their faith and love – and noting how these two virtues caused those believers to act (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           These two aspects of faith and love are something for which Paul – in his second letter to them – just can’t stop giving thanks to God (2 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           And yet, in keeping with Paul’s theme in this letter of already attaining but still pressing on to to more godliness, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians later on in this letter to put on “the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8).

So, not only was the faith of the Thessalonians an encouragement to Paul. The love that sprung forth from that faith was a great joy to him as well.

The Thessalonians’ faith was directed toward God. Their love was directed toward God – and likely toward one another.

And now, Paul points to one other dynamic that was very encouraging to him. And that’s this matter of how the Thessalonians felt about the ones who originally brought them the gospel…

and that ye have good remembrance of us always

and that ye have good remembrance of us always,

καὶ ὅτι ἔχετε μνείαν ἡμῶν ἀγαθὴν πάντοτε

In the apostle Paul’s last letter to his son in the faith, Timothy, he says this very thing. That he had remembrance of Timothy. The minister – Paul – remembered the one to whom he had ministered – Timothy.

But here in 1 Thessalonians 3:6, it’s actually the other way around. The ones who were ministered to are remembering the ones who ministered to them.

And this remembrance was good

good remembrance

Sure – the Thessalonians hand’t forgotten about the apostle Paul and his helper Silas.

But what’s more – the Thessalonians had not become what certain other churches to whom Paul ministered were tending to become – those whose remembrance of the apostle would not have been characterized as “good”…

You think of the church in Corinth. And in both of his letters to that church – which Paul himself founded! – he finds himself in the strange position of having to defend his own apostleship and calling of God to those folks who should have known better.

Or how about the churches in Galatia who – at least some of them – had abandoned the gospel all together! They had started to drift away from salvation by faith alone through Christ alone and had started to adopt a works-based Christian-like religion.

Paul – no doubt, with great grief – could not have said to those two churches that they had good memories of him.

But it was different with the Thessalonians. They “had good remembrance of” Paul and Silas.

And they remembered those two who has brought them the gospel – always

always

As often as the Thessalonians thought about Paul and Silas, their memories of them were good. And this thought must have crossed the minds of the Thessalonians often.

You might have someone like that in your life. Where this man or woman was greatly used by God in your life to bring you to faith in Christ or to mature you in the faith. And every time you think about that individual, your thoughts and memories of them are good. They’re pleasant. You’d like to be with them again if you could.

And that’s just what we see these good thoughts of the Thessalonians about Paul and Silas leading them to. Those thoughts led those believers to a certain inner compulsion to see Paul and Silas again…

desiring greatly to see us

desiring greatly to see us,

ἐπιποθοῦντες ἡμᾶς ἰδεῖν

This great desire that the Thessalonians had to see Paul and Silas and Timothy is akin to the desire that a baby has for milk – which was of course the only nutritional option for babies of the 1st century (1 Peter 2:2).

As I was in our church’s lobby the other evening I heard a baby crying. And it could have been a tired cry – but if I remember my baby-cries correctly from 8 or 9 years ago with our last baby – I think it was a hungry cry. You can tell the difference sometimes.

And of course that’s what babies do. They’re greatly desiring milk to feed them and to keep them alive. And they’re not just going to let out a little whimper about it. They’re not going to just quietly clear their throat and hope that someone pays attention. They let out a great and lamenting cry. They’re determined to be noticed!

And while the Thessalonians probably weren’t bellowing-out with great agitation to see Paul and his company – they at least harbored that inner feeling about seeing the men that had been so greatly used by the Lord in saving them from their sin and starting them off on their walk with the Lord.

And the truth of the matter was that this wasn’t a one-sided deal. It wasn’t just that the Thessalonians so greatly desired to see Paul and Silas and Timothy. No – it was a reciprocal feeling…

as we also to see you

as we also to see you:

καθάπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς ὑμᾶς, 

There’s no verb in that phrase in the Greek text. And in English you can observe that the phrase “to see” is in italics, which indicates that the King James translators added it to enhance understanding of the readers – but that it’s not there in the biblical text.

So, the operative verb is actually understood from what preceded this phrase. The Thessalonians so greatly desired to see Paul and Silas and Timothy – that’s the verb. And that feeling of desire was mutual. Paul and Silas and Timothy greatly desired to see those believers in Thessalonica from whom they had been violently torn away by that mob in that city.

And that abrupt parting from one another that these folks had to experience was an affliction and distress to Paul and Silas. It was a discouraging hardship that really only the word that Timothy brought back from the Thessalonians could comfort and encourage them about…

Verse 7

1 Thessalonians 3:7 AV 1873

7 therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress, by your faith:

therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress, by your faith:

7 therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress, by your faith:

7 διὰ τοῦτο παρεκλήθημεν, ἀδελφοί, ἐφʼ ὑμῖν ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ ἀνάγκῃ καὶ θλίψει ἡμῶν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν πίστεως, 

Let’s break that down a little bit …

therefore … by your faith

therefore … by your faith

διὰ τοῦτο … διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν πίστεως

Therefore is literally “because of this”. And then the last phrase in this verse by your faith is literally “because of your faith”.

So – because of this…

Well, because of what?

Because of your faith.

we were comforted

we were comforted

παρεκλήθημεν

Now, it was because Timothy brought back word of the Thessalonians’ faith and love and their sweet spirit toward Paul and Silas and their great desire to see them – because of all of that – which can be summarized as their faith, Paul and Silas and Timothy altogether were greatly encouraged or comforted. That Greek word can mean either concept depending on the context.

There was a real grief in the mind of the apostle as he contemplated the possibility that these folks to whom he had preached the gospel and ministered – that perhaps they were tempted by Satan and fell away from Christ. Paul was cognizant of that real danger in their lives. And perhaps emotionally he had prepared himself for the worst concerning those people.

This inner turmoil that Paul would have faced was a lot like when the young man in Acts 20 fell asleep and then fell out of the window and everyone was dismayed and thrown into despair concerning the death of that one. But then Paul came and miraculously brought him back to life. And it says that they were “not a little comforted”. They had come to reckon with the worst-case scenario for that young man. But then God graciously changed the outcome.

And I think that’s what happened with Paul and the Thessalonians. Paul had reckoned that the worst had happened – that the Thessalonians had fallen away from Christ. So, when Timothy comes back to him and gives him this great news about them – Paul is comforted – as if he were receiving them back from the dead – at least in his mind.

And that period in which Paul was entertaining in his mind the worst-case scenario about the Thessalonians – he describes that time as “affliction” and “distress” …

in all our affliction and distress

in all our affliction and distress

ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ ἀνάγκῃ καὶ θλίψει ἡμῶν

That word distress often refers to neediness.

You’re in a hard position because you’re so incredibly needy. You have needs that are going unmet. And that’s a painful situation to find yourself in – and one that the apostle Paul was no stranger to.

And for Paul in this context, his need was to see those believers in Thessalonica and to know that they were still walking with Christ. And Timothy’s report to them was something that comforted Paul about his distress.

Now, that word affliction oftentimes refers to trouble that comes on someone because of other people.

The way that Paul and Silas were sent out of Thessalonica was this kind of affliction. And it was fresh on Paul’s mind as he’s writing this letter.

But the news from Timothy about these believers in Thessalonica comforted and encouraged Paul about this awful memory which he hadn’t been able to forget.

So, because spiritually the Thessalonians were indeed alive as Paul discovered from Timothy, Paul and Silas and Timothy all felt a new sense of life in themselves …

Verse 8

1 Thessalonians 3:8 AV 1873

8 for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.

for now we live

for now we live

ὅτι νῦν ζῶμεν

The only other place in the Bible where Paul uses these two words “now” and “live” together in the same context is Galatians 2:20. There Paul’s telling the Galatians that he was crucified with Christ – and yet amazingly he still lives. But the life that he “now lives” in the flesh, he lives by faith in Christ.

He’s speaking there of new resurrection life. Of being dead in a spiritual sense – and then being raised spiritually to new life.

And I think that’s the concept that Paul’s communicating here, though there’s a little different angle to it. In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 Paul is viewing himself before hearing from Timothy about the Thessalonians’ faith as if he were dead. That’s how affected Paul was about the plight of these relatively-new Christians. But now that Paul heard from Timothy – now he lives again! As if he were raised from his emotional death by this wonderful good news of the Thessalonians.

And Paul says here that the good news which raised him back to life – as it were – is that the Thessalonians stand or stand fast

if ye stand fast

if ye stand fast

ἐὰν ὑμεῖς στήκετε

So, clearly, standing is the opposite of falling.

The Thessalonians could have done the spiritual equivalent of falling in their faith. They could have renounced their faith in Jesus. They could have fallen away to some sort of perversion of Christianity that was works-based to avoid some of the persecution they experienced.

But they didn’t do any of that. They stood or stood fast or stood strong.

And they did this in the Lord

in the Lord

in the Lord.

ἐν κυρίῳ

Paul said this very thing to the church in Philippi. But instead of stating that they were in fact standing in the Lord, Paul commanded the Philippians to actually do this.

And the context there in Philippians 4:1 connects this idea of standing firm in the Lord with being imitators of Paul and rejecting the example of those who are, as Paul says there with tears, “enemies of the cross of Christ”.

To imitate Pauline example then is to stand firm in the Lord. And that’s just what we’ve seen to be true of the Thessalonians so far in this epistle.

•           You might remember that in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, Paul commended them there that they became followers of Paul and Silas and of the Lord Jesus himself by receiving the word that Paul and Silas preached to them.

•           Then 1 Thessalonians 2:14 told us that the Thessalonians became followers of the good examples of the churches in Judea in their suffering at the hands of their fellow-citizens.

So, the Thessalonians had stood firm in the Lord. And this was evident by their imitating godly examples in their lives.

For you and me, there are a lot of examples for us to follow. Some are good and many are not. Social media allows anyone to publish and document their lifestyles for everyone to see and follow.

What examples are you following? What examples are you shunning? The examples that you follow will have an eternal impact on your life. If you want to stand firm in the Lord you’ll need to follow those good and godly examples that you have all around you – both (and primarily) in the Scripture but also in life – in this church and among other believers.

The Thessalonians had followed good godly examples and were thus standing firm in the Lord – rather than falling away from the faith. And this caused the apostle Paul to rejoice and to feel as though he were brought back from the brink of death, emotionally. That’s what we’ve seen in verse 8.

And Paul continues expressing his great relief at the good news of the Thessalonians’ standing strong in the Lord in verse 9, but this time in question form…

Verse 9

1 Thessalonians 3:9 AV 1873

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;

For what thanks can we render to God again for you

For what thanks can we render to God again for you

τίνα γὰρ εὐχαριστίαν δυνάμεθα τῷ θεῷ ἀνταποδοῦναι περὶ ὑμῶν

So, in case anyone would think that Paul’s describing himself as coming back to life from being dead was an overstatement, he wants to make clear here that it was not. He now explains why he was so relieved at the news that the Thessalonians still stood strong in Christ.

In summary, he could never ever pay God back for all of the joy that the Thessalonians had caused him.

This giving of thanks is to characterize our speech (Ephesians 5:4). It’s to characterize our prayers (Philippians 4:6; Colossians 4:2) – especially concerning our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1). It’s even to characterize our hearts as we receive food at our mealtimes (1 Timothy 4:3-4).

And for Paul, this giving of thanks was characteristic of his thoughts and heart attitude toward God every time he thought of those Thessalonian believers.

For what thanks can we render to God again for you

For what thanks can we render to God again for you

τίνα γὰρ εὐχαριστίαν δυνάμεθα τῷ θεῷ ἀνταποδοῦναι περὶ ὑμῶν

And yet that wasn’t enough, he says. He could never render an appropriate amount of thanksgiving back to God for these folks.

It’s like inviting to dinner at your house a person who has no money and no home. He could never repay you (Luke 14:14).

That’s how God pictures himself in Job 41:11 where he’s confronting Job about this creature identified as Leviathan. This creature – who seems to be something like a crocodile – is fierce and unpredictable and uncontrollable. And God is showing Job that if a creature that he created is like that, then how can Job possibly ever hope to control God?

And in the midst of that confrontation from God, he says “Who has [‘given to, Romans 11:35”] me that I should repay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

So, the point is that any amount of thanksgiving that Paul and Silas and Timothy could possibly return to God for the Thessalonian believers – it wouldn’t be a true pay back to God. Our best attempts at thanking God for his wonderful gifts to us always pale in comparison to the true value and worth of those gifts.

for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God

for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;

ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ χαρᾷ ᾗ χαίρομεν διʼ ὑμᾶς ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν, 

And in this case, the gift that Paul knows he can’t repay God for is joy.

Does God’s spiritual work in this world cause you any amount of joy? If you were here Sunday evening to hear about missionary Rachel Steffensmeier’s work in the Philippines and that of her co-workers there, was your response to what God’s doing in that area of the world joy? As you hear about new believers and what the Lord is doing in their lives – does that cause you joy?

It should. It did for the apostle Paul.

And this joy was some kind of joy! The wording there is that the apostle Paul and Silas and Timothy “joyed a joy” – or that they “rejoiced a rejoicing”.

And the joy was abundant – it was all the joy that they rejoiced.

Something similar happened with the church in Corinth. After several difficult letters and visits to that troubled church, Paul could finally write in 2 Corinthians 7:13 that he “rejoiced a rejoicing” or “joyed a joy” after Titus had returned from that church with good news concerning their attitude toward Titus and toward Paul himself.

So, why wouldn’t Paul feel the way he did about those Thessalonians? He could never possibly repay God for the joy brought to the apostle by what God was doing in their lives.

And yet, though Paul would never get close to repaying God, he was still determined to pray for those relatively new believers as fervently as he possibly could…

Verse 10

1 Thessalonians 3:10 AV 1873

10 night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

night and day praying exceedingly

night and day praying exceedingly

νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ δεόμενοι

So, Paul and Silas and Timothy weren’t communicating merely thanksgiving to God for the Thessalonians. They were also engaged in prayers for them.

Often this word is translated in other passages as beg or beseech or plead. There’s a balance to Christian prayer. It’s not all joy-filled thanksgiving. Neither is it all striving agonizing requests for dire needs in our life and the lives of others. It’s both – and more.

And so, Paul and his company knew the great joy of joy-filled thanksgiving on behalf of these believers in Thessalonica. But they also knew heart-rending begging and beseeching on their behalf.

exceedingly

And there really was a great earnestness and urgency to their praying to the Lord for these believers. It was done “exceedingly”.

That’s the word used to describe how God can do for us so much more than we would ever think to ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). A common definition of the word would be “beyond all measure” or “super-abundantly”.

night and day

And that concept of the super-abundance of Paul’s praying for these Thessalonians is reinforced by that phrase “night and day”. This is to say that it always happened. These are the two parts of every 24-hour cycle – night and day.

Summer is just a season away at this point. And that means gardening will finally be possible. Even now, some things are growing out in our yards. And the Bible describes that process of seeds germinating and growing in this way as “night and day”. It’s a constant and continual process (Mark 4:26-27).

And what’s interesting is that Paul and Silas said earlier in this letter that their physical labor for these Thessalonian believers was this kind of constant and continual occurence. They labored physically “night and day” for them (1 Thessalonians 2:9).

And now here in this passage in chapter 3 we don’t see the physical aspect of their work for these believers. We see the spiritual aspect of it.

Well, Paul and Silas and even Timothy were all constantly praying for the Thessalonians.

And they were doing so with two purposes in mind. First…

that we might see your face

that we might see your face

εἰς τὸ ἰδεῖν ὑμῶν τὸ πρόσωπον

So, just like Timothy had reported back to Paul and Silas how the Thessalonians longed to see them, so too did Paul and Silas want to see the Thessalonians. It wasn’t enough to write them a letter. They wanted to see their face and be in their physical company.

And they made it a matter of earnest constant prayer that they would be able to do this.

I’m guessing that you’ve sometimes experienced some strong desire about something – and maybe that thing was good and godly and right for you. Maybe it was even God’s will for you. But isn’t it strange how sometimes we don’t even think to actually address God about it? We just kind of let the desire linger in our hearts as if that were enough.

That wasn’t enough for Paul and Silas. They took their deep desire to see these believers and they turned it into prayer to God – who is the only one who’s able to fulfill our every good and holy desire.

And let me note for our edification that Paul and Silas and Timothy prayed this way for a while. And yet only Timothy was able to see these Thessalonian believers.

So, be encouraged that what you feel constrained to pray for – even if the answer is long delayed – it doesn’t mean that God wants you to stop asking.  He might be testing your faith to see if you’ll continue in seeking him concerning whatever thing that you think is his will for you.

Alright. So, that’s the first item on Paul’s prayer list concerning these Thessalonians – that he and Silas and Timothy would get to see their face.

And when they saw their faces, here’s what Paul was prayerful would happen…

and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith

and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

καὶ καταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν;

This at first might sound like a backhanded insult. But obviously that’s not what the apostle Paul is doing here.

When Paul speaks here of perfecting the Thessalonians, he’s using the word that’s used of fixing fishing nets (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19). Where there should have been a perfect pattern of net, some areas were bare – lacking the netting. And those empty areas needed to be filled-in.

But in the case of the Thessalonians Paul isn’t talking about a net. He’s talking about their faith. And he’s aware of some lack there.

This lack isn’t a result of sin. It’s just a matter of immaturity.

Now, obviously, the Thessalonians had faith enough to save them from their sins. They had truly trusted Jesus Christ to save them from their sins. And so in that aspect they lacked nothing in their faith.

And yet, there were some areas of their walk with Christ that did indeed lack – in the same way as the widow who gave her meager living to the offering is described. That lady had a very small amount of income on which to live (Luke 21:4). And so it is with new believers. Some aspects of a life of faith just aren’t fully developed yet. They’re lacking in certain ways. And Paul will go on in chapter 4 of this letter to detail some of those areas.

Well, what’s the solution to that lack? It’s that mature believers empowered by the Lord would come along and prayerfully seek to edify – to build up – to perfect – that newer believer in the faith.

And as that happens, there’s encouragement all the way around concerning the faith of everyone involved, isn’t there?

We could hope to experience that kind of ministry from others and to others in our life for the rest of this week.

[S] Because the reality is that Your Faith Encourages Other Believers. So, let’s seek the Lord about experiencing that more and more in our lives.

No one really likes waiting. Whether it’s waiting in a line or waiting for food when you’re hungry or waiting for the next significant event in your life – waiting isn’t usually comfortable or enjoyable. Sometimes it feels downright unbearable.

And yet, waiting is inevitable – even in the life of a believer.

•           David waited years from the time when Samuel declared him king until he was actually crowned by all Israel.

•           Abraham waited decades between the time of God promising him a son and when Isaac was actually born.

•           Anna and Simeon were waiting their whole lives for the Messiah to come. And finally in their old age they got to actually hold him in their hands.

You can find literature out there as to how to deal with your having to wait. (https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/68517/15-scientific-tricks-make-waiting-easier and https://www.wikihow.com/Wait-Patiently, for example.)

A lot of that advice has to do with your focus. You’re advised to listen to music while you wait or to bring a friend to break the boredom. And the list goes on, but much of it has to do with what you’re going to choose to focus on while you’re waiting.

In our passage for today, this seems to be what’s happening. Paul is going to talk about two comings – both his coming to the Thessalonians and ultimately the Lord’s coming to them. And neither of those events were going to happen immediately, as we now know. So, Paul instructs the believers in Thessalonica as to what their focus should be while they wait.

So, let’s explore this theme of Your Focus While You Wait in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 to end this chapter and this first major section of this letter.

We’ll start by reading the text…

The Text

1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 AV 1873

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

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you:

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.

A Door

Let me just point out something that’s outside of the text that we’ll be considering this evening.

Look at 1 Thessalonians 4:1. How does it begin? In the KJV it starts with the word “Furthermore”.

That word is actually translating a word that has kind of a special function in several of Paul’s letters. That word (λοιπος) serves as kind of a transition in 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians (twice!), and 2 Thessalonians. And it’s used this way here in 1 Thessalonians as well.

If you were to look at the material that Paul covers in chapters 4 and 5 and compared that to what we’ve seen in chapters 1, 2, and 3, you would notice a difference in the nature of the content.

Chapters 1-3 have been so focused on personal matters between Paul and the Thessalonian believers. How many times have we heard how much Paul wants to see the Thessalonians and vice versa? So much material has been devoted thus far to Paul and Silas and Timothy’s history with and feelings toward these believers.

But then if you look at chapters 4 and 5, you’ll see Paul pivot to discuss major lifestyle and theological issues – appropriate relationships, brotherly love, the Lord’s return for believers, and the Day of the Lord – before Paul finishes with some closing remarks at the end of chapter 5.

But you can sense the difference in content between the first section of this letter in chapters 1-3 and the second major unit of the letter in chapters 4 and a good deal of 5.

And in between these two rooms – as it were – is a door (use your imagination) swinging on the hinge of chapter 3, verses 11-13.

So, we’re not in the new room yet. We’re still in the old room. But this evening we’re opening the door and soon enough we’ll walk through it together.

Let’s start walking then with verse 11…

Verse 11

1 Thessalonians 3:11 AV 1873

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

It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with the first three chapters of this letter that Paul and Silas and Timothy end this first major part of their letter to the Thessalonians by expressing yet again their wish to God that they would be able to see the Thessalonians soon. We’ll take the last part of the verse first…

direct our way unto you

11       direct our way unto you.

11 κατευθύναι [opt.] τὴν ὁδὸν ἡμῶν πρὸς ὑμᾶς· 

The verb used here – direct – is in the optative mood in Greek. All that means is that Paul isn’t just making a matter-of-fact statement here. Neither is he issuing a command. Nor is he describing a potential reality. He’s expressing a wish or a desire of his.

And he’s doing this to summarize what he’s already said in this letter. In addition, he’s going to use two more optatives in the next verse – verse 12 – in order to preview some of what he’s going to say in the rest of his letter to these believers.

This is why I said this text is like a hinge. Verse 11 points back to what we’ve already seen while verses 12 and 13 point ahead to what we will see later in this letter.

So, Paul’s first of three wishes or desires concerning these believers is that he and Silas and Timothy would be directed or guided back to the Thessalonians in the right timing.

And as I’ve alluded to, this kind of sentiment has already been expressed a number of times in this letter. But what’s new to this particular expression of this desire of Paul’s is the subject of his wish.

The content of his wish is that they would be able to visit the Thessalonians. But who’s the actor that’s going to make that happen?

God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ

11       God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ

11 Αὐτὸς … ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ ἡμῶν καὶ ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς

Well, it’s two actors but one being. It’s God … our Father and our Lord Jesus. They’re being invoked by Paul as he expresses his desire to see the Thessalonian believers once more. Because really, only God could make a pursuit like that work out – especially when you consider all of the obstacles that would have been in the way of that happening.

Now, it appears that Paul was later able to visit these believers. We have that recorded for us in Acts 19-20. In fact, on that third missionary journey of Paul’s it seems that he would have had several opportunities to visit the believers in Thessalonica.

So, Paul’s wish/desire was heard and answered. But who did the hearing and who did the answering? We’ve already noted that it’s God our Father and our Lord Jesus.

Now, it’s easy to overlook the significance of that statement and the inclusion of both the Father and Jesus. But maybe we can see more of the importance of that statement if we were to imagine that Paul said in this verse, “Now God himself and our Father, and our brother Timothy, direct our way unto you.

Or what about this? “Now God himself and our Father, and the city rulers in Thessalonica, direct our way unto you.”

Or what if it was stated, “Now God himself and our Father, and our archangel Michael, direct our way unto you.”

Neither Timothy nor the city rulers of Thessalonica nor even the archangel Michael is able to fulfill Paul’s stated desire of visiting the Thessalonians. Only God can do this.

And yet, we have two persons mentioned and appealed to – God our Father and our Lord Jesus.

This is one piece of a vast array of evidence in the Bible that within the one being that we refer to as God, there exists three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (even though the third person of what we call the Trinity isn’t mentioned here in 1 Thessalonians 3).

There’s one God which consists of three Persons. And in this verse we see that it’s perfectly acceptable and appropriate to address both the Father and the Son in our prayers and while we express our holy desires and wishes.

That’s what Paul did.

So, I think we see in verse 11 that Paul is looking back over all that he’s said so far. And the very simple way that he summarizes it is – I just want God to let us see you again.

Well, then he moves on from there to what we’ll see next in verses 12 and 13 to end chapter 3 where Paul gives a sneak peak into what he’s going to write to them in the rest of this letter.

Verse 12

1 Thessalonians 3:12 AV 1873

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you:

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love

We see in verse 12 Paul uttering another desire or wish to God in the form of two optative verbs – increase and abound.

12       And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you:

12 ὑμᾶς δὲ ὁ κύριος πλεονάσαι [opt.] καὶ περισσεύσαι [opt.] τῇ ἀγάπῃ εἰς ἀλλήλους καὶ εἰς πάντας, καθάπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς, 

But the main idea in focus here is the Thessalonians’ love. As they were waiting, this was to be their focus.

•           It’s this love of theirs that fueled their service to God, to one another, and to others (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           And it’s this love that Timothy was so glad to have seen while he was there in Thessalonica and which he no doubt was greatly encouraged to be able to bring back to Paul (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

So, the point is that the love of these believers there in Thessalonica – for the Lord himself and for his people and even for lost folks – it was present. It was noteworthy. It was encouraging.

And yet, that love had room for growth.

•           Later on in this letter, Paul is going to have to remind those Thessalonian believers that in the area of sexual purity and wholesome interpersonal relationships, they needed to not violate or take advantage of other believers (1 Thessalonians 4:6). That sounds like a potential lack of love.

•           And even when Paul tells the Thessalonians later in chapter 4 that they don’t need anyone to talk to them about brotherly love because they know all about it and even practice it fairly well. Yet, Paul has to urge them on to continue loving one other more and better (1 Thessalonians 4:10).

•           Paul admonishes them in chapter 5 to esteem their spiritual leadership highly in love (1 Thessalonians 5:13). Maybe they weren’t doing that to the extent that they needed to.

•           Paul needed to command them to be at peace with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13). No matter how much love you think you have, you’re always in need of more interpersonal peace – which is ultimately fueled by love for God and others.

And there are a few more admonitions in the 5th chapter of this letter that have to do with love, but these will suffice.

The idea is plain though. Paul – in pivoting from his previous personal material in this letter (about how much he loves those Thessalonians, wants to see them, is so encouraged about them, etc.) – is now moving forward. And in doing so, he needs to address the love of these Thessalonians – which has room to grow.

And for you and me, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to note that any significant progress in our Christian lives is a direct result of our love abounding and increasing. Loving God and loving his people and those created in his image.

To have extraordinary spiritual gifts apart from exercising those gifts from a heart of love is worthless. Being extremely knowledgeable of the Scriptures – apart from possessing and exercising this genuine love – is vain.

Most people are familiar with “the 10 Commandments”. But fewer are aware of “the 2 Commandments” – to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.

This matter of your love is the bottom line. When God condenses all of his rules and regulations, he sums it up in one word – love.

This area is vital then for your Christian life.

Do you want to grow as a Christian? Do you want to draw more people to Christ so that they might be saved? Your love needs to grow.

Pray that God would do just that in your life. That he would grow your love. Pray that he would increase your love and cause it to abound.

That’s what Paul did for these believers in Thessalonica.

Paul wished to God that the love of the Thessalonians would increase.

•           That word is used of God’s abundant grace in the life of a sinner whom he’s saved (Romans 6:1).

•           It’s the opposite of the concept of lack (2 Corinthians 8:15). Paul wished to God that their love would show no lack  – no signs of deficiency.

•           And actually we discover later in Paul’s second letter to these believers that God indeed answered the apostle’s wish for them. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul says there that he gave thanks to God for them because their love towards one another was indeed abounding.

And then this second verb that Paul uses – which the KJV translates as “abound” – is a closely-related concept.

•           It’s like being filled with food and still having some left (John 6:12). That’s the way that Paul wanted the Thessalonians’ love to be – present just as it was – but not stopping there. Overflowing. Super-abounding. Going above and beyond.

•           And again, this concept appears in the 4th chapter of this letter where Paul admonishes the believers there to abound more and more in living life the way they were instructed to do from the Lord – particularly in their love others (1 Thessalonians 4:1,10).

So, this instruction at the end of chapter 3 is kind of a friendly gentle warning shot to them that more is to come along these lines.

But, really, who is sufficient for these things?

You might be sitting there and in your heart you’re thinking – “Yeah! I need to love people more!” You can recognize the need. But how do you actually do it?

And that’s where Paul’s example here is instructive and to be emulated. How did Paul seek to increase the love of his hearers?

Well, in this verse we’ve seen that he utters a wish/prayer in the presence of these people for their love to grow. So, Paul is both praying to God that this would happen – as well as putting this need before the people who need God to work in them. He puts both these folks and God himself on notice – as it were – that this is a need in the lives of the Thessalonian believers.

even as we do towards you

And then Paul offers himself and Silas and Timothy yet again as an example to these relatively-new believers.

He’s saying that he and his company have love that increases and abounds toward the Thessalonians. Therefore, those believers themselves ought to have love that’s increasing and abounding toward one another and toward everyone – all men.

And this prayer for the Thessalonians’ love to increase and abound is going somewhere. Paul has an end in mind – which he goes on to describe in verse 13…

Verse 13

1 Thessalonians 3:13 AV 1873

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.

He says…

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.

13 εἰς τὸ στηρίξαι [inf.] ὑμῶν τὰς καρδίας ἀμέμπτους ἐν ἁγιωσύνῃ ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ.

So, the intended goal of Paul’s desiring out loud to God that the love of the Thessalonians would increase and abound was that their “hearts” would be “stablished” by God…

your hearts

The Greek term behind “heart” is the word from which we derive our English word “cardio” as in “cardio-vascular”. But Paul obviously isn’t speaking of their literal blood-pumping heart organ being strengthened as if by some physcal exercise.

One Greek lexicon – or dictionary – defines “heart” in the New Testament as follows:

[It’s] the causative source of a person’s psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts—‘heart, inner self, mind.’

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains 26.3 καρδία, ας

the causative source of a person’s psychological life in its various aspects, but with special emphasis upon thoughts—‘heart, inner self, mind.’

Though in English the term ‘heart’ focuses primarily upon the emotive aspects of life, in the Greek NT the emphasis is more upon the result of thought, …

Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains

Though in English the term ‘heart’ focuses primarily upon the emotive aspects of life, in the Greek NT the emphasis is more upon the result of thought, particularly in view of the relationship of καρδία to the Hebrew term leb, which, though literally meaning ‘heart,’ refers primarily to the mind.

So, it’s the inner man of the Thessalonians’ that Paul is concerned about – especially their thoughts. Paul knew that an increase in real love in these believers – as they waited to be reunited with both Paul and his company as well as with the Lord himself – would result in something good happening to their inner thought life.

to the end he may stablish

What was Paul hoping would happen to their thoughts?

That they would be stablished. or you could say, “strengthened”.

[S] Our Lord Jesus’ physical half-brother James gives an illustration for us of what this “strengthening” looks like in James 5:7-8.

James 5:7–8 AV 1873

7 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. 8 Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

 This “strengthening” looks a lot like patience.

Be patient

James admonishes you to be patient until the Lord returns. Just like a farmer is patient as he waits for the harvest, waiting for the rains to come in the right times.

Just like that patient farmer, we need to “stablish” – or be “strengthened” in – our thought-life.

So, how can we do that?…

the coming of the Lord draweth nigh

We need to recall that the Lord Jesus Christ’s return is near.

How near is it? Well, metaphorically it’s as near as Jesus was to Jerusalem when he was at the Mount of Olives – a mere 3,000 ft (or less than 900 meters) as the crow flies. For context, one of my sons ran 800 meters in about 3 minutes. So, the idea is that it’s near – not here – yet – but near. At any moment – whenever he and the Father please – he could and will return.

How often does this thought cross your mind? That Jesus could return at any moment? That his return is “soon”?

Instead, you tend to have other things on your mind.

•           Obviously this pandemic has been on everyone’s mind for over a year. Many are filled with fear in their minds concerning if they or someone they love could die from it.

•           Maybe you’re more afraid of the government overreach related to the vaccines and out-of-control spending associated with the pandemic.

•           There’s great reason for concern over the wide-scale embracing of gender dysphoria in our culture and what that’s going to mean for Bible-believing Christians.

•           Closer to home, you might be struggling at work with a lack of fulfillment or a sense of constant failure or interpersonal conflicts.

•           If you have kids, maybe you’re burdened for their souls and you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle to see them truly saved and walking with the Lord.

And I could go on. We could ask each of us what’s the most troubling reality in our minds – on our hearts – right now. And I think that we’d be here for quite some time if we were all being honest.

The Bible holds out this hope for you – that Jesus Christ is returning. He’s returning for you – believer! And he’ll make everything right. And this blessed return of his is to be soon…

draweth nigh

Now, we can all be real honest and recognize that it hasn’t happened for 2,000 years at this point. So you might be tempted to look at that assertion that Jesus’ coming is to be soon with some skepticism. Maybe you even have some level of disappointment and inner pain because at some point in your life you thought it was going to happen right then – and it didn’t.

But Jesus didn’t give us a date for his return. He didn’t promise that it would happen at a certain point. He wants us to continually wait for him – until he returns.

And he wants that reality – of his returning some day at any time – to guide our thoughts.

All those fears and worries and concerns that we considered earlier just melt – when in our hearts we truly believe that Jesus could come at any moment and set everything right.

So – really – what’s eating you up inside – in your mind – in your heart? Look for the soon return of Jesus, by faith.

And if you feel no strength to even do that, pray for help. God will surely answer your request for help from him to really have Jesus’ return in your mind as you face your difficulties.

So, the coming of the Lord indeed “draweth nigh”.

Now, Paul’s going to kind of back up and give us more details on what this strengthening of our hearts looks like. A believer with a strengthened heart will be increasing in holiness…

in holiness

in holiness

ἐν ἁγιωσύνῃ

Holiness is put in juxtaposition with the concept of anything that defiles the body and spirit, according to 2 Corinthians 7:1. And in that context, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to not become partners – or be mismatched – with unbelievers. And he goes on to describe unbelievers with words like lawlessness, darkness, worthlessness, idolatry, and uncleanness.

In contrast, holiness is separateness from those things that characterize unbelievers – and which characterized your unbelieving self before you trusted Christ. Paul once more in that context describes holiness with words like righteous, light, Christ, faith, living and walking with God and being his people. And that’s all dependent upon you coming out from among the uncleanness and unholiness that characterized your life before Christ and being separate from all of that.

So, be honest with yourself. What in your life could be characterized as unclean? As lawless? As spiritually dark? As worthless? As tending toward the praising and worshipping of something other than the one true God?

As you come to love God and others more and more, the result will be that your inner thoughts will be characterized more and more by this kind of holiness – this separateness from sin.

And when your thought life can be characterized by this quality of holiness, then – because what is in your heart eventually comes out – your holy inner thoughts will impact your outward actions and life.

And Paul in this passage describes an outward life that’s impacted by holy inner thoughts as unblameable

unblameable

unblameable

ἀμέμπτους

God wants to strengthen your heart unblameable – or strengthen your heart to be unblameable. He wants you yourself to be blameless. Because as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be sinless. Rather, it means that generally you’ll be living in such a way so that people won’t be able to genuinely find fault with you.

Part of this blamelessness in this life involves your avoiding grumbling and arguing. And this avoidance of these two very common vices comes through clinging to God’s word according to Philippians 2:15.

Now, once again in this letter to the Thessalonians, we see a reference here at the end of chapter 3 to what has come before in this letter and what is still to come in this letter.

•           Back in chapter 2, Paul could give himself and Silas as examples concerning this blameless living (1 Thessalonians 2:10).

•           And then, going forward, Paul is going to end this letter with another prayer/wish to God for these believers to be blameless (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

So, we’ve been saying that the purpose of your love abounding and increasing is that your inner thoughts would be strengthened and holy. And the result of all of that is a blameless life.

But we shouldn’t get the idea that this blameless life ends at our physical death. In fact, the real ultimate fulfillment of this blamelessness in your life won’t be fully realized until you’re with the Lord…

before God, even our Father

before God, even our Father,

ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ πατρὸς ἡμῶν

Now, there’s a sense in which to speak of something happening “before God” is to speak metaphorically, indicating that it’s happening with his acknowledgement.

•           Paul said earlier in the first chapter of this letter that the Thessalonian believers were engaged in various activities in God’s presence. God was aware of them. God approved of what they were doing. They were doing those things in his presence – before him, with his approving knowledge (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           Or when Paul said that he and Silas and Timothy were just so filled with joy because the Thessalonians were still standing strong in the faith. And the apostle and his co-workers were doing their rejoicing “before God” or in his presence or with his full and approving acknowledgement (1 Thessalonians 3:9).

So, there’s a way in which to speak of doing something “before God” is to say that he is the main audience. You’re living a certain way for his attention – that he would see and be pleased.

And – no doubt – this is part of what Paul means here that the Thessalonians would be blameless “before God”. Our blameless living is not done with the purpose of impressing others. You’re living your blameless life by God’s grace so that God will see it – because he’s the only audience who ultimately counts.

But I do also want to point out that to do something “before God” is also spoken of in Scripture in more of a literal non-metaphorical way. In other words, to be “before God” is sometimes to literally be in his physical presence.

Jesus identifies this realm of being “before” his “Father” as the final judgement where he will confess to his Father those who confessed him to other humans in this life – and where he will deny to his Father those who denied him to other men (Matthew 10:32-33). He’s going to do this in the presence of – or before – his Father – physically in God’s presence.

And so, your blameless life is to be lived right here and now as God watches silently from a distance. And the ramifications of that blameless life are to continue on into the time when Jesus Christ returns and we’re all literally and physically in God’s presence…

at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ

We’ve already discussed this coming of Jesus – this parousia – in a previous message. And so, we’re definitely not going to rehash all of that material.

But, I’ll just remind us that this reference to Jesus’s coming seems to be somewhat elastic. It can refer to his first coming where he came and ministered among his disciples (2 Peter 1:16). It also can refer to his coming to judge the world and save his people Israel after what we call the Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:8). This concept can also refer to what I would understand to be what happens after the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth (2 Peter 1:12).

And then there’s this puzzling reality that Jesus describes his parousia in Matthew 24 as both apparent to everyone like lightning is (v 27) and yet a surprise to nearly everyone like in the days of Noah (v 37). And this – and a few other references – are where we get the idea of a rapture of believers that precedes great tribulation followed by Jesus coming to the earth to reign for 1,000 years.

So, whether Paul’s talking about Jesus’ secret parousia for his believers or his later obvious parousia, Paul is aiming his prayers for these Thessalonian believers toward this final goal – Jesus’ coming.

And in particular, Paul is praying that these believers would be ultimately blameless at this point – when Jesus returns.

Perhaps as I’ve been pointing out what Paul says concerning being blameless, there’s been some discouragement in your heart. You might be feeling like it’s an impossible feat that you would be as blameless as you ought to be in this life.

Well, first of all, it’s not impossible to live a life as a Christian where you can’t legitimately be accused of wrongdoing. But even if that’s a seeming impossibility, God will see to it that if you’re a believer, he’s going to keep working in you in such a way that you will be blameless when Jesus returns. God is able. And he’s determined to present you to himself blameless in the end.

And in the end, when you’re presented blameless to God, you won’t be alone. You and I will all be there together “with all his saints”…

with all his saints

with all his saints.

μετὰ πάντων τῶν ἁγίων αὐτοῦ.

As you know, this term “saints” isn’t referring to the Roman Catholic system of declaring a certain select group of individuals to be “saints”, while the rest of professing Christians are not.

This word “saint” is the New Testament word to identify anyone who trusts Jesus Christ alone for salvation from his sin.

But the word itself could be literally translated as “holy one”.

And I think this is an interesting note that the apostle Paul includes here. Because he had just expressed his desire that the Thessalonians’ love would increase to the point where they are strengthened in their holiness.

And then Paul’s going to go on in this letter and challenge this church about this matter of their holiness. And you might wonder why he’s doing that.

Ultimately, it’s because no one is going to be with Jesus who isn’t one of these holy ones – one of these saints.

Paul had to declare to the church in Corinth that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. And Christians can be deceived on this point. He says – don’t be! And there he gives a list of 10 sins which – if they characterize your life – they indicate that you are not going to be in this group that Paul mentions in 1 Thessalonians 3. You’re not among the holy ones if your life is dominated and characterized by sin and unholiness.

And you of course remember there in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 that Paul ends that by saying “such were some of you”. Some of you used to be characterized by lives of immorality or idolatry or drunkenness. You didn’t love others. You didn’t love God.

But now you’ve been washed. You’ve been sanctified – or made holy. And because of that work of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit, you are going to inherit the Kingdom of God. Because you are now a holy one – a saint.

all

Now, Paul says that the coming of our Lord Jesus is going to be accompanied “with all his saints”. Can you think – based on the rest of the letter of 1 Thessalonians – why Paul might be pointing out the fact that when Jesus Christ returns that he’s going to be with all of his saints?

We’re going to see in chapter 4 of this letter that Paul needs to correct some wrong thinking on the part of some of the Thessalonian believers. He’s going to need to assure them that those who are alive when the Lord comes won’t somehow go before those who have trusted Christ and died before his return.

And the context of the Thessalonian’s concern is focused on believers who have passed away – Paul says that in the most important ways, these believers have not really died. They’re just “asleep”. So-complete is Jesus’ victory over death, that those who trust fully in him will never really die. You just sleep until he wakes you up and brings you back with himself to rule and reign with him.

And Jesus isn’t just coming with only saints – believers – who are living at the time of his return. He’s coming with all of us true believers through the centuries – including your loved ones who have passed away believing Jesus and looking for his return.

Your Focus While You Wait

So, what is your focus to be as you wait – for Christ’s return ultimately? Your focus is to be on a growing love within your self directed toward others. This love is to result in inner thoughts that are strengthened in holiness and in a life which is outwardly blameless. And after pursuing that focus for however long the Lord gives you on this earth, you will be with him and all of his people forever.

May the Lord help this to be our focus until he comes.

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