1 Thessalonians chapter 3

Jari Rankinen
Reija Becks

Read or listen the First Epistle to the Thessalonians - chapter 3 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)

Timothy’s visit 3:1-10

Every church is dear to Paul. In particular, the churches that he himself established are constantly on his mind. He is very concerned about them (2 Cor 11:28) and wonders how they are doing. Do they hold on to the gospel he is preaching? He is apprehensive about heretical teachers who want to divert the churches away from the apostolic teaching. In addition, he is preoccupied with the persecution of the young churches. Will the churches stand strong, or will they give in amidst afflictions?

The apostle's concern for the church of Thessalonica was particularly acute. After all, his work had been badly interrupted in Thessalonica. Paul had not had time to teach the church as much as he would have liked. In addition to all this, the young church of Thessalonica was persecuted. Many Jews and, at their instigation, many other inhabitants of the city had persecuted Paul. The apostle was saved from their hands by fleeing the city. The anger of his opponents hardly subsided after the apostle left. Apparently, their anger only changed its target: now the young church was to learn what the life of God’s people is like in an ungodly world.

Paul quickly wanted to know about the church of Thessalonica. Was the church still alive or had it died amid persecution? Paul had no chance to go back north. We do not know the reason for this. Perhaps the work in Athens required the apostle to remain in the city. That is why he sent Timothy there. Timothy was to make the rather long and arduous trip from Athens to Thessalonica to find out about the situation of the church and to strengthen the Thessalonian Christians, if there were any left.

The apostle gives a good testimony about Timothy. He is Paul’s beloved brother in faith and a close coworker. The testimony about this young coworker is not just a formal courtesy. The New Testament tells us that Timothy was exactly what Paul says about him.

Even when Paul was in Thessalonica, he already taught that the part of Christians is not easy. Christians are mocked and persecuted. Paul's teaching fully agrees with what Jesus taught on earth, "You will be hated by all for my name's sake." (Matthew10:22)

There is much to learn from this word. Mocking for the name of Jesus is not the result of a failed life of faith or God’s punishment for unruly children but it is part of living as a Christian. It is a natural part in the life of Jesus' disciples. However, mockery is not something that we have to pursue. As we walk the path of heaven, we will sooner or later face mockery one way or another, without us acquiring it for ourselves.

The devil, whom Paul now refers to as the tempter, wanted to mislead the Thessalonian Christians into believing that it is not worth confessing their faith in Jesus; life is much easier when you just give up the gospel. This is what Paul feared – that the church has given up in tribulations. If that happened, his whole visit to Thessalonica was in vain.

Timothy returned from Thessalonica with great news. Paul says that Timothy brought him the gospel, the good news. The church has kept the faith, and, in their midst, is Christian love. The congregation has not forsaken Paul but holds the apostle in high esteem and is looking forward to seeing him soon. After receiving the greetings through Timothy, Paul is immensely relieved. His fear proved unfounded. Paul lived amid many hardships, was harassed, and burdened with many worries. Therefore, the greetings from Thessalonica were extremely uplifting for Paul and gave him new strength. He says that it is only now – after receiving the greetings – that he lives. We can only imagine what a terrible blow it would have been to Paul if Timothy had brought different kinds of news from Thessalonica.

Paul bursts into praise of God. The Lord has taken care of the church. It is living, and this gives cause for joy. Many churches brought sorrow to Paul. Therefore, the news about Thessalonica made him extremely happy. God gave the apostle also joy amid many sorrows.

Timothy’s greetings had another effect too. Now Paul misses the church of Thessalonica even more. That is why he is constantly praying to be able to visit there soon. Paul says he wants to supply what is lacking in the faith of the Thessalonian Christians. What does Paul mean by these words? He had to leave Thessalonica soon after arriving there. He had time to teach the church the basics of the Christian faith but did not have enough time to teach many other things of the Christian doctrine. Even many important issues were left open. Paul simply did not have time to say everything he wanted. Now he would like to return to Thessalonica and continue the work that was interrupted. He would like to instruct the church more on the Christian faith and life. This is what Paul means when he speaks of supplying what is lacking.

On the grounds of verse 10, we must not think that the Christian faith develops from imperfect to perfect. Paul does not mean that faith must be improved and after the improvement God accepts it better. The nature of the Christian faith is all or nothing. When we believe in Jesus, we have everything we need before God. The faith that God gave us cannot and need not be supplemented. This, of course, does not rule out teaching that every Christian needs. Teaching supports and strengthens our faith by which we have Christ and with him all the treasures of heaven.

Two wishes 3:11-13

Paul wants to go to the church of Thessalonica soon. However, he leaves his visit for God to decide and trusts in his guidance. If it is God’s will, the apostle will sooner or later get to Thessalonica.

The apostle prays that love would increasingly spread through the church. It is especially needed amid persecution and should be directed at other Christians as well as those outside the church. Paul also prays that God will strengthen the church until the end. He prays that it will be awake on the day the Lord returns to earth. Apparently, the saints in verse 13 mean angels. Jesus himself speaks of his angels with whom he will come to earth on the last day (Matt. 16:27).