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1 Thessalonians 3:1-5: Concern for His People

At the end of the previous chapter, Paul shared with the Thessalonians his desire to come again to them, but was hindered by Satan. This chapter is largely devoted to the expression of Paul's concern for the well-being of the beloved converts in Thessalonica when Paul was forced to leave. He could have left Thessalonica and rejoiced at all the people he had led to Christ and never worried about them again. He could have concluded that he had done his job and been quite content and satisfied. However, Paul understood that his job was not simply to get conversions, his job was to make disciples. Making disciples takes time.

I was acquainted with a church years ago that won many people to Christ. It could be said of them that they had a big front door. But their back door was even bigger, because of the lack of making disciples many people were leaving

Verse 1: “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone.”

“Endure” in Greek is steg. It had a fairly broad range of meanings including to cover, to protect, to hold back, to hide, to forbear, to endure or to persist. It contains the metaphor of a vessel over-full and bursting with its contents. When Paul could no longer restrain his yearning, at least to hear of them, he could forbear (steg) no longer, it was a heavy burden to him till he had done it, as the word suggests.

“Paul’s repeated efforts to revisit Thessalonica were made more frustrating by the lack of news about the church. So the suspense grew until we could stand it no longer. Something simply had to be done to relieve the tension” (Stott p. 64)

Paul was forced out of Thessalonica after only being there for 3 Sabbath days. He then journeyed to Berea but Jewish persecution drove him from Berea, so he went to Athens. He was alone at Athens, a city “wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16), for a time (1 Thessalonians 3:1). So he sent word for “Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed” (Acts 17:15). As to Silas, it does not seem clear as to where he went, but Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica.

“To be left at Athens alone.” The verb is a strong one conveying that which costs them something. It cost him something to send Timothy to the Thessalonians, and he thought it was worth it to pay the cost.

Verse 2a: “…and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ…”

Timothy was his brother in Christ, who was called by God himself to the ministry of the Gospel. Although Timothy’s company was so desirable and useful to him at that time, he was willing to sacrifice for their sakes, because he preferred their good before his own. Paul was not able to go himself and no doubt did not want to be without Timothy’s help, but his concern was for the Thessalonian church.

“Minister of God.”

“Minister is not an official title and does not connote an ordained minister in the modern sense of the term. The word rather designates one who renders a service of some kind to another. It speaks of the servant in relationship to his work, stressing his activity of serving.” (Hiebert)

“Originally the word [minister] denoted the service of a table waiter, and from that it came to signify lowly service of any kind. It was often used by the early Christians to give expression to the service that they habitually were to render to both God and to man. Where a word like ‘slave,’ which is often used of Christians, puts the emphasis on the personal relation, this word draws attention to the act of service being rendered.” (Morris)

"Minister" is from the Greek word diakonos, meaning to serve. In the New Testament, ministry is seen as service to God and to other people in His name. Jesus provided the pattern for Christian ministry—He came, not to be served, but to serve.

Paul and Timothy were fellow workers, companions, sunergos, from the Greek word for supernatural synergy!. In the New Testament, the word synergy is from the Greek word: sunergos (a companion in work) is a word that refers to someone who is a team player, who does not seek to run or control things on his own, nor serve for selfish or personal agendas. It is used only of a co–worker or helper in the Christian work. Paul twice specifically includes godly women among his fellow workers, Priscilla Romans 16:3 and Euodia and Syntyche, two godly but quarreling members of the church at Philippi who had shared Paul’s “struggle in the cause of the gospel” (Philippians 4:3). This word sunergos is used 13 times (predominantly by Paul) in the New Testament.

Verse 2b: “…to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith…”

Paul wanted Timothy to do two things, establish and encourage.

“Establish” (strengthen) in Greek is sterizo, meaning to make firm or solid, to set fast, to fix firmly in a place, to establish (make firm or stable), to cause to be inwardly firm or committed, to strengthen. The basic idea is that of stabilizing something by providing a support or buttress. Sterizo is employed frequently in those contexts where someone is in danger of falling in some way or another. In the present verse sterizo is used metaphorically referring to their continual state of spiritual stability, especially in the face of potential apostasy or persecution.

1 Thessalonians 3:12,13, “ And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish (sterizo) your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”

2 Thessalonians 2:16,17, “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish (sterizo) you in every good word and work.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen (sterizo) and protect you from the evil one.”

James 5:8, “You also be patient. Establish (sterizo) your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

1 Peter 5:10, “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, (sterizo) and settle you.”

2 Peter 1:12, “Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established (sterizo) in the truth which is present with you.”

“Encourage” in Greek is parakaleo it means to call one alongside, to call someone to oneself, to call for, to summon. Parakaleo can include the idea of giving help or aid but the primary sense in the New Testament is to urge someone to take some action, especially some ethical course of action. Sometimes the word conveys the idea of comfort, sometimes of exhortation but always at the root there is the idea of enabling a person to meet some difficult situation with confidence and with gallantry.

The English word "encourage" means “with heart.” To encourage in a sense is to give them new heart. Shallow sympathy makes people feel worse-true spiritual encouragement makes them feel better. It brings out the best in people.

“The saints at Thessalonica…needed to be exhorted to steadiness, to not panic when things got tough. They should never forget that suffering and affliction could be surmounted. They had a resource to lean upon which they did not have before, so they did not have to fear. God would take them through everything and use it for their benefit. Paul had already laid the foundation for this when he was with them.” –Ray Stedman

Colossians 2:1,2, “For I want you to know what a great conflict I have for you and those in Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh, that their hearts may be encouraged (parakaleo), being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ…”

“Concerning your faith.” Instability and discouragement is usually the result of a faith that is weak, out of focus, or focused on the wrong object.

In Mark 9, a mute boy is brought to Jesus, Jesus said to the boy’s father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Then Jesus healed the boy!

Too often I say, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I constantly need my faith to be strengthened!

Verses 3,4 NLT, “…and to keep you from becoming disturbed by the troubles you were going through. But, of course, you know that such troubles are going to happen to us Christians. When we were with you, we made it quite clear that there was trouble ahead. And now that it’s happened, you know what it’s like.”

Verse 3a: “…that no one should be shaken by these afflictions…”

“Shaken: in Greek is saino, meaning disturbed, unsettled, perturbed or deceived, deluded. Saino pictures one who has become so emotionally disturbed as to be shaken in his/her beliefs and even to give up his/her beliefs. The present tense speaks of being continually disturbed. It's difficult to avoid being disturbed initially when a "surprise attack" occurs (as they will for all believers) but Paul's desire is that this "disturbance" doesn't continue to resonate.

Sometimes I wonder where God is when I hurt. I can’t feel His presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers. I question what I have always believed and preached to others. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

Peter had a crisis of faith. “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’” Luke 22:31-32

“Afflictions” in Greek is thlipsis, it means, anguish, distress, persecution, tribulation, tribulations, and trouble, to crush, press together, squash, hem in, compress, squeeze, to break, originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. It conveys the idea of being squeezed or placed under pressure or crushed beneath a weight. When, according to the ancient law of England, those who willfully refused to plead guilty, had heavy weights placed on their breasts, and were pressed and crushed to death. Thlipsis does not refer to mild discomfort but to great difficulty.

“Thlipsis (tribulations) has the underlying meaning of being under pressure and was used of squeezing olives in a press in order to extract the oil and of squeezing grapes to extract the juice… In Scripture the word thlipsis is perhaps most often used of outward difficulties, but it is also used of emotional stress.” –John MacArthur

1 Thessalonians 1:5,6, “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation (thlipsis) with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

God allows hardships for divine purposes. Our faith is increased through each trial, and we learn to trust God’s faithfulness and accept His mercy.

How did the Thessalonian believers bear up under emotionally crushing circumstances? Paul says that even though the tribulation was quantitatively great, they were empowered “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 5:3-5 ESV, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

2 Corinthians 12:9, “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

James 1:2,3 NLT, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”

Verse 3b: “…for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.”

“Appointed” (destined) in Greek is keimai meaning to be in a recumbent position, to lie down, to be laid down. The root meaning refers to lying down or reclining and came to be used of an official appointment and sometimes of destiny, intended or chosen for a particular purpose. The idea is that God sets (lays down) something for a particular purpose. In context this usage of keimai affirms God's sovereignty and ultimate control of all things.

Paul reminds them that they had been taught expect suffering. In other words the sound doctrine which they knew was to be their foundation and anchor of their faith when the winds of affliction began to blow. Secondly, they were to remember that whatever afflictions were on their appointment calendars had been placed there or allowed to be there by their Sovereign Lord. And as he writes in Romans believers can look at suffering from an eternal perspective. “For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:16,17 NLT).

New believers must be warned that afflictions are guaranteed to come because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the One the unsaved world passionately hates! And so they will hate all of His relatives! Therefore Jesus Himself models what we are to teach our disciples lest they are surprised and discouraged by the trials. The trials in part are used by God to separate the wheat (genuine believers) from those who have made only a profession (intellectual decision without repentance) of belief in Christ.

In John Jesus explains why believers are “appointed” for afflictions in this present world reminding His disciples that…

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.” (John 15:19-21)

Philippians 1:29, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

“If you are a believer, you are not going to escape trouble. To accept Christ does not mean to take out an insurance policy against suffering. The fact of the matter is that you will have trouble after you become a child of God, even if you haven’t had any trouble before. He has never promised that we would miss the storm, but we will go through all the storms of life. What He does say very definitely and dogmatically is that He will go with us through the storms and that we will reach the harbor. Any boat which He is in will not go to the bottom of the Sea of Galilee but will reach the other side. You and I are in the process of going to the other side.” –J. Vernon McGee

Verse 4: “For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.”

Paul looks back at the very brief time he spent with the Thessalonians. He tells them, “We kept telling you that you would be persecuted.”

Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. This is because they have never known the Father or me. Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember my warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer” (John 16:1-4).

This is an important principle for all those who would evangelize and then follow up (disciple), to leave converts unwarned of the possible adverse personal consequences of their acceptance of the Gospel is to do them a serious injustice. Yes, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life, but that plan will always include suffering for the gospel! We must forewarn disciples so they are forearmed. “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22).

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

“For this reason” means in essence, since Paul knew that they were so liable to be persecuted, and since he feared that some might be turned from the truth by this opposition. Paul could barely endure the thought that the faith of the Thessalonians might crumble under this season of affliction.

“I could no longer endure it.” “That’s why I couldn’t quit worrying…” (MSG). “That is why, when I could bear it no longer…” (NLT).

“For this reason, he says, when I could endure it no longer, so I sent to find out about your faith. What's the reason? The fear that the tempter had tempted you and all our effort was for nothing. I wanted to protect you from the tempter. This is the real care of the pastor. Paul had a great sense of watchfulness, a sense of protectiveness. He was deeply concerned. To be real honest with you, when he sent Timothy...Now remember, he was in Athens when he sent Timothy. Later on in Corinth, Timothy returned back and told him everything was well at Thessalonica, and that's when he wrote this letter back. So the commendation of this church in chapter 1 is based on Timothy going and bringing back the report. But at the time when he sent Timothy, he had no such report. He didn't know if their faith would stand the test. Consequently he didn't know if it was real faith.” –John MacArthur

“I sent to know your faith.” In the present context their faith refers to their fidelity or steadfastness in the Gospel. Timothy's mission served a dual objective, to strengthen the faith of the converts and to obtain for Paul information concerning their welfare.

“No doubt all phonies will throw in the towel quickly. Persecution always sorts out the fakers.” –Richison

If the church receives nothing but favor from the world system then there is something wrong with the church. The world hates the church when it finds out what the church really believes. John 15:18,19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

One of my professors used to say, “What’s wrong with me that everyone is saying good things about me.”

“The tempter” is called by many names in Scripture: the devil, Satan, accuser, slanderer, and father of lies, just to name a few. He is an intelligent being who is completely evil. Tempter in Greek is peirazo, when used of the devil always has a bad connotation, meaning to test or tempt in order to disapprove. It is always the devil's aim to entice men to sin and bring them to a fall as in the temptation of Christ.

John 17:14-18, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.”

No pastor wants to think that his labor is in vain. Pastor no labor is in vain if it is for the Lord. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). God has promised that He will reward our labor for Him. But Paul knew, because of the of Satan’s interference, some of his labor could be of no effect on the lives of the converts in Thessalonica. This is why he was so concerned about their faith that he sent Timothy to minister to them.

We all need a Timothy from time to time to strengthen and encourage us as to our faith that we might hold fast, that we might “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1), that we might discipline our bodies” ( 1 Corinthians 9:24), that we might “fight the good fight of faith, that we might run our race, that we might keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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