1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 Now We Live

This long section from 1 Thessalonians 2:1 to 3:10 is exceedingly valuable in developing a biblical approach to gospel ministry. The final section of this material, 3:6-10, is especially valuable as Paul sums up his thoughts about a true ministry as he has sought to offer it to his dearly loved friends in Thessalonica. In these verses, we see what according to the apostle are the true goals and biblical methods of gospel ministry, as well as the causes of rejoicing for those ministering in Christ’s name.

The background for this material is the report recently given to Paul by his young protégé Timothy. Paul had sent him to Thessalonica to check on the believers whom they had been forced to leave behind (vv. 3:1-2). In verse 6, Paul added that now “Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you.” It seems that Timothy had just arrived and delivered his news to Paul, and the apostle was so excited that he fired off this letter to express his joy and thanksgiving.

A Study of Paul’s letters will show that the graces of faith and love were not just his desire for this particular church, but also his consistent goal in all the other places where he ministered. We know this because of the frequency with which Paul wrote of faith and love in his other letters.

According to Paul, then, what should we aim for in the Christian nurture of our children? The answer: growth in faith in God and love for others. What should our goal in the discipleship of new believers? According to Paul, it is faith and love. How should we evaluate our own growth in grace? These two graces – faith and love – are the two issues on which my entire life depends. What is my life about? Is my life as a Christian defined by outward achievements, success in ministry, or the opinion of others about me? All these goals involve factors largely outside my control. Instead, my life is about faith and love: the goal of my growth in Christ is to learn to trust God more fully and to love others more genuinely. This is the true measure of a Christian man or woman: his or her faith toward Christ and love toward others. The same dynamics provide the apostolic measure of a healthy church.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul has repeatedly stressed the priority of God’s Word, having rejoiced that “you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (v. 1:6). In verse 3:10, Paul relates his intense desire to “see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith,” by which he evidently means that he longs to resume his teaching of God’s Word so as to bring the Thessalonians into a sounder grasp of saving faith. Since Paul was hindered from going to Thessalonica, one purpose of this letter was to give an advance installment of his teaching, much of which focused on the biblical doctrine of the return of Christ and the day of the Lord. It is obvious that believers today need instruction from the Bible on these and all other doctrinal topics.

In verses 3:9-10 Paul also shows his typical commitment to the ministry of prayer. He asks, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day…?” Responding to Timothy’s good news by giving thanks to God in prayer, Paul shows that he credits God for the Thessalonians’ growing faith and love, relying not on any earthly device but on the power of God through the Word and prayer. In order to fulfill his ministry, Paul needs God’s help; here he asks God to remove obstacles in the way of his return to the Thessalonians, “that we may see you face to face” (v. 9).

Moreover, Paul’s expression “and supply what is lacking in your faith” may apply as much to his ministry of prayer as to his ministry of the Word. Paul’s point was simply that he was aware that as new believers in a difficult situation, the Thessalonians had weaknesses to be shored up, vulnerabilities to be protected, and areas of ignorance that needed instruction. Unable at present to meet these needs personally, Paul did the best thing possible: he prayed for his Christian friends with respect to their spiritual needs. We should likewise pray for the church and for our Christian comrades, asking God to supply what is lacking for growth in faith and love.

Paul speaks throughout this passage about the value of Christian fellowship. Indeed, the reason he had sent Timothy to Thessalonica was to ensure that fellowship was not broken between Paul’s band of ministers and the congregation that they had left behind. Part of the normal fellowship that Christians should enjoy is shared communion in the Lord’s Supper. Paul saw this sacrament as fostering and protecting the fellowship of the church.

If we possess an approach to ministry that aims for the proper biblical goals of faith and love and employs the biblical methods of God’s Word, prayer, and stimulating Christian fellowship, it is very likely that we will be blessed with reasons to rejoice, despite the many inevitable hardships. In this, Paul is our example as he followed the example of Christ. His ministry in Corinth endured great “distress and affliction,” to such an extent that Acts 18:9-10 records that the exalted Jesus encouraged Paul with a special vision. Yet in the midst of these loses, Paul was compensated in ministry by the joy of the Lord’s blessing. Paul is able to rejoice, exclaiming, “For now we live” because of what the Lord had done and was continuing to do through his ministry (v. 3:8).

The first and primary blessing that Paul mentions is the joy of learning that fellow believers are persevering in faith toward salvation. Paul’s concern over this reminds us that any professing believer’s continuance in faith is far from automatic. Today’s practice of assuring a new convert that he or she possess the certainty of eternal life, without stressing the need for a costly perseverance in following Jesus, is totally at odds with the biblical pattern.

A second cause for rejoicing takes place whenever the bonds of Christian love and fellowship are kept strong. It is obvious how important this was to the apostle. Along with his great relief over the continuing faith of the Thessalonians was the report that “you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you” (v. 3:6).

Third, Paul rejoices at the inestimable privilege of his access in the presence of God for worship and prayer. He writes of “all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God” (v. 3:9). Do you realize the enormous blessing of having access to the presence of God? When you come to worship, do you thank God that He receives you, together with all the church, into His holy and loving presence, where a fountain of eternal life is found, so that you might praise and commune with Him? Do you realize, as Paul did, what an overwhelming privilege it is to be able to come before the throne of grace with petitions that will be received into the loving hands of God Himself? How foolish we are to take this privilege lightly – a privilege secured for us by the pains of God’s Son on the cross. And we are equally foolish if we neglect the gathering of God’s people for worship and the blessing of corporate and private prayer, through which God’s mighty power is secured for our salvation and the salvation of those we love!

There are fellow Christians who need your ministry, encouragement, and prayers, and in the lost multitudes of unbelievers who perish without a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will you offer yourself to be used by Christ for the blessing and salvation of others? If you do, you will really live, both in this world and in the age to come when the glory of a true Christian ministry will be fully seen.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 Study Questions:

In the face of the difficulties of the world today, what might compromise look like for the church?

In verses 6-10, Paul expresses great joy and thankfulness because of the Thessalonians. What has Timothy reported about the church that has given Paul this deep joy?

What expressions of faith and love within your own life or the life of your Christian community today would prompt the same kind of joy and thankfulness that Paul felt?

In verse 10, Paul does not say that there is anything wrong with the Thessalonians’ faith at present; he only implies that faith needs to grow with every day, with each new trial or test, and that maybe his own further teaching and encouragement will be needed to help that to happen. In what ways can the content, passion and pattern of Paul’s prayer be a model for us?

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5 Moved by Afflictions

You would be hard pressed to find someone more strategically involved in spreading the gospel than Paul, yet we find him deeply and personally involved with congregations and people. So, why was Paul so concerned, not only to preach the gospel, but to spend time personally with new converts and to disciple them in their new faith? The answer is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5, where Paul writes of his “desire to see you face to face,” because of the love that knit the church together, the danger to the church through afflictions, and the need for the church to be strengthened in faith. Paul was moved by the Thessalonians’ afflictions out of a passionate concern that they not be moved from their faith.

It is obvious from Paul’s statements that he sees the church as a community knit together by love. We see this, first, in the nature of the relationships of love that he describes. “But since we were torn away from you brothers,” he writes (v. 2:17), using a family model for the bonds between believers, involving deep affection and loyalty. Earlier in this letter, Paul used a parental metaphor to describe his relationship to the fledgling church. He loved the Thessalonians with the tender devotion of a mother for a nursing child (2:7), and like a father he took an encouraging interest in their spiritual growth (2:11). Now in verse 17 Paul uses the word for torn away that means “to be orphaned.” Being separated from the believers makes him feel like a doting parent who has lost a child.

The separation had been only geographical, not spiritual or emotional, since they remained close to Paul’s heart. He had a “great desire” to be rejoined to them but had been hindered by Satan. Paul was so anxious for them, being unable to bear a lack of news, that he was willing to be separated from Timothy, sending the younger minister to check on the Thessalonians’ progress.

The most significant comment that Paul makes about his attitude toward the Thessalonian believers is found in verses 2:19-20. Paul saw himself as bound up with his converts not only in terms of the service that he offered to Christ, but also in terms of his own salvation. They were fruits of his labor and of Christ’s grace in his life, and Paul looked forward to presenting them firm and steadfast in the faith when Christ returned.

In keeping with his loving feelings, Paul engaged in actions of love toward his beloved converts. Being separated at a time when they were afflicted, he writes, “We endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you – I, Paul, again and again – but Satan hindered us” (vv. 2:18-19). This shows that Paul had made a determined effort to return and minister to the Thessalonians. He had been frustrated by Satan, however, in a manner that is not known to us. We do know that when Paul could not personally come to them, he sent help that could arrive and he performed perhaps the most vital ministry by laboring in prayer on their behalf (v. 1:2).

This passage presents a compelling picture of the church as a community knit together by love: loving relationships, loving feelings, and loving actions. Paul provides the example that every Christian should follow, as he himself followed the example of Christ, who calls believers to loving servanthood. John’s gospel begins its account of Jesus’ crucifixion this way: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). We are likewise to love one another to the end of our resources, in Christ’s behalf.

One reason why God called early believers to love one another is that the world did not love them. They were a community tried by afflictions, not only in the ordinary sense in which everyone faces trials, but also in the special sense that God Himself has ordained trials for every believer. Paul had made this clear earlier, and he was taking pains to teach it again: “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (vv. 3:3-4).

The primary reason why Christians are tried by afflictions is that God apportions them to us. Since God has proved His love and faithfulness to His people by sending His Son to die for our sins, we may be certain that these troubles are necessary for our salvation. So powerful is the presence of sin in our lives and so ingrained are the habits of unbelief that the troubles of this life play a vital role in motivating us to be rid of them. Moreover, trials play a vital role in shaping the qualities of Christian character that are needed in the church. Whenever you are helped by a more seasoned believer whose presence has been a vital aid in your need, the gracious character and wisdom of that Christian have likely been forged in the furnace of affliction, without which you would not have been helped.

Another reason why the church is a community by afflictions is the presence of an active enemy who is maliciously committed to our destruction: Paul feared “that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (v. 3:5). The tempter here is Satan, the spiritual potentate who is chief among the evil powers in this world. When it comes to persecution, Satan desires to tempt new converts into unbelief. In the case of those who were never truly saved, Satan succeeds in thwarting the work of the gospel, so that it seems – this was Paul’s concern – that “our labor would be in vain.”

When we consider the dire threat to the Thessalonians, we understand why Paul was so determined to find out how they were doing while he was off ministering the gospel elsewhere in Greece. The whole purpose of this letter is to express his rejoicing upon learning that this church was not only tried by afflictions but also strengthened by faith as a community. This news gave Paul such confidence in their ultimate victory that he exulted, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord” (v. 3:8).

Faith is so essential to enduring the trials of this world that the writer of Hebrews penned a long chapter (Hebrews 11) detailing how faith had enabled the earlier people of God to gain salvation. If the Thessalonians were to prevail over persecution and advance to salvation, it would also be by faith. For this reason, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica “to learn about your faith” (v. 3:5).

Paul’s urgency on this matter ought to persuade us to inquire about our own faith. Are we careful to guard and nurture our faith, without which we cannot be saved? Do we daily present our minds and hearts before God’s Word so that our faith might be protected from the assaults of Satan and the world and so that our faith may be increased? When we face trials, is our first concern for the brightness of our faith? If not, then we fail to see with Paul that on the issue of faith or unbelief our entire well-being depends. He sent Timothy not to inquire about the financial state of the Thessalonians or their physical stamina, but “to learn about your faith” (v. 5). We should follow his lead and make regular inquires not only about our own faith, but also about the faith of those who are close to us, especially Christian friends and family members.

What is our goal in tending to our own faith and that of others in the midst of affliction? The answer is implied by Paul’s concern that his labor would not “be in vain” through his readers’ fall into unbelief (v. 3:5). Paul is more explicit in verse 8 when he rejoices to learn that “you are standing fast in the Lord.” This tells us that our simple goal is to stand firm in our faith.

In the end, we can be certain that the devil will be destroyed. Crushing Satan is God’s job, not ours. Our job, set forth so clearly to the Thessalonians, is to be a community knit together by love and strengthened through faith so as to stand firm in victory. Our goal is not to root the devil and his minions out of this world – nor can we – although we should take advantage of every opportunity to thwart Satan’s influence, especially by proclaiming the gospel. Our ultimate goal as Christians is, by all the means of God’s appointment, simply to stand firm.

What does it take to stand firm? The angel told John in Revelation 7:14: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The focus on the cross explains why, having so loved the Thessalonian converts, Paul was zealous to establish and encourage their faith in Jesus. The only way that anyone will triumph in the battle of this life is through faith in the blood of Christ to wash away our sins.

Have you trusted Christ? If not, you have no hope of standing in God’s grace now or in His glory in the age to come. But if you have trusted in Christ and continue to trust Him, then you should never serve the devil through sin, but stand against him in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, after all the toil and strife of this battle-scarred world, we will stand together in the glorious company of God’s redeemed, no longer wearing the armor but clothed only in white. We will be a garland crown to grace the head of the triumphant Jesus. Then the battle will be behind us and we will be safe amid the glories of God with great joy.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5 Study Questions:

Why does Paul refer to the Thessalonians as his hope, joy and crown (vv. 2:17-20)?

What aspect of the Christian life can you model well for those around you?

Each of us has our own work of love to perform, whether it be quiet and private or well-known and public. What do you think God has asked or might be asking you to do? Why?

In verses 3:1-5, what were the reasons that Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians in the first place?

According to Paul in verses 3:1-5, how should believers approach suffering?

How can suffering sweep believers off track or lure them away from the proper path?

1 Thessalonians 2:13-17 Not of Men but of God

The Thessalonian church was a remarkable body of believers making a striking impact on their world for Jesus Christ, despite their weakness and persecution. Seeing this causes us to ask, “What made the Thessalonians such dynamic Christians?” The same answer is repeatedly given by Paul: the Thessalonians “received the word” (1:6), the gospel’s having come to them “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1:5). These believers had been brought to life through the mighty working of God’s Word! And what was their chief conviction regarding the message they received? Paul states: “You received the word of God, … not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (2:13). This same question – is the Bible the word of man or of God? – will largely determine the vigor and fidelity of Christians today.

The first part of this question is much disputed today. Is the Bible merely the word of men? In answering this question, we must admit that in a number of important ways, the answer is Yes. This is why Paul refers to the Word “which you heard from us” (v. 13).

The sixty-six books of the Bible were written down by real men, with all their limitations and peculiarities. The Bible did not fall down from heaven completely written, leather-bound, with maps and concordance appended! Instead, the Bible came together through a process that took place over a thousand years. The human writers of Scripture possessed a wide variety of experience, personality, and character. Moreover, the full range of human characteristics is evident in the biblical materials. Using 1 Thessalonians as just one example, this letter was written because of the human circumstances described in it, with the personal experiences of Paul and his readers on full display, including joy, thanksgiving, anxiety, and relief. It is a letter written by a man to other men and women, with its humanity integrally woven into every verse.

In saying that God’s Word is not the word of men, therefore, Paul does not mean to deny the genuinely human process involved in its composition. Rather, his particular concern has to do with the origin of the Bible and its teaching. Does the Bible present ideas, convictions, doctrines, promises, commands, and precepts that merely reflect what man – the human author – has to say, or is it instead the Word of God, so that ultimately it is God who speaks to us through the very words of Holy Scripture? On this Paul is insistent: the Bible presents to us, through human means, the very Word of God.

When Christians are challenged to defend the assertion that the Bible is God’s Word, there are two main ways to do so. The first is to point out the Bible’s self-attestation, that is, what the Bible says about itself. Does the Bible present the ideas of fallible men, so that however well-meaning the human authors were, their ideas were limited, historically and culturally, and at least occasionally wrong? According to its own testimony concerning itself, the Bible is God’s revealed Word to mankind and not the word of man about God. It was God who providentially created, guided, and through the Holy Spirit inspired each biblical writer to give exactly the message that God had designed. Therefore, as Hebrews 1:1 teaches, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.”

The second and even more potent way of demonstrating the divine nature of Scripture is simply to read it and have the Holy Spirit press upon our hearts the awareness that God is speaking through His Word. The most compelling reason on which our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the bible rests is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. Paul wrote of this inward testimony to the Corinthians: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

The Thessalonian Christians became strong in the Lord not only because they received Paul’s teaching as the Word of God but also because of the mighty working of God’s Word in and among them. It is “the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (v. 13). The Thessalonians grew strong in grace not merely because they received God’s Word but also because of what God’s Word did in them as they believed it. Paul rejoices that God’s Word works “in you believers”, which reminds us that God’s Word calls us to a faith that believes and receives. Thankfully, it is God’s Word itself that produces the faith by which it works. As Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Having believed God’s Word, we must further open our hearts and minds to the Scriptures, which not only are “breathed out by God,” but are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:1`6-17).

One result of God’s Word in every true believer’s life is the strengthening of faith that enables the Christian to persevere under hardship. Paul emphasizes this work in the Thessalonians: “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews” (v. 14). Paul knew all about the persecution that the original believers had suffered in Jerusalem, since he himself had been their chief persecutor. After he was brought to faith by the resurrected Jesus. Paul himself shared in the suffering of the church. The unbelieving Jews, he said, “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out” (v. 15).

Are you willing to endure persecution for your faith? Are you willing to remain faithful to Christ and live according to His Word even if it means being shunned, ridiculed, or wickedly injured? The only true faith is that which is willing to suffer with Jesus. He said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it? (Luke 9:24). Are you willing to miss out on worldly pleasures in order to live boldly for Jesus and offer your life for his gospel? True faith answers yes, because the Word has worked mightily through faith. This is how Christians today stand boldly next to Martin Luther, holding fast to the Word of God before the world, declaring, “Here I stand, I can do no other!”

Paul’s description of the persecution suffered by the Thessalonians contains a final word of warning that challenges anyone who hears God’s Word but does not combine hearing with faith. Paul said that unbelieving Jews “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins” (vv. 15-16).

These verses describe what the unbelieving world has always done: having crucified Jesus under Pontius Pilate, the world continues to crucify Him in mocking unbelief, despising the cross on which Jesus died to save sinners. As unbelieving Israel so frequently slew the prophets who spoke God’s Word, Israel also refused to tolerate the apostles and the early Christians who preached the gospel of God’s grace through faith. Today, secular humanism devotes its energies to removing a witness to Christ from every public sphere and place. Since the gospel is God’s good news of salvation through Jesus, God is displeased by the persecution of His Word. Such persecution opposes the true well-being of all mankind “by hindering us from speaking…that they might be saved” (v. 16).

Paul did not hesitate to point out that for those who refuse the salvation offered in God’s Word and provided at such cost by God’s Son, there can be only divine wrath in the final judgment. God’s wrath equates to the just and violent punishment that will be inflicted from heaven on all who persist in sin and unbelief.

Yet Paul knew that God has saving grace even for persecutors who are living out the curse of God’s wrath against their sins. The apostle described himself as the chief of sinners (1 Cor. 15:9). Yet Paul had a testimony of saving grace that came to him through hearing the gospel. That grace came to him through the Bible’s message, which is not of men but of God. God’s Word declares God’s holy wrath on sin, especially for those who wickedly oppress Christ and His gospel. But that same Bible offers salvation to anyone who believes the Word of salvation that Paul loved to preach.

1 Thessalonians 2:13-17 Study Questions:

Suffering is a reality in our world today for believers. How does the church today react to suffering?

Believing passionately that God’s salvation was for them (Jews) only, these Jews regarded as blasphemous the message of a crucified Messiah who offered salvation on equal terms to Gentiles as well. What reasons do people have today for not wanting this message promoted?

We are often uncomfortable discussing God’s wrath. How do different churches or different people in the church today respond to the idea of God’s wrath?