1 Thessalonians 3 - Appointed to Affliction

 

A. An appointment to affliction.

 

1. (1-3) Why Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians.

 

Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.

 

a. Sent Timothy . . . to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith: In the previous chapter Paul explained how much he wanted to be with the Thessalonians during their time of trial (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). However, since Paul could not be with the Thessalonians himself, he did the next best thing. He sent his trusted companion and fellow worker Timothy to them.

 

i. We thought it good to be left in Athens alone: For the sake of the Thessalonians, Paul was willing to be left in Athens alone. It cost him something to send Timothy to the Thessalonians, and he thought it was good to pay that cost.

 

ii. Our brother and 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)

 

iii. "Originally the word 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)

 

b. To establish you and encourage you concerning your faith: Paul wanted Timothy to do two things - to establish and encourage the Thessalonians. Both are necessary, but establishing comes first. Encouragement can really only come after we are established in the right direction; otherwise, we are only encouraged in the wrong course.

 

i. "When Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica it was not nearly so much to inspect the Church there as it was to help it." (Barclay)

 

c. That no one should be shaken by these afflictions: As the Thessalonians were established and encouraged, they would not be shaken by these afflictions. Timothy's ministry would help them to endure their present hardship.

 

i. The ancient Greek word translated shaken, came from the idea of a dog wagging its tail. "Flattered, as a dog flattereth, by moving his tail; the devil, by flattering you, with promise of more ease by a contrary course, will but do as a dirty dog, defile you with fawning." (Trapp)

 

ii. Without a good understanding of the truth concerning the place of suffering in the life of the believer, we are in great danger of being shaken in our faith.

 

d. These afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this: Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that their time of present suffering was in God's control. These were afflictions they were appointed to. As part of the normal Christian life, believers have an appointment with affliction.

 

i. Some believe that Christians shouldn't suffer affliction and that God wants to teach us only by His Word, and not through trial or tribulation. It is true that there is a great deal of suffering we could be spared by simply obeying God's Word, and God wants to spare us that suffering. Nevertheless, suffering was good enough to teach Jesus (Hebrews 2:10 and 5:8), therefore it is good enough to teach us. God does teach the believer perseverance, obedience, how to comfort others, and deeper fellowship with Jesus in trials.

 

ii. Some believe that the only kind of affliction a Christian should experience is persecution. The truth is that there are two ancient Greek words used to translate the concept of suffering, and neither of them is used exclusively in regard to persecution. Thilipsis was used for such things as physical pain, emotional hardships, and suffering under temptation. Pasko was used for such things as physical sufferings unrelated to persecution, suffering under temptation, and hardships in a general sense.

 

iii. Some believe that affliction means God is angry at the believer. The truth is that affliction means that God loves us enough to give the best when we may only desire what is easy. The symbol of Christianity is the cross, not a feather bed. Affliction is just part of following Jesus; therefore Paul recognized that Christians are appointed to affliction.

 

iv. "Surveying the whole Christian movement, he saw suffering everywhere as the result of loyalty to the faith; and he did not conceive of it merely as something to be endured. He saw God ruling over all, and knew that this pathway of pain was a Divinely-arranged one." (Morgan)

 

2. (4) Affliction should never surprise the Christian.

 

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

 

a. We told you before when we were with you: When Paul was with the Thessalonians (just a few months before writing this letter) he warned them they would suffer tribulation. Though he was only with them a few weeks, he taught them about the place of suffering in the Christian life.

 

b. We would suffer tribulation: In Jesus' parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-23), He described the way that some fall away when tribulation or persecution arises because of the Word - Jesus said when tribulation arises, and not if tribulation comes. The Christian's faith will be tested. Paul knew this, and as a good pastor, he warned the Thessalonians.

 

3. (5) Paul's urgency in sending Timothy to the Thessalonians.

 

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.

 

a. When I could no longer endure it: Paul could barely endure the thought that the faith of the Thessalonians might crumble under this season of affliction, so he sent Timothy to both check on them and to help them.

 

i. "Paul's subdued missionary activities at Corinth before the return of Silas and Timothy (Acts 18:5) seems to indicate that Paul was deeply depressed because of the heavy burden of suspense and uncertainty concerning the outcome of his mission at Thessalonica." (Hiebert)

 

b. Lest by some means the tempter had tempted you: Paul recognized that the tempter - that is, Satan - wanted to exploit this season of suffering. As in the case of Job, Satan wanted to tempt the Thessalonians to give up on God.

 

c. And our labor might be in vain: If the Thessalonians did waver in their faith, Paul would consider his work among them to have been in vain. In the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:1-23) Jesus described the seed that withered under the heat of trials. If the Thessalonians withered, Paul's hard work as a farmer among them would have born no harvest.

 

i. Paul did something to help prevent the Thessalonians from falling under their affliction. He sent Timothy to them, because those who are in affliction need the help of other godly people.

 

B. Timothy's encouraging report.

 

1. (6) The good news from Timothy.

 

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you;

 

a. Brought us good news of your faith and love: When Timothy returned from his visit to the Thessalonians, he brought good news. The Thessalonians were doing well in faith and love, and Paul helped them to do even better with this letter he wrote.

 

i. Calvin on faith and love: "In these two words he states concisely the sum total of godliness. All who aim at this double mark are beyond the danger of error for the whole of their life."

 

ii. Morris on good news: "The verb he employs is the one which is usually translated 'preach the gospel.' Indeed, this is the only place in the whole of Paul's writings where it is used in any other sense than that."

 

iii. "All pastors are reminded by this of the kind of relationship which ought to exist between them and the church. When things go well with the Church, they are to count themselves happy, even though in other respects they are surrounded by much distress. On the other hand, however, if they see the building which they have constructed falling down, they are to die of grief and sorrow, even though in other respects there is good success and prosperity." (Calvin)

 

b. That you always have good remembrance of us: Timothy also brought the good news that the Thessalonians had not believed the vicious and false rumors about Paul.

 

2. (7-9) The effect of the good news on Paul.

 

Therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God,

 

a. In all our affliction and distress we were comforted: Paul wrote this letter from Corinth, and his coming to that city was marked by difficulty. He said of his coming to Corinth, I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling (1 Corinthians 2:3). Yet since Timothy came back with good news, Paul had a renewed strength and freshness of life (for now we live). It made Paul feel much better that the Thessalonians were doing well.

 

i. "Never is the servant of God so full of delight as when he sees that the Holy Spirit is visiting his hearers, making them to know the Lord, and confirming them in that heavenly knowledge. On the other hand, if God does not bless the word of his servants it is like death to them. To be preaching and to have no blessing makes them heavy of heart: the chariot-wheels are taken off, and they drag heavily along: they seem to have no power nor liberty." (Spurgeon)

 

b. For what thanks can we render to God for you: Paul's thanks and joy overflowed because he knew that they did stand fast in the Lord. Some find it easy to rejoice in the material prosperity in the life of others, but Paul honestly rejoiced in the spiritual prosperity of others.

 

3. (10) Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians.

 

Night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?

 

a. Night and day praying exceedingly: Paul heard good news from Timothy, but it wasn't enough. He wanted to see the face of the church family in Thessalonica. Paul wanted it enough to pray night and day . . . exceedingly that God would make a way for him to see them.

 

i. Exceedingly: "There are various ways of expressing the thought of abundance, and this double compound is probably the most emphatic of all." (Morris)

 

b. And perfect what is lacking in your faith: In the midst of all this joy, Paul called attention to the fact that they were still lacking. Though the apostle repeatedly complimented them (1 Thessalonians 1:3, 1:7, 2:13, 2:19-20, and 3:6), he was also concerned to perfect (complete) what is lacking in their faith.

 

i. Paul believed that his personal presence would be a help to the Thessalonians. "Though his Epistles might avail towards it, yet his personal presence would do more. There is a peculiar blessing that attends oral preaching, more than reading." (Poole)

 

C. Paul's prayer for what is lacking in the Thessalonians.

 

1. (11) Paul prays that he may be reunited with the Thessalonians soon, because to make up what is lacking, they needed apostolic influence.

 

Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.

 

a. Now may our God and Father Himself: This shows Paul begins a passage of written prayer. He told the Thessalonians what he prayed for them.

 

i. Hiebert points out that this is technically not a prayer. "Recognition should be given to the fact that in actual statement these verses do form a prayer addressed directly to God. They are rather a devout prayer-wish . . . the solemn tone of this fervent prayer-wish approaches the language of prayer and is virtually a prayer."

 

ii. And our Lord Jesus Christ: "Two persons viewed as one (cf. John 10:30) possess power to open the way to Thessalonica once again; 'our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus' is the compound subject of a singular verb . . . probably an indication of the unity of the Godhead." (Thomas)

 

b. Direct our way to you: Paul was encouraged at the current state of the Thessalonians and by the fruit that Timothy's ministry had there. Yet he still prayed that God would direct his way to the Thessalonians. This shows that though Paul valued the ministry others brought to them, he believed that they still needed the authoritative instruction and encouragement only the apostles could give.

 

i. This being true, we also need to be under apostolic influence. Paul and the rest have graduated to glory, but their writings remain. God has preserved the apostles' teaching for us in the New Testament.

 

ii. The church is founded upon the apostles, with Christ Himself the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The foundation of the New Jerusalem is the twelve apostles (Revelation 21:14). There was something significantly unique about the first-century apostles and prophets, and that unique ministry is preserved in the New Testament.

 

2. (12) To make up what is lacking, they must increase and abound in love.

 

And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,

 

a. And may the Lord make you increase and about in love: This was not a loveless church, but they still had room to grown in love, because love is an essential mark of the Christian faith.

 

i. Jesus spoke of the essential place love has as an identifying mark of the Christian: By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). The Apostle John also emphasized this principle: If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20)

 

b. Abound in love to one another and to all: Paul looked for the Thessalonian Christians to show love to one another and to all. This love begins in the family of God, but it must go beyond. Jesus told us that our love is small and shallow if we only love those who love us also (Matthew 5:46-47).

 

c. Just as we do to you: Paul daringly set himself as a standard of love to be emulated. We should live such Christian lives that we could tell young Christians, "Love other people just the way that I do."

 

3. (13) To make up what is lacking, they needed hearts established in holiness.

 

So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.

 

a. So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness: Paul knew that God wanted the Thessalonians to have their hearts established blameless in holiness. The idea behind holiness is to be set apart from the world and unto God. The genuinely holy person is separated away from the domination of sin and self and the world, and they are separated to God.

 

b. Your hearts blameless in holiness: The heart must be made holy first. The devil wants us to develop a holy exterior while neglecting the interior, like whitewashed tombs, full of death (Matthew 23:27).

 

c. Blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Paul was reminded of Jesus' return, because nothing can encourage us to holiness like remembering that Jesus might come today.

 

i. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians emphasized three things that are important for every Christian today:

 

        First, he wanted to be with them, so they could benefit from his apostolic wisdom and authority.

        He wanted them to abound in love.

        He wanted them to be established in true heart-holiness.

 

ii. All His saints: "It is best to understand the 'holy ones' as all those bright beings who will make up His train be they angels or the saints who have gone before." (Morris)

 

 

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