Paul’s Encouraging Word

1 Thessalonians 3:6–13

Greatly relieved by Timothy’s encouraging report that the young Thessalonian church was not wavering in its faith despite persecution, the apostle Paul penned this letter to the Thessalonians. In the remaining verses of chapter 3, he mentioned Timothy’s report and asked the Lord to undergird this committed church of new believers.

Report to Paul
First, Paul emphasized that Timothy wasted no time reporting to him: “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” (v. 6). Timothy knew Paul was waiting anxiously, and his glowing report inspired Paul to respond immediately.

Second, Paul told the Thessalonians that Timothy brought “good news” of their “faith and love.” Faith is mentioned first because it was Paul’s major concern. He wanted to know whether these new believers had become discouraged and left the faith or if they were still committed to Christ. The word love speaks of the Thessalonians’ attitude and their spiritual condition as a whole.

Timothy’s report “that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us [Paul and Silvanus]” revealed all Paul needed to know about their attitude toward him. Though enemies persecuted them and slandered Paul, the Thessalonians remained steadfast. They had loved the ministry team from the start, still felt great affection for Paul and Silvanus, and yearned to be reunited with them.

Paul responded in kind, “as we also to see you.” He understood the church was standing strong in faith and love; and he cherished its relationship with him and Silvanus, with whom he had ministered while in Thessalonica. The recognition, relationship, and respect that had developed between founders and followers bound them together and needed to remain in place as the church moved toward ministry and maturity in Christ.

Response from Paul
Paul responded positively to the Thessalonian church: “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” (vv. 7–8).

The word therefore takes into consideration all the points in Timothy’s report. Then Paul revealed the impact the report made on him and Silvanus, addressing the Thessalonians as “brethren,” thus recognizing them as fellow believers in Christ.

When Timothy’s report arrived, Paul and Silvanus were under great “affliction and distress” because of persecution that dogged them wherever they went. Timothy’s report was a great comfort to them. The word for “comfort” conveys the idea of strengthening and encouraging. Thus many commentators believe Timothy’s report greatly bolstered Paul and Silvanus because, like the Thessalonians, they, too, faced constant affliction.

This is the fourth time the apostle mentioned “your faith” in chapter 3 (vv. 2, 5–7). The repetition shows the focus of his concern for the Thessalonian church. The rest of Timothy’s report would have been meaningless if the Thessalonians had wavered in their faith or left it altogether.

Now Paul could say, “For now we live.” That is, Timothy’s news lifted Paul’s burden, breathed new life into his ministry, and affirmed that his proclamation of Christ in Thessalonica produced lasting fruit.

The word if (v. 8) does not question the Thessalonians’ steadfastness in Christ. In fact, it should be translated “since” and actually expresses Paul’s assurance that these Christians were standing firm. The phrase stand fast is a single word in the Greek text and speaks of one’s stability in remaining true to the Christian faith, both then and in the future. The Thessalonians were steadfastly anchored through faith “in the Lord,” which provided all they needed to overcome their enemies.

The Thessalonians’ faith moved Paul to break out in thanksgiving: “For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God?” (v. 9).

Paul’s rhetorical question reveals how deeply he longed to know the state of the Thessalonians’ faith. Suddenly, he blurted out a deeply emotional expression of gratitude to God for what He had done for and through them.

In other words, Paul was saying, “How can I repay or give anything back to God in exchange for the debt I owe Him?” He knew that God alone, in His overseeing grace, had provided the Thessalonian believers with the strength and stability they needed to remain faithful through severe and constant persecution. He was not thanking the Thessalonians but, rather, offering thanksgiving to God for sustaining these young believers.

Expressing his love and compassion for the Thessalonians, he wrote, “night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith” (v. 10). The word exceedingly means Paul and his missionary team prayed earnestly, or abundantly, to God on behalf of the Thessalonian church. They prayed for two things:

  1. “That we may see your face.” The team asked God to open a way to go to Thessalonica to experience again the joy of fellowshiping personally with the Thessalonians. This was an ongoing request.
  2. That the team could “perfect what is lacking in your faith.” The verb perfect means “to complete, fit together, frame, repair” or “restore,” as in setting a bone or mending a net. The idea is not that their faith needed mending, but it needed to develop and mature in Christ. Nor does lacking mean their faith was malfunctioning, flawed, or deficient. Rather, it was incomplete. Paul and his team anxiously longed to return to finish what they had started. The church lacked scriptural knowledge and spiritual insight that would develop its faith. Nothing beats personal contact when mentoring new believers. Correspondence is simply not the same as being there.

Requests by Paul
Paul closed chapter 3 by telling the Thessalonian church he would pray.

First, his prayer expressed his ambition—his earnest desire to return to Thessalonica: “May our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you” (v. 11). Paul acknowledged Christ’s deity and Lordship and prayed to Him as coequal with God the Father. He asked God to remove all the obstacles Satan was putting in his path, making it impossible for Silvanus and Paul to return to Thessalonica. They were utterly dependent on God to orchestrate their return.

It is Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who causes people to excel, overflow, or possess a superabundance of God’s love for others.

Second, Paul appealed to the church in prayer: “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you” (v. 12). The word Lord refers to Jesus as the one who will help them “increase and abound in love.” Paul’s return, though helpful, would not produce spiritual growth in their lives. Such growth comes only through Jesus Christ. Paul’s specific prayer was that these believers might “increase and abound” in love. It is Christ, through the Holy Spirit, who causes people to excel, overflow, or possess a superabundance of God’s love for others (Mt. 5:44). Loving those who persecute you is possible only through the Holy Spirit’s enablement. During their brief stay in Thessalonica, Paul and Silvanus were role models; and the Thessalonians were imitating them.

Third, Paul’s aim in praying for the Thessalonians was that each one would possess inner maturity and spiritual stability at the time Christ returned: “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” (1 Th. 3:13). Spiritual strength and stability prevent believers from succumbing to Satan’s onslaughts. They are obtained by being saturated in Scripture and prayer and by yielding to the Holy Spirit’s control. Only then can a believer’s “heart” (thoughts, feelings, and will) be established.

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be “blameless in holiness” (v. 13). Walking in holiness demands separation from the practice of sin. It requires maintaining a pure and godly walk in Christ. Blameless means to be free from unjust accusations of immoral or inappropriate actions. Even though many charges would be leveled at the Thessalonian believers, none could be proven. Christians are to be blameless “before our God and Father.” God will be the final Judge of every Christian’s character and conduct at the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10–17; 2 Cor. 5:9–10).

The final phrase, at [in] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (1 Th. 3:13), needs clarification. The word coming (Greek, parousia) means “presence,” as in other texts where it is used. When will Christians stand physically in the Lord’s presence? At the Rapture of the church, when Christ comes to take the church to heaven. At that time, all Christians will be in the presence of Christ and God the Father (cf. 2:19). Then “all His saints” will return to Earth with “our Lord Jesus Christ.” This event will take place at Christ’s Second Coming.

Paul provided the Thessalonian church with great words of encouragement and instruction that probably breathed new life and commitment into these believers. Hopefully, they will do the same for you.

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