Sunday School Lesson for September 30, 2001
1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
A Report From Timothy’s Visit (3:6)
Following Timothy’s visit to the Thessalonians, he came back and reported his findings to Paul. His testimony consisted of the "good news" that the new converts were standing strong in their faith. Interestingly, Paul employs the Greek word normally reserved for descriptions of gospel preaching (euangelizomai) to characterize the favorable report brought by Timothy. Since this is the only place in the New Testament where this term is used of anything but the preaching of the gospel, it may indicate that the news Paul received "was indeed a gospel, reminding him of the faithfulness and power of God" (Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, TNTC, 65). Timothy’s message consisted of two principle facts:
Paul’s Response to Timothy’s Report (3:7-10)
The delivery of such good news proved to be of special comfort to the apostle at a critical hour in his life. Having experienced both "distress and affliction," that is, outward calamities and crushing troubles, Paul was "comforted about [them] through [their] faith." F. F. Bruce observes, "if the Thessalonians had not allowed their tribulations to destroy their Christian faith and love, Paul and Silvanus found in this good news a sovereign remedy for their own ‘distress and affliction’" (1&2 Thessalonians, WBC, 67). That they were "comforted" by such news indicates that the missionaries found great strength for their own souls in the fact of the Thessalonians steadfastness in the gospel. This theme is repeated in verse 8 with the declaration that "now we really live if, you stand firm in the Lord." As 1 Cor. 16:13, Gal. 5:1, Phil. 2:7, and Phil. 4:1 reveal, standing firm in the faith of the gospel was a popular emphasis for the apostle Paul (see Bruce, 67-8). The fact that his spiritual children of Thessalonica were holding their ground in doctrine and Christian conduct energized, enlivened, and enthused Paul in his labors for the sake of Christ. Charles Wanamaker agrees that this statement strongly implies that the great apostle "derived a sense of strength from the endurance of his converts that enabled him to continue his missionary work in the face of opposition and oppression. If the Thessalonians had renounced their faith, Paul appears to imply, this would have called into question his ‘life’s work’. . . ." (The Epistles to the Thessalonians, NIGTC, 136).
In addition to drawing spiritual strength from the persistence of the Thessalonian’s faith in Christ, Paul came to experience a deeper sense of personal "joy" which led him to continually "rejoice before our God." The delight and personal satisfaction he so intensely knew was of such magnitude that no amount of thanksgiving would be sufficient "in return." Certainly, this more than compensated the apostle and his companions in the face of their own trials and tribulations. Verse 10 seems to strongly imply that this deep sense of joy was especially real during Paul’s fervent times of intercession for the Thessalonians—"as we night and day keep praying most earnestly." As initially reflected in 1:2, Paul and his fellow-missionaries regularly engaged in prayer on behalf of those under their charge. As they labored in prayer, they were not only full of gratitude to God, but also made to more "earnestly" desire a return visit to the city in order to "complete what is lacking in [their] faith." As novice believers, there was yet much for them to learn regarding the essential truths of the faith and the appropriate outworking of these beliefs as manifested in Christian conduct. Thus, Paul fervently hoped to personally return to them to continue their instruction and their re-socialization as citizens of heaven (see Wanamaker, 139).
Paul’s Prayer for His Brethren (3:11-13)
As this chapter concludes, the apostle now reveals the specific contents of his prayers for the new believers of Thessalonica. Upon examination, three basis requests surface:
To love one’s fellow Christians in particular, in the sense of behaving in a loving manner, fulfilled the ultimate ethical norm against which the Christians were to be judged. Therefore to love as Paul desired his converts to love would result in their living sanctified lives, placing them beyond any [scornful reproach] at the judgment (144).
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: Providing encouragement for fellow believers in the daily battles associated with Christian discipleship—In 3:6-10 we see some of the practical ways by which we might be of encouragement to others:
Can you find any additional ways to encourage fellow believers in their struggles?
Two: The typical pattern of spiritual growth and development—In 3:11-13 we see three essential steps in the process of sanctification: