When Others Cared for You
Explore the Bible Series
December 28, 2008
Background Passage: I Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Lesson Passage: I Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
This passage provides a fascinating glimpse into the emotional life of the Apostle Paul. Some may have an inclination to so deeply admire Paul that they diminish his obvious humanity. Like all of us, the apostle experienced seasons of distress, both physical and emotional (these two aspects of human character are profoundly intertwined). With my reader’s gracious indulgence, this lesson “outline” will depart a bit from the accustomed format. This week, I trust we can explore the contours of Paul’s internal life, and, in doing so, investigate our own attitudes in the Lord’s service. Of course, a simple description of Paul’s struggles serves little purpose; therefore, we must probe the passage for the manner in which the apostle dealt with his struggles
employed striking language to express his longing to see the
Thessalonians. “Being taken from you”
(v. 17) translates a word that means to be orphaned (ESV says “torn away
from”). Many orphaned children roamed
the streets of cities in the Mediterranean world. No doubt, Paul had seen many of these
Recently I reviewed a film about the horrific bloodshed
during the civil war in
Frustration: Again and again, Paul had made efforts to reconnect with his friends in Thessalonica, but Satan frustrated the apostle’s best intentions. He sought this reunion “eagerly” and “with great desire.” “Epithumia” (“great desire”) is often used in the New Testament to describe lust or covetousness, but here, Paul used the term to reflect his deep passion for seeing his friends. Unmistakably, Paul laid the blame for his frustration at the feet of Satan.
Modern readers may recoil from this reference to a malignant
spiritual being who frustrates the intentions of good men, but Paul’s belief in
Satan cannot be denied. The text doesn’t
reveal how Satan hindered Paul. Some
think the apostle was stricken with some illness, while others have speculated
that the political situation in
At the end of this paragraph, Paul revealed the remedy for loneliness and frustration. He took consolation in the character of those who had benefited from his ministry. Like any person, Paul was not immune to the temptation to feel that his work had borne little fruit, but churches, like that in Thessalonica, salved Paul’s troubled heart. As long as they continued to grow in the faith, the Lord’s servant knew he had not wasted his life. The Thessalonian believers were his hope, joy, and crown.
Dear friends, do you understand the important role you play in encouraging those who preach the gospel to you? The measure of their success rests in the love and spiritual growth of you who profit from their tireless labor in the word. Does your pastor see you as his glory and joy?
Affliction: Chapter Three focuses on Paul’s suffering as a missionary. Shortly after Paul’s conversion, a man named Ananias told the apostle that he would suffer great things for the sake of God’s name (See Acts 9:16), and the Lord had remained true to his promise! At almost every turn, the apostle experienced great hardship in his gospel labors: imprisonment, stoning, murderous riots, beatings, and scourgings. The Thessalonians had first-hand evidence of the truth of Paul’s observations about suffering. This passage reveals that the apostle felt the sting of these persecutions. He was no dispassionate, robotic, Stoic; rather, he keenly anguished over the physical and emotional pain he experienced, especially at the hands of his own people. Above all, he feared that his circumstances might discourage his friends. Surely, in time, they too would experience persecution, and the prospect of suffering may have tempted some to turn from the gospel. Paul, some time before he wrote this letter, sent Timothy to affirm the faith of the Thessalonians (See 3:5f)
Conclusion: The last few verses of Chapter Three (vv. 6-13) give insight into Paul’s manner of dealing with the loneliness, frustration, and affliction he experienced and God’s people, of every generation, would be wise to follow the apostle’s example.
A Personal Word
I hope all of you will indulge me for a moment as I do some reflection about the last four and a half years. I began writing these little outlines in August, 2004, and I have no words to adequately express my gratitude to the Founders folks for giving me this opportunity. Frankly, this work has helped me in my discipline of studying the Bible.
This week’s lesson reminds me of my need to grow in my appreciation of the Lord’s blessings, and you folk bless me. Sometimes I hear from my readers, and the messages you send almost always encourage me. In fact, I have developed and deepened some friendships through corresponding with you (Bob and Al, I especially appreciate your friendship and helpfulness).
I appreciate the work many of you do in Bible classes in
your local churches. Hopefully, your
classes express their gratitude for your selfless, sacrificial labors, in their
behalf. May the Lord bless each of you with great fruitfulness in your labors
Also, I am grateful for our textbook, the Bible. Frankly, the Scriptures puzzle me at times, and I certainly do not claim any remarkable knowledge or insight into its mysteries and riches. Nevertheless, I have found these studies very helpful. The Bible serves as reliable, authoritative source of spiritual insight, wisdom, and direction, and it continually challenges me to think more clearly and walk more blamelessly (got a long way to go on this).
Next, I want to express my appreciation again to the Founders folks for giving me his opportunity. These men serve as good examples of pastoral leadership and have helped many in the quest to grow in an understanding of the gospel. In particular, I want to thank Tom Nettles and Bill Ascol for their encouragement and support of my work. Stan Reeves works tirelessly, despite a heavy teaching schedule, to administer the Founders website. Thanks, Stan. All of us owe a debt of gratitude, and I’m very thankful for your patience and helpfulness.
Above all, I thank the Lord for this opportunity. Frankly, I know many people could write these outlines with greater wisdom and insight than I possess; nevertheless, God has given me the privilege of completing this work, and I rejoice in the blessing. He has blessed me despite myself, in his warm, patient grace.
I write these words on Christmas Eve and thoughts of the wonder of the incarnation fill my heart. You folks are a gift to me. May the Lord bless all of you with a wonderful Christmas season.