1 Thessalonians
1-6 Paul’s Concern 7-13 Love and Holiness
Paul’s Concern

1Therefore when we could endure [it] no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, 3so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4For indeed when we were with you, we [kept] telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. 5For this reason, when I could endure [it] no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. 6But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you,

V11Therefore when we could endure [it] no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone,. Paul has just (at the end of the previous chapter) expressed his great desire to his beloved Thessalonians. They are a source of deep joy for him. He very much wanted to be with them to see how they were doing. It was a great encouragement for him to know that he would meet them at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Nevertheless, he also had an undiminished desire to know how they were doing spiritually.

That desire became so strong that he necessarily wanted to know how they were doing. He couldn’t stand it anymore to be without any information about their situation. At that moment he was in Athens (see Introduction). Timothy was also there with him, with whom he enjoyed a special bond of fellowship in the work of the Lord.

V22and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith,. Paul abandoned everything that he found valuable for himself. His desire to get information about the situation of the Thessalonians was so great that he sent Timothy to them. He indeed speaks in the ‘we’-form, but he, Paul was in charge (see also verse 55For this reason, when I could endure [it] no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.). By using the word ‘we’ he shows that it was not a decision he made on his own, being dragged by his emotions. He acted in agreement with others.

You see that Paul also had feelings. He felt a strong bond with the Thessalonians. There is nothing wrong with such feelings. On the contrary, they are all included. Solidarity with believers is to be experienced, though feelings should not determine the action. That is up to the Lord. Therefore He also gives you fellow believers.

The value that Timothy had for him, is underlined by speaking about him as “our brother and God’s fellow worker”. The Thessalonians received him as a brother who was related with both Paul and them. They also received him as someone who worked together with Paul for God. The territory of their labor, the sphere wherein they worked, was “the gospel of Christ” (2Cor 10:1414For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ;). He who works wholeheartedly in the gospel of Christ, will therefore be able to take proper care of those who have accepted this gospel.

The job description of Timothy was clear: to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith. The believers were going through difficulties. You could think that consolation would be more appropriate. Yet it is not always the case necessarily. These believers were standing under pressure. They experienced hostility and were persecuted. In such a case strengthening of the faith is especially needed.

When the pressure on you because of your faith gets so great that you run the risk to succumb, you need strengthening to sustain. Peter received such an order from the Lord like Timothy receives from Paul here, an order which he had fulfilled by writing his first letter (Lk 22:3232but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”; 1Pet 5:1212Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard [him]), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!). James has such a message for his readers (Jam 5:88You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.).

They also needed encouragement to persevere. When pressure is continuously being exerted on you, it may discourage you. Then you need an encouragement.

V33so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.. The important thing is that your faith, which means here your confidence of faith, does not get to waver. This danger threatens everyone who wants to live for the Lord. In tribulation it appears if there is mention of a true conversion. Whoever started to believe because it makes a person happy, will not only waver, but will surely fall (Mk 4:16-1716In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky [places], who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy;17and they have no [firm] root in themselves, but are [only] temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away.).

With his attacks the enemy is seeking to damage your faith, your confidence in God. When you’re going through difficulties because you believe, he will always whisper in your ear that the ‘nice God’ of yours has finally caused you to end up in troubles. And you were so sure that He is the solution for all your troubles.

Don’t let yourself be deceived! Tribulation is included in the salvation (Acts 14:2222strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and [saying], “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”) and is foretold by the Lord (Jn 16:3333These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”) as something we have been destined for, as something that is simply fully included. Therefore do not consider it strange when this happens to you (1Pet 4:1212Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you;). Whoever believes in God, which means whoever really trusts in Him in the everyday life, will be persecuted (2Tim 3:1212Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.).

You should see that it is true. At least I hope that you have not started to believe in the Lord Jesus and God because of success stories, but that you have seen yourself in God’s light after a powerful preaching. A sound preaching does not promise him who believes a life without adversary and worries. No, on the contrary, you will surely be rejected and hated, just like they have rejected and hated the Master (Jn 15:2020Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.).

V44For indeed when we were with you, we [kept] telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.. One more time Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what had occurred to himself and his companions (1Thes 2:22but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.). Because he could well imagine what tribulation means, his whole heart and his full compassion goes out to these young believers in Thessalonica who were suffering hardships.

V55For this reason, when I could endure [it] no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.. Why was Paul so concerned? Did he not trust God himself that He would take care of those believers? No, Paul had no lack of confidence in God, but he was aware of the power of the adversary and also of the way in which God operates to resist the adversary. God has given us to one another so that through each other we may be supporting one another. Not that thereby we are only dependent on one another. In everything the Lord orders us to do, we are dependent on Him. But in this way He wants to teach us how to share in His feelings and to practice His care. If we act like that, He becomes visible in our lives.

Timothy is his messenger and the interpreter of Paul’s emotions. Like no other, Timothy was able to judge how the Thessalonians were doing. He could supply Paul with reliable information about them. Paul wanted to know how they were doing in faith. He wanted to know whether their confidence of faith was increasing by the tribulation or whether it was decreasing because the tempter had gained foothold. The tempter is no one else than satan (Mt 4:33And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”). Satan will approach every believer, just like he approached the Lord Jesus. When children of God are going through suffering and tribulation, he tries to persuade them to say ‘goodbye’ to God (Job 2:99Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!”).

The apostle was not worried about an attack on their faith, but he was worried about a successful attack. If the latter case would become reality, his labor would be in vain. That does not mean that they would be lost, but that they should not show themselves forth as being Christians. The fire of their testimony would then be extinguished and in their behavior they would adjust themselves again to the world. That was a thought he could not bear. Therefore he needed to have an indication of the condition of their faith. What you see here with Paul, is a beautiful example of aftercare.

V66But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you,. What a relief it is for Paul when he hears from Timothy that his beloved children in faith are doing well. It was a joyful message to him. It cheered him up. A big burden was lifted from his shoulder. It’s a good thing to notice how much good news can help a person to recover spiritually. We may use it as an example. Let us not withhold from one another the good news that is to be told. It is so encouraging to share with one another what the Lord has worked in a church. In that way God is being glorified (Acts 21:19-20a19After he had greeted them, he [began] to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.20And when they heard it they [began] glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law;).

Timothy had seen that their confidence of faith had not diminished. It had withstood in the tribulation. Their faith was the power that enabled them to deal with the tribulation. Out of their tribulation they looked up to heaven in faith upon Him of Whom they trusted that He would help them in the tribulation. And they have not been disappointed. Through the tribulation they learnt to know Him better.

Their love for one another was also shown through the tribulation. It drove them to one another. God uses tribulations to strengthen the bond of love. That’s what Timothy had noticed. Satan also tries to drive a wedge between the preachers and the believers. But he did not succeed. The Thessalonians looked back with gratitude on the men who brought them the gospel. They even desired to see them again, a desire of which Paul could say that it was mutual. You can ‘remember’ Paul with gratitude by reading his inspired letters and act accordingly. And how do you remember your brothers and sisters whom you do not see daily?

Now read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-6 again.

Reflection: What lessons can you learn about aftercare here?


Love and Holiness

7for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8for now we [really] live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, 10as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? 11Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; 12and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also [do] for you; 13so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.

V77for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith;. The news with which Timothy came to Paul about the faith of the Thessalonians was a great comfort. Their faith did not only withstand, it had increased (2Thes 1:33We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is [only] fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows [ever] greater;). He needed comfort, because he himself was in need and tribulation. His need may be caused by the lack of material things. It may also be an inward need, because he was spiritually weighed down, also because he was worrying about the Thessalonians. Also the physical tribulations that he had suffered came to his mind.

V88for now we [really] live, if you stand firm in the Lord.. How great could the need be for a person to have some spiritual refreshment. And then this news about their faith! What a relief. It was like life flowed back in him. Now he had heard that they were standing firm in the Lord, he totally revived (cf. Gen 45:26-2726They told him, saying, “Joseph is still alive, and indeed he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” But he was stunned, for he did not believe them.27When they told him all the words of Joseph that he had spoken to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.).

You see that Paul let himself to be comforted. You could also let yourself be comforted like that by the faith of another person. That the faith of the other person still lacks some things, does not have to be a hindrance, as you also see it here. He who does not let himself to be comforted, runs the risk to become bitter. That may undermine the faith life.

V99For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account,. Like sorrow is related to death, so is gratitude related to life. Paul was full of gratitude for what he had heard about their faith, but he was not thanking the Thessalonians for their steadfastness. His gratitude went out to God. God had made sure that they remained steadfast through all the attacks of the enemy. In that way he was filled with joy. It was a joy that he experienced “before our God”, which is the presence of God, before God’s face, in fellowship with Him. You experience real heart-felt joy when God comforts you. That is a joy that brings you back to the Cause of your joy.

The joy of Paul was so great that he asks himself what he could render to God for that. He does not answer that question. His question actually means that there is simply no gift that is great enough to show God how intensely grateful he is to Him. That says a lot of Paul’s gratitude, doesn’t it (cf. Psa 116:1212What shall I render to the LORD
For all His benefits toward me?
)? Doesn’t that apply to everything that you have received from God? Are you also intensely grateful for that? And aren’t you seeking for a way to render to Him for that?

V1010as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?. After this awesome comforting news about their faith, you may think that Paul could leave this subject of care so that he can focus on other churches. But you do not read that here. It only makes his desire for them to grow bigger. He continued to pray that he may visit them. He prayed “night and day exceedingly” for that.

He had exceedingly endeavored to come to them (1Thes 2:1717But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.). Now he was praying “most earnestly” that that may finally happen. With ‘most earnestly’ you should think of such a great amount that it overflows the borders in such a way that it cannot be stopped. His heart was overflowing when he spoke to God about his desire to visit the Thessalonians.

His desire was not prompted by selfishness. The important thing for him was their spiritual well-being (cf. Rom 1:1111For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established;). When he was with them, he was forced to depart earlier. Therefore he could not teach them everything that was needed for their faith. ‘Faith’ here is the truth of faith, the content of what they believe (Jude 1:33Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.), that is ‘the doctrine of the apostles’ (Acts 2:4242They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.). Now he wants very much to finish his work with them.

He does not do that by himself. He trusts God for answering his prayer, at His time and through His way. It took five more years before his prayer was answered. We may assume that Paul, when he was in Macedonia later, also visited the believers in Thessalonica (Acts 20:1,31After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.3And [there] he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.). God made the letter that he wrote in the meantime, to be recorded in His Word, so that you and I may also be provided with what is missing in our faith.

V1111Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you;. In this verse God the Father and the Lord Jesus are on one line. They are seen here in there unity. Here you have a wonderful proof that the Lord Jesus is God. They are on the same level and are acting fully in agreement with one another. The will of the Father is never in contrast to the will of the Son; the same applies in reverse. Here it regards the paving of a way by Paul to the Thessalonians.

The same goes for you and me. You are allowed to put your way in the hands of Divine Persons. They have the means to pave your way and take away all hindrances. The Father Himself loves you (Jn 16:2727for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.) and the Father Himself is the almighty God. The Lord Jesus wants to use you in His service and will surely pave the way for it. The Lord Jesus is related to the Father as the Conductor of the ways of people and especially of His servants. That may give you rest in the way that you should go.

V1212and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also [do] for you;. Therefore it could take quite a while before Paul was with them. Up to that moment of reunion he has a wish for the Thessalonians. He wishes that the Lord will let them increase “in love” (verse 1212and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also [do] for you;) and that as a result of that they would be “without blame in holiness” at the coming of the Lord Jesus (verse 1313so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.). These are the two features of the Being of God, for God is light (1Jn 1:55This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.) and God is love (1Jn 4:8,168The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.16We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.).

Paul begins to speak about ‘love’ and after that about ‘holiness’. The order is important. When there is an abundance of love you will develop real holiness. Holiness means separation, but with the goal to be devoted. Separation without love and devotion to God only leads to the legalism of the Pharisees. Wherever there is true love there will also naturally be separation from everything that is in contrast to that one great love. Holiness is to love what God loves and to hate what God hates.

Paul himself is abounding in his love for them. That has become clear to them. His love for them must have been an exhortation for them to love one another and also all people in the same way. Love is the mark of the life of the Christian. This love does not let itself be limited to an exclusive company of people who are nice to you and whom you therefore like. It is the love of God that selflessly reaches out to every person. That love was poured out in your heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:55and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.). Due to that you can love every believer and that love can reach out to every human being.

V1313so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.. When the love of God has conquered and strengthened your heart, you are able to walk in holiness. John says it as follows in his first letter: “The one who loves his brother abides in the Light” (1Jn 2:1010The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.). At the first glance it does not seem to refer to an exhortation to live in holiness. Paul is after all talking about being without blame in holiness “at the coming of our Lord Jesus”. There is no mention of an increase of holiness anymore, is there? But Paul never speaks about the coming of the Lord without it having the necessity of impacting our daily life.

Besides, here it is not about the coming of the Lord for the church. That will be dealt with in chapter 4. You can also derive that from the phrase: at the coming of the Lord “with all His saints”. That is His coming to the earth with the church and the Old Testament believers, after He has caught up the church and all Old Testament believers.

Paul points out to the final result of a holiness that should now already characterize us. He who is full of love for the Lord and His own will certainly not allow himself to be related with the uncleanness of the world. Isn’t that already your desire to look more and more like what you shall soon be in perfection? It ought not to be a big transition from our life on earth to our life in heaven.

We see a beautiful example in Enoch of this (Gen 5:2424Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.). Enoch walked with God. He was growing therein and lived closer and closer to God. It is once presented that at a certain moment he comes so close to heaven that God says: ‘Just step in.’ Do you think that then for Enoch suddenly a totally strange world was opened?

Now read 1 Thessalonians 3:7-13 again.

Reflection: Consider the relation between love and holiness in your life.


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