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?