Love for the Church – 1 Thessalonians 3
Read the Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3
Concern of Paul (3:1–5)
In 1 Thess. 2:17–20 Paul had mentioned his desire to see the Thessalonian believers. Recall that after his three-week ministry in Thessalonica (cf. Acts 17:1–9), Paul was forced to leave the city and to flee, which landed him in Berea (cf. Acts 17:10–15). When certain Jews from Thessalonica learned that Paul was in Berea, they traveled there and stirred up the city, forcing Paul to flee to Athens (cf. Acts 17:16–34). Later, when Paul was joined by Silas and Timothy in Athens, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to minister to the fledgling church. Paul and Silas then traveled to Corinth (cf. Acts 18:1–17). Later, when Timothy joined Paul in Corinth and gave him an update on the state of the church in Thessalonica, Paul penned the epistle of 1 Thessalonians. Note that Paul oftentimes sent Timothy to minister to the churches in his place (cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; 16:10; Phil. 2:19–24; 1 Tim. 1:3).
Given his short time in Thessalonica Paul was understandably concerned about the new believers’ faith. In 1 Thess. 3:1–3 Paul wrote, “When we could no longer endure it . . . [we] sent Timothy . . . to encourage and to establish your faith.” Note that Paul mentions the Thessalonian believers’ faith five times in the first ten verses of this chapter (cf. 1 Thess. 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10). Since he was writing to believers, the faith that Paul cites here is not saving faith, but the on-going faith of a maturing Christian. Of course, the way that faith is established is by Scripture, for as Paul would later write, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; Jas. 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). Paul’s concern here was that the church would be “shaken by . . . afflictions” (1 Thess. 3:3), which presumably refers to the persecution of believers that occurred after he departed.
Earlier, at 1 Thess. 2:14, in reference to the church, Paul wrote, “You also suffered.” While details about the persecution of believers in Thessalonica are not recorded in Scripture—apart from limited information about the initial riot (cf. Acts 17:5–9)—Paul had taught the church that they should expect persecution (cf. 1 Thess. 3:4). Observe that when his ministry began, God told Paul that he would experience suffering (cf. Acts 9:16), thus Paul likewise warned new converts about the persecution that oftentimes accompanies salvation. Later, Paul would teach Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12; cf. John 15:18–25). Paul’s fear was that suffering and persecution would cause some in the church to forsake the faith. Observe that Jesus had earlier taught that Satan uses persecution to tempt some to abandon the faith (cf. Matt. 13:18–21).
Report from Timothy (3:6–10)
As he had indicated two times earlier (cf. 1 Thess. 3:1, 5), Paul found it very difficult to endure being separated from the Thessalonian believers, for he feared that Satan would undo their faith. Yet, writes Paul, when Timothy returned from Thessalonica, he reported “good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us” (1 Thess. 3:6). As could be expected, this favorable report comforted Paul and eased his anxiety (cf. 1 Thess. 3:7–8). Moreover, Paul communicated both his thanksgiving to God for the church and his prayers that he’d soon be able to visit Thessalonica in order to “perfect what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thess. 3:10). Observe the difference between the modern context, where church attendance is not valued by some believers, and Paul’s setting, where gathering with the church was that for which Paul both longed and prayed.
Prayer for Believers (3:11–13)
Recall that at 1 Thess. 2:18 Paul wrote, “Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.” This satanic hindrance is one reason why Paul presently prayed, “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you” (1 Thess. 3:11). Furthermore, Paul prayed two things for the new believers in Thessalonica. First, Paul asked that Jesus would cause the church to “increase and abound in love to one another” (1 Thess. 3:12). Of course, such love is an important mark of faith, for it validates the gospel both to believers and to the watching world (cf. John 17:20–21). Second, Paul prayed that the church would be established and blameless in their faith so that they might praise God at His coming (cf. 1 Thess. 3:13). Observe that this is one of the very reasons why Paul had sent Timothy to the church (cf. 1 Thess. 3:2).
- How important is it that believers have love for God and for one another (cf. John 17:20–23)? Why are some Christians more difficult to love than others?
- Why was Paul so concerned and even obsessed with the spiritual health of the churches (cf. 2 Cor. 11:28)?
- If Christians are law-abiding and contribute to the flourishing of society, why does the world persecute the church?
- Why do many modern Christians only attend church sporadically, allowing many other life events to take priority?
- How does Paul’s love for the church compare to your attitude toward the church? Like Paul, do you often pray for others in the church?