“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” (NASB)
The believers in Thessalonica were relatively new to the faith but the joy and zeal they shared with each other was astounding. Paul had heard of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (Vs. 3), and he was full of joy and thankfulness at the persistent and perseverant manner in which they lived for their new found savior. These young converts become imitators of Paul, the Lord, and other churches because of the suffering they endured as followers of Jesus. They became examples to other believers around them for being steadfast in the faith and for being a faithful gospel witness to the watching world around them.
What gave them so much joy? What inspired them to persevere through suffering? What gave their hearts the courage to tell others about the “living and true God? Jesus promised that He is coming back for his beloved (John 14:1-3)! The joy and expectation that is expressed in verse 10 is expected and should be anticipated in those who have, as they have, “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Idols do not necessarily need to be fashioned out of gold, wood, or any other material thing for us to be in bondage to them. We are very creative in setting up idols in our own hearts (Ezekiel 14:3).
Reflecting on these scriptures should “re-awaken” our longing for the Lord’s return. They remind us that we are to live our lives in faithful anticipation of this event. What a joy it is to read: “he delivers us from the wrath to come.”
Larry G. Stump Jr.
Prayer: Our Father, we rejoice in God our savior. We admit that we have not lived each day in light of the truth that Jesus is coming back for us and will make all things right. Help us, O Father, to live our lives from this day forward in joyful anticipation of being with our savior. Amen.
17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”
Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).
In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them.
FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest.
For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again.
Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).
It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.
In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”
3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, 3 so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4 For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”
FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.
Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face.
Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.
6 “But 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, 7 for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9 For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”
FOCUS THREE: Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)! Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.”
Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.”
But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).
I would like to take the next several weeks and invite you to join me in a study of two amazing and very practical short epistles that we find in our New Testament, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. How can letters written over two thousand years ago be helpful to us? How can they possibly relate to what is going on today in my life, my world? That’s the cool thing about the Bible, it is timeless. Its truth’s are eternal and unchanging because it’s Author is eternal and unchanging and therefore authoritative and instructive in any generation (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17).
Although two thousand years have passed since this church was founded and these epistles were written, Christianity and its teachings have spread across the world, just like our Lord said it would (Acts 1:8)! The world that Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and this young church were apart of has dramatically changed over the centuries (1 Thessalonians 1:1-2), just like it will in the centuries to come, Lord willing. Even so, there is a vast array of similarities between us and them that make this writing helpful, useful, and worthy of our time and attention!
If you take a glance at any solid outline in our study bibles today you will promptly see how little has really changed since then. Maybe we are not facing the things that they were in exactly the same way, but we also need encouragement from others. We need people praying for us (chapter 1). Paul’s integrity stands out in the way in which he served these people. His example serves as a reminder to us that we also need to be people of integrity (2:1-16). The encouragement and instructions to love, keep hope, to live godly lives in our current circumstances, to be at peace with one another, and the exhortation to live a virtuous life, are all found within the pages of these small, yet profound letters, written to a group of people in a newly formed church that needed instruction in the basics of the Christian life.
Another observation that I think should draw our attention to these short letters is their emphasis on the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! At the end of each chapter you will find a statement about this event (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11,23). Paul wrote this letter with the return of Christ on his heart and mind. He wrote to correct some misunderstandings that the Thessalonian believers had in regards to the Lord’s return, and he wrote to comfort and encourage them by reminding them of His promise to return (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11).
No matter what day and age we live in, we all need these practical reminders and loving exhortations to persevere until our Lord returns. My prayer is that you will join me in this study, and together, by God’s grace we will grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)! See you next week.