May 1, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:13: A Summary

In 1 Thessalonians 2:17–3:13, Paul continues to respond to criticisms leveled against him by some in Thessalonica. Apparently his opponents suggested that he did not really care about them, an attitude confirmed by his failure to make a return visit to the church. Paul addresses this spurious criticism in at least four ways.

First, Paul tells the Thessalonians that despite the criticism he has received he still cares for them deeply, and thus, desires to revisit them, and rejoices in them, especially in light of the expectation of Christ’s return (2:17–20). Paul’s failure to pay a return visit was not spiritual indifference but rather satanic interference (v. 18).

Second, Paul tells the Thessalonians that although he could not come personally, his concern for them was reflected in the fact that Timothy was sent to strengthen and encourage them (3:1–5). Paul’s explanation that “we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone” should be read in light of the difficulties and challenges of ministry in a pagan environment and the uncertainties of travel and communication in the ancient world. Yet Paul was willing to sacrifice the support and companionship of one of his most trusted coworkers for the Thessalonians sake. How many pastors today would be willing to release a key member of their ministry team for the welfare of another church?

Third, Paul gives evidence of his concern for the Thessalonians by noting his rejoicing at Timothy’s return and positive report and by his desire to return to them for further ministry (3:6–10). Paul was comforted: “now we really live” (vv. 7–8), thankful (v. 9, cf. 1:2; 2:13), and prayerful (v. 10–13). Coincidentally, note that Paul prays for three things: (1) that he might come again (v. 11b); (2) that they might continue in love (v. 12); (3) that they might be consecrated in holiness (v. 13).

I conclude with the following observations/questions/ applications.

  • One of the undeniable observations that can be made in this passage is Paul’s great love and concern for the church. Do you take your church for granted? Are you concerned for your fellow believers? If not, commit yourself to becoming personally involved in the mission and ministry of the church. Where there is commitment there will be concern.
  • The Christian dynamic involves having a faith toward God and love for one another (v. 6). So entrust yourselves to God and give yourselves to others in love.
  • Paul was thankful yet not complacent concerning the spiritual growth of the Thessalonians. Thank God that those you have shepherded are not what they once were, but ask God to make them more like Christ than are now.

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