1 Thessalonians: Chapter 3
February 14, 2023
by Peter Amsterdam
1 Thessalonians: Chapter 3
Having fled Thessalonica due to persecution, the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church and told them that he had made more than one attempt to return to them, but Satan hindered us.1 Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, were in Athens.
As it was difficult to be separated from the Thessalonian believers and not know how they were faring, they made the decision to send Timothy, the junior member of their team, back to Thessalonica.
Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.2
The book of Acts fills in some of the gaps. It tells us how Paul ended up in Athens and how Timothy and Silas met up with him there. When the trouble started in Thessalonica, the believers in that town sent Paul to Berea.
When the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds.3
At this point, the believers sent Paul from Berea to Athens; however, Silas and Timothy remained in Berea for a period of time. It is likely that they sent Paul by sea, which was a voyage of more than 300 miles (480 kilometers).
Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.4
In time, Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Athens.
It was from Athens that Paul and Silas sent Timothy back to the Thessalonian believers. Paul spoke positively of Timothy throughout his letters.
That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.5
When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am.6
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. … you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.7
Timothy was sent back to Thessalonica to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. The Thessalonian church was a young church which Paul and his team had to leave before they were fully established in the faith. Paul’s concern about their faith is seen in his mentioning their faith five times in this chapter.8
Paul ascribed two titles to Timothy. The first title, “our brother,” was likely a term used by Paul to refer to someone who was engaged with him in the work of Christian ministry, as a coworker. The second title, “God’s coworker” was a lofty status given to Timothy. One author explains: Both titles have the function of stressing the authoritative status of Timothy; he is no mere mailman or messenger boy but an authoritative coworker of both Paul and even God.9 Even though Paul has not been able to personally return to the Thessalonians, he was present with them through Timothy, who was an authoritative representative of Paul.
You yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.10
Paul reminds the Thessalonians about what he had repeatedly told them, that they would be faced with persecution, and this persecution, as difficult as it was to experience, was a normal and even an expected part of the Christian life. Paul repeatedly makes this point throughout his writings.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance.11
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.12
For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.13
Paul echoed what he said four verses earlier, that he could bear it no longer. He emphasized that he was the one who sent Timothy to them. The change to the singular “I” from the previous “we” showed the Thessalonians Paul’s deep personal concern for their well-being, especially considering his inability to return to them.
Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to learn about your faith. Timothy’s commission was to find out if the believers continued in their allegiance to Christ. Paul wanted to know if the new believers had left the church due to the pressure of persecution. He was aware that Satan would be at work and may have caused some to leave their faith behind. He also wondered if perhaps his ministry in preaching the gospel and planting the church had been in vain. Paul’s questions were answered when Timothy returned.
Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you—for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.14
From Athens, Silas had returned to Macedonia while Paul remained alone in the city. Now Timothy had returned to Paul with good news about the Thessalonian church. Paul had anticipated the worst, fearing that their labors had been in vain in Thessalonica. But Timothy reported that the church was doing well.
Timothy’s report was given in two parts. First, he focused on the faith and love of the Thessalonian church. Throughout both 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul mentions the faith and love of the believers.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.15
Not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.16
Having touched on faith, Paul then referred to love, which he addressed throughout this book.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.17
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.18
The news that Timothy brought with him was deeply encouraging for Paul: brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. Paul and his companions had suffered much. They had been beaten, put in jail and slandered,19 and were persecuted and cast out of Thessalonica,20 as well as Berea.21 When he was in Corinth, he was in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.22 All of this was a fulfillment of the revelation of the Lord about the sufferings that Paul would have to endure.
The Lord said to [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”23
Paul related to the Thessalonians who were suffering for their faith.
Even in the midst of the Thessalonians’ suffering, Paul stated we have been comforted about you through your faith. While Timothy had visited the brethren to strengthen and encourage their faith, Paul and his companions were also encouraged at the news that the Thessalonians had stood strong. Clearly this report of the Thessalonians brought some relief to Paul.
For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.24
Compared to the time they were waiting to hear news from Thessalonica, they were now “alive.” Paul had been oppressed by their circumstances and distressed by his concern for the church. However, he and those with him now had renewed hope, even as they faced their own troubles, because of the faith of the Thessalonians, who were found to be standing fast in the Lord. In spite of the persecution they had faced, they remained constant and stable.
What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?25
Here Paul expresses unabashed joy at Timothy’s report about the Thessalonians, for they have kept faith, love, and hope. His thankfulness to God and his joy are expressed in a question: What thanksgiving can we return to God for you? Paul has received a blessing from God, the news that the Thessalonians kept their faith, and wanted to find a way to repay that debt of thanks. This indicates that Paul and his companions couldn’t find a way that was adequate to thank God, as their joy was so great.
Those who originally founded the Thessalonian church, Paul and his coworkers, now moved on from thanksgiving and joy to make a petition that they might return to Thessalonica in order to continue to minister to the believers there. Paul and those with him prayed night and day for this. Paul focuses on the intensity of their prayers for their reunion with the church in three ways. First, they prayed night and day, meaning they constantly prayed for this. Second, Paul states that their prayers were intense beyond measure. Third, the wording in Greek expresses that they prayed with insistence, they implored. They put great effort into their prayers, as they wanted to see the Thessalonian church and help them.
Because Paul and his team had only been able to stay in Thessalonica for a short period, there had been insufficient time to give them all the instruction in the faith that they needed. As we’ll see later, Paul mentions that they had not been fully mindful of, nor had they taken to heart or accepted, all the teaching they had already received. Paul wanted to supply what is lacking in your faith.
Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.26
Paul’s prayer that he and his coworkers might see the Thessalonian believers face to face begins by evoking God Himself, their Father. This echoes the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples to pray:
When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name.”27
Throughout 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul refers to God as the Father of the Christians.
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.28
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace…29
In the prayers of Paul and his coworkers, the Lord Jesus Christ is included alongside God the Father. One author commented: To address prayers to the Lord Jesus in the same breath with God the Father implies a very high Christology. This prayer would be proper only if the apostles held to the divinity of Christ.30 Clearly that’s exactly what Paul believed. He makes the same point in 2 Thessalonians 3:5: May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
The apostles’ prayer asks their Father and the Lord Jesus to direct our way to you. Travel in those days was much more difficult and dangerous than today. They sought God’s guidance and protection so that they could return to the Thessalonians without any problems or change of plans. Earlier Paul wrote, we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us.31 Now he prays for the Father and Jesus to direct their way.
The verse goes on to say: may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.32 Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians carries on with his asking Jesus to help them to grow abundantly in their love. The Thessalonian church was known for the love they showed to each other. They were so exemplary in this that Paul later spoke of them as a model for other Christians.33
That he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.34
This verse is a continuation of the prayer in the previous verse. Having prayed for the Lord to make them increase and abound in love, Paul went on to pray that the Lord would establish their hearts in holiness. In some contexts, one’s heart refers to the inner life of a person, but in other contexts it refers to the center of a person’s life and moral decisions. It is this second meaning which Paul uses here. Paul’s prayer is that at the Last Judgment, the Thessalonians will be found blameless, and that the Thessalonian church will not be found guilty in any way. Paul refers to the final judgment which takes place before God the Father, who is also the Judge, as a time of judgment for those who do not obey the gospel.35
At the close of this chapter, Paul’s prayer introduces what’s ahead in the second part of his letter: the coming of the Lord.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 1 Thessalonians 2:18.
2 1 Thessalonians 3:1–3.
3 Acts 17:13.
4 Acts 17:15.
5 1 Corinthians 4:17.
6 1 Corinthians 16:10.
7 Philippians 2:19, 20, 22.
8 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10.
9 Jeffrey A. D. Weima, 1–2 Thessalonians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 209.
10 1 Thessalonians 3:3–4.
11 Romans 5:3.
12 2 Corinthians 4:8–10. See also Romans 8:16–17, 2 Corinthians 6:4–10.
13 1 Thessalonians 3:5.
14 1 Thessalonians 3:6–7.
15 2 Thessalonians 1:3.
16 1 Thessalonians 1:8.
17 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10.
18 1 Thessalonians 5:12–13.
19 Acts 16:22–24, Philippians 1:29–30, 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
20 Acts 17:10.
21 Acts 17:13–14.
22 1 Corinthians 2:3; Acts 18:9–10.
23 Acts 9:15–16.
24 1 Thessalonians 3:8.
25 1 Thessalonians 3:9–10.
26 1 Thessalonians 3:11–13.
27 Matthew 6:9, Luke 11:2.
28 2 Thessalonians 1:1–2.
29 2 Thessalonians 2:16; See also 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 3; 3:13.
30 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 176.
31 1 Thessalonians 2:18.
32 1 Thessalonians 3:12.
33 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4.
34 1 Thessalonians 3:13.
35 See 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12.