Paul’s Desire to Visit Again: Desire for their Blessing
1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13
1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13
1 Thessalonians 3. In the close of ch.2 through ch.3 of the epistle, Paul expresses his desire to be with the saints and for their continued growth and blessing. This chapter gives us a number of helpful principles regarding the ongoing shepherding care of new converts, as well as the attachment between the evangelist and the convert.
Paul’s Earnest Desire to be with Them: The Hindrance of Satan (2:17-20)
17 But we, brethren, having been bereaved of you and separated for a little moment in person, not in heart, have used more abundant diligence to see your face with much desire; v.17 Separation and Desire. Paul had to leave Thessalonica sooner than he would have wished due to the persecution from the Jews (Acts 17:10). Paul wanted the saints to know his great desire for their blessing, and therefore his desire to visit them again in person. His speaks of them in the dearest terms. The were separated “in person, not in heart”. The physical distance in no way decreased the love Paul had for these believers. He speaks of the separation as “a little moment”, as if he were simply around the corner, and soon to be reunited. The Thessalonians were so much in Paul’s heart and mind that, though he missed them dearly (“having been bereaved of you”), the separation only served to increase his desire to see them again.
18 wherefore we have desired to come to you, even I Paul, both once and twice, and Satan has hindered us. v.18 Satan Hinders Fellowship. Though it was Paul’s desire to see the saints again, on two occasions the activity of Satan hindered his coming to visit. This hindrance was probably in the form of persecution that arose, or threatened to arise, if Paul were to return. This shows us that fellowship between saints, especially when between a pastor-teacher and new converts, is very important and helpful to spiritual growth. So much so that Satan works to hinder these times of fellowship.
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of boasting? are not “ye” also before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 20 for ye are our glory and joy. vv.19-20 The Crown of Rejoicing. The apostle then explained that, when the Lord Jesus returned, if the saints were found walking in the truth, they would be a commendation to Paul and his companions for their service. Satan was seeking to hinder the fruits of Paul’s labors by spoiling the Thessalonians. Like a farmer, Paul knew that it was not enough to plant the seeds, they needed to be watered also, in order that they might grow and fruit be produced. “He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psa. 126:6). But there would be no sheaves without continuing support. The Lord was over over Satan’s hindering efforts. We wouldn’t have the two beautiful epistles if Paul had been allowed when he desired. God worked it out for “the furtherance of the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). This prospect, of the saints going on faithfully to the coming of the Lord, was their “hope” in that they looked forward to it with anticipation, their “joy” in that they had pleasure in the saints’ finishing the course well, and their “crown of boasting” in that the final outcome would commend Paul’s service. This is sometimes called “the soul-winner’s crown”. For a similar thought, see 1 Peter 5:4. The truth connected with the coming of Christ is enlarged in this verse! Previously they were said to “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come”. There is was more of a negative thing; deliverance from wrath. But here we have the positive blessedness that the saints will be brought into at the coming of the Lord! The details are not yet fully given, but the saints would certainly be gathered together and blessed at that time. Separated by distance for “a little moment”, and hindered by Satan, the saints will be united at the coming of the Lord Jesus. The greatest display of Lord’s power of unity will be in a fraction of a second when Christ returns! There is also the thought that the saints will enjoy the fruits of their labors at the coming of Christ.
Three Enemies. In 1 Thessalonians 3, the enemy is the devil, in chapter 4 the enemy is the flesh, and in chapter 5 the enemy is the world. In each chapter Paul gives us the way each of these enemies are met.
The Sending of Timothy because Paul couldn’t Wait (3:1-5)
1 Wherefore, being no longer able to refrain ourselves, we thought good to be left alone in Athens, 2 and sent Timotheus, our brother and fellow-workman under God in the glad tidings of Christ, to confirm you and encourage you concerning your faith, vv.1-2 Timothy Sent. Paul waited for an opportunity to return, but at last, unwilling to wait any longer without contact, he sent Timothy. This was no small sacrifice for Paul. He had left Timothy and Silas in Berea when he escaped to Athens, then called for them to join him. But then in Athens, he sent Timothy alone back to Thessalonica. The purpose of sending Timothy was “to confirm you and encourage you concerning your faith”. Why did Paul send Timothy instead of Silas? Two reasons at least present themselves. First, as a younger man, Timothy might be able to relate to young converts more easily and be a help to them. Second, as a less prominent person Timothy would be less likely to attract attention and thus persecution to the Thessalonians. There is a place for young laborers, to be a help in the work of the Lord. Younger ones sometimes have more weight with their own generation (Acts 13:36). There are many dangers with this scenario, but also much potential. One danger with this is when the younger servant becomes disconnected or independent from his older brethren. But Timothy had served with Paul, albeit for a short time, and it would later be said, “as a son with a father” (Phil. 2:22), and he maintained a close connection with the apostle Paul. Paul had confidence in Timothy because of the time they had spent together, and considered him “our brother and fellow-workman under God in the glad tidings of Christ”. Paul knee Timothy, and Timothy knew Paul (2 Tim. 3:10). He was the right person to send. As with everyone who professes the name of Christ, their profession is tested through the circumstances of life. Paul wanted Timothy to shore up the saints in lieu of the trials they were facing. They needed to be established and encouraged. It was important for them to have face-to-face interaction. These are things young converts need especially.
3 that no one might be moved by these afflictions. (For yourselves know that we are set for this; 4 for also, when we were with you, we told you beforehand we are about to be in tribulation, even as also it came to pass, and ye know.) 5 For this reason “I” also, no longer able to refrain myself, sent to know your faith, lest perhaps the tempter had tempted you and our labour should be come to nothing. vv.3-5 A two pronged attack of Satan. If the Devil can’t get in one way, he starts another. First, Satan acts as a roaring lion. Second, he comes as a clever serpent. Often Satan will attempt to defeat the saints first with persecution. Persecution can affect some who are not well established, but generally it has the opposite effect; i.e. it results in deeper faith and the gospel being spread (Acts 8:4). This is when Satan changes his tactics and comes with his trickery. We see this transition in the letters to Smyrna and Pergamos. Smyrna was the suffering church, and although the persecution was intense, the church prospered spiritually during that period. But in the Pergamos period, the opposition was more subtle; i.e. temptation. “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:14). Sadly, the church did not fare as well during this second type of attack. Timothy would shore up the Thessalonians against both attacks. “That no one might be moved by these afflictions”; the saints had seen and heard of the persecution Paul and his companions faced, and already the saints themselves were facing persecution. They needed to understand that persecution is normal to Christianity, as Paul had warned them prophetically; it was to be expected. He didn’t sugarcoat the truth. But he could say “we are set for this”; i.e. they had accepted it as their lot. Paul was anxious to know how they were holding up under the strain. Had their faith wavered? Satan’s object in persecution is to disturb our faith; to shake our confidence in the Lord. By bringing adverse circumstances into our lives, Satan wants us to question whether God is really powerful, wise, or good after all. Just as he did with Eve in the garden of Eden, “the tempter” uses the circumstances of life to do it. This is when we need to lift the shield of faith. Satan wants to spoil the good seed; “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16-17). If this were the case with the Thessalonians, Paul’s labors would “come to nothing”. Satan hindered Paul from going, but love overcame this hindrance in sending Timothy.
The News from Timothy and Its Effect on the Apostle (3:6-10)
6 But Timotheus having just come to us from you, and brought to us the glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have always good remembrance of us, desiring much to see us, even as we also you; v.6 Good news from Timothy. Paul and Silas were relieved to hear the good news of the Thessalonians continuing on in “faith” and “love”. It is interesting that he doesn’t mention hope, and this is perhaps because the saints were troubled about a question regarding the Lord’s coming, which he addresses in chapter 4. But the hearts of the Thessalonians were toward Paul and his companions, and they were desiring to see Paul as much as he wanted to see them. This was a confirmation that they were going on well! The Thessalonians had not become discouraged. They had not given up their profession of Christ. They had not buckled under the strain of opposition. Note that the opposite is often true; it is a bad sign when young converts have no desire for fellowship. It could mean there is something seriously wrong.
7 for this reason we have been comforted in you, brethren, in all our distress and tribulation, through your faith, 8 because now we live if “ye” stand firm in the Lord. vv.7-8 Comfort as a result. The good news from Thessalonica was a tremendous comfort to Paul and his companions. Although they were enduring “distress and tribulation”, the “faith” of the Thessalonians was an encouragement to them. The best way we can encourage others to go on for the Lord is to stand firm ourselves. The news strengthened Paul and Silas so much that the apostle writes, “now we live if ye stand firm in the Lord”. This was no casual relationship. Paul loved these brethren dearly! It is remarkable that in Acts 18:5, when Timothy came, “Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ”. It would appear that the encouragement Timothy brought with the good news from Thessalonica had a profound effect on the apostle.
9 For what thanksgiving can we render to God for you, for all the joy wherewith we rejoice on account of you before our God, 10 night and day beseeching exceedingly to the end that we may see your face, and perfect what is lacking in your faith? vv.9-10 Thanksgiving as a result. The news of the Thessalonians’ faith and love brought joy to the apostle. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). This joy resulted in thanksgiving for the saints, which Paul and his companions rendered to God. But in those prayers of thanksgiving, there was also supplication for the saints; “night and day beseeching exceedingly”. Paul begged the Lord to allow him to visit the saints in Thessalonica again in person, to unfold the doctrines of Christianity more fully; “to perfect what is lacking in your faith”. There was one troubling issue, regarding the saints that had fallen asleep, which Paul would not delay answering, and therefore he covered it in the first epistle (ch.4).
Paul’s Prayer: for their Profit and Preservation (3:11-13)
11 But our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you. 12 But you, may the Lord make to exceed and abound in love toward one another, and toward all, even as we also towards you, 13 in order to the confirming of your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. vv.11-13 Paul’s Prayer.
Not including benedictory prayers at the ends of his epistles, Paul records twenty-eight of his prayers! It is nice to trace these prayers through his writings. We are very thankful for them because they give us: (1) an insight into the heart of the apostle, and (2) a pattern for the way we should pray.Paul prayed that God would direct their way back to Thessalonica, that he could see the saints in person. He also prayed that they would be established spiritually, and that they would grow in love for one another, for all believers, exemplified by Paul’s love for them. This touches on the importance of bonds between believers, especially new converts. The words “exceed” and “abound” denote spiritual growth. The local assembly, and actually the whole body also, is built up in love; “…maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). True love results in holiness (1 John 2:10), in contrast with the world’s false love (tolerance), which results in licentiousness. True fellowship is “in the light” (1 John 1:7). Whether it was the Thessalonians’ relationships between themselves or with the apostle, it would result in hearts confirmed in holiness. Paul presents the appearing of Christ, and our coming with Him, as a motivation for Christian holiness. The word “holiness” here is the root word for sanctification, which is the act or process of making holy. Sanctification will be taken up in the following chapter. We know it is the appearing of Christ because of the expression; “with all his saints”. The second coming of Christ has two parts, the rapture and the appearing. When Christ comes at the rapture, He comes alone, and He gets the saints at that time and brings them to heaven to be with Himself. But when Christ comes at the appearing (after Daniel’s seventieth week), He will not come alone. Instead, “all his saints” will come with Him, as re read in Rev. 19:14, “and the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, etc.”. The appearing is the day of Christ’s public manifestation here in this world where He was once rejected. It is the time when He will publicly intervene in the course of the earth, and establish His own righteous kingdom for 1000 years! Paul’s desire for the saints then, and our God and Father’s desire for us now, is that we would be now as morally suitable to the presence of Christ in glory as we will be in that day, when we “appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). The rapture is always connected with grace, and the appearing with responsibility. So here, it is in connection with holiness before God, and therefore is refers to the appearing.1
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
This glorious hope revives
our courage by the way;
while each in expectation lives
and waits to see the day. 2
- When Paul, occupied with the coming of Jesus, considers the privilege of faith, he sees the saints all gathered together to the Lord, tasting before Him the common joy. When he considers the responsibility of the Christian walk, he always sees the appearing of Christ. – Darby, J.N. Exposition of First Thessalonians.
- Fawcett, John. Blest be the tie that binds. 1782