A first look at 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
Preparing for Midweek Advent Service II, 6 December 2017
Paul’s ministry demonstrates the Spirit of spiritual care for the faith and lives of others. He repeats his earnest desire to see them face to face several times in this epistle. Besides concerns for their physical safety, Paul is conscious that he was unable to teach them thoroughly because of his limited time with them. Paul’s longing to verify their spiritual well being leads to a collaboration with his “brother and God’s coworker,” Timothy (3:2). Timothy visits Thessalonica and returns to Paul with a good report that their faith remains intact and strong.
Paul writes with a twofold concern: for their being “established” in the faith with thorough teaching and “exhorted” to live lives in harmony with that faith. He had good reason to desire to teach them more. God granted him only three weeks among them to preach and teach the Gospel. Acts 17 records his visit,
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” (v. 2-3)
As a pastor and spiritual caregiver, I wonder how much or little I’d be able to teach new believers in the Word and prepare people to endure their own coming hardship–given a mere three weeks. Faith is both threatened and strengthened in time of trial. Paul acknowledges the possibility that his teaching and time with them might not have been sufficient. He longs to lay a solid foundation. He gives honest voice to his “fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain” (v.5). With equal candor, I admit I’ve known that fear, far more often than I’d ought. It’s the kind of thing Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 3:
“10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
But God’s Word accomplishes far more than we think, sometimes. We disciples of “little faith” often underestimate God’s gracious work through His Word in the hearts and lives of others. In addition to knowing Paul’s fear, I’ve also known that sense of wonderful relief and joyful thanksgiving that God has done so much for others with so little. As spiritual caregivers, we love to discover you are holding fast to the faith and growing in it as well.
The Thessalonian church shared that same Spirit of spiritual care toward Paul, likewise longing to see him again. Christian Fellowship is not meant to be anonymous or impersonal. Your pastor or spiritual caregiver (such as parents, teachers, deaconess) ought to be more to you than some face in a drive-thru window just handing you your order. Likewise, churchworkers and spiritual caregivers need caution themselves against regarding those they serve as just another face in another car in an anonymous and long line. These are each unique persons whom your Lord redeemed by His blood on the cross–at the same price He paid to rescue you from sin, death and the devil.
Personally, it’s why I think I’d struggle in a larger church. Too easy for me to stay lost in the crowd and detached from both spiritual caregivers and one’s own brothers and sisters in Christ. Go there, get what I can for myself, go back home. Still, that same sort of spiritual consumerism exists in smaller churches, too–maybe in yours. Maybe in your own heart there lives a cold indifference to the spiritual wellbeing of the folks in the pew behind you, or the guy serving at the altar up front.
Sometimes the fires of trials and troubles come to help us wake up and realize we actually need one another as God’s own good gifts in each other’s lives. Paul hopes to establish and build up the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians are God’s instrument to encourage and comfort Paul also in his sufferings.
The spirituality of the New Testament grows a mutuality of fraternal care and concern. God’s Spirit establishes this wherever His Church believes, teaches and holds firm to the Gospel. We are called and gather around the good news of Christ’s suffering for our sakes, His death and resurrection for our salvation. He makes an “Us” and “We” out of those various isolated, indifferent and estranged people, those who by unbelief and loveless sin stand alienated from God and one another. The Spirit works such oneness of faith through the Word and Sacrament appeal, “Be reconciled to God.” We respond in faith and life together, “Christ reconciled us.” Because He cares for us, we learn to support and care for one another.
Our common post-communion collect gives thanks to God for this refreshing and salutary (healing) gift of our Lord’s body and blood, imploring our Father “to strengthen us through the same in faith toward you and fervent love toward one another.” We see that fervent love and genuine spiritual care given beautiful expression in 1 Thessalonians 3, from the first verse to the closing benediction: “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.”
Lord Jesus, establish our “hearts blameless in holiness before our God” and grant this faith and love to grow and abound in us all.
“1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 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. 5 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.
“6 But 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— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?
“11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 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.
(1 Thessalonians 3:1-13, ESV)