Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica ended abruptly when the unbelieving Jews instigated the people of the city against the missionaries. Because of this strong opposition, the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night (Acts 17:5-10). Since the church in Thessalonica was a very young church, Paul was intensely concerned for the believers and longed to return to them. In this passage, he relates his earnest desire to see the believers and the exceeding joy after hearing the good news about them.
Did You Know...?
- “Taken away” (2:17) literally means “orphaned.”
- “Crown” (2:19): “Not a royal crown, but a wreath used on festive occasions or as the prize in the Greek games.” [ref]
- “Coming” (2:19; 3:13): “Here the noun is parousia, which in extrabiblical Greek sometimes meant a ruler’s visit to a certain place. Parousia comes from two words: ‘to be’ and and ‘present.’ It may point to the moment of arrival to initiate a visit or it may focus on the stay initiated by the arrival.” [ref]
- “Left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy” (3:1): Because of the persecution in Berea, the brethren there sent Paul to Athens while Silas and Timothy stayed behind (Acts 17:13-15). After Silas and Timothy joined Paul again in Athens, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to strengthen the church there.
- “Establish” (3:2): “In Greek classical literature the word was generally used in the literal sense of putting a buttress on a building. In the NT it is mainly used figuratively, as here.” [ref]
- “I” (3:5): “Paul uses the Greek emphatic pronoun (elsewhere used only in 2:18) to bring out his deep concern.” [ref]
- “Exceedingly” (3:10): “Translates a strong and unusual Greek compound word (found elsewhere in the NT only in 5:13; Eph 3:20) that brings out Paul’s passionate longing.” [ref]
- Separation (2:17-20)
- Sending Timothy to Strengthen the Believers in Afflictions (3:1-5)
- Comfort and Thanksgiving (3:6-10)
- Prayer for Reunion (3:11-13)
How does the last paragraph (3:11-13) relate to the first paragraph (2:17-19)?Hide Answer
The first paragraph speaks of Satan’s hindrance of Paul from coming back to the Thessalonians, whereas the last paragraph is Paul’s prayer to the Lord Jesus to direct his way to the Thessalonians.
What is the tone of this passage?Hide Answer
Deep affection and longing.
Record the many strong words that contribute to the tone.Hide Answer
Taken away, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly, great desire, time and again, hope, joy, crown of rejoicing, could no longer endure it, comforted, now we live, all the joy, night and day praying exceedingly.
According to Paul, what was one thing that his physical separation from the believers cannot take away? Why?Hide Answer
The physical separation cannot take away the deep affection in Paul’s heart for the believers because he truly loves them. Because his heart is with them, he still tries everything possible to minister to their needs even though he cannot be physically present.
What does Paul mean when he says that the believers are his hope, joy, crown of rejoicing, and glory?Hide Answer
As a minister of the gospel, Paul’s hope is to see the believers “in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ” (19). If the believers stand firm in the faith until the coming of the Lord, that will be his greatest joy, victory, and glory, for his labor will not have been in vain.
What is your hope and joy in life? How does it compare with that of Paul?
Why was Paul so eager to see the Thessalonians?Hide Answer
Paul was concerned that the faith of the Thessalonians might be shaken by afflictions or temptations (3:2-5).
What was Timothy’s mission?Hide Answer
Establish and encourage the Thessalonians concerning their faith (2).
How should we love the brethren who are in afflictions? Why is such love so important?Hide Answer
When a person undergoes trials, it is easy for him to lose heart and be defeated if he is fighting alone. In times like these, a helping hand becomes critical (cf. Ecc 4:9-12). As members of Christ’s body, we need to show empathy to those members who are suffering, as if their suffering is our own (Rom 12:15; 1Cor 12:25-26). Out of our concern for their faith, we ought to encourage them with the word of God and testimonies about God’s grace in our afflictions. Furthermore, we need to pray for their faith and ask for God’s protection. Such concern, encouragement, and prayer will fortify and even restore their faith (cf. Lk 22:31-32).
Why does Paul repeatedly remind the believers that they are appointed to afflictions?Hide Answer
If a Christian has the false assumption that his walk of faith will be trouble-free, he is bound to be caught by surprise when afflictions come. Worse yet, he may reject the faith, unable to accept the fact that sufferings do come upon believers. The Scriptures tell us in many places that, as believers, we are bound to suffer (Jn 15:18-16:4,33; Acts 14:22; 1Thess 3:3; 2Tim 3:12; Rev 12:7-13). With this knowledge, we can be prepared to face afflictions and not be caught by surprise (1Pet 4:12-13). When afflictions actually come in our lives, we can rejoice, knowing that our sufferings are accomplishing a greater purpose because they make us spiritually mature (Rom 5:1-5; Jas 1:2-4,12). We can also have the assurance and peace in Christ, knowing that He has overcome the world and will see us through our sufferings (Jn 16:33; 1Cor 10:13).
What kind of temptations may Paul have in mind in verse 5?Hide Answer
Judging from the context, we know that the tempter, Satan, hopes to unsettle the faith of the believers. He may do so by discouraging the believers during their trials, or inciting the enemies of the gospel to spread false rumors about Paul and his co-workers in order to make the believers doubt the truth of the gospel (this would explain why Paul vindicated himself and his fellow workers in chapter 2).
“Lest…our labors might be in vain.” What does this remind us about our ministry?Hide Answer
If the people we minister to fail in their faith, our labor would be in vain. Although the Lord will still remember our efforts, it would be a great disappointment to see believers we have preached to forsake the faith. Because failure in faith is such a real possibility, we must work hard to minister to the believers continually. We cannot become complacent when people are converted, but must make every effort to help them grow in their faith.
What good news did Timothy bring back to Paul?Hide Answer
The Thessalonians have kept their faith and love, and always have good remembrance of the missionaries, greatly desiring to see them (6).
How did Paul react to the good news?Hide Answer
He was comforted in all his affliction and distress (6).
What does Paul mean by “now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord”?Hide Answer
The ministers’ joy and hope rest on the progress of the believers, and the believers’ faith is the very reason the preachers live (cf. Php 1:25-26). Therefore, whether the believers succeed or fail will touch the lives of the ministers profoundly. If they stand fast in the Lord, the preachers’ joy and hope will be refreshed and revived.
What does Paul thank God for in his prayer?Hide Answer
He thanks God for all the joy with which he rejoices for the believers’ sake (9).
In terms of our service, what lesson can we learn from Paul’s thanksgiving?Hide Answer
When we see the fruits of our labor, we ought to give thanks to God because it is He who gives the growth.
What does he ask God for in his prayer?Hide Answer
He prays that he may see the believers’ face and perfect what is lacking in their faith (10).
What was the manner of his prayer?Hide Answer
He prays night and day (continually) and exceedingly (most earnestly).
What does he mean by “perfect what is lacking in your faith”?Hide Answer
He hopes to help them grow in the faith.
What are Paul’s wishes and prayers in this paragraph?Hide Answer
1. That God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ may direct their way to the believers (11).
2. That the Lord may make the believers increase and abound in love to one another and to all (12).
3. That the Lord may establish the believers’ hearts blameless in holiness before God at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints (13).
What can you learn from Paul’s prayer about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives?Hide Answer
It is the Lord who makes us increase and abound in love, and it is He who establishes our hearts blameless in holiness before God. Thus, we must continue to put our faith in the Lord and ask Him to accomplish His good purpose in us.
Final Thoughts: With lessons you have drawn from this passage, how can you minister to brothers and sisters you know who are far away?