Tuesday, January 08, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Criticism and questioning seemed to be two things that dogged Paul’s entire ministry, and it was no different here. We learn from Acts that he’d only been able to be with the Thessalonian church for a short time, perhaps as little as three weeks. This curtailed visit had it’s repercussions for both sets of people. For Paul, who as we shall see in this passage desperately missed the church in Thessaloniki, and was having his reputation dragged though the mud by his opponents there. Not that he would have cared much about that. The church suffered as well, as we see that Paul did not feel he had enough time to instruct them fully in the faith before he was torn away from them.


We see the strength of feeling that Paul has for his church in 2:17. The phrase ‘torn away’ literally means ‘orphaned’. Paul wants his readers to know that it was not from lack of trying that they had been separated, ‘but Satan hindered us’. Interesting that at times Paul attributes his change of plans to God (Acts 16:6,7) and sometimes to Satan. The former was providential and productive, the latter neither of those. But as Warren Wiersbe points out; Satan stopping Paul we wouldn’t have this letter today. We can see in the closing verses of chapter two the depth and warmth of the feeling that Paul has for this church. And this is a love that results in action. Paul sends Timothy to the Thessalonians. We can’t really imagine how much this would have cost Paul, he would now have to face the idols and philosophy of Athens without his friend and son in the faith by his side. But this is what authentic love looks like to Paul. He could no longer bare the lack of information from Thessaloniki. Paul’s concern is that the church has been rocked by the affliction it now suffers from the Gentile authorities, and be conned back into Judaism by Paul’s opponents. His comfort to them in suffering is not one our western ears are that used to. He doesn’t tell them that the pain will soon be over, but that this is a part of the normal Christian experience. He talks of their being ‘destined for this’ (verse 3) and that he ‘kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction’ (verse 4). For these reasons, Paul’s concern being an outworking of his genuine love for the church he ‘sent to here about their faith’


Few things are as precious as hearing that someone you love and care for is doing well in the faith. And that is exactly the news Timothy brings back from his journey. Timothy brings a trio of encouragement with him. The Thessalonians are persevering in faith and love, they remember the Apostle kindly, and they long to see him too. This news to Paul seemed to be as fresh air ‘now we live’ (verse 8) For Paul good news was never far removed from praise. What thanksgiving can he offer to God for their faith? This is, of course a rhetorical question. He still wishes to see them to ‘make up what is lacking in their faith’ however. To fill out their understanding of who Jesus is and to help them see how to live in the light of that. We see that for Paul two things that mark authentic Christian love are a defence of the truth on behalf of the church, and (often self sacrificial as here) action on behalf of those people.

To that end Paul closes chapter 3 in prayer. He still desperately wants to be with his people in Thessaloniki, and wants ‘God our Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus’ to direct a way to them. To make smooth what Satan has upset. He also prays that love would abound in this church, to it’s own members and to everyone. Why? So that ‘He may establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints’. How encouraging these words that our sanctification is not only secure but is the work of the Lord. It’s important to major on this point in view of the next question. Paul uses the second coming to focus his readers’ mind on their sanctification. Not that the Lord needs our help to present us ‘blameless in holiness’ (what great words) but that we must choose to participate in this process by ‘setting our minds on the things above.’ How will we do that? Towards the end of chapter three Paul also encourages the church to love each other, and the world around them. We have seen what Christian love looks like to Paul so we must think on how to do that effectively and practically.

No comments: