Paul"s Concern for Their Faith
Because he had been forced to leave Thessalonica and prevented from returning, he reached a point where his concern for the church made him decide to be left in Athens alone. Kelcy says the original for "to be left" is sometimes used to describe a loved one who has left in death. Paul would have keenly felt loneliness in a city filled with idolatry, as Athens was, so sending Timothy away was like saying goodbye to a loved one who had died (1 Thessalonians 3:1).
That sense of being alone, coupled with the descriptive terms he went on to use, help us see just how great a help Timothy was to the apostle. Timothy was a brother in God"s family and a servant of, or some manuscripts say with, God. It is only in the gospel that anyone can work for or with the Father. Timothy"s assignment in Thessalonica was to stabilize the brethren and encourage them in their faith. Young ones always need special attention to encourage proper growth.
Even a dog which will bite might wag his tail and cause us to drop our guard, believing he is friendly. The words "should be shaken" describe just such an occasion. Surrounded by persecutors, a Christian might have been deceived by a false teacher who appeared friendly. Paul sent Timothy to avoid such drawing away and warned them that the lot of all Christians is to suffer (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3; John 15:19; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12).
Paul and his companions had repeatedly warned the brethren, when they were in Thessalonica, that suffering would come. As he wrote this letter to them, the persecution had come and they should not have been surprised. Neither did the apostle want them to allow some to make them believe suffering proved their religion empty or false. It is obvious Paul was concerned that they might "fall from grace" and, therefore, could not wait any longer to hear whether they had remained firm in the faith. Paul knew how the tempter had prevented him from coming to them and was concerned lest Satan would lead them away from the faith. Paul did not want his work among them to come to nought (1 Thessalonians 3:4-5; Philippians 2:12-16).
Encouragement Found In Timothy"s Report
Almost as soon as Timothy arrived, Paul had begun to write. The news was good because they remained strong in faith and love. Their love for Paul had caused them to long for his coming just as he longed to be with them. They had good thoughts when they remembered him and likely his teaching as well. Such good news had partially relieved Paul at a time when he was oppressed both by physical hardships and mental stress placed upon him by dealing with great wickedness (1 Thessalonians 3:6-7).
Remember, Paul went to Berea after Thessalonica and had a good reception until the trouble making Jews from Thessalonica arrived and stirred up the crowd. He could not sit still in Athens without preaching the gospel to a city filled with idolatry. It seems only a handful obeyed in Athens. He was in Corinth, a city filled with wickedness, when Timothy and Silas rejoined him. The stress brought on by persecution and combatting the effects of idolatry and worldliness was made easier by the good news Timothy brought. During the hard times, it had seemed to Paul that life would just stop. Timothy helped him see that they had stood firm in the Lord. If they would continue to stand, Paul said he would be revitalized (1 Thessalonians 3:8).
Paul"s Desire to Thank God for Them
Paul did not feel capable of expressing the depth of his thanksgiving for the joy those young converts had brought him. Of course, he knew thanksgiving is most appropriately taken before God"s throne. He informed them that he was continually asking God to allow him to see them face to face. Coffman suggests it was years before this prayer request was answered in a positive way. If so, we can certainly see why the Lord urged his disciples to always pray and not faint (Luke 18:1). Paul"s desire to be with them centered on the hope that he could further instruct them so that their faith would be complete (1 Thessalonians 3:9-10).
Paul"s Prayer for the Church in Thessalonica
Paul"s prayer, directed to the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, clearly shows he thought Jesus was God too. Such is emphasized by the singular verb being coupled with the plural noun, thus indicating clearly that Paul thought of the two as one. Also, he relied on their providence to bring about the answer to his prayer. Further, Paul requested of the Lord an increase in their brotherly love, as well as love for their fellow men. Agape love for those who are persecuting us and attempting to hinder us in our obedience can only come with God"s help. Paul encouraged them in love by saying his love for them overflowed.
The ultimate desire of Paul"s prayer was their eternal salvation. He wanted them to be ready when Jesus came again. So, he asked God to help make their hearts such that would not be counted blameworthy. Instead, he desired that they might be counted among the holy ones when Jesus returned to the earth to reclaim His own. The entire group of holy ones may include angels as well as those saints who have died before the Lord"s coming (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany