Devotional # 179. 2/29/16. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13.
Intro. As we’ve moved through 1 Thessalonians we’ve seen that Paul and Silas and Timothy started and mentored the church in Thessalonica. We have the unique opportunity to both learn from the mentors and from those being mentored as we read through this letter and apply the encouragements to our own lives.
vv. 1-2. Again, we see Paul and Silas and Timothy’s hearts here. They wanted so badly (“no longer endure it“) to see, fellowship, encourage and train up the Christians at Thessalonica but they were unable to leave Athens. So they decided to send Timothy. Often times we think we can handle something through a text or an email (or even a phone call allows us to hear the inflections in a person’s voice) but what is really needed is a face to face with a person. Be willing to go out of your way to meet up with someone, to make the long trip, to see, fellowship, encourage and train up other Christians. Something I’ve learned in my job is there is no replacement for meeting someone and talking with them. There are people I’ve dealt with over the phone for 5 years but it wasn’t until I met them that they were really willing to go out of their way to help and the same for me helping them. It’s about the connection that you make with others. Meet with other Christians, not just when it’s convenient but when the Lord leads and you love them so much you can “no longer endure it“.
vv. 3-4. If we correctly interpret this it will give us peace, a game plan for our future and a great desire to see people saved. But if we incorrectly interpret this it could lead to a lot of difficulties in our lives and the lives of others. If we read this as if believers will go through the Tribulation (including the Great Tribulation) we can lose hope and also lead others incorrectly. So the context here (as we saw last week in 1 Thessalonians 2:14, Devotional # 178) is that Christians have to go through some tough times. In fact “we are appointed to this.” But the present difficulties are a vast difference from what Christians will endure during the Tribulation. The first point we need to know is that 1 Thessalonians 5:9 says, “for God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This shows us current Christians that we will not go through the Tribulation (“wrath”) but instead have obtained “salvation” from God’s wrath. The second point is to contrast what current trials and tribulations look like as opposed to the Tribulation that will last 7 years as Revelation describes. In 2 Corinthians 11:23b-28 Paul describes some of the things he’s gone through:
“…in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”
That is what current difficulties look like when suffering for the Lord. So what does the Tribulation of Revelation look like? Revelation, chapters 6-19 detail the Tribulation, some examples are:
-“there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth” (Rev. 6:12b-13a).
-“The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up. Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter. Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night” (Rev. 8:7-12).
-“By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed—by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths. For their power is in their mouth and in their tails; for their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they do harm” (Rev. 9:18-19).
Everyone can agree that the sun isn’t black, bloody hail isn’t currently falling and there isn’t a demon army with snake tails shooting fire and brimstone out of their mouths. That kind of death and destruction is reserved for the end of time and for the unbelieving, Jesus rejecting multitudes. I hope this helps you distinguish between the trials and tribulations that Christians have been going through since 33AD and the event of the Tribulation that has yet to come.
v. 5. Paul says “for this reason.” For what reason is he talking about? For the reason of both the Thessalonians and Paul, Silas and Timothy suffering afflictions and tribulations; this is why they wanted to send Timothy to the Thessalonians. So that Paul could know their “faith.” He was double checking that Satan (“the tempter“) hadn’t “tempted” them. What sorts of temptations would Satan try and entice the Thessalonians with? The same that he does today. Maybe it’s that this Christian life isn’t worth it, maybe it’s that God isn’t real, or that we can still be Christians without standing up for the Lord and sacrificing our happiness and resources. In fact, Satan has three foundational temptations that he usually goes to. I’ve started calling them “Sins Triple Root” and they are: 1. the “lust of the flesh”, 2. the “lust of the eyes”, and the “pride of life”. We see them in three specific places in the Bible (Genesis 3:6, Luke 4:4, 8, 12 and 1 John 2:16). But how does this help us? If we are aware that Satan is trying to use one or all of these temptations on us then we can fight against them. God tells Cain, “sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” in Genesis 4:7. God is clearly stating that with His help we can overcome sin’s temptations.
v. 6. Verses 1–5 were telling us Paul’s heart in sending Timothy to find out how the Thessalonians were doing, here in verse 6 we fast-forward to Timothy having visited them and come back. Timothy’s report was: “good news“. They had “faith and love” and they had fond memories of the time that Paul, Silas and Timothy were there. Remember when they first came through they were only in Thessalonica for 3 weeks (Devotional # 175) according to Acts 17:2, which is not a lot of time. Paul is a smart man for checking in and making sure that the good memories that he has were also good memories for the Thessalonians.
vv. 7-8. Paul says “therefore” (meaning because there was a good report) it comforted Paul and Silas, Timothy and others. I think often times we underestimate the effect that we can have on other Christians. My wife and I were having a conversation with some friends yesterday who are younger in the Lord. They told us how they appreciated our biblical council but we told them it’s a two-way street: because they’re reading their Bibles and in prayer God uses them to give us encouragement and counsel also. Notice that Paul does say that in all of the “affliction and distress” they are comforted. This is another proof that the tribulations he’s talking about here are the ones happening in real time, right now.
So what does Paul mean by “for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord”? One group of commentators explain it as Paul saying, “it revives us in our affliction to hear of your steadfastness (Psalm 22:26; 2 John 1:3-4)” (Source 1).
vv. 9-10. It’s really interesting how Paul puts this. He’s saying that even though he’s thanking God day and night that the Thessalonians came to put their faith in God and that they continue to walk with Him, he feels it’s not enough. Paul is saying that it’s too much for his heart and his lips. What incredibly important lesson can we learn from? That we should be praying day and night, or as we’ll see in a couple weeks Paul also calls it “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, Devotional # 183). But what really hit me right now as I’m reading through this is that Paul felt ill equipped to actually think and praise God efficiently. That’s something I need to work on in my prayer life. A lot of times I run through the things that I want but don’t feel a burning passion that I haven’t properly communicated to God how thankful I am that He has done certain things. What about you? Is your thankfulness ever too much for your heart and your lips? I think when we have that mindset then we can begin to enter into a prayer life that truly is taking place “night and day.”
A couple of years ago I tried to pray continually – it basically meant that throughout my entire day I asked God to remind me to pray. And you know what? It actually happened! It was one of the best days that I can remember. I’ve never felt closer to God. So why haven’t I done it in years? I’m not sure exactly…maybe I’m afraid that the next time I try it, it won’t be as good, maybe I feel like I’m too busy or maybe I just haven’t thought about it. But what I do know is that Paul leads by example and we should follow that example. That day that I just told you about where I was able to pray day and night was a regular full day for me. It wasn’t like I went into solitary confinement or took a “me day” in the woods. The reality of it was that I was able to pray all day long even with all my normal responsibilities. So I’m challenging myself and you to do this. Pick one day and do whatever it takes. Write yourself reminder notes, send yourself emails, do whatever you have to do to constantly be in prayer. But I strongly suggest that you make it a day like any other day because the end goal is for us to develop a mindset when we’re praying continually and we can’t do that if we orchestrate special situations since that’s not our everyday life. So what do those prayers look like? Well it could be a 45 minute long prayer in the morning as you’re getting ready and then some five-minute prayers throughout the day. At lunch you decide to be by yourself uninterrupted and pray. Some more quick prayers followed by some lengthier ones and then go to bed. It’s not realistic to say that you won’t have any conversations with anyone and you won’t do anything else. It’s just that the gaps of time that we waste should be filled with prayer. Trust me you won’t run out of things to talk to God about. Don’t just make it a list of “I wants”. You’re talking to your Father, and He will talk to you. Be patient, but be ready for “the tempter” (v. 5). Be thankful and have joy!
vv. 11-13. I love the separation of the Persons of God here! Not only does “our God and Father” direct our way but so does “our Lord Jesus Christ“! We can take notes on Paul’s blessing here. He says that Jesus “the Lord” can, if it is His will, “make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all.” And we know that it is Jesus’ will, as He says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). We too should be praying not just for our increase in love to love other Christians (“one another“) and love for non-Christians (“all“) but for our other Christian brothers and sisters to be praying the same thing and to be flooded with the same love.
And what will come from that kind of love? Jesus will “establish [our] hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” This applies as much to us today as it did to the Thessalonians then. Paul is giving us great hope! We will be made “blameless” – in the eyes of God, our Judge, it’s as if we’ve never sinned. And we will be made “holy” – in the eyes of God, He will make us pure. When will these things happen? “At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” when we are with all of the other Christians (“saints“). Interestingly the word for “coming” here in the Greek means “presence” (Source 2). Once we are in Jesus’ “presence” we are blameless. We have cast off this tent of a body and taken on our perfected resurrection body. We are made blameless because he is blameless!
Conclusion. We have been reminded about the things that we probably know: to thank God, to pray day and night, and to check in with other Christians. But we also learned somethings that we may not have known: 1. Satan chiefly uses three root sins to tempt us and 2. the difference between trials and tribulations that we face now and the Tribulation to happen in the future. Were there any other things you were reminded of? Was there anything that you learned for the first time? Leave a comment below. God bless!
Source 1: Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/1Th/1Th_003.cfm
Source 2: Parousia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3952&t=KJV