In the closing sentiments of chapter 2, Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica that they (Paul, Silas and Timothy) wanted to visit the Thessalonians, but they were hindered. In lieu of Paul coming, he sends Timothy, and this is the subject of the opening verses of chapter 3. The reasons that Paul names for being so motivated to visit the Thessalonians are listed:
- Establish them
- Encourage them concerning their faith
- He could no longer endure it
What do these reasons mean, really? Taken together, they paint a picture of an apostle’s concern for young saved souls in the midst of a society that was not always welcoming to the Christian faith. The faith was relatively new at the time and although the young church at Thessalonica was made up of Jews and Greeks, the primary demographic there were Greek worshippers of pagan gods such as Zeus and Apollo.
Paul recognizes in verse 3 that afflictions would come to them and he feared for their ability to withstand persecution. Being young in the faith, the Thessalonians might not have the spiritual fortitude to withstand affronts to their faith, particularly if their safety or family was threatened. So Paul worries over them to the point that he sends Timothy to help secure and solidify their faith, so that they would be able to succeed in an unwelcoming environment.
The message for us is no different. In the United States, we are fortunate enough to live in a land that was founded on Judeo-Christian values, yet our way of life, when lived earnestly for God, will still find us at odds with the culture around us.
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” II Timothy 3:12
Paul, Silas and Timothy are all greatly heartened after Timothy has visited the Thessalonians and he reports that the Thessalonians were also eager to see them. Now, where Paul was telling them that he was concerned for their faith in the midst of their affliction, he is encouraged by the Thessalonians’ faith. God’s kingdom is just like this in practice. We will see later in this book Paul exhorting them to comfort and edify one another: faith in God is strengthened as it is seen and shown from believer to believer.
Paul rejoices in them and thanks God for them. The Thessalonians must have been a great encouragement to Him as he endeavored to spread the gospel far and wide. He concludes with a prayer in the last three verses, stressing the ideas that they are to love one another, “so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
Paul’s message in this chapter is direct from a heart that cares for these new Christians, a heart that deeply loves and believes in God. His concern for their faith shows us how very important it is to stay strong in adversity. Let us take comfort and encouragement from the Thessalonians. Paul was worried for them, and often, worry for others is justified. But in this case, the Thessalonians were doing exactly as they had been taught by the apostle Paul, exactly as the eternal Word of God had guided them through the Holy Spirit and through the words, example and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.