By Jane Grivjack
Last week, as we looked at chapter 2, we saw that Paul very eloquently and thoroughly gave a defense to the naysayers that had accused him of not caring enough for the church to return. In his defense, he used the descriptions of a Faithful Steward, a Nursing Mother, and a Godly Father to create a picture of the genuine love that he had for them that had knit them together in true fellowship that had not diminished even in his absence.
In the latter part of chapter 2 (verses 13-15) Paul expresses his thankfulness to God for the Thessalonian’s acceptance of the gospel message and their willingness to follow the example of the churches of God established in Judea. He reminds them that they, in like manner with the churches in Judea, suffered persecution by their own countrymen soon after their conversion. In other words, he commended them because they had become believers despite tremendous opposition.
Remember, Paul only spent three Sabbaths in Thessalonica before he was urged to leave for his own safety and the welfare of the people of the city (Acts 17). Because Paul and his companions had to leave prematurely, he had great concern that the foundation of their faith had not been firmly established or solidified.
He concludes chapter 2 by telling them his attempts to return to finish the work he and his fellow ministers began were hindered by Satan.
As we pick up the story in chapter 3, we will see that Paul and his companions would have to come up with an alternative plan to check on them…
READ CHAPTER 3:1-5
Therefore…because Paul was unable to return, Timothy was dispatched to find out how they were doing and to ascertain whether that same enemy (Satan) that had prevented Paul and his companions from finishing the work they had begun, had tempted them to abandon their faith, causing their labor to be in vain (verse 5)
The seed of faith had been planted, now the enemy would do his best to stunt its growth or, better yet, cause it to wither under the heat of persecution and tribulation.
Jesus warned of this in the parable of the soils:
Matt 13:20-21 But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy ; 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
Bible Notes-Pressure and persecution are inevitable. They may come camouflaged as vague cultural disapproval, or they may be open hostility, but in one way or another, spiritual growth will always meet resistance .
This observation implies that resistance can be mild or severe. We, here in the US have, for the most part, not been subjected to the severe form a resistance yet. We must always remember those that are suffering the severe type from in other parts of the world.
The persecution that the church in Thessalonica encountered was on the severe end if the spectrum. Paul was concerned that their faith would be “shaken” by affliction (verse 2).
Strong’s describes this word “shaken” as a picture of a dog wagging its’ tail . That kind of vigorous shaking would certainly threaten to cause disruption in one’s newfound faith.
Barnes commentary notes that this word “shaken” describes the condition “ to be so moved (shaken) or agitated by fear, or by the terror of persecution, as to forsake their religion.”
He was right to be concerned. So, Paul would have to spare his fellow minister while he was in Athens to check on this fledgling church.
Paul had great confidence in Timothy. He notes in his letter to the Philippians that he had proven to be a trustworthy servant.
Phil 2:20-22For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state.
21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus . 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.
Timothy’s mandate: To establish and encourage them concerning their faith (verse 2).
The order here is important!
In David Guzik’s commentary, he notes, “ Both are necessary but establishing comes first. Encouragement can really only come after we are established in the right direction; otherwise, we are only encouraged in the wrong course.”
Definition-to turn resolutely in a certain direction.
Satan was using affliction and persecution to “move” the Thessalonians off the path that had been set for them by Paul. That path was firmly rooted and grounded in the Word of God. Timothy’s job was to make sure that they had not been moved and if they were, to get them back on track.
What tool did Timothy use to steady them amid the shaking they were experiencing? The word of God!
1 Thess 2:13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
It effectively worked to get them on the path and it will effectively work to keep them on the path!
Weirsbe-There is no substitute for the Word of God. The Christian who is ignorant of the Bible is prey to every wind of doctrine and will never be established in the Lord.
In other words, establishment is not possible apart from the Word of God. Why? Because the Word of God is the guide book that sets us on the narrow road that leads to eternal life and keeps us on that road to the end.
Isa 30:21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
"This is the way, walk in it ,"
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
This is the heart of God and His desire for all His children, to consult Him for guidance on the path set for us. Sadly, even the Israelites rejected His counsel and this led to calamity.
"Woe to the rebellious children," says the LORD,
"Who take counsel, but not of Me,
And who devise plans, but not of My Spirit,
That they may add sin to sin;
2 Who walk to go down to Egypt,
And have not asked My advice,
The importance of sound doctrine cannot be underestimated here.
In chapter 2, when Paul was defending himself against those who were seeking to impugn his motives, he reminds them what sound doctrine DIDN’T look like:
Vs 5-Didn’t use flattery
Vs 5-Wasn’t cloaked in covetousness
Vs 6-Didn’t make unreasonable demands
These (and others not mentioned here) are the tools of wolves!!
Acts 20:29-31 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things , to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
Today’s church has the order completely backwards. It is heavy on encouragement and light on establishment in the truth. We see that feel good messages that are filled with flattery and motivated by covetousness are drawing weak minded Christians in by the thousands while solid bible teaching churches are avoided because they are considered to be too dogmatic and rigid. Denial of self and the taking up one’s cross is triggering for many today. This is not the message that people want to hear. They want encouragement without establishment in the truth.
As an example of this I will list some of the titles of a well-known health, wealth and prosperity teacher: Live Your Best Life Now, Become A Better You, The Abundance Mind Set, Empty Out the Negative.
2 Tim 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables (myths).
Rejecting sound doctrine will eventually get a person off course. Therefore, it was imperative that Timothy first establish them; or place them firmly on the road paved with sound doctrine before encouraging them to proceed.
Paul didn’t use flattery or deceit when ministering to the church, he instead shared some hard and sobering truths about what it would entail to be a follower of Christ. They would suffer affliction and tribulation….
1 Thess 3:3-4…for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.
4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
As Nicole shared with us last week, the people in Thessalonica most likely saw the evidence of the blows that had be inflicted upon Paul while he was in Philippi. In the book of Galatians Paul said, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus!”
Note that Paul says he, “Told them before.” In other words, he gave them fair warning by what they observed in Paul and his companions and by his words, what they would expect as followers of Christ.
Jesus had a habit of telling his disciples what was going to happen beforehand so that they would not be moved.
Matt 26:31 Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
'I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
He spoke repeatedly to the disciples about His eminent death, which continuously fell on deaf ears.
They were suffering from cognitive dissonance: the perception of contradictory information and the mental toll of it.
The disciples’ perception of Messiah was not lining up with what Jesus was telling them. Because of this disconnect, they were unable to accept the truth until after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
John 16:1-4 "These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. 3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. 4 But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them.
Could it be that Paul and his companions had peace and strength to endure persecution because they took this warning to heart?
What warnings did Christ give us that we must take to heart today?
John 15:18-20 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you , ‘A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.
These are sobering words indeed!!
Let’s take a closer look at this statement: “appointed for this” .
When I was studying this chapter, this term jumped off the page. I knew that I had to stop and delve into the meaning, and I was surprised and comforted by what I found.
What does Paul mean by this word appointed?
Definition: This word can be described as “destined for” or “this is your lot”
The best example of this is found in the following verse:
Luke 2:34 Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against.
This was Jesus’ appointment with destiny. Jesus’ entrance into the world as God come in the flesh was marked by this word of prophesy.
5Therefore, when He (Jesus) came into the world, He said:
"Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
7 Then I said, 'Behold, I have come —
In the volume of the book, it is written of Me —
To do Your will, O God.'"
This statement shows us that Jesus was completely surrendered to the will of God. He would fulfill His appointment with destiny! God’s Sovereign will was that He would take on human flesh in order to absorb in that earthly body the penalty of the sin of the whole world. His destiny was to suffer affliction!
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted .
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
Jesus, like us, was appointed for affliction.
Isa 53:7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
The connection that I am trying to make here is that if our Savior could embrace and surrender to the things that were appointed for Him, wouldn’t it help us to endure under whatever trial, affliction or tribulation God has so graciously allowed to come into our lives if we recognize and understand that we are appointed for them.
This is a hard truth but there is something almost transcendent about it.
There is a supernatural peace that can come over us amid our struggles if we stop to recognize that everything that comes across our path has been sovereignly allowed by our Heavenly Father Who loves us so much!
John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
Let this be an encouragement to you, that when the trials come, if we surrender to God’s sovereign will and trust Him for the outcome, we will experience the peace that passes understanding and the world will see it and marvel!
Speaking of encouragement, let’s take a look at what happened when Timothy returned from his visit.
What did Timothy report to Paul upon his return?
READ CHAPTER 3:6-10
Remember, Timothy was sent to encourage (comfort) the Thessalonians, which I have no doubt he did…. But we see in these verses that the news of their state proved to be a comfort to Paul and his companions as well.
Paul’s concern for them had taken a toll on his emotional well-being. No doubt he was worried that those who were seeking to drive a wedge between them had been successful in alienating the church’s affections for him. It reminds me of the tactic that Satan used with Eve in the garden… Seeking to alienate her by impugning God’s motives. Thankfully, this was not the case here.
This is an example of the mutual comfort that comes from the fellowship that we have with one another:
2 Cor 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
This is a picture of mutual comfort! That is why it is so important to remain connected with other believers, especially in turbulent times like ours. It is easy to get discouraged, just as Paul and his companions were here. They needed good news.
Prov 25:25 As cold water to a weary soul,
So is good news from a far country.
Paul was suffering affliction and distress (vs 7). The good news that came from Timothy was like water to his soul. Not only had the church remained faithful but they had not lost any affection for Paul and his companions.
This is not the only time that consolation buoyed the spirits of Paul when he most needed it.
2 Cor 7:5-7 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.
6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you , when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
What does this teach us? That we should never underestimate our ability to refresh another soul by giving words of comfort and consolation, especially when we are suffering affliction (which is our lot in this life). That is why it is so important to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together…it is in those gatherings that we can share in mutual encourage and refresh one another.
In my prayer group just yesterday, we prayed for a dear sister that is going through a struggle with one of her children and she confessed that she hasn’t wanted to go to church because she is too sad. Isn’t that just like the enemy to keep someone from the refreshment that comes from others bearing her burden?
Paul longed to return to Thessalonica so that he could see their face and perfect that which was lacking in their faith. This is a picture of mutual consolation.
Prov 27:17 As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
So let us look for avenues to bring comfort and encouragement to those who are suffering affliction.
AND, in closing never cease to pray for one another….