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Standing Firm in Christ.
1. Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens.
We recall from previous studies that the Thessalonians' conversion to Christ resulted in their having to face fierce persecution from their own countrymen. This opposition was so fierce that Paul, Silas and Timothy were forced to leave the city, being sent away to Berea for their own safety. Eventually, the mob at Thessalonica found out where they had gone and followed them there, whereupon Paul was forced to flee to Athens (see Acts17 v 1-15).
Ever since then, Paul; having a genuine love and concern for the young church in Thessalonica; had longed to return there to minister to the new converts. He was anxious as to whether their faith was standing the strain of persecution. He feared that the intensity of the opposition would cause some of them to abandon their faith. Eventually, he and the apostles could bear the uncertainty about this no longer and so it was decided that Timothy should go back alone to Thessalonica whilst Paul and Silas waited for him at Athens.
Although Timothy was of Greek parentage, the situation in Thessalonica was still dangerous even for him, and so he went back at some risk to himself, trusting in the Lord.
2. And we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith.
Paul commends Timothy in three ways:
He was a brother in the Lord. Although his father was a Greek and his mother a Jew, he had been born again of God's Spirit. We too, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, are born of the same Spirit and are members the same body (Eph. 4:4-6). Our relationships with other believers (regardless of ethnic background) will often be closer than those that we have with our families.
He was a servant of God. That which he did, he did not do for men to see, or to gain the praise of men, but he did God's will, and sought to please Him only (Gal. 1:10).
He was a fellow worker with the apostles in spreading the gospel of Christ, accomplishing his God given task as it had been entrusted to him. So with us, although we all have different gifts, we are working together in the service of the Lord. Timothy was of proven ability and was well able to minister to the Thessalonians. By his teaching ministry he would strengthen and establish, exhort, comfort and encourage them in the faith.
3,4. That no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. (NKJVTM)
Paul knew the danger of the believers turning away from Christ and abandoning their faith because of persecution.
It is a very real one, according to our Lord's own teaching in the parable of the soils (Matt.13:20 - 21). Many will leave the way when trouble comes. The apostles had honestly told the believers that they would suffer persecution and they didn't have to wait long before it actually happened. The truth is that Christians will suffer tribulation. This is according to our Lord's own words in John 15:18-21 and 16:1-4. Jesus also told us why this would happen (John 15:19-21 ; 16:3). Jesus told his disciples this so as to prepare them for trouble when it came and this is exactly what Paul did for his converts (Acts14:22).
5. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain. (NKJVTM)
Even so, Paul had been anxious lest Satan had succeeded in his attempts to make the new converts abandon their faith in Christ and undo the work of the apostles - who had sown the Word of God. This was the devil's purpose in the parable of the soils - to snatch away the seed sown (God's Word). He does this by robbing believers of their faith in Christ (Matt. 13:19). Where persecution does not succeed, he will tempt us to go back to the life of sin which we had previously abandoned (Matt 13:22). Peter describes those who go back to the old life of sin as like a pig who has been washed but who returns again to wallowing in the mud (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
There are other ways in which Satan tries to undermine the faith of believers. For example, at Corinth, Galatia, and Ephesus he used false teaching (e.g. 2 Cor. 11:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). The seriousness of the matter is that if Satan can cause us to abandon our faith in Christ, then he has achieved his aim of destroying our souls (Heb. 2:1 ; Heb. 6:4-6). God has given us all we need to resist and overcome the devil. So it will be our fault, not the devil's, if we turn away from Christ, for God has given us all that we need to overcome the temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). We must stand firm in faith, resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7).
6. But Timothy has just now come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love. He has told us also that you always remember us kindly and long to see us--just as we long to see you.
Timothy had just returned from Thessalonica with good news that the believers were standing firm in their faith in spite of the persecution and that they continued to give evidence of their genuine love for each other and for the apostles whom they longed to see. The apostles also longed to see them.
7,8. For this reason, brothers and sisters, during all our distress and persecution we have been encouraged about you through your faith. For we now live, if you continue to stand firm in the Lord.
The news that the Thessalonian believers were standing firm in the faith had been like a breath of fresh air to the apostles - it gave "new life" to them - reviving their spirits in the midst of the trials and persecutions that they themselves were enduring for the gospel's sake.
9. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?
The apostles were filled with joy over the genuine faith and love of the Thessalonian Christians. They could not thank God enough for them, and brought them continually before Him in prayer. In these days too, whether in the midst of persecution or temptation, the people of God must stand firm in Christ.
Maturing in Christ.
10. Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.
The apostles constantly prayed that they might see the Thessalonians again. This was not just a desire motivated by their wanting to see old friends; for they had a definite purpose. They wanted, by their teaching, to build the believers up in the most holy faith that they might become mature in Christ.
11. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.
Until now they had been hindered from returning, so they looked to God to make a way for them. Later, Paul did go back (Acts 20:2-3).
12,13. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Though the apostles ministered to the Thessalonian church, it was the Lord Himself who was building them up, causing the love of their hearts to grow and to overflow to other Christians and to all men. In the same way, Paul tells them, Christ had filled the apostles' hearts with love for the Thessalonian believers. Paul's prayer was that Christ would establish them in His love, and strengthen them by might in the inner man by His Holy Spirit so that they would be enabled by Him to live upright, blameless and holy lives before God the Father (Eph. 3:14-19). As God did this work of grace in their hearts He would also be making them ready for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as Paul elaborates in the next chapter, will come first of all into the clouds to call away all those that belong to him and will then return to earth with them, who shall reign on earth with Him.
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