Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

V1-5 – 1So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker [or our fellow worker, or God’s servant] in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.

Paul continues into chapter three detailing memoirs from his time with the Thessalonians, especially in regard to persecution. So as to further assure them of his sincerity, Paul chose to be left alone in his ministry rather than have them be left without comfort in their enduring persecution; so he sent Timothy, one likeminded and a great help to Paul (Philippians 2:20), to “strengthen and encourage” the Thessalonians in their faith. Calvin says, “The fellowship which ought to subsist between the saints and members of Christ extends even thus far – that the faith of one is the consolation of others. Thus, when the Thessalonians heard that Paul was going on with indefatigable zeal, and was by strength of faith surmounting all dangers and all difficulties, and that his faith continued everywhere victorious against Satan and the world, this brought them no small consolation.” Paul was confident that his faith, as well as his measure in sending Timothy to them, would keep them from being unsettled (v3).

Paul says in v3-4 that believers are “destined for” persecution (John 15:18-21; Mark 8:34). Vincent Cheung says, “God ordains persecution for believers, among other things, for their training and education, for His own honor, and to increase the punishment against unbelievers, who persecute His people. Thus when rightly perceived, the idea that we are ‘destined’ for persecution generates in us, not bitterness or despair, but great peace, strength, and consolation.” This message is not designed for the so-called “seekers” out there; the rich young ruler was a seeker, and when Jesus told him the hard truth, that he needed to give up his wealth, he went away disappointed (Matthew 19:16-22). Rather, Paul says that the Thessalonians knew they would be persecuted; his prophetic words were confirmed, bearing witness to his integrity and the truth of all that he spoke and wrote to them.

If you want to win followers to Christ, would you begin with, “How would you like to believe something and be mocked, ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and even killed for embracing?” There aren’t many who would jump at the opportunity. But Paul doesn’t shy away from the truth. Nevertheless, Cheung says, “Although [Paul] takes care to remove unnecessary offenses that might hinder people from considering the Christian faith, he makes no effort to make his message palatable to the sinful man. The sinful man is possessed by evil dispositions that render him naturally antagonistic to truth, repentance, and holiness. From this perspective, there is nothing that the preacher can do to make the Christian faith attractive or ‘friendly’ to the sinner without compromising the truth about what this religion teaches and produces.” He reminds the Thessalonians, “We kept telling you that we (believers) would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know” (v4).

Because Paul wanted reassurance that the Thessalonians were persevering through their trials, he sent Timothy back there. He had to stay alone in Athens (v1) for safety, but after claiming confidence that they would not be “unsettled” (v3), he now acknowledges his fear that Satan may have gotten the best of them and proven his efforts to build them up “useless.” Calvin comments, “He teaches us that temptations are always to be dreaded, because it is the proper office of Satan to tempt. As, however, he never ceases to place ambushes for us on all sides, and to lay snares for us all around, so we must be on our watch, eagerly taking heed. And now he says openly what in the outset he had avoided saying, as being too harsh – that he had felt concerned lest his labors should be vain, if, peradventure, Satan should prevail. And this he does that they may be carefully upon their watch, and may stir themselves up the more vigorously to resistance.”

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