Thursday, November 12, 2009

1 Thessalonians 3:6-13

V6-9 –6But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?

There is no doubt that Timothy’s arrival, as described in v6, served as the motive for Paul’s writing of this letter. With prayerful excitement, in the midst of his own “distress and persecution,” Paul must have waited and then listened as Timothy walked in the room and shared the “good news about [their] faith and love,” and that, in spite of Paul’s fear, the Thessalonians “always have pleasant memories” of he and his companions. Accordingly, he was “encouraged” because of the Thessalonians’ faith. V8 is staggering: “Now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” There can be no doubt of Paul’s affection for this congregation! And he can’t thank God enough!

Furthermore, Paul’s declaration of consolation, or encouragement, and joy for the Thessalonians’ prosperous faith, is meant to urge them on to continued perseverance and edification. Paul’s very life was tied intimately to the spiritual condition of his newly founded flock; upon hearing of their steadfastness, Paul claimed to “really live.” In this light, Calvin has a word for shepherds, saying, “By this all pastors are admonished what sort of connection ought to subsist between them and the Church – that they reckon themselves happy when it goes well with the Church, although they should be in other respects encompassed with many miseries, and, on the other hand, that they pine away with grief and sorrow if they see the building which they have constructed in a state of decay, although matters otherwise should be joyful and prosperous.”

V10-13 –10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. 11Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.

Paul, though hindered by Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18), directs his prayer to return to Thessalonica in v10-13 to both the Father and Son, declaring Their equality. Calvin says, “We must take notice that he assigns the same office to God and to Christ, as, unquestionably, the Father confers no blessing upon us except through Christ’s hand. When, however, he thus speaks of both in the same terms, he teaches that Christ has divinity and power in common with the Father.”

Paul expresses strong desire (“most earnestly”) to visit them – by the will of God – for fellowship, but more importantly to “supply what is lacking in [their] faith.” Calvin notes, “Yet this is the faith which he had previously extolled marvelously. But from this we infer, that those who far surpass others are still far distant from the goal. Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us always keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something farther.” Paul’s goal to edify the saints never ceases, and his prayer, by the way, was answered in Acts 20:1-4.

Paul ends this chapter (v12-13) with a lengthy benediction, asking for God first to make their love increase to overflowing, first for each other and then for everyone else (Galatians 6:10), just as Paul’s does for them (exhorting them to follow his example), and second to strengthen their hearts, confirming their consciences in holiness. Calvin says, “From this again we learn in what the perfection of the Christian life consists – in love and pure holiness of heart, flowing from faith” (1 Timothy 1:5); and God must work it in us. In other words, Paul is saying that sanctification has started in the Thessalonians and it will be completed at the second coming of Christ (Philippians 1:6). We’ll cover the second coming of Christ in much more detail in the next chapter. But in the meantime, we can see that the Thessalonians have learned about this from Paul and are familiar with the language he uses when writing about it (1 Thessalonians 2:19). And here we see that Jesus will not be coming alone; He will be with “all His holy ones,” speaking of either angels (Matthew 13:39,48-49; 16:27; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Jude 1:14) or humans (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 19:14), or even both.

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