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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

1 Thessalonians 3

Verses 2-13


This extended personal section of the epistle contains thanksgivings for the Thessalonian Christians, reminders for them, and concerns that Paul had regarding them.

1. Desire to see them again 2:17-3:5

In this pericope Paul expressed his sincere desire to return to Thessalonica. He did so to help his readers appreciate how much they meant to him to encourage them to reject any suggestion that his interest in them was selfish.

C. Concerns for the Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Paul’s heart of love blossoms in this section in which he expressed his great desire to see the Thessalonians again and explained how news of their continuing steadfastness gladdened his heart. He said these things to encourage them further to persevere in their faith and service.

Verses 1-2

Paul returned to the report of his plans (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18). He explained that by the time he, Silas, and Timothy had reached Athens they felt they could not stay away from their young converts in Thessalonica any longer. They decided that Timothy should return. Silas evidently went back to Philippi and or Berea (Acts 18:5). Paul may have described Timothy as he did here to give this young brother more stature in the eyes of the Thessalonians. Timothy’s mission was to strengthen and encourage the new Christians in their faith so the persecution they were experiencing would not discourage them excessively.

Paul may have chosen to send Timothy rather than to return personally for any number of reasons. Timothy was the junior member of the missionary team, and Paul and Silvanus were the senior members. Timothy had a Greek father and probably looked somewhat Greek. He would, therefore, have attracted no special interest in a Greek city whereas Paul was immediately recognizable as a Jew (cf. Acts 16:20). [Note: Bruce, p. 64.]

Verses 1-5

Timothy’s visit 3:1-5

Verses 3-5

Often new believers, and even older believers, interpret difficulty as a sign that they need to change something. Timothy reminded them that persecution is a normal experience for the Christian (cf. Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 10:16-28; Matthew 20:22-23; Matthew 24:9-10; et al.), just as Paul had previously instructed them. Had the Thessalonians fallen before this temptation they would have been in danger of becoming like rocky soil in which the seed of the gospel does not root firmly. Thus the ministry expended on them would have been in vain in the sense that it would not have resulted in substantial growth and fruit.

Verses 6-7

Timothy had evidently rejoined Paul in Corinth (v.16; cf. Acts 18:1). He brought good news that the Thessalonians were holding up well against the winds of persecution. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word euangelion (gospel, good news) is used of any good news other than that of Christ’s saving work. [Note: Morris, The Epistles . . ., p. 65.] They continued to trust in God and to love others as well as to remember Paul fondly and to desire to see him again (cf. Philemon 1:5). This news comforted Paul who felt distress because of his concern for all the churches and because of other external afflictions.

Verses 6-10

Timothy’s report 3:6-10

Verses 6-13

2. Joy on hearing about them 3:6-13

Paul rejoiced when he heard that the Thessalonians were withstanding persecution. He shared his reaction to this news with them to encourage them to persevere as their afflictions continued.

Verses 8-10

Things could not have been better for Paul, however, so long as his readers were standing their ground. God was enabling them to stand firm, and for this Paul gave thanks. The Greek word steko, "stand firm," is a frequently recurring call for continued perseverance (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 4:1). The apostle and his companions kept praying earnestly by night and by day that God would give them the opportunity to return to Thessalonica. They desired to return so they could minister to the continuing needs of their spiritual children. These Christians were doing well, but they needed to grow more. They were only baby Christians at this time. They lacked maturity.

"Contemporary Christians can learn from Paul’s missionary practice by recognizing that meaningful evangelism must aim for more than acceptance of Christian beliefs by converts. Evangelical Christianity needs to strive to create a social context or community in which converts may be resocialized into a new and distinctively Christian pattern of behavior and practice." [Note: Wanamaker, p. 139.]

Verse 11

Paul summarized the content of his prayer in the form of a wish to conclude this section of the epistle (1 Thessalonians 1:2 to 1 Thessalonians 3:13).

"It is characteristic of Paul’s letters that he frequently slips into some short prayer." [Note: Morris, The First . . ., p. 110.]

The apostle asked God his Father and Jesus his Lord to clear the way so he and his fellow missionaries could return to Thessalonica. He addressed two members of the Godhead in prayer. He regarded both of these as God as is clear from his use of a singular verb ("direct") with a plural subject. "Himself" emphasizes Paul’s dependence on God to grant his request.

"We often wonder why the Christian life is so difficult to live, especially in the ordinary everyday relationships of life. The answer may very well be that we are trying to live it by ourselves. The man who goes out in the morning without prayer is, in effect, saying, ’I can quite well tackle to-day myself.’ . . . John Buchan once described an atheist as ’a man who has no invisible means of support.’" [Note: Barclay, p. 229.]

Verses 11-13

Paul’s prayer 3:11-13

This prayer illustrates Paul’s genuine concern for the Thessalonians, and it bridges the narrative material in chapters 1-3 and the parenetic material in chapters 4-5. [Note: Martin, pp. 110-11.] Parenesis consists of exhortations to continue based on previous lessons learned and previous commitments made.

Verses 12-13

Paul also prayed that the Lord, not man, would cause the believers’ love to increase and overflow even more among themselves and toward all people. Paul’s love for them did so. He prayed for this so God would strengthen them spiritually to be free from any reasonable charge whenever Christ might return. "Hearts" refers to what we might refer to as "personalities" today. The Greek word, kardia, "refers to the thinking, willing, and feeling dimensions of human existence." [Note: Wanamaker, p. 144. Cf. 2:4.] Again, Paul anticipated the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).

As mentioned earlier (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:19), "coming" (Gr. parousia) is a term that Paul used to describe a person’s extended visit (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:17; 2 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:12) as well as his or her arrival for that visit. Consequently, it may refer to the Rapture, the actual arrival of Christ for Christians, or what will follow that arrival. The context determines whether a "coming" or what will follow it is in view. [Note: See Thomas, pp. 268-69.] Here Paul’s concern was that the Thessalonians would be ready to give a good account of themselves to the Lord, not just that they would be ready for His arrival.

The saints who will join the Thessalonians before the judgment seat of Christ include all other Christians (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:10) and perhaps angels.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.