1 Thessalonians 3:1-4
1. What is Paul concerned about?
Paul seems to be concerned that the persecution the Thessalonians are experiencing would cause some of them to leave their faith behind. He is concerned that persecution might make them anxious. When life does not go the way we expect it to go it is easy for us to question God. If the situation is difficult enough, Satan can use it to increase doubt which eventually can lead to unbelief.
2. What is Timothy going to do to address this concern?
We would call Timothy a motivational speaker. He is going to reinforce the message that Paul initially delivered to the Thessalonians in order to strengthen them. He is also going to motivate them to keep trusting in God even when circumstances are difficult. He is going to reassure them that they have made the right choice even though life has gotten harder rather than easier.
3. What is Paul certain of in the Christian life?
Paul is certain that there will be trials for those who decide to put their faith in Jesus. One of the specific trials for the Thessalonians will be persecution from unbelievers. This persecution is not something that might happen, but is something that will happen. We make a great mistake when we convince people to follow Jesus by promising them an easier life based on their decision.
4. What is required to maintain faith when experiencing persecution or suffering?
I think that having proper expectations is the key to maintaining faith. Life is hard and the older we get the harder it gets. Continually focusing on the truth about who God is and what God has done are essential to maintaining confidence during difficult times.
1 Thessalonians 3:5-6
1. What is frustrating Paul?
Paul is frustrated by lack of information. In general, we can find out about any situation any time. We are overwhelmed with information. This was not true for Paul. He had no way of knowing what was happening in the Thessalonian church unless someone came from there to tell him. He is like a parent whose children have left home. He has given them a good start, but still has some uncertainty about whether they will continue on the path they started.
2. When does he write this letter?
It seems that he writes this letter shortly after Timothy returns with news from Thessalonica. Timothy probably brought back news about the people in the church and questions that these same people were struggling with.
3. Why does he write this letter?
For some reason Paul is unable to return to Thessalonica. His only means of communication is to write a letter. Writing letters is almost a lost art. We expect interaction in almost all our communication. Paul had no such expectation. He had heard the congregations concerns and issues from Timothy and did the best he could to express his responses. Any feedback he would get would only come after a long period of time.
4. What reassures Paul and relieves his frustration?
I think there are two things. The first is that Timothy is able to reassure Paul that the faith and love of the believers remains strong. The second is that the people in Thessalonica value their relationship with Paul even though he was only with them a very short time.
1 Thessalonians 3:7-10
1. How would you describe Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians?
The closest we can come is to say that these believers were Paul’s children. He was deeply connected to them. It seems that Paul’s emotional state was impacted by how the Thessalonians were doing. I think this is an area where Paul grew over time as he experienced more and more separation from the churches that he started. His joy became deeper and was grounded in who God was and was much less dependent on other people or circumstances. I see this in comparing this passage to the fourth chapter of Philippians which was written much later.
2. Where does Paul’s joy come from?
It seems to come from the trust that the Thessalonians have placed in God. Their ability to remain faithful in spite of persecution causes Paul to rejoice.
3. How does this change as he grows in his relationship with God and his circumstances change?
Over time Paul will be confronted with numerous issues in the churches that he started. People will disappoint him over and over. He will even experience opposition from other believers. Through all this Paul’s confidence in God will continue to grow.
4. What is a continual habit in Paul’s life?
Paul is a prayer warrior. When he tells us to pray continually, he is only suggesting that we imitate him. We know he prayed for himself at times, but it is also clear that he prayed constantly for the churches that he had started. We can learn much from this and the content of his prayers.
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
1. What requests does Paul make to God in prayer?
- Ability to return to Thessalonica
- Increase in love that overflows to members of the church and unbelievers in the community
- Determination to live increasingly Christ-like lives
- That they would be prepared for the return of Jesus
2. What is Paul looking forward to?
He is looking forward to the return of Jesus and a reunion with all believers.
3. How does that impact the way he lives each day?
Paul lives every day in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent return. He believes that Jesus could return at any moment. He wants to be sure that he is walking with Jesus when that return occurs.
4. How should it impact how we live our lives each day?
It has been said that we should live each day as if Jesus was going to return today and plan as if Jesus was not going to return during our lifetime. We can predict a few things in our lives. The sun will come up in the morning and go down in the evening. We cannot predict when we will die and when Jesus will return. This might be a good time to see how many have had a near death experience and then discuss how that has impacted how they live.
Material for this and the other lessons from Philippians are drawn from two primary sources and my own observations: