9 December 2023

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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. (v. 2)

Psalm 39


The three initial missioners (Paul, Silvanus and Timothy - see Monday's notes) in Thessalonica had invested in creating warm and close relationships with the people converting to Christianity (2:8). But, for whatever reasons, the mission came to an abrupt end. The evangelists left; then came a long silence. Questions began to creep into the minds of the believers. "Does Paul really care for us? Do the three of them ever think about us?"

The Thessalonian converts' sense of being abandoned was aggravated by the negative feelings vented against them by their unbelieving neighbours. They ranged from stringent criticism of the social distance the Christians now kept from their neighbours (whose culture was drenched in idolatry, 1:9) to outright persecution (2:14, 3:3-4).

Unknown to the Thessalonians, Paul had wanted to return to them time and again, but had been thwarted (2:17-18). Eventually Paul sent Timothy. But how was that to be interpreted? Timothy was not Paul. (As 1 Corinthians 16:10-11 shows, Timothy may have been of a nervous disposition, and not a natural leader.) Could they be sure of Paul’s continuing affection? 

Timothy reported these questions and feelings to an anxious Paul on his return from Thessalonica. Paul’s responses are as follows:

  1. Paul confirms Timothy’s credentials (‘a brother and co-worker for God’, v. 2). And sets out the purpose Paul gave Timothy – to strengthen the congregation and encourage them in the faith, especially in the face of the troubles they would inevitably be facing.
  2. Paul consistently assumed this principle: congregations of believers everywhere must always face harassment and worse from their unbelieving neighbours. (Paul had been open about that from the very beginning, see vs  3-4).
  3. Such troubles were in truth a titanic struggle between faith and the devil (Satan, 2:18). In the frustratingly long silence since he left Thessalonica, Paul had been terrified that Satan might have gained the upper hand; his exhausting labours would then have been in vain.

To Ponder:

  • How does Paul’s principle, that those who believe in Jesus always experience harassment or difficulties from their unbelieving neighbours, appear to you today? If you have encountered indifference, ridicule, sarcasm or complaints because you are a Christian, where have you turned for help and support? How can you strengthen believers who have more to cope with than yourself?
  • Paul emphasises ‘faith’ – stabilising, sustaining and nourishing it. In your everyday life, what experiences or questions most profoundly challenge your faith? What are the main resources and key people that illuminate and encourage your faith? Could more opportunities be provided to enable you to talk through difficult issues?

As well as 'Word in Time', the Methodist Church is running daily email Advent reflections as part of its 'Out of the Ordinary' campaign. If you would like  to sign up for them, click here.

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.

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