1 Thessalonians 3:6-13
But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tiding of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
We’re going to look at this passage in 3 sections.
Section 1: Good Tidings in verse 6
Section 2: Thanksgiving in verses 7-9
Section 3: Petition in verses 10-13
Let’s look at the GOOD TIDINGS in verse 6.
But now when Timotheus came from you unto us
Timothy was as a son to Paul and Paul had sent him away, to the Thessalonians. He, in a sense, sacrificed his son for the cause of Christ and his kingdom. Here, we read that he received Timothy back, and then some.
First of all, God has given you his own Son, and that gift is of so great a value that there is simply nothing you can give to the cause of Christ’s kingdom that will put him in your debt or make him owe you anything. Give up your own wife and children and there still is just not a comparison with what he has given you in Christ.
But know this. If you give up all you have in this life to his cause, your Father will repay you, simply from his free generosity, a hundredfold, in this life and in the one to come.
Pastor Bob Carter likes to say, “God gives. God takes. God gives again.”
Paul gave his son. And he got his son back, like Abraham. And he got more. He received good tidings with the return of Timothy.
And brought us good tiding
Timothy returned to Paul with the beautiful feet of one bringing good news. The good news had two parts.
First, he brought good news of the Thessalonians’ faith and charity.
These Christians were marked by faith and love. In other words, these saints for whom Paul held great affection, but had only been with for 3 weeks, have remained in the faith and were growing up into it. The Thessalonians were marked by faith and love, the mark of all true Christians.
How did Timothy know of their faith and love such that he could report it to Paul? The answer to this gets into how faith and love relate.
How do you know of someone’s faith? Faith is convictional. It holds to a creed. Christians have defined their faith with propositional truth throughout the life of the church. I believe in God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth… But, though the Bible tells us that faith is convictionally shaped, convictionally defined, it isn’t demonstrated by hearing. Faith comes by hearing, but it isn’t known by hearing. How is faith known? Faith is known by seeing. You see faith. Timothy knew of the Thessalonians’ faith because he could see it. How? How do you see something that is immaterial? James tells us. He tells us that faith shows itself by works. It produces works that fit the faith and show it to be what it is. Do you have faith? We’ll see it in your works. What kind of works? Good works. Works of obedience. What are good works? What are heartfelt works of obedience? This is love. Jesus says that the heartfelt doing of the Ten Commandments is love, love for God and neighbor.
So, true faith is seen by true love. Obedience makes both known.
Timothy saw these Christians gladly obeying their King, as Paul had instructed them, and this he reported to Paul.
What Timothy saw in Thessalonica is what is to be seen in every church everywhere. He saw the marks of a true church. What are the marks of true church? The proper administration of word and sacrament. Another way to state this is the mark of a true church is faithful discipline—obedience in line with what Jesus wants.
So, first, Timothy brought good tiding of their faith and charity.
Second, he brought good news of the Thessalonians’ good remembrance of Paul and his fellow laborers.
Again, this church obeyed Christ according to Paul’s teaching. How else could they have good remembrance of the apostle and his fellow laborers?
You can think of remembrance in a couple of ways.
When I hold my grandfather in good memory, I remember what he was about and emulate it.
Or, when you’re a kid, if you remember your dad throughout the day, you walk in line with what he wants such that his presence is looked forward to and not dreaded.
When you remember Christ every day, you regard his will and conform to it every day. And this frees you up to have joy at the prospect of meeting him face to face. Miess talks about this idea, that the key to courage is holiness. If I’m not remembering Christ in my days, I’ll eventually have a dream where I’m in a grand battle faced with the sure prospect of death. There is nowhere to go but straight ahead and into the jaws of certain death. And then I remember that I need to remember.
Because the Thessalonians were remembering Paul in their faith and charity, they greatly desired to see him and he them.
Their obedience, their faith and love, was the grounds for fellowship. It was the grounds for wanting to be together. We’ll see this in the third section, but it shouldn’t surprise us that the church across the West, a church so marked by disobedience to Christ and disregard for the hallowing of his name, from the pulpit to the town square…it shouldn’t surprise us that that kind of church would so easily forsake meeting together. What fellowship do we have with one another in Christ without obedience? If they hadn’t let the government shut them down, how long before Christ removed their lamp stands?
That brings us to the second section, Paul’s THANKSGIVING in verses 7-9.
Paul asks, “For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?”
The Thessalonians were Paul’s pride and joy. He’s called them his crown and glory. One day he’ll present them resplendent to Christ. Now, he sees them abounding in faith and charity and it brings him joy.
Think about what this means for how Paul looks at these Christians. They bring him joy. Their existence causes him to be full of joy. You know this dynamic if you have kids. You look at your daughter, at your son, their very existence, and, beyond that, their growth in the Lord is one of your greatest joys in life. You know this dynamic if you’re married. You look at your wife, the wife of your youth. She’s your joy.
Paul is at least using that kind of language for the Thessalonians. For him, it’s a fatherly affection. For you, it’s to be an affection measured by how much you value fellow believers as your family.
How much do you actually value the other folks in this room? You can’t have joy from them unless they’re high value people for you.
You’re either not going to really care or you’ll have joy that he went from dreaming about being a stay at home dad, while working for a liberal ministry, to being one of the most dependable men in two states, faithfully married, working his butt off, preaching sermons at Planned Parenthood—sermons that would get him exiled to Patmos by his former employers.
You’re either not going to really care or you’ll have joy that he went from being a Sigma Delta Ding Dong to being a husband and father who sings Psalms and prays like a CREC guy.
Men and women are growing in grace all around you. And you’ll either not care or you’ll be full of joy because of it. And you’ll know if your head is on right or up wrong by whether or not you give thanks to God for the ways your brethren are growing in grace. If you don’t care, you’re not going to be thanking God for evidences of his grace in this church. If you do, you will.
And you’ll thank him because everything good in these people you love so much is from him, not of them. He has not only given them existence. He gave them faith. He gave them repentance. He gave them every grace for growth and every good work in grace.
Paul is thankful, therefore, for them and for the joy he has from them.
He goes on in these verses to make very clear what kind of joy he has from the Thessalonians.
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
If ye stand fast in the Lord, Paul and his co-laborers live, though they die. Even if everything in life is taken from Paul, even his life, the joy he has from the Thessalonians’ standing fast in the faith means he lives.
Jeremiah Thomas is the son of an abolitionist, Rusty Thomas. He was 16 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. It ended up killing him. But there is a video of him in bed at the hospital. And Greg Abbott, the current Republican governor of Texas promises him that he’s going to abolish abortion in Texas. Now, he lied to this dying young man. But Jeremiah didn’t know that. What he believed to be true was that abortion was about to come to an end in his state. And that gives him joy even in the face of death, a smile full of life even while sliding into the grave.
Paul’s the father that could be in the throes of death and all he wants to know is if his children are ok.
How much suffering can you endure while still being full of life-giving joy because of the growth in grace of fellow church members?
How much death can you know and yet live because of what God is doing in him, in her?
It’s a way of knowing God and Christians that is too foreign to us. We can only have this by transformation through the renewing of our minds.
Their faith meant comfort for Paul in all his affliction and distress. The end of his affliction and distress wasn’t his comfort. Their faith was.
Now, if we can get this, we truly will be the most dangerous religious zealots in the world. Untouchable, unbuyable, incorruptable. Because God finishes what he starts in the church, because he keeps his own and most assuredly grows them up in faith and love, these kinds of men, who find their comfort there and not in comfort, know nothing but victory. Nothing can be taken from them. So all they can do is take.
Not much use apart from this. Not very dangerous. Pretty moldable, tameable.
Terrible holy war with it.
In verse 6 Paul has received good news from Timothy. He expresses thanksgiving in verses 7-9.
Now, in the third section, verses 10-13, we see his PETITION to God that comes from that thanksgiving.
He prays to, “God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.”
If you want something, pray for it.
And know that it isn’t the idea of prayer to some deity that matters. A large portion of the conservative movement today thinks of God vaguely and so prays imaginary prayers to an imaginary god. And that’s why conservatives are so uniquely good at losing to liberals. They don’t know God and so they don’t pray to him.
Paul only prays to God. And note what the form of his prayer teaches us about God.
God is our Father. The Christian, and only the Christian, can know this truth as central to his prayers. Formerly, we were of the devil. Because of Christ’s death, in our place for our sins, and his resurrection, we have been adopted as sons of God. No longer do we belong to the devil. We are sons of God. He is our Father. And we are to pray to him, knowing that he cares for us and is generous to us.
Additionally, Paul directs his prayer to “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now, remember, Paul only prays to God. Here he addresses his prayer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul makes it clear that Jesus is not simply a man. He is God in the flesh. All our Father’s blessings come to us through him, our King and elder brother. He saves us. He rules us. And he lavishes his Father’s blessings on us.
Now, in verse 11, what does Paul want from God? He wants God to direct his way to the Thessalonians. He knows that God is in control of everything. Not a single thing happens apart from his will. So it only makes sense that he’d pray for God to direct him to the Thessalonians. It’s what he wants. He knows he can’t do it on his own strength. He prays to God.
And note that he says in verse 10 that he prays exceedingly night and day. Paul had to persevere in prayer. He’s our better and had to persevere night and day. So do we.
There is not a single thing in life worth having that doesn’t require slow, steady, intense, grind it out persistence. Nothing. Why are we surprised that the same is true for what we want in prayer? God tells us this all around us, every day, and still we act surprised and easily give up. Persevere. Do not give. Pray night and day, exceedingly, and have from the Lord.
Again, Paul is praying to see the Thessalonians face to face. Letters were nice. Messengers were nice. They weren’t enough. Paul wanted to be physically present with them and see their faces. He would do whatever he could to make this happen.
And that’s because physical presence and seeing one another face to face was an essential part of Paul perfecting “that which is lacking in your faith.” They had sanctification. They needed more. They had faith. They needed more. They had love. They needed more.
What was lacking? More. That’s why Paul prays in verse 12, “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love…”
They had. They would have abundance. Face to face presence was necessary to that end. No technological development will ever undo this. No sickness or disease will ever undo this. Separation and faces obscured are to lack and presence and faces seen are to abundant growth. That’s right there in the verse. It shouldn’t surprise you that a government opposed to Jesus would seek to mandate churches shutting down, and social distancing and masks in those churches. The government, with the aid of useful idiot ministers, intend social distancing and masks to be veganism for the church, to make her weaker and more impotent and more susceptible to conquest. They will not succeed with that scheme in this church because we will have nothing to do with their vegan ways. We want abundance in faith and love. And we know what is needed for that.
Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians and for us is that our love would abound for one another. As we’ve already noted, love is love. It’s not the unconditional affirmation of a flaccid psychologist. It’s not self-obsession. It’s not giving out welfare checks or handouts or kissing the feet of a man because of the color of his toes. It’s not sexual perversion. It’s not murder. It’s not politeness or niceness. Love is love. It’s the conformity of mind, heart, and hands to the laws of God.
And this is what is to abound in our relationships with one another. And, from that, our love is to extend to all men. And that just might include saying and doing things that they don’t particularly like, that they think are mean and judgmental. We are to baptize and disciple the nations. That doesn’t mean they want it. We do it anyway, for we owe love to our neighbors.
All of this was all the more urgent for Paul because of the impending crisis. Christ was coming in wrath with all his saints against the rebellious Jews, and this was going to impact life more broadly than just the epicenter of the destruction in Jerusalem. The Jews had run Paul out of town in Thessalonica to try to stop the planting of the church there. But their world was about to come crashing down under the weight of Jesus’ anger. As that day of wrath was but a couple decades way, the Christians in Thessalonica weren’t to waste that brief time in pity or distraction. They were to be preppers. And the way they were to prepare was preparation in holiness. They were to be established in heart and blameless in holiness before God so that on that day of fire they would be vindicated. The world crashing down and together only, standing firm.
Not in same degree but in same kind, there is a day of reckoning, a red day of wrath, just there on the horizon for the men of the West, for we have apostatized greatly. The Sons of Issachar see this and know that preparation is in order. The key to being prepared for that day, whenever it comes, is to be blameless in holiness. Be blameless in holiness. Be established in heart. Abound in faith and love. Fear God. And that day will be your vindication, not your damnation.