Timothy’s Mission (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
In Acts 16 we read of Paul’s visit to Philippi. Because of persecution there, he went on to Thessalonica, where he did a great work in a short time (17:1-4). However, persecution broke out there too and the brethren sent Paul to Berea (17:5-10). In Berea he found a company of open-minded Jews who were ready to listen to the gospel and walk in the light of the Scriptures. Referring to the Bereans, Acts 17:11-12 says: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed.”
These Bereans are good models for all of us because sometimes we hear ideas that are new to us and without investigation reject what we have heard. But in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 Paul told us to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Holy Scripture of course is the test we are to use. No matter what doctrine is taught, we are to compare it with the Word of God: if the doctrine is compatible with Scripture, we are to accept it; if the doctrine is contrary to Scripture, we are just as responsible to reject it.
The Jews who had resisted Paul at Thessalonica came down to Berea and “stirred up the people” (Acts 17:13). So the Berean brethren sent Paul to Athens, but Paul left Silas and Timothy behind (17:14-15). We are not told in the book of Acts that Paul asked them to return to Thessalonica to check on the progress of the young converts there, but we learn from 1 Thessalonians 3 that when Paul went on to Athens, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica. Because the apostle was concerned about the Thessalonians, he remained in Athens alone so that Timothy could find out whether the young converts were making progress or becoming discouraged.
I always revel in the delightful way Paul referred to his coworkers. Notice what he wrote in 1 Thessalonians 3:2: “Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ.” What more could be said of any servant of the Lord? A beloved brother in Christ, a dear fellow laborer—Timothy was all this to Paul. So he sent Timothy to establish and comfort the young Christians in Thessalonica.
They needed comfort because they were in the midst of a godless, pagan world. It meant a great deal in those days to make a public confession of faith in Christ. Sometimes it does not seem to mean so much now, and yet we find people afraid to take this step. The Thessalonians who came to Christ out of idolatry were surrounded by bitter enemies; yet these Christians surrendered their lives to the Lord and were a bright testimony for Him.
Paul was concerned about the possibility that they would become discouraged, so he sent Timothy to exhort them “that no man should be moved by these afflictions” (1 Thessalonians 3:3). Afflictions were to be expected: “For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.” All Christians should expect to suffer afflictions in this world. Yet when trouble and sorrow come, how often Christians wonder if they have made a mistake. They wonder whether God has actually forgiven their sins. They wonder if they are really born again. But hear the word of the apostle: “Verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know” (3:4). Our Lord Jesus said to His disciples before He went away, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Acts 14:22 records Paul’s teaching “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Do not be discouraged, dear suffering Christians. Do not question your Father’s love because you are passing through sorrows or facing disappointing circumstances. The apostle Peter said, “Ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Paul did not want his work in Thessalonica to “be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5). There is always the possibility that people will make a Christian profession without genuine repentance and implicit faith in Christ. Sometimes it is easy to go along with the crowd when many are turning to the Lord. It is easy under such circumstances to make a profession when no real work of God has been done in the soul. Paul feared that there might be some in Thessalonica who had made a profession of Christ, but were not truly regenerated. So he sent Timothy to find out if their faith was genuine.
Timothy’s Report (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)
We can imagine what it must have meant to Paul to be in Athens in utter loneliness for some time. As he walked about the streets of that great city, his heart was stirred by the idolatry he saw. An ancient Greek writer said, “In Athens it is easier to find a god than a man.*’ Evidences of idolatry were everywhere, but not a single light was shining for Christ until Paul entered the city. He did not find much interest in the gospel until he was urged to go up to Mars Hill, where he gave the address recorded in Acts 17:22-31.
All the while Paul was witnessing in Athens, he was anxious about the young Christians at Thessalonica, but when Timothy brought a good report, it gladdened Paul’s heart. Timothy spoke of their “faith and charity [love]” (1 Thessalonians 3:6) and reported that they were progressing beautifully. The Thessalonians were living for God; in fact many had become preachers. Paul was “comforted” by the good news (3:7).
Because he was so definitely linked in spirit with these young converts, he said, “Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord” (3:8). Every real soul-winner knows something of the meaning of those words. When we have the privilege of bringing sinners to Christ, it cheers the heart, but what a joy it is to learn afterward that they are maintaining a bright, consistent testimony! Likewise Paul’s soul was refreshed and exuberant when he received the good news about the Thessalonian believers.
Young believers sometimes imagine that those who are older and act as guides and teachers are too severe if they warn about worldly things that militate against a real Christian testimony. But the love of God in the hearts of those leaders is so fervent that sometimes they have to say very strong things in order to impress on the young the importance of being wholly yielded to Christ. Let me assure you that when we stand at the judgment seat of Christ, no one will be sorry because he was completely yielded to the Lord. On that day there will be many who would give worlds, if they possessed them, to have another chance to be more devoted, more truly separated from the world, more out-and-out for their Savior in this world. Total commitment is what Paul wanted to see in his converts; it is what all faithful ministers of Christ—all soul-winners, all who have pastoral hearts—long to see in those who profess faith in His name.
Paul opened his heart to the Thessalonians. Preaching the gospel was not merely a profession. He did not go to a town, hold a series of meetings, and forget his converts when he moved on to another town. He carried his converts in his heart and always hoped to return to give them additional instruction in the faith and lead them farther along in the ways of Christ. He remembered them in prayer “night and day” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). He prayed that they might continue in the will of God and that as the truth was explained to them, they might learn to walk faithfully.
Paul’s Desire (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)
In verses 11 to 13 Paul expressed his prayerful desire for these young Christians. His words can be looked on as a prayer for every Christian from Paul’s day until the end of this dispensation.
First Thessalonians 3:13 speaks of the time when we will be “unblameable in holiness.” The apostle did not say, or even suggest, that we will reach that desired goal in this world. As long as we are here on earth, there will always be higher heights to reach and deeper depths to sound; there will always be sins over which we will need to have victory. But it is the will of God that by prayer we continue to make progress until at last we stand before our blessed Lord at the judgment seat. We will reach the goal “at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
We have already noted that the second coming of the Lord is presented in some aspect in each chapter of this Epistle. The first chapter tells us how the Thessalonians had turned from idols “to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son” (1:9-10). They lived in constant expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven. That was their daily attitude and it should be our attitude also. When we rise in the morning we should say, “The Lord Jesus may be back before night.” When we commit ourselves to God before going to bed, we should remind ourselves, “Before morning comes we may hear His voice and see His face.”
The second chapter tells us that all those whom we win to Christ will be our crown of rejoicing when the Lord returns to call His saints to be with Himself. All of us who are believers (no unsaved people will be present) will stand before the judgment seat and all our works will be evaluated. Everything that was of God—everything that was the result of the Spirit’s working in and through us, everything that was in accordance with the will of God—will bring its reward. The reward is pictured as a crown: the crown of life for those who have suffered for Christ’s sake; the crown of righteousness for those who loved His appearing; the crown of glory for those who fed the sheep of His flock; the incorruptible crown for those who pressed on steadfastly in the Christian race; and the crown of rejoicing for those who won souls. The Thessalonian believers will be included in Paul’s crown of rejoicing. He will see gathered at the judgment seat all those whom he led to Christ. Then, as the third chapter tells us, they will be established and “unblameable in holiness before God.”
Until that great day we are to press on; we are to put away every known sin and purge our lives of all filthiness. If someone says, “I have already attained perfect holiness,” he is simply deceiving himself, for Scripture says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). Holiness will not be attained until we meet our Savior, gaze on His face, and in that glorious moment become like Him. As 1 John 3:2 says, “When he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”