Green Tree Bible Study 3: The Preacher and His People (1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13)

By Dr. Robert E. Picirilli

The heartbeat of Paul is the essence of this passage. It is captured it in the message of 3:8: Now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.

Paul’s own sense of being alive was tied in with the success of his converts. So far, Paul has been reviewing his ministry at Thessalonica. That ministry was cut short and Paul and his co-workers were forced to leave the city (see Acts 17:1-9).

But with Paul out of sight was notout of mind (2:17). He had labored to give spiritual birth to the Thessalonian believers, and he had no intention of abandoning them. So his ministry to them continued. He tells how he had attempted to return to Thessoloníca (2:17-20). At least twice (“once and again”– v. 18) he made specific plans that fell through. Satan (adversary) was at work. How Satan hindered Paul we are not told; he has a thousand ways. But understand this: even Satan’s roadblocks can come only as God permits (compare II Corinthians 72:7 and Job 7:6-2:8). It was God’s will that Paul continue to be interested in the Thessalonians’ spiritual welfare and make plans to return. But it was also God’s will to allow Satan to stop him.

Paul didn’t waste time in frustration and bitterness. He went on to the next alternative: he sent Timothy to them (3:1-5). Notice the cost: being left alone in Athens (v. 1). That emotion was outweighed by another which was twice verbalized: “l could no longer forbear” (vv. 1, 5). Paul couldn’t stand not knowing how the Thessalonian believers were doing.

Notice, also, Paul’s three objectives in sending Timothy:

1.To establish the Thessalonians (v. 2).

2. To encourage them in the face of the afflictions they were experiencing (vv. 2-4).

3.To inform himself about their spiritual progress (v. 5).

Paul knew that Timothy could be trusted on such a mission. (Note the three-fold description of him in verse 2.)

Paul anxiety (“affliction and distress” v. 7) about the spiritual lives of the Thessalonians is apparent. His fear is spelled out in verse 5 (“lest somehow the tempter have tempted you and our labor be in vain.”) Apparently he considered it a real possibility that their faith could fail and his work go down the drain. Out of that agony of uncertainty he sent Timothy.

Consequently, he received Timothy’s report with joy (3:6-10). Timothy’s return brought good news (“Glad tidings” v.6) (The word used here is the same word that often means the “gospel”). It is apparent the effect this had on Paul: encouragement (v. 7), thanksgiving (v. 9), rejoicing (v. 9), and renewed prayers for the Thessalonians (v. 10).

Verse 8 summarizes the situation: The Thessalonian converts were standing fast in the faith. This was like a new lease on life for Paul. He didn’t “live” unless his people prospered. In 2:19 and 20 that is even clearer.

Paul’s glory and joy were in those he won to Christ and nurtured in the faith. His crown would be mature disciples to present to Jesus at His return (compare Colossians 1:28, 29). His whole life was tied up in his converts.

Paul continued to pray for the Thessalonions (3: 1 1-13). We have seen that Timothy’s report renewed Paul’s prayers (v. 10). Now Paul includes in this letter the essence of his “night and day” prayer for them. There are three main petitions:

1. For another opportunity to visit them (v. 11; compare this with v. 10);

2.For their abundant increase in Christian love (v. 12)

3.For their establishment in holy living (v. 13).

The lesson of this passage is powerful. When God’s servant is committed to the spiritual welfare of those he ministers to, he will not spare himself. Like Paul, he will be open to the pain of caring thus for others. His own sense of well being will depend on how they fair.

But a great possibility for agony always means an even greater potential for joy. What we invest of ourselves introducing people to the joy of heaven will not go unnoticed when the Lord comes.