Forced Absence from Thessalonica (cont’d), 1-13
3:1 So when we could bear it no longer, we decided to stay on in Athens alone. 3:2 We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you and encourage you about your faith, 3:3 so that no one would be shaken by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 3:4 For in fact when we were with you, we were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction, and so it has happened, as you well know. 3:5 So when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter somehow tempted you and our toil had proven useless.
We decided to stay on in Athens – about 500 km (300 miles) distant from Thessalonica.
We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for God in the Gospel of Christ –
To strengthen and encourage you about your faith – Timothy may indeed be described as ‘God’s co-worker’, since his role here is described in terms very similar to that of the Lord himself in v12f.
We were telling you in advance that we would suffer affliction – To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed!
I sent to find out about your faith – Had Satan destroyed the church, rendering all of Paul’s work useless?
3:6 But now Timothy has come to us from you and given us the good news of your faith and love and that you always think of us with affection and long to see us just as we also long to see you! 3:7 So in all our distress and affliction, we were reassured about you, brothers and sisters, through your faith. 3:8 For now we are alive again, if you stand firm in the Lord. 3:9 For how can we thank God enough for you, for all the joy we feel because of you before our God? 3:10 We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith.
The good news – the ‘gospel’ – of your faith and love – Two key characteristics of the Christian life serve as signs of its reality. Their ‘love’ is expressed in their affection for Paul and their longing to see him again.
Now we are alive again – As we might say: ‘I can breath again, now that I’ve heard the good news’.
We thank God…for you, for all the joy we feel because of you – For Paul, joy finds its natural expression in thankfulness toward God himself. How tragic it is for people to be happy, and have no-one to thank (or forget to thank the God they claim to believe in)!
We pray earnestly night and day to see you in person and make up what may be lacking in your faith – Although he is glad to hear about their faith and love, he knows that every Christian, and every Christian community, is ‘a work in progress’, and in need of further strengthening and encouragement.
Acts 20:1 records the fulfilment of Paul’s wish to visit Thessalonica again.
3:11 Now may God our Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 3:12 And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, 3:13 so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Paul doesn’t’ just talk about prayer (v10). Now, he actually prays for them. He turns into prayer what he has previously wished for: that he might visit them in person (v11). He also prays that they might grow in love and holiness; these themes are picked up again in ch. 4.
And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all – A sure sign of Christian growth is that love will not only grow deeper, but wider. See Gal 6:10.
Blameless…at the coming of our Lord Jesus – That coming, for Paul, was imminent, though not immediate (2 Thess 2). So this is not an excuse for deferral of holiness, but a spur to be holy now, in readiness for the Lord’s return.
The coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints – with all his ‘holy ones’. These could be, as the present translation implies, believers who have died (1 Thess 4:16f), or the angels (Mk 8:38; 2 Thess 1:7).