Updated: Nov 5
Paul, as we may recall, had to leave this young church in a hurry under cover of night (Acts 17:10). He was only with them for three weeks. As he proclaimed the message of Christ, and some accepted the message of Jesus, this stirred up a mob against Paul and the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul feels like he had to leave this young church as an orphan. His heart is one of great concern for them. He had not had the time to spend with them, teaching them and establishing their faith as he desired. He knows the intense persecution, trials, and hardships they experience because they accepted Christ. For this reason, Paul had made every effort to return to them (2:17-18). However, he had been hindered from doing so; the adversary had blocked him.
1 Thessalonians is a very personal and heartfelt letter. Paul's hope, joy, and crown is to see this young church develop, grow, and mature. As parents and grandparents, we desire to see our families grow and mature. Our concern is for the welfare of our families. This is the heart of Paul's ministry and how he relates to the church. They are his glory and his joy.
Fear of the Unknown
It's often the unknown that creates anxiety. When my daughter is way down south with her friends, it's dark, and she has a 45-minute drive home, my mind fills with worry. Is she ok? How is the weather outside? Will it be raining? Most of us can relate to waiting up for our children. What about that diagnosis from the doctor? It does not sound good. We are still determining the next step. It's often the waiting, the unknown, that creates anxiety.
Paul, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, is no different.
1 Thessalonians 3:1–5 (NIV)
"So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 2 We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, 3 so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. 5 For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain."
Paul was worried about the faith of this young church. Birthed in trials, persecution, and hardship, was their faith holding up under the pressure? After all, Paul left them before he had the opportunity to firmly establish them. Was the anxiety, fear, and trials so severe that his children in the Lord had abandoned their faith? A world of "unknown" swirling around in Paul's mind. He could not see the end. He could not be with them. Were they standing amid the trials?
The unknown can often fill our minds with anxiety. However, let me mention here it was not all about Paul or all up to Paul. The Lord's hand was with this young church.
1 Thessalonians 1:4–5
"For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake."
The Spirit was at work within them. Often, we may not see the end. We may not know the next step. The diagnosis may look dark, and it could be raining outside. I am not trying to minimize the anxiety we may feel. I am not dismissing the discouragement, doubt, or pain of the unknown. My point is that we do not stand on our own. As Christians, the Lord's hand is at work in our lives. We may not see the outcome, and we may not understand the present. However, are we trusting the Lord and His wisdom? Do we recognize it's not all about us or up to us? God is working in His creation. As a Christian, He is working through you for His creation. Are we trusting Him in this?
The reason for this letter is Timothy has just brought good news.
1 Thessalonians 3:6–10 (NIV)
"6 But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. 7 Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. 8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith."
Paul's fears are eased. He learns this young church lives faithfully to the Gospel of Christ through hardships and trials. They are standing firm in the Lord.
How did this very young church of Christians manage to stand firm? This was a mostly Gentile group of Christians. They didn't have a history of crossing the Red Sea to remember. They didn't have a history of thousands of years of stories and the Lord's faithfulness. They had seen the Lord at work as Paul proclaimed Christ. The Holy Spirit was present with power.
What about us? How can we remain faithful? Many of us have been Christians for a long time. Some of us are new Christians. We are blessed with the Scriptures. We hold, in our hands, a reliable collection of accounts that speak to God's faithfulness and power. Some of us have seen the Lord's faithfulness over the years of trials in our own lives, but all of us have the Scriptures to read and remind us of God's works.
We can remain faithful as we live in the way He has revealed for us to live through His Word.
Crossing The Context
The letter of 1 Thessalonians is a letter from the apostle Paul to a young church that is facing adversity. There are a lot of questions to be answered. Growth and maturity will be needed. However, in the present, they are standing faithfully in the Lord.
We may not see the outcome. The unknown can create anxiety. Things may not look like we expected. In the present, are we trusting the Lord as we remain faithful to Him?
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).
resources & downloads
Article: Encouraging News
Notes & Handout: Encouraging News
Slides (PDF): Encouraging News
BibleProject: Guide-Book of 1 Thessalonians
BibleProject: 1 Thessalonians Overview Video