Lesson 7: "When I Could No Longer Forbear, I Sent. . ." (I Thessalonians 3:5)
Acts 17:10-16; I Thessalonians 3:1-13
This is Lesson #7. We said, when we attempted to outline this book, that this section (chapter 3) had to do with the happening after Paul left Thessalonica. It seems to me a natural extension to the discussion in our last study. In chapter 2, Paul began by calling to memory "our entrance in unto you," in Paul's words. In v. 17-20 at the end of chapter 2, Paul talked about "being taken from you" (was Paul's words in v. 17). Chapter 3 is not a summary of Paul's travel and teaching after leaving Thessalonica in the sense that Paul reviewed in chapter 2. As you would expect, in chapter 3, Paul covered only that which was pertinent to the Thessalonian brethren, by pointing out some of what had happened since Paul had last seen them , and the emphasis is upon the things that ultimately led up to Paul's writing this letter.
Now, before we read, let's review this much. Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica from Philippi. It is true they stopped over at Almphipolis and Appolonia; but, we know no details. Luke and Timothy were left at Philippi for a time; but, Timothy had come on to Thessalonica to assist Paul and Silas. Then, in only a matter of weeks, "the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea..." And, that same verse (Acts 17:10) says there was a synagogue at Berea. However, we don't have any hint of the time frame at Berea. Acts 17:11 says that "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." What that really means is this, the Jews at Berea were not riled by Paul's teachings, like the Jews at Thessalonica. At Thessalonica, the Jews objected; the Gentiles listened. At Berea, the Jews and Gentiles both listened. The Jews followed Paul's teachings in what we would call the Old Testament until the Jewish troublemakers from Thessalonica showed up. When the troublemakers finally came, "then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea" — that's Acts 17:14. Then, that verse concludes by saying very plainly, "but Silas and Timothy abode there still," i. e. Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. Thus, it is conclusive that Timothy came on to Berea, also. And, it's just as conclusive that Timothy stayed at Berea for a time. Some think Silas and Timothy went on to Athens. That is simply not what the text says. Look at Acts 17:15 just a moment: "they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy for to come to him with all speed, THEY departed." The point is, the brethren conducted Paul to Athens (we would probably say "escort"). Paul's escorts carried Paul's message back to Silas and Timothy to come to Paul in Athens. Then, Luke said in Acts 17:16, "Now while Paul waited for THEM at Athens..." However, no place does it say that Silas and Timothy came to Athens as Paul requested. It's evident they did, because, in the chapter we are getting ready to read (I Thess. chapter 3), Paul said in the first and second verses that he sent Timothy back to the Thessalonian brethren when he was at Athens. Now, it is not clear, at least it's not clear to me, who Paul included in the pronoun "we" in this first verse here, when Paul says, "we thought it good to be left at Athens alone..." Does that include Silas? Well, like I said, I don't know; because, in Acts 18:5, after Paul had gone on to Corinth from Athens, it says, "when Silas and Timothy were come FROM Macedonia..." Of Course, you know from your map that Thessalonica and Berea (City #28 and City #29) were in Macedonia. Now, that was the day, or shortly after that, that Paul sits down to write this letter called "First Thessalonians." It would be my wild guess, that when Timothy went back to Thessalonica, Silas went back to Berea for a short span ; and, he most likely did at Berea essentially what timothy did at Thessalonica, i. e. to establish them and comfort them concerning their faith. Like I said, that's just a guess concerning Silas.
Alright, with that much review and background, let's read chapter three. Have you got your eyes on it? I Thess. chapter 3, beginning in v. 1. Let's read! "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timothy, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain. But, now when Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings 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 we 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 establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."
Alright, if you're ready, back-er-up to v. 1. WHEREFORE1 Now, what's "wherefore?" It's in the dictionary. I looked it up! "Wherefore" means: "for which cause." In other words, "wherefore" connects this back to what was said at the end of chapter 2, "For ye are our glory and joy" (v. 20). Now, when Paul couldn't stand it any longer, he sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to inquire about their welfare, and, especially their spiritual welfare. We've already said Paul sent Timothy back to Thessaslonica when Paul was at Athens. And, Paul emphasized he was "at Athens alone." Athens was filled with idol gods (little "g"). Most people saw Athens as a very religious place. To Paul, it was perhaps one of the most God-less places that Paul ever visited. However, Paul had moved on the Corinth when Timothy finally made it back from Macedonia (Acts 18:5). The first half of v. 2, here, describes who Timothy was, and the second half of v. 2 tells why Paul sent Timothy. Timothy was a brother in Christ. Timothy was a minister of God. Timothy was Paul's fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ. Paul did not look upon Timothy as his servant. They were simply brothers in Christ — Brother Paul and Brother Timothy. Now, the word "minister" means very simply, "one who serves." Notice Timothy was a minister of God; Timothy served God. Then finally, Paul described Timothy's relationship to himself as a "fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ." They were simply "fellow laborers." No one was chained to any one. Timothy made these trips for Paul because Timothy wanted to, not because he was obligated. Timothy was as concerned about the babes in Christ at Thessalonica as Paul was. Of course, Timothy, a younger preacher, probably stayed in the background during the uproar at Thessalonica; so, Timothy was able to go back and they would let him in. They had Paul's number, you see. It was not as easy for Paul. There may have been other reasons, I don't know — health reasons — Timothy being younger, possibly Timothy could travel faster. Now, that was who Timothy was. Why did Paul send Timothy? That's the last part of v. 2. Two reasons are given: (1) "to establish you," i. e. to assist them in getting grounded in the faith, and (2) "to comfort you concerning your faith." To me, that needs no explanation. It's so easy for babes in Christ to get discouraged and frustrated and chuck it all. You've seen it happen! Paul had seen it happen! Jesus described it in the parable of the sower as the stony ground — "But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended" (Matt. 13:20-21). Paul was concerned. Paul knew that Timothy would nurture them with the tenderness they needed. They may need cultivation, they may need irrigation, to keep that spiritual root alive; but, God gives the increase (I Cor. 3: 6-7). Isn't that what Paul was saying in v. 2, when Paul said he "sent Timothy...to establish you? In Jesus' statement back there in the parable of the sower, Jesus said when "tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word..." Now, look at what Paul said here in v. 4, you see, it has to do with tribulation and persecution. Paul wasn't quite sure how much pressure the Jews had applied to these babes in Christ since Paul and Silas were conducted out of town that night. What can WE learn from this? It's obvious ~ babes in Christ need to be established in the faith. Jesus said it! Paul demonstrated it!
Now, get your eyes on v. 5. Paul said, "for this cause...," i. e. for the very cause we have been talking about, Paul's concern for the Thessalonian brethren. In v. 5, Paul said it was "for this cause," that Paul "sent to know" their faith. Notice the way the word "faith" is used in v. 5! Faith is not something that comes full-grown, fully developed, no flaws, wrapped in bright paper with a fancy ribbon around. Faith cometh by hearing (Rom. 10:17). One must hear the word and digest the word to develop faith. It's just that simple. Very simply, v. 5 says that's the reason Paul was concerned "lest by any means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain." Satan has many devices. Paul feared that some at Thessalonica may have succumbed to Satan's devices. That's simply another way of expressing the same thing contained in vs. 2 - 3 - 4, isn't it? Now, may I ask you something right here? Have you heard of the doctrine of Calvinism, i. e. once saved, always, saved. That doctrine teaches we were elected to be saved or lost before the foundation of the world. You can't do anything to increase or decrease your chances of heaven. Brethren, if the Bible contained only these few verses, it would be sufficient to disprove that doctrine.
Alright, v. 6, the word "now" is an adverb of time. This would indicate Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians the very day Timothy came to Corinth. So, what was the good news that relieved Paul's anxiety? Analyze v. 6. Paul said (1) "Timothy...brought us good tidings of your faith and charity," (2) "and that ye have good remembrance of us always," and, finally, (3) they desired greatly to see Paul and Silas, as much as Paul and Silas desired to see them. What would that do for your morale? The apostle John, in his old age, wrote a letter to his friend Gaius. We call that letter III John. In that letter, the old apostle said in v. 4, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth." The apostle Paul must have had that same feeling at Corinth the day Timothy returned with good news. Paul expressed his thoughts and feelings here in vs. 7-8. Paul said, "we were comforted over you." In the last part of v. 7,
Paul added "in all our affliction and distress." It has long been debated what Paul alluded to in these words about their affliction and distress. It all seems simple enough to me, when you remember Paul and Silas were expelled from Philippi, they were sent away from Thessalonica by night, they were conducted away from Berea, and then Paul had been very depressed by the Athenian situation. Then, judging from the trend, Corinth must have had its depressing moments as well. The question that makes up vs. 9 - 10 is Paul's rhetorical way of expressing his elation and appreciation for the state of faith that Timothy found in Thessalonian brethren. Verse 11 is Paul's prayer that he might return to them to encourage them on to even greater heights, but, we have no evidence that Paul returned to Thessalonica for something like five years after the time discussed here. Acts 20:1 probably includes Thessalonica in the word Macedonia. Remember, in the mean time, Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth. Then, Acts 18:23 said Paul "spent some time" at Antioch of Syria, which was the beginning of the third missionary journey. From Antioch, Paul retraced his footsteps "over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, strengthening all the disciples," we learned this in the same verse, Acts 18:23. Then, of course, he spent three years at Ephesus according to Acts 20:31. So, that all adds up to at least five years before Paul made it back to Thessalonica, unless he made a brief visit that is not recorded by Luke, which is not likely, We have already said during our introduction to this course, that it was probably during the three month occasion of Acts 20:3, that Paul wrote the books of Galatians and Romans. Thus, from these same calculations, it is evident there was a space of about 5 or 6 years between the book of I Thessalonians and those other books mentioned, i. e. Galatians and Romans.
In the last two verses of this chapter, i. e. vs. 12 - 13 of chapter 3, Paul expresses best wishes for the congregation at Thessalonica. These wishes are expressed somewhat in the form of a suggested program of work. Those wishes included (1) that, "the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another." Then, further (2) the apostle extends this thought to include, not only that they increase and abound in love one toward another, but, that their love would extend to "all men." Then the apostle explained the manner in which he would like to see that accomplished, by saying, "even as we do toward you" — that's at the end of v. 12. These are most affectionate words. Then, in v. 13, the apostle expanded his thought by building into the reason and purpose behind these good wishes. (3) "to the end he [i. e. the Lord] may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God.." And, (4) that this heart established condition would ultimately lead to and culminate in their being found faithful at the judgment. This last thought, "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints," is probably an illusion to some of Paul's personal teaching back at Thessalonica. As Paul brings his most warm and cordial wish to an abrupt end, one is tempted to listen for a terminal "Amen," as if this is the end, not only of the thought just expressed, but, also, of the entire epistle. However, we discover instead, this is simply a pause the apostle used to shift gears from one theme to another. We'll get back to this change in context in our next lesson. Until then, have a good day!