1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
Stephen Caswell © 1996
Don't Look Back
In Luke 9:62 Jesus says this about discipleship: But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." Discipleship costs something - salvation is God's free gift. But God wants all believers to become disciples and in our text He gives the requirements. He uses the figure of plowing to make a straight furrow.
The story is told of a man teaching his nephew how to plow a straight furrow in a field. I remember well my uncle, many years ago teaching me how to plow straight. I watched him start the field. He would first plow a " back furrow " in the middle of the field. If this back furrow were straight, all the other furrows would be the same. And then came the time for me to try. I had seen him make a furrow as straight as an arrow, and he told me the secret. He said, " Don't look at the furrow you are plowing. Keep your head up. Never look back to see how you are doing - look straight ahead. " Then, when he had put the plow point in at one end of the field, he gave me the reigns and said, " I'll stand at the other end and you keep your eye on me and plow straight toward me. Don't look down, don't look back - just keep your eyes on me. " This is the secret of the victorious Christian life. " Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith."
Believers must keep their eyes on Jesus Christ who has gone before them. Paul also said to mark those who walk properly and follow their example. Discipleship is a two way street requiring the disciples to follow and the discipler to be an example worthy of following. Paul had preached the gospel to the Thessalonians. He had also shown the believers what a disciple looked like. Now he sought to encourage them to become disciples, through a sincere follow-up or what we call discipleship. The Thessalonians had set their hope in God, but they needed help if they were going to grow in their faith. Paul followed up on these saints by involving himself in their sufferings and spiritual pilgrimage. Paul showed five qualities needed in a Sincere Follow-up.
The first quality of discipleship is: Sacrifice
Paul was willing to sacrifice his own needs by sending Timothy to them. Paul sacrificed a member from his own ministry team to help the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1 we read: Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, and sent Timothy our brother and minister of God, and our fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, Timothy was a brother in Christ. Paul probably lead him to the Lord on the first missionary journey. He then recruited Timothy to full time service with him on the second missionary journey when he was well spoken of by the brethren. He was also a minister of God. The word translated minister is the Greek word diakono" and means servant. We derive the word deacon from this same word. Timothy was a servant who was not afraid of hard work. Paul knew that a young church with new believers would have problems to sort out so he sent Timothy because of his patience and love. Timothy is also called our fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ.
Timothy was a good team man, he didn't try to run the show himself. He worked with Paul and other believers depending on God's grace to fulfil his tasks. And he faithfully executed his tasks that Paul had given him. In sending Timothy Paul was sending his best worker. Paul said this about Timothy to the Philippians: Phil 2:20-22
For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel.
Paul and Timothy were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the brethren. Are you prepared to give up some of your time to meet with another believer and share a Bible study with them? Are you prepared to let your spouse spend time with someone else who needs encouragement? Sacrifice is necessary if we are going to see growth amongst God's people.
The second characteristic of a good follow-up is: Support
When a farmer wanted to break in a new ox, he would place it together with an older ox and they would carry the same yoke. The older ox would teach the younger impetuous one what to do. The older one demonstrated to younger one how they were to work together and what was required. The experience of the older ox helped establish the younger one in ploughing fields. Similarly Paul sent Timothy to help the younger Thessalonians in their faith. 1 Thessalonians 3:2 says: And sent Timothy...to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, He sent Timothy to perform two tasks: 1. To establish them. 2. To encourage them.
Paul wanted to help them in their trials, so he sent Timothy to them on his behalf. Timothy was a faithful worker who would help the Thessalonians become established. The word establish sthrizw means to settle, confirm, to render mentally steadfast. Timothy would give them solid teaching to help establish them. He would also encourage them. The word encourage parakalew means to comfort, to console, to exhort, to cheer up. He would do this by pointing them to the Lord. He would remind them of how others were enduring persecution. Paul was concerned that these young Christians might be encouraged unless they give up. When Timothy returns he shows how insightful Paul had been. The Thessalonians were perplexed about the suffering they were experiencing. So Paul wrote to encourage them concerning suffering.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 we read: that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
Paul reminded them of what he'd previously said. He had said that they would suffer persecution. And this is exactly what happened to them. They weren't doing something wrong or being punished for sin. Their fruitful Christian lives made them enemies of Satan and the world. They were not to be concerned about their fiery trial, for this was part of God's will for them.
Do you help other believers who are suffering? Are you prepared to come alongside younger believers who need help and could gain from your Christian experience? Do you settle them down and point them to the Lord? Suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. But that doesn't mean that we can't encourage one another in it. Let's stand together in suffering. But Timothy was given another task to perform when he visited the Thessalonian believers.
The third quality of discipleship is: Surveillance
While I was training at Bible College I had to sit for many exams. The exams were the culmination of my grades for the various subjects. The lecturers try to prepare us as well as they can. I spent a good deal of time reading and reviewing the subjects. My wife quizzed on the review questions we had been given on the subjects. The lecturers test us, to see if we have learned the subject. We can sit in class for seven weeks, take notes and read the text books. But they cannot gauge how well we have learned the subject until they test us. The results of the exam prove whether we know the subject or not.
The Thessalonian Believers
Similarly the Thessalonian believers had received a baptism of fire. Paul was forced out of town after only a few weeks of ministry. They were suffering for their faith right from the outset. Paul had prepared them as well as he could. He had taught most of the Christian doctrines to them. But now he was concerned about how they were bearing. He made several attempts to visit them, but Satan hindered him each time.
When he could endure it no longer, Paul sent Timothy to encourage them and bring back word of how they were going. The first four verses reveal Paul's concern for these precious saints whom he had won to Christ. 1 Thessalonians 3:5 says this: For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.
The Thessalonian's Exam
Timothy was to examine their faith and see if they were passing the test. He was to bring a report back, so that Paul would be better informed of their situation and could pray more effectively. Timothy wasn't sent to spy on them, but rather Paul was genuinely concerned for their well being. Paul wanted to know if false doctrine had crept in so he could correct it. He wanted to know if they were living as they should. He wanted to know if they had any questions concerning the faith. So while Timothy was ministering amongst them he observed their faith in real life, not just on Sundays. He saw that some were unruly and not working. Some were busy bodies and causing strife in the fellowship. Others were concerned over believers who had died.
They were afraid that they might miss out on the resurrection at Christ's return. (4:13-18) So Timothy noted the positive and negative points in the church. He brought his report back to Paul so he could take the appropriate action. The test of the Thessalonians faith, like my exams, showed Paul how they were going in the Christian life. Paul examined Timothy's report and took the necessary action.
Are you concerned about your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you visit those who have not come for some time, to find out if they are sick or going through some trial? We need to follow Paul's example by showing genuine concern for our brethren. This does not mean spying on each other to point the finger. Rather we should look out for one another with their good in mind. Then we can pray for on another more effectively, and help with a word of encouragement, etc.
This leads us to the fourth quality of discipleship: Stimulation
Timothy brought his report back from the Thessalonian church. 1 Thessalonians 3:6: But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you --
Timothy returned after encouraging them and observing their Christian walk. He had seen the suffering that they faithfully endured. He saw a faith proven through love and good works. He brought these findings back to Paul. Timothy's return was accompanied by:
Ÿ Good news of their faith and love.
Ÿ Good remembrance of Paul by Thessalonians.
Ÿ Great desire to see Paul and his friends.
Firstly we observe that the report of their faith was called good news. This is the same word used to describe the gospel. Paul couldn't have been more delighted than to hear this. Their faith was firmly grounded in God's word because they stood firmly on it during their affliction. They practically worked out their salvation through love. The Thessalonians also had good remembrance of the apostles. They didn't believe the lies told about them, but held them in high esteem and reverenced them. They longed to see Paul and his team again. Paul's Responded with thanksgiving: 1 Thessalonians 3:7-9 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God,
Ÿ He was comforted by their faith in his affliction.
Ÿ He Gave thanks to God for their persistence.
Ÿ He wrote them a letter.
Ÿ He prayed for them.
A Father Writes to His Son
The story is told of a father that had cancer who wrote a letter to his son. The son had just left the security of teaching and gone into full-time freelance writing. The son's life was very uncertain. The father said, " I know you, I know what's behind you, and I am pretty sure that I understand your goals and the kind of writing you hope to do and the message you wish to convey. Stay in there, and may the Lord bless you. If you ever get in a tight place and need some ready cash, let me know. I think I know where I can lay my hands on some of it. " This letter shows you the kind of concern that a father has for his children.
Paul and the Thessalonians
Paul received encouragement in his own struggles and persecution by the Thessalonian's faith. Their persistence comforted Paul, in his own suffering. He knew that his labour had not been in vain. And because of their perseverance, Paul rejoiced and thanked God for them. But then Paul wrote to them to encourage them and spur them on further. He praised them for their godly example and then challenged them to grow even more. Although Paul hadn't been able to personally visit them at this time, he could still write to them and tell them how proud he was of them. He told them that he loved them and greatly desired to see them. A word of encouragement from someone you respect and hold dearly can make such a difference when you are going through hard times. This letter was exactly what the Thessalonians needed to hear. It would have stimulated them to persevere in their faith. And this letter that Paul wrote was not just any letter it was the inspired word of God. Today we have the legacy of the two letters that Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.
Do you give a word of encouragement to those going through trials and suffering? Do you send cards to those who suffer the loss of a loved one? Do you write to missionaries who are suffering, and all alone, serving overseas? Have you ever rung your pastor or some other friend going through deep waters to tell them you appreciate them and then shared a verse of Scripture with them to encourage them? These are just some ways we as members of the body of Christ can encourage one another and spur each other on to persevere.
The fifth quality of discipleship is: Supplication
When People Pray
Peter and John were in danger. The religious leaders in Jerusalem opposing the gospel had warned them to cease their missionary efforts (Acts 4:18). When the apostles reported this to the other believers, they immediately held a prayer meeting. What happened next is thrilling. The believers first praised God. Then they asked for boldness that they might continue the work. The results were dramatic. The house shook, and the believers were filled with the Spirit. They boldly witnessed and enjoyed spiritual unity. They gave unselfishly to those in need.
Paul Prays for the Thessalonians
As we mentioned earlier, Paul also prayed for the Thessalonians. 1Thessalonians 3:10-13 says:
night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
Because they were suffering, he prayed a number of specific things for them.
Ÿ That God might direct him to them. v 10-11.
Ÿ That their faith might be perfected. v 10. (mature)
Ÿ That their love might abound. v 12.
Ÿ That they might be holy at Christ's coming. v 13.
Paul greatly desired to see them and help them grow further in their faith. He wanted to be with them and teach them more of the word. Paul knew the importance of being grounded in the Scriptures. He could also encourage them by his own example, his life displayed the message he spoke. For faith to grow, it must be tested. But those going through trials need encouragement. Paul prayed also that they might become perfect, or mature, complete. Next he prayed that their love might abound to one another and to all. The Thessalonians had just been commended for their love in verse 6 and also in chapter 1:3. But Paul is praying that their love might increase even more. There is always room for growth in the Christian life.
They could develop their love even more, just as Paul said that their love for them was increasing. The Thessalonians could have become selfish because of their suffering. So Paul prays for them that they will abound in love. Not putting up walls to protect themselves during trials, but rather drawing closer to one another for comfort and encouragement. Paul's final request was that they might grow in holiness, so as to be blameless at Christ's coming. This had a long range view, for it took in the present and looked into the future. They believed that Christ could come back at any moment. The same is true today, Christ could return today. There is no prophecy that needs to be fulfilled before He can come for His church. And the day of salvation is closer now than it was when we first believed.
The frequency and intensity of Paul's prayers for them is seen in verse 10, night and day, praying exceedingly. Paul knew the importance of prayer. He was willing to spend a lot of time in prayer for them. New believers need to be taught and encouraged. They also need our prayers.
Do you spend time in prayer for those who are young in the faith? Do you pray for those who are ministering the word? Have you told someone that you will pray for them and not followed through? Prayer is a ministry that is greatly neglected today in our churches. Yet it is one of the most important ministries of all. The apostles kept their priorities in the right order.
They said this in Acts 6:2 & 4 it is not right for us to wait on tables, we will devote ourselves to the ministry of the word and to prayer. Will you commit yourself to prayer for our brothers and sisters and particularly those who are suffering for their faith?
Paul showed his genuine concern for those he led to Christ by following them up. When he was with new believers he talked and walked the Christian life before them. But when he was absent he still exercised an effective ministry of follow-up. Paul left us an example of how to follow-up or disciple younger Christians, and particularly those who are suffering.
I. Sacrifice: Paul was prepared to give up one of his own ministry team to help others. Are you prepared to give of your time and resources to help someone younger in the faith? Are you prepared to sacrifice some of your time with your spouse or family to help another?
II. Support: Timothy lived amongst the Thessalonian believers to establish and encourage them in their struggles. Are you prepared to come alongside someone who needs help to bear the load? Are you prepared to share some of your experience and past trials to help another believer?
III. Surveillance: Timothy was able to bring back an accurate report to Paul. Paul could then further help the Thessalonians in their faith. Do you look out for those who are struggling with trials or sin? Do you then use this information for their good or for their harm through gossip? We should follow Paul's example and share an appropriate word to encourage each other.
IV. Stimulation: Paul stimulated the Thessalonians in their faith by writing to them. He praised them for what they were doing well and corrected them where it was needed. This is an area that believers don't make enough use of. Do you write to encourage those serving on the mission field? Have you dropped a line to the pastor or a sick friend to encourage them?
V. Supplication: Paul recognised the importance of prayer by praying earnestly night and day. He knew that God was able to work mightily in the lives of the believers and if he could not be there to help them God was always present. Do you pray for those who are struggling with trials or suffering? Do you pray specifically as Paul did? Do you pray that God will so work in their lives that they might be blameless and holy at Christ's coming?
I pray that the Lord will enable us to follow up people as Paul did. That we might be involved in both evangelism and discipleship and play a part in maturing God's people in view of Christ's return. Amen. May God bless you as you seek to serve Him.
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.