Encouragement for Christian Living

Encouragement for Christian Living

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

Encouragement for Christian Living

The apostle Paul dreamed a great dream for the people of Greece. Having been persecuted and pressured to leave the Greek city of Thessalonica he longed to return to the city and encourage the new ministry there. However each time he tried to return Satan “thwarted” him. Satan comes along when we know we are at the center of God’s will and throws up roadblocks. When we meet opposition and hindrances Satan is the source. He manipulates minds to arouse opposition and plant obstacles to our doing God’s will. The devil has clever ability to bring the opposition to the believer who has his heart-centered in doing God’s will His way. He will work through people and circumstances to stir things up. He is persistent and he is evil. “He is a liar and a murderer” (John 8:44). He is supreme in the realm of evil spirits (2 Thess. 2:9). He constantly opposes God and people who desire to do God’s will. He knows how to lull us to sleep to his best advantage. He can even use our thoughts and affections and passions to his advantage. He deceives with false philosophies of the new age movements and the cults. He mixes a little bit of truth with a lot of evil. Paul warned us about the source of their resistance to the kingdom of God in Ephesians 6:12. He wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

In the context of chapter three the apostle Paul longed to go to Thessalonica and encourage the new believers, but for some unknown reason to us, he was blocked (2:17, 18). He had been depressed at the turn of events in Macedonia.


The apostle Paul was concerned for the church at Thessalonica. He longed to see them face-to-face. “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face” (2:17). Though he could not be with them in person, his heart was there. There was a great eager desire to be with them in person.

Have you ever wondered how your Christian walk will be ten years from now? Just like a father longs to know how his children are doing so the apostle Paul wanted to know how these beliefs were doing in their Christian life. There is a sense of warmth in his heart and depth of love for this new church. It is a pastor’s heart.

Therefore, when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.

Paul could no longer endure not knowing how they were doing so he sent Timothy to find out about them. He chose to be left alone in the city of Athens so he could have competent knowledge of their spiritual state. He longed to see them and encourage them in their walk with the Lord. In the meantime, Paul moved on to Corinth to work.

Because of his deep commitment to this group of believers, he “could bear it no longer.” He had not heard from them for so long and he was anxious for them as any parent is for their children. Therefore, he took action to find out about them. He uses the expression twice (vv. 1, 5).

Paul’s purpose in sending Timothy

As we have just noted one reason for sending Timothy was Paul’s anxiety over not knowing how the church was doing. But he also wanted to “strengthen and encourage them in their faith” (v. 2). Both verbs refer to strengthening the believers. The first verb has the idea of “putting in a buttress, a support.” The word “encourage” or “comfort” has the idea of strengthening. It means to “call to the side” of a person to encourage and strengthen. Paul gives “help by way of exhortation and so encouragement.” Timothy’s visit buttressed this faith. “He came to encourage them with a view to the strengthening of their faith” (Morris, Thessalonians, p. 100-01).

Paul wanted them to have a steady faith in God when things were going tough. He wanted to make sure these believers realized that God would take them through circumstances and use it for their personal and spiritual growth. Undoubtedly Paul was impressed with their steadfast faith because he mentions it five times in this chapter (vs. 2, 5, 6, 7, 10)

We have a plaque in our home  It simply reads:

Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Paul wanted to hear of something beautiful in their lives. He anxiously waited for a report from Timothy.

Paul had taught these believers that the Christian life is not a quick fix. When you believe in Christ you will experience pressures and persecution. Pressures will come to you because you are a Christian. This is why Paul reminds us to leave room in our lives for problems. The Christian life is not a bowl of cherries.

Paul says we warned you ahead of time “so that no man may be disturbed (or deceived) by these afflictions; for you, yourselves know that we have been destined for this” (v. 3). He was telling them ahead of time to not be surprised when they experience such things in their lives. It is going to come. Be prepared spiritually for it to happen.

The word for “disturbed,” or “deceived’ in the margin of the New American Standard, or “moved” in its original meaning is ‘a dog wagging its tail.” Perhaps the enemies of the gospel were suggesting an easy way out of their afflictions by denying Christ. They could wiggle their way out of their commitment to Christ.

There is no way out of these afflictions and troubles in the Christian life. Paul uses a strong word “destined” (v. 3) or “appointed” to suggest something that cannot be altered. Tribulation and persecution is not something that should catch us by surprise as though it is some strange thing or outside God’s love and purpose for us. God uses afflictions to strengthen and develop our character. “Suffering,” as Morris says, “is part of the process of living out the Christian life, and we should not regard it as something strange and alien. The God who is over all watches ever His children, and the affliction that comes to them is only such as he permits. There is always some lesson to be learned from it. It is always a part of our being shaped into what God would have us be” (p. 102).

We don’t know what these “afflictions” were at this time, but they may have been psychological as well as physical. There was intense anxiety over the believers. In Corinth, Paul experienced “weakness and much fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3).

Sometimes God removes afflictions and trials when we pray, at other times He doesn’t. He has perfect freedom to say no when they are used for our growth. It is better to pray that God will take them and use them in our lives to strengthen us and prepare us to minister to others.

The apostle Peter is a good example of this principle at work. Before His death, Jesus prayed for Peter. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Those are powerful words. God uses the pressures and afflictions that come into our lives to enable us to grow in His grace. Let’s pray that the afflictions and pressures that come to our lives will cause us to grow strong in our faith in God, increase our love and focus our hope on the coming of Christ in glory. Paul implies in verse five that Satan’s temptation is successful. Paul is apprehensive. Don’t be disturbed when you face “afflictions.” That is part of the Christian life. Just as God has appointed us to eternal life, so God has “appointed” us to suffer for and with Christ. We share in His suffering with the hope of sharing in His glory. This suffering is the earnest of our coming glory with Christ (Romans 8:17; Philippians 3:10-11).

The apostle Peter reminded his readers who were suffering for the cause of Christ: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).

Michael Holmes writes a practical application for our post-Christian generation:

I have witnessed firsthand the transformation of the United States . . . into a society in which traditional Christian ethical teachings and values are increasingly not only ignored but explicitly rejected by a steadily growing (as well as influential and powerful) percentage of society. As American society continues this transition from a Christian to a post-Christian culture, those who seek to live in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ can expect to encounter the kind of trials or persecution experienced by Paul and the Thessalonians, if only because the culture at large is less and less Christian. If we are serious about obeying the teachings of Jesus and the words of the apostles, we can expect to find ourselves experiencing opposition, hostility, exclusion, loss, and so forth––what Paul labels “trials”––simply because we are believers (NIV Application Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p107).

Then he goes on to remind anyone who watches the daily world news:

There are substantial numbers of Christians in the world today who find themselves in a situation––that of a persecuted minority facing opposition or attack by a socially dominant group . . . . More Christians may have died for their faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. Forced to deny Christ in order to live, they chose to confess Jesus and die, thereby bearing witness to him as both crucified Messiah and risen Lord and to their hope of the life to come (ibid, p. 108-09).

Like the apostle Paul, we too must learn to glory in tribulations (Romans 5:3). Suffering is an essential feature of God’s purpose for His people.

New Christians are sometimes deceived by well-meaning individuals and definitely by Satan to think that when they trust Christ for salvation all will be perfect. They think that now that I am a Christian I should no longer experience difficulties. They foolishly think that when pressures come in their life that there is something wrong with their faith. Many have bought into the false teachings of the “prosperity gospel.” When difficulties do come their faith is shattered. What a contrast to the remainder of Paul in Acts 14:22, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Paul reminds them in verse four, “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” The force of the continuous tense is “the warning was often on our lips” (Morris). There was no question about the persecution in Paul’s mind. It is a divine appointment. Leon Morris continues saying, “trouble, for the Christian, is not to be dismissed as totally evil. The hand of God is in it. He has appointed His people thereto.”

What he tells them is also true in our lives today. We need to be reminded of this great truth. We need to put on the whole armor of God so we can withstand Satan’s fiery darts that seek to destroy our faith.

Here are some abiding principles to keep in mind when we are suffering:

· When we share in Christ’s life we will also share in His suffering.

· When we suffer as believers it confirms that the world sees Christ living in us.

· When men persecute believers they can be sure that judgment will come in God’s perfect timing.

· When we are facing persecution and afflictions we can be assured that our faith is being refined and confirmed.

The apostle Paul prepared them well. God had led him to the capital city in the providence of Macedonia and the seed of the Gospel had been planted in fertile soil and bore fruit to eternal life. Make these truths part of your Christian contingency plan. Make room for afflictions, troubles and persecutions because they will come.


In all probability Paul wrote this letter as soon as possible after Timothy arrived. His arrival brought good news of their well-being. The arrival of Timothy was like a tonic and Paul responded to his coming with a full heart.

Timothy comes with good news

What was Timothy’s message when he met Paul in Corinth? It was “good news” (v. 6). This is the only place in the New Testament where this term is used out side of its regular meaning of preaching the good news of salvation in Christ. It was so good to Paul’s ears that it was like listening to the Gospel all over again. Just this once Paul uses this technical term for the greatest good news to describe the joy of the “good news of your faith and love.” It was also good news about their mutual attitudes toward Paul. They were just as concerned about him and he was for them. Bruce paraphrases the response of the believers, “Tell them we remember them with great affection and are as eager to see them as they are to see us.” They longed to see Paul just as he longed to see them. Their agape love for him is intense. They were “eagerly longing, yearning” to see him. This was a great encouragement for Paul. In our busy hurried world don’t forget to take time and make a phone call or jot off an email or send a post card to a former pastor and remind him of your love for him. These last few days I have received emails, phone calls and cards from people I have ministerd to   They were words of encouragement. Every person reading this needs a word of encouragement. Take time today to give someone a cup of cold water in his or her hot and thirsty land.

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord (vv. 6-8).

Paul’s work was not in vain. It was built upon a solid foundation in Christ. Their faith was strong and sure. Their love for one another and for the lost was evident. They had a strong faith in God in spite of the opposition from Satan. They had good memories of Paul.

Every God-called pastor can say with the apostle John when he received word like this from a former church: “I have no greater joy than this, than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). It is a habitual ordering your behavior, living by the truth and being obedient to it that John has in mind.

Paul is overflowing with joy at the good news. “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account . . . ” The joy they now felt for the Thessalonians overcame all anxiety they had experienced. They rejoiced over these believers in God’s presence. With a deep sense of joyful gratitude Paul breaks forth in prayer of thanksgiving for this good news that made him rejoice.

Paul’s prayer for the church

The apostle is filled with joy and thanksgiving at the good news and breaks forth in an earnest pray for them. Paul prayed “earnestly” for these believers. He prayed “night and day,” i.e. every time they came to his mind, both formal prayer and informal he prayed for them because they were on his heart all the time. He was not praying, “God bless I, me and mine.” Paul prayed “earnestly” for others.

Whatever he found himself doing he was also praying for the Thessalonian believers. They were seldom out of his thoughts night and day. Whenever he thought about them he prayed.

Paul was specific in his prayer for these believers.

1. He prayed to go back to them and visit them and see them personally (v. 9-10). “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?” His prayers came from the continual, passionate yearning to see his friends once more. He prayed fervently from a sense of deprivation.

2. He prayed for the opportunity to continue to minister God’s Word to them that he “may complete what is lacking in your faith” (v. 10). The apostle does not doubt their salvation. Paul wanted them to continue to grow in their faith in Christ. He wanted them to apply God’s Word to their daily life and trust God. He prayed for their spiritual growth. Their faith needed to be enlarged because their lives were not complete in their present experiences. Walvoord reminds us, “Nowhere in the Bible is the word perfect used to mean sinlessly perfect. . . Paul is praying that the Thessalonians might be complete and in the end might stand unblamable in holiness before God” (The Thessalonian Epistles, p. 45). That will take place when we see our Lord in glory and not before then. Walvoord adds, “While we are imperfect in this life, constantly falling short and having to come to God in confession of our sins, the day is coming when we shall be perfect, absolutely unblamable, not only in our position before God but in our spiritual state. That day will be when we stand before Christ at His coming. We are rightly concerned about our imperfections, but, thank God, if He has saved our soul He will never let us go until He has brought us to perfection which will be realized when Christ comes for His own.” Paul expects these believers to “grow in grace and attain the ultimate goal of being unblamable in holiness before Christ at His coming” (pp. 46-47).

3. Paul prayed that God would open a way for him to accomplish God’s will in his life. “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you . . .” (v. 11). He prayed and kept on praying that he could return to Thessalonica. He did return much later, but in the mean time God answered Paul’s prayer by sending another pastor and co-laborer, Timothy, to visit with them.

4. Paul prayed for their love to increase in verse twelve. He wrote, ” . . . and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you . . .” (v. 12). This is one of the signs of a mature church. How do we measure up in faith, hope and love? The love of God poured forth in the hearts of believers must overflow out to others without reserve.

5. He prayed that they would lead holy lives until Christ returned (v. 13). Will the Lord find us living the way we ought to live when He comes? Paul continues, “so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” “To be blameless in God’s sight is more important than being blameless by worldly standards. Their appearance before God at the Parousia will consummate their sanctification . . , ” writes Bruce. The Coming of Christ is a great incentive to be faithful to Him and live holy lives. The basic idea of “holiness” is being set apart for God. The word Paul uses signifies the state rather than the process of holiness. As Morris observes, “The believer does not simply live uprightly. He belongs to God; he is set apart entirely for God’s service.”

The holiness Paul longs to see in these believers is the likeness of Christ in their lives. The Holy Spirit produces this likeness as we yield to Him. When Christ comes we will enter into His glory and be holy as He is holy.

The apostle Paul was expecting God’s blessings. To what extent do we expect God to answer our prayers? The father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey’ motto was, “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.”


If Paul could have gone back to Thessalonica what would he have told them? In the next paragraph he tells us.

You know what to do, just do it (vv. 1-2)

Paul encouraged them to press on to greater spiritual heights. He encouraged them to keep on doing what they were already doing “that you may excel still more.” Just as Christ lived a life that brought pleasure to His Father “walk in a way that will please God.” You already know what to do, just keep on doing it daily. Paul had instructed them when he was there, and Timothy followed-up the ministry; therefore, they knew what to do.

He wrote in verses one and two, ” . . . brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” I fear for those who get bored with their Christianity. I think God places a true spiritual hunger and thirst in the believer so that we “may excel still more.”

What is the will of God? (vv. 3-12)

We often find ourselves seeking God’s will when we are faced with major life decisions such as who should I marry, which college should I attend, where should I minister, is God calling me to the Gospel ministry, etc. However, God’s will affects everything I do everyday. He has revealed Himself clearly in His Word and the Scriptures clearly states His will for us. Am I doing God’s will one day at a time? Am I obeying His revealed will in my daily life? If I love Him I will obey Him.

I doubt if we will take God’s will very seriously when He answers our prayer for direction and leadership if we do not already live according to His revealed will in His Word. One thing for sure, if we are already living in obedience to his Word we will find a more ready response in our heats to follow His leadership in personal decisions. If we pick and choose according to our personal dictates we will do the same with His Word.

Our sanctification is God’s will. “Sanctification” in verse 3 has a strong ethical sense. We have been separated to God and it should show in our daily lives.

“Abstain from sexual immorality.”

This is an important element in our sanctification. This was a problem in all the Gentile churches in the first century. Every church should deal with it as soon as it occurs just as Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Corinth (5:1). Paul uses the word porneia denoting any form of illicit sexual relationship. Christianity sanctified sexual union between man and woman within marriage and declared it forbidden outside of marriage. It was tolerated and encouraged in pagan Greek societies. Extramarital and premarital sex was easily available then as it is now. The idea of confining sexual intercourse within marriage went against Greek conventional morality of the period. Demonsthenes, an outstanding citizen of Athens in the fourth century B.C. said, “We keep mistresses for pleasure, concubines for our day-to-day bodily needs, but we have wives to produce legitimate children and serve as trustworthy guardians of our homes.” Modern pagans are just as pagan and without God.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ brought radical changes to the believer’s life style. To another church Paul wrote, “Shun fornication!” “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). In verses 3-5 he writes to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God . . .” Everyone of us should ask is my sexual behavior and values guided by God’s values? Am I obedient to His clear teaching? Jesus made it quite clear if God is not controlling our behavior then something or someone else other than God is. You cannot serve two masters. Who is in charge of my sexual life? Our body belongs to the Lord; it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:15-20).

Do not “transgress and defraud” your Christian brother.

In verse six he reminds us that we will all stand before God. He reminds them “that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” All of our behaviors should demonstrate a holy life. No one should enrich himself at his Christian brother’s expense. This would be true whether by adultery or in business dealings. Our business dealings should be a means of exalting Jesus Christ as Lord. One day we will each one stand before the Lord Jesus and give an account of our behavior (cf. 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 5:6; col. 3:5, 6).

God has called us to live a sanctified life.

In verses seven and eight he says we have received the Holy Spirit to enable us to live the holy life. “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” No matter how modern pagans try to rationalize it God did not call us to sexual impurity, but to sanctification. God has set us apart for Himself. We now belong to Him. We are reserved for His purpose. When I take my wife out on a special occasion I call ahead to a cuisine restaurant and make reservations. The table has a card on it that says, “Reserved for Wil and Ann Pounds.” No one else can use that table. It is set aside for a special use. God has reserved us for His special use. Therefore, we are sanctified to Him.

F. F. Bruce points out “the climax of sanctification appears in 3:13; 5:23, 24.” We are called saints for that is what we are so let’s go on to demonstrate it in our daily life (vv. 13, 14). We have been forgiven, cleansed and set apart for God’s use by the blood of Jesus Christ. “When He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). The gift of the Holy Spirit demands practical holiness in our lives because He indwells us, and works to conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. “The Spirit whom Christians have received is the Spirit of holiness, and nothing unholy can be tolerated in one whom He indwells: self-control is part of the fruit which His presence yields in a believer’s life (Gal. 5:22, 23)” (Thessalonians, p. 88).

Love one another.

We ought not have to be reminded of that because we love God because He first loved us. He set the example while we were still unlovely. “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more . . .” (vv. 9-10). It is God’s will that we love one another. This is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s inner life (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22). The Holy Spirit spreads abroad the love of God into our hearts. Let’s let it overflow to a lost and watching world.

Live a quiet life.

Mind your own business and do not become a busybody. Paul writes in verse eleven “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you . . . ” Earn the respect of the community.

Get busy.

Paul admonished them to “work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” Paul set the example while he was in Thessalonica. Make every effort to provide for your own needs. It is our responsibility to live respectable and productive lives where God has placed us. Unbecoming conduct of one member affects the well-being whole community. Laziness and shoddy work is not God’s will. It is not a good testimony of a Christian when we do not give our employer a full days work with our entire God-given effort. Am I living to the hilt every situation that I believe to be the will of God?

God bless
Sister Phyllis

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