COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 3:6-8 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; 7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord." NKJV (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8)
The relationship of spiritual life to the members of the Christ's body is a vital one. In fulfillment of the sixty-eighth Psalm, God "sets the solitary in families" (verse 6). No believer is an island to himself. It is quite true, God can sustain believers when circumstance finds them alone-men like Joseph in Egypt, Moses in the wilderness, and John on Patmos. But those are not the standard, and are not conditions to be sought. The normal mode of spiritual life is within the context of fellow believers and pilgrims. In Christ, believers are "members one of another" (Eph 4:25). That is, there are spiritual resources that, by Divine direction, are passed from one member to another. As each member is connected with "the Head," Jesus Christ, He uses them to minister to His people. When this process is needlessly aborted, or abandoned in preference of other things, there will be tragic results. The people of God are to gather around themselves kindred spirits that are in quest of glory, people who are strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Their status in this world demands that their faith be nourished and strengthened, and their hearts encouraged. This was the ministry Paul and the Thessalonians had with one another, and it is greatly to be coveted.
WHEN TIMOTHY CAME TO US FROM YOU
" 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." The words "but now" indicate that Timothy had just arrived from Thessalonica, and Paul was immediately responding to the good news brought by him. The NIV, supporting this view, reads, "But Timothy has just now come to us from you." Both Paul's thanksgiving to God and encouragement of the saints were "instant."
TIMOTHY HAS COME. When Paul sent Timothy, he was in Athens (3:1). Since then, he moved to Corinth where he was ministering. There Paul was abiding with Aquila and Priscilla, working with them as a tentmaker. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, testifying to both Jews and Greeks. The coming of Timothy from Thessalonica had such an impact upon Paul that Acts 18:5 records, "When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ." His testimony resulted in some of the distress mentioned in verse seven (Acts 18:6).
It is interested to note how Paul maintained such a keen interest in the churches, also desiring to testify the Gospel of the grace of God to all men (Acts 20:24). This contrasts sharply with the mission-mentality that prevails in the Western church-a mentality that almost totally disregards the saints of God, caring little for their progress in the faith. We must remember that the one speaking these words was the premier proclaimer of the Gospel throughout the world. Yet, his fundamental interest remained in the progress of the saints.
GOOD NEWS OF YOUR FAITH AND LOVE. Ponder the peculiarity of Timothy's report. He brought good news of the "faith and love" of the Thessalonians. How is it that such things are reported? For many, it would be numeric growth, or the institution of some grand Kingdom enterprise. Certainly, neither of these are to be despised. The Thessalonians, however, were in a period of suffering and persecution, not a growth explosion and a building program (2:14; 3:3-4). Their faith and love, however, had not been moved or neutralized by adversity. They were keeping the faith under duress and loving one another while opposed by their enemies. Unlike the seed which had no root, when "tribulation or persecution" arose "because of the Word," they were NOT offended (Matt 13:21).
The holy duet of "faith and love" is frequently mentioned in Scripture. Later in Thessalonians, Paul will refer to "the breastplate of faith and love," confirming they are by their very nature protective (5:8). The grace of God is "exceeding abundant" with these two essentials (1 Tim 1:14), confirming the Thessalonians were, in fact, continuing in the grace of God. When challenging Timothy to maintain the "pattern of sound words," Paul exhorted him to do it with "faith and love" (2 Tim 1:13). Showing how faith and love interact, the Spirit declares faith expresses itself "through love" (Gal 5:6). The Ephesians and Colossians were also commended for possession of these graces: "your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints" (Eph 1:15; Col 1:4). Philemon was also applauded for being known for his "faith and love" (Phile 5). Christ dwells in our hearts "by faith" in order that we might be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph 3:17). Both faith and love come to believers "from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 6:23).
It is no wonder, therefore, that Paul was gladdened by the report of the Thessalonians maintaining both faith and love. It is good for the saints to aspire for such reports to be made of them. Hearing of strong faith and love in the saints brings great joy and strength to those who are laboring in the vineyard of the Lord. Such reports are of inestimable value.
GOOD REMEMBRANCE. There are times when the love of the brethren is of especial value. The time when this Epistle was written was such an occasion. Concerning Timothy's report, the NIV reads, "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." This was not a fleshly attachment or attraction, for faith makes no provision for such affiliation (2 Cor 5:16). The Thessalonian's "good remembrance" and strong desire to see Paul were related to the good Gospel brought to them by him. Paul's desire to see them also had to do with "mutual faith" (Rom 1:12) and "things pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Pet 1:3). Personal friendships in the flesh are strong, but "love in the Spirit" is stronger (Col 1:8). There are spiritual advantages to be gained and nurtured in effective spiritual relationships.
One searches in vain to find any hint of closeness to and affection for Christ or the Apostles apart from the proclamation of the Gospel, the strengthening of faith, and the encouragement of hope. The consistency of this observation staggers the human intellect.
WE WERE COMFORTED IN OUR DISTRESS
" 7 . . . therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith." The New Jerusalem Bible reflects the spirit of this text. "And so, brothers, your faith has been a great encouragement to us in the middle of our own distress and hardship." Everything in Christ is profitable to those who are in Christ. Nothing from God is needless or useless. Our text is a case in point. The faith of the Thessalonians proved to be helpful to the Apostle Paul during times of difficulty.
IN ALL OUR AFFLICTION AND DISTRESS. These are not the words of a complainer, nor do they reflect a casual circumstance. Faith makes people sensitive to the Lord, not merely to earthly circumstances.
The word "affliction" means troubles, burdens, anguish, and persecution. It is suffering brought on by outward circumstances. Jesus said such things arise "for the Word's sake" (Mark 4:17). These "afflictions" come because God's people are "hated" (Matt 24:9), and are inevitable for all who are in Christ (John 16:33). They are an appointed means through which we "enter into the Kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). They produce perseverance in those exercised by them (Rom 5:3), and cannot separate us from the love of God (Rom 8:35).
"Distresses" emphasizes necessities. They are difficulties that come upon the individual during which needed resources are depleted, and a certain poverty is endured. Paul referred to his kind of experience when he said he was approved as a minister of Christ by the way he conducted himself "in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses" (2 Cor 6:4). These were occasions when human weakness surfaced. Only strength from Christ can enable a soul to endure such times. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor 12:10). In another place, Paul said he knew how to "suffer need" (Phil 4:12). Such a condition was endured by the saints of old who, by faith, "wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Heb 11:37). It is possible to receive a distorted view of living by faith that moves one to imagine life is always lived amidst a bed of roses. If this were the case, there would be no need for comfort in the midst of affliction and distress.
WE WERE COMFORTED. Notwithstanding the normality of "affliction" and "distress," much encouragement is required during them. Most believers know by experience that difficulties depleting the soul cannot be addressed casually. "Comfort" is a large word including the concepts of encouragement and exhortation, both of which are essential to the life of faith. Believers are "encouraged" when the bright light of hope appears on the dark horizon of difficulty. They are thus made adequate for the trials through which they are passing. They are "exhorted" in the sense of having an even stronger determination to fight a "good fight" and "lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim 6:12). Thus Satan's intentions are thwarted, and Divine objectives are realized. Satan intends to break us down through trouble, thereby causing us to drop out of the race. God's objective is to confirm to us that we are not home yet, but that, by His grace, we soon will be!
Behind this expression is the persuasion that progress must be made toward the prize that is set before us. Advancement is imperative, and growth is essential. Yet, trouble tends to retard these things and slow our pace. That is why encouragement in the faith is so essential. It seems to me that a persuasion of these things is not prevalent in the nominal church. There is too much trivia and casualness to allow for such a conviction. That is why professed believers are often not persuaded of their need of one another.
CONCERNING YOUR FAITH. Here is a most wonderful circumstance! Paul and his fellow laborers were comforted in their trouble by the faith of someone else. To be more specific, they were comforted by HEARING about the faith of those among whom they had labored. The NLT adds a personal note by reading, "because you have remained strong in your faith." That is the report that Timothy had brought. The Thessalonians had remained strong in their faith, even though it had brought them into the valley of suffering. In fact, Paul affirmed in his second letter to the Thessalonians, "your faith grow exceedingly" (2 Thess 1:3). I come from a background where it was dogmatically denied that faith grew, or that it could be increased. You either had it or you did not. But that is a total misrepresentation. Faith can make gigantic leaps forward, so that the believer can see more, appropriate more, and do more. How precious it is when faith grows exceedingly, abundantly, or "more and more." NIV And when did this growth occur for the Thessalonians? While they were themselves under stress! It is no wonder the report of such faith brought encouragement and stamina to Paul!
NOW WE LIVE
" 8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord." This is a most thought-provoking statement! Other versions read, "for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord," NASB "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord," NIV "For it is life to us if you keep your faith in the Lord unchanged," BBE "It gives us new life, knowing you remain strong in the Lord," NLT and "Now we can breathe again, as you are holding firm in the Lord." NJB
WE LIVE! There is such a thing as spiritual fatigue. This is not to be confused with the mythical "burn out" that is taunted by the worldly church. Rather, this is an experience in which spiritual (not merely fleshly) resources become depleted. There are some Apostolic expressions that confirm the nature of this experience. " . . . we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life . . . we had the sentence of death in ourselves" (2 Cor 1:8-9). "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (2 Cor 1:9). "We are troubled on every side" (2 Cor 4:8). " . . . our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears" (2 Cor 7:5). "In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Cor 11:27). Since leaving Thessalonica, Paul had been enduring fierce opposition-so much so that death seemed to be working more in him than life (2 Cor 4:12). Once, when David was being hounded by Saul, he said to Jonathan, "but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death" (1 Sam 20:3).
But now, the whole circumstance has changed. Satan had managed to trouble the environment, so that no comfort was being received where Paul was located. Now the Lord, in a Sovereign exercise of His matchless grace, brings a word to Paul from another place. It is the word of the flourishing faith of the Thessalonians. It comes from a young brother whose word can be trusted, and it brings new life to the heart of the opposed Apostle. Not only had he been oppressed, but his great heart yearned to know of the Thessalonians, whether they were standing strong in the faith, though vigorously opposed by their enemies. Now his heart is refreshed by hearing they are doing fine, growing in the Lord.
All of this postulates a keen interest in the welfare of the saints. No one can be refreshed and encouraged by the report of someone else's faith unless they have an interest in it. In our text, Paul has more interest in the spiritual welfare of the Thessalonians than in his own life. He had such a zeal for the Lord that he burned within for the advancement of the saints. It should be obvious that such an attitude is exceedingly rare. O, that God would raise up more laborers of this caliber, and purge from His fields those who have no genuine regard for His people! Much of the deficiency that exists in the modern church is directly traceable to a lack of spiritual interest in those who are charged with its care.
IF YOU STAND FAST. Other versions read, "standing firm" NIV and "holding firm." NJB The idea is that of maintaining an unwavering position, not being "moved away from the hope of the gospel" (Col 1:23). The stance is described in these words in Job, "The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger" (Job 17:9). David said of this condition, "They go from strength to strength" (Psa 84:7). Solomon said, "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov 4:18). Viewing it from the heavenly perspective, Peter said believers are "kept by the power of God through faith" (1 Pet 1:5). Isaiah said, "But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa 40:31). What crushes unstable souls only serves to make stable persons more firm in the faith.
All of these marvelous expressions, and more, were confirmed by the steadfastness of the Thessalonians in the midst of trouble. Paul had such a heart for God's people that he was revived, coming alive, as it were, by the reports of them holding up under persecution and glorifying God by a strong and vibrant faith in the midst of tribulation.
IN THE LORD. Paul did not come alive merely because the Thessalonians had maintained a shell of religiosity during trouble. They had remained in the Lord, abiding in the Vine (John 15:4), and continuing "in the Son, and in the Father" (1 John 2:24). Their constancy contributed to the faithfulness and effectiveness of Paul's labors! That is a very wonderful picture of the church being "fitly framed together" (Eph 2:21). Wherever genuine faith is found, coupled with an unshakable constancy, grace will be ministered by the report of that condition to those who labor for the Lord.