The Communion of the Saints
1 Thessalonians 2:17 - 3:13
Today, I am returning to our study of the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians. As we said at the start, this letter to the Thessalonians was probably the first letter Paul wrote of which we have a copy. In this letter, Paul teaches the basics of the faith.
In the first chapter, Paul states the first steps of becoming a Christian. The content of these first steps as Christians are:
- They turned to God from idols.
- They served God.
- They expected Jesus to return.
- They believed in the resurrection, which would also include Jesus’ death and burial.
- They expected Jesus to deliver them from the wrath to come.
These five steps are a part of anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.
Next, in the first twelve verses of chapter two, Paul teaches what to look for in those who follow Jesus. These marks are:
To be more like Jesus, we must exhibit these marks in our lives and find these marks in the lives of those we follow.
Two weeks ago, we looked at chapter two, verses thirteen through sixteen. In these verses, Paul teaches the two foundations that allow the Church to stand. These are:
- The Word of God
- The Gathering
If we are to stand in a world of persecution, we must not forsake either of these foundations.
Today, we are moving ahead and will be covering the remainder of chapter two and all of chapter three. I have called this message “The Communion of the Saints” because, in this part of his letter, by his example, Paul teaches us that we must build each other up in our faith. This is a lesson that the Thessalonians learned early, and it is a lesson that we, the Church, must never forget.
The Scriptures teach this in many ways. In the Old Testament, the Jewish household was to teach the children the principles and precepts of the Word of God. The king was to read the Scriptures daily. The whole society was structured to train each individual in the things of God. In the New Testament, the disciple is called upon to imitate Christ. Galatians 6 instructs us to bear one another’s burdens.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17 through 1 Thessalonians 3, Paul demonstrates by his efforts, his actions, his prayers, and his passion his commitment to building up the Thessalonians in the faith.
We see the efforts that Paul made in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20.
Look at what Paul says in verses 17 and 18.
1 Thessalonians 2:17–18 (NKJV) 17But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire. 18Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
From these words, we gather that Paul tried but was unable to go back to Thessalonica. Along with these efforts, Paul expresses the value of the Thessalonians. They are his hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing. They are his glory and joy.
Paul proved these words with his life. He gave his life in his effort to visit the Churches. He was traveling from church to church and place to place preaching, teaching, and building up the Body of Christ until he was imprisoned in 65 or 66 A.D. and then executed in 67 A.D.
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians that they were his hope, joy, and crown were not empty. He lived it.
We all make time for what is important to us. Many of us are prepared to give our lives for those who are really important to us. When God examines your life and mine, what will He think is important to us? When God examines us as a local church, what will He say was important to us?
Look at verse 18 again. Do you see the words “Satan hindered us?”
Paul’s business with the Thessalonians was important to Satan also, but not for the same reason. Satan did not like what Paul was doing. He opposed Paul’s work until God the Father allowed him to kill Paul. However, Paul’s work and writings live on, and Satan continues to oppose Paul’s work. He tries to destroy the Bible. He tries to destroy the Church. He does everything he can to hinder us, the same way he worked to stop Paul. In the face of this opposition, we must continue to pray and seek and endeavor the same way Paul did.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, Paul tells the Thessalonians he was anxious to see their faces. In chapter 3, Paul says why seeing their faces was so important, and it is essential to remember that we are to imitate Paul as he imitates Christ. In other words, this earnest desire to “see” other believers must be a part of who we are as followers of Jesus, and it must be part of who we are as a church. It is necessary, and it is essential.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5, Paul begins to reveal what is so vital by the actions he takes.
In 1Thessalonians 3:1-2, he says,
1 Thessalonians 3:1–2 (NKJV) 1Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
According to this, the action Paul took was to send Timothy. Since he could not go, he sent his trusted associate and disciple. He did this even though it cost him. He mentions this cost when he says, “We thought it good to be left in Athens alone.” Paul did not want to be left alone, but it was better to be left alone than to leave the Thessalonians alone. Verse 2 gives the reason this was necessary. The Thessalonians needed to be established and encouraged. Look at verses 3 and 4.
They were harassed, they were under attack, they were persecuted, and, according to verse 5, Paul was afraid “lest by some means the tempter had tempted you.” Just as Satan hindered Paul, Satan opposed the Thessalonians. Satan opposes anything the Son of God is accomplishing through His people. For this reason, believers must be established and encouraged. This establishing and encouraging requires our action. Establishing and encouraging other believers must be a part of who we are as believers. Establishing and encouraging believers is a vital part of who we must be as a church.
Satan will do everything within his power to hinder this. He will kill us if God allows it. In some parts of the world, God is allowing Satan to kill believers, and He may yet allow it in America. Paul told the Thessalonians to expect afflictions, and we should expect afflictions as well. Jesus said, In the world, you will have tribulation.”
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 informs us that Timothy returned from Thessalonica with an excellent report. Paul was so comforted by this that he said,
1 Thessalonians 3:8 (NKJV) 8For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.
I do not know how Paul’s life was tied to the Thessalonians’ standing. I think the best explanation is that the joy of hearing the good news of the Thessalonians’ faith and standing infused new life and energy into the life and work of the Apostle. We see this in what he says about his prayers. Look at 1 Thessalonians 3:10.
1 Thessalonians 3:10 (NKJV) 10night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?
“Praying exceedingly” means that he increased his earnest petition and prayer way beyond what it had been.
To my knowledge, Paul never returned to Thessalonica. God had other plans, and because of this, we have the letters of first and second Thessalonians. Paul constantly carried this weight of prayer and longing for all the churches and all the believers he had seen along the way. His burden and prayer were centered on what he tells us in this verse. He desired to “perfect what is lacking in your faith.”
Paul showed the value of building each other up by his efforts, his actions, his prayers, and finally, by his passion.
As we look at 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, let’s first consider verse 12.
1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NKJV) 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you,
Increasing and abounding in love is required of us. The Lord commands us to love one another. Paul is pronouncing a benediction. He starts chapter four with, “Finally then, brethren.” In this benediction, he desires that they overflow with love for one another and then continue to increase in that love. Then, he uses himself as an example. He is telling them that he overflows with love for them.
Throughout the whole passage we have looked at today, Paul repeatedly expresses his great desire to see the Thessalonians. In verse 11, he starts by asking that the Lord direct his way to Thessalonica. He expresses his great love in a great yearning to see them face to face. And once again, the reason he is praying in this way is seen in verse 13.
1 Thessalonians 3:13 (NKJV) 13so 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.
Another consistent theme throughout today’s passage is this desire that the Thessalonians be established and encouraged. Paul invested his life in seeing that the Thessalonians stood firm.
His passion was the people. Seeing them face to face implies that they were not just a gathering, a church, or a flock to Paul. They were precious individuals that he loved very much.
This is the way Jesus is. He tried to tell us that in the parable of the Good Shepherd. Jesus said that the shepherd made sure 99 sheep were safe in the sheepfold and then went out looking for one lost sheep. With this illustration, Jesus taught that each person is precious, each person is to be loved, and each person is to be cared for. To say this another way, you are Jesus’ passion. You individually, not just as a member of a body, but you individually are Jesus’ passion. He died for you, He pursued you, and He brought you to this place. He desires that you stand and that you be established and encouraged.
Paul was an example of this. He showed by his effort, his action, his prayer, and his passion that the establishing and encouraging of the saints was of utmost importance.
John 13:35 (NKJV) 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Can we call ourselves His disciples if we do not have love for each other?
Do we show our love by our effort, our action, our prayer, and our passion?
How important to us is it that our brothers and sisters in Christ are established and built up?