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1 Thessalonians 3



Paul's Desire to Visit the Church Again Concern for Their Faith Paul's Affection for the Thessalonians Paul's Desire to Visit Them Again Timothy's Mission to Thessalonika
(2:17-3:13)   (2:17-3:13) (2:17-3:13)  
3:1-5 3:1-5 3:1-5 3:1-5 3:1-5
  Encouraged by Timothy     Paul Thanks God for Good Reports of the Thessalonians
3:6-10 3:6-10 3:6-10 3:6-10 3:6-10
  Prayer for the Church      
3:11-13 3:11-13 3:11-13 3:11-13 3:11-13

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Paul, in great anxiety, sends Timothy to them, 3:1-5


B. Timothy returns with good news, 3:6-10


C. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian Church, 3:11-13



 1Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, 2and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, 3so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. 4For 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. 5For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. 6But 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, 7for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. 9For 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, 10as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?

3:1 "could endure it no longer" Paul was worried about this church because (1) it was born in persecution (cf. 2:17-20) and (2) he had to leave so soon. His pastor's heart would give him no rest (cf. v. 5).

▣ "to be left behind" This present active participle was used of (1) a child leaving his parents, Eph. 5:31 (possibly another parental metaphor like 2:7,11,17) or (2) the death of one's spouse (cf. Mark 12:19). Paul deeply loved this church.

▣ "at Athens alone" Paul's visit is recorded in Acts 17:15-34. This was the intellectual center of the Hellenistic world. Paul had eye problems (compare II Cor. 12:7 with Gal. 4:15 and 6:11), and it was very hard for him to be alone, especially in an unfamiliar environment such as Athens. The term "alone" is plural but the meaning is uncertain. Acts 18:5 implies both Silas and Timothy were on assignment. This verse may be an example of Paul's use of "we" as an editorial plural, referring only to himself.


NASB"God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ"
NKJV"minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ"
NRSV"co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ"
TEV"who works with us for God in preaching the Good News about Christ"
NJB"who is God's helper in spreading the Good News of Christ"

This phrase refers to Timothy. The Greek manuscripts differ: manuscript B has "co-laborer," while manuscripts א and A have "minister." It denoted the lowly service of a slave. Most modern translations follow manuscript B. Possibly a scribe was shocked at Paul calling Timothy "God's co-laborer."

This verse is functioning like a letter of recommendation for Timothy (cf. Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1; II Cor. 8:18-24; III John 9,10).

▣ "to strengthen and encourage you" Paul was worried about this new church under persecution (cf. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3).

3:3 "so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions" This is the only use of the term "disturbed" in the NT. It originally referred to a dog wagging its tail. In classical Greek (Homer), it was used in the sense of "flattered." This may relate to 2:1 or 3:5. True faith perseveres (cf. Matt. 13:1-23; Gal. 6:9; Rev. 2:2-3,7,11,17,19,26; 3:5,8,10,11,12,21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NEED TO PERSEVERE at Gal. 3:4.

▣ "we have been destined for this" This is a present passive (deponent) indicative. The passive voice implies that God is the active agent. It is not a reference to the pagan idea of an impersonal fate nor the Islamic idea of determinism. Suffering is the norm for believers in a fallen world (cf. v. 4; Matt. 5:10-12; John15:18, 20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17 II Cor. 4:7-11; 11:23-27; II Tim. 3:12; I Pet. 2:21; 4:12-16). Suffering is a means of spiritual maturity (cf. Heb. 5:8).


3:4 "we kept telling you in advance" This is an imperfect tense which means repeated action in past time. Paul must have warned them several times about the persecution and suffering connected to the gospel. He knew this from Jesus' teachings and personal experience. They now know it experientially also.

NASB"we were going to suffer afflictions"
NKJV"we would suffer tribulation"
NRSV"we were to suffer persecutions"
TEV"that we were going to be persecuted"
NJB"we must expect to have persecutions to bear"

This is a present active indicative with a present passive infinitive. The Williams' translation footnote says "a picture of a loaded wagon crushed under its heavy load."

3:5 "your faith" This is possibly used in the OT sense of "faithfulness." Were they true to their profession of faith? See Special Topic at Gal. 3:6.

▣ "the tempter might have tempted you" A personal, evil force (ho peirazōn) is active in our world and in our lives (cf. 2:18). This Greek word translated "tempt" (peirazō) connotes tempting "with a view toward destruction," the opposite of "approved" (dokimazō) in 2:4. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL at 2:18.


▣ "our labor would be in vain" The use of moods is important here; the indicative which is the mood of reality is used of Satan, but the subjunctive which is the mood of contingency is used of Paul's labor. This may relate to 2:1. The question is, "Does ‘in vain' relate to their personal conversion or the establishment of a viable functioning church in Thessalonica?" I think the latter is the best contextual option, although Paul probably would not have made a distinction.

Paul uses the concept of "vain" or "fruitless" often and incorporates three different words.

1. eikē – Rom. 13:4; I Cor. 15:2; Gal. 3:4; 4:11; Col. 2:18

2. kenos – I Cor. 15:10,14,58; II Cor. 6:1; Gal. 2:2; Eph. 5:6; Phil. 2:16; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 2:1; 3:3 (verb in II Cor. 9:3)

3. matalos – I Cor. 3:20; 15:17; Titus 3:9 (verb in Rom. 2:21)

Paul knew the power of the gospel was from divine activity, but he also knew the choices of humans affected the effective outcome!

3:6 "good news" This is the only use of this Greek term in the NT where it does not refer to the gospel of Christ. The message about the faithful condition of this church was "gospel," "good news" to Paul.

▣ "of your faith and love" This phrase can have several meanings (cf. 1:3). This refers either to: (1) orthodox doctrine and loving care for one another or (2) faithfulness and love toward God.

▣ "think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you" This shows that neither the persecution nor the false teachers had embittered this church against Paul.

3:7 "in all our distress and affliction" Paul's problems in Corinth are listed in I Cor. 4:9-13; II Cor. 4:7-12; 6:4-10 and 11:23-28. Oh my! The costs of being a servant of Christ!!

▣ "we were comforted " Paul uses this compound word ("with" and "call") often. It has several senses.

1. to urge, exhort, encourage (cf. 2:3,11; 4:1; 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:12)

2. to comfort (cf. 2:11; 3:2; 4:18; 5:11; 2 Thess. 2:17)

3. its noun form (paraclētos) used of both the helping ministry of the Spirit (cf. John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7) and the Son (cf. I John 2:1)


3:8 "for now we really live" Paul is using metaphorical language to express his release from tension because of the good news about this church.

▣ "if you stand firm in the Lord" This is a Greek conditional sentence, combining first class and third class conditions, thereby adding contingency to Paul's statement. He assumed that they would stand firm but that remained for him to see (cf. 2:1 and 3:5).

"Standing firm" relates to our position in Christ. The Bible presents our salvation in a tension-filled pair of truths: (1) it is free, it is in Christ, but (2) it is costly, it is progressive, it is seen in our lifestyle choices (Matthew 7; James, I John). Both are true. This verse emphasizes the first truth (cf. Rom. 5:2; I Cor. 15:1 and Eph. 6:11, 13).

3:9-10 This is a rhetorical question that leads into a prayer, vv. 11-13, concluding the first half of Paul's letter.

3:10 "night and day" This is the Jewish order of time (see note at 2:9). This reflects Paul's constant, persistent prayer life (cf. 1:2; 2:12; II Tim. 1:3).

NASB"keep praying most earnestly"
NKJV"praying exceedingly"
NRSV"we pray most earnestly"
TEV"we ask him with all our heart"
NJB"We are earnestly praying"

The adverb "most earnestly" is a very strong, triple compound (huper + ek + perissou), emotional term (cf. Eph. 3:20; 1 Thess. 3:10; 5:13). Paul worried and prayed about these new churches (cf. II Cor. 11:28). See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at Gal. 1:13.

NASB"may complete what is lacking in your faith"
NKJV"perfect what is lacking in your faith"
NRSV"restore whatever is lacking in your faith"
TEV"supply what is needed in your faith"
NJB"make up any shortcomings in your faith"

They had done well but they were not yet mature in their understanding, as the misunderstanding about the Second Coming shows. This is the use of faith (1) as doctrine (cf. 4:13-5:11) or (2) the recurrent emphasis on lifestyle, "what was lacking" may have had an ethical aspect (cf. 4:1-12). Paul uses this term faith (pistis/pisteuō) often in these letters (cf. 1:3,8; 3:2,5,6,7,10; 5:8; 2 Thess. 1:3,4,11; 3:2), but especially in this context. See Special Topic at Gal. 3:6.

 11Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; 12and 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; 13so 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.

3:11-13 This is one sentence in Greek. This prayer contains three rare optative verbal forms: "direct" (v. 11), "increase" (v.12) and "abound" (v.12). Optative mood is the mood of potentiality used in prayers.

3:11 "may. . .direct" This is a rare aorist active singular optative verb, used in several prayers in the NT (cf. 5:23; II Thess. 2:16; 3:5, 16 and in Rom. 15:5-6,13). Note the verb is singular, though it refers to both God the Father and Jesus Christ. This was a way for the NT authors to assert the deity of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. 1:1; 2 Thess. 2:16).

Another theological point is that just as Satan prevented Paul from coming to them, recorded in 2:18, Paul asked the Father and Son to make a way (straight or smooth: cf. Luke 1:79) for him to visit them!

"Father" See Special Topic at Gal. 1:1.

3:12-13 Paul prayed for himself in v. 11, but now his petition turns toward the church at Thessalonica. He prayed for their love for one another and all people (cf. Eph. 6:18). He also prayed for the believers' holiness (cf. v. 13; Eph. 1:4). God's will for every believer is Christlikeness (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19).

▣ "abound" Special Topic following.


▣ "for all people" God's love is as wide as the world (cf. John 1:29; 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9); so too, must be ours who know Him.

3:13 "hearts" See Special Topic at Gal. 4:6.

NASB"without blame in holiness"
NKJV"blameless in holiness"
NRSV, NJB"in holiness that you may be blameless"
TEV"perfect and holy"

Holiness is both a gift and a task (indicative and imperative). It is characteristic of someone above reproach, against whom no accusation may be brought (cf. Eph. 5:27). This leaves Satan with no basis for criticism (cf. Rom. 8:31,32,33). God's will for every believer is Christlike holiness (cf. 4:3; Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4). See note at 2 Thess. 4:3. See SPECIAL TOPIC: BLAMELESS, INNOCENT, GUILTLESS, WITHOUT REPROACH at 2:10. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NEW TESTAMENT HOLINESS/SANCTIFICATION at 4:3.

▣ "at the coming of our Lord Jesus" This shows Paul's continuing concern about end time events (cf. 2:19; 4:15-17; also 2 Thessalonians 2).

The exact relationship between the events of the Second Coming, the Rapture (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18), the Judgment Seat of Christ (cf. II Cor. 5:10), and the White Throne of Judgment (cf. Matt. 25 and Rev. 20) are uncertain. Paul was not a systematic theologian. See Special Topic below.


▣ "His saints" "Saints" (lit. "holy ones") are either (1) angels who will accompany Jesus (cf. Deut. 33:2-3; Zech. 14:5; Matt. 16:27; 25:31; Mark 8:38; 2 Thess. 1:7; Rev. 19:4); or (2) His people, saints (cf. 1 Thess. 4:14-16). Paul never called angels "saints" or "holy ones," possibly solving the interpretive issue. Probably both angels and saints will return with Him on the clouds of heaven. This church was unsure if the dead saints would participate in the end-time events.

Saints, literally "holy ones," are called to holiness (cf. 4:3) by the Holy One (cf. I Pet. 1:15)! The goal of Christianity is "holiness" now (cf. Eph. 1:4), not heaven when we die!


For a Special Topic on "Amen" see Gal. 1:5.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why was it hard for Paul to be alone?

2. List the different meanings of the term "faith."

3. Is suffering normal for believers? Why?

4. Is sanctification initial or progressive?

5. Does verse 5 refer to one's salvation or fruitfulness? How do 2:1 and 3:5 relate to the parable of the Soils (cf. Matt. 13:1-23)?