For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 17
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 20; 1 Thessalonians 3; Daniel 2; Psalm 106
THE INTENSITY OF THE RELATIONSHIP between Paul and his converts surfaces again and again. There is never a trace of mere professionalism in Paul. For all that he is prepared on occasion to stand on his apostolic authority, his stance toward churches he has founded is never one of distant superiority. When Paul found himself unable to visit the Thessalonian believers to find out how they were getting on—and in this case he was especially concerned since his entire ministry in Thessalonica lasted only about a month, so that these believers were not as well grounded as most converts—Paul determined to send Timothy to find out (1 Thess. 3:1-2). Now that Timothy has rejoined Paul in Athens, bringing with him wonderful reports of the Thessalonians’ faith and love (3:6—two elements in the Pauline triad; see October 11 meditation), not to mention their loyalty to Paul and to the apostolic gospel, Paul’s joy knows no bounds: “Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (3:7-8). Even that is not enough. Paul exclaims, “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” (3:9).
This in turn triggers Paul’s disclosure of how he prays for the Thessalonians.
(1) Paul constantly prays (“Night and day,” he says), “most earnestly,” that somehow he will be able to return to Thessalonica “and supply what is lacking in your faith” (3:10-11). This fledgling church has enjoyed little grounding. Paul feels an enormous weight of responsibility to supply it, to outline the whole counsel of God, articulate the Gospel comprehensively, teach these brothers and sisters how the Bible is put together, and provide a clear vision of the proper object of their faith so that their (subjective) faith will be well grounded.
(2) Meanwhile, he prays that the love of the Thessalonians for each other will “increase and overflow” (3:12). Paul knows that a Christian community that loves well not only reflects the Gospel in life, but provides the nurturing framework in which biblical teaching is taken on board. A squabbling community drives people away. Moreover, in this culture many relationships were established on the basis of obligation. A “benefactor” provided something, and the recipient owed the benefactor certain obeisance or service. By contrast, Paul wants Christians to transcend such cultural limitations, and so live that every Christian constantly discharges the “obligation” to love one another, vastly outstripping mere tit-for-tat niggardliness.
(3) Paul prays that God himself will strengthen the Thessalonian believers so to live that they will be ready for the return of Jesus (3:13).