Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Have you ever watched a baby learning to walk? First, they must pull themselves up. Once in a standing position they must steady themselves by holding onto something. They usually spend several days to months simply holding onto a piece of furniture or to a parents hand before they are ready to stand by themselves and take that much anticipated first step.
In 1 Thessalonians 3 Paul expresses concern for the faith of the new believers. He had been forced to flee when Jewish persecutors came to town. We saw in chapter 2 how he felt torn from his family; now in chapter 3 he further expounds on his great love for these infant believers. He so wanted to be with them, teaching them and establishing them in the faith. He was concerned for their spiritual safety as persecution and suffering had come upon them.
Verses 1-3 reveal Paul's heart toward the Thessalonians. He says, "When we could stand it no longer..." Paul loved these people so much he wanted to know for sure they were doing ok. He sent Timothy to check on them. In verse 3 he tells them he is sending Timothy to: "keep you from being shaken by these troubles..." The Greek word used here means: "unsettled, disturbed, agitated, or drawn aside." Paul was sending Timothy to help these spiritual infants get their footing.
But why Timothy? Paul knew in order to establish these babes in the faith he needed someone already mature in theirs. Leading another Christian to maturity requires being mature yourself. We should all be so strongly established in our faith that we are able to lead another to maturity. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case. Far too many Christians are content to sit on their salvation experience, knowing they will make it to heaven, without growing in their knowledge of God.
We've all seen folks who have grown to maturity physically but stay children emotionally and relationally. Or maybe they are experiencing a "second childhood" refusing to move to maturity in their activities. My son is the lead singer in a pretty popular band in our area. When we attend his shows there is always one man there, hanging out with all the college kids, trying to act like one of them. This man refuses to grow to maturity in his activities. This is the state of many Christians today. They are experiencing a second childhood spiritually. Maybe once they were established and strong in their faith but the trials of life left them cold and unwilling to move forward in their faith. These Christians are like those mentioned in Hebrews 5:12-14:
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." NKJV
Only mature Christians can establish infant Christians in the faith. Paul had confidence in Timothy as a mature Christian. He had led Timothy to faith in Christ Jesus and on to maturity. In verse 2 Paul describes Timothy two ways; as a brother, denoting the fact that he is indeed a Christ follower; and as "God's co-worker", denoting he is a minister of the Good News. Indeed in Philippians 2:19-22 Paul said of Timothy:
"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things that are of Christ. But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the Gospel."
Paul could trust Timothy to establish the Thessalonians believers in their faith.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 is:
Established faith is mature faith.
What evidence is there of your spiritual maturity? In what ways are you a babe in faith? How can you remedy this? Who can you seek out to help bring you to maturity? Who can you nurture in the faith and help establish? Will you?
When you became a Christian did anyone warn you of the hardships that would follow? Paul warned the Thessalonain Christians. In fact he told them to expect hardship. The Christian life was never meant to be easy-peasy; we should expect hardships, trials, troubles, and temptations. In our first world Christianity we tend to think we shouldn't have to suffer. The Bible tells us a different story.
Our suffering might look different from the Thessalonians suffering, and even different from the suffering of Christians around the world today; but we all suffer in some way. The question shouldn't be will I suffer, or even why am I suffering...the question should be how will I react when I'm suffering.
Peter tells us we are to "count it all joy" when we undergo trials because they make us partners with Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus looked beyond the suffering of the cross to "the joy set before Him." No suffering on this earth will compare to the joy we'll have in heaven!
Verse 5 reveals the source of all of our temptations. Satan is the one who tempts us. In Genesis 3 he is depicted as a serpent. Peter refers to him as a prowling lion in 1 Peter 5:8-9. When he came to Eve he tempted her through deception. When he came to Jesus he tempted him with food in his weakened state. Satan the serpent deceives, Satan the lion devours. The Christian established in faith knows to watch out for both!
We all face temptations... every.single.day. I find when I am tired or emotionally drained, or under pressure to get things done; these are the times it's hardest for me to stand against the tempters attacks. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica because he feared the infant believers would fall prey to Satan's attacks. When he fled, they had been left to fend for themselves against the Jewish persecutors and Paul wanted make sure their faith stood the test. He sent Timothy as their accountability partner.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5 is:
Established faith is held accountable to stand firm against Satan's attacks.
Who checks on your spiritual status? Do you have an accountability partner? We all need at least one person who knows where we are vulnerable to temptation and will ask us the hard questions. With whom can you be real? With whom can you openly share your doubts and disappointments?
Paul was vulnerable with the church at Thessalonica. He shared his doubts with them, his discouragement of not being able to come to them. So when Timothy returned with news of their faithfulness, Paul was overjoyed. He had prepared them for the battle and they were standing firm.
When we share our doubts and disappointments with each other, Satan's power is dispelled and God's glory is displayed. Paul saw God's glory displayed in the Thessalonian believers when he received Timothy's report of their steadfastness in trials. Despite the infant status of their faith, these believers were standing firm in the face of persecution because of the things Paul had taught them while he was with them. They were being "baptized by fire" and they were emerging as purified gold. This encouraged Paul. Seeing others facing trials with unshakeable faith encourages us to do the same.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8 is:
Established faith encourages others by standing firm in the face of trials.
Who have you watched walk through a trial with unshakeable faith? When have you been in the fire yet held firm to God's promises? How might this have encouraged others to stand firm in their own crucible? What can you do to strengthen your faith for the trials that are sure to come? Who encourages and challenges you in your faith?
The best ways to strengthen our faith are reading God's Word and prayer. God's Word and prayer walk hand-in-hand. In Acts 6:2-4 Peter is addressing the leaders of the church in Jerusalem when he says of the apostles:
"So the Twelve called the disciples together and said, 'It is not appropriate for us to neglect [teaching] the word of God in order to serve tables and mange the distribution of food. Therefore, brothers, choose from among you seven men with good reputations [men of godly character and moral integrity], full go the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will [continue] to devote ourselves [steadfastly] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.'" AMP
Peter knew, as well as Paul, God's Word coupled with prayer is the catalyst for spiritual maturity, and the means for overcoming the evil one. Paul admonished the Ephesians to take up the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" in their fight against Satan. (Ephesians 6:17) He knew knowledge of God's word is what would establish their faith, indeed this is a necessity for spiritual growth and steadfastness. When tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, Jesus said:
"It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
David tells us in Psalm 119:105:
"Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path."
And in Ephesians 6:17 Paul tells us God's word is our weapon against Satan:
"Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
God's word helps us establish our faith by nourishing us, shedding light on our path, and defending us against the enemy. However, Paul knew it is not enough to simply tell new believers about God. In order for infant Christians to be established in their faith we must teach them God's Word AND we must pray for them. We see Paul doing this for the Thessalonian believers in verses 9-13.
Paul makes three requests of God on behalf of the Thessalonians. First he asks God to fill the gaps in their faith.
"Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill in the gaps in your faith." 1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT
The NKJV translates this verse:
"night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith."
The word "perfect" means "adjust, equip, furnish." Paul longed to equip these saints for life here and in eternity. He knew this side of heaven our faith will never reach perfection still he prayed for God to allow him to fill the gaps in these infant believers faith.
We all have gaps in our lives, places of emptiness; breaks in our understanding. Spiritual gaps. Gaps in our biblical knowledge. Gaps in our prayer lives. Some gaps are small and some are big. Some gaps cause lots of problems in our spiritual growth and some can go unnoticed for a long time.
But did you know our God is a gap-filler? God fills the gaps in our faith when we turn to Him in honesty and humility. And just as He sent Paul to the Thessalonian church, He sends people into our lives to encourage and challenge us in our faith. Sometimes the way God fills gaps is through trials and tribulations. Our faith must be tested to be proven. Paul knew this truth and he longed to help the infant believers understand this and not become discouraged because of the trials they were enduring. Like Peter, Paul knew:
"Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. instead, be very glad - for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world." 1 Peter 4:12
Established faith sees the trials of life as a chance to allow God to fill gaps and grow us to maturity.
A second request Paul made of God on behalf of the Thessalonians is for their love for one another to grow and overflow. Sometimes suffering causes selfishness. When we are going through a season of testing and trials we tend to focus inward. Some of us may build a wall not allowing others in, shutting ourselves off from other believers. Some of us may build a shrine, placing ourselves on an altar, making us the center of attention. Still others, who are more mature in their faith, build a bridge to God; focusing the attention on Him and His ability to see us through the trial. Building a bridge enables us to look beyond ourselves. Building a bridge empowers us to love others through our pain. Building a bridge enhances our ability to see the lost and grows our compassion for them. This was part of Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian believers:
"And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows." 1 Thessalonians 3:12
Established faith abounds in love for all people; believers and unbelievers alike.
The third request Paul prayed was for these infant believers to be found holy and blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Knowing Jesus will one day return should motivate us to live lives of holiness. Holiness means being set apart to God. Holiness requires blameless conduct, something none of us are capable of. However, Jesus lived a blameless life. He is the One who makes us holy. This is the prayer Paul prays. He tells us how to achieve holiness in Ephesians 4:21-24:
"Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God - truly righteous and holy."
Established faith allows God's Spirit to create holy conduct in its life.
Read any of Paul's letters and you will see specific, steadfast, and spirit-filled prayers. The prayer found in 1 Thessalonians 3:10-13 is no different. Paul knew, just as a parent loves to give their child what is asked for, God delights to answer the prayers of His children. But like that child asking his parent for something is specific in his request, so too must be our prayers.
Paul's prayers were specific and steadfast, praying night and day. And his prayers were spirit filled. Paul had a passion about his prayers that only comes from surrender to the Holy Spirit. Like Paul’s prayers, there can be no ambiguity in our prayers. God answers the specific, steadfast, and Spirit-filled prayers of His children.
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 is:
Established faith is strengthened through reading, studying, and praying God's Word.
How specific are your prayers for others? How steadfast are you in praying for others? Where do you need to surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide your prayers?
Gathered manna from 1 Thessalonians 3 is:
Established faith glorifies God through steadfast endurance and habitual holiness.
We should pray our faith is firmly established in God’s Word and our lives bring glory to Him as we endure hardships and make holy living our habit!
Until next time keep gathering manna, growing deeper, and gaining intimacy!
God bless and keep you,
1) Read 1 Thessalonians 3. Mark all references to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Mark any other words or phrases that stand out to you.
2) Prayerfully answer the questions in this lesson.
3) Grab your concordance and do a word study on holiness. Write down any references that stand out to you and what you learn about the concept of holiness.