This section of the letter serves to demonstrate Paul’s the depth of Paul’s friendship with the Thessalonians and his concern for them. Rhetorically, by commending them in what they’ve done well this sets the stage for offering some correction and exhortation regarding Christian living.

2v17-18 – Being torn away, Paul desired to come visit them again, but was hindered by Satan

  • Why was Paul torn away?

    • The account in Acts 17 describes the opposition instigated by the Jews in Thessalonica, where Paul and Silas were forced to leave quickly and unexpectedly.
  • The language used here is very passionate – we were “orphaned from you,” “endeavored with great desire” – literally “lusting” - to see you face to face, trying “again and again.” It is clear that Paul had a strong feeling of affection and friendship for the Thessalonians and he seeks to show it here. What is it about our day that such expressions are quite unheard of outside of romance and close family ties?

    • Undoubtedly, some of it is cultural. It was not uncommon in Paul’s day for letters could contain an expression of longing to see the other person. In our day, even when such affection is present, it is often left unstated. However, the culture develops out of shared values whether expressed or implied. The fact that we are hesitant to make know such affection says something. What is the message? Where does it come from?
  • How did he know it was Satan? How did Satan hinder him?

    • For example, in Acts 16 when Paul and Timothy wanted to go into Asia and then into Bithynia, both times they were prevented by the Holy Spirit. In this case, however he knows, it is clear that the opposition is Satanic.

    • Possibly, since it was the Jews in the synagogue opposing them, that is who he is referring to. The very people who had considered themselves God’s servants were persecuting God’s servants and inhibiting their work.

    • I think that is probably the most likely, but some commentators have suggested other ideas, such as a physical ailment which kept Paul from visiting, or the political situation in Thessalonica after the previous disturbance

  • Satan is actively working to impede the success and the spread of the gospel. He is also actively working to inhibit Christian fellowship. Was he successful here? How does Satan work today to hinder fellowship? What is the relationship between true Christian community and the growth of the gospel?

    • Satan drives the persecution of the saints, and also seeks to Paul from ministering and encouraging them during their affliction. Despite the attempts to prevent the fellowship between Paul and the Thessalonians, and to afflict both by keeping them apart, Paul is able to connect with them again through the Timothy’s exhortation and encouragement.

      • We see Timothy engaging in similar ministry on behalf of Paul to the Philippians and the Corinthians.
    • Today we see similar things – in many places, fear of persecution hinders Christians from coming together for fellowship. In this country the hindrances are more insidious. Through distractions of busy lives, entertainment, and a generally disconnected culture, we often end up in the same situation as if we were physically prevented from fellowshipping.
      What are some other things that can inhibit fellowship?

    • The spread of the gospel and the community of saints are not two separate things, but are vitally connected. It is through the prayer, encouragement, teaching, discipleship, and support that Christians are equipped and sent out to carry the gospel into the world. And it is into a Christian community that the world is brought through the gospel.

2v19-20 – Paul’s hope and joy at Christ’s coming is tied up in the Thessalonians

  • What does it mean to say that you are our glory and our joy?

    • Paul takes his calling seriously and views those for whom he labors as his reward and crown before the Lord. Cf. Philippians 4:1 - “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”

    • “At some point in the future, believers will be evaluated with respect to their stewardship of the ministry entrusted to them by God. As Paul understands it, the basis of evaluation is not how hard he may have worked but the fruit he has produced. Thus the health and well-being of the Thessalonian congregation is of no small concern to Paul, for it offers public evidence of his success as God’s missionary. “He thus yearns for them in part because, as his converts, there steadfast loyalty to Christ means that his own life has counted for something.” (Holmes, NIVAC)

    • C.f. Romans 15:17-18 – “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed,”

    • Paul’s boasting is in Jesus Christ and the work that Christ is accomplishing through him. It is not a selfish conceit but a boast in the accomplishments of another.

  • What would we have to believe about the importance of ministry and the seriousness of the task to be able to say what Paul says in v19-20?

    • Consider 1 Corinthians 3:5-15 – “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

    • Paul is a laborer working with the skills God has given him to build the temple of his Church on the foundation of Christ. If his work survives the day of judgment, then for that work he will receive a reward. Those works are the churches to whom he ministers.

    • Sometimes we can adopt the Kantian mindset that all of the obedience, all of the service, all of the work that we do by God’s grace and for his kingdom ought to be done in a disinterested fashion, without concern for our own reward. In other words, we are most moral when we do our duty for duty’s sake and not because we stand to gain. The New Testament, however, will have none of that – and this passage is a clear example. Jesus and the apostles both appeal to reward as a motivation for obedience:

      • For example, in the sermon on the mount in Matthew:

        • Let your giving be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. It’s not, “only give out of selfless duty or compassion,” but rather, “don’t give for the praise of men but for the praise of God.”

        • Likewise, let your prayer be in secret, and the Father who sees in secret will reward you.

        • The same is true for fasting.

      • Elsewhere in Colossians 3, Paul exhorts slaves to work heartily as to the Lord, knowing that from the Lord they will receive a reward.

      • In Hebrews 12:1-2, we see the example set by Jesus himself: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV)

    • When you pursue something selfishly or at the expense of others, it’s not the fact that you’re doing it out of self-interest that’s the problem, it’s the fact that you’re striving for a fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying reward which is really not in your interest at all, while forsaking the only lasting and truly satisfying reward. Instead, the Bible says pursue your highest good, pursue your ultimate and lasting pleasure, and that will only truly be found in Christ. It’s self-interested but not selfish, since it includes the greatest acts of giving yourself for the sake of others. The wisdom of the world, where the more you give the less you have, is turned on its head and the only lasting way to have is to give.

3v1-2 – Knowing their affliction and burdened with concern for their well-being, Paul sent Timothy in his place to exhort them.

  • How does Paul’s anxious concern for the Thessalonians mesh with his view of God’s sovereignty over all things?

    • We know that Paul believed that God is absolutely sovereign over everything that happens. Statements like Ephesians 1:11, where he says that God is the one “who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” don’t come from any other belief. And yet we see Paul here with an anxious concern for the Thessalonians well-being and making ardent attempts to reverse his present circumstances and be able to see them. How do we reconcile these two things?

      • A healthy understanding of the distinction between God’s revealed will and his sovereign will

      • An understanding that God sovereignty is all encompassing, and includes the free actions of men, the desires, afflictions, and prayers of God’s people, and all other circumstances.

  • What can we learn about the relationship between our circumstances, God’s sovereignty, and our responses and reactions? How does this passage help guard against a cold fatalism?

    • If you’ve ever heard the Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem “Whatever is – is best” – it is actually a fairly good perspective on viewing circumstances in light of eternity and trusting that the Sovereign Lord is bringing about a wise and perfect plan in the midst of chaos. However, it is very easy to translate “whatever is – is best” into a resigned fatalism, in which we view bad circumstances with a resigned – “well it must be God’s will.”

    • One thing we can learn from this passage is that it is not biblical to resign in the face of circumstances – our God is the God who raises the dead, he is the one who comes to Israel’s rescue when she cries out for help. Against all the God’s of the nations, our God hears and answers and acts in history. He is not only the author of the story but he has written himself into as the central actor. We need a much more robust view of sovereignty than grim, fatalistic resignation.

    • There is a difference between grumbling and complaining about your circumstances and crying out to the living God to change your circumstances. Not only that, but we work and we pray - we act, think, workaround obstacles and pursue obedience to God’s commands, all the while trusting that He is ultimately sovereign and guiding the outcome even in the ups and downs.

    • You see this point of view at work in Paul’s words and his actions, his prayers and his plans.

  • What burden was it for Paul to be left alone? What does this say about his love for the Thessalonians?

    • As Paul expressed in numerous letters, Timothy was the closest and at times only reliable fellow minister he had to work with. Undoubtedly, Timothy was a great aid and comfort to Paul in much of his own affliction. And yet, his concern and his love for the Thessalonians was so great that he would rather be alone than deprive them of the comfort and encouragement that Timothy could bring.
  • Does Paul call Timothy “God’s coworker” or “God’s servant”? What does it mean?

  • What does Paul consider the best way to reassure Christians in the face of affliction?

    • It is the fellowship and encouragement of other saints that will most serve to establish and strengthen those whose faith is under fire.

3v3-5 – He wanted to remind them that our calling is to suffer, just as Paul had warned them previously. He was afraid that the tempter had somehow tempted them and rendered his labor in vain.

  • How could suffering cause someone to be tempted to fall away from the faith?

    • If someone is expecting something different (e.g. health, wealth, and prosperity), then the appearance of suffering could cause them to lose all hope.
  • What would compromise of their faith look like for the Thessalonians? What does it look like for us today?

  • What would Timothy do to establish and exhort them?

    • Timothy would remind them of the calling to which they have been called – that is, to follow in the footsteps of their Lord and suffer for the gospel’s sake. Paul told them when they were together that this would happen and it has come to pass just as they said. That alone should be encouragement to the Thessalonians. When something frightening comes your way, it’s always a comfort when someone is there who told you what you should expect but was also confident enough to reassure you that you will make it through.

    • When we’re not facing persecution because we’ve been graced with peaceful circumstances, we ought to look for opportunities to support and encourage those who are facing such opposition.

  • What does it mean that we are destined for this? How does Paul’s preaching of affliction integrate with his gospel message?

    • Acts 14:21-22 – “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

    • John 15:20 - “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

    • 2 Timothy 3:12 - “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”

    • Romans 8:16–17 - “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

    • The message of the New Testament is quite clear in this regard – as followers of Jesus, we should expect persecution. Paul indicates as much by the tense he uses - he kept telling them that they would undergo persecution.

    • In fact, you could go so far as to say that enduring under suffering and persecution is a sure sign of God’s favor:

      • 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 - “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—”
    • There is a real union between Christ and his Church. He is the Head and we are his body. He is the king and we are the kingdom.

    • The church is to experience affliction, just as its head experienced affliction. It’s helpful to understand this in terms of eschatology (the

    • C.f. Daniel 7 and the King/Kingdom with suffering then glory

    • Beale, 99: “These ordeals are not random trials but are part of a redemptive-historical design by which history will conclude with the Messiah’s establishment of a kingdom and resistance to it. According to Old Testament expectation, Israel would undergo tribulation in the latter days: persecutions from without and deceptive teachings from within. God would eventually defeat Israel’s persecutors, judge her compromisers and bequeath an eternal kingdom to Israel. Since Jesus summed up true Israel in himself, the trials he endured began to fulfill the prophecy that Israel would suffer eschatological trial. Those who follow Jesus in the present age are “in Messiah Jesus” and are identified with him as true Israel. This means they must also tread the same prophesied path of end-time tribulation before their own final resurrection.”

  • How could his labor be in vain?

3v6-7 – Timothy’s report has brought them comfort because the Thessalonians are standing firm and are eager to see Paul.

  • Timothy just returned, and Paul is writing this letter back to them. What does this say about his affection for them that he writes so quickly and is comforted in his own affliction by the good news from Timothy?

    • The sincerity of his love is demonstrated in his eagerness for them to share in his joy – a joy which is based on word of their well-being. The excitement is palpable but at the same time convicting. Thinking of my own experiences, the question is – do I show the same excitement and eagerness to communicate and get reports from my brothers and sisters in the faith. For example, I think about how long it takes me to take the time and finally get around to writing a letter to a Compassion child.

    • Paul does not merely approach his ministry as a profession, finding his satisfaction in doing a good job. His concern is the people and serving them.

  • What is the relationship between our participation in the spread of the gospel and our joy at seeing the fruit of God’s work in believers and our ability to endure affliction and suffering?

    • Like the oft-quoted biblical passage says, it is better to give than too receive. Nowhere is this truer than when we’re giving of ourselves for the sake of others and their growth in the gospel. Pouring your heart and soul into a work and then seeing the fruit of it always brings a level of satisfaction. However, pouring your heart and soul into the lives of others through the gospel and seeing the fruit of the Spirit in them brings a joy that goes beyond satisfaction for a job well-done. If you feel like your Christian life is lacking in joy, ask yourself whether you are taking part in the joy-filled work of helping others to grow in faith.

    • The joy Paul gets at seeing the fruit of his labor is comfort to him in his affliction. It gives him assurance that he is not suffering in vain, and that just as the Lord promised, while suffering for the sake of Christ he would be a light to the Gentiles and open their eyes turn from darkness to light and enter the kingdom of God. The Thessalonians’ endurance is a comfort because his friends are remaining strong in the faith, it is a confirmation of the word of Christ, and it is an encouragement to Paul himself to remain steadfast in his own affliction.

3v8 – “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

  • What does Paul mean, “For now we live, if you are standing fast”?

3v9-10 – He is overflowing w/ joy and earnestly praying to visit them.

  • Having seen their endurance and faith, what does he pray to God for them?

    • He prays all the more earnestly to see them again and to be able to continue ministering to them.

    • Notice how he says “night and day” – unlikely that he means every minute of the day he is engaged in active prayer for them, and it also doesn’t mean that he’s just vaguely praying all the time for them, but more intentionally, he is setting aside regular time on a regular basis to intercede for them


  • What are Paul’s priorities in prayer?

    • He gives all thanks to God for the work he’s doing in the lives of the Thessalonians. Yet, he does it in a way that encourages them.

      • D.A. Carson, 87: “There is simply no way that these believers can thoughtfully listen to what Paul says and then smugly pat themselves on the back: God, and God alone, is to be praised for the signed of grace in their lives. Yet nonetheless they cannot help but feel encouraged to learn that the apostle himself has observed God’s work in their lives and rejoices because of it.”
    • He prays that he might be able to strengthen them in their faith, overcoming all obstacles.

    • He prays that they will overflow in love for other believers.

    • He prays that they will be strengthened in heart so as to be blameless and holy at the coming of the Lord.

Three examples for us in this passage:

  • Paul – a passionate concern for the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Christ. So much so that his comfort, his joy, and his peace of mind is bound up in theirs. He is willing to be left without companionship so that they might have it.

  • Timothy – ever the faithful servant, willing to endure potentially hostile situations to bring encouragement and exhortation to the saints.

  • The Thessalonians – Young believers enduring extreme affliction, yet maintaining a strong faith and bond of love.

From this we can see the importance of expressing our affection for one another, as it seems to strengthen the brethren. Pastors and leaders should be passionately concerned for the welfare of those under their care. Likewise, we should endeavor to report to others how we are doing, even under difficult circumstances, as this serves to strengthen them in the face of their own affliction.