When we read this epistle, we realise that Paul is in love with the Thessalonian church. But before we just dismiss it as just knowledge, we should also read these verses closely and pray that we’ll also be affected by it.
(A) To receive the working word of God (assume there will be opposition) (1 Thess 2:13-16)
This passage describes Paul’s strong desires for face to face fellowship manifested first in thanksgiving. But what about the Thessalonians does Paul give thanks for? Paul is thankful that they received the word of God and accepted it, not as the word of men, but as the God of God (1 Thess 2:13). They heard, believed and were saved. Paul doesn’t separate evangelism and discipleship.
Paul’s point is really simple: he came, preached the OT and they believed it, and for this, he is thankful for. If you’re from a church that loves evangelism, praise God. If your church loves discipleship, that’s great. But Paul doesn’t speak in terms of programmes. It’s just people responding to God’s Word. When was the last time you believed that the OT was God’s holy, inspired word to save? We’re not talking about methods to make the gospel easy. We’re talking about God’s Word and His word alone.
And when they believed, they were changed (“work in you”, 1 Thess 2 :13). They became “imitators of the church” (1 Thess 2:14-16). They were disciples who suffered as the church in Judea did. The Jews that they endured were the same Jews that killed the prophets and Jesus, and also kicked the apostles and disciples out of the towns. These Jews opposed the work of God and the church of Thessalonians has suffered at their hands but it hasn’t affected their faith and ministry at all. This was a church that has suffered persecution and has constantly held on to this faith.
This is an encouragement to us! Christians who are real will continue to be real. Their faith will not be dependent on circumstances. They will trust God’s word even when their faith continues to be targeted. (c.f. Jn 15:8) The promise of fruit to all who abides in Jesus. Later on, James says that a faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17). A healthy tree bears fruits and so does the Christian. A Christian who believes will persevere regardless of the circumstances.
Do you know people who are like this? Do you know those that continue to press on regardless of what they’re going through? Give thanks for them because you see real faith! Give thanks for those that hold Christ higher than their own lives!
(B) To fellowship well with one another (1 Thess 2:17-20)
From 1 Thess 2:17, we read that Paul really wanted to see the people. He described his desire in strong ways — “torn away”, “in person not in heart”, “great desire”. Paul was a real person with real emotions. He wasn’t a stoic, distant leader. Paul sees their real faith and is so thankful because that is so rare. And when he sees it, what he wants to do is test it.
But, we also learn of why Paul couldn’t do what he wanted to do. Paul says Satan hindered him (1 Thess 2:18). What we can see here is that Paul sees things in terms of the spiritual. He sees obstacles as part of spiritual warfare. Are we too sophisticated to see the world in this way? Texts like this remind us that Satan is real, and Satan opposes God’s purposes and plans. On days when you are unable to be with God’s people, think: what does God want, what does God’s enemy want?
Paul wanted to meet the Thessalonians because he is proud of them and sees them as some sort of trophy (1 Thess 2:17-20). If their faith is real, it is evidence of fruit of his labour. Paul is eager to examine the genuineness of that faith. He has heard about it so far and really wants to see it for himself! He loves Christians when they are real.
Is this something that only super apostles can say? But the point that Paul is making here is not the quantity but the quality! This is a true community that Paul is offering. They are his joy and crown. In the Bible, in God’s economy, money counts for nothing. What is of eternal value in God’s economy? People!
At the same time, nothing is more miserable than Christians that have claimed that they have placed their faith in God’s Word and have absolutely no fruit. We know people like this, who profess faith but show nothing consistent with that faith.
Paul is concerned not with the number of people he has ushered into the kingdom, but the kind of people that he has ushered. (c.f. 1 John 3:10, 14-18) Paul wants to experience fellowship that is more than just being in each other’s presence. It is to be in each other’s presence to observe visible fruit. It cannot happen by just spending 1.5 hours each week together, to sing some songs and watch someone on stage and then going for coffee together. It requires spending time and life together, and to observe supernatural fruit that can only be produced in Christ.
(C) To seek out each other’s fruitfulness in Christ (1 Thess 3:1-7)
Though Paul couldn’t visit, his interim plan was to send Timothy to check it out and return with a report (1 Thess 3:1-5). We know the content of Timothy’s report because Paul referred to it in the opening verses (c.f. 1 Thess 1:3): working faith, labouring love and a steadfast hope.
Paul was comforted, encouraged, reassured, excited, joyful, loved, relieved, overjoyed, invigorated, grateful, affectionate, inspired, humbled (1 Thess 3:6-7).
Do we experience that when we look at other Christians? Our job is to live out the “one anothers” in the Bible. What practically does this look like then? We see here an argument that Paul is laying out for why he wants to see them. It has everything to do with his love for them and for Jesus. We ought to work for the fruitfulness in others’ lives. We are not content with just watching each other at a distance. We want to see how we live, tithe, raise kids, come to church etc. We church together to see out fruitfulness in Christ. It is not just about enjoying each other’s company now and having friends. Verses like Ps 16:3 and Rom 8:29 also teach us that there is a future element to it. We delight in our relationships because we are excited about what God is making us to become. We are excited to say to one another, “I love watching you become future you” and we want to be around to help each other do that.
1 Thess reminds us that Christians gather to affirm our mutual faith in God’s Word. We will be encouraged when we meet and our faith will be strengthened when we gather and see God working in the hearts and lives of the people we meet. When we look at one another in the church, we’re not just looking at people with a common religious interest or “faith”. We look with eyes to see what God does in people!
What are some practical ways to live this out? Here are at least 10 to start us off:
Look forward to and prioritise opportunities to gather
Maximise fellowship time with Christians by being fully present
Reject worldly ways of thinking about God’s people i.e., convenience, feelings of “fit”
Celebrate and recognise the doctrine of regeneration especially through baptism and Lord’s Supper
Document Scriptures which describe God’s precious people
Decline non-face-to-face connections as an alternative to face-to-face time
Look for specific fruit and “evidences of grace” in other believers and tell them so
Pray thanksgiving to God for others to draw attention to His work in them
Practice NT “one-anothers” e.g., Jn 13:34, Gal 6:2, Col 3:9, Eph 4:25, Jas 5:16, 1 Pet 4:9, Col 3:16
Create opportunities to meet believers for encouragement e.g., meals each week