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1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 is Paul’s sincere prayer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus (v11). The prayer has three petitions—the first one is that Paul might be able to return to the Thessalonians in order to see them face to face. Considering that Paul had left abruptly when he established the Church at Thessalonica, he knew that his work was not yet complete. Initially he sent Timothy to go back and find out how his converts were fairing in his absence and later he would resort to writing letters. Through his letters he was able to continue the work he began while in Thessalonica as F.F Bruce has noted “the written word was a substitute for the spoken word”.[1] Paul did his best to continue re-socializing the Thessalonians in the faith. Paul was aware that it was not enough to receive the Lord Jesus Christ—one had to grow in the faith. As Wanamaker has observed “Paul has in mind the opportunities that a visit would afford for giving his converts further personal instruction and exhortation, the very thing that his letters were intended to do in his absence”.[2] Considering that Paul’s converts had come from pagan backgrounds, it was necessary that their values should be changed for those of the gospel of Christ. It is indeed true that “Evangelical Christianity needs to strive to create a social context or community in which converts may be re-socialized into a new and distinctively Christian pattern of behavior and practice”.[3] This is to say that evangelism and discipleship go hand in hand. Pastor Paul give us here an example of how we can conduct ministry in the 21st Century. Scholars have debated what is it that Paul intends to give them which was lacking among the Thessalonians. Whatever can be said can only be conjecture, we do not know for sure what it is. However, considering the ethical problems that arose in the Thessalonian church, it make sense to focus on that as what was lacking among them.

The second request Paul makes has to do with the fact that the Thessalonians need to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (v.12). Again considering Paul’s audience in this letter—mostly from pagan backgrounds and various socio-economic backgrounds, it makes sense that Paul would exhort them to love one another. These people did not have much in common and now they were being called to a life in which they had to live as a community. [4] This is also part of the reason why Paul need to re-socialise the Thessalonians which means he “create a sense of shared identity and community where none had previously existed”. [5] The kind of life that is required in the Christ group is one of close kinship interaction. This letter has language of fictive kinship—the Thessalonians are brothers and sisters. Love had to affect their behavior toward each other, and this included how they used their resources. Members of the community that who had nothing at their disposal were to be assisted in one way or another. Paul was aware that such love could only come from God or rather God is the one who can increase this love. Yet he [Paul] functions as an embodiment of that love to the Thessalonians. Concerning this Malherbe asserts that “Most striking here, however, are Paul’s holding up his own love as a standard for them and his inclusion of “all” as objects of their love”.[6] He has already demonstrated it to them by staying in Thessalonica in spite of persecutions and the fact that he was willing to work with his own hands to provide for his needs. Love meant that he should not insist on his rights.

The third request Paul makes ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ θεοῦ (“before God”) is that Thessalonians may be “strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints”. In this request there are two separate though related requests namely that they maybe “strengthen your hearts in holiness” and that they “may be blameless”. Paul’s desire that they grow in love lends itself to this third request, it is love that will result in them living sanctified lives.[7] Their sanctification had already been wrought by the Spirit when they converted to the Faith (2 Thess. 2:13-14), yet there are aspects in which it is still not complete (1 Thess. 5:23). [8] Charles Wanamaker notes that “if the Thessalonians are to be established “without blame in holiness,” this implies their moral conformity to the very character of God. That this was of fundamental importance for Paul can be seen in 4:3, where sanctification or holiness (ἁγιασμός) is said to be the will of God for the Thessalonians”.[9] Their sanctification was to have implications in their behavior including how they practice their sexuality. (1 Thess. 4:1-8). These requirements are necessary for the “advent of our Lord Jesus”. These should be the “incentive to holy living and faithful service”.[10]

Application

The first request demonstrates Paul’s concern for his converts, he loves them and desires to see them attain all that God intends for them. Paul has done all that a pastor should do, he has used all the means available to him (sending Timothy and writing a letter) but his prayer is that he comes to them. We learn here that shepherds are to care for this congregations deeply. Paul the evangelist has much to teach us about pastoral care.

The second request calls the believes increase and abound love. Love should not be static, it should continue to grow. It is not that the Thessalonians did not love, they already did in fact their faith has reverberated in all of Macedonia. No matter how loving we are, there is always room for growth. We should continue to seek to increase and abound in love.

The third request is at home in our Wesleyan tradition, it petitions God to establish their hearts blameless in holiness. This is the goal of our salvation to be holy as he is holy. God is interested in the state of our hearts before him. It is his love which fills our hearts so that we holy. This is the positive side of holiness. The negative side is addressed by the fact that holiness makes a difference in how we live. We cannot continue to live the same way. We cannot continue to live with societal values, we have to adopt the Christian values and that affect our conducts. Are our hearts established in holiness?

AMEN

[1] F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (vol. 45; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 69.

[2] Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 138.