Summary: God encourages us so that we could encourage one another
Encouraged to Encourage
The story seems so modern. A man who seems to be in a rut in his job gets a call from his boss about a terrific new opportunity overseas. Things had not been going so well where he was. Everything he tried to do was a dead end. So this opportunity was one to be snapped at. He had confidence in his boss, so he decided to take the new offer.
He prepares passage across the sea and lands in a new country. He heads to his first town to try to create a new market. He looks and finds that there are only a few stray persons who show any interest. The competition is intense, and one of his competitors has him beaten and thrown in prison. His boss finds out about it when he and his partner call him in the middle of the night. His boss arranges for his release. But when he is released the next day, they are told to leave town.
Undiscouraged, they decide to try to sell their idea to another city. Perhaps they would find better market opportunities there. At first it seems like things were getting to a good start. A lot of important people in that city had subscribed to the new idea. However, before long, they had to run for their lives when the competition started a riot there. So they went to another city with the same result. In the fourth city, the man and his new ideas were mocked, and he left there with only a few new subscribers.
By now, the man was wondering what was going on. Where was this great promised opportunity he had dreamed about? Nevertheless, the man pressed on to a fifth city. Again after a promising start, the competition stirred up trouble. The man was thoroughly discouraged. That night, his boss called him with these words: “Don’t be afraid Paul! Don’t let them silence you! Speak boldly, for I have many people in this city. I will be with you, therefore, no one will be able to attack or harm you (Acts 18:9-10).
As we can see, this story we have told is the story of the Apostle Paul in Acts starting from his travels in Asia Minor. He wanted to go off into several new areas, but the Lord had said, No”. Then he received the Macedonian vision to cross the Hellespont into Macedonia. The five cities were Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. By the time the uprising against him in Corinth happened, Paul had been beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and hunted down. If anyone had a right to be discouraged, it was the Apostle Paul. The words from the Lord came to encourage Paul came at exactly the right moment. The success of the mission did not depend on Paul’s abilities, but rather the sovereign plan and power of God. The strength of God would be demonstrated not in Paul’s strength and wisdom, but rather in Paul’s weakness. God did not call to fail, but to succeed.
Paul had not been able to establish any of the work in the other cities. Apparently, he left Luke behind to strengthen the work in Philippi. And he was particularity concerned about Thessalonica. He feared the worst there and sent Timothy on a salvage mission. It seemed that Paul expected a dismal report but was delighted and surprised that things were going well there. Again, the success of God’s work does not depend on us, although by God’s grace He calls us to join Him in His work. We know of this good report letter on in the letter we call 1 Thessalonians. Paul was doubly encouraged and strengthened.
The encouraged and thankful Paul takes pen and paper and along with Silas and Timothy dashes off a letter of encouragement that we call 1 Thessalonians. Whether it was written before or after 2 Thessalonians is debated by scholars. It might have some relevance to some of the issues Paul deals with in the Epistle, but does not matter so much for the text in question.
Paul the encouraged now becomes the encourager. He knows the severe trials the church had undergone in his forced absence. He wants to encourage the believers to persevere through the doubts and trials. The same Lord who had seen him through a particularly rough spot will see the Thessalonians through. He follows his greeting to the believers by reminding them that the Thessalonian’s welfare was constantly in their prayers. He was grateful to God for the things that were going well in Thessalonica. He mentions that their faith was demonstrating its vitality in their work for the Lord which was motivated by love. Their hope had allowed them to endure the hardships they had faced.