Summary: Pauls’ prayers for the beleivers at Thessalonica
I was once asked by why I wore a clerical collar. I had never really thought about it before. I mean I just put one on the day I was ordained and that was that. Anyway I made up some reply about it being helpful in hospitals and when doing home visitations. They seemed satisfied with that as an answer. Many people wear uniforms that distinguish them from other people in society. Often the uniform or dress helps us to recognise who they are and what they do. It sets them apart. Now let me ask you a question: What are the marks of a Christian? In this passage from 1 Thessalonians 3 Paul states three marks:
PAUL PRAYS THEY GROW IN FAITH
PAUL PRAYS THEY ABOUDN IN LOVE
PAUL PRAYS THAT THEY ARE SECURE IN HOPE
These three appear together quite a lot in the NT and especially in Paul’s letters. Let us look at what Paul says in this passage about each of them.
PAUL PRAYS THAT THEY GROW IN FAITH
Is primarily directed towards God. We know from the earlier chapters of this letter that the Thessalonians had repented of their sin of idolatry and immorality and they had turned in faith to Christ Jesus. Now listen to what Paul says about their faith. He says they are encouraged because Timothy has brought them news about how they have remained true in their faith. He has brought news how they are standing firm in the faith in the face of persecution and opposition. When Paul was with them he was concerned that their faith would be strong and stable. He sent Timothy to teach them the faith so that in the midst of this time of trial their faith may not falter but remain stable and strong. Paul’s missionary pattern was to establish the church, to teach it well and then to send someone to teach them more. Look at what he says in verse 10 – ‘to supply what it lacking in your faith.’ The literal Greek translation there is ‘to mend a net with a hole in it.’ Now a net with a hole in it is not very useful. Paul sent Timothy to mend their shortcomings, to sew up the holes in their faith. It seems a harsh statement. It seems to be a statement of self-condemnation of his own ministry but it is made in all love and with a pastors heart. You see Paul knows that they have faith. He has already commended them in the first two chapters for their faithfulness in receiving and accepting the gospel but he also knows this; You are standing but lacking. Friends that is and will always be true of Christians. Paul wants them to know that they are not finished growing in the faith just yet. He wants them to remember that they still lack knowledge, they still lack holiness – these things they must continue to grow in daily.
Illustration: one of my cousins came home from his first day at school and announced there I have been to school. He thought one day was all there was to it. Friends in the Christian life we never leave school. A teachable and a humble spirit are to be always with us. We never reach the point where we know it all about the Bible, about Jesus. The scourge of Christianity is being saved and stuck – thinking that is all there is to being a Christian – a prayer of repentance. Paul wants these believers to know they still have a lot to learn. Yes they are standing firm but they still need to make progress in the Christian faith. He knows that if they are standing still they are already going backwards.
How does Paul encourage them to go on growing in the faith – Prayer. Look at what he says in verse 10. He is constant and consistent in his prayers for their spiritual growth. Their faith has been an encouragement to him in the midst of his own trials and tribulations in Athens and now in Corinth, where Timothy has joined him (verses 6-7). The report that their faith has remained solid in the face of opposition has renewed and strengthened Paul. So much so that he uses the term normally used of the gospel ‘good news’ to speak of the report which Timothy has brought from Thessalonica. He has moved from ‘all our distress and persecution’ has become ‘all the joy we have.’ This is all because the Thessalonians have remained steadfast in the faith – and yet Paul longs to be with them to add to their faith what is lacking.
How? Only by teaching the Scriptures to them can their faith be made to grow. That is the only way for anyone to grow in faith. As we grow in our knowledge of God through His Word we grow in faith. Can I say to you this is not about academic ability – it is all about having a teachable spirit and a humble spirit to submit to the Word of God. And I would add it is about discipline of reading, studying, meditating and obeying the Word of God. Paul knew this – that is why he sent Timothy – he had seen it modelled in Timothy’s life and now the Thessalonians had also.