Rooted in Hope #1
Text: 1 Thessalonians 1-3
Young children need to know that they are loved and accepted. They also need to know that their parents care about the type of people they will become. It is good for parents to have healthy hopes and reasonable expectations for their children.
+ Do you agree with the above statement? Why or why not?
+ What were some of the hopes that your parents had for you growing up? How did they communicate those hopes to you?
The church at Thessalonica was a very young church! You can read about its birth in Acts 17. Paul’s missionary team stayed only a few weeks before being run out of the city, but not before God had reaped a tremendous harvest among them. In the beginning of this letter, written only six months or so after the founding of the church, Paul’s parental concern for the growth of these baby Christians is very evident.
1. A Parent’s Pride:
Paul can’t contain how proud he is of the work that God has done among these new believers in Thessalonica. In verses 2-3, what are the three things that Paul is most thankful for concerning the Thessalonians? Faith, Hope and Love.
These three virtues are often connected throughout the New Testament, forming a triad upon which a healthy Christian life is built.
- what are some other passages that you see these verses in?
- 1 Cor 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (ESV)
- Colossians 1:3-5 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (ESV)
- Galatians 5:5-6 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (ESV)
Paul used this triad as a diagnostic tool as he considered how to pray for and strategically establish the churches he founded. Think through some of the other books we’ve studied:
- Romans: built up in the faith and established in the Gospel.
- Corinthians: Love – they had a problem living together in relationship.
- Galatians: Faith and Love
Even though this church was young and had not reached maturity in any of these virtues, Paul could thank the Lord that all three were present among them from the beginning.
In verses 6-9, Paul remarks of how the conversion of the Thessalonians through such tribulation resounded throughout the land so that they had become an example to other churches.
2. A Mother’s Passion:
In 2:7 Paul uses the metaphor of a nursing mother taking care of her own infant children to describe his ministry among the Thessalonians. Birthing the church did not occur without experiencing intense labor pains (verse 2). Yet it was their clear understanding of God’s work in them that encouraged them to continue on until the church was birthed.
Þ Verse 2: Who was the source of their boldness in such conflict?
Þ Verse 2: Who authorized the message that the apostles spoke?
Þ Verse 4: Who approved them to be deliverers of that message?
Þ Verse 4: Whom did they seek to please by delivering their message?
Þ Verse 5: Whom did they appeal to as a witness to their motives and methods?
Against all odds and amidst such opposition a church was born. Given the difficulties involved, it is not surprising that Paul uses such tender language in describing the bond between the missionaries and the church. The miracle of this birth not only drew them closer together, but also drew them closer to God.
3. A Father’s Pattern:
In verses 9-12, the metaphor shifts to that of a hard working father modeling in his own life the values he hopes to instill in his children. Paul and his team worked with their hands to not be a burden on anyone (2:9). This work ethic he sought to instill will come up again later in these letters. They also conducted themselves blamelessly toward the new believers and in front of the new believers (2:10). Finally, he says in 2:12, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Notice that the admonition developed naturally out of the lifestyle that they lived among them.
4. A Parent’s Pain:
Soon after the church was planted, the missionary team was forced out of the city, leaving the babes in Christ as orphans surrounded by wolves. The safety of their children weighed heavily on the minds of the missionaries, and they eagerly desired to go back to Thessalonica to continue establishing the church, but were inhibited by Satan from doing so. In 3:1 and 3:5 Paul confesses that they sent Timothy back to them “when we could bear it no longer”.
What do these verses tell us about the purposes for which Timothy was sent back?
1 Thess 3:2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith,
1 Thess 3:5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. (ESV)
5. A Parent’s Prayer:
Upon Timothy’s return, the missionaries could breathe a sigh of relief. Timothy’s report was overwhelmingly positive. What specifically does Timothy report about the Thessalonians in 3:6? Faith, Hope, Remember Paul Kindly.
Compare Paul’s original prayer for the Thessalonians in 1:3. What virtue is missing from this report? Hope. There seems to be a problem that has arisen relating to the steadfastness of their hope. Interestingly, if you compare 2 Thess. 1:3:
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
Again, a mention of their hope is missing. So even though the report from Timothy was mostly encouraging – they were standing steadfast in the faith and living by love, their were issues that had crept in that were undermining their assurance of hope.
In 3:10, Paul says that he prays earnestly night and day to see the Thessalonians again face-to-face supply what is lacking among their faith. Given what we have learned from the content of Timothy’s report, what might we assume to be the content of what Paul longs to instruct them about? Hope – Paul wants to build up the steadfastness of their hope. Through these two letters, Paul is parenting the Thessalonians once again. He longs to see them growing in the truth, he wants to see them established and mature. In order for that to happen, he needs to instruct them toward a sure understanding of the hope they possess in Christ. Notice how he prays for them:
1 Thess: 3:11-13 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
The Christian’s hope is based on the surety of a future in which Jesus will return to take us into his kingdom to live with him forever. In the book of 1 Thessalonians as we have it today, every single chapter ends with a statement of certainty regarding the Christian hope. We can confirm very clearly that this is why Paul wrote these letters simply by noticing the final verses of each chapter. Every single chapter of 1 Thess points us to Christ’s return.
Perhaps a good purpose statement for the letters to the Thessalonians is:
to see spiritual children grow secure in their Christian hope by understanding the reality of Christ’s return and how it relates to them as believers.
1. In your own Christian life, to what degree has reflection on the return of Christ been a source of spiritual growth?
2. What questions do you still have regarding the return of Christ or life after death?