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Text 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. 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.
This is a transitioning chapter in this Epistle, Paul started out by commending the church, and telling them how proud he was of their good work, faithfulness, and love of the Word of God. In chapter four he is going to give them somethings to improve and strive for, like sexual purity, trusting God’s sovereignty, and respecting the hierarchy of the church.
You also notice that they may have thought Paul had abandoned them and that he didn’t really care about them anyways. He keeps saying that he loves them, and that he tried to get back to them, and that he was worried about them, and that he was unable to visit so he sent Timothy.
Paul was giving them a history of what they did after he was kicked out of town, that he was worried they hadn’t received enough instruction.
How exactly the travel arrangements happened here is difficult to say, I worked on this for a long time and I don’t think it is knowable, but it’s not particularly important to doctrine either. By my best understanding, Paul was kicked out of Berea, Silas and Timothy stayed to minister to the Bereans, Paul sent for them to come to Athens, they came to Athens. In Athens, they started to really worry about Thessalonica, so Paul sent Timothy from there. I don’t know where Silas went, but for a brief period he was separated from Paul when Paul went to Corinth. My guess is that Silas stayed in Athens, since there were people there who wanted to learn more about Jesus Christ. This was the most confusing traveling story I’ve read in the Bible…
There is a LOT going on here and for some reason it is not as clear as it could be. In Chapter 2 you’ll remember that Paul stated that he wanted to go back but was hindered, this was likely him speaking about being in Berea when the Jews came and found him and ran him out of Macedonia all together. Since they didn’t run Timothy and Silas out of town, they must have only really disliked Paul. Timothy may not have been with them at this time but met up with them, there is no mention of him in Philippi or Thessalonica on the first visit. How exactly it happened is not recorded. He probably stayed in Lystra to count the cost of being an itinerant minister, then decided to, and chased after Paul and Silas. How the communication happened is hard to discern.
Now, why were they worried about Thessalonica? There are four kinds of hearers, according to Jesus Christ:
Matthew 13:3-9 A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear."
These are the same seeds, the same sower, only the ground, or the hearer, changes.
As it happens a lot, his hearers didn’t understand, and since this is the most important parable in the Bible (Mark 4:13), Jesus goes on further to explain what he meant:
Matthew 13:19-23 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Your four hearers are:
Hard-Hearted Hearers – The word just bounces off of them, no growth whatsoever.
Stony Ground Hearers – Hard hearts, shallow, seeking their own happiness above God. Can’t withstand persecution.
Thorny Ground Hearers – Too in love with the world to grow.
Good Soil Hearers – Seeds grow, good roots in the Bible, produce grain which results in others being saved.
Good soil is rare to find naturally, you have to till the soil, pick out the rocks, kill the weeds, turn bad soil into good…any of the hearers could be turned into good soil hearers if the time is spent to prepare their hearts for the word.
Paul was worried that maybe Thessalonica didn’t have adequate work done to grow them in the faith, so he sent Timothy back to further train them. Fortunately his worries were unfounded, as we learned from chapters 1 and 2. The persecution that they faced and were facing proved that they were good-soil hearers, but also certainly Timothy’s visit helped to encourage them in the faith.
Now who was Timothy? Just to give you a basic background:
Acts 16:1-3 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Timothy was from Galatia, one of Paul’s reasons for going this way was to make sure this region was returning to preaching the true Gospel, because they had abandoned it for a little while and Paul became concerned for their salvation and ministries. He picked up this young man and decided to train him up to be a minister of God.
Paul had gotten into a huge fight in Jerusalem about circumcision, which is something the Jews would do as a sign of the covenant to boys. They decided that salvation was entirely by grace, and that the covenant did not have to have an outward sign, but for some reason Paul decided to have Timothy circumcised anyways. I think it was to avoid having to have the fight over and over again at every synagogue, and also as a demonstration of the optional nature of circumcision. See - http://netwetters.blogspot.com/2008/12/1221-1-thess-36-13-timothys-false.html
2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.
Timothy was well trained by his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, and was well spoken of. Paul did great things with him because he had such a good foundation of the faith.
His first job was in Thessalonica, then he became the pastor of Ephesus, and finally he visited Corinth to correct some of their major problems. At some point, probably before his pastorate in Ephesus, he spent time in prison, possibly with Paul in Jerusalem, although we don’t know where. He died under the persecution by Domitian, sometime between AD 81-96. Domitian hated Christians so much he killed his close relatives Clemens and Domitilla under the charge of “Atheism” which is what the Romans believed about Christians, since we worship only one God, as compared to the Romans who worshipped all of the gods.
By AD 95 the church at Ephesus had died spiritually. (Revelation 2:1-7) A great church can die quickly if they lose their good pastor.
The Epistles to Timothy are concerned largely with pastoral position, which is fitting, since Timothy was the first pastor that Paul trained. Pastors are very important and must be godly men, and also many of the admonitions for pastors include the behavior of their wives.
Some things that were written that are useful for this class are:
1 Timothy 4:7-8 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:11-2 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
John MacArthur got his pastorate at 30 years old, after two old pastors had died, and he’s been their pastor for 39 years now. Many of the greatest pastors in history became pastors at young ages.
2 Timothy 2:11-13 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:8-9 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!
None of this is really new to the New Testament, but it is said very, very well. Paul knew the Old Testament through and through. Compare this passage against wayward priests from Hosea:
Hosea 4:6-9 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because [pastor/priest/shepherd] have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.
We’ll learn next week that Timothy brought back a very encouraging report. In Chapter 4 we will talk more about the persecution that had come that Paul had promised them would come.
Finally, Timothy is called God's coworker in this passage, which is really an incredible title.
Consider these other incredible titles:
Friend of God
son/daughter of God
Half brother/sister of Christ
Minister of the Most High God
We have been given big titles to live up to, do your best to represent your God and Saviour rightly, knowing that if you fail he will forgive you, and that it is ultimately him building his church, but giving us an incredible position to be his coworker.