During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Thursday, 3 December 2020 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
1. Therefore, enduring it no longer, we determined to be left behind alone in Athens.
2. We sent Timothy, our brother and coworker in God—in the gospel of Christ—to strengthen you and to encourage your faith
3. so that no one be disturbed in all these troubles. You know yourselves that we are destined for this.
4. When we were with you, we told you beforehand we were about to be persecuted, which as you know is what happened.
5. Because of this, when I could no longer stand it, I sent to know your faith, whether the tempter had tempted you or not, and whether our labor became in vain.
6. Now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought good news about your faith and love, and that you have remembered us well, always longing to see us just as we do you.
7. We are encouraged by this, brothers and sisters, by all your faith in our distress and persecution.
8. Because you stand firm in the Lord, now we live.
9. How are we able to return thanks, a thanksgiving to God for you, for all the joy and rejoicing for you before God?
10. Begging, pleading night and day to see your face, to complete what is lacking in your faith.
11. May Father God himself and our Lord Jesus straighten out our road to you.
12. And may the Lord increase your love and make it sufficient for one another and to all, just as he has for us to you
13. to strengthen your blameless hearts in holiness before God our Father in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. [Amen.]
As is my custom, let’s first speak about the textual variant in verse 13. The concluding ‘Amen’ is hard to cipher. Metzger summarizes it nicely by indicating it is difficult to know whether it was dropped by copyists who didn’t think it fit or was it added as a liturgical response to the soaring language of verse 13? I have taken the GNT’s lead and included it in brackets, however, to me it seems inauthentic. The text reads better without it.
What grips me most about the opening verses is Paul’s fear. He is terrified someone has soiled the Thessalonians discipleship while he was away. He refers to a ‘tempter’ who, probably is Satan from chapter 2, the same Satan that blocked him, but I do not dismiss the possibility Paul has some human being in mind who is working on the Thessalonians and trying to lead them away with a watered down false gospel. I don’t know who that person might have been, but let’s call him Joel Osteenus bar Orellus Robertus.
Whoever it was tempting them, Paul was worried all the time and effort he had spent would be wasted if they turned from the true faith. Is it wrong if I confess to you I am comforted by this? Why does it comfort me? Because I often fear those I have led, taught, and instructed in the faith will fall away (indeed, some have). That Paul had a similar fear makes me feel better about my own failings.
Verse 10 gets to the issue: Paul had some things he still needed to teach them. He refers here to what is lacking. I use the rendering “complete” as in complete a course where the ESV and NIV uses the word “supply” as in a good to be delivered. The thing is, I have been at this Jesus-following thing for decades and I still don’t feel complete.
Paul finishes the chapter with two requests. He asks God to straighten out the road that leads back to Thessalonica because he wants to visit, and he asks God to increase the love they have for everyone. The road business is self evident, but the idea of God making us love better is fascinating because Paul qualifies the object — Love for each other and love for everyone. So there you have it in black and white, the idea we should increasingly love one another and the whole world; everyone! However much you love right now, it can always be more and it can always do more (sufficiency). In Romans Paul says it like this, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). You never pay off love, it is always a debt because God holds the mortgage.
Questions For Application
- If a tempter was seeking to derail your faith, how would he or she come at you? How would you deflect it?
- Paul longed to see the Thessalonians. Who do you long to see?
- Do you feel like there is anything lacking in your faith? What is it, and how will you complete it?
- Paul prayed for a straight path to Thessalonica. What do you pray for the Lord to straighten out?
- Paul prayed for the Thessalonians to have sufficient love — is there any way in which your love is deficient?