1 Thessalonians 3:4–13
At the heart of “encouragement” is the Latin word cor meaning “heart.” We give heart to those we encourage. Likewise, we “dishearten” those we discourage.
For the Apostle Paul, encouraging a young congregation was absolutely essential. Our focal passage illustrates several ways he did just that.
When the pilot announces to the passengers that “we are expecting turbulence, so remain in your seats with seatbelts securely fastened,” the goal is to keep everyone safe.
Paul knew dark days were ahead, as the culture around them rebelled against the preaching of the gospel and fought against Christians. By turning away from the idols that seemed to fill every street corner in order to serve the true and living God, the Thessalonians would find themselves at odds with their neighbors. The best thing Paul could do was prepare them for it: “We kept telling you in advance.”
The Apostle Peter said something similar: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” He adds, “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing … ” (1 Pet. 4:12–13).
“Faith” is a recurring theme throughout this passage. In 3:2, Timothy was sent to strengthen their faith. In 3:5, Paul wanted to find out about their faith, and in 3:6, Timothy brought good news about their faith. In 3:7, Paul is comforted by what he learned about their faith, and in 3:9, he longs to see them in order to “complete what is lacking in their faith.”
They were doing great, clearly, but still had not reached their full potential.
Nothing encourages a believer more than strengthening his/her faith in the Lord Jesus. “We walk by faith,” said Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “not by sight.” We remember how our Lord prayed for Peter that “your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32).
Paul ends this section with a three-fold prayer. He asks the Father to “direct our way to you.” He is intense in wanting to see his beloved congregation.
Second, he prays that their love for each other and everyone would keep increasing. Our Lord said this love for one another is the badge of all believers (John 13:34–35).
And third, Paul asks the Father to “establish your hearts in holiness,” so at the rapture of believers they would have no cause to be ashamed for any reason.
Nothing encourages young believers more than heartfelt prayer for their well-being.
By Joe McKeever
Pastor, writer and cartoonist from Ridgeland, Mississippi.