2. Paul's relationship with the Thessalonian church, 1:1-3:13
v] Timothy's report and Paul's prayerArgument
At this point in his letter Paul responds to Timothy's report on the welfare of the congregation in Thessalonica. Paul is overjoyed at hearing how well the church is going, v6-10, and takes a moment to pray for the Christians at Thessalonica, v11-13.
i] Context: See 2:1-12. Timothy's report ends the personal narrative section of the letter, the Narratio, while Paul's prayer serves as a Digressio, moving the letter on toward its central argument, the Probatio. The theme of the central argument is certainly carried in the prayer: "Paul petitions God to allow him to return to the Thessalonians and asks the Lord to prepare them for the coming of the Lord Jesus", Malherbe.
ii] Structure: This passage, Timothy's report and Paul's prayer, presents as follows:
Timothy's report, v6-8;
A thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers, v9-10;
Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian believers, v11-13.
Paul was concerned for the believers in Thessalonica and so he was overjoyed on receiving Timothy's positive report. In fact, Paul uses the key word euaggelisamenou, "having brought important news", a word commonly used of gospel communication, to give Timothy's report weight. Paul is overjoyed that the believers in Thessalonica continue in "faith and love" and that they "stand firm in the Lord." The faithfulness of the congregation certainly encourages Paul and prompts him to burst out in prayer and thanksgiving for them, v9-10.
The narrative section of the letter concludes with a benedictory prayer which serves to introduce the hortatory section of the letter, 4:1-5:22. The prayer invokes both "God the Father" and "our Lord Jesus." Paul prays that love may increase and that his readers may be strengthened to live a blameless and holy life.
iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 3:6
i] Paul receives Timothy's report and is encouraged by it, v6-8. At this point in his letter, Paul speaks of the arrival of Timothy and of Timothy's positive news concerning the Thessalonian church. Paul makes three points with respect to Timothy's report: first, the church members continue in faith; second, they continue in love one toward another; and third, they continue to hold a positive view toward Paul. Paul goes on in v7-8 to express how he is uplifted by this good news. In the midst of his troubles, this positive news gives him renewed strength.
In the Gk. these three verses make up one sentence with the main verb being "we were encouraged."
de "but" - but, and. Here contrastive. In v5 Paul says that he sent Timothy to confirm the standing of the Thessalonian believers as to their "faith" (v2 "in order to strengthen and encourage you about [uJper for epi, Moule IB] your faith [ie. faith in God]" which Paul felt was under stress due to the qliyiV "suffering/difficulties" that they were facing). Paul was worried that his labor may have been in vain, "but now", Timothy having returned and having reported the news ..... Paul and the members of his missionary team "were encouraged" (cf. v7, functioning as the main verb of this rather extended sentence).
elqontoV (ercomai) gen. aor. part. "has just [now] come [to us]" - having come. This genitive absolute participle, as with "having communicated (brought good news)", is adverbial, probably temporal, as NIV. "But when Timothy reached me a moment ago, ......, bringing me the good news of your faith", Moffatt.
euaggelisamenou (euaggelizw) aor. part. "has brought good news" - having brought news. The genitive absolute participle is temporal as above. This is an example of the non technical use of this word, most often used of preaching the Christian message. Certainly the news was "good" on this occasion, but primarily the word means communicating important news which may, or may not be good, depending on the circumstances. "Definite news", Phillips.
thn pistin kai thn agaphn "about [your] faith and love" - the faith and love [of you]. "The faith that you have and the love which you evidence to one another", Ellicott.
oJti "-" - introducing a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing the news that Timothy told Paul, namely that the congregation warmly remembers Paul and would love him to visit again.
epipoqounteV (pipoqew) pres. part. "pleasant memories" - great desiring, longing. Attendant circumstance participle identifying action accompanying the main verb "you .. have [pleasant memories of]"; "they looked forward with eager longing." This compound form of the word carries more emotion than just "desire".
idein (eidon) aor. inf. "to see [us]" - The infinitive is complementary, completing the verbal sense of the participle, "longing", "longing to see."
kaqaper "just as" - even as [we also you]. Comparative; "just as much as we are longing to see you", Barclay.
dia touto "therefore" - because of this, for this reason. Causal. Because of Timothy's return and his good news concerning the Christian standing of the Thessalonian believers.
adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - Intimate terminology.
epi + dat. "in [all our distress and persecution]" - in [all the distress and affliction of us]. Here possibly taking a temporal sense; "on the occasion of, in", Zerwick.
pareklhqhmen (parakalew) aor. pas. "we were encouraged" - Functioning as the main verb of the sentence that begins in v6. "How these things have cheered us", Phillips.
ef (epi) + dat. "about [you]" - because of [you] Possibly temporal, as above, or with a causal sense since this preposition with verbs of feeling is often used to identify cause, "because of you". The Gk. sentence has it "for this reason, brothers, we were encouraged because of you in all our distress and affliction on account of your faith."
dia + gen. "because of [your faith]" - because of, on account of. Causal, although "about your faith", v2, see above, is lingering in the meaning; "the story of your faith has set our mind at rest about you", Barclay.
oJti "for" - because. Here introducing a causal clause.
nun adv. "now [we really live]" - now [we live]. Paul is heartened by the news. "It makes life worth living for us", Barclay.
ean + ind. "since" - if. Normally this particle is used with a subjunctive verb to form a 3rd. class conditional clause. The ind. may serve to reduce the hypothetical nature of the condition, possibly even giving a hortatory sense to the clause. So, "if you stand firm in the Lord", Moffatt, is unlikely, but possibly "it is a breath of life to us to know that you stand firm in the Lord", REB.
sthkete (sthkw) pres. "standing firm" - stand. This form of the root "stand" carries the sense "stand firm", deriving from military use, so standing one's ground, holding firm.
en + dat. "in [the Lord]" - Local / incorporative union; "in your relationship with the Lord."
ii] In the form of a rhetorical question, Paul gives thanks that the Thessalonians have remained firm in their faith, v9-10. Paul rejoices at what has happened, but it is a joy which is focused on God. The Lord has done his work and Paul is driven to respond with thanksgiving. This joy prompts Paul to pray for the church. "Night and day" he does this; he continually prays for them, constantly bringing them before the Lord. He asks that he might again see them to "supply what is lacking in (their) faith." Above all, he desires to exercise a continuing ministry with them, remedying any defects that may still exist in their Christian lives.
gar "-" - for. In a rhetorical question, as here, possibly "then".
peri "for [you]" - about, concerning [you]. Reference.
antapodounai (antapodidwmi) aor. inf. "in return" - to return, to recompense. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "we are able"; lit. "for what thanks are we able to give back to God?" Wuest. Obviously not with the sense "recompense" here, but more like "render / give". The positive response of the Thessalonians motivates Paul to respond in thanksgiving. Possibly, "what sufficient thanks can we repay?" Lightfoot, ie. as recompense for God's blessing of the Thessalonians.
epi + dat. "for [all the joy]" - Again expressing cause with a verb of feeling; "because". Paul is overjoyed that the Thessalonian believers have remained firm in their faith in the face of all the difficulties that have come upon them.
dia + acc. "because [of you]" - because of, on account of [you before the God of us]. Causal; "on your account - and that in the very sight of God", Cassirer.
deomenoi (deomai) pres. pas. part. "we pray" - asking. Probably an attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb cairomen "we rejoice", v9; "we rejoice, on account of you, before our God, praying constantly night and day that ...."
eiV to idein (eidon) aor. inf. "that we may see [you again]" - to see. This construction would normally form a purpose clause, "in order that ..." The second part of the passage is in the form of a prayer for the church. Paul prays for the Thessalonians, letting them know the content of the prayer. The passage therefore becomes a word of encouragement to them. Such prayers are extremely important. Much of our praying is not according to the will of God in that we ask Him to act on our behalf, or on the behalf of others, without ascertaining whether we have the authority to do so. We do have the authority to call on God to act in accordance with his will, but we don't have the authority to call on him to act in accordance with our will. It is very useful therefore, to note the content of Biblical prayers, for they oftenreveal to us those things we may rightly ask of God in the sure knowledge that he will act in accordance with his will. None-the-less, the specific requests in Paul's prayer are not necessarily based on God's will, ie. some may be wish-prayers.
ta uJsterhmata (a) "what is lacking" - Obviously refers to deficiencies in spiritual things, particularly with regard their "faith", ie. their "faith in God".
iii] Paul's prayer for the Thessalonian believers, v11-13. Paul prays that God will "clear the way" for him to come and minister to the Thessalonians. Paul is asking God to clear away any obstacles that may frustrate the exercise of his ministry toward this new church. In v12 he goes on to pray that they may love one another. This is the great command of Christ to his disciples and as such is clearly a prayer according to the will of God. Paul prays that their compassion for each other will increase, and not just for each other, but for the wider Christian fellowship. Finally, in v13, Paul prays that the Thessalonians will stand firm in their Christian lives right up to the coming of Jesus. Again, this is a prayer according to the will of God. It is similar to the Lord's Prayer where we ask that we not be put to the test such that we are overcome by the Evil One. Paul asks that they remain faithful in Christ until the last day.
The use of the optatives indicates that the prayer expresses a desire on the part of Paul, although it is not necessarily a prayer of faith, ie. a prayer based on the revealed will of God. As Martin puts it, it is a "wish-prayer". In the Gk. verses 11-13 consist of a single sentence with two requests, supported by a purpose clause in v13 which may function as a third request, so NIV.
de "now" - but, and. Here identifying a new thought, ie. transitional.
autoV pro. "[our God and Father] himself [and our Lord Jesus]" - Note how Paul begins the address to God with the reflexive use of the personal pronoun, "himself", in order to "enhance the power of God", Ellicott. Malherbe suggests that this form of address to God may have a liturgical origin. This small verse links the Father and Jesus in a way which gives both equality in deity. It is not a trinitarian definition, but it does give both the Father and the Son a position of equality in answering a prayer related to the divine will.
kateuqunai (kateuqunw) aor. opt. "may ..... clear the way" - may he keep straight, guide, prosper. The optative used in a wish/desire. Most likely Paul has in mind the opposition of the powers of darkness which work to frustrate the ministry of the gospel. These powers were only recently operative in the Jewish residents at Thessalonica. It is a prayer to restrain the Evil One, to hold him at bay. At the more practical level it may be a request to alter circumstances and so enable Paul to make another visit, or even to remove any difficulties that may hinder his return. Such a request is a "wish-prayer", the sort we often use in prayer, and rightly so (it is not unreasonable to bring to the Lord concerns outside his stated will). Yet, at the more substantial level the Lord has promised that he will provide us with all the resources we need to minister the gospel, and He will restrain the powers of evil that seek to resist the dawning of the kingdom. At this level Paul's prayer is certainly within the overall will of God.
de "-" - but, and. Most likely stitching the second point of the prayer, so "and", although Malherbe suggests it is adversative, "but as for you."
autoV "-" - you. The position is emphatic giving the sense "but/and it is our prayer for you that ..."
pleonasai (peonazw) opt. "May [the Lord] make [your love] increase [and overflow]" - may cause to increase. "May the Lord give you the same increasing and overflowing love", Phillips.
th/ agaph/ (h) "love" - The nature of this love, cf.1:3, is a quality of care, of compassion toward another, apart from family ties, compatibility or sensual attraction. Leon Morris puts it this way. "It is love for humanity, quite apart from their worthiness or otherwise, a love which proceeds in the first place from the loving heart of God". It may seem strange that we could pray for a person's ability to love. God is unlikely to overrule a person's desire to love others, or to hate others. Yet, the quality of love that Paul has in mind is, in the end, an aspect of the nature of God. This God-like quality is given as a gift of grace when appropriated through faith. Here Paul's prayer seeks to appropriate for the Thessalonians the gracious gift of godly love - "the love of Christ which compels (constraineth) us." It is interesting to note Moffatt's comment "no form of holiness which sits loose to the endless obligations of love will stand the strain of this life, or the scrutiny of God's tribunal at the end." He probably goes a touch too far with this comment. Love is certainly an outworking of faith in Christ, a natural product of our association with Christ, but in the end, how loosely we handle the obligation plays no part in how safely we stand at God's tribunal.
eiV pantaV "for everyone else" - to all. It is interesting to note that Paul has extended the focus of love beyond "each other" (the Christian fellowship) to "everyone else". Christian love is usually reserved for believers, the family of faith. The word is not often used of a believer's response toward unbelievers. Thus in first Peter 2:17, "Show proper respect to everyone, love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king". Of course, the "everyone else" may be other believers beyond the Thessalonian fellowship, although we cannot be sure. The issue here is not that we should fail to care for our fellow humans, but rather that the "family of believers" deserves our special attention.
eiV to sthrixai aor. inf. "May he strengthen [your hearts]" - to strengthen, establish, support, make firm [of your hearts]. This preposition with the articular infinitive forms a purpose clause, "in order to establish." Paul has prayed that their love may increase, v12, and this for the purpose of establishing their inner self ("your hearts") blameless in holiness.
en/ + dat. "[you will be blameless and holy]" - [blameless] in [holiness]. Expressing space/sphere. To be blameless before God means to be justified; it means to be regarded by God as without blame, upright/covenant compliant, now and for eternity, not on the basis of anything we might have done, but on the basis of Christ's death and resurrection. Paul prays that the Thessalonians hold onto Christ, that they stand firm in Christ until the last day. If they do this they will be blameless. To be holy before God means to be sanctified; it means being as God is. We are not this way while in the flesh, but we will be this way, and we are viewed this way now, as a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith. As long as the Thessalonians hold onto Jesus they will be holy, thus Paul prays that their inner being be strengthened, enabling them to keep their eyes on Christ in the face of life's fickle ways. "Blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father", TNT.
en + dat. "when" - in, on. Here obviously temporal, "at / when."
th/ parousia/ (a) "[our Lord Jesus] comes" - the coming [of the Lord Jesus of us]. Jesus' coming is nearly always of coming in judgment, although from Daniel's perspective this coming is to heaven, rather than earth, a coming to the divine throne, to the judgment seat of God.
meta + gen. "with" - Expressing association.
twn aJgiwn "[all his] holy ones" - The "holy ones" are a bit of a mystery. They may be an undefined group, those who return with Christ. They may be angels, yet there is a sense where Christ returns with us. When he comes in the clouds, he will gather all those who are his to himself and he will "come" to the Ancient of Days (God the Father). In this sense the coming is to God, not to the world. This coming occurs on the final day, and if we can handle the thought (God is not a time-bound Lord), the day has already occurred (as Paul puts it in Ephesians, even now we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies). Such heralds the day of judgment. cf. Zech.14:5, Dan.7:10.