1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Home group Notes
As we delve into Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica again we read his ongoing defence of his ministry and time with them. We pick up his repeatedly asserted longing that he would be able to come and visit the Christians in Thessalonica who he loved so much, and had such deep pastoral concern for.
The intensity of his language is easy to miss, but listen to his words:
“out of our intense longing we made every effort to come and see you”
“for what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of Lord Jesus Christ when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.”
What depth of affection Paul had for his brothers and sisters, it’s striking isn’t it? Perhaps it’s worth reflecting at this point on the depth of affection that we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Question: If we were forcibly kept apart from the people who we worship with or attend housegroup with, would the strength of our longing to see people be similar or not? Either way what does this say about the depth of fellowship that we experience and contribute to?
A large part of Paul’s longing to see the Christians in Thessalonica is so that he might continue his ministry with them, build them up, and encourage them during a time of trial. His motives it seems are altruistic.
Question” When we think about our own relationships within the church, do we share this desire for the good of ‘the other’ or are we sometimes more concerned with what we receive and benefit from our relationships?
Eventually Paul has had enough, he knows he cannot personally visit, but the second best option is to send Timothy to Thessalonica in the hope that he will be able to encourage and support the church there.
The church to which Timothy arrives is as we’ve already mentioned, a church under pressure. A church that is experiencing some of the less than pleasant realities of professing faith in Jesus. A church community which is in a number of ways paying a price for it’s faith.
Paul reminds his friends that this difficulty should come as no surprise, rather Paul suggests that suffering is to be expected and even more is to be seen as a necessary part of Christian calling and vocation.
Jesus himself taught very clearly that suffering and trials were to be expected and should come as no surprise to the believer, and it’s interesting that so early on in the life of the church, Paul has to repeat this point again and again. Perhaps already in the few intervening years Christianity was being stripped of the notions of sacrifice and suffering – maybe this is not so new a phenomenon as we think? It seems that a gospel of ease and avoidance of pain was already an issue, and that when the reality failed to match the hope, things became difficult.
Question: Although many of us will not suffer significantly for our faith, many of us, probably all of us, will in some way suffer despite our faith – that is face challenges and trials that seem out of keeping with a life ‘hidden with God in Christ’, and that may make us questions Gods intentions and desires. At times of great difficulty and challenge our faith can show the signs of strain that Paul was concerned about.
Have you faced situations and times of difficulty and suffering which have rocked your faith?
If so, in what ways has your understanding and experience of Gods love and presence changed through these times? Have you been surprised by God in these times?
On his return to Paul, Timothy paints an encouraging picture of the life of the church in Thessalonica, and reports that as much as Paul longed to see them, so they longed to see Paul. In the midst of his own particular difficulties, which its fair to assume weighed heavily on Paul, this news brings joy to his soul and elicits another great emotional outburst.
Perhaps it is worth pausing here to reflect on the importance of encouragement. Whether face to face or by word of mouth, hearing encouraging stories from other Christians is important. So too is sharing our own reasons for encouragement with others.
Sharing encouragement does demand a certain degree of openness and honesty, it often entails revealing struggles and difficulties as well as well as resolutions and stories of Gods goodness and grace. But without such openness the church is starved.
Share: Perhaps it’s a good opportunity to share stories of encouragement in your housegroup. Build up each others faith with testimonies of Gods goodness and grace.
Holding others in prayer:
This section of Thessalonians ends with Paul praying for his brothers and sisters. In particular he prays:
That the Lord would make their love for increase and overflow, both for the their fellow Christians and the wider community of which they were a part.
That God would strengthen their hearts so that they would be holy and blameless when Christ returns.
The two aspects of this prayer make clear that suffering and hardship doesn’t have to be met with hardness of heart and an un-christian response. In the midst of their struggles Paul’s hope and prayer is that as they face persecution and hostility, so they might respond with an over-abundance of love, both within the church and to those responsible for their sufferings.
Sometimes, when the church is suffering and enduring hard times, we can turn in on ourselves as well as becoming hostile to the source of our struggles. Schisms can open up and relationships fracture. The same is also true when we are suffering personally.
It may be a good idea to pray for anyone who the groups knows who is struggling, that their response may be one of ever increasing love and holiness. Likewise it might be good to pray for members of the group, whether struggling or not, this very same thing.
Simon Butler, 22/05/2014