1Th 3:4-8 “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain. But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.”
Paul is, in his own way, echoing Peter’s admonishment not to think that something strange has happened when persecution comes (1Pe 4:12). We have never been promised that following Jesus was going to make life a bed of roses. Unfortunately, the scripture and our own experience tell us that there are some who will turn aside when they discover that difficulties remain. Paul wanted to be sure that the Thessalonians were properly encouraged to persevere.
Although Paul expresses a concern about whether their labor might have been in vain, it is not in keeping with what we can discern about Paul that this was some selfish motivation. Paul was not concerned about people thinking that he had failed. Instead, he was concerned for the joy and peace of the church. It was important to Paul that their work had not been in vain from the standpoint that the brothers and sisters who had believed on Jesus were not discouraged because of tribulation.
It was for their encouragement that Paul had sent Timothy to them while he journeyed on to Athens. Paul was greatly relieved when Timothy caught back up with him in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5) with a good report from the brethren in Thessalonica. He was encouraged by the declaration of Timothy that he had found the church there strong in their affection and reliance on Jesus for their continued salvation.
The fact that these brethren were found faithful after Paul’s short visit and abrupt departure again proves Paul’s assertion that it is God who gives the increase (1Co 3:6-7). It might be argued that there is no specific evidence here to indicate that any had been added to their number. However, the fact that they had not been turned aside is a clear indication that God had indeed increased their faith and hope.
As we often do when we have been allowed to have a fruitful (if sometime brief) season with beloved brethren, Paul found comfort in knowing that they had been blessed to remain faithful. More than that, they remembered Paul’s visit in a good way. They did not feel that Paul had brought persecution to their door then abandoned them. Rather, they had as great a desire to see Paul, Silas and Timothy as Paul and his companions had to see them.
In verse eight, Paul expresses a simple truth that is experienced by every called minister of God. No matter what distress we may find ourselves in it is always a comfort and encouragement to hear of the faithfulness of those we have been blessed to labor among. This is not a matter of pridefulness but rather a cause for great rejoicing because God is being glorified. Like Paul, we live for seeing the steadfastness of the Lord’s called out assembly.
May we always give God the glory for the encouragement He sends us through the faithful witness of our brethren!