Timothy Returns to Thessalonica

October 9, 2022 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: English Passage: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

At some points in your life, you may bump into someone with whom, for one reason or another, you develop a deep friendship. Your hearts intertwine, and a connection is made that is beyond your other friendships.

In the Bible, Naomi and Ruth had that kind of relationship. Elijah and Elisha, I think, had it as well. And even Jesus had something like that with Lazarus. One of the most famous friendships we have in the Bible, however, is the one between David and Jonathan.

First Samuel 18 say the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

Jonathan was the son of King Saul and would have been the next king. But God had chosen David instead. That could have been a source of friction between them, but it wasn’t. The hatred came, however, from Saul who couldn’t accept that his line would not continue. He was jealous of David’s success and popularity among the people. But how deranged was his hatred?

David and Jonathan needed to find out, so for two nights in a row, David skips out on dinner with the king, and Jonathan explains that David left town. When Saul hears this, he becomes enraged, pledges to have David killed, and almost kills his own son that night.

The next morning, Jonathan goes out to secretly let David know about his father’s intentions. And that means that David had to flee. So, with nobody else around, Jonathan and David share a tearful goodbye.

An image like that might help you get a better picture of what had happened between Paul and the Thessalonian church. God had intertwined their hearts, but because of the persecution from the Jews, Paul was forced to leave the church he loved so dearly.

This morning, as we look at the first five verses of chapter 3, we gain a little more insight into the events surrounding Paul’s departure. And to organize our time, I’ve divided it into three sections. First, we’ll look at the timeline. Then, we’ll look at the traveler. And lastly, we’ll look at the trouble. The timeline, the traveler, and the trouble—those are going to be our main headings this morning.

Let’s jump right into the timeline. I want to make sure we understand the chronology of what happened. I’m going to move a little fast here, but I’ll give you 8 points on this timeline. What do we know about what was happening at that time with Paul and his team?

We know from Acts 17 that Paul ministered in Thessalonica as part of his second missionary journey. In making a little timeline of what happened, the first item on the list would be
“The Group Arrives in Thessalonica.” This would be the arrival of Paul, Silas, and Timothy.

Upon arriving in Thessalonica, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogue for three weeks, and then to the Greeks. We don’t know how much total time he spent in the city, but it wasn’t long. In that short time, however, Paul developed a deep love for the church.

That affection, however, would turn to anguish because Paul was forced to leave. Threats were being made on Paul’s life, and he fled west about 40 miles to Berea. So, the second step on our timeline is “The Group Leaves to Berea.” Paul and his team leave for Berea.

Unlike the Jews in Thessalonica, those in Berea responded positively to the message of Jesus as the Christ. Now, when the Jews in Thessalonica heard that Paul was preaching in Berea, they followed him, agitating the crowds against Paul. So, that’s what led to Paul fleeing. And this time, he went south to Athens, while Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. And this brings us to the third step on our timeline, which is “Paul leaves to Athens.”

While Paul was in Athens, Acts 17 tells us that he was very troubled by what he saw. It was a city plagued with idolatry. So, imagine what this was like. Paul was indignant at the idolatry. He was lonely waiting for Silas and Timothy to arrive. And he was grieved by his separation from the previous churches he had planted.

In the grace of God, and to Paul’s relief, we now come to step 4 of the timeline: Timothy and Silas arrive in Athens. So now, the whole group is together again. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t stay together very long. This brings us to our passage in Thessalonians. Verse 1 says: Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy.

That “therefore” is the overflow of what Paul was describing in chapter 2 which is his love and joy for the church. Because of his love for the church, Paul wanted to know what had happened with them. So, Paul and Silas decided to send Timothy back. And Timothy agreed. So, step 5 on our timeline is: Timothy Returns to Thessalonica.

As the younger man, Timothy would have been able to travel faster and return sooner with an update. But the logic of that decision didn’t take away from the difficulty.

Notice again the way Paul describes the decision. He says it happened “when we could bear it no longer.” And once Timothy leaves, Paul says they were left behindalone. This wasn’t an easy decision for Paul, but it was one he thought was necessary.

Step 6 on our timeline is this: Silas leaves to Macedonia. Silas leaves to Macedonia. This isn’t mentioned explicitly here, but Acts 18 alludes to it. It also tells us what happens next.

Step 7 is “Paul leaves to Corinth.” He goes, alone now, from Athens to Corinth. And then finally, step 8 of the timeline is “Silas and Timothy Arrive in Corinth.”

So, it is in the city of Corinth where Paul gets to finally hear a report about the churches he had visited, and we’ll hear more about Timothy’s report next week. This updates is what led to this letter to the Thessalonian, which Paul wrote from Corinth. So, that’s the history part of today’s lesson. That’s the timeline.

Let’s move on from the timeline to the traveler. We’ve already mentioned who was sent to Thessalonica. It was Timothy.

In our passage, we find two descriptions of Timothy. First, there is a description of his credentials, and secondly, there is a job description. So, who was Timothy? And why did he leave? What was his goal?

Let’s start with the description of Timothy’s credentials. Verse 2 says Timothy is our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ. We’re familiar with references to Christians as brothers. It’s a recognition that we are all part of God’s family. We’ve all been adopted through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

More significant, however, is Paul’s second description. It doesn’t say Timothy is Paul’s coworker; it says he is a coworker of God. Think about that. This is not ultimately Paul’s mission. It’s God’s mission. Paul and Timothy are on God’s team. Timothy, as Paul’s apostolic representative, came with God’s message. He was doing God’s work in proclaiming and defending and upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s who Timothy is.

What about his job description? What was Timothy’s objective?

 Look at the end of verse 2. Timothy was sent to establish and exhort you in your faith. Those words don’t mean exactly the same thing, but they do carry the same basic idea. Verse 3 adds “that no one be moved by these afflictions.”

If you jump down to verse 5 for a second, you see that Paul repeats his heart and gives another purpose for sending Timothy. It says there: For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith.

If you put those elements together, you get three main goals for Timothy’s journey. The overarching goal is investigation. That’s goal number 1, and it’s what we saw in verse 5. Timothy needed to come back to Paul with an update. His trip was a form of evaluating the church, seeing how it was doing. In this sense, it's like a routine physical, where they measures your height and weight, and maybe take some bloodwork so they can see if there are any concerns or problems.

Timothy’s second goal was exhortation. He went to investigate, and he went to exhort. That’s what the end of verse 2 says. Paul uses two words, but they have an overlapping idea. Timothy went to establish and exhort the Thessalonians in the faith. How would he do that? He would do it with the word of God. He would do that with the truth.

Spiritual growth and spiritual maturity come through the word of God. This is God’s instrument of sanctification in your life. This is how elders equip the saints, and this is how we all, as members of the body of Christ, build one another up.

The message of Christianity is the message of Jesus Christ. God came to earth in human form. And though we deserve eternal judgment, the Son of God died to take the place of sinners. So, if you will repent of your sin and trust in His perfect life, and in His sacrificial death, and in His glorious resurrection, you will be saved. You will be forgiven, and God, by His Spirit, will begin a transformation in your life. And part of that transformation is to continue learning and living all that Jesus teaches us in His word.

When we’re young in the faith, we need to learn; we need to be established. When we are weak, when we are tempted, when we are distracted, when we are lazy or tired, what we need is to be exhorted. And that was Timothy’s job. He went for investigation, and he also went for exhortation.

Lastly, Timothy went for protection, or, another word we could use is prevention. This comes from the opening line in verse 3. It’s the purpose of Timothy’s exhortation. He came with the truth so that no one [would] be moved by these afflictions.

This is more than investigation or evaluation. And it’s more than exhortation. Timothy knows that his ministry is going to keep people from falling away from the faith.

The word Paul uses here literally means to shake or to agitate. The image that comes to my mind is like when a little boy puts two bugs in a jar and then shakes it to make them start fighting.

That’s what happens in life. Our faith gets shaken for a variety of reasons. It could be a sickness. It could be the allure of the world. It could be that you lose your job. It can be a variety things that hinder our spiritual progress and move us away form Christ. And in those times, the temptation is to quit. Timothy went to prevent that from happening. He went to protect that young church from falling away.

Now, in the case of the Thessalonians, there was a particular reason they might fall away. And this leads us to our final heading for today. We saw the timeline, we learned about Timothy the traveler. Now, let’s talk about the trouble. The trouble.

Beginning around the middle of verse 3, Paul makes a reference to “these afflictions.” And the word points to a kind of pressure. It’s a time of distress. And Paul isn’t talking generically. He has something specific in mind, which we’ve already talked about it back in chapters 1 and 2.

Back in chapter 1, verse 6, Paul said the church received the word in much affliction. And in chapter 2, verse 14, he says they suffered from their own countrymen—that would be the Greeks—the same things that the church in Jerusalem suffered from the Jews.

This church was experiencing a severe form of persecution. There were threats on their life. People may have lost their jobs or their families. And there was an active movement to silence them and hinder their gospel ministry.

 Paul had seen that firsthand throughout his ministry; that’s why he had to leave the city. But he knew that even after he left, the persecution was not going to stop.

That didn’t surprise him. And you see evidence of that at the end of verse 3. He says to the church, “For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” Verse 4 continues: For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.

These afflictions aren’t a freak accident. They are part of God’s design for His people. The people of God are destined for affliction. And that message is stated over and over again by Jesus Himself and by the Apostles in the New Testament. Persecution should never come to us as a surprise.

First Peter 4:12 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Suffering is going to come. Paul knew that was a theological certainty, and he had taught it ahead of time to the Thessalonians. Persecution is part of the way God confirms His people, and it’s part of the way the church grows. We see evidence of that in Acts wit the death of Stephen, and we have seen evidence of that throughout church history. The Church of Jesus Christ will not be stamped out.

One church father from the second century said it this way to the Romans: “The more often we are killed, the more in number we grow. The Christian blood you spill is like the seed you sow.”

Paul understood that. He accepted God’s plan for the church. But that didn’t mean he was passive. God’s sovereignty was not an excuse for complacency. Under the sovereignty of God, Satan was planning too, and Paul wanted to fight back.

From a physical perspective, this trouble is severe persecution. From a divine perspective, this trouble was to prove that the church was genuine. But from a satanic perspective, this trouble was an attempt to pull people away from the faith. That’s what Satan wants.

That’s what Satan wanted to do with Job, right? Introduce pain and affliction in the hopes that people would abandon their faith and their hope. That’s what Paul wanted to avoid. Look at the end of verse 5. He sent Timothy “for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

If Satan had his way, this church wouldn’t exist anymore. The people would either be scattered or, even worse, they would fall away from the faith. If that were to happen, Paul’s ministry would have ended up being meaningless. It would have all been for nothing. It would have been in vain.

So, what’s causing the trouble in Thessalonica? Satan has ramped up his hatred, and his animosity, so that the church would be extinguished. This was a spiritual battle. And, again, Paul sent Timothy to do God’s work to protect the church and prevent them from falling away.

I hope our study today has given you a better understanding of this passage, and of Paul’s heart, and of the situation in Thessalonica. Having learned a little more about the timeline, and the traveler, and the trouble, I want to end our time by making this personal for you and for me. What can we take away from this? How does this help us in our own journey with Christ?

You might have other applications, which you can share with others over lunch or in your home groups this week, but I’d like to call your attention one more time to the heart of Paul and Silas and Timothy. This is an amazing example of what the Christian life should look like.

To be a follower of Christ means that you care about other people following Christ. In the words of Mark Dever, “If you say you are following Jesus but are not helping others to know and follow Jesus, then I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘I follow Jesus.’”

Did you get that? There is no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t care about the spiritual lives other Christians.

And what we see in this passage, particularly in Timothy’s example, is a helpful reminder of what our ministry should be to one another. What was Timothy’s goal again? He went as God’s coworker to do the work of investigation, exhortation, and protection.

That’s the same work you and I care called to do in one another’s lives. If you want to be a member of this church, but you don’t want to invest in other people’s lives, or you want people to stay out of your life, you’re going to have to find another church, because God has called us to live in community with one another.

And living in community is going to include those elements of investigation, exhortation, and protection.

When I say investigation, I don’t mean we are trying to be private detectives spying on one another. But it means that we need to be helping evaluate one another. We keep an eye out for each other.

When my kids play sports, I’m watching them play. I’m evaluating them and deciding if there’s something I need to talk to them about. In a similar way, we can do that with one another.

We should be looking into one another’s lives as brothers and sisters. When there are no relational connections, this is tough to do, but as we build those relational connections, we should get more comfortable with these kinds of conversations.

Sometimes, looking out for a brother can be as simple as asking them: How are things going in your marriage? How’s your prayer life? Who are you ministering to right now? How’s your battle against lust, or gossip, or selfishness, or laziness? How can I pray for you right now? How’s your devotional life doing? Those are ways we help each other grow by assessing one another’s lives.

And after the evaluation, there also needs to be exhortation and protection. We take their minds back to the truth of God. In Hebrews 10, this is called spurring one another to love and good works. That’s part of what’s supposed to happen when we meet together.

We remind each other about the return of Jesus Christ. We remind one another about the reward. We remind one another about what Jesus is calling us to, and how we can depend on Him for strength.

All of us are facing some kind of trouble. The trouble might be overt or obvious, like a sickness or a tragedy or a busy season of life. Or the trouble might come in the form of temptation. You get a raise at work, and you’re tempted to boast. Life is going well, and you’re tempted to trust in yourself rather than God.

We exhort one another and we protect each other by speaking the truth in love. That’s Christian community. And you don’t have to travel all the way to Thessalonica to do it. You can do it right here, in your own church.

God has designed you to live as part of a community, surrounded by brothers and sisters, by friends in the Lord. And for the glory of Jesus Christ, as part of God’s team fighting back against the schemes of Satan, we need to be stepping into another’s lives. In your own personal life, and in our corporate life as a church, this is what’s going to make all the difference.

Don’t wait for people to come find you. You can be the one who, like Timothy, steps out for the eternal wellbeing of someone else. And God will bless those efforts by helping you form and strengthen relationships that will last for all eternity.

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