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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lenschow

Love and Holiness

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

1. Recognize the Context:

Previous context:

In 3:6-10, Paul returned to several themes previously introduced in this letter. In verse 6, Paul was overjoyed with the news concerning the faith of the Thessalonian believers. But Timothy also recognized their love. More specifically, they have fond memories of Paul and desired to see him as much as he wished to see them.

Even though Paul was experiencing persecution and hardships, as was the Thessalonian church, he was encouraged about their faith. So those who were to be encouraged by Timothy were now being encouragers to Paul.

In verse 8, Paul stated now we really live. For Paul, even in persecution, living life was “now possible” because their faithfulness had been confirmed. Verse 9 included a rhetorical question concerning the expression of enough thanksgiving to God. The obvious answer to the question was, “you can’t express enough thanksgiving.”

In verse 10, the expression of constant prayer is repeated. Paul prayed he would get to see them again face-to-face. He wanted to supply what is lacking in their faith. It would seem Paul was not referring to deficient elements in their faith. Instead, they needed to grow and develop in light of his premature departure.

2. Read the Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

3. Reflect on the Scripture: Chapter 3 ends with two short prayers from Paul. The first prayer was in response to his desire to see the Thessalonians again in person. In verse 11, Paul petitioned God the Father and the Lord Jesus to direct him and his missionary friends to Thessalonica. The form of the verb Paul used here (the optative mood) expressed more than a simple hope this would happen. He is confident in his prayer that both members of the Trinity will make this reunion possible.

In verse 12, Paul prayed for the love of the Thessalonians to increase and overflow. These two verbs are synonymous and are used together to indicate a compound effect or intensification of their love. They are also in the form of the verb in verse 11 and indicate expected completion.

Paul believed this love would abound for each other, or those in the believing community. But also, it was to overflow for everyone else or those outside the Christian church. He returned to himself and his co-laborers as examples highlighting their love for the Thessalonian community.

In verse 13, Paul’s prayer was that their hearts be strengthened. The heart here represents the core of a person’s emotional and intellectual being. Timothy had been sent to strengthen them in their faith. Here Paul prayed to the one who could make it happen within them.

The prayer continues that they be blameless and holy at the coming of the Lord Jesus. Blameless was a word used in the Greco-Roman world for being of exceptional merit. Paul had already used it in 2:10 to describe his behavior with the Thessalonians. The word holy is rooted in the Old Testament, and it was used to describe God and his people Israel. Paul will have more to say about holiness and the coming of Jesus Christ in chapters 4 and 5, so more will be said about these concepts in future blogs.

In summary, Paul prayed that the Thessalonians would continue to increase in love for the believing community and the world. In doing so, they would be strengthened in their faith on the inside, which in turn would cause them to live a life with actions reflectiong God’s character of holiness. This should all continue to take place before God and until the return of Christ.

4. Relate to life:

Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.

To pray:

Today, prayerfully consider a life overflowing with love for the believing community and for those outside the Church. Does this describe you? Why or why not? Do you have more difficulty loving those inside or outside the Church?

Today, prayerfully consider your need for a "strengthened heart" in order to live as God has called you.

Today, prayerfully reflect on what it means for you to live a life that is blameless and holy, with the Holy Spirit’s help.

To do: (remember actions from faith always with the Holy Spirit’s help)

Given the prayer suggestions above, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, co-workers.

In light of what you have read today (and overall in 1 Thessalonians), how can you be used by God to help someone you know express love, be strengthened in the faith, live blameless and holy, etc.? Do you believe that God can use you? Are you looking for opportunities?

To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the given passage.)

As a preview of coming attractions, read chapters 4 and 5 to see how Paul talks about holiness and the return of Christ.

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