“What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?”
Having heard from Timothy about the perseverance of the Thessalonians in faith and love, Paul was greatly comforted in the afflictions he faced in the course of his ministry (1 Thess. 3:1–8). Their well-being brought fresh joy to his soul, for he understood his deep connection to them by virtue of their common union with Christ (Rom. 12:5). Ultimately, this joy was a gift of the Savior. Paul even describes Timothy’s report as “good news,” using a word that elsewhere in the New Testament always refers to the preaching of the gospel (1 Thess. 3:6). The good state of the Thessalonians, then, was “gospel” to Paul. Why? Because their perseverance was ultimately a gift of Jesus—the One announced in the gospel—to them. Their faith was evidence of Christ’s work in them and thus a reminder of and testimony to Christ’s salvation.
Today’s passage helps us understand even better the depth of joy that the Apostle enjoyed after hearing of the Thessalonians’ progress in faith. His question that begins “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you . . .” implies that the joy he felt was so profound that he was having difficulty finding the words to adequately express his thanks to God for the Christians in Thessalonica (v. 9). But the difficulty in finding the proper words was not due to Paul and his companions’ lack of trying. We see in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 that they were spending day and night in prayer for the Thessalonian believers. Paul and his friends were regularly offering up prayers for the Thessalonians, thanking God for them, for the Lord was sustaining their faith.
Not only were Paul and his companions thanking God for the Thessalonians and the joy that those believers brought them, but they were also asking the Lord to open up a way to Thessalonica so that they could supply what the Thessalonians were lacking in their faith (v. 10). The Thessalonians enjoyed a positive state spiritually, but that does not mean they knew everything there was to know about Christ or that they had reached the end of their spiritual growth. They had come far, but they still had far to go, for believers never reach a point where they cannot advance further in the faith. John Calvin comments: “Those who far surpass others are still far distant from the goal. Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us always keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something farther.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Because of Christ’s infinite goodness, the infinite blessings of salvation, and our own finiteness, we will never reach a point where we cannot grow more in our knowledge of the Lord and His work. This will be true even in glory, and we will spend eternity growing in our understanding of God and our love for Him. That growth begins on this side of heaven, as we attend diligently to God’s Word. We have not arrived yet, so let us continue to learn about the Lord.