“When we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith” (vv. 1–2).
Acts 17:1–9 reports that Paul’s initial ministry in Thessalonica was cut short by a Jewish uprising, forcing him, Silas, and Timothy to flee the city (see also Acts 16:1–5). Not having been able to spend more than a few weeks instructing the Thessalonians in the faith, Paul was concerned with how they were doing. But since Paul himself could not go back to the city—probably because he was the most recognizable of his traveling band of missionaries and his presence would prompt another riot—he sent Timothy instead to check on the Thessalonian believers. We learn of this sequence of events in today’s passage.
Paul was in Athens when he sent Timothy to the Thessalonians, Timothy and Silas having joined him there after they made a stop in Berea (1 Thess. 3:1–2; see Acts 17:10–15). In any case, Paul’s choice to send Timothy is noteworthy because it reveals the Apostle’s tremendous love for the Thessalonians. Paul refers to Timothy as his “brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ” (1 Thess. 3:2). This reference indicates that Timothy was particularly important and useful to Paul, as is confirmed by other passages in Paul’s epistles (e.g., 2 Tim. 1:2). Paul’s love and concern for the Thessalonians was so great that he was willing to part with one of his key co-laborers to make sure that the Thessalonians would be exhorted and established in the faith (1 Thess. 3:1–2).
One of the things Paul sent Timothy to do as part of his ministry to the Thessalonians was to remind them that believers have been ordained by God to face affliction (1 Thess. 3:2–3). The Thessalonians were facing many trials and persecutions, and Paul knew that they would be tempted to renounce their faith to escape them. A reminder that suffering was one of the things they signed up for when they committed themselves to Christ would be an encouragement for them to persevere. But Paul also includes himself in this, saying that “we” were appointed for suffering, and he thus set himself implicitly before them as an example to be followed. As the Thessalonians saw Paul their pastor persevering in suffering, they would be inspired to do likewise. John Calvin comments: “We are . . . stimulated by the examples of those by whom we were instructed in the faith, as is stated in the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 13:7). Paul, accordingly, means that they ought to be fortified by his example, so as not to give way under their afflictions.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Other believers are greatly affected by our example of Christian living, especially when we have played a significant role in their growth in the faith. Our faithfulness is a model for theirs, and our unfaithfulness sets before them a poor example that they might be encouraged to imitate. We seek to follow Christ faithfully because He has commanded us to do so, but also so that we can be a good influence on other believers.