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1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 - A Hope and a Prayer

3:9How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.11Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

About 1 Thessalonians: Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica is probably the oldest of all of Paul’s letters, dating to about 50 A.D. Paul wrote this letter, probably from Corinth, shortly after leaving Philippi where he and others were “shamefully treated”. Thessalonica was part of the Roman Empire. Named after Alexander’s half-sister and founded in 316 B.C.E., it gained Roman patronage in 167 B.C.E.  It was a cultural and cultic center and became a key trading center in the region. Residents were very much dependent on Rome economically and culturally. By the time Paul visited, the Roman Empire, was seen as the towns and the people’s salvation. This led to deep conflicts with the church whose members refused to worship the government and, at least technically, claimed that only Jesus was their source and salvation. An interesting nuance to the church’s mindset has come to light in recent scholarship. Some now suggest that Paul visited Thessalonica in 49 C.E. to preach the Gospel there. His words were heard by a group of day laborers who received them as hope for both the lives they lived and for the future for which they hoped. It was from these humble workers that the church was born and expanded.

Issues of the church in Thessalonica: Paul’s letter is a response to a report sent to him from Timothy who he had dispatched to check on the church. Due to circumstances that were beyond his control, Paul had to leave the fledgling church he was founding before he, or they, were ready. They have previously written to Paul raising several important questions that are causing them problems. It was these questions that led Paul to send Timothy to check on them. Timothy gives a hopeful report but also raises lingering problems. Paul’s response to these questions deals with issues of personal morality, the role of love and work in the community, the destiny of the Christian dead and the grief of the community. Remember that most of these early Christians believed that Jesus would return for them very soon and that they would likely escape death at his coming. Because of this belief they were confused and upset that some of their number had died and they don’t know what that means, either for those who died in the faith or for them if they do not survive to see Jesus’ glorious return.

Today’s Passage: Today’s short section consists of two parts. It begins with a joyous outpouring of love from Paul to the church he founded but had to leave. It is just brimming with appreciation, love and longing to be with them in the flesh. He is proud of them and wants them to know how much joy he gets when he hears about their continued efforts and the growth of the church. He assures them that he prays for them and hopes he can return for a visit to help build them up further. Then he closes this section with a benediction that serves as a transition between his celebration of Christian friendship and the training course in faithful living that follows.

Word Study

Vs. 9 – thank – Greek eucharistia(eo) The entirety of verses 9-10 overflows with passion, energy and joy. This word, from which we get our word for the sacrament, Eucharist, refers to a bountiful joy for grace given and expressed to others and to God. It is the expression of gratitude Godward for the graces that have been received.

            Joy – Greek chara refers to joy that is exultant, exuberant, and abundant.

Vs. 10 – earnestly – this word can also be translated exceedingly, bountifully from the heart.

            Restore whatever is lacking – this phrase refers to supplying something to make up for a shortcoming, to complete or to make something whole. He is not saying that they are doing faith badly but that he has more to share that will help them have a more complete understanding.

Vs. 11 – Lord – Greek kyrios – This word was often used in the early church in a way similar to ‘master.’ It is interesting to note that at this time in the Roman Empire the word referred to the head of the Empire. To use this word for Jesus was often seen as subversive and an excuse for persecution of the young church.

            Way – Greek hodos – this is the word for ‘a road travelled.’ It refers to one’s whole way of life.

Vs. 12 – love – Greek agape – ethical love that makes choices consistently for the good of the beloved.

Vs. 13 – blameless – this word means without any fault that would affect the spiritual life.

            ComingParousia – this multifaceted and complex word refers, in general, to the return of Jesus and the putting right of all that is wrong on the earth. The early believers thought that this coming would be soon, physical, political, and ecological. It would be the time of earth’s restoration and the vindication of all the faithful.

            Saints – Greek hagios – This word means ‘holy ones.’ It does not only refer to those special ones we designate as saints. It refers to all who are made holy by life in Christ.

Questions for Personal Reflection

  1. What is the role of Christian friendship in your life? How do your friends bring you exceeding joy? Think of specific times when you have experienced this and thank God for it.
  2. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is also called The Eucharist. How do you experience this sacrament as an experience of holy joy? Can you think of anything that hampers that experience? How might you experience ‘the joyful feast of the people of God’ more fully?
  3. What things do you still find confusing about the faith? What help do you need to make your faith more complete?
  4. In what way do you see God directing your ‘way,’ your path of daily life? How do you experience that direction? How do you seek it?
  5. Advent is a time of looking back and looking forward. We look back to the Incarnation 2000+ years ago and we look forward to the ways that Jesus comes to meet us again in daily life and at the close of the age. What are you grateful for in the past? How do you experience his coming to you every day? What are your thoughts and feelings about his ‘Second Coming?’