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Chapter three best begins with 1 Thessalonians 2:17, and is probably the most personal section in the entire letter. This is a great reminder that this is not just “a book in the Bible” but a personal letter between dear friends. For those of us reading since that time, it also reveals what genuine Christian fellowship looks like. Paul could literally say that his absence from them caused his heart to grow fonder toward them (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20). 1 Thessalonians 2:18 is a subtle, yet powerful, reminder that Satan’s forces are still active, and God has allowed them some latitude to work against his servants in this world.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 reveals Paul’s concern when he had not yet heard from Timothy. Even the apostle who commanded us to not worry (Philippians 4:6) could not help but be concerned for his friends. This was especially true because he knew that believers in this world are destined for opposition and affliction, just like Jesus promised (John 15:18-20; cf. 2 Timothy 3:12).
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 shows the complete emotional shift Paul experienced once Timothy had found him and delivered his report. Interestingly, verse six contains the only time in all his letters that Paul used “good news” (εὐαγγελίζω, euangelizo) for something other than the gospel. Both their faith and love had remained strong (1 Thessalonians 1:3), and their attitude toward Paul had not been swayed by his accusers like the Galatians’ had been and the Corinthians’ would be later on. Their faith was their attitude toward God, and love was their attitude toward each other. So even in their affliction, they kept the proper attitude toward God, each other, and Paul.
Paul finished with a short but significant prayer. First, he asked that God would clear the way (remember, Satan was blocking it) so he could get back to Thessalonica. Second, he prayed that their love would “increase and abound,” both within their church and in their community. Third, he prayed that they would grow in holiness so they would be ready for Jesus return.