1 Thessalonians 3

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.

Mark 9

Chapter nine begins with one of the few cases in which Mark notes a specific time. In this case, it was “six days later,” after Jesus’ teaching on truly following him, that he allowed Peter, James, and John to see something they would never forget (Mark 9:2-13). Although John’s brother, James, never wrote any recorded Scripture, seeing Jesus in his full divine glory in the Transfiguration most certainly affected these three men in a significant way. Both Peter and John later wrote of their experience as a transformational event (2 Peter 1:16-18; John 1:14; 1 John 1:1-4). They witnessed Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah (how did they recognize them?), which must have been exciting. Most importantly, though, they heard the voice of God himself. It was one thing for Peter to declare, “You are the Christ”; it was another matter completely to hear the Father say, “This is my Son!”

While Jesus and the other three were on the mountain, a man had approached the remaining nine disciples with his demon-possessed son, hoping they could heal him, but they could not (Mark 9:14-29). Mark is the only of the Synoptic writers to mention that this had caused the disciples to get into an argument with “experts in the law” (Mark 9:14). It is easy to speculate that the religious leaders had used this as an example to prove that Jesus and his disciples were not as powerful as they claimed. When Jesus came, he chided the man for his faltering belief, but he compassionately healed the boy immediately. When the disciples asked about their inability to do it, Jesus told them that only prayer could drive out this kind of demon. This provides a little insight into the hierarchy of the demons and a reminder that God’s work requires God’s power.

After this Jesus told the disciples again that he would be killed and resurrected, but they did not understand (Mark 9:30-32). Instead, the recent events of Peter’s declaration of faith, the Transfiguration, and the inability of the nine to cast out the demon led the disciples into a quiet argument about who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-37). When Jesus called them out on it, he reminded them that being great comes with humility and service and, most importantly, our connection to Jesus. In response, John pointed out that some people were using Jesus’ name for their own ministry instead of his (Mark 9:38-41). Jesus noted that one cannot serve in Jesus’ name without genuineness for long. This is similar to Paul’s note that he did not care why Jesus was being preached, as long as it was the true gospel message (Philippians 1:12-18). However, it will be harsh judgment for those who lead people away from Christ, especially young people (Mark 9:42-50).

Colossians 3

Chapter three introduces the practical steps believers can take to make sure we do not get caught up in these other foolish things that take us away from Christ. The most important step is to keep our minds focused on Christ himself, rather than on other things (Colossians 3:1-11). Truly spiritual things are higher than the earthly things Paul’s enemies focused on. Since our life is found in Christ, our focus should remain solely on him. Secondly, we can work to “put to death whatever in [our] nature belongs to the earth.” This includes any “fleshly desires which do battle against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). These things bring God’s wrath against unbelievers (Ephesians 5:6), so we should not be surprised that he hates them in believers as well. We are to “put off the old man with its practices” and replace that sinful nature “with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (see Ephesians 4:22-24). This is possible for every believer, no matter one’s background, ethnicity, or social status.

Because of our new status in Christ – “elect of God, holy and dearly loved” – we should live out Christ’s love for our fellow believers (see Philippians 2:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-3). As he wrote in Ephesians 5:18-21 about submitting to the Holy Spirit, Paul encouraged the Colossians to build up one another with encouragement from Scripture. Ultimately, no matter what we do, we should do it as agents of the Lord Jesus. Assuming that the Colossians would read the other letter (Ephesians) as well, Paul gave a shortened version of his list of example relationships found in Ephesians 5:22 – 6:9, giving only one line each to wives, husbands, children, and masters. He did write a longer encouragement to slaves, possibly due to the situation of Onesimus returning to Philemon in Colossae along with his letter at this same time.