Ten Ways to Establish New Converts
1Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. 4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you— 7 therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. 8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8
Paul, Timothy, and Silas were forced to leave Thessalonica quickly because of opposition started by the Jews. They went to Berea where the Gospel received a better reception. However, Jews followed them there and made enough trouble that Paul was taken to Athens. While Paul wrote his letter to the Thessalonians after a forced absence, Silas and Timothy stayed behind with instructions to “join him as soon as possible” (Acts 17:13-15). Apparently, they came to Paul while he was still in Athens and Silas perhaps was sent to Philippi while Timothy returned to the congregation at Thessalonica. Later both Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-5). With fresh news about the young congregation, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica with this first epistle.
The key word in this section of chapter three is the word “establish” (3:2,13) and a key phrase in verse eight: “stand fast.” Paul knew the young Christians needed to be established in their faith. Before they could walk they had to learn to stand. In this paragraph Paul outlines ten things needed to establish new converts in the faith.
1) Be Seriously Concerned
Paul and his co-workers were so concerned about the congregation that when they “could no longer endure it” Timothy was sent to check on them. Paul was a spiritual “father” to these babes in Christ. As in the physical realm, babes in Christ are both a delight and a huge obligation. In the first century communication was very slow. His serious concern for these novices moved him to do something. They needed someone to come and follow-up on the teaching and report back to Paul.
2) Be Willing to Make Personal Sacrifices
Paul wrote “we thought it good to be left in Athens alone” (3:1b). The word “left” could be translated “bereaved”. He used it to show how deeply Paul felt a loss at not being with Timothy and Silas. To take care of the new churches in Macedonia meant Paul was to be alone at Athens. This appears to be a mutual decision. Loneliness is part of preaching the Gospel to the lost and edifying the saints in the faith. Paul was willing to make the personal sacrifice of sending one of his greatest helpers to Thessaloncia. This type of sacrifice is seen throughout Paul’s missionary journeys. To the church of God at Corinth he wrote, “and I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Cor. 12:15).
3) Send Qualified Help
While staying behind in Athens Paul “sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ” (3:2a) back to the Thessalonicans. Paul, like the FTD florist, cares enough to send the very best. Of Timothy, Paul told the Philippians, “for I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state” (Phil. 2:20). The word for “fellow laborer” is synergos. The English term synergy is derived from this word. It means “the interaction of two or more agents…so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects” (the free dictionary.com). Paul had many such working relationships during his ministry.
4) Establish and Encourage Them in the Faith
Paul explained why he sent Timothy to the church “to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith” (3:2b). The members there needed strengthening and support. They needed someone to put the courage in them. William Arthur Ward said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.” Perhaps, the biggest reason for losing our new converts is due to them being neglected by more mature Christians. Many babes are left standing there “dripping wet on the baptistery steps” as members wait to see if the baptism is going to take or not. If we treated our babies like that, the infant mortality rate would be appalling.
5) Strengthen Them in Facing Trials
One of the main reasons it was so vital to send Timothy so soon was to build up their strength and courage in order to have a faith that could face the trials and opposition. Paul explained, “that no one should be shaken by these afflictions” (3:3a). The term “shaken” is from sainesthai meaning to be unsettled or disturbed. Literally, it means to “wag the tail.” Like a dog will flop its tail back and forth so the afflictions would shake them like a dog does his tail. Interestingly, “afflictions” means to be “under the thumb.” It is describing the pressure they were under. So one of the first things needed in strengthening the saints so they can deal with afflictions is to have them recognize the threat they are facing. Paul tells them that suffering through affliction is a normal aspect of the Christian life. “For you yourselves know that we are appointed to this” (3:3b). Those who are going to follow Christ will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Christianity is not a means of avoiding all the troubles of life. To be different from the world is to anticipate a world of trouble. Persecution is not foreign to be believers (1 Pet. 4:12ff), but a normal part of the Christian life. Instead of avoiding afflictions Christians are appointed to grow through trials and tribulations. Each trial or temptations is controlled by God the temptation regulator (1 Cor. 10:13).
Previously, Paul had warned them that afflictions were coming their way. “For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you” (3:4a). Just as Jesus warned His disciples that the world would hate them because the world hated Him, so Paul warned them. There is no such thing as a trouble free ride to heaven. Remember it is the little piece of sand the irritates the oyster and so it secretes some protection against it. Over time the irritations it turned into a priceless, beautiful pearl.
With his companions, Paul also had to endure afflictions: “that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know” (3:4b).
It is much easier to endure when you know of or have seen the example of another who was able to go through the trial and come through it a stronger man or woman. Paul did not just warn them about persecution, he showed them how to respond to it in his life. Paul could demonstrate that trials in life develop patience and character (Js. 1:2-4) as well as perseverance (Rom. 5:3-5).
Ultimately all trials, tribulations, temptations, and troubles come by way of the Devil, the Tempter. Paul told them “lest by some means the tempter had tempted you” (3:5a). Paul believed Satan was real and he posed a real threat to them. The Tempter knows the troublesome times can tempt the saints to give up their faith. Paul’s victory at Thessalonica brought souls into the kingdom of light from the kingdom of darkness. The Devil is a sore loser and wants them back. He will use any means at his disposal to make them fall.
6) Access Their Growth in Faith and Love
Again, Paul explains why he sent Timothy back to Thesslonica. “For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith” (3:5b). He had to know how they were getting along. All new converts need someone who cares enough to check on their spiritual progress. Paul was to receive good news concerning their growth.
7) Recognizing It Is A Waste to Convert and Not Develop New Converts
If Paul and others failed to assist these new saints their “labor might be in vain” (3:5c). Although no matter how careful leaders are in following up on novices some will still fall back into the world. Nonetheless, let us do our part to provide for their needs knowing our labor is not in vain (I Cor. 15:58). It is never a waste of time to develop the faith of new babes in Christ even if it is just one soul. It is a great waste not to work at establishing the faith of even one soul.
8) Create Pleasant Memories
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us” (3:6a), Paul wrote of the fond memories he had of their faith and love. To remember babes in Christ and care for them is to be remembered by them in the future.
9) Desire to Spend Time Together
The brethren had a mutual desire to spend time with each other Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they were “greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you” (3:6b). A special bond in only natural between the proclaimer of the Gospel and those saved through his efforts.
10) Be Comforted By Their Growth
The report of their steadfast faith has encouraged Paul. “Therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” (3:7,8). Preachers and teachers of the Gospel need positive feedback concerning the spiritual growth of their students. As John wrote, “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father” (2 John 4). Such good news from Timothy about the Thessalonian brethren gave him a new lease on life and stimulated him to continue his efforts in sharing the Gospel at Corinth.
– Daniel R. Vess