Encouragement Indirect and Direct

We all need it, we can all give it.

Encouragement and the Church (7)

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—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. 1 Thessalonians 3.6-8

Even Paul
We don’t typically think of strong believers like Paul as needing encouragement. Don’t they have a direct line to the Lord? Indeed, as do we all. But we are so created and redeemed as to require encouragement from one another, and we see that clearly in Paul’s response to Timothy’s report about the state of matters in Thessalonica.

It’s difficult for us to imagine how great Paul’s concern for the Thessalonians must have been. He prayed for them continually (1 Thess. 1.2), shared in their sufferings (1 Thess. 2.14-16) to the point of being afflicted and in distress (1 Thess. 3.7); he longed to see them again and to make sure of their wellbeing (1 Thess. 2.17-20); and finally, when he “could no longer endure it,” he sent his trusted colleague Timothy to encourage them, and to learn about their condition, hoping and praying as he did that he would find the Thessalonians unshaken and steadfast (1 Thess. 3.1-3).

Timothy could not have brought a better report for Paul’s encouragement. The Thessalonians were standing fast in faith and love (1 Thess. 3.6), and they fondly remembered and eagerly longed for Paul, as he did for them. Paul was greatly encouraged (παρεκλήθημεν, comforted NKJV) by this news. I prefer the translation encouraged here, because Paul didn’t merely breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank You, Lord.” He was emboldened to act on the Thessalonians’ behalf, both to be revived in his own faith and to write these epistles to encourage the Thessalonians to press on to a greater measure of salvation and life.

Imagine for a moment how pleased Timothy must have been to see Paul so encouraged by his report. The Thessalonians provided indirect encouragement to Paul; Timothy’s report was the direct encouragement that prompted Paul to write this glowing epistle. Doubtless, Paul’s glad response would have greatly encouraged Timothy as well.

Let’s take a closer look at how Timothy’s encouragement affected Paul.

Standing fast
Verse 8 is almost unfathomably deep. We cannot in this space unpack everything that Paul intends here, but we must consider at least a few matters, for they show us the powerful role encouragement can play in our lives.

First, note how Paul says “we live” because the Thessalonians stand fast in the Lord. How invested was Paul in the people he served? Gladly, he told the Corinthians, he would “spend and be spent” for their souls (2 Cor. 12.15). How he loved these people, though he barely knew them! But they had come to Jesus under his ministry, and now they were part of him, embedded in his heart; they were a source of joy, purpose, and resolve by their believing and standing fast in the Lord. Paul might just as well have written, concerning his response to Timothy’s report, “We are revived!”

Do we love people like this? Love them so much that we weep while they remain outside the Lord, or sorrow when they falter in the faith, or rejoice and are encouraged as we see them growing in the Lord? The Lord has made us His people and members of His Body, and we are meant to derive strength and life from one another (Heb. 10.24; Gal. 6.1, 2, 10), and to give these to one another as well. We are vessels through whom the Lord flows His life to others. Pray that God will help you love like Paul. And let those you love, as they grow in the Lord, be a constant source of encouragement to you.

But there is a note of tenuousness here. Timothy had made a good report, and Paul rejoiced. But standing fast in the Lord is a lifetime commitment, an every day and every moment calling. Paul says “now we live, if you live” (emphasis added). The sense of the Greek: ἐὰν, “if”, is more like, “and it’s possible that it might not be so.” Just because the Thessalonians had stood fast for the time was no guarantee they would stand fast for the duration. Paul’s letter meant to encourage them to do so.

We must always pay attention to our lives and how we spend our time (Eph. 5.15-17). Just when we think we’re standing firm, we can fall precipitously, calamitously, and eternally (1 Cor. 10.12; 2 Tim. 4.9; Heb. 6.4-6). Is Paul suggesting that we can lose our salvation? No, but he is cautioning us against being overly confident on the basis of a few indications of faith in the past. We must be always pressing on, always standing firm, always seeking the Kingdom and glory of God, or we may someday discover, in spite of all our shocked protestations, that the Lord never knew us, because we never truly knew Him (Matt. 7.21-23).

More is at stake than just our own status as followers of Christ. Just as our walk with and work for the Lord can be a great encouragement to others, even indirectly, so we can be a source of discouragement to our fellow believers if we falter, stumble, or grow lazy in following Jesus.

Just-in-time encouragement
Paul probably wrote his letter to the Thessalonians while he was ministering in Corinth. The work in Corinth was a challenge, with much opposition and affliction. So demanding was that work, that the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to Paul in a vision to encourage him to stay the course (Acts 18.9-11). Paul needed all the encouragement he could get to keep ministering the Word about Jesus as opposition continued to mount against him.

Timothy’s return to Paul from Thessalonica was like a fresh breath of the Spirit, filling the lungs of his soul. It was the just-in-time encouragement he needed to press on for eighteen months in Corinth. And he would continue to be encouraged as long as he knew that the Thessalonians were standing fast in the Lord.

God has sent His Spirit into our hearts as the Encourager (ὁ παράκλητος). His work is to infuse our hearts with courage to overcome fears, anxiousness, doubts, reluctance, complacency, and indifference, to transform us into the image of Jesus Christ and equip and move us for good works. And it pleases the Spirit to do His work, at least in part, through us, as we encourage one another as Timothy and the Thessalonians did Paul.

For reflection
1. Why do you think we all need encouragement in our walk with and work for the Lord?

2.  We can’t know when our encouragement of another believer will be “just-in-time”, so we need to be ready at all times to offer words of encouragement. Explain.

3.  Do you think Timothy’s coming to check-up on the Thessalonians would have encouraged them? Explain.

Next steps – Preparation: Meditate on Hebrews 10.24. Spend some time in prayer asking the Lord to put before your mind every opportunity for encouraging another believer that you might have today. Commit yourself to giving that encouragement as the Lord leads.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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