1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13 – Balancing Truth and Love

1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13


Balancing Truth and Love.




In this long section from 2v1 – 3v13 Paul is explaining and defending his visit to Thessalonica and why he had to leave and has been unable to return. In very passionate terms he expresses his strong feelings of love, commitment and responsibility for the believers in Thessalonica.


We learned last time from 2v1-12 what Paul’s goals and priorities were; viz. a protector and proclaimer of the Word of God.  That his life was characterised by openness and integrity and that he had a deep love and commitment to his fellow-believers, especially those to whom he himself had brought the message of Jesus Christ.


One of the challenges that the Church constantly faces is the balancing of Truth and Love.

ILLUS.: In the Church in which I grew up we had two groups of people leave the church at different time. One group who became ultra-reformed – they were more Calvinistic than Calvin – they were the champions of the truth. ||They would sit in the front of the church and shake their heads in unison if they disagreed with the preacher. They caused much hurt and harm to the body of the church.

Another time there was a group who felt the church was too stuffy – it needed to loosen up – be more loving. This was the 1960’s early 70’s – the days of flower power – the Jesus generation. They also cause harm because they were so intent on being uncritical that they accepted everything.


Now they were both right and both wrong. They were right in that they both expressed a truth of the gospel. We are to hold to the truth and we are to be loving BUT when we do one to the detriment or exclusion of the otherwe harm the gospel.


How do you think ‘RailTrack’ would look if it claimed at an accident inquiry “Well, one of our tracks was straight!!”


What we emphasised last time was Paul’s commitment to the truth. The Word of God – which is what he believed and preached – which is what governed his goals and priorities in life. He also lived openly and with integrity in the light of God’s word.


In this next section he deals with the reasons why he has been unable to return to visit them. In these verses we get an insight into how deeply he cared for them.


1. God’s displeasure and anger at Persecutors. 2:13-16.


Paul has talked about the suffering of the church – he talks in verses 14-16 about those who have caused the church to suffer.


1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last. (NIV)


It is easy to misinterpret Paul’s outburst against the Jews as being anti-Semitic – many have used these verses to justify anti-Semitism.

As with all scripture we must be careful not to read into it what is not there AND we must be diligent in putting such verses into the context in which they were written.


Remember that Paul is writing to Christians – His purpose is to encourage them – He is assuring them that the sufferings they are experiencing are not unique. What the Thessalonian Christians are suffering from their own countrymen, the Gentiles, is similar to what the Judean Christians suffer at the hands of their countrymen, the Jews.

Paul accuses the Jews of five things:

  • They killed the Lord Jesus
  • They killed … the prophets – which Jesus also did
  • They .. also drove us out. He puts himself and the other apostles on a par with the prophets of the OT
  • They displease God –esp. by rejecting the Messiah
  • They are hostile to all men – this has its outworking in the fact that they are hindering the preaching of God’s gospel.


It is because of this that they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last – Now we could spend a long time on this – basically Paul is saying that there have always been those in Israel who, because of their disobedience incur the wrath of God. Whether Paul had in mind the severe famine in Judea around the time of writing or whether he was thinking of future wrath, we don’t know!


The idea of the wrath of God against those who reject the Messiah is clear in the NT

John 3:18 18 Whoever believes in him {JESUS} is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (NIV)

Rejection of God’s Messiah is in itself judgement as he is the only means of salvation.


This is still a warning to all who would hinder the gospel – bearing in mind that Jesus said ..Matthew 12:30 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. (NIV)

We are either with Jesus working to his agenda or we are against him – you can’t sit on the fence – There is no fence – there is a huge chasm so it isn’t possible to have a foot on both sides. Either you are with Jesus or by design or default you are against him.


Back to the question of anti-Semitism – There is much to be said and we would need to look carefully at everything Paul says.

  • Paul is not here talking about all Jews everywhere. His primary focus was those of his day who were Not only refusing to accept Jesus as Messiah BUT were also actively opposing those who did.
  • Remember Paul is a Jew and proud of his Jewish heritage – he is an insider.
  • He loved his own people as well as the Gentiles. We need to read this passage in conjunction with passage like Romans 3 and Romans 9-11 where Paul declares that he is willing to forfeit his own salvation, if that were possible, in order that some of his fellows Jews could be saved.
  • After he left Thessalonica he went to other towns and cities and continued his practice of going to the synagogue to preach the good news about Jesus the Messiah.


There is no place for anti-Semitism in the church – sadly church-history testifies otherwise. There is no basis in scripture for discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender or social status. Colossians 3:11 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (NIV)


2. Paul’s pastor-heart. 2:17 – 3-13.


Paul’s purpose in this section is to explain to the Thessalonian Church why he has been unable to visit them. These reason also serve as answers to his critics who have accused him of being a coward and charlatan.


This is a long passage and so we can only paint a few broad strokes.

What does Paul say to them and what principles can we draw?


a)     His reluctant departure. 2v17a

1 Thessalonians 2:17  But, brothers, when for a short time (in person, not in thought), …..

The phrase we were torn away from you is Greek word – ‘orphanos’ – What does it sound like? “Orphan” – it is the picture of a child being deprived of its parents. In the NT it has a wider use in that it can apply to a parent deprived of a child.

ILLUS.: We have all seen film about the Holocaust where children and parents are forcibly separated – that is the force of what Paul is saying. His departure was an unnatural, forced and painful separation.

In spite of being separated bodily he was very much with them in thought and spirit.


b)    His attempted returns. 2v17b-20

1 Thessalonians 2:17-20       17 …. out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you — certainly I, Paul, did, again and again — but. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.


It is clear that Paul’s affection and love for them is very deep – our hope our joy our crown. There might be an element of overstatement but in keeping with his description of himself as Mother and father to them we see the kind of pride and joy that Parents have for their children. They were Paul’s spiritual children.

In the light of his deep feeling for them he has tried repeatedly to visit them BUT Satan stopped us –

He doesn’t tells us how Satan stopped him – ILLUS.: Remember the famous Zola Budd trip? Zola Budd was a SA middle distance athlete who came to UK and obtained British citizenship and went with the British team to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games. In the final of the 1500 /or 3000 M she cut in on the US favour Mary Decker and tripped her up and put her out of the race.


We need to recognise that that we are in a constant spiritual battle and Satan is always trying to trip us up to hinder the work of God!


How did Paul know it was Satan? We don’t know – We need to be aware of his activities – never ignoring him while at the same time not giving him more attention that necessary. NOR must we blame him, as some are prone to do, for things that would better be attributed to our own laziness or sinfulness.


c)     His spiritual representative. 3v1-5


Paul purpose in sending Timothy was threefold:

i)                   … 2 ….., to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, – Timothy was to teach them and build them up in their faith. AND also to cheer them up.

ii)                His purpose was also to assure them that their difficulties were not unexpected or uncommon 3 so that no-one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. Interesting how we see Paul here teaching new converts and one of the first things he teaches them is that they will suffer. Are we not unfaithful to the gospel when we fail in this.

Matthew 5:11  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (NIV)

John 15:20  Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. ….

John 16:33 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)



iii)              Paul’s’ third reason for sending Timothy was because he could no longer take the strain of not know what was happening to them and how they were holding up under the persecution. 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 1 So when we could stand it no longer, .2 We sent Timothy, …


d)      His joy at a good report. 3v6-10

When Timothy returns from his visit and reports back to Paul – the apostle is ecstatic. He is overjoyed that their faith is strong in the face of persecution and that they hold him in deep affection.1 Thess 3:8 For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

The fact that the Thessalonians were secure in the Lord made Paul’s life worth living – all the suffering was worth it. Yet he still longs to see them – This is true today. Praying for someone is good, writing to them is even better but there is still no substitute for face-to-face encouragement.


e)     His continual praying. 3v11-13

He prays for something practical – that he may visit again

He prays for their mutual love to increase.

He prays that they will grow spiritually so that at Christ’s return they may be accepted into his presence

No matter how hard we work at our Christian life – no matter how much effort we put into ministry – if we fail to pray we fail!!!


CONCLUSION. [Summary of chs. 2-3]

We have skimmed through chapters 2-3 but there are two main point to emphasise.

Paul’s love and commitment to God’s people is obvious throughout this section – he has likened himself to a ‘mother’ and a ‘father’.

His commitment to God’s Word is equally apparent.


  • A commitment to God’s word.

3x in these chapters Paul refers to ‘the gospel of God’ and 2x to ‘the word of God’.

Paul emphasises that his message comes from God – he never invented it. He is a trustee / steward of it AND responsible to pass it on faithfully.

If we are going to be authentic Christians involved in God’s work then we MUST begin with a commitment to God’s Word – as stewards entrusted with it and as heralds, those with the task of communicating it to others.

We are not apostles like Paul, but we have the apostolic teaching and we are trustees of it.

Our task as God’s people is to keep the Word, study it, explain it, apply it and above all obey it.


  • A commitment to God’s people.

The way he expresses his love and affection for the Thessalonian Christians shows Paul’s commitment to God’s people. Paul’s love for the church of Christ was to the point of a complete self-giving.


When we consider the state of the church today do we se this double commitment to the word of God and the People of God?

  • Sometimes we are so anxious to display the truth that there is little love.
  • Sometimes we are so anxious to appear loving that there is little concern for the truth of God’s Word.

Truth is rigid and hard if not softened by love and Love is soft and spineless if it is not strengthened by truth.


Maybe the church today is weak and ineffective because we are not really committed to either – we have allowed the philosophies and norms of society to water down the truth so that it is compromised. And we have allowed the preoccupation with self, with comfort and with my rights to hinder us fulfilling our God-given responsibilities to love sacrificially and unconditionally.


However, we must not hang our heads in despair and think all is lost – it never is with God! In spite of all the pressures the church survives. We may not face the direct persecutions that Paul’s readers faced BUT that doesn’t mean we are not under Satan’s attack. Sometimes he is like a roaring lion seeking to devour – at other times he is masquerading as an angel of Light seeking to deceive!

Remember Jesus has defeated Satan and the Church will be triumphant!


In the mean time we must balance truth and love! HOW? There is only on possibly answer – by the power of the Holy Spirit.

He is the source of Truth – John 14:17 17 the Spirit of truth. …. for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 16:13 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.


He is also the one who enables us to love – Galatians 5:22 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (NIV)


What we all need above all else is the fullness of the Spirit as he alone can and is willing to help us balance Truth and Love!




Balancing Truth and Love.


1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13


  1. 1.         God’s displeasure at Persecutors. 2:13-16.


  • Those who oppose God’s gospel will incur his wrath
  • Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me…”

                                                           Matthew 12:30


2. Paul’s pastor-heart. 2:17 – 3-13.

  • His reluctant departure.      2:17a
  • His attempted returns.        2:17b-20
  • His spiritual representative.      3:1-5
  • His joy at a good report.     3:6-10
  • His continual praying.         3:11-13


Summary of chapters 2 and 3.


A Commitment to God’s Word.

A Commitment to God’s People.


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