Worries, faith, and confirmation.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 February

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5.

1 Thessalonians lists three authors: Paul, Silas, and Timothy. People presume Paul’s the one who really wrote it, and included those other guys as a courtesy, but that’s not how letters were composed back then. All three really did write it.

It was written by dictation. The reason you may not realize it’s dictation, is because we translators try our darnedest to make it sound like a coherent whole—and succeed. But in so doing, sometimes we lose a little bit of the sense of tag-team preaching.

The apostles spoke—sometimes Paul, sometimes Silas, sometimes Timothy. Maybe Paul spoke most often; then again maybe not. Sometimes they interrupted one another, which is why the original text is full of sentence fragments, and translators wind up tearing our hair out because we want complete sentences, dangit, with proper subjects and predicates. Other times we get big ol’ run-on sentences, with only one proper verb at the beginning of a 13-verse stretch.

So when the apostles begin chapter 3 with “We sent Timothy,” no it isn’t because Paul was the real author, and Timothy might not even have been in the room at the time. Timothy was there. He just didn’t speak this particular sentence though: “I, Timothy, was sent.” One of the other guys, Paul or Silas, said this.

1 Thessalonians 3.1-5 KWL
1 So we could no longer stand to stay in only Athens,
2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-laborer for God in Christ’s gospel,
for your support and assistance regarding your faith:
3 No one should be disturbed by these troubles,
for you yourselves know we’re meant to expect them.
4 When we were with you, we foretold you, “We’re about to suffer,”
and it happened just as we said, and you know it.
5 This is why I Paul could no longer stand it, and sent Timothy to know about your faith:
lest somehow the tempter tempt you, and our work might be wasted.

You remember Paul commented he couldn’t get to see the Thessalonians, no matter how much he wanted to. 1Th 2.18 Since the apostles used “we” to describe it, no doubt Silas was included. Timothy was not. He got to visit them, and return with the good news that they were holding steady. 1Th 3.6 The apostles hadn’t abandoned their fledgling church; they were just going through some suffering themselves.

What suffering? We’re not sure. The apostles weren’t specific. We can speculate, of course; many commentators have. Fr’instance Paul and Silas couldn’t visit them, but Timothy could; while all of them were Jews, Timothy was half Greek. Ac 16.1-3 So this mighta been a racist thing, where Jews were hindered from travel, but Timothy could pass for gentile and travel regardless. There was anti-Jewish persecution in the Roman Empire from time to time, and maybe that’s what was going on: People were on the lookout for Jews.

In any event, Timothy went to check on the Thessalonians, and strengthen their faith till it was tribulation-proof.

Foolhardy apostles.

I’ve heard many gung-ho missionaries take the attitude of, “Screw persecution; I’m going in there, and if I perish, I perish.” Not because they actually do think they’ll perish, as Esther did when she originally said that “if I perish, I perish” line. Es 4.16 For a lot of missionaries, a number of ’em naïvely believe God’ll automatically rescue them from danger because they’re his kids, and their cause is just. You know, like he did with Daniel, Elijah, or Moses.

Thing is, if God never told us he’s gonna deliver us from our persecutors, this isn’t actually faith. It’s foolhardy presumption. It’s like leaping from the temple because we think angels will catch us. Ps 91.12, Lk 4.9-11 It’s stupid. But too many Christians think this kind of stupidity is faith. Great faith. Even though James called it evil. Jm 4.13-16

Jesus tells us to be shrewd. Lk 16.8 Usually the shrewd thing to do is to outfox persecutors. Be where they’re not. Make friends of their superiors. Expose ’em through the press. And of course resist the temptation to leap from tall buildings. Do what really furthers God’s kingdom, instead of presuming we’re invincible because we serve the Almighty. God isn’t honored by stupid, futile martyrdoms, and history is littered with the bones of such people.

So the apostles did what they could. If Paul and Silas weren’t free to travel, but Timothy was, send Timothy! If they were too well-known, too notorious, send an apostle who wasn’t. If they were too brown, send the lighter-skinned guy. Work with what you got, and spread God’s kingdom effectively, not arrogantly.

Don’t presume. Seek facts.

A lot of Christians nowadays don’t bother to do our homework, and find out how a church or ministry is doing. Instead we go with our gut: How do we think they’re doing? How do our feelings tell us they’re doing? ’Cause we presume those feelings are informed by the Holy Spirit—that he’s supernaturally giving us insight, and that we’re to trust these insights instead of actually asking questions and listening.

Hence pessimistic Christians assume every church is persecuted. That the church in America, and round the world, is shrinking and going apostate and falling apart—because that’s how their favorite End Times scenarios play out. They don’t know, ’cause they never bothered to find out. They think they know, though. They know how they feel.

Conversely, optimistic Christians assume we’re all doing great!—the church is growing, and spreading, and every victorious-sounding story we hear from the mission field proves that God’s busy conquering the world, province by province. But again, they’re not doing homework. They believe God’s victorious because… well, he’s God, and why wouldn’t he be victorious?

Paul and Silas had their doubts and fears about the Thessalonians, and had these apostles acted like today’s homework-shirking Christians, they’d either have presumed the Thessalonian church was stamped flat by persecutors, or that Jesus had totally overwhelmed Thessaloniki with revival, and the rest of Macedon was next. Humans can be such creatures of extremes, y’know.

The text slides from “we” to “I” in verse 5. I don’t know whether the “I” was Paul or Silas; I guessed (as most of us will) it was Paul. He couldn’t contain himself; he didn’t wanna bounce back and forth between hypothetical disaster or hypothetical victory. He had to find out how the Thessalonians were doing, so he sent Timothy. And in so doing, did the right thing: Rather than let his fears grow and gnaw at him, he sent someone he could trust to go check things out, and come back with a report.

Too often we trust our fears, or rumors, and not facts. We believe our worries, even after someone we trust comes back with, “Relax. I’ve checked it out for myself. You’re worried about nothing.” We allow paranoia to win out. We choose to cling to the Accuser’s false accusations.

Part of faith is trusting that God establishes churches. Not us. Just because we’re not there, it doesn’t mean his church is going to collapse in our absence. If God truly set it up—and the apostles believed he had—then God will keep it up. The devil tries to break down this faith. Don’t let it.