Advent 1 • 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 • December 2, 2012
By Michael Redeker
‘Tis the season when Christians make preparations to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, and there are only a few weeks remaining to do so!
This Sunday also marks the beginning of a new church year. As the church celebrates and remembers Christ’s First Advent, Christians also wait in hope for Christ’s Second Advent. Now we live in the “between time” as we move ever?closer to the consummation of the age.
The Appointed Lectionary Texts
The first candle lit on the Advent wreath is the prophecy candle, or candle of hope, and the readings for Advent 1 highlight prophecy, hope, and what the Christian is to do in the “between times” of Christ’s advents. YHWH promises that, in those days, he will cause a righteous branch to rise up who will bring salvation for his people (Jer 33:14–16). This promise was fulfilled as God broke into our time and space, working out that righteousness for the unrighteous through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
The Gospel for Advent 1 finds the Messiah moving to Jerusalem in the midst of people who are rejoicing and praising God (Lk 19:28–40). Jesus knows what the crowds do not know, namely that the righteous branch must move to the cursed tree in order to bring righteousness to the very people who will call for his blood by the end of the week. Though the crowd surrounds Jesus with shouts of praise and joy, he makes his way down the path that only he is able to travel—alone. This is Jesus’s mission according to God’s plan.
We are baptized and have received Christ’s righteousness through faith. But what is the Christian supposed to do now, and how is he or she supposed to live out his or her faith while waiting for Christ’s promised return? The answer is simple: the Christian is to trust in the Lord. But that’s often easier said than done. Psalm 25 is the prayer of the Christian who walks the righteous road. It is not an easy road without the companionship of the Lord who walks with his people.
Context helps to understand 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13. Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica and Paul preached the gospel for three Sabbaths. Jealous Jews formed a mob and took Jason and other believing Jews who had received Paul and Silas, brought them before the authorities, and accused them of acting against the decrees of Caesar. The brothers, in the meantime, sent Paul and Silas away (Acts 17:1–10).
It is difficult to determine how long Paul and his companions were in Thessalonica. However, given the familial-type relationships that developed between the Thessalonian Christians and Paul and his companions, as well as textual evidence that Paul worked while he was among them (2 Thes 3:7–10), and that he received help “once and again” from the Christians in Philippi (Phil 4:16), Paul and his companions probably spent some months among them rather than two weeks. Even so, Paul didn’t get to spend as much time in Thessalonica as he had hoped.
Paul had a pastoral relationship with the Thessalonians, and also a relationship with them as a “nursing mother taking care of her own children,” as a father who exhorts and encourages his children, and as brothers and sisters loved by God (2:7, 11; 1:4). It is this familial concern that is behind this epistle. Paul was “torn away” from them (2:17, cf. Acts 17:1–10), and he was anxious to know if they had abandoned the faith because of harassments, doubts, and slander levied against them and Paul. Not knowing drove Paul to send Timothy back to Thessalonica, and waiting for the report was the hardest part. Upon his return, Timothy brought the good news that indeed the new Christians had remained firm in the faith. This news brought exceeding joy and thanksgiving to Paul and his companions, which brings us to today’s reading.
Verse 9: Paul is filled with so much joy that he asks rhetorically how he can repay God.
Verse 10: Paul would love to see the Thessalonians once again face to face to “supply what is lacking in your faith” to prepare and put their faith in the proper condition (through correction and instruction which follows in chapters 4 and 5).
Verse 12: “But as for you” ὑμᾶς δὲ is emphatic. Paul prays for the Thessalonians, namely that the Lord would cause love to increase and overflow in abundance for one another and for all. Paul does not only encourage brotherly love among the Christians; he also encourages the Thessalonians to love those outside of the congregation. They were to love, and demonstrate that love to, the very ones who persecuted and pressured them, tried to create doubts in their hearts, and who slandered them and Paul.
Verse 13: The result clause is better understood as a second thing for which Paul prayed, “that the Lord would do for them in the context of their increased love for one another.” Paul’s concern was that the Thessalonians be blameless and holy at the Parousia. Paul’s prayer was that they be “blameless” in respect to their outward conduct with one another and the world and in holiness with respect to their relationship with God and Christ.
Possible Sermon Directions
When preparing a sermon on this text, the preacher can look to the other readings. One idea is an Advent walk with the Lord referencing Psalm 25 and Luke 19. The question could be asked, “Where is your focus this season? Is it on your Christmas plans coming up in a few weeks or is it on Christ’s Second Advent?” The preacher could compare the Thessalonians’ situation regarding persecution, pressure, and slander that could create doubt, with situations happening to modern-day Christians. These things can make the Advent walk difficult and challenging. However, we never walk this walk alone because the one who walked to Calvary continues to walk with us and lead us.
Another direction for the preacher might be to have the hearer examine his or her relationships with those within the congregation as well as those outside the community of faith. During the Christmas season, many people are friendly and courteous because they are in the “spirit of Christmas,” but what about those relationships throughout the rest of year? Should not this attitude prevail past December 25th?
One more possibility is to walk the hearer to Bethlehem, Calvary, Easter and onward toward the Second Advent as Christ walks alongside us as encourager and friend.
 Gordon Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 133.