A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thess 2:17-3

1 Th 2:17This verse leaves no room for doubting Paul’s love for the believers in Thessalonica. The phrase “torn away” is translated as “orphaned,” recalling the apostle’s parent-child metaphor (see v. 7, 11). Even though there was an undesired parting, Paul assures them they’ve been in his thoughts and shares how he continues to have a heart-felt, earnest longing to see them again. Paul goes through great lengths to maintain community even at a distance. He understood the importance of connection and knew a key way to maintain that was to honestly express his deep affections for them. There are many ways we can build community as small group leaders. Prayerfully consider e-mailing a message to your whole group this week that shows your love for them collectively.
1 Th 2:18Building on the previous verse, Paul explains he not only wanted to connect with them, but he tried repeatedly – only to be prevented by the enemy. Not only does this show the apostle’s devotion to them, it reveals how community among God’s people is something the enemy despises and will work tirelessly to prevent and deconstruct (3:5b). It’s a reminder for us to be aware and wise to Satan’s tactics (2 Cor 2:11b; Eph 6:10-12). Over the course of this month, remember to pray for your group and also to pray against the enemy’s efforts to throw apart the biblical community being built in your group and our church.
1 Th 2:19-20Paul expresses how the community of believers in Thessalonica embody that which brings him hope, pure elation and honor from a well-earned victory (cf. Php 4:1). He frames his feelings in light of Jesus’ coming, pointing them toward a future full of hope and comfort. His passion for this community is magnified by the fact his present feelings will continue into eternity. Community is present AND future. The future we’ll share together in heaven can actually intensify the community we enjoy now. Sharing a kingdom perspective on the biblical community being built can inspire your group. Paul repeatedly casts this ‘eschatological vision’ to the recipients of his letters so they’ll be encouraged to persevere and prevail as missionaries in their respective communities (Php 3:13-14, 20-21, 4:5; also Heb 12:1-3). When you express your appreciation for community in your group, remember to share how every joy that comes from your community will be perfected, amplified, and experienced together in heaven together for eternity.
1 Th 3:1-3Paul longed for community and the support of his friends. He recalls not wanting to be left alone Athens – a city so steeped in idolatry it rendered him distressed (Acts 17:16). But because of his great love for the believers in Thessalonica, Paul gave up his greatest source of personal encouragement for them: God’s (and his!) fellow worker, Timothy (v. 2). It was more important to him he shared the community that strengthened and encouraged him in his faith with these believers who were being persecuted (1:6b, 2:14b, 3:4). The apostle repeatedly demonstrates a sacrificial love in the face of adversity for the churches under his care (v. 5). Likewise, there will be times when God calls us, as group leaders, to give up things that benefit us personally for the sake of the larger community. Paul knew Timothy’s presence would strengthen and encourage the believers in the thick of their trials. As a result, everyone was blessed – including Paul – because of his sacrifice (vv. 6-8). The apostle provides us with a good model here for when we face things that challenge our ‘small group preferences’. Preferences that have developed as a result of the relational dynamic we’ve become accustomed to. Preferences that make us fearful of anything that could change the dynamic which becomes so dear. As a result, we resist anything that could change by addition (an open group that could attract newcomers) or subtraction (releasing a co-leader or other group participants to ‘plant’ a new group). These verses also reveal how relationship with other believers directly impacts our faith. It goes far beyond ‘feeling better’. Community feeds our faith making it stronger and emboldened with divine possibilities.
1 Th 3:6-8Timothy serves as an encouraging link between communities. (This is what you are with others who are a part of our small group leadership community.) The love and faith expressed from the believers in Thessalonica strengthened and encouraged Paul through his distress and persecution. Notice how the very thing he intended for these believers came back upon him (v. 2). The blessing that comes from selfless acts of love always outweighs the sacrifice. Paul always had the bigger picture in mind for God and His kingdom. A mutual longing for one another’s fellowship existed because they knew the love the apostle had for them. Your love for people in your group builds biblical community. People know when they’re loved. When you express your love and faith for your small group the result is life-giving community (v. 8). Ask the Lord to expand your love for your small group and help you to express your faith so the experience of community will be strengthened, encouraged, and enlivened for everyone involved.
1 Th 3:9Community strengthens and encourages our faith. Paul has also shared how the love and faith of others in Christ breathes life into us emotionally and spiritually. Now he describes another effect of community: Joy. Community lifts our spirits (emotions) and it lifts our spirit before God. Here we see the apostle expressing his thanks to God and his thanks to these believers. The very memory of his relationship with them has brought him much more than momentary joy…his relationship serves as a wellspring of joy even at a distance. Paul had such great influence on so many new communities of believers because of his ability to express his affection for God and people together in a seamless strand of communication; words that touched the hearts and minds of his hearers. Words that expressed theological truth coupled with the truth of his emotions. As you share with your people in your small group, aim for this three-dimensional (3-D) communication: Words that express height (relationship with God), width (relationship with people), and depth (the intersection of the two in community). 3-D communication makes your words come alive in people’s hearts and fortifies the bond of community.
1 Th 3:10Satan is not only the enemy of our souls, he is the enemy of any gathering of God’s called-out ones (2:18, 3:5b, 11). An important role of a small group leader is to contend for community. Pray with sincerity and seriousness for your group on both the individual level and communal level. Here is yet another verse that shows the apostle’s devoted love for the believers in Thessalonica and his persistent partnership in building up that community. One of his primary motivations for wanting to be with them in person is to help to solidify their faith for their sake and for the sake of those who had not yet come to Christ.
1 Th 3:11Paul proceeds to put his prayer on parchment after sharing about his dedication to them in unceasing prayer. One of the ways the enemy seeks to throw apart the community of believers is to throw up barriers to our coming together. There is strength in numbers and Satan knows this (Mt 18:19-20). It is one of countless reasons why he hates the Church. There are two take-aways from this verse: 1) Be spontaneous in praying for the community you’re a part of – do this privately and publicly  2) Remember to pray that God would clear the way of anything that would inhibit the growth of biblical community.
1 Th 3:12-13Let’s enumerate what Paul prays for in these verses…he asks the Lord to: 1) Make their love increase and overflow for one another  2) Make their love increase and overflow for everyone else around them  3) Strengthen their hearts so they would be blameless and holy until the end of time as we know it (cf. 2:10). His prayer shows the desire of his heart is for a deluge of devotion to suffuse their fellowship and spill over into the city of Thessalonica. The result is a missional community. When the members of a Christian community have an exuberance of love for one another but it’s not touching everyone else around them, the experience and impact of that community is severely lacking. How can your community foster symmetry of love for one another and love for everyone else? There is relational breakdown when the inward flow of love that nurtures community is not counterbalanced with the outward flow of love that makes a community missional. When there is symmetry, the community becomes one that is truly transformed and transformational – a living sacrifice in corporate form, that gives God joy in a similar way the believers brought so much joy to Paul (Rom 12:1; cf. 3:9). True community is true worship (Jn 4:24). During your next gathering, ask the Lord to make your love increase and overflow for one another and everyone else. Invite your group participants to join with you in seeking to understand what this symmetry of love looks like for your group. Discuss how this leads to true community, which is itself a living act of worship that strengthens our hearts and pleases the heart of God (Eph 1:4, 5:27).

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