“For now we can go on living, as long as you are standing firm in the Lord”1 Thessalonians 3:8 BSB
Most of us have heard the old adage, “Leave no one behind.” The U.S. military embraces this principle wholeheartedly when it comes to our soldiers. The Airman’s Creed states, “I will never leave an airman behind,” and the Soldier’s Creed, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” The Apostle Paul followed this same principle in his apostolic ministry: he would leave no one behind.
Paul didn’t make it a habit to establish churches and leave them. He didn’t lead someone to Christ and then desert them. That is why the circumstances in Thessalonica were troubling to him. Paul didn’t have as much time with the Thessalonians as he would have liked. Persecution pushed him out of Thessalonica before he had a chance to supply what was lacking in the Thessalonians’ faith (1 Thess. 3:10).
Discipleship was important to Paul, and it should be important to every follower of Jesus Christ as well. We get a glimpse of Paul’s heart for discipleship in 1 Thessalonians 3.
Discipleship Amid Persecution
The Thessalonians encountered much persecution because of the Gospel. Paul feared that the Thessalonians’ faith would be weakened by their troubles, that they would succumb to the lies of the enemy and fall away from the Truth. Paul knew he couldn’t go himself to check on them, so he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith and to help them not be moved by their afflictions (1 Thess 3:1-4).
Discipling those new to the faith is part of being a Christ-follower. Many new believers are coming out of patterns of living and belief systems that oppose the Gospel. Like Pharoah did not want to let God’s chosen people go, neither do these patterns of living and belief systems want to allow new believers to go. They will go to great lengths to keep the new believer trapped, afraid, and helpless.
Persecution because of the Gospel can lure those new to the faith back to their old way of life. It comes in many forms; physical harm, of course, but also hostility and ill-treatment. Young people get made fun of at work; adults get shunned in the workplace – persecution can weaken the faith of any new Christian.
That’s where discipleship comes in. As followers of Christ, we are to “encourage one another daily” so that sin will not deceive and harden the hearts of new believers (Heb. 3:13), causing them to fall away.
Practically speaking, that means doing what Paul did: strengthening new believers, encouraging them in their faith, and helping them not be moved by persecution.
Discipling the Discipler
Discipleship benefits not only the one being discipled but also the discipler. Paul was greatly distressed by the knowing and the not knowing. He knew the Thessalonians were being persecuted, but he didn’t know if they were able to stand firm in their faith. When he found out from Timothy the good news of the Thessalonian’s faith and love, he was comforted in his distress and affliction (1 Thess. 3:7). Paul said, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8) and “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God” (1 Thess. 3:9).
The Thessalonian’s faith encouraged and strengthened Paul. It gave him joy and kept him going despite the affliction and persecution he was enduring. When we disciple others, when we see their spiritual growth, we can take comfort and be encouraged to see the fruits of our labor. When we disciple others, we take our eyes off ourselves and put them where they belong on our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Discipleship and the Heart of Love
Paul was tormented by the fact that he was unable to return to check on the Thessalonians himself. He had only been with the Thessalonians for around three weeks, but, he cared for them so deeply that he did all he could to be sure they stood firm in their faith. Paul displays what it means to truly live for Christ, to abide in Him, and produce fruit. The fruit he produced was love for the Thessalonians. The kind of love that leaves no one behind.
Not only did Paul display the fruit of love, but he prayed that the Lord would make the Thessalonian’s love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as Paul’s love did for them. The Thessalonians were loving, but Paul encouraged them to love more.
Love is how people recognize us as Christ-followers. If we aren’t loving, we aren’t living for Christ. As disciples and disciplers, we are to love like Christ. We are to be good examples to believers and non-believers alike.
As followers of Christ, we have a duty to leave no one behind. Jesus didn’t just tell us to proclaim the Gospel and that is it – that our job is done. He told us to go and make disciples. We should never lead someone to Christ and then leave them behind. Discipleship was important to Paul, and it should be important to us too.
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Answer the following questions:
- Paul was truly concerned about and deeply loved those he led to Christ. What are some ways that you can show your concern and love for those you lead to Christ?
- Although Paul could not be with the Thessalonians in person, he sent Timothy to strengthen the Thessalonians. If you aren’t able to personally disciple new believers, what are some ways you can ensure that they are discipled?
- What does discipleship look like in your life? What are some ways you can improve? How can you put your improvement plan into action?
Read 1 Thessalonians 4