Biblical Commentary
(Bible Study)

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13



Paul, Silvanus (known in the book of Acts as Silas), and Timothy were the founding fathers of the church in Thessalonica. However, they were able to remain in Thessalonica for only a short time—perhaps no longer than three weeks (Acts 17:2), before their preaching stirred opposition that forced them to leave (Acts 17:10 ff.).

Paul and his colleagues were anxious about the little church in Thessalonica. What was going on there? Was the church still in existence? Were the Christians remaining faithful in spite of opposition? What problems were they facing?

In chapter 2, Paul gave us an idea of the depth of their concern. He told the Thessalonians, “You had become very dear to us” (2:8). He told of his frustration at not being able to visit them again, saying, “But we, brothers, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence, not in heart, tried even harder to see your face with great desire, because we wanted to come to you—indeed, I, Paul, once and again—but Satan hindered us” (2:17-18). We don’t know the specifics of that hindrance.

So Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to assist the fledgling congregation there—and to report back to Paul regarding the situation there (3:1). He said, “For this cause I also, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, sent that I might know your faith, for fear that by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor would have been in vain” (3:5).

Travel was slow, and considerable time would pass before Paul would finally receive Timothy’s report. The waiting must have been painful. But then Timothy arrived with good news. Paul says,

“When Timothy came just now to us from you, and brought us glad news of your faith and love, and that you have good memories of us always, longing to see us, even as we also long to see you; for this cause, brothers, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord” (3:6-8).

It was time for rejoicing. This is where our scripture lesson starts.


9 For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sakes before our God; 10 night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith?

For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sakes before our God (v. 9). A literal translation would be, “How can we thank God for you in return (Greek: antapodidomi) for all the joy we experience before our God because of you?” Paul and his colleagues had been distressed and afflicted, not knowing the situation in Thessalonica (3:7). That distress, however, evaporated in a “poof” when Timothy returned with good news. What a relief! How wonderful! What joy!

The word antapodidomi has to do with repaying for something received, so Paul is asking how he and his colleagues can possible repay God for the joy they experienced upon receiving Timothy’s good report. They can, of course, express their thanksgiving, but there is no way to repay God for the gift of joy that they have received.

night and day praying (Greek: deomai) exceedingly” (Greek: hyperekperissou) (v. 10a). Paul uses some “over the top” language here.

• First, he talks about praying “night and day.”

• Then he uses the word deomai, which means to pray insistently—to beseech—to implore.

• Then he uses an unusual word—hyperekperissou. The last part of that word, perisseuo, means “over and above” or “more than enough.” That, however, isn’t strong enough for Paul to express what he is feeling. He uses the word hyperekperissou, adding hyper to perisseuo. Hyper means “over” or “beyond,” so it adds a rocket booster to perisseuo. To capture the full meaning of deomai hyperekperissou, we might translate it, “praying insistently—beseeching, imploring—and heaping up our prayers.” Paul is pulling out all the stops to express his desire to “see your face” (v. 10b).

When I explained the word hyperekperissou to my wife, she assured me that she knows all about hyperekperissou prayer. When our children were teenagers, she engaged in hyperekperissou prayer on a regular basis—when our son was out after midnight—when our daughter spent the summer working as a whitewater rafting guide. Etc., etc., etc.

Every mother of teenagers knows about hyperekperissou prayer—and most fathers too. When our son would come home from college for the weekend, he would leave Sunday evening to return to college. We have a long driveway on a hill, and I would watch from above as his brake lights would flash on and off as he went down that hill, and I would pray, “Keep him safe, Lord”—”Cast a protective covering over him, Lord”—”Guide and protect him, Lord.” Hyperekperissou prayer! You bet!

“that we may see your face (v. 10b). Paul’s hyperekperissou prayer was that he and his colleagues “may see your face”—that they might get a chance to visit Thessalonica again. While we aren’t told that their prayer was answered, we know that they did visit Macedonia, the province in which Thessalonica was located (Acts 19:21-22; 20:1-6). Surely, they took that opportunity to visit Thessalonica.

“and may perfect (Greek: katartizo) that which is lacking in your faith (v. 10c). The word katartizo means to complete or to perfect or to finish something. Paul and his colleagues are praying that they might have the opportunity to finish what they started at Thessalonica. They had established a church there, but had been there only a few weeks—probably less than a month—hardly long enough to do a thorough job of discipling the new Christians. They needed to finish teaching the basics of the faith—to answer questions—to counter doubt with assurance—and to help the Thessalonian Christians work through the myriad problems that every church experiences.


11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you; 12 and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you, 13 to the end he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct (Greek: kateuthuno) our way to you (v. 11). Paul pairs “God the Father” and “our Lord Jesus Christ” in a way that makes them co-equals. The prayer is that God the Father and the Lord Jesus will work as one to make it possible for Paul and his colleagues to visit Thessalonica again.

The verb kateuthuno means to guide or to direct on a straight path. It has the sense of expediting. In this verse, this verb is singular, linking God the Father and the Lord Jesus as a unity—not as two separate persons. This is high Christology.

and the Lord make you to increase (Greek: pleonazo) and abound (Greek: perisseuo) in love”(Greek: agape) (v. 12a). While “the Lord” could mean either God the Father or Jesus Christ, scholars say that, in this context it means Jesus. However, I will mention once again that, in this verse, Paul treats “God the Father” and “our Lord Jesus Christ” as a unity.

Paul has already acknowledged that these Thessalonians have established themselves as a loving people (1:3; 3:6)—and he will mention this again in 4:9-10. He isn’t praying that God will help them to correct a glaring deficiency, but rather that God will help them to do even better with something that they are already doing well.

“to increase (Greek: pleonazo) and abound” (Greek: perisseuo). Paul again uses over-the-top language. The word pleonazo (increase) has the sense of “more than enough.” The word perisseuo (abound) has to do with the kind of abundance that goes beyond one’s needs (see the comments on v. 10a above). Putting these two words together in this sentence, Paul is praying that God the Father and the Lord Jesus will give these Thessalonian Christians love beyond all measure. For me, that brings to mind Jesus words, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you” (Luke 6:38a). Paul’s context and meaning are different, but the effusive language is the same. If I might be permitted to adapt Jesus’ words to Paul’s prayer, Paul is praying that God will provide these Thessalonians abundant love—“good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”

“in love” (agape). Agape love is love that is focused on the welfare of the other person. Paul was speaking of agape love when he said:

“Love is patient and is kind;
love doesn’t envy.
Love doesn’t brag, is not proud,
doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way,
is not provoked, takes no account of evil;
doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

one toward another, and toward all men” (Greek: eis pantas) (v. 12b). Paul is praying that these Thessalonian Christians will have love, not just for each other, but also eis pantas (for all—for everyone). To love everyone would be a remarkable achievement. Unqualified love is rare, because it is so difficult to achieve. If we want to love everyone, we will do well to ask God to give us the ability—the gift. We aren’t likely to achieve it on our own.

even as we also do toward you (v. 12c). Paul and his colleagues have provided the Thessalonians with a living, breathing model of the kind of love that Paul is asking the Thessalonians to adopt. In Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, the Thessalonians have seen that kind of unreserved love in action. They have been the recipients of that kind of love. They know what agape love looks like—what it feels like—how it inspires and redeems.

It isn’t unusual for Paul to call fledgling Christians to follow his example. In his second letter to the Thessalonians, he will say:

“For you know how you ought to imitate us.
For we didn’t behave ourselves rebelliously among you,
neither did we eat bread from anyone’s hand without paying for it,
but in labor and travail worked night and day,
that we might not burden any of you;
not because we don’t have the right,
but to make ourselves an example to you,
that you should imitate us” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9)

See also Acts 20:35; 1 Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17; 4:9; 2 Timothy 1:13.

to the end he may establish your hearts blameless (Greek: amemptous) in holiness (Greek:hagiosyne) before our God and Father, at the coming (Greek: parousia) of our Lord Jesus with all his saints (Greek: hagios) (v. 13). Paul concludes this prayer by stating his purpose. He wants these Thessalonians to be ready for the parousia—Jesus’ Second Coming—the day of the Lord—Judgment Day.

Paul wants them to be found blameless (amemptous) on that great day. The word amemptous is made up of a, which means “without”, and memphomai, which means “fault”. Paul wants these Christians to be found without fault when Jesus comes to judge the world.

“in holiness” (hagiosyne). This word hagiosyne is related to hagios. Hagios means “holy” but is often translated “saint” in the New Testament—as it is at the end of this verse. The person who is hagiosyne is one whose innermost being is characterized by holiness.

To become holy, a person must separate him/herself from that which is common. To be holy is to be “called out” from the sinful world into a deep and abiding relationship with God so that the person becomes more God-like—less like the sinful world-at-large.

“with all his saints” (hagios). Who are these saints? The New Testament often uses the word hagios to mean ordinary Christians (Acts 9:13, 41; Romans 1:7; 12:13; 15:26; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1, etc.), but scholars suggest two other possibilities for this verse:

• One is that the hagios are Christians who have died. In the next chapter, Paul will say, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (4:14; see also Mark 13:27; 1 Corinthians 6:1-3).

• The other possibility is that the hagios are angels—God’s angelic host who will accompany Jesus when he returns to judge the world. Jesus spoke of the Son of Man coming “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). He said that, at the end of the age, his angels would “gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and those who do iniquity” (Matthew 13:41). He said that, when he came in power and glory, he would “send out his angels, and will gather together his chosen ones from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky” (Mark 13:27).

This interpretation is strengthened by several Old Testament references to “holy ones” that appear to refer to angels or celestial beings (Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 89:5; Daniel 4:13; 8:13; Zechariah 14:5; see also Jude 1:14).

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.


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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan