Study 5 THE AFTER-CARE OF CONVERTS
THE LETTERS TO THE THESSALONIANS
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: 1 Thessalonians 3: 1-10
Anyone who reads Paul’s two letters to the Christians at Thessalonica will be impressed with the fact that the Apostle was deeply concerned for the welfare of these new converts. He longed that they should become established in the faith and grow up into healthy, robust Christians. In all his Letters we detect Paul’s passion for the salvation of souls, his longing for sinners to be saved (Romans 10:1). But when they were saved, he then became deeply burdened for their spiritual growth in grace. Paul was concerned not only about evangelism but about consolidation; we must not only be concerned about securing converts but about caring for the converts after their commitment to Christ. This, after all, is our commission (Matthew 28:19-20); compare Acts 2:41-42 with Acts 11:21-23. What kind of after-care did these new converts at Thessalonica need, and how did Paul seek to meet that need?
1. They needed the tender, loving, watchful care of their spiritual parent.
Paul loved them (1 Thessalonians 2:8), longed for them (1 Thessalonians 2:17-18), and he was burdened for their spiritual welfare (1 Thessalonians 3:5). This was very understandable; after all, we would expect a father to be concerned for the welfare of his own children. It is very significant to note that Paul was at once father, mother and brother to these converts:-
- (1) Mother (2:7) – suggesting tenderness, sustenance and sacrifice.
- (2) Father (2:11) – suggesting needed counsel and guidance.
- (3) Brother (2:9) – Often in these letters Paul calls new converts “brothers”.
2. They needed encouragement, so Paul wrote them a letter.
This is very simple but practical. Paul wrote personal letters containing the outpouring of his deep and prayerful desire for their well-being. Have you ever thought of starting a ministry like this? – writing to Christians who are young in the faith – or believers who live in isolated places and who are deprived of Christian fellowship? They would benefit from your more mature experience, enabling them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Saviour.
3. They needed to be taught doctrine.
In these two letters all the main doctrines of the Faith are mentioned. Paul had taught them during his short stay in Thessalonica, but now in his letters he mentions them again and underlines them. Notice particularly: (1) Election (1:4); (2) the Holy Spirit (1:5-6; 4:8; 5:19); (3) Assurance (1:5); (4) the Trinity (1:1,5 and 6); (5) the Second Coming (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:14-17; (6) Sanctification (4:3; 5:23); (7) the Day of the Lord (5:1-3). There is no greater need than that the new convert should be steeped in the great doctrines of the Word of God. If there could be more doctrinal teaching from our pulpits we would be well on the way to revival.
4. They needed friendship, so Paul sent Timothy to visit them.
It is perfectly true that these converts had the friendship and fellowship of each other for encouragement, but think of the encouragement it must have brought to them when Timothy himself came and stayed with them. New converts need this. These Thessalonian Christians were being persecuted and harassed; they needed the human touch, the friendship of God’s people, and especially of God’s leaders. How sad it is when new converts are frozen out of our churches! What a tragedy! But how wonderful it is when souls are born again and the new babes are welcomed into the fellowship of God’s people and made to feel they are wanted and loved!
5. They needed to be warned about false teachers, and above all about the power of the Devil himself.
There were many false teachers at work in the early Church, and Satan was on the warpath, as he still is! (1 Thessalonians 3:5). Who is the tempter? – 1 Thessalonians 2:18 gives us the answer. One of his most subtle methods of attack on the new convert is along the lines of false teaching and heresy, and everywhere today we are surrounded by those who are preaching “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9). The new convert should be warned of this danger and must be so indoctrinated with the truth of the Lord that he is forewarned and forearmed against all the attacks of the Devil and of false teachers.
6. They needed to be shown the secret of victorious Christian living.
These Thessalonian Christians lived in a very pagan, godless and evil world, but now they had been converted and needed to be shown the way of holiness (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12). Is the need of new converts any different now? – for surely we are living in a pagan, godless and evil world and we need to be taught, and to teach others: (1) how to get victory over sin and the Devil (Romans 6:12-14); (2) how to keep pure (Psalm 119:9); (3) how to deal with sin when it has been committed (1 John 1:9); (4) how to go on to live a holy life (Romans 12:1-2).
7. Finally, they needed to be grounded in the truth of the Second Coming of Christ, which Paul emphasised throughout both these Letters.
New converts need to be instructed about Christ’s return (Titus 2:13-14), so that they begin to live for the world to come more than for this world (1 John 2:15-17); so that they have an incentive to live for Christ and to serve Him faithfully (Luke 19:13); and so that with all the evil that surrounds them they will treasure this purifying hope (1 John 3:2-3). What a burden Paul had for his converts! Read 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 again.