When Paul was forced out of Thessalonica and had to leave his new brothers and sisters in Christ there, he knew he was leaving them in danger. They were open to the persecution of the Jews, the confusion of false teachers, and the temptation of Satan to return to their old lives. Paul could “bear no longer” the thought of leaving the new believers vulnerable and alone in their spiritual infancy (v.1, 5), so he sent Timothy, his brightest associate, to look after them.
This letter was evidently prompted by Timothy’s return from Thessalonica after he had spent time teaching and encouraging them. The report he brought to Paul was very encouraging: the church was thriving! They still had a lot to learn (v.10), but their faith in God was strong and their love for one another was vibrant. Paul couldn’t have been more pleased; this is what he lived for: “for now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord” (v.8).
Moving forward, his prayer for the church was that their love would grow and overflow. Christlike love is the prime indicator of Christian maturity. An atmosphere of love is the greenhouse in which disciples grow. Love is what compels us to take the gospel to the lost. Love has a way of purifying our motives and our actions and promoting holiness (v.13). If there is a problem in the church, love is the answer. If you don’t know how to pray for your church, just pray that love will “increase and abound” (v.12).
In the final verse of this chapter, Paul mentions the second coming of Christ (see 1:10 and 2:19). In chapters 4 and 5 he will address this doctrine in detail, but what he has said so far is enough for us to go on: until Jesus comes, love. Keep loving your brothers and sisters in Christ and keep loving the lost. That about covers it.