First Thessalonians three finds Paul relieved that the Thessalonians are continuing to believe Jesus despite persecution: “For now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord” (1 Thess. 3:8). This is an expression of happiness but also much more.
Paul has written much about the Thessalonians’ participation in the sufferings of Jesus, as well as of Paul’s group. “Stand” is a resurrection word. The Greek word for resurrection is “anastasis,” which means “standing again.” As the Thessalonians stand firm in the Lord—in His life—that life flows through them to the rest of the body. Paul shows he and those with him receive and participate in the sustaining refreshment of that life, supplied through the Thessalonians. While geographically separate they are one spiritual organism circulating the life of Jesus.
Paul describes a similar dynamic in Ephesians 4:10 and Colossians 2:19. The members of Christ are one body. Each member holds to the Head, draws from the Head, and supplies what it draws from the Head to the other members.
Using the picture from John 15, each person in Christ is a branch drawing rich sap from the True Vine. The Vine and branches share in this nourishing life that produces fruit.
The chief evidence that resurrection life flows among the members of Christ is love. Paul mentions how dear the Thessalonians became to him and his companions (1 Thess. 2:8); he talks about their longing to see the Thessalonians again after being forced to leave (1 Thess. 2:17); Paul rejoices over Timothy’s report that those at Thessalonica also long to see Paul and his friends (1 Thess. 3:6). More than once Paul highlights the Thessalonians’ overflowing affection for each other; he praises and encourages this among them (1 Thess. 3:12, 4:9).
By love, Paul means something more than pleasant feelings between people. He and his friends modeled God’s love in sharing their lives (1 Thess. 1:8); nurturing instead of being heavy-handed (1 Thess. 1:7); working to care for themselves so they wouldn’t burden anyone (1 Thess. 1:9); teaching and encouraging in the Lord (1 Thess. 1:12, 3:2).
John says, “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in action and in truth.” This is the love Paul and his friends modeled among the Thessalonians. This is the love he saw between them, that was evidence of Christ’s life in them.