When Paul says that Timothy was sent to establish and encourage the believers for the sake of their faith, did he mean objective faith or subjective faith? It is not easy to determine whether the faith in verse 2 is objective or subjective. Actually, faith in this verse denotes both the objective and subjective aspects of faith. It includes both what we believe and our action of believing. The brothers sent Timothy to see how the believers in Thessalonica were doing in these two aspects of faith. Were they still holding the objective faith, and how strongly did they believe in it? How well were they keeping the objective faith, and to what extent were they believing in it? Paul’s concern was to know this. In verses 2 and 3 he seems to be saying, “Brothers, I am concerned that you may have been shaken through the afflictions. To be shaken is to lose faith. It is to lose the view of the objective faith and also to lose the subjective ability to believe! I am concerned about both aspects of your faith.”
Those who are burdened to work with new believers must learn to watch over their faith and to care for how they are doing in both the subjective and objective aspects of faith. Is their faith increasing or decreasing? Are they growing in their ability to believe? We must ask questions such as these in caring for young believers. This is to have the concern Paul had for the faith of the Thessalonians in sending Timothy to establish and encourage them.
In verse 4 Paul says, “For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are about to be afflicted, even as it also came to pass, and you know.” The Greek word rendered “told” is in the imperfect tense, a tense indicating repeated action. Paul was continually telling the believers beforehand that the apostles would be afflicted. This affliction came according to Paul’s prediction.
In verse 5 Paul goes on to say, “Because of this, when I also could bear it no longer, I sent to know your faith, lest somehow the tempter had tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.” The tempter here is the subtle Devil, the old serpent, who tempted Eve (Gen. 3:1-6; 1 Tim. 2:14). The aim of this subtle tempter is to destroy the gospel work accomplished through God’s fellow-workers. Paul was concerned that the afflictions, sufferings, and persecutions would be used by the tempter to shake the Thessalonians from their faith and to cause a loss of faith among them. Because he could no longer bear not knowing about their faith, Paul sent Timothy to them to know what was the situation with them regarding their faith.
Once again, the faith in verse 5 includes both objective faith and the subjective faith. Paul was eager to know both aspects of the Thessalonians’ faith.
Faith is the first item in the basic structure of the Christian life, a holy life for the church life. Those who backslide, including many who leave the church life, experience some loss of faith. They may not lose their faith absolutely, but they may lose it at least in part. They may no longer have a view of the objective faith, of the contents of God’s New Testament economy. While such ones were in the church life, they did have a view. They saw Christ, they saw the church, and they saw God’s economy. They saw God’s recovery and how the Triune God is dispensing Himself into us. However, they have gradually come to lose sight of these matters. Whenever someone loses sight of the contents of God’s economy, the subjective faith, the believing action within him, also diminishes. The ability within us to believe is always a product, a result, an issue, of having a proper view of God’s economy. Therefore, it is a dreadful matter to lose sight of God’s economy.
In the meetings of the church and of the ministry, it is as if we are all watching a heavenly television to see more of God’s economy. The more we see this heavenly television, the more we believe. We spontaneously believe in what we see. Therefore, we come away from meetings full of the ability to believe. The meetings of the church and the ministry enlarge our capacity to believe.
A good Christian worker is a person who continually infuses others with the divine view, helping them to see the marvelous scenes on the heavenly television and to be impressed by them. When the heavenly view is conveyed into us, transmitted into us, we have the ability to believe. By believing we are connected to a divine transmission. This transmission is the flowing of heavenly electricity. By believing we “switch on” to this flow.
We know from verse 5 that Paul was concerned that the tempter had tempted the Thessalonians and that the apostles’ labor among them had been in vain. Paul knew that once we lose sight of the contents of God’s economy, we shall be shaken and removed from the line of faith. Then whatever we have heard concerning God’s economy will be in vain. This fact is illustrated in the lives of many who have left the church life. Their situation confirms that when we lose sight of God’s economy, all that we heard becomes vain.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)