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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
1 Thessalonians 3

 

 

Verse 1-2

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . When we could no longer forbear.—This latter word occurs in 1Co 13:7 to describe the endurance of love.

1Th . Fellow-labourer is omitted from the R.V. text, which reads, "our brother and God's minister in the gospel of Christ." To establish you.—To fix firmly; as Christ said to Peter, "Stablish thy brethren."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

A Difficult and Important Mission.

Paul had been compelled to leave Thessalonica in consequence of the malignant opposition of the Jews. They thirsted for his life, and it would still be dangerous for him to visit the city. But Timothy might venture where it would be perilous for the apostle to appear. While the wrath of the Jews raged against the gospel as a whole, it culminated in its fury around the head of Paul, the ringleader and champion of the movement. Fearing that his absence might be misconstrued, and anxious to strengthen the faith of the infant Church in the midst of trial, the apostle determines to send a trusted messenger. It is a significant testimony to the sound judgment and prudence of Timothy, that he is selected for this difficult and important mission.

I. This mission was the suggestion of an uncontrollable anxiety.—"Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear" (1Th ). This anxiety sprang from the intensity of the apostle's love. It is a striking feature of genuine, Christian love that, while it bears with uncomplaining patience any amount of external suffering, it is restless with a holy impatience of delay in doing good to those it embraces. The devoted mother can endure anything but restraint in her desire to promote the best welfare of her child. David was indifferent to the exposure and dangers of his wilderness-life; but his soul panted after God with all the raging thirst of the hart in autumn for the cooling water-brook.

II. This mission involved great personal inconvenience.—"We thought it good to be left at Athens alone" (1Th ). The unselfishness of true love ever prefers another's good to its own. Timothy had travelled so constantly with Paul, and had been so great a comfort to him in his captivities and trials, that his absence was a keenly felt loss. Specially was his sympathy and co-operation needed when the great Gentile missionary entered the region

"Where on the gean shore a city stood,

Built nobly, pure the air and light the soil,

Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts

And eloquence."—Milton.

"At Athens alone." What a sublime historical picture is portrayed in these words! Christianity embodied in a single, lonely man, standing in the midst of the populous metropolis of pagan culture and idolatry! Yet the power sustained in that solitary man broke up and scattered the huge fabric of heathenism. "Solitude is one of the highest enjoyments of which our nature is susceptible. Solitude is also, when too long continued, capable of being made the most severe, indescribable, unendurable, source of anguish" (Deloraine).

III. This mission was entrusted to a thoroughly qualified messenger.—The high character of Timothy and the relations existing between the two preachers are brought out in the epithets applied to him. "Timothy our brother" (1Th ). In other places Paul calls him his "own son in the faith," his "dearly beloved son"; but in speaking of him to the Churches he recognises him on the equal footing of a brother. He was also a minister of God, solemnly set apart to this service by the voice of prophecy, and by the consecrating hands of the presbytery, and of Paul himself. And finally he was Paul's fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ, not only as all God's ministers are fellow-labourers, working the work of the same Lord, but also on the ground of that special intimacy of personal intercourse and co-operation, to which he was from the first admitted by the apostle (Lillie). Thus Timothy was thoroughly qualified—

(1) to carry out the apostle's wish concerning the Thessalonians, and

(2) to sympathise with the Church's peculiar difficulties and trials. He was more than a mere courier. He was faithful to Paul's instructions, and valuable to the Church in himself.

IV. This mission was charged with a work of high importance and necessity.—"To establish you, and to comfort you, concerning your faith" (1Th ).

1. To establish—to comfort, or set fast their faith by a fresh, authoritative manifestation of the gospel truth and its divine evidences; and this would be done by private conversation and public ministration.

2. To comfort.—The word means also, and especially here, to exhort, though doubtless comfort would be mingled with the exhortation. The Thessalonians were exposed to the storm of persecution that was everywhere raging against the gospel and its adherents, and they were exhorted to steadfastness, "that no man should be moved by these afflictions." Paul and Barnabas had a similar mission to the Churches in Lesser Asia (Act ). There are none so strong in faith but need confirmation, none so courageous but need comfort.

Lessons.—

1. The establishment of believers is ever a subject of anxiety to the true minister.

2. The desire to promote the highest welfare of the Church should ever be paramount.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE

1Th . "At Athens alone" (cf. Act 17:16-17). The Solitude of a Great City—

I. Affords a painful opportunity to reflect on its moral condition.—"He saw the city wholly given to idolatry."

II. Awakens profound concern in a great soul.—"His spirit was stirred in him."

III. Rouses to immediate action in promoting the welfare of the citizens.—"Therefore disputed he in the synagogue and in the market daily."


Verses 3-5

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . That no man should be moved.—The word seems to imply "moved to softness," as Professor Jowett intimates. It is used especially of the motion of a dog's tail as it fawns on its master. So the word passes over to the mental sphere (compare on St. James's figure, 1Th 1:6). "That no man should amidst his calamities be allured by the flattering hope of a more pleasant life to abandon his duty" (Tittmann).

1Th . We should suffer tribulation.—In the verse previous the noun from the same root as the one here translated "suffer tribulation" is given as "afflictions." "The actual persecution of the Roman government was slight, but what may be termed social persecution and the illegal violence employed towards the first disciples unceasing" (Jowett).

1Th . When I could no longer forbear … sent to know.—The whole verse shows the tension of the apostle's mind.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

The Perils of Suffering.

A storm among the Highlands of Scotland often effects great and rapid changes. The huge mountain that slumbers harmlessly in the sunshine, with such calm and sullen majesty, is transformed by the tempest into a monster of fury. Its sides are suddenly sheeted with waterfalls, and the ferocious torrents work devastation among the glens and straths that lie in their impetuous course. The trees and shrubs that are but slightly rooted are swept away, and only the firmly grounded survive. So it is when the storm of persecution breaks upon the gospel and its adherents. The new converts, the roots of whose faith have not penetrated so deeply into the soil of truth, are in danger of being disturbed and carried away. Their peril is matter of anxiety to the Christian worker. Hence the apostle sends Timothy, and writes this epistle to the Thessalonians, to confirm and establish them in the faith. He shows:—

I. That suffering is the inevitable lot of God's people.—

1. That suffering is a divine ordinance. "For ye yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto" (1Th ). A strange way, one would think, of reconciling people to affliction, by telling them that they have nothing else to expect. It is a grand proof of the triumph of the gospel over the rebellious human heart that it prescribes such conditions and reconciles men to the acceptance of them; and it does so both by the grace which it imparts for the present and by the glorious hope it holds out for the future. It is laid down as a law of Christian progress "that we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God." The very purity of the Church, imperfect as it is, coming into contact with the sin and misery prevalent in the world, produces suffering. "Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." It is enough for us to know that our trials do not happen without the knowledge and consent and purpose and control of God, and that their extent and duration are regulated by His infinite, fatherly wisdom and love. The divine appointment of suffering is designed for our highest discipline and culture—withdrawing our affections from the temporal and centring them on eternal realities; exposing our hypocrisies and cleansing the moral corruptions that have entered into our lives, like filth on standing waters, and strengthening us to do the right, undismayed by the bitterest afflictions. The greatest suffering often brings us into the neighbourhood of the greatest blessing. "Gold is cleaner after it has been put into the fire: be thou gold, and the fiery persecution shall not hurt thee."

2. That suffering was the subject of frequent apostolic warning.—"For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation" (1Th ). It is intimated here that it was not so much one single statement on some particular occasion as it was the constant and habitual tenor of the apostle's teaching that suffering was to be expected. Paul himself was an illustrious example of heroic fortitude in suffering for Christ's sake. "The Holy Ghost", said he, "witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and affliction abide me" (Act 20:23). It is both wise and kind to forewarn God's people of coming afflictions, that they be not overtaken unexpectedly and unprepared. The predictions of the apostle were verified: "Even as it came to pass, and ye know." Their first acquaintance with the gospel was in the midst of persecution and trial. The violent opposition continued, but the warnings and exhortations of the apostle were not in vain (2Th 1:4).

3. That the suffering of God's people is a cause of ministerial anxiety.—"For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith" (1Th ). It has been pithily said, "Calamity is man's true touchstone." The strongest have then become a prey to the malice and subtlety of Satan. The faithful minister, knowing the perils of suffering and the awful consequences of apostasy, is anxiously concerned about the faith of his converts. "There are three modes of bearing the ills of life—by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy, which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual" (Colton).

II. That suffering exposes God's people to the disturbing forces of Satanic temptations.—"Lest by some means the tempter have tempted you" (1Th ).

1. A suggestive designation of Satan.—"The tempter." What unspeakable vileness, ruin, misery, and terror are suggested by that name! All human woe may be traced directly up to him. The greatest champions of Christendom, such as Paul and Luther, had the most vivid sense of the personality, nearness, and unceasing counter-working of this great adversary of God and man. There is need of sleepless vigilance and prayer.

2. The versatility of Satanic temptations.—"Lest by some means." He may descend suddenly, clothed with terror and burning with wrath, to surprise and terrify into sin. More frequently he appears in the seductive and more dangerous garb of an angel of light, the deceptive phantom of what he once was. Infinite are his methods; his aim is one—to suggest doubts and impious references as to God's providential dealings of severity, and to produce apostasy from the faith.

III. That the temptations of a suffering state imperil the work of God's servants.—"And our labour be in vain" (1Th ). In vain as regards the great end of their salvation; they would lapse into their former heathenish state, and by apostasy lose their heavenly reward; and in vain as regards the joy which the apostle anticipated from their ultimate salvation. It is true no work done for God is absolutely in vain; the worker shall receive his just reward; but it may be in vain with regard to the object to which his best efforts have been directed, It is bitterly disappointing to see the work that has cost so much, utterly frustrated by a momentary temptation of the wicked one. How different might have been the moral history of thousands if they had not yielded to the first fiery trial!

"Of all the sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these—it might have been."

IV. That God's people may triumph over the greatest suffering.—"That no man should be moved [drawn away by flattery or shaken] by these afflictions" (1Th ). While piety is tried, it is also strengthened by suffering. The watchful and faithful soul may use his troubles as aids to a richer experience and a firmer consolidation of Christian character. "Thus God schooleth and nurtureth His people, that so, through many tribulations, they may enter into their rest. Frankincense, when it is put into the fire, giveth the greater perfume; spice, if it be pounded, smelleth the sweeter; the earth, when it is torn up by the plough, becometh more fruitful; the seed in the ground, after frost and snow and winter storms, springeth up the ranker; the nigher the vine is pruned to the stock, the greater grape it yieldeth; the grape, when it is most pressed and beaten, maketh the sweetest wine; fine gold is the better when it is cast into the fire; rough stones, with hewing, are squared and made fit for the building; cloth is rent and cut that it may make a garment; linen that is thrown into the tub, washed, and beaten, is the fairer" (Jewell).

Lessons.—

1. To live a godly life involves suffering.

2. A period of suffering is ever attended with powerful temptations.

3. The grace of God is sufficient to sustain and deliver His people amid the perils of acutest suffering.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . The Necessity and the Perils of Affliction.

I. That afflictions are disturbing and distressing to the children of God.

II. That afflictions are appointed by God for His people's good.

III. That Christians are forewarned to expect affliction.

IV. That Satan uses affliction as a means of temptation.

V. That the faithful minister must labour and watch in order to secure the steadfastness of believers under his care.—Herbert, the saintly poet of the seventeeth century, exhorts the preacher to make the consolations of the gospel his main theme:

"Oh, let him speak of comfort, 'tis

Most wanted in this vale of tears."

—P. Mearns.


Verse 6

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . And brought us good tidings.—R.V. "glad tidings." "The one word for ‘brought-glad-tidings' everywhere else in New Testament signifies the glad tidings.… Hence the peculiar force of the word here.… It was a gospel sent to him in return for his gospel brought to them" (Findlay). Ye have good remembrance of us.—Kindly remembrance. The tempter had not been able to turn to gall the sweet thoughts of grateful appreciation of the apostle's work.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 1Th

News that gladdens.

With what anxiety the father entrusts his son with a commission to visit an estate in a distant land, and to investigate its affairs, which are threatened for the time being with impending dangers. He is in suspense until he receives intelligence of the safe arrival of his loved messenger, and that there is no reason for apprehension concerning the estate itself. But when that son returns in person and assures him that everything is prosperous and hopeful, the father's satisfaction is complete. "As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country." Such, in a higher sense, was the experience of Paul when he despatched Timothy to inquire into the condition of the suffering Thessalonian Church, and when he brought back the cheering report as to the fidelity and affection of its persecuted members.

I. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of faith maintained.—"Timothy came from you to us, and brought us good tidings of your faith."

1. Their faith in the great truths of the gospel was maintained.—The revelation of divine truth is the basis of faith. This truth as it affected their salvation had been clearly, earnestly, and successfully declared to them by the apostle and his companions. They comprehended its meaning, felt its force, embraced it in their understanding and heart, and were transformed by its agency. Amid the shock of persecution, and the insidious whisperings of false teachers, they held fast to "the form of sound words" they had joyfully received.

2. Their faith as a principle of active spiritual life was maintained.—True faith is not simply a belief, but a life; not merely an assent of the mind to a grand truth or a group of correlated truths, but the impartation to the soul of a spiritual force which starts it on a new career. It forms a new era in the experience and history of the soul. It unites us to the living God, and expands to our view, however dimly, the vast outline of the life of God as the pattern of our own. Their faith, as the realisation of a life springing from God and leading to God, was in sound and vigorous operation.

II. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of love manifested.—"Brought us good tidings of your charity." Love is the legitimate fruit of a genuine faith, both in its inward experience and outward manifestation. Faith and love are indissolubly combined. "And this is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment" (1Jn ). The first exercise of love is towards God; and then, in ever widening and intensified outflow, towards all whom God loves. Such love is impartial and universal—manifested towards all in whom we discern the image of God, whatever their country, colour, rank, sect, or condition. Where faith and love reign there is a living, healthy, and prosperous Church.

III. The apostle was gladdened with good tidings of continued personal regard.—

1. The apostle was fondly remembered. "And that ye have good remembrance of us always." There are some scenes of nature which, beheld but for a moment, never fade from the memory; there are some faces we can never forget; and there are some individuals, the influence of whose character remains with us as a charm and inspiration through life. The Thessalonians had good reason to remember Paul. He was the first to proclaim to them the good news of salvation; and how great was their privilege to hear the gospel from the lips of such a preacher! He counselled them in their difficulties, and sympathised with them in their sufferings. The minister who first led us to the cross will ever have the pre-eminence in our affection and the choicest spot in our memory. A high appreciation of the Christian minister is one of the evidences of possessing genuine faith and love.

2. They were as solicitous as the apostle for a renewal of Christian fellowship.—"Desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you." There is no bond at once so tender and so strong as that existing between the preacher and his converts. He must needs love the souls he has been instrumental in saving and who are his glory and his joy. The intercourse between such is of the purest and highest kind. Never was there a more loving heart than that of the apostle Paul. The Thessalonians warmly reciprocated that love, and longed to renew the fellowship by which they had so richly profited.

Lessons.—

1. That Church has the bed reputation where faith is maintained and love manifested.

2. The Christian minister is cheered by the affection and stability of his converts.


Verses 7-10

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.—The man who later could say, "For to me to live is Christ," prepares us for that saying by this. Life to him is desirable only as others benefit by it.

1Th . For what thanks can we render to God again.—In the R.V. "again" is joined with "render," representing the one word of St. Paul. The same verb is found twice in Luk 14:14 as "recompense." The apostle feels what a poor requital any thanksgiving must be for the mercy of the good news from Thessalonica (see 2Th 1:6).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

Steadfastness of Believers a Source of True Ministerial Satisfaction.

The scholar finds his happiness in intellectual exercises and accumulating stores of knowledge; the politician in the excitement of debate and the triumph of great principles; the scientist in testing and harmonising the laws of nature; the merchant in his gains; and the minister of God's word in the increase of converts to the truth, and in their consistency, fidelity, and perseverance in the practice of godliness. The truly Christian heart rejoices in the success of the gospel in any part of the world, but more particularly in the locality where personal labour has been expended. The effect upon Paul of the good tidings from Timothy, concerning the steadfastness of the believers in Thessalonica, is described in these verses. Observe:—

I. Their steadfastness was a source of genuine comfort.—

1. The apostle was comforted in the midst of intense personal suffering. "Therefore, brethren, we were comforted in all our affliction and distress" (1Th ). Paul was in Corinth when he received Timothy's report. In that city the customary opposition of the Jews rose to an unwonted pitch of malignity, and even blasphemy, so much so that the apostle resolved to abandon them to their fate—"He shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles" (Act 18:6). So great was his anguish on behalf of his own countrymen, and so manifold his cares, privations, and perils, that the Lord thought it needful to encourage him with a vision, saying, "Be not afraid: I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee" (Ibid., 9, 10). The bitterness of his afflictions at this time was sweetened by hearing of the constancy of his Thessalonian converts. It revived, refreshed, and strengthened him. The faithlessness and disobedience of the people are a grief to the true minister now; but at last the horror will be theirs.

2. The apostle was comforted concerning their faith.—"We were comforted over you, by your faith" (1Th ). Timothy had been commissioned to inquire into the state of their faith, and his report was eminently satisfactory. He spoke not only of their faith as the primary root of the Christian life, the basis of all stability and fruitfulness, but of its active outgoings in love to God and in affectionate remembrance of the apostle. The Church is in danger and a cause of deep anxiety when its faith wavers.

II. Their steadfastness intensified the pleasure of living.—"For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord" (1Th ). The apostle was perhaps more than usually despondent when Timothy arrived. The good news thrilled his soul with new life. For now, whatever else befall—now, in the face of the Jewish fury and Gentile scorn—now, amid infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions, distresses, and deaths oft—now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. The relation of the minister to his people is so close and vital that they have it in their power to make his life happy or supremely miserable. There is a method of destroying life without its becoming utterly extinct. Ezekiel speaks of the false prophets whose lies made the hearts of the righteous sad; and we read of Elijah, under the juniper tree, sighing for death because of the idolatry and wickedness of Judah. To lessen the cheerful flow of life, and depress the spirits of the man of God, is a species of murder; to starve him into submission by studied neglect and privation is diabolical. The ministerial life and energy of even an apostle depended on the sympathy, faith, and steadfastness of the brethren (3Jn 1:4).

III. Their steadfastness was productive of grateful joy.—

1. This joy was copious and sincere.—"For the joy wherewith we joy before our God" (1Th ). The transitions of the emotions are rapid. From the midst of the apostle's grief a fountain of joy breaks forth. This joy filled his soul even in the secret presence of God. It was a pure, sincere, undissembled, overflowing joy, such as God could approve.

2. This joy arose from a disinterested love.—"For your sakes." True love gives us an interest in the safety and happiness of others. He who possesses this never lacks joy; if it flows not on his own behalf, it does on behalf of others. Bernard has said: "Of all the motions and affections of the soul, love is the only one we may reciprocate with God: to re-love Him is our happiness; woe if we answer Him not in some measure of re-loving affection."

3. This joy was expressed in fervent thanksgiving.—"What thanks can we render to God again for you?" (1Th ). His gratitude was so great that he knew not how to give it adequate expression. The grateful heart prizes blessings that may seem to others of small value. He rendered thanks to God, the author and preserver of their faith. The heartiest thanksgiving seems cold and utterly insufficient when compared with the mercies of God.

IV. Their steadfastness excited an earnest longing for the opportunity of imparting additional good.—

1. The apostle assiduously prayed for the opportunity of a personal interview. "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face" (1Th ). The longer the absence, the more eagerly he desired to see them. The good tidings of their constancy increased the desire. A love like his could be satisfied only with personal spiritual intercourse. It was not enough simply to write. Voice and manner have a pre-eminent charm in the interchange of mind with mind. Reading, praying, and all other endeavours will be unavailing if we despise prophesying—the oral declaration of the truth.

2. The apostle sought this interview to supply what was deficient in their faith.—"And might perfect that which was lacking in your faith" (1Th ). None so perfect in faith as not to be susceptible of improvement. Faith is based on knowledge; and as knowledge, especially in the things of God, is capable of indefinite extension, so faith may be continually increased—broadening and deepening its foundation and consolidating its structure. The less distinctly the great subjects of faith are understood, the more defective is faith; the more explicit, the more perfect. They most vaunt of faith who have least experience in its practice. "Empty vessels sound the loudest." We have all need to cry, "Lord, increase our faith."

Lessons.—

1. The true minister cannot be indifferent to the spiritual state of his people.

2. The fidelity and perseverance of believers is an inspiration, and unspeakable joy to the anxious worker.

3. Faith and practice powerfully react upon each other.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . Glad Tidings of Christian Steadfastness—

I. Produce comfort of mind (1Th ).

II. Make life more enjoyable (1Th ).

III. Are the occasion of thankful joy before the Lord (1Th ).

IV. Excite to assiduous and earnest prayer (1Th ).

1Th . Religious Joy—

I. Is occasioned by the religious progress of others.

II. Is mingled with ingenuous gratitude.

III. Is enjoyed as in the presence of God.

IV. Is accompanied with fervent prayer.


Verses 11-13

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

1Th . Direct our way unto you.—Act 16:6-7 should be read. Satan might hinder (1Th 2:18); if God "makes straight" the way, progress will be easy.

1Th . The Lord make you abound in love.—The Lord may here be the Holy Spirit, as the three persons of the Trinity will be appealed to (cf. 1Th 3:13, as in 2Th 3:5). So the Holy Ghost is called the Lord (2Co 3:17). Love is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and His office is to establish in holiness (1Th 3:13; 1Pe 1:2) (Faussett).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—1Th

A Comprehensive Apostolic Prayer.

The prayers of the apostle Paul are among his sublimest utterances. The frequency with which they occur in his writings indicates the habitual devoutness of his mind. In both the epistles to the Thessalonians nearly every chapter is distinguished and sealed by a fervent outbreathing of his soul to God. In these verses he expresses, in the most comprehensive and suggestive terms, his dearest wishes for the welfare of the Church.

I. This prayer recognises the essential oneness of the Father and the Son.—

1. Christ is invoked equally with the Father. "Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Th ). The word "Himself" stands foremost in the sentence and refers to both persons, as if the writer said, "May our God and Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself direct our way unto you." It should be also noted that the verb "direct," belonging to both persons, is in the singular number. This fact was urged as an important point by Athanasius in the great Arian controversy in the fourth century. As the Son partakes equally with the Father in the honour of invocation, so also in excellency of nature. Divine properties are also ascribed to the Son in overruling by His providence the affairs of men. "What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."

2. It is the privilege of the believer to realise a personal interest in the Father and in the Son.—By an act of appropriating faith we can say, God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Similiar phrases occur no less than twenty-six times in these two epistles. Blessed confidence! What a wealth of tenderness, of comfort, of satisfying assurance, and of joyous triumph is involved in the earnest, trustful cry of the soul—My God! my Saviour!

II. This is a prayer for providential guidance in securing a much desired interview.—"Direct our way unto you" (1Th ). Hitherto the way to Thessalonica had been insuperably blocked up. The brethren there were as eager to welcome Paul as he was to be present with them; but Satan had hindered by interposing many obstacles. Nevertheless, let God give the signal and all impediments from men or devils would vanish. The road would at once become straight and plain. God should be recognised in the simplest affairs of life. "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" and only those journeys are prosperous wherein God is pilot. There are crises in life when everything depends on being guided in the right way—e.g. in selecting a school or college, entering on the religious life, commencing business, contemplating marriage, or in change of residence. In these and all other matters acknowledge God, and He shall direct thy paths. Our prayer for guidance must ever be in submission to the divine will. The apostle's prayer was not answered immediately; five years elapsed before he again visited Macedonia. That path is safest and best in which God's finger points. Let His call be our loadstar; His hand the cloud, to move or pause as He directs.

III. This is a prayer for the bestowal of an increased measure of the highest Christian affection.—

1. Christian love is progressive and mutual. "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another" (1Th ). The apostle had before commended their labour of love, and Timothy had brought good tidings of their continued love. Now he prays they may increase and excel more and more. Love is the indispensable badge of the genuine Christian. He cannot have too much of it—the more the better. It grows with all other graces, and causes them to grow. There is no limit to its expansion but our finiteness. But love must be mutual in its exercise—"one toward another." "For this is the message," says St. John, "that ye heard from the beginning, that ye should love one another;" and, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another," urges St. Peter, "with a pure heart fervently."

2. Christian love is unselfish.—"And toward all men." The old Levitical law declared, "Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." And the New Testament reiterates the truth, that charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned is the fulfilling of the royal law.

3. Here we have Christian love practically exemplified.—"Even as we do towards you." Paul and his co-labourers had given unmistakable evidence of their sincere love for the Thessalonian converts in their self-denying labours, uncomplaining sufferings, and unceasing anxiety on their behalf (1Th ; 1Th 2:13, 1Th 3:3-5). Love is the soul of self-sacrifice, prompts to labour, braves all suffering, and persists in doing good to others, even to those who least appreciate and most violently oppose the best endeavours. Ministers should exemplify in their own lives what they prescribe to others.

IV. This is a prayer for confirmation in a state of unblamable personal purity.—

1. There is no stability in Christian graces apart from love. "To the end he may establish your hearts" (1Th ). If it were possible to possess every other grace but love, it would be like a varied summer landscape, very beautiful but transient, having in it no element of permanency. Above all other graces we are exhorted to "put on charity which is the bond of perfectness"—a girdle which adorns and binds together all the rest. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the infallible test and evidence of stability.

2. Unblamable holiness is the legitimate and necessary outcome of love.—"To the end He may stablish your hearts in holiness" (1Th ). The apostle prays for an increase of love in order to the attainment of a higher personal purity. All defects in obedience issue from a defect in love. Our love of God makes us solicitous to know and obey Him and fearful to offend Him. Our love of man makes us careful to preserve his honour, life, and possessions, and in no way to impair his happiness. The whole of the law is love. There is no duty to God or man but love inclines unto, and no sin from which it does not restrain. To be unblamable in holiness, store the soul with love. When love fails, obedience and all holy duties fail.

3. Holiness screens the soul from divine censure at the second advent of Christ.—"Unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints" (1Th ). Christ will come in glorious pomp attended by His holy ones—saints and angels. He who remains steadfast in holiness shall be held blameless then. Our outer life may be censured by men; but if God, even our Father, who stablishes our hearts in holiness, absolves and approves, it will be enough. That holiness alone is genuine which will bear the searching scrutiny of Omniscience.

Lessons.—

1. Recognise God in every event of life.

2. To attain the highest degree of personal purity pray for an increase of love.

3. Act in all things so as to secure the divine approval.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

1Th . A Prayer for Growth in Personal Piety—

I. Acknowledges and invokes the divine source of all spiritual good.—"The Lord make you."

II. Growth in piety is growth in Christian love.—"Increase and abound in love."

III. Growth in piety is the establishment of the soul in unblamable holiness.—"To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness."

IV. Growth in piety is essential to gain the approval of God at the second advent of Christ.—"Before God, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints."

1Th . The Coming of Christ—

I. Will be an imposing spectacle.

II. Should be ardently longed for.

III. Demands on our part diligent moral preparedness.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/1-thessalonians-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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