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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
1 Thessalonians 3

 

 

Verses 1-13

EXPOSITION

CONTENTS.—The apostle, no longer able to repress his longing and anxiety for the Thessalonians, resolved to be left alone at Athens, and sent Timothy for the purpose of exhorting them to endurance amid their persecutions, and to bring him information concerning their condition. Timothy had just rejoined him at Corinth, and the apostle expresses the extreme satisfaction which he felt at the welcome tidings which his messenger had brought of their faith and love; it put new life into him, and comforted him in all his affliction and distress. He prays God that he may be permitted to revisit the Thessalonians, and to supply what was still defective in their faith; and he makes it the object of his earnest supplication that the Lord Jesus would make them so to increase in love and establish them in holiness that they may be blameless at his appearance with all his holy ones.

1 Thessalonians 3:1

This verse is closely connected with the concluding verses of the last chapter, from which it should not be separated. Wherefore; on account of my affection toward you and my repeated vain attempts to see you. When we. Some refer the plural to Paul, Silas, and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1); others to Paul and Silas, as Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica; but it is to be restricted to Paul, as is evident from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-20 :38 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5, and inasmuch as Paul was left alone at Athens; the plural being here used for the singular. Could no longer forbear; could no longer restrain our longing and anxiety to know your condition. We thought it good; a happy translation of the original, expressing both "we were pleased and resolved." To be left at Athens alone; an expression of solitude. Alone in Athens, in the very metropolis of idolatry. Compare with this the common saying, "Alone in London." In the Acts of the Apostles we are informed that Paul came to Athens alone, and that there he waited for Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:14, ]5), and that these fellow-workers rejoined him at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Many expositors, however, from this and the next verse, infer that Timothy at least joined Paul at Athens, but was sent back by him to Thessalonica, to inquire into the condition of his converts in that city. Such is the opinion of Olshausen, Neander, De Wette, Lunemann, Hofmann, Koch, and Schott; and, among English expositors, of Macknight, Paley, Eadie, Jowett, Ellicott, and Wordsworth. There is no contradiction between this view and the narrative of the Acts. Luke merely omits to mention Timothy's short visit to Athens and departure from it, and relates only the final reunion of these three fellow-workers at Corinth. Indeed, Paley gives this coming of Timothy to Athens as one of the undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles. £ Still, however, we are not necessitated to suppose that Timothy joined the apostle at Athens. The words admit of the opinion that he was sent by Paul direct from Beraea, and not from Athens; and that he and Silas did not join Paul until they came from Macedonia to Corinth. Such is the opinion of Hug, Wieseler, Koppe, Alford, and Vaughan.

1 Thessalonians 3:2

And sent Timotheus. This was a great act of self-sacrifice on the part of Paul; because to be without an assistant and fellow-laborer in the gospel in such a city as Athens, the very center and strong hold of heathenism, full of temples and idols, must necessarily have brought upon him many discomforts; and yet his anxiety for the Thessalonians overcame all motives of personal convenience. Our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-laborer. The reading of manuscripts here varies. Some important manuscripts read, "our brother and fellow-worker with God"—a phrase which is elsewhere employed by the apostle: "for we are laborers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9). Retaining, however, the reading of the text, Paul here calls Timothy his brothel expressing his esteem and fraternal affection for him; "a minister of God," expressing Timothy's official position and the honor conferred on him by Christ; and his "fellow-laborer," expressing his laborious work in preaching the gospel, and reminding the Thessalonians of his labors among them. Different reasons have been assigned for this eulogy pronounced by Paul on Timothy. Some suppose that it was to show how eagerly he consulted the welfare of the Thessalonians, by sending to them a person of such importance and of such use to himself as Timothy (Calvin); others think that it was to recommend Timothy to the favorable regard of the Thessalonians in the absence of himself (Chrysostom); but it appears to be the natural outburst of affection for his favorite disciple. In the gospel of Christ. Timothy had labored with Paul and Silas in the publication of the gospel at Thessalonica, and was consequently well known to the Thessalonians, and favorably regarded by them. To establish you, and to comfort you; or rather, to exhort you, as the matter of exhortation follows. Concerning your faith; in order to the continuance and furtherance of your faith. The purpose of the mission of Timothy; namely, to confirm the Thessalonians in the faith, to exhort them to perseverance in Christianity, notwithstanding the persecutions to which they were exposed.

1 Thessalonians 3:3

This verse contains the object of the exhortation; the clause is an accusative to the verb. That no man should be moved (or, shaken) by; or rather in; expressing the position in which they were placed. These afflictions. The same word as "tribulation" in the next verse. For yourselves know. How they knew is explained, partly from the forewarnings of the apostle, and partly from their own experience. That we; not to be referred to Paul only, nor to Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, nor to Paul and the Thessalonians, but to all Christians in general; that we Christians. Are appointed thereunto; namely, by God. Our afflictions do not result from chance, but are the necessary consequence of our Christianity; they arise from the appointment and ordinance of God. Tribulation is the Christian's portion. Whatever truth there may be in the saying that prosperity is the promise of the Old Testament, affliction is certainly the promise of the New. We must be conformed to Christ in his sufferings. "In the world," says our Lord, "ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). When our Lord called Paul to his apostleship, he showed him how great things he must suffer for his Name's sake (Acts 9:16). All the apostles suffered from persecution, and concerning Christians in general Paul asserts that it is only through tribulation that they can enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; see Revelation 7:14).

1 Thessalonians 3:4

For; assigning the reason why they should not be moved by these afflictions. Verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we; here also Christians in general. Should suffer. Not a simple future, but denoting that it was thus appointed in the counsels of God—that their tribulation was the result of the Divine purpose. Tribulation (affliction); even as it came to pass, and ye know; that is, from your own experience. The affliction, then, was not some strange thing which had befallen them.

1 Thessalonians 3:5

For this cause, when I could no longer forbear; no longer repress my anxiety, and endure my want of information concerning you. I sent to know your faith; to receive information concerning your spiritual condition. Lest by some means the tempter; a designation of Satan, used also by Matthew 4:3. Have tempted you, and our labor be in vain; that is, useless, without result (see on 1 Thessalonians 2:1; comp. also Galatians 4:11, "I am afraid, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain"). The temptation to which the Thessalonians were exposed was that of apostasy from Christianity, through the fear or endurance of persecution. That the tempter had tempted them is probable—it was almost unavoidable; that he had succeeded in his temptation, and had thus rendered the apostle's labors among them useless, was uncertain—a contingency which might possibly have taken place.

1 Thessalonians 3:6

But now when Timotheus came from you unto us. Timothy, as we learn from the Acts, in company with Silas, joined Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:15), and brought him information concerning the state of the Thessalonian Church. And brought us good tidings; the same word which is elsewhere employed for preaching the gospel. The information which Timothy brought to the apostle was as it were a gospel to him (comp. Luke 2:10, "Behold I bring you good tidings"). Of your faith and charity. The good tidings which Timothy brought referred to the spiritual condition of the Thessalonians—their faith had not been shaken and their love had not waxed cold under the persecutions to which they were exposed; and along with their faith and love was the affection which they bore to the apostle, and their earnest desire to see him. And that ye have constant remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you. The affection between the Thessalonians and the apostle was mutual.

1 Thessalonians 3:7

Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you—with reference to you—in all our affliction and distress. Some refer "affliction" to outward troubles, and "distress" to internal evils—referring the one to the persecutions arising from his Corinthian opponents, and the other to his bodily infirmity (Koch). Such a distinction is, however, precarious. The words do not refer to the apostle's anxiety on account of the Thessalonians, for that was removed by the coming of Timothy. Clearly some external trouble is denoted. Paul, when he preached the gospel at Corinth, and before he obtained the protection of Gallio, was exposed to much persecution and danger. The Jews had expelled him from their synagogue (Acts 18:6), and attempts had been made against him which at length broke out into an insurrection against him, when he was dragged before the Roman tribunal (Acts 18:12). His condition at Corinth when he wrote this Epistle was dark and gloomy. By your faith; by the steadfastness of your faith. The good news which Timothy brought of the faith and love of the Thessalonians comforted the apostle amid all the trials and difficulties and disappointments of his ministry (comp. with this passage 2 Corinthians 7:4-7).

1 Thessalonians 3:8

For now we live. Not to be referred to the eternal and future life (Chrysostom); or to be weakened as if it merely signified, "We relish and enjoy life notwithstanding our affliction and distress" (Pelt); but the meaning is the good tidings which Timothy has brought have imparted new life unto us; "we are in the full strength and freshness of life, we do not feel the sorrows and tribulations which the outer world prepares for us" (Lunemann). The apostle considers his condition of affliction and distress as a kind of death: so, elsewhere he says, "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31); and from which death he was now again raised to life. If; provided—a hypothetical assumption. Ye stand fast; continue firm in the faith of the gospel. In the Lord; the element of true life.

1 Thessalonians 3:9

For; assigning the reason of the declaration, "now we live." What thanks can we render to God again for you. As their steadfastness in the faith was owing to God's grace, thanks was to be rendered to God on their behalf. For all the joy; joy in all its fullness (comp. James 1:2, "Count it all joy"). Wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God. Giving prominence to the purity of their joy.

1 Thessalonians 3:10

Night and day praying exceedingly. Denoting the intense earnestness and anxiety of the apostle for the spiritual welfare of the Thessalonians, that found vent to itself in incessant prayer for them. Now follows the subject-matter of his prayer. That we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. The faith of the Thessalonians was not perfect; it was "lacking" in several respects. It was defective in extent; they were ignorant of many of the doctrines of the gospel, and had formed erroneous views of other doctrines, such as the second advent. It was defective in application; they had not yet renounced all the corrupt practices of their former heathen life, nor had they embodied all the precepts of the gospel into their actual life. The Thessalonians were as yet but novices. So also the reason which impelled Paul to wish to come to Rome was to supply that which was lacking in the faith of the Roman converts (Romans 1:11). Confirmation was a work in which the apostle delighted, being both important and desirable. In general, faith at first is weak and defective; it is only developed by degrees. Especially is it increased by every increase of spiritual knowledge. "Add to your faith knowledge" (2 Peter 1:5, 2 Peter 1:6). The remark of Calvin is worthy of attention: "Paul is desirous of having the opportunity given him of supplying what is wanting in the faith of the Thessalonians, or, which is the same thing, completing in all its parts their faith which was as yet imperfect. Yet this is the faith which he had previously extolled marvelously. From this we infer that those who far surpass others are still far distant from the goal. Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something further."

1 Thessalonians 3:11

Now God himself and our Father; or, as we would express it according to the English idiom, God himself, our Father, omitting the conjunction. And our Lord Jesus Christ. Some suppose that the three Divine Persons of the sacred Trinity are here expressly named: God the Holy Ghost, and the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; but the words in the original will not bear this sense: "God himself and our Father" is the same Divine Person. Direct. It is to be observed that the verb "direct" is in the Greek in the singular, thus denoting a unity between God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. At all events, we have an express prayer directed to Christ, thus necessarily implying his Divine nature. Our way unto you.

1 Thessalonians 3:12

And the Lord. By some referred to the First Person of the blessed Trinity, God our Father (Alford); by others to the Holy Ghost, as the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are afterwards both mentioned in the prayer; but it is to be referred, according to the prevailing usage in Paul's Epistle, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Make you; literally, you may the Lord make, putting the emphasis on" you." To increase and abound in love one toward another; toward your fellow-Christians. And toward all men; toward the human race in general. "This is the character of Divine love to comprehend all; whereas human love hath respect to one man and not to another" (Theophylact). Even as we do toward you; that is, as we abound in love toward you.

1 Thessalonians 3:13

To the end (in order that) he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God. In the sight of God, in his judgment who searcheth the hearts. The words, "before God," are to be conjoined neither with "holiness" nor with "unblamable," but with the whole phrase, "unblamable in holiness." Even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; at the second advent. With all his saints. By "saints" or "holy ones" are by some understood the angels who shall accompany Christ to judgment; but although the term "saints" is used of the angels in the Old Testament, it is never so employed in the New. The word seems to denote those holy men who have died in the Lord and who shall be raised at the advent, and accompany Christ to the judgment.

HOMILETICS

1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:4 - Connection between affliction and religion.

True religion, instead of delivering those who possess it from suffering, rather entails suffering upon them. Believers are appointed by God to suffer tribulation. This was peculiarly true of the early Christians, but it is true generally. We are appointed to afflictions

1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:8 - Steadfastness in faith and affliction.

"That no man should be moved by these afflictions." We are certainly not now exposed to persecutions, but still there are afflictions peculiar to the Christian life. We are forewarned of them, and therefore are not to regard them as strange or unexpected calamities.

1. This steadfastness is the work of God. God is able to make us stand, and will cause us to be more than conquerors. He can even, while we continue in this state of warfare, establish our hearts unblamable in holiness.

2. This steadfastness is the work of man. We must co-operate with God. We must beware of being either terrified by threats or allured by blandishments. We must exercise prayer, watchfulness, and the active performance of Christian duties.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-8. - The duties of minister and people.

In the reciprocal feelings of the apostle and his Thessalonian converts, we gain instruction regarding the mutual conduct of minister and people.

1. Duties of the minister. The affection and anxiety which he should have for his people; the earnestness with which he should pray for them; the gratitude with which he should thank God for their spiritual welfare; the joy which he experiences in the steadfastness of their faith and the warmth of their charity; the care and diligence with which he should supply what is lacking in their faith.

2. Duties of the people. The reciprocal affection which they should have for their minister; the good remembrance which they should entertain of him; the obedience which they should render unto him in spiritual matters; the constant prayers which they should offer up for him.

1 Thessalonians 3:9 - Joy in the spiritual welfare of others.

We rejoice in the temporal prosperity of our friends; much more ought we to rejoice in their spiritual prosperity. "Now we live," says the apostle, "if ye stand fast in the Lord." And similarly the Apostle John says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth." We must imitate the angels in heaven, who rejoice at the repentance of a sinner. We must imbibe the spirit of the Lord Jesus himself, who is represented as rejoicing when he had found the sheep that was lost. We should rejoice

1 Thessalonians 3:10 - Defective faith

Our faith may be defective in various ways.

1. In its finality. It may be mingled with unbelief or with doubts; we may only partially believe. If so, let our prayer be, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

2. In its objects. It may not embrace all the revealed truths of religion; we may be ignorant of some of them, or have adopted erroneous notions concerning others. If so, we must "add to our faith knowledge."

3. In its efficacy. It may be too much of a dead faith; it may not exercise itself outwardly; it may not sufficiently influence our practice. If so, we must remember that "faith, if it hath not works, is dead."

4. In its steadfastness. Our faith may be wavering, unstable, liable to fail; it may be variable; sometimes we may be strong in the faith, and at other times weak. If so, let our prayer be, "Lord, increase our faith."

1 Thessalonians 3:12 - Prayer addressed to Christ.

We have here an instance of prayer addressed to Christ. The apostle prays that Christ may direct his way to the Thessalonians, and make them abound in love. The martyr Stephen breathed out his spirit in a prayer to Christ. And Christians in general are represented as those who in every place call on the Lord Jesus. "There is no foundation," as Bishop Alexander remarks, "for any such statement as that 'truly primitive and apostolic prayer is invariably to God through Christ.'" Christ himself is often in Scripture the direct Object of worship. Now, if Christ be not God, the apostle and early Christians were idolaters. The divinity of Christ is the only ground on which the worship of Christ can be defended.

1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:13 - Religious progress.

1. The nature of religious progress. It is an increase in love to our fellow-Christians and to all men.

2. The ultimate end of religious progress. The establishment of our hearts in holiness, and our being presented blameless before the Lord Jesus Christ at his coming.

1 Thessalonians 3:13 - The ultimate end of the Christian dispensation.

The establishment of believers in holiness before God at the advent of Christ is the ultimate design of Christianity. Or, as Paul elsewhere expresses the same truth, "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:26, Ephesians 5:27). And again, "That ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:8). What a glorious consummation! What a perfection of holiness! When faith and love will both be perfect; when all that is lacking in our faith will be supplied; and all that is defective in our love will be remedied; and when the whole Church will be presented faultless and blameless before God; when sin and moral imperfection will be forever excluded!

HOMILIES BY T. CROSKERY

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 - The design of Timothy's mission to Thessalonica.

When the apostle could no longer control his longing to see his converts, he sent them Timothy by way of relieving his solicitude in their behalf. His love for them was manifest in all the circumstances of this mission.

I. HE SACRIFICES HIS OWN IMMEDIATE COMFORT TO THEIR BENEFIT. "We thought it good to be left at Athens alone."

1. Though Timothy was most necessary to him in the ministry, he parted with him for their good.

2. Athens, as a seat of boundless idolatry, exercised such a depressing influence upon him that he needed the stimulus of Timothy's society. Yet he denied himself this comfort that he might serve them.

II. HE DESPATCHES TO THEM THE MOST HIGHLY ESTEEMED OF HIS FELLOW-LABORERS. "Our brother, and minister of God, and fellow-laborer in the gospel of Christ." He selects one best fitted to serve them by his gifts, his experience, and his knowledge of the apostle's views and wishes. The various titles here given to Timothy help to honor him before the Churches, and to challenge the abiding confidence of the Thessalonians.

III. THE DESIGN OF TIMOTHY'S MISSION. It was twofold: "To establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith," and "to know your faith."

1. The necessity for his mission. The afflictions which they were enduring for the gospel.

(a) It is the duty of ministers to forewarn their converts of coming affliction, lest they should be offended thereby.

(b) Converts, when forewarned, ought to be forearmed, so that they may not sink under them, much less forsake the gospel on account of them. "For the light afflictions are but for a moment, and work out an exceeding weight of glory."

2. The manner in which Timothy's mission was to be discharged. "To establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith."

(a) establish them by giving them a fresh exhibition of the truth with its manifold evidences. The strongest faith needs confirmation. The apostles were in the habit of confirming the souls of the disciples (Acts 14:22).

(b) He would comfort them concerning their faith by exhibiting the example of Christ, the glory that must accrue to God from their steadfastness, and the hope of the coming kingdom.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-8 - The happy issue of Timothy's visit to Thessalonica.

This Epistle was written immediately after Timothy's return as expressive of the apostle's hearty relief at his tidings.

I. THE GOOD TIDINGS. "Your faith and charity, and that ye have remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you."

1. Their faith. He was gratified to hear of the steadfastness and soundness of their faith. They abounded in the

2. Their love. This, which was the fruit of their faith, had not waxed cold on account of abounding iniquity. Their faith worked by love. The two graces are always found together. Christian love must be without dissimulation, in deed and in truth, fervent and constant.

3. Their constant and kindly remembrance of the apostle. "Ye have a good remembrance of us always." They thought much of their spiritual teachers, bore their persons in memory, thought of them with gratitude and respect, and, no doubt, remembered them in their prayers.

4. Their desire to see the apostle. They desired to have their memories refreshed by a personal visit from him. If they had begun to fall away, they would not have been so anxious to see him. There was a tender attachment on both sides, for there was a longing on both sides for further fellowship.

II. THE EFFECTS OF THESE GOOD TIDINGS ON THE APOSTLE. "Therefore we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith."

1. They enabled him, if not to forget, at least to bear up, under a weighty burden of trial. He was now at Corinth, in peril and persecution from the Jews, who "opposed themselves and blasphemed" (Acts 18:5-17; 1 Corinthians 2:3). He was disconsolate and dispirited, almost like a dead man, carrying about with him the dying of the Lord Jesus; but now the news of Timothy revived him, like life from the dead, infusing into him new life and vigor. It was their faith especially which comforted him. There is no comfort to a minister comparable to that which springs from the stability and perseverance of his people.

2. The very continuance of his life seemed to be dependent upon their steadfastness. "For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." The language is almost painfully strong. It suggested to them:

1 Thessalonians 3:9, 1 Thessalonians 3:10 - The apostle's gratitude to Clod and his further solicitude for his converts.

I. HIS GRATITUDE FOR THE JOY IMPARTED BY TIMOTHY'S TIDINGS. "For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?"

1. He has no words to express his gratitude to God for their constancy.

2. The joy he experienced was not in the greed of any worldly advantage he had gained, but was the hearty and sincere joy of one profoundly interested in their spiritual welfare.

3. It was joy "before God," who sees and knows all inward thoughts and feelings, and therefore knows its reality and power.

II. HIS PRAYERFUL ANXIETY TO SEE THE THESSALONIANS FOR THEIR FURTHER BENEFIT. "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith." His prayers had an extraordinary fervency. Ministers ought to be much in prayer for their flocks.

1. The deficiencies in their faith. They had already received the grace of faith and the doctrine of faith, and exhibited in its fullness the "work of faith." But there were deficiencies still to be supplied.

2. The design of the ministry is to supply these deficiencies of faith. The apostle longed to be at Thessalonica once more, not only to impart to them "some spiritual gift, to the end they might be established" (Romans 1:10, Romans 1:11), but to give them fuller teaching upon the various points where their faith needed enlargement. It is God's work to increase faith, but ministers can promote it as instruments, for they are "for the perfecting of the saints in the knowledge of the Son of God."—T.C.

1 Thessalonians 3:11 - Further prayer for his personal return to Thessalonica.

The apostle had hitherto been hindered by Satan from carrying out his intention. "But may God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you."

I. THE APOSTLE RECOGNIZED A DIVINE HAND IN ALL THAT CONCERNED HIS PERSONAL LIFE. His way to Thessalonica seemed hitherto blocked up, but he felt that, it depended, not upon Satan, nor upon his wicked instruments, but upon the will of God himself, whether he should ever take that way. This implies:

1. Our journeys are not in our own power. Man may plan his own ways, but God directs his goings; for "a good man's steps are ordered by the Lord."

2. Our journeys are not to be undertaken without God's will. (James 4:13, James 4:14; Romans 1:10.) It is for him to order us where and when to go.

3. It is in his power only to remove the obstacles to our journeys.

II. THE APOSTLE RECOGNIZED THIS PROVIDENTIAL GUIDANCE AS EQUALLY EXERCISED BY THE FATHER AND THE SON.

1. He prays here to both Father and Son. The same prayer is addressed to both without distinction, for the verb is in the singular number. Must not Jesus, therefore, be a Divine Person?

2. Father and Son are here regarded as possessing one indivisible will, as exercising a joint agency in the guidance of men, and as possessing an equality of power to this end. Athanasius saw this fact clearly in the grammatical peculiarity of the passage.

3. The apostle exercises an appropriating faith in both Father and Son, for he speaks of "our God and Father," and our Lord Jesus Christ. He was, therefore, all the more disposed to trust submissively to the directing hand of God.—T.C.

1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:13 - The apostle's prayer

for the progressive sanctification of the Thessalonians and their final perfection at the coming of Christ.

He has just prayed for himself, but whether he is to come to them or not, he has a prayer for their spiritual benefit.

I. CONSIDER THE PERSON TO WHOM THE PRAYER IS ADDRESSED, "But you may the Lord enlarge." It is the Lord Jesus, who, "as the Purchaser of the Church with his own blood," has received the fullness of the Spirit for the benefit of his people. It was to the Lord the apostles addressed the unanimous prayer, "Increase our faith."

II. THE BLESSING PRAYED FOR. "But you may the Lord enlarge and make to abound in love toward one another, and toward all."

1. The existence of their love is frankly admitted. He had spoken of "their labor of love." He prays now for its increase.

2. Their love was to be an abounding love.

(a) "one another," those of the household of faith, who were to have the first place in their affections;

(b) but "all men" likewise, as children of a common Father, for as we have opportunity we must do good unto all men (Galatians 6:10), the world itself being the field of our missionary labors. The Apostle Peter adds "love" to "brotherly kindness" in the chain of Christian graces, as if to imply that brotherly kindness might become a narrow, sectarian thing, and therefore the love of man as man is enjoined.

III. THE DESIGN AND TENDENCY OF THIS PROGRESSIVE INCREASE. "To the end that he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints."

1. This implies that establishment in holiness is necessarily involved in the enlargement of both faith and love.

2. It implies that stability in holiness is the great end of Christian life in a world which shakes believers by fears and temptations and delusions.

3. It implies that without perfect holiness we cannot appear without blame before God.

4. It implies that perfect holiness is reserved for the second coming.

HOMILIES BY B.C. CAFFIN

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 - Proof of the apostle's love for the Thessalonians.

I. THE MISSION OF TIMOTHY.

1. He could no longer forbear. Mark the intensity of his affection. He repeats the words twice, verse 1 and verse 5, first in the plural, then in the singular number, implying, perhaps, that while all the missionaries longed to know how it fared with the Thessalonians, his longing was the most overmastering. He must hear of his converts, cost him what it might. The suspense was agonizing; he could endure it no longer; so deep, so burning, was his interest in their spiritual state. What an example to Christian pastors now!

2. He would submit to any sacrifice; he would be left alone at Athens. "Alone in London" has almost passed into a proverb. Loneliness is nowhere felt so much as in a great city—

"Crowded wilderness,

Where ever-moving myriads seem to say,

'Go! thou art naught to us, nor we to thee—away!'"

St. Paul felt like this at Athens. To the student of history, to the lover of classical antiquities, Athens is one of the most attractive of cities. To St. Paul it was almost a desert. He does not seem to have found delight in natural beauty or in historic associations; the one object of his life was to extend the Redeemer's kingdom, to win souls to Christ. The Athenians of his day had much curiosity, much versatility, but no depth of character, no real longing after truth. They did not persecute; they had not earnestness enough for that. But mockery and indifference were more painful to St, Paul than danger and suffering. He could not feet at home in Athens. And he was one of those men to whom sympathy is almost a necessity; his one earthly comfort was the society of Christian friends. This Epistle shows the intensity of his affections; he can scarcely find words strong enough to express his love for the Thessalonians, his yearning desire to see them again. Yet he had spent only three weeks, or perhaps a short time longer, at Thessalonica. How, then, must he have prized the society of Timotheus, the dearest of all his friends! He was his brother, his fellow-laborer; he could ill spare him, especially while laboring in vain, as it seemed, in that most uncongenial place. But he would send him; he would endure that isolation which was so oppressive to him. Even for himself it was better than the cruel uncertainty which he could bear no longer; and the visit of Timotheus would be very useful to the infant Church at Thessalonica. So he thought it good; it pleased him, there was a pleasure mingled with the pain, to be left at Athens alone. There is a pleasure in self-sacrifice, severe but real; there is a peace in the conscious submission of the human will to the blessed will of God—a peace not granted to all, for not all take up the cross, but very precious, very high and holy.

3. So he sent his closest friend and companion. His words show how he felt the separation. He describes him as his brother; elsewhere he calls him his son in the faith, his dearly beloved son. His presence, his loving care, his affectionate sympathy, were very dear to St. Paul. His help, too, was very needful; he was the minister of God, St. Paul's fellow-laborer in the gospel (the readings are somewhat confused, but the meaning is plain); he could assist him in his difficult and almost heartless labor at Athens. Like St. Paul, he delighted to serve God, to do God's work, to preach the glad tidings of the atonement, the resurrection of Christ, the life and immortality brought to light by the Lord Jesus. There was work, hard work, enough and more than enough, for both of them at Athens; but St. Paul, in his intense anxiety for the Thessalonians, sent to them his dearest companion and his best helper. Old work must not be neglected for new; it is a common temptation. The care of all the Churches pressed upon St. Paul. The minister of God must care for all the souls entrusted to his charge.

II. THE PURPOSE OF TIMOTHY'S MISSION.

1. To stablish them. They were but neophytes—Christians of a few months. The first work of drawing men to take an interest in religion is often easier than the work which follows of stablishing and building them up in the faith. It is hard to persevere; we know it from our own experience. It may be that by God's grace we have drawn nigh to the crucified One; we have felt something of the sweetness of his precious love; our hearts have burned within us as we listened to his voice, "Come unto me." In such moments we have felt, perhaps, that our work was well-nigh done, and our souls saved for ever; we thought that we could never fall from him whom we had learned to love so dearly. But a little while, and we found ourselves miserably disappointed. The time of temptation came; or perhaps, without any definite temptation, the freshness of those glowing feelings passed away; we lost our first love, and sunk back into that cold indifference which we hoped we had shaken off forever. We lost all that we seemed to have gained; we had to begin our work again. Alas! many are thus always beginning; their spiritual history is a series of oscillations between permitted carelessness and feeble repentance. They make no real progress towards that holiness without which we cannot see God. They need a Timotheus to stablish them. It is one of the most important, one of the most difficult, duties of the ministers of God to persevere themselves, to lead others to persevere.

2. To comfort them, or rather, perhaps, to exhort them. They needed both, comfort and exhortation. The cross was coming. They were but babes in Christ; they shrunk from its sharpness. But "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." The grace of perseverance is best acquired in the bracing air of affliction. "The trying of our faith worketh patience." Self-denial, the mortification of the flesh, are, alas! to many of us but empty sounds. They must become realities in our daily lives if we are to be Christians indeed. The sentimental religion of mere poetry and feeling is a weak and sickly exotic; it will never bear the cold blasts of temptation, it will not stand in the evil day. Timotheus was to comfort the Thessalonians in their troubles, to exhort them to patient endurance, that their faith might not fail them, that it might rather grow and increase.

3. To prepare them for tribulation.

LESSONS.

1. Pray for the love of souls; seek to love souls with a great love, as St. Paul yearned for the salvation of his converts.

2. Be content, like him, to suffer privations for the souls of others.

3. Pray for the grace of perseverance; be distrustful of self; trust only Christ; watch always.

4. Expect afflictions, chastisements; they must come; they form a necessary part of Christian experience; be prepared for them.—B.C.C.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 - The return of Timotheus.

I. THE GOOD NEWS.

1. The faith and charity of the Thessalonians. This was good tidings to St. Paul. The gospel was good tidings to all who felt the misery of sin, to all who had been distressed by the strange, perplexing mysteries of life. Tidings of a Deliverer, of an atonement, of the gracious help of God's Holy Spirit, of eternal life to come, were full of joy and gladness to the Thessalonians. Out of that first great joy sprang other gifts of joy. The apostles had no greater joy than to hear that their children were walking in the truth. They had so entered into the full meaning of that short prayer, "Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven," that they had learned to share the holy joy wherewith the blessed inhabitants of heaven rejoice over one sinner that repenteth. Good news to them did not mean this or that earthly success, but the growth in grace of Christian souls. Are we thus affected when we hear of the victories of the gospel, of missionary triumphs abroad, of converted sinners, of holy deaths at home? It is a sure index of our spiritual state. If we know ourselves the deep blessedness of communion with God, we shall count it good news indeed when we hear of other souls being drawn into that holy fellowship. The glory of God is the one highest object to which all true Christians look, and each redeemed soul brings new glory and honor to the great Redeemer. The deeper, the purer our joy in the growth of holiness around us, the nearer our approach, while we are yet on earth, to the holy joy of heaven. Timotheus brought news that the faith of the Thessalonians had not wavered in the fiery trial, that their charity was living and fervent. It was glad news indeed to St. Paul.

2. Their remembrance of the apostle. St. Paul had a tender human heart; he writes these words, as Bengel says, with a fresh joy, with the tenderest love. The steadfastness of their faith was the chief part of the good news; but also their personal love for the apostle was very precious to him. To hear that they loved him still, that they desired greatly to see him, that they remembered his presence, his words, his affection, was very sweet to him.

II. ST. PAUL'S DELIGHT.

1. He was comforted. He had need of comfort and encouragement. Since he left Thessalonica he had met with great perplexities and disappointments at Athens; and now at Corinth he was working amid many difficulties, much harassed by the persecutions of the Jews, toiling hard for his daily bread. He tells them of his necessities, of his affliction. But now he was comforted; and it was their faith that brought him comfort, that encouraged him in his work. How these words must have pleased the Thessalonians, who so loved the apostle! To hear of their faith was good tidings to him; to be told that that faith had given him such deep comfort in his troubles must have been good news to them.

2. Their perseverance gave him new life. He knew what it was to die daily, to bear about always in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. But if death, as he says, was working in him, there was a new life that more than balanced it; a new life, full of warm, glowing feelings, full of high hopes and eager aspirations. And that life was nourished and sustained by the continued progress of the gospel. The tidings of their faith gave him a sense of life, a spiritual energy, a joy analogous to that joy in the mere sense of living which we experience sometimes in the bloom of youth and health. But his joy was wholly spiritual; the life of Christ in other souls seemed to stimulate the energies of the same Divine life in himself; he felt the water of life within him springing up with renewed freshness, as he listened to the glad words of Timotheus telling him how the Thessalonians were standing fast in the Lord. They were in the Lord, as he was—in the sphere of his gracious presence, of his Divine working; and to be in the Lord is life, for he is the Life. Spiritual life consists in union with him, without whom we can do nothing. The Thessalonian Christians were in him; so was St. Paul. Their life and his life came from the same Source. The knowledge of their faith and love, their spiritual life, quickened the Divine life that lived in him.

III. HIS THANKSGIVING.

1. He thanks God for them. He regards thanksgiving as a return due to Almighty God for his mercies. So the psalmist, "What shall i render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?" He fulfills his own precept, "In everything give thanks." Thanksgiving is the outflow of a loving heart. The love of God is the very essence of religion; and the more we love him, the more fervent will be our thanksgivings. St. Paul thanks God for the Thessalonians, for their faith and love: for faith and love come from God, who is the Object of faith, who alone can increase our faith; who is Love, from whom, the highest Love, cometh all pure and holy love.

2. He thanks God for his own joy. Holy joy is the fruit of the Spirit, the gift of the Spirit, the foretaste of the joy of heaven; it must issue in thanksgiving. St. Paul's joy was full and complete. He thanks God for all the joy wherewith he was joying. There were no shadows to darken its brightness; he had heard of no backslidings among the Thessalonians. And it was pure; it could bear the all-seeing eye of God. "We joy before our God," he says. There was no element of selfishness, no earthly pride, no lower motive, to defile it. Such joy in the salvation of souls is indeed heavenly; it is like the ineffable joy wherewith the blessed rejoice before the throne.

3. He adds prayer to his thanksgiving. Prayer and thanksgiving ever go together; they act and react upon one another. Prayer leads to thanksgiving; thanksgiving lends increasing energy to prayer.

"Ply their daffy task with busier feet,

Because their secret souls some holy strain repeat."

Learn:

1. To rejoice in the spiritual progress of others.

2. To thank God for it.

3. To take delight in intercourse with holy men.—B.C.C.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 - St. Paul's prayer for his converts.

I. GOD HIMSELF IS THE ONLY GIVER OF ALL GOOD THINGS.

1. He can give the apostle and his converts the great joy of another meeting. The Thessalonians might be zealous in their religious duties; St. Paul might pray exceedingly, above measure; but it is God himself, not any creature, from whom all goodness flows. The word au)to&j ("himself") is emphatic. He only can save; he only is the Giver of joy. He is our God, therefore he is able; he is our Father, therefore he is willing to help us. His is the kingdom and the power and the glory, and he loves us with a Father's love. The apostle adds the Savior's Name: "God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ." He addresses Christ in the language of direct prayer. He uses, too, a verb in the singular number. There can be no satisfactory explanation of this, save that furnished by our Lord's own words, "I and my Father are one." From him only, the Triune God, cometh every blessing. He can bring St. Paul again to the Thessalonians. He will, if it is good for him and for them.

2. He can increase in them the great grace of charity. Love is the chiefest of all graces; it expels all manner of sin little by little from the heart which it fills; it consumes selfishness little by little with its heavenly fire. It must abound in the Christian's heart, for it is the best of all treasures; it must be fervent, intense, for lukewarmness is hateful to the Lord. It must be wide in its range; for that love which rests on some men because they are agreeable, and excludes others because they do not please, is merely human; not of God—mere natural affection; not the precious grace of holy love. God loved the world; the measure of his love is the gift of his Son. His saints in their poor way must imitate him. He only can make them abound in love; for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. Love is the best gift of the good Spirit of God. We must covet earnestly that great grace, and seek it from him of whose only gift it cometh.

II. GOD CAN FULFILL THE GOOD WORK WHICH HE BEGAN.

1. Holiness comes from him. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord; and it is God the Holy Ghost who sanctifieth the elect people of God. He can cleanse the thoughts of the heart by his Divine inspiration. He can make the soul that was unclean pure and blameless. We must listen to his voice speaking in our hearts. He checks us when we are tempted to sin; he calls us ever onwards to holiness, to self-consecration, to closer union with Christ. It is our part to recognize his awful presence, to shrink with godly fear from grieving the indwelling Spirit, to make silence in our hearts to listen to his voice, to pray with ever-deepening earnestness, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth."

2. He can enable us to persevere. The psalmist says, "O God, my heart is fixed, my heart is fixed." That fixedness, that establishment of the heart in holiness, cometh from God; it is his gift. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee." We need to be rooted and grounded in love, to be strengthened with all might by his Spirit in the inner man. Then we shall persevere unto the end; then we shall be found unblamable in holiness at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. St. Paul ever looked forward to that second coming; it filled the whole range of his hopes. So ought Christians now to live, "looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God."

LESSONS.

1. St. Paul prays that God would direct his way to Thessalonica. We may pray for the great blessing of intercourse with those whom we love; but it must be "in the Lord," in humble submission to his will.

2. But above all things we should pray for their continued growth in grace and holiness, in preparation for the coming of the Lord.—B.C.C.

HOMILIES BY R. FINLAYSON

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 - The subject is still Great desire to see the Thessalonians.

I. PAUL ALONE AT ATHENS. "Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone." There is continued the use of the plural; but it is to be regarded as corrected by the use of the singular in the fifth verse. The correction relates to the mission of Timothy, which is to be understood as covering Paul's being left behind at Athens. For want of full materials it is difficult to understand the bearing of what is said in the Acts of the Apostles on what is said here. But the most probable account of matters seems to be the following. Silos and Timothy were left behind at Beraea. They that conducted Paul from Beraea brought him as far as Athens; and immediately returned with a commandment unto Silos and Timothy that they should come to him with all speed. Here comes in the link which is given here: Wherefore (i.e. on account of his endeavor to see the Thessalonians having twice proved abortive) when he could no longer forbear (i.e. when he was necessitated to give some relief to his feeling of being orphaned), he thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone. This was a change of plan, but arising out of the very best feeling. He sent on to Beraea a second commandment, that Timothy should proceed to Thessalonica before joining him, Silas meantime remaining at Beraea. In that case Paul was really left behind at Athens, though not with the greatest literalism. He was left behind from the point of view of Timothy going on to Thessalonica, and also of his intention to have had Silas and Timothy with him at Athens. It was the being alone at Athens that made him think of sending for Silas and Timothy, while his conductors from Beraea had not yet left. He felt the atmosphere to be so oppressive beyond his expectations that he longed for their fellowship. And while he was waiting for them, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles, the feeling did not abate. He went forth into this beautiful city which was associated with the greatest intellectual refinement. And, though a man of gigantic intellect, he was not attracted to the study of its works of art or philosophies. No, it was the gospel sandals with which his feet were shod. It was in the light of Christ that he contemplated the city. Its principal works of art were temples. There on the Areopagus was a temple of Mars, with the subterranean sanctuary of the Furies. On the prominent Acropolis was the Parthenon, or temple of Athene, the protectress of the city, and, next to it in magnificence, the Erectheum with its presiding deities. A third rock was associated with Jove. There was an altar of Prometheus within the groves of the Academy; the Lyceum was dedicated to Apollo. At every turn were structures connected with idolatrous worship, and, among the many, the eye of the apostle detected an altar with this inscription, "To the Unknown God," from which he afterwards took occasion to preach to the Athenians some of the elementary truths of religion. It was while alone in this city full of idols, oppressed by its false forms of religion, that he longed for Silas and Timothy to come on to him. But, strong as his desire for their fellowship was, it was soon overmastered by another, viz. desire toward the Thessalonians, for the gratification of which he was willing to make sacrifice by remaining alone at Athens.

II. MISSION OF TIMOTHY WITH REFERENCE TO THE THESSALONIANS. "And sent Timothy, our brother and God's minister in the gospel of Christ." Timothy is sometimes called Paul's son; he is here called his brother. He was a son who had already grown up to be a companion and associate in work. He was one to whom Paul gave commandment, yet it was properly to God that he stood or fell. The sphere in which he ministered to God was the gospel of Christ. It was his duty generally to bring the gospel of Christ to the wants of men. But let us think of it as his duty specially to bring the gospel of Christ to the wants of the Thessalonians.

1. Timothy was to seek to influence them against their being moved by the pressing afflictions. "To establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith; that no man be moved by these afflictions." The afflictions, not confined to the Thessalonians, but having the first reference to them, are regarded as present. It was Thessalonian afflictions that forced Paul to leave Thessalonica much sooner than he had intended. It was in a manner Thessalonian afflictions that followed him to Beraea. At the time of sending Timothy he may have had late information of the things suffered by the Thessalonians of their own countrymen. By indications, then, he could only think of the afflictions as what might any moment be experienced by them. In consequence of these afflictions Timothy was sent to establish them. It was work which might expose him to the attacks of the virulent Jews of Thessalonica; and this establishing work is usually committed to older men. But that by which he was himself established was his message. And it was to this that he was to look for establishing the Thessalonians. He was to exhort them (not comfort them) concerning their faith, that no man should be moved by these afflictions. He was to hold up persuasively before them the gospel of Christ, that their faith thereby being strengthened, they might be kept from apostatizing.

2. There was reason for their not being moved by the afflictions. "For yourselves know that hereunto we are appointed. For verily, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction; even as it come to pass, and ye know." The Thessalonians, and Paul as well, and not they alone, were appointed to suffer affliction. It was the sovereign, all-wise decree of God that, through the affliction of his people, the gospel was to be spread abroad, and transmitted to future generations. And that was a reason why they were not to be moved in affliction. They were not being made the sport of chance, or simply left to the will of their enemies; but they were submitting to the reasonable necessary appointment of their heavenly Father, and that along with others. The Thessalonians were well acquainted with this doctrine. It had been taught them by Paul, when he was with them. And in this he was simply following the great Teacher. It was impossible for him to hold out false expectations. He told them whom he asked to enter into his service that they were to count the cost; they might be called even to lay down their lives for his sake. And at the last he recurs to this in speaking to his disciples. "If the world hateth you, ye know that it hath hated me before it hated you. Remember the word that I said unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.... These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be made to stumble. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God. And these things will they do, because they have not known the Father, nor me. But these things have I spoken unto you, that when their hour is come, ye may remember them, how that I told you." As Paul, after the Master, taught, so it came to pass, and so they had experience. Being thus prepared beforehand, their affliction, instead of shaking them, was fitted to have a confirming effect upon them.

III. MISSION OF TIMOTHY WITH REFERENCE TO PAUL. "For this cause I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain." It seems best to connect "also" with "sent," as is grammatically allowable. He sent not merely for the sake of the Thessalonians, but also for his own sake. The affliction was a special reason why he, Paul (the singular being introduced), could no longer forbear. He wanted information regarding their faith. Connected with this was anxiety. As a fact, the tempter had tempted them. God tempteth no man; he seeks only through affliction to make his people conquerors. Through affliction Satan, according to his nature, had sought to seduce the Thessalonians to apostasy. And it might be that by some means (for he is fertile in means) he had succeeded in his nefarious object. In that case his labor among the Thessalonians, and laborious praying for them, in all of which he had a natural interest before God, would be vain. It would be as if his lot had never been cast among them. Wishing, then, to have his mind relieved from this state of anxiety, he had sent on Timothy.

IV. GOOD NEWS FROM THESSALONICA. "But when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings." Paul had meantime gone on from Athens to Corinth, where, according to Acts 18:5, he was joined by Silas and Timothy. He lost no time in writing to Thessalonica after their arrival. Timothy, who seems not to have delayed by the way, was the bringer of good news, of a kind of gospel—being. indeed, tidings of the fruit of the gospel. He announced what the gospel had wrought for the Thessalonians in three particulars.

1. "Of your faith." Timothy was able to tell his master, by whom he had been sent, that they had such a hold upon the Divine help, that they were able to stand against the assaults of their enemies.

2. "And love." He had also this good news to tell Paul, that, in the face of opposition, they were not weakened by division, but were only drawn the closer together in the bonds of Christian love.

3. "And that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you." He had the further tidings to convey, that they had a lively impression of all he had been to them—to whom, under God, more than to any other, they owed their existence as a Church. His name was a savor of a sweet smell among them. At all times they thought of him with pleasure. And as it had been told them that he had a longing to see them, so they wished it to be told him that they had a longing to see again the face, and not less to hear again the voice, of their teacher.

V. COMFORT IMPARTED BY THE GOOD NEWS. "For this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country." When Jacob knew that Joseph was alive, his spirit revived. Paul had. not a little of distress and affliction, of trouble from without, that was straitening and oppressive, at Corinth as elsewhere; but, when the good news came regarding his Thessalonian converts, he forgot his distress and affliction. He was comforted over them, in his brooding love. What in them specially communicated comfort to him was their faith, i.e. the faith which enabled them to stand fast in the Lord. So dependent was he on them for happiness, that he only truly lived, had life in its vigor and elasticity, if he could think of them as standing fast in the Lord. While he thus acknowledges their steadfastness in the past, he gently appeals to them to remain steadfast in the future. Let them not take away the condition of his happiness. A Christian parent is dependent for his happiness on the conduct of his children. If he hears of them, when on going out into the world they come to their trial, as departing from the Lord, then his spirit is crushed. But if he hears a good report of them as standing fast in the Lord (in his strength and purpose), then his bones are made fat. And so is it with a Christian minister and his people.

VI. THANKSGIVING ON ACCOUNT OF THE GOOD NEWS. "For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?" The good news, the glad tidings, filled the apostle's heart with joy. There is an unhallowed joy which is not worthy of the name of joy. Not connected with a recognition of God, not in accordance with God's laws, it cannot bear the Divine inspection. The joy of the apostle for his Thessalonian converts was not of this nature. It extended over a wide range, but over all the range he joyed for them before God. It was not joy away from God, but joy to which he could ask God to be privy, as being joy in their Christian state, especially in their Christian steadfastness. This pure joy, which was his life, the apostle poured forth in thanksgiving. It was God alone who bad made their mountain to stand strong; to him, therefore, was due all the praise. Thanksgiving is a return which God desires from us for his mercies. And we must often feel, with the apostle, that we cannot make a sufficient return in this form for mercies bestowed upon ourselves and upon others.

"Through all eternity to thee

A joyful song I'll raise;

For, oh! eternity's too short

To utter all thy praise."

VII. PRAYER WITH WHICH THE THANKSGIVING IS BLENDED. "Night and day praying exceedingly." He gave thanks when he prayed, and that was night and day. He borrowed from both, which is suggestive of morning and evening as fitting seasons for the duty of prayer. How fitting that in the morning we should turn to God and consecrate to him the powers he has renewed! How fitting that before returning to the world, to meet its temptations, to be entrusted with opportunities of usefulness, to meet what Providence has awaiting us,—how fitting that before we take the first step we should implore the favor of him on whom the lot of every day depends! How fitting, too, that in the evening we should thank God for the benefits of the day, that we should seek to be relieved of the burden of its transgressions, and that we should commit ourselves through the night to the keeping of him who neither slumbers nor sleeps! We can understand that the apostle would borrow largely front the night; for, apart from his labors night and day, his prayers here are described as beyond measure. What a rebuke to those who, instead of breaking beyond bounds in the impetuosity of devotion, narrow their prayers within small compass, or omit them altogether! Here we discover the secret of his power; and let us, in this undevout age, go back to his style of praying, without any loss of intensity, beyond bounds. Two subjects of prayer.

1. "That we may see your face." It has been said of Paul by James Martineau, that "his ardent and generous soul had fastened itself on no one living object, but on an abstraction, a thing of his own mind, the truth;" "that he rested nowhere long enough to feel his nature silently yet irrevocably depositing itself there, but was at all times ready to gather up his feelings and pass on;" that he loved his disciples less in their individual persons and for their own sakes than as depositaries of the truth—as links of a living chain of minds by which that truth would complete its circuit, and find a passage for its renovating power. But it is difficult to know what personal attachment is, if there are not the marks of it in Paul. Did he merely gather up his feelings and pass on, when he was driven by persecution from Thessalonica? No; the Thessalonians, in the short time, had obtained a place in his heart, which was not transient, which they have to this day in heaven. And night and day, when he was away, they came up before him in his audience with God; and what, going beyond bounds, he asked was partly this—that he might see their face. He wished to have fellowship with them, soul with soul, such as is best promoted by direct personal intercourse. That he embraced so many in his affection, that he could not give them more time individually, did not make his attachment less truly personal.

2. "And may perfect that which is lacking in your faith." It is true that Paul had an object beyond seeing their face, and that was that he might the better impart to them spiritual benefit. But is that attaching importance to the person only as a home for the truth? If so, then it is what should be true of all affection. The more ardently we love persons, the more should we love them not as mere earthly beings, but rather as having a heavenly constitution, as those in whom it is fitting that the truth should have a resting-place and home. The more we love to see their face, the more we should seek to perfect that which is lacking in their faith. Paul meant no reflection on the Thessalonians, who were little more than beginners as believers. It was not to be expected that they had come up to the full measure of faith. They had stood the tests to which they had been put, but there might be stronger tests coming. Neither they nor he had come up to the full-measured faith of the Master, who had stood even the forsaking of the Father. Privileged to come among them, he could only hope to be helpful in making up the deficiencies of their faith by a fuller and more earnest exhibition of gospel truth.

VIII. PRAYER THROWN INTO FORM TO BE OVERHEARD BY GOD. Two petitions corresponding to the two subjects of prayer.

1. "Now may our God and Father himself, and the Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you." Paul prayed to have his way directed unto the Thessalonians. In the same way the servant of Abraham prayed to have his way prospered in the obtaining of a wife for Isaac. We may learn that we are to make even external arrangements subjects of prayer. "Our God and Father himself... direct our way unto you." Satan, with his misanthropic qualities, twice succeeded in hindering him in his endeavors to proceed to Thessalonica. He looks above his own feeble endeavors and the hinderings of Satan, to God, in his almightiness and fatherliness, himself to direct his way unto the Thessalonians. "The Lord Jesus direct our way unto you." We may learn that it is right to pray to Christ, though it is more usual to pray to the Father through Christ. The way of his servants, even the external way, is in his sovereign hands. We must not forget that he controls all things in heaven and in earth. In this verse there is a most remarkable enallage of number—two nominatives followed, not by a plural, but by a singular verb. It is one of the most striking proofs in Scripture, all the more that it comes in incidentally, of the absolute unity of the Father and the Son. It was made effective use of by Athanasius, in his case against Arius.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

1 Thessalonians 3:5 - How the work of the gospel may be frustrated by temptation.

St. Paul has just referred to the external hindrance to his journeying that Satan was able to throw across his path (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He now writes of a much more serious Satanic opposition in the temptation of his converts to unfaithfulness. He is anxious lest during his absence the fierce enmity of the Jews, either by some more violent attack on the Church or by the harassing of incessant petty persecution, may at length have broken down the fidelity of the Christians at Thessalonica. And he shows his anxiety by sending to inquire of the state of the Thessalonian Church. The danger in which these Greek Christians lay besets the people of God in all ages, though the form in which it presents itself varies considerably.

I. THE TEMPTER RAISES UP TEMPTATIONS IN ORDER TO FRUSTRATE THE WORK OF THE GOSPEL.

1. The tempter furnishes temptations. A temptation implies two things:

2. These temptations tend to frustrate the work of the gospel. All is undone if the Church proves unfaithful. High knowledge may be acquired, elaborate organization may be perfected, busy work may be accomplished, and yet, if the purity of the spiritual life is invaded, or the faithfulness that should mark the soldier of Christ corrupted, the labor that led to the happiest results is all in vain.

II. THE TEMPTER CAN ONLY FRUSTRATE THE WORK OF THE GOSPEL WHEN THE TEMPTED YIELD TO TEMPTATION.

1. The power of the tempter is limited to temptation. He can persuade; he cannot compel. He may use threats, or he may use cajolery. But he cannot use force. For the violence that is done to the body of the martyr is no violence to his soul, but only a powerful persuasive influence. Satan goes about like a roaring lion. He has a deep throat, but blunt fangs.

2. We are free to resist temptation. Temptation cannot destroy free-will. The tempter simply tries to induce us to choose the evil. If we do not choose it, he is powerless. And the decision lies entirely with ourselves.

3. The grace of God will help us to resist temptation effectually. We are not left alone to battle with the tempter. If Satan is against us, God is for us. Stronger and greater influences for good are provided for counteracting the evil influences. But these are equally outside our liberty of choice—good persuasion as against bad persuasion. It is for us to lend ourselves to the helpful grace of God in Christ if we are to be strong to resist temptation and to prevent the work of the gospel from being frustrated in us.—W.F.A.

1 Thessalonians 3:8 - St. Paul's devotion to his converts.

I. A PICTURE OF CHRISTIAN LOVE. St. Paul is intensely devoted to his converts. Their prosperity is his life, their unfaithfulness his death. Love of the brethren is a conspicuous feature in the early Christian character—more conspicuous than, alas! it is in the modern Church. An apostle felt more than a brotherly love for the Churches he had planted. His affection was that of a father for his children.

1. Christianity promotes care for others. It is directly opposed to a self-seeking exclusiveness as much in spiritual as in worldly affairs. As it bids a man not simply care for the enriching of himself with material wealth, so it equally forbids him to seek only for the saving of his own soul. The Church of Christ is always required to have in view the object which Ignatius Loyola propounded as the great end of the society of the Jesuits when he wrote, "The end of this society is not only, with the grace of God, to devote ourselves to the salvation and perfection of our own souls, but also, with the same Divine grace, to labor most earnestly for the salvation and perfection of our neighbor."

2. Christianity binds Christians together in close bonds of affection. This is its aim, and this is what it does when unhindered by culpable selfishness and coldness. The gospel introduces a new experience into the world. Christian love is quite unlike pagan friendship, being

II. AN INDUCEMENT TO CHRISTIAN FIDELITY.

1. The inducement is first direct and personal. St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to be steadfast because he feels his own life to be wrapped up in their fidelity. For his sake, if not for their own, he desires them to resist the temptations that are trying them. No doubt so devoted and affectionate a man as St. Paul would be able to bring great weight of persuasion to bear on his converts by this appeal to their consideration for their spiritual father. A similar influence may be helpful now. If we know one who has labored, prayed, and watched for our soul, surely the desire not to grieve him at the last by proving all his toil to have been in vain should be a motive for profiting by it. The scholar should feel thus towards his teacher, the child towards his Christian mother; above all, every one of us towards Christ, that his work may not be in vain—that, after all he has suffered for us, he should not be made to suffer by us.

2. Further, the inducement is general and inferential. If the steadfastness of the Thessalonians was a matter of such profound concern to St. Paul, it must have been of great importance in itself. Here is a strong reason for not thinking lightly of Christian fidelity. An apostle feels that he lives in the faithfulness of his converts. How supremely necessary must that faithfulness be for them! how supremely necessary must it ever be for the Church!

III. AN EXAMPLE FOR CHRISTIAN WORK. The Church at Thessalonica was faithful. St. Paul was not disappointed in his friends. The secret of this steadfastness may be seen in the spirit of the apostle. He was no perfunctory preacher. Not only was his heart in his work; his heart was with the people to whom he ministered. Their faithfulness and failure were questions of life and death to him. The servant of Christ has here an example of supreme interest. Learning, eloquence, holiness, zeal, all fail without love. The preacher who identifies himself with his people is the most successful in winning them for Christ.—W.F.A.

1 Thessalonians 3:12 - The increase of love.

I. THE INCREASE OF LOVE IS THE FIRST ESSENTIAL OF CHRISTIAN PROGRESS. St. Paul sets it first and by itself as the root and secret of the blameless holiness before God which he regards as the great consummation of perfection. The Church has too often disregarded this primary note of progress, preferring growth in knowledge, enlarged activity, and more extended influence in the world. But it needs to be seen that the one measure of spiritual prosperity is the degree in which love abounds. The reasons for this honoring of Christian love are apparent.

1. Love is the most like God of all human experiences. We are nearest to God when we love one another most.

2. Love is the most fruitful grace. It does most good to the world and inspires the best service of God.

3. Love is the foundation of all other graces. It opens the eyes of knowledge, and kindles the ardor of zeal, and inspires the life of faith, and breathes holiness into the soul.

II. THIS INCREASE OF LOVE MUST BE IN EXTENT AS WELL AS IN INTENSITY. It is not enough that we have a very warm, passionate devotion if this is confined to a narrow circle. One of the most important features of Christian love, in contradistinction to the natural kindness of persons of an affectionate disposition, is its breadth. It is not led by fancy and confined to the arbitrary selection of a merely human love.

1. It begins with Christ. Though St. Paul does not here express this truth, he implies it. For he is writing to a Christian Church, not to a mixed crowd of men of the world. He assumes devotion to Christ, and seeks for the fruits of it. Now, it is part of the glory of Christianity that it reveals man in his most attractive character when it shows Christ to us. Thus the enthusiasm of humanity is possible, because, first seeing man in Christ, we afterwards learn to see Christ in every man.

2. It expands into love for all Christians. The special characteristic of the brotherly love, so much enforced in the New Testament, is that it flows out to Christians as such, irrespective of personal attractiveness or the reverse. Of course we must have our natural affinities and special friendships. Christ had as much. But we must not confine Christian love to such cases. Indeed, the specially Christian character of love is not seen until this love is bestowed upon those who would not have received it had they not been united to us through Christ.

3. It must extend to all men. Christian love is not confined to the Christian community. The disciple of Christ is the true philanthropist. It is not simply that in the spirit of Christian universalism we are to endeavor to draw all men within the fold of Christ; we are also to love them while they remain outside it. We are to love them as men. From this we may infer that religious exclusiveness is a sin, that Christian people should take interest in all things human—in the science, art, business, politics, and social and domestic affairs of the world. The progress of our Christian life may be measured by the cheerful sympathy, breadth, and generosity of our humanity.

III. THE INCREASE OF LOVE IS A FRUIT OF DIVINE GRACE. St. Paul prays that the Lord may make the Thessalonians increase and abound in love.

1. Love is only possible where the hard heart of selfishness has been softened. It is the work of God's Spirit within us to make this change. God also casts out the impurities which deaden genuine love and the aversions which limit it.

2. Love springs up in us by contact with the Divine love. That love must be revealed and "shed abroad in our hearts" in order that our love may be stimulated.

3. Nevertheless human influences help the development of Christian love. The apostle referred to his own example: "Even as we do towards you." Christian love is contagious. The study of the lives of men of large-hearted charity is helpful in the overthrowing of our narrow prejudices and the arousing of a broad, strong spirit of loving-kindness.—W.F.A.

1 Thessalonians 3:13 - Divine culture.

God is carrying on a process of culture with his people, training, educating, and forming them according to his own ideal of humanity. To ignore this process while admitting the merciful kindness of God in other respects is to take a low view both of providence and of Christianity. To recognize it is to do much towards lightening the burdens and the mystery of all this unintelligible life. For pain, temptation, and disappointment can be better borne when we know that the end of God's dealings with us is not our enjoyment of present ease, but our education in character.

I. THE SUBJECT OF DIVINE CULTURE. "Your hearts." The education that secures good habits is a shallow training if it leaves the source and spring of conduct untouched. It may drill; it cannot discipline. Neither is the mere infusion of knowledge, nor even this with the addition of the cultivation of taste and the development of mental energy, the great requisite in God's culture. He aims at renewing and purifying the heart. He is not satisfied with decorous conduct as a mask for a corrupt heart. But, having secured purity of heart, he knows that right conduct will follow. Moreover, if the external act may appear to men questionable, God, reading the heart, accounts his people blameless when the motive is good.

II. THE CHARACTER MOULDED UNDER DIVINE CULTURE. "Unblamable in holiness."

1. It is holiness. God does not satisfy himself with the forgiveness of the past; we should not be satisfied with that. He aims at the real and positive holiness of his people. Holiness is more than dutifulness, more than virtue. It includes these human types of goodness, but it goes beyond them. It goes down to thought, affection, and conduct, seeking clean hands and a pure heart. It rises to the character of God himself. Holiness is godlike goodness, as virtue is human goodness.

2. This holiness is to be unblamable. It is to be perfect. It is to stand the test of a searching scrutiny. Yet it is not a barren negative purity. For we may be blamed for sins of omission as much as for sins of transgression. It is the unprofitable servant who is cast into the outer darkness. To be unblamable we must faithfully discharge our trust.

III. THE STANDARD AIMED AT IN DIVINE CULTURE. The holiness is to be unblamable before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

1. God is satisfied with no less holiness than such as is pure in Ms own sight. Our standard is low because our conscience is corrupt. The height of God's aim is only to be measured by the loftiness of his own character, Nevertheless, be it remembered God will expect no more of us than is humanly possible. The gardener aims at producing a perfect flower up to his own ideal, but still only up to his own ideal of what a flower should be; he does not seek in it the properties of animal or man.

2. The test is to be applied at the coming of Christ with his saints. They come to judge the world.

IV. THE STABILITY SECURED BY DIVINE CULTURE. "Stablish your hearts." High culture often produces a result which is brief in proportion to its excellence. The forced hot-house flower soon fades. Knowledge acquired simply to meet an examination is quickly forgotten. This is not education. God aims at more than the momentary elevation of rare seasons of grace. He will have a firm and lasting character—a spiritual life which is also an eternal life.

V. THE MEANS EMPLOYED FOR DIVINE CULTURE. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 describes this. It is an increasing and abounding love. Holiness springs from love. They greatly err who seek it in the lonely and chill altitudes of an inhuman saintliness. By mutual Christian love, and by a broad, practical love of mankind, we are trained in the purity which may be at last quite blameless, even in the sight of God.—W.F.A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/1-thessalonians-3.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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