1 Thessalonians 3:1
Why when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
III.

(1) We could no longer forbear.—The Greek word contains the metaphor of a vessel over-full and bursting with its contents. “We must be understood here by the limitation of 1Thessalonians 2:18, and by the direct singular of 1Thessalonians 3:5, to mean St. Paul alone, not him and Silas.

To be left at Athens alone.—The difficulty of interpreting this passage so as to agree with Acts 17:15-16; Acts 18:5, is not a light one. From those passages it would appear that immediately upon reaching Athens, St. Paul sent word back to Macedonia, by the friends who had escorted him, that St. Silas and St. Timothy should join him at once; but that some delay took place, and that St. Paul had arrived at Corinth before his companions reached him; that they consequently never were with him at Athens. In that case, “to be left alone” must mean, “We resolved not to keep with us the brethren who escorted us;” and the “sent” of 1Thessalonians 3:2 will mean that he gave them a message to Timothy that he should go back to Thessalonica (presumably from Berœa), before joining St. Paul at Athens; for the tense of the Greek verb “to be left” absolutely necessitates an act of parting with some one: it cannot mean, “We were willing to endure loneliness a little longer.” But such an interpretation suits ill with Acts 17:15; it is hard to identify an urgent message to “come with all speed” with a command to make such a détour. It seems, therefore, most reasonable to suppose that Silas and Timothy joined St. Paul forthwith at Athens, and were almost as soon sent back into Macedonia,—Silas to Berœa or Philippi, and Timothy to Thessalonica. This would explain St. Paul’s being left alone, an expression which would hardly have been used had Silas remained with him at Athens, as some (misled by the word “we”) have supposed; and also it explains how in Acts 18:5 both Timothy and Silas come from Macedonia to Corinth. The despatching of Silas from Athens is not mentioned here, simply because it had no particular interest for the Thessalonians. If the two men did not reach St. Paul at all during the time he was at Athens, after receiving so imperative a message, they must have been very slow, for a week would have allowed ample time for their journey from Berœa, and Acts 17:17; Acts 18:1 certainly imply a much longer period of residence there. “To be left alone” was a great trial to St. Paul’s affectionate nature: such a sacrifice may well impress the Thessalonians with the strength of his love for them.

1 Thessalonians 3:1. When we could no longer forbear — Or bear, rather, namely, our anxiety on your account. The word στεγοντες, here used, literally signifies bearing or carrying, but never forbearing. Some such word as anxiety is necessary to be supplied, because it appears from the following verse, that the apostle was at this time under great concern lest the Thessalonians should have been moved from the faith of the gospel, either by the false arguments of the unbelievers, or by the persecutions which they suffered. We thought it good to be left at Athens alone — Although there we had peculiar need of the support and comfort of having with us an approved companion and friend. Some infer, from this manner of speaking, that Silas was absent from Paul while he was at Athens. And Macknight supposes, that though Timothy and Silas were both ordered to follow him from Berea to Athens, (Acts 17:15,) only Timothy came to him there. See Acts 18:1; Acts 18:5. If this opinion be correct, when Timothy left Athens, the apostle remained in that city alone, which was a very trying circumstance, as he expected great opposition from the Athenian philosophers. Some, however, infer, from the apostle’s speaking in the plural number, We thought, &c., that Silas must have been with him. And sent Timotheus, our fellow-labourer in the gospel — As Timothy is said (Acts 17:14) to have remained with Silas in Berea, after Paul’s departure, it is probable he had been with the apostle at Thessalonica, and had assisted him in his work of preaching the gospel there; to establish you — In the new faith you have embraced; and to comfort you — Under your suffering. That no man — That none of you, who have believed; should be moved — Or shaken, as σαινεσθαι means; should be discouraged, and made to fall off from his adherence to the Christian profession and hope, by these afflictions — Which either you or we are exposed to. For you know that we are appointed thereto — Our Lord expressly forewarned his apostles that they were to be persecuted, and that even to death; and that whoever killed them would think he did God service. Moreover, when he called Paul to the apostleship, he showed him how great things he must suffer for his name’s sake, Acts 9:16. All the apostles, therefore, and Paul more especially, expected to be persecuted. But here it is signified, that not only the apostles, evangelists, and other ministers of the word, were exposed to persecution, but that all who embraced the Christian faith were to expect to meet with the same treatment from the unbelievers, whether heathen or Jews; yea, that, as the original expression, εις τουτο κειμεθα, implies, that they were appointed to it, or rather laid, in every respect, in a fit posture for it, and that by the very design and contrivance of God himself, for the trial and increase of their faith and other graces. For, one principal part of the scheme of God, in establishing the Christian Church, was to raise a society of men who should glorify his name, and illustrate the force of true religion by enduring the greatest extremities in its defence with fortitude and cheerfulness. He gives great riches to the world, but stores up his treasures of wholesome afflictions for his children. For when we were with you — We did not flatter you with any vain hopes of an easy and pleasurable life, but plainly and candidly told you, before you embraced the gospel which we preach, and united yourselves to the Christian community, by submitting to the ordinance of baptism, that we should suffer tribulation — And indeed what else could be expected by any that consider the nature of the religion to which we are endeavouring to make converts, compared with the tempers, prejudices, and interests of mankind. Because the apostle knew that the enemies of the gospel would infer, from his not delivering himself from persecution by miracles, that he did not possess the miraculous powers to which he pretended, he took care to let his disciples know, in every place, that he was ordered by his Master to suffer for the gospel, and that his suffering for it was as necessary a part of the proof of its divine original as his working miracles.3:1-5 The more we find pleasure in the ways of God, the more we shall desire to persevere therein. The apostle's design was to establish and comfort the Thessalonians as to the object of their faith, that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world; and as to the recompence of faith, which was more than enough to make up all their losses, and to reward all their labours. But he feared his labours would be in vain. If the devil cannot hinder ministers from labouring in the word and doctrine, he will, if possible, hinder the success of their labours. No one would willingly labour in vain. It is the will and purpose of God, that we enter into his kingdom through many afflictions. And the apostles, far from flattering people with the expectation of worldly prosperity in religion, told them plainly they must count upon trouble in the flesh. Herein they followed the example of their great Master, the Author of our faith. Christians were in danger, and they should be forewarned; they will thus be kept from being improved by any devices of the tempter.Wherefore - See 1 Thessalonians 2:18. This particle (διὸ dio) is designed here to refer to another proof of his affection for them. One evidence had been referred to in his strong desire to visit them, which he had been unable to accomplish 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and he here refers to another - to wit, the fact that he had sent Timothy to them.

We could no longer forbear - That is, when I could not 1 Thessalonians 3:5, for there is every evidence that Paul refers to himself only though he uses the plural form of the word. There was no one with him at Athens after he had sent Timothy away Acts 17:15; Acts 18:5, and this shows that when, in 1 Thessalonians 2:6, he uses the term apostles in the plural number, he refers to himself only, and does not mean to give the name to Timothy and Silas. If this be so, Timothy and Silas are nowhere called "apostles" in the New Testament. The word rendered here "could forbear" (στέγοντες stegontes), means, properly, "to cover, to conceal;" and then to hide or conceal anger, impatience, weariness, etc.; that is, to hold out as to anything, to bear with, to endure. It is rendered suffer in 1 Corinthians 9:12; beareth, 1 Corinthians 13:7; and forbear, 1 Thessalonians 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:5. It is not elsewhere used in the New Testament. It means that he could no longer bear up under, hide, or suppress his impatience in regard to them - his painful emotions - his wish to know of their state; and he therefore sent Timothy to them.

We thought it good - I was willing to suffer the inconvenience of parting with him in order to show my concern for you.

To be left at Athens alone - Paul had been conducted to Athens from Berea, where he remained until Silas and Timothy could come to him; Acts 17:15. It appears from the statement here that Timothy had joined him there, but such was his solicitude for the church at Thessalonica, that he very soon after sent him there, and chose to remain himself alone at Athens. Why he did not himself return to Thessalonica, is not stated. It is evidently implied here that it was a great personal inconvenience for him thus to part with Timothy, and to remain alone at Athens, and that he evinced the strong love which he had for the church at Thessalonica by being willing to submit to it. What that inconvenience consisted in, he has not stated, but it is not difficult to understand,

(1) he was among total strangers, and, when Timothy was gone, without an acquaintance or friend.

(2) the aid of Timothy was needed in order to prosecute the work which he contemplated. He had requested that Timothy should join him as soon as possible when he left Berea Acts 17:15, and he evidently felt it desirable that in preaching the gospel in that city he should have all the assistance he could obtain. Yet he was willing to forego those comforts and advantages in order to promote the edification of the church at Thessalonica.

CHAPTER 3

1Th 3:1-13. Proof of His Desire after Them in His Having Sent Timothy: His Joy at the Tidings Brought Back Concerning Their Faith and Charity: Prayers for Them.

1. Wherefore—because of our earnest love to you (1Th 2:17-20).

forbear—"endure" the suspense. The Greek is literally applied to a watertight vessel. When we could no longer contain ourselves in our yearning desire for you.

left at Athens alone—See my [2444]Introduction. This implies that he sent Timothy from Athens, whither the latter had followed him. However, the "we" favors Alford's view that the determination to send Timothy was formed during the hasty consultation of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, previous to his departure from Berea, and that then he with them "resolved" to be "left alone" at Athens, when he should arrive there: Timothy and Silas not accompanying him, but remaining at Berea. Thus the "I," 1Th 3:5, will express that the act of sending Timothy, when he arrived at Athens, was Paul's, while the determination that Paul should be left alone at Athens, was that of the brethren as well as himself, at Berea, whence he uses, 1Th 3:1, "we." The non-mention of Silas at Athens implies that he did not follow Paul to Athens as was at first intended; but Timothy did. Thus the history, Ac 17:14, 15, accords with the Epistle. The word "left behind" (Greek) implies that Timothy had been with him at Athens. It was an act of self-denial for their sakes that Paul deprived himself of the presence of Timothy at Athens, which would have been so cheering to him in the midst of philosophic cavillers; but from love to the Thessalonians, he is well content to be left all "alone" in the great city.1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 The apostle showeth that out of his great care for

the Thessalonians he had sent Timothy to comfort and

strengthen them in the faith,

1 Thessalonians 3:6-8 whose good report of them had been a great

consolation to him in his distresses.

1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 He testifieth his thankfulness to God, and

earnest desire to see them,

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 praying God to guide him to them, and for their

increase in love and holiness unto the end.

The apostle proceeds upon the same argument to confirm his love to them, and care of them, that they might not doubt of it because of his long absence from them. Therefore he tells them, that though he could not come himself, yet he sent Timothy to them from Athens; which we find not mentioned in the Acts by Luke: and his love herein is commended the more:

1. Because he sent him out of a strong impulse of affection, he could not forbear any longer, or bear, it was a heavy burden to him till he had done it, as the word imports.

2. He was content to be left at Athens alone by parting with Timothy, though his company was so desirable and useful to him at that time. And he was well pleased so to do for their sakes; eudokhsamen, he had a complacence of mind in so doing, so much he preferred their good before his own contentment.

(To see numbers 3 and 4: See Poole on "1 Thessalonians 3:2".)

Wherefore when we could no longer forbear,.... Or "bear", as the word properly signifies; or "bear that", as the Ethiopic version reads; that is, "that desire", as the Arabic version renders it; that ardent and longing desire of seeing them again, expressed in the latter part of the preceding chapter; which was as fire in their bones, and was retained with great pain and uneasiness; but now they could hold it no longer, and like Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:9 were weary with forbearing, and could not stay; or it was like a burden, which they stood up under as long as they could, even Paul, Silas, and Timothy, but now it became insupportable:

we thought it good to be left at Athens alone: that is, Paul and Silas, or Paul only, speaking of himself in the plural number; for he seems to have been alone at Athens, at least at last; he considering everything, thought it most fit and advisable when at Athens, where he waited for Silas and Timothy, having ordered them to come thither to him from Berea, Acts 17:14 either to send orders to Berea for Timothy to go from thence to Thessalonica, to know the state of affairs there, and Silas elsewhere; or if they came to him to Athens, of which Luke gives no account, he immediately dispatched Timothy to Thessalonica, and Silas to some other part of Macedonia, for from thence they came to him at Corinth, Acts 18:5 such was his desire of knowing how things were at Thessalonica, that he chose rather to be left alone at Athens, disputing with the unbelieving Jews, and Heathen philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic sects, sustaining all their scoffs and jeers alone; and was content to be without his useful companions, Silas and Timothy, who might have been assisting to him at Athens, in hope of hearing of his dear friends at Thessalonica.

Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1 Thessalonians 3:1 ff. are most closely connected with the preceding;[42] it is therefore to be regretted that a new chapter should commence here. On 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3, comp. the treatise of Rückert alluded to in comment on 1 Thessalonians 1:8.

[42] Strikingly, Calvin: Hac narratione, quae sequitur, desiderii illius sui fidem facit.

1 Thessalonians 3:1. Διό] Therefore, i.e. διὰ τὸ εἶναι ὑμᾶς τὴν δόξαν ἡμῶν καὶ τὴν χαράν (1 Thessalonians 2:20).

μηκέτι στέγοντες] no longer bearing it, i.e. incapable of mastering our longing for you any longer (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:12; 1 Corinthians 13:7; Philo, in Flacc. p. 974, Opp. Lut. Par. 1640, fol.: μηκέτι στέγειν δυνάμενοι τὰς ἐνδείας). So Erasmus, Vorstius, Cornelius a Lapide, Wolf, Pelt, de Wette, only the latter conjoins with the idea of longing, that of anxiety for the Thessalonians, which, indeed, is in accordance with fact, but anticipates the representation, as the idea of anxiety on the part of the apostle is first added in what follows.

μηκέτι] is not here instead of οὐκέτι, as Rückert thinks, appealing to an abusus of the later Greek, which abusus we should be cautious in recognising (see Winer, p. 431 [E. T. 609]), but as spoken from a subjective standpoint: as those who, etc. Moreover, to take the participle στέγοντες in the sense of occultantes, to which Wolf and Baumgarten are inclined: “no longer concealing my longing,” i.e. no longer observing a silence concerning it, would be flat, and contrary to the context.

εὐδοκήσαμεν] as well as ἐπέμψαμεν, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and ἔπεμψα 1 Thessalonians 3:5, is a simple historical statement of a fact belonging to the past. Grotius and Pelt erroneously take the aorists in the sense of the pluperfect. εὐδοκήσαμεν does not denote a mere promptam animi inclinationem (Calvin, Pelt); also not acting gladly (Grotius: Triste hoc, sed tamen hoc libenter feceramus), but the freely formed resolution of the will: accordingly we resolved. Nicolas Lyrencis, Hunnius, Grotius, Calovius, Turretin, Whitby, Bengel, Michaelis, Wurm,[43] Hofmann, consider Paul and Silas as the subjects of εὐδοκήσαμεν; that κἀγώ (1 Thessalonians 3:5), I also, is a proof of this, for it contains in itself the reference to a wider subject, so that from a plurality of the subject in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, a single individual was, in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, brought forward. However, this view cannot be the correct one. By the insertion of ἐγὼ μὲν Παῦλος, 1 Thessalonians 2:18, the subject of 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 is expressly restricted to Paul himself; and, as chap. 3 is most closely connected with 1 Thessalonians 2:17-19, the subject here must be the same as there, εὐδοκήσαμεν must therefore, with Calvin, Hemming, Estius, Fromond., Koppe, Pelt, Schott, de Wette, Baumgarten-Crusius, Alford, Riggenbach (in J. P. Lange’s Bibelwerk, Part X., Bielef. 1864), and others, be referred to Paul only, to which κἀγώ, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, is no objection (see below).

καταλειφθῆναι ἐν Ἀθήναις μόνοι] Zachariae, Koppe, Hug, Hemsen, also Wieseler (Chronologie des apost. Zeitalters, p. 249) and Alford (Proleg. p. 45), understand this of Paul’s being left alone at Athens, Timotheus not having been previously there with the apostle. They assume that Timotheus, left behind at Berea (Acts 17:14), either at the time of his being left behind, or at some later period, received the direction from the apostle, countermanding the charge given in Acts 17:15, that before proceeding to Athens, he should return from Berea to Thessalonica to strengthen the church there. This view is brought forward from a desire of reconciling our passage with the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 17:16 informs us only of a waiting for Timotheus at Athens, but not of his arrival there; on the contrary, it is stated that Silas and Timotheus did not return from Macedonia until the residence of the apostle at Corinth (Acts 18:5). But this view does not correspond with the natural wording of our passage, as καταλειφθῆναι, to be left behind, to remain behind, evidently presupposes the previous presence of Timotheus. We must therefore, with Zanchius, Piscator, Cornelius a Lapide, Beza, Wolf, Benson, Macknight, Eichhorn, Schott, Olshausen, de Wette, Koch, Hofmann, and others, suppose that Timotheus actually came from Berea to Athens, and was sent from it by the apostle to Thessalonica. To this interpretation we appear constrained by ἐπέμψαμεν, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, and ἔπεμψα, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, as hardly anything else can be denoted with these words than a commission given directly by Paul to one present.

[43] In the strange interpretation: “We resolved that one of us should go to Thessalonica, accordingly we two remained behind at Athens, and sent Timotheus.” As an analogy to this, the form should be οἱ περὶ τὸν Παῦλον. Comp. Tüb. Zeitschr. 1833, 1, p. 76.1 Thessalonians 3:1. μηκ., instead of οὐκ., to bring out the personal motive.—στέγοντες “able to bear” (cf. Philo, Flacc., § 9, μηκέτι στέγειν δυνάμενοι τὰς ἐνδείας), sc. the anxiety of 1 Thessalonians 2:11 f.—ἐν Ἀ. μόνοι. Paul shrank from loneliness, especially where there was little or no Christian fellowship; but he would not gratify himself at the expense of the Thessalonians. Their need of Timothy must take precedence of his.1. Wherefore when we could no longer forbear] Wherefore (i.e. because of our longing to see you) no longer bearing it (the frustration of our attempts to return to Thessalonica). “Bear” is the same word as in 1 Corinthians 13:7 : “Love beareth all things”—bears up under, holds out against. “This protracted separation and repeated disappointment was more than we could endure.”

to be left at Athens alone] left behind … alone (R. V.).1 Thessalonians 3:1. Διὸ μηκέτι στέγοντες, wherefore no longer being able to forbear) This is resumed at 1 Thessalonians 3:5, as if after a parenthesis.—μόνοι, alone) Observe how highly Timothy was esteemed, since at Timothy’s departure Paul and Silas seemed to themselves to be alone, inasmuch as in a city altogether estranged from God. Comp. Ord. temp., p. 278 [Ed. 2, p. 239].Verse 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 2:38 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. Forbear (στέγοντες)

Lit. no longer forbearing. See on 1 Corinthians 9:12 : lxx, Sir. 8:17. For Class. parall. Soph. O. C. 15; Elec. 1118; Eurip. Hippol. 844; Ion 1412. He means that his longing for some personal communication from the Thessalonians became intolerable.

To be left - alone (καταλειφθῆναι - μόνοι)

Implying, as we sent (1 Thessalonians 3:2) and I sent (1 Thessalonians 3:5), the previous presence of Timothy with him at Athens.

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