Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain:Orphaned for an Hour
1 Thessalonians 2:17
Only a great heart could have said this. Such glowing sentences are amongst the most vivid and positive evidences of inspiration. Paul was a great father mother, a great brother-sister, a woman and a man There is nothing like the Pauline affection; there is so much reason under it, around it, above it; it is so complete and cogent and intense in logic; it is a great flower whose roots go down to the rock. Paul loved the society of the believing Church; he was at home amongst his own folks; they knew one another, and when they did not speak they could translate the very silence into eloquence.
I. 'Being taken from you:' literally, Being orphaned. In the English language we limit the word orphan to a certain set of circumstances; we say that a child who has lost father or mother is in that degree an orphan. In the Greek language there was more licence of application of the term; in that language men spoke of themselves as being orphaned when they were bereaved of their children; not only were the children orphans, but the bereaved parents were orphans; thus the eloquence and the music of this glorious declaration. 'Being orphaned from you,' feeling the loneliness and the cold and the desolation and the miserableness of being away from you. That is a nobler use of the term: blessed are they who, feeling the pain of orphanage, have hope that pain may be taken away. 'Being orphaned from you for a short time': literally, for one little hour; sixty minutes and no more: a vanishing orphanage, a desolation that is being consumed by its own agony. 'Being orphaned from you for an hour in presence:' literally, in face, that is all; it is only the face that is wanting, and that not wholly wanting, for there is a vision in the air, an outline on the background of the darkness. Now we seem to enter into the very sanctuary of the Apostle's meaning: 'Brethren, being orphaned from you for the season of a little transient hour, in face, not in heart, we endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire'. After all, the face may be part of the soul; do not despise the visible presence. No two visible presences are exactly alike; one face cannot take the place of another; but, after all, it is the face and not the soul, and the face that owes everything to the soul behind it. Ah me! there are faces behind whose formal beauty there is no throbbing and surgent soul.
II. A most tender expression is this of the text, 'taken from you'; that is a common experience; 'not in heart,' that is a special experience. They are separated who have no heart-fellowship. Proximity is not brotherhood; the man sitting next you is separated from you maybe by the diameter of the universe; to be near is not necessarily to be identical. Separation of hearts; that is woe; where there is no kinship in love; that is orphanage that endures through all the hours, through all the duration of eternity.
III. Is there any experience in the life of Christ kindred to the experience of the text? I think the experience of the Master and the experience of the disciple are often identical, each being taken in its own degree. 'Yet a little while, and ye shall not see Me.' But we can always see the soul we have loved? True, but not the face, which is the outward and visible symbol of that soul. 'A little while ye shall not see Me; and again a little while, being orphaned from you for one short hour, and ye shall see Me'—the other face, the inner face, the vision face. Our friends come back to us in vision. They do not need the face of flesh; that was rough and temporary, exposed to all the cruelty of the wind and storm and all the plague of insidious disease; but, having shuffled off the mortal and the visible, they come back with new life and a new visibleness. Has the soul no eyes? are eyes only instruments on which the optician operates? is there no vision of the heart, no sight of the soul, no perception of the immortality that throbs in every human heart? 'A little while, and ye shall not see Me, and again a little while and ye shall see Me'—from another point of view, in another light; and you will pass from the body to the spirit, away from the body to the Holy Spirit. That is the mystery of Providence, that is the wonderful part of our spiritual education, so that loss may be gain, and having lost you may possess for ever in an imperishable relation, almost in an imperishable form: for there is a spiritual body and there is a natural body; when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and the heavens shall be alive with new presences, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory! We must attain to this higher fellowship, to this clearer vision, to this surer realisation of the things which God intended to remain.
References.—II. 17.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 223. II. 18.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 657. II. 19.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 99. III. 2.—Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 158. III. 8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1758. III. 11.—T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 272. III. 11-13.—Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 258. III. 12.—Ibid. (5th Series), vol. x. p. 324. III. 12, 13.—J. G. Greenhough, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 88. IV. 1.—R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 216. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 127.
But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.
For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile:
But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.
For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.
But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.
For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.
Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
For ye are our glory and joy.