Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Entrance into Thessalonica. It was not necessary, however, to depend upon foreign testimony for the facts of the case, for the Thessalonians themselves were the best witnesses. "For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain," but an effective living reality, a great and gracious success. The proof of the fact is contained in two circumstances.
I. THE BOLDNESS OF THE THREE PREACHERS, "But even after that we bad 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 conflict." The insulting treatment the apostle had received at Philippi had not the effect of scaring him away, or of leading him to withdraw into Asia, leaving Europe to its fate. Such treatment would have deterred men of a different stamp. His boldness was not mere stoical courage, but based on faith, for he was "bold in our God," and was equal to present perils as well as to past persecutions; for he spoke the gospel of God "in much conflict," caused, as we know, by the league of violence which the Jews of Thessaionica formed with "lewd fellows of the baser sort" against the gospel.
II. THE SPIRIT AND METHOD OF THEIR MINISTRY. "For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile." The matter is exhibited first negatively, and then positively.
1. Negatively. His persuasive exhibition of the truth was not
(1) "of deceit." He was not deceived himself - be had not "followed cunningly devised fables" - neither did he design to deceive others, for he preached the truth as it is in Jesus. Therefore there was all the greater force and fervent and directness in his teaching.
(2) "Nor of uncleanness." There were no impure or sinister ends in his teaching, implying love of gain; nor any disposition to tolerate those subtle forms of temptation which sometimes manifest themselves even under the guise of piety.
(3) "Nor in guile," for he was straightforward and sincere in his methods, with "no cunning craftiness," no maneuvers, no strategy; for they had" renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2).
2. Positively. The method of his preaching met with the Divine approval. "But as we were approved of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth our hearts."
(1) The gospel is a solemn trust, a rich treasure. There are many human trusts which men would rather shirk, but the apostle is not unwilling to accept this trust for the good of the world.
(2) He claims no independent worthiness for so sacred a trust. God gave him any worthiness or sufficiency he possessed. "Our sufficiency is of God, who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament" (2 Corinthians 3:5, 6).
(3) He discharged his trust
(a) with a perfect disregard for men's opinions about him (1 Corinthians 4:3);
(b) and with no desire to catch the favor of men. "Not as pleasing men; "for" as of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:17). Not sacrificing truth [o the fancies or prejudices of men in order to secure their favor. If "he pleased men, he should not be the servant of God" (Galatians 1:10).
(4) He had supreme and final regard to the all-seeing God, "who trieth the hearts," who knows the springs of all actions, discovers all artifices, and brings all hidden things to light, lien look on the outward appearance. God "spares all beings but himself that awful sight - a naked human heart." He "seeth not as man seeth." It is vain, therefore, to appear other than we are. - T.C.
I. APPEAL TO THE RECOLLECTION OF THE THESSALONIANS.
1. His first appearance among them had not been in vain. Others had borne witness to its results. That testimony was true; the Thessalonians knew it themselves. The apostle appeals to them in all the confidence of Christian simplicity. Perfectly sincere and single-hearted himself, he knew that as a body they had appreciated the purity of his motives. They could bear testimony (he knew that they would gladly do so) that his preaching from the beginning had not been empty talk, but full of energy and life and fire. It is a blessed thing, this mutual confidence between a pastor and his flock.
2. His previous sufferings had not abated his zeal He had been cruelly treated at Philippi; he bore the marks of the lictors' rods when he entered Thessalonica. It did not damp his ardor. His Lord had endured the cross, despising the shame, for the joy that was set before him. For the same joy, the great joy of saving souls, St. Paul was content to suffer, and, if need be, to die. Troubles soon came upon him in Thessalonica. He preached amid much conflict, but he was full of courage.
3. His courage was of God. We were bold in our God. It was he who gave them boldness, he who taught them what to speak; they felt that it was not they, but the Spirit of God who spoke in them. They abode in him, in his encompassing, irradiating presence, within the sphere of his gracious influence; hence came their utterance, their boldness of speech.
4. For their gospel (our gospel, he calls it in 1 Thessalonians 1:5) was the gospel of God. They were the messengers, but he had given the message. It was his glad tidings; it came from him, and it brought tidings of him, of his will, of his justice, of his love; it told men of a Creator, a Savior, a Sanctifier. It was a high mission to preach that blessed gospel; the sense of its unspeakable preciousness inspired their burning words.
II. WHAT THEIR PREACHING WAS NOT. The Jews had tried to poison the minds of the Thessalonians against the apostle; they imputed low, earthly motives to him. St. Paul repudiates their insinuations.
1. There was no mixture of selfish motive. Their preaching was not of error or of deceit. They were not deceived themselves, they did not deceive others. They did not belong to the crowd of wandering impostors like Simon Magus, or Elymas the sorcerer. They knew certainly the truth of their mission. St. Paul had seen the Lord; what he delivered to the Thessalonians he had first received of the Lord. He knew this from the sure evidence of experience. His own truthfulness was manifest; the mighty change that had come over his life, the greatness of his sacrifices proved it. There was no uncleanness (as, perhaps, some of his enemies maliciously suggested), no impurity of any kind, attaching to his exhortation or his conduct. None who knew him could charge him with such things. But a life of self-sacrifice for the sake of souls was unexampled. He was the first missionary who had traversed Asia Minor, and now came to Europe for that lofty purpose. The mass of men, whether Jews or heathens, could not understand his noble character; it was high above them. They judged him by themselves. They were incapable of such self-denial for the sake of others; they could not believe in it; they had- no faith in love, in purity, in high religious motive. Such a life, too, if real, if genuine, was a rebuke to them. It angered them. They could not bear to think of its contrast with their own life; it was like light and darkness. And so they believed, or forced themselves to believe, that it was not genuine. A true life like St. Paul's seemed to them above human nature - impossible, inexplicable. And they said that it was not true; they attributed his actions to vulgar motives, to low selfish designs.
2. There was no covetousness. His life was not one of pretences, fair words serving to conceal the covetousness which (so said his enemies) was his real motive. But his treasure was in heaven. He had suffered the loss of all things for Christ. He had in him a hidden treasure, a pearl of great price, for which he was content to count all else as loss. He could not covet earthly gold who had the true riches. But he had to endure this among other slanders. It was said of him at Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:17; 2 Corinthians 7:2). He was obliged to take with him delegates of the Churches to assist him in the administration of alms, that he might avoid blame (2 Corinthians 8:20, 21). What a sad proof of the meanness of human nature that such a motive should be attributed to such a man!
3. There was no desire of glory. They did not seek to please men, but God. They knew that God tried the hearts, and, knowing that, they sought only to approve their inner and outer life to him. We labor, said St. Paul (2 Corinthians 5:9), it is our ambition to be well pleasing unto him. God had proved them; he had entrusted them with the gospel. It was a high privilege. St. Paul counted it so; he magnified his office. He sought for nothing else. The great work of winning souls was, he well knew, of all works the highest and the noblest. God was proving their hearts now. He, the Searcher of hearts, knew their work through and through. He knew the inner Ere of thought and motive, as well as the outer life of word and action. They fully recognized this great truth. They knew that their motives were pure and unselfish. God knew it too. It was all they wanted. They sought not praise of men. They had no pleasure in flattery; they did not flatter others. That the Thessalonians knew. God knew the purity of their motives. "God is witness," they could say. How blessed that life must be which could thus appeal to his all-seeing eye! They were apostles of Christ; St. Paul in the highest sense, Silvanus and Timotheus in the more extended meaning of the word. St. Paul may, indeed, be using the plural number of himself only; more probably in this place he includes his companions. They might have claimed honor for themselves; they might have made men feel the weight of their apostolic dignity. But they sought not glory from men. They had overcome that temptation which is so strong in most men, the "last infirmity of noble minds," the desire of earthly glory.
III. WHAT THEIR PREACHING WAS.
1. They were gentle. There is very strong manuscript evidence for νήπιοι, babes. If that is the true reading, St. Paul means that their character was one of childlike simplicity, free from selfish motives; they were babes in malice, but men in understanding (1 Corinthians 14:20). But "gentle" suits the context better. "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men." St. Paul adduces the most touching type of human tenderness - the nursing mother cherishing her own children, warming them in her bosom. Such had been his gentleness among his children after the faith. He had sought to win them by gentle words. He had told them of the gentleness of Christ. He had set before them the attractive picture of the Savior's tender love. Gentleness wins more hearts than sternness. The apostle knew the terrors of the Lord. He could remind his converts of the awful things beyond the grave. "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." But he knew that love is a more powerful motive than fear. "Perfect love casteth out fear." The cross of Jesus Christ draweth all men to the Savior, because it is the manifestation of that love that passeth knowledge - the love of Jesus Christ.
2. They u, ere actuated by the strong love of souls. The Thessalonians had become very dear to them. They had not known them long, but they recognized them as sheep of that little flock which the Lord Jesus bids those who love him to feed for his love's sake. Thus loving them, they were affectionately desirous of their salvation. They were ready to give them not only the blessed gospel, but their own selves, their own lives, in humble imitation of the good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. They had exposed themselves to the greatest dangers for the work's sake; for that work they were ready, if need be, to die. The love of souls is the essential requisite for real success in the sacred work of the ministry. Other qualifications may win the praise of men; but the true work of winning souls can be wrought only by those who have learned from the blessed Savior something of that holy love which burned in the sacred heart of Jesus.
3. They were absolutely disinterested. They would not be burdensome to their new converts. The Philippian Church had twice sent help to the apostle during his residence at Thessalonica (Philippians 4:16). That help he had accepted; it was unasked, freely given. He welcomed it for the sake of the givers, as an evidence of their love. But the gifts, though very precious as a proof of Christian charity, were probably small in themselves; the Philippian Church was very poor. It seems also to have been a season of scarcity; times were bad. The missionaries had to labor for their livelihood. St. Paul's craft, weaving tent-cloth of goats' hair, was hard, wearisome, ill-paid work. He had to labor night and day. Yet he achieved those great results. He had but the sabbath to himself. Three sabbath days he spent in reasoning with the Jews, and preaching Jesus in the synagogue at Thessalonica; other days he had to work, to work hard and long, for his daily bread. The Greeks despised manual labor; they called it vulgar; they left such work to slaves. The apostle teaches by his own example the dignity of honest labor, the dignity of true Christian independence. Probably the Thessalonians could have helped him. "Not a few of the chief' women" had become Christians. They must, one thinks, have been willing. St. Paul must have had reasons for declining their aid, as he afterwards declined the aid of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:9, 10). How these thoughts increase our admiration of the great apostle! Amid all these difficulties, all these cares, all this engrossing labor, he preached with power, with perseverance, with success such as only an ardent love of souls, only the presence of God the Holy Ghost, could give.
4. They set a high example. The Thessalonians saw their outward life; God could read the secrets of their hearts. That life was pure and holy towards God, just and righteous in its relations to men. The Christians of Thessalonica knew that they were blameless. Others might, perhaps, be busy with their insinuations; unbelievers might suggest this or that unworthy motive. The Christians had learned to know St. Paul and his companions. They knew the sincerity, the purity of their lives. Nay, St. Paul could fearlessly appeal to a higher Witness - to the all-seeing God. Example is a mighty aid in preaching the gospel. Deeds are more persuasive than words. A holy life is an evidence of the reality of those spiritual facts which the preacher describes in words.
5. They taught their converts individually. They were not contented with preaching in the synagogues every sabbath day; they taught from house to house. The converts were many, we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Chrysostom wonders at their zeal in omitting no one in so great a multitude. They sought out each, caring for each separate soul, sharing the angels' joy over one sinner that repenteth. They tried all means of winning souls. They exhorted, stirring the souls of men with burning words, suggesting nobler views of human life and destiny; they comforted, encouraging the afflicted, the despondent, the penitent, by the glad tidings of pardon, peace, and hope; they testified, urging their converts by every constraining motive to persevere in the Christian life. And all this they did with such earnestness, with such affectionate interest, with such love as a father shows towards his own children. A bright example of the pastor's work.
6. The purport of their exhortation. God was calling them; they must walk worthily of that high calling. He was calling them into his kingdom now, into the kingdom which Christ had come to found - his Church. They had become children of the kingdom. He was calling them higher yet, to his glory, to the beatific vision, that the Savior's prayer might be fulfilled, "I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." Their walk in life must show the reality of their hope. Walk implies movement, change of place and scene. As they move hither and thither in the course of their daily lives, in their business, in their amusements, they must ever think of that high calling, and live according to their hopes. Their religion was not to be confined to the sabbath, to the synagogue, to the hours spent on their knees in private prayer; they must carry it everywhere with them; it must guide, stimulate, comfort, encourage in all the varying circumstances of daily life. Their life must be worthy of their calling. They must show its influence; they must adorn the doctrine of God their Savior in all things.
1. Study the lives of St. Paul and other holy men.
2. Let not that study end in admiration; act upon it.
3. In such lives is seen the manifest workings of the grace of God.
4. The sight of such lives confirms the faith of the wavering, kindles the desire of the lukewarm.
5. True Christians are the light of the world; they must let their light shine before men.
6. But not for their own glory; they must seek only the glory of God. - B.C.C.
I. WHAT THE THESSALONIANS HAD FOUND THEIR PREACHING TO BE.
1. Not void of power. "For yourselves, brethren, know our entering in unto you, that it hath not been found vain." "For" goes back to the first of the two divisions given at the close of the previous chapter. This is indicated by the recurrence of the leading Greek word translated "entering in." It was said, "For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you." There is an advance to a further point. Not only did the people in the various places report, but they themselves had the evidences in their possession. The evidences are regarded as extending down to the time of the Thessalonian letter being received. Taken hold of at that moment, and addressed as brethren, they are asked this question, "What has the entering in of us preachers been found to be?" And, having had ample time to estimate the entering in, they are confidently expected to give this testimony, "It hath not been found vain." The epithet "vain" might mean empty of result; but that thought falls under the second division, which is taken up at ver. 13. It must, therefore, mean empty of all that it ought causally to contain - empty of purpose, and earnestness, in a word, of evangelical power.
2. Characterized by fortitude. "But having suffered before, and been shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict." This is so far confirmed by the Acts of the Apostles, where the narrative of the entering in to Thessalonica is immediately preceded by the narrative of the rough treatment received at Philippi. The feature of the suffering before referred to here is there presented as imprisonment. It was imprisonment with aggravated circumstances. Paul and Silas were dragged into the market-place before the magistrates, by whose orders they were beaten with rods. After many stripes had been laid on them they were cast into the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks. This was shameful treatment, not because they were there in Philippi on an errand of mercy, which heathen magistrates could not appreciate, but because their rights were not respected. It was an irregularity to lay stripes on them at all as Roman citizens. It was a further irregularity to punish so hastily in obedience to clamor, and without an opportunity of defense being granted. All this was known to the Thessalonians. So far the statement here supplements the narrative in the Acts of the Apostles. We read, further, that Timothy accompanied Paul from Lystra, and again that he was left behind at Beraea, but there is nothing said of him in the interval. We learn from this notice that he was co-operating with Paul and Silas both in Philippi and in Thessalonica, although, we may understand, not so prominent an object of attack as the others, who were his seniors both in age and in service. The three were not intimidated by this treatment in Philippi. On the contrary, proceeding to Thessalonica, they waxed bold in their God to speak unto the Thessalonians the gospel of God. It was the gospel of God, inasmuch as it came as a glad message from God. They looked to God as their God, who had commissioned them to deliver his message. As commissioned by God to deliver his message, they did not flee, like Jonah, through fear, but they emboldened themselves in their God, that he would give them his protection and support. It did not fare with them in Thessalonica differently from what it did in Philippi. Their message brought them into conflict with the powers of unbelief. It was a conflict of a formidable nature. But the fact that they were able to stand forth and speak the gospel of God in the face of strong opposition was evidence of the very highest value that their entering in to Thessalonica was not vain.
II. THEIR GENERAL HABIT AS PREACHERS.
1. They were not like the idolatrous priests.
(1) They did not preach out of error. "For our exhortation is not of error." There was not much of what is here called exhortation in the ministrations of the idolatrous priests. They did not lay themselves out to influence men by suasion to what was considered to be the right belief and the right life. The old translation in this place, "deceit," was objectionable. Such men were not impostors to begin with. They believed in their system. It was what they had received by tradition from their fathers. Nevertheless it was a system of error, literally, "wandering." Heathenism was a wandering from God, whether objects of worship were sought in the stony world, in the silence of vegetable life, behind the hieroglyphics of the brute creation, or behind the human form. Out of such error they ministered to man. Paul and his companions, on the other hand, ministered out of truth. They had the true conception of God and of human life. Their exhortation had its inspiring cause in Christianity. As moved themselves by its soul-cheering truth, they sought to move others.
(2) They did not preach out of uncleanness. "Nor of uncleanness." This was the general character of heathen ministrations, but, as denied here, it would seem, from the context, to refer more particularly to the impure love of gain. Those who ministered in heathen temples were in the habit of receiving gifts from the worshippers. And there was the danger, and, in the absence of better influences, the likelihood of gain becoming the end, in which their ministrations had motive power. This was not the end in which the apostle and his companions found motive for their way of exhortation.
(3) They did not resort to unworthy methods in preaching. "Nor in guile." Heathen priests could not but be conscious of much imposture. Conscious of no inflatus, of no extraordinary knowledge possessed by them, they yet professed to tell the future from the position of the stars, from the flight of birds, from the entrails of animals. They had to do with unrealities in many forms, in order to keep up their influence with the worshippers. The apostle and his companions, as their end was the salvation of souls, so they only sought it by the use of means which their conscience could approve.
2. They realized their responsibility. "But even as we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God which proveth our hearts." There are two ideas in a trust. The first is acting for another. He who makes over the trust does not act himself by reason of death, or by reason of infirmity, or by reason of absence (as in the analogy that is made use of in Luke 19:12). The trustee - he to whom the trust is made over - acts in his name and for his interest. The second idea is acting apart by one's self. The trustee may have directions to guide him, and ample resources to draw upon in the management of the trust. But otherwise he acts independently. He is left there alone with the trust; in responsibility it is his and not another's if it is managed well; it is his and not another's if it is mismanaged.
(1) What their trust was. "So we speak." A minister must not be devoid of thoughts, and must also be able to give clear expression to them. He has also to stand up before his fellow-men, and to speak to them face to face with a practical aim. That, with the speaking of which he is entrusted, is the gospel. "The gospel of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust." The gospel is properly the glad tidings of salvation to all people. It begins with the message of pardon to the guilty, of adoption into the family of God of the disowned and disinherited. It is, in its gladsome breadth, the promise of the communication of the Divine life and happiness to our being. It is this which the minister has to speak with a view to its acceptance. It is not meant that he is only to speak this. For he has the whole Bible to open up as he can. He has other important truth to present, even the terrors of the Law in its bearing on the gospel. Neither is he to confine himself in his illustrations to the Bible. For as all roads led to Rome, so all things can legitimately and usefully be made to lead to the gospel. Only nothing is to be dilated upon or brought in which has not the effect of making prominent the gospel proper, or the glad message from God to man.
(2) Their being chosen for the trust. "As we have been approved of God." "It was requisite," it has been said of the Athenian priesthoods, "that all priests should be of legitimate birth, without bodily defect, and of unblamable life and conversation. These particulars were ascertained by a dokimasia." It cannot be said of all who are in the office of the ministry that they have received the Divine approval There must be a certain aptitude in natural gifts for preaching the gospel. There must especially be aptitude in the moral state of the preacher. God has seen fit, by saved men, to save men. He employs, in the preaching of the gospel, those who have sympathy with the gospel. In this light Paul and Silas and Timothy were no pretenders, but had received the Divine stamp - had been pronounced fit, from their gifts and experiences, to be employed in the saving of souls.
(3) The spirit in which they fulfilled their trust. Danger they avoided. This was man-pleasing. There is a certain pleasing of men which is not to be avoided by the preacher of the gospel. He is to seek to interest men by all legitimate methods. But this pleasing cannot be exalted into a law universal. We are not to please men as though we were responsible to them. We are not to please men as though we had to consult their false tastes, their natural dislike to the gospel. On the contrary, all man-pleasing is to be repudiated where it interferes with the main design of the gospel, which is to effect a change upon the heart. Excellence they cultivated. This was God-pleasing. This is a safe rule to follow in every case. For he is infinite excellence, and he who seeks to please him follows no low or variable standard. It is the fit thing to do in the position in which we are placed. He has entrusted us preachers with the gospel; it is therefore simply our duty to please him who has given us so solemn a trust. If we have been approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel, that is so far well. But there is an approval that we have to look forward to at the end of our labors. And shall it then be seen that we have stood the test? Shall we then receive the word of approval, "Well done, good and faithful servant"? Paul and Silas and Timothy claimed that, in accordance with the fact of their having been approved, they spake pleasing God. And this is heightened by the consideration that God is regarded as proving their hearts. They preached as under the eye of the heart-trying God. They preached as if asking God to remove from their hearts all that unfitted them for dealing with the gospel. They preached with some consciousness in the depth of their being that their single aim was to find acceptance for the good message.
III. THEIR HABIT TOWARD THE THESSALONIANS.
1. Denial of selfishness.
(1) In the form of flattery. "For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know." In proof of what was their general habit, an appeal is made to what their habit was particularly toward the Thessalonians. At no time were they found using speech whose contents were flattery. Having denied generally the method of deceit, they now deny, toward the Thessalonians, the method of flattery. It is a method commonly resorted to by deceivers. It may seem removed from selfishness, inasmuch as it is a way of pleasing men. In that respect it is not so odious as a habit of detraction. But the flatterer is essentially selfish. He professes affection he does not feel; he bestows praises beyond what he considers to be deserved. He thus goes against the person he seeks to flatter, who has a right to have presented to him what a man really is, and not what he assumes to be - a true face, and not a mask. And be further goes against him, inasmuch as he would have him think of himself as different from what he really is. Paul and his companions were not slow to let the real affection of their heart be known, and to bestow praises where they were deserved. But they disclaimed flattery, appealing, in support of their truthfulness in doing so, to the experience of the Thessalonians.
(2) In the form of covetousness. "Nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness." The idea of deceit is carried forward in the word "cloak." It is something worn under which, or, to keep nearer to the Greek word, "woven before" ("pretext"), behind which the real design is concealed. Covetousness is doubly degrading in connection with sacred service. It is laid down as one of the qualifications of a minister that he is not to be greedy of filthy lucre. Paul and his companions did not use great profession of godliness, or of affection and esteem for the Thessalonians, as a pretext fur getting their money. They were conscious to their own minds of purity in this matter, and, feeling the vast importance of being thoroughly cleared from such an imputation, they solemnly call God to witness that they were stating the truth. This form of confirmation - "God is witness" approaching to the oath, is only to be used in a matter of great moment, and especially where hidden motive is concerned.
(3) In the form of a desire for honor. "Nor seeking glory of men, neither from you, nor from others, when we might have been burdensome, as apostles of Christ." This is an alternative to covetousness. Following the method of deceit, they might have been seeking, not money, but glory. Christ says, "I receive not glory from men." And he declares this to be an obstacle to believing. "How can ye believe, which receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?" Paul and his companions had not sought glory which had its origin in men, neither more immediately from them nor from others. They had not done this when, as the meaning would seem to be, they might have claimed honor as the apostles of Christ. The idea of "burdensomeness" seems out of keeping with the immediate context, the preceding thought being "glory," and the succeeding thought being "gentleness." It seems better, then, to adopt the other meaning which the words equally well bear: "When we might have claimed dignity, assumed consequence." They had an honorable status as apostles of Christ, that designation being taken widely. The honor connected with it came, not from men, but from Christ. It was a great honor to hold a commission from Christ. But they did not put forward their official position; they did not exact a recognition of it from men.
2. On the positive side their motherly unselfishness. "But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us." So far from being mere officials taken up with their dignity, they were gentle in the midst of them. Their whole bearing in the midst of the Thessalonians was like that of a parent in the midst of his children. Nay, that does not suffice to bring out the nature of the gentleness. It is not the father who is taken; but, as expressing greater tenderness, the mother. In another place (Galatians 4:19) Paul also makes use of the motherly: "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you." Here he not only takes the mother, but the mother at the time when she is nursing. As when a nurse cherisheth her own children. It is then that the motherly feeling is most active in her. It is then that she uses the sweetest expressions, holds her child with the greatest fondness and solicitude. But the nursing mother is not only the picture of gentleness; she is also the picture of unselfishness. She does not think of receiving from her child; she thinks only of giving. She gives from herself, and, if that child's life were in danger, she would not hesitate to give her own life. So the motherly was very active in them at Thessalonica. They were affectionately desirous of the Thessalonians. Desire has a certain contrary nature to affection. Desire draws in; affection gives out. It is giving out that is referred to here. It would seem, therefore, better to translate, "Having a fond affection for you." In the working of this affection they gave to the Thessalonians the milk of the Word - here called the gospel of God - what was given them by the great and tender Giver to give to the new-born. And such was the unselfishness of their affection that they had the willingness, if it had been necessary, to give their very lives for the Thessalonians, because, in their craving for the Word, they were felt to be very clear.
3. Striking exemplification of unselfishness. "For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God." The apostle and his companions "practically gave up their existence" to the Thessalonians. Those addressed as brethren are called upon to call to mind the labor and travail undergone for them. The second word serves the purpose of intensification. There was giving out of strength in "heralding" the gospel of God. A herald does not spare himself; as gospel heralds they did not spare themselves in soul or body. This work of heralding was by itself labor and travail; but it was added to by the circumstances under which they heralded. They felt themselves under the necessity of working - Paul, no doubt, at the work of tent-making. That also was labor and travail; for it was night and day - as we would say, day and night; not completed with daylight, but extending into the night. There was no reason for his not receiving from the Philippians as he did at Thessalonica. There was reason for his not receiving from the Thessalonians. The reason given is, the desire not to burden any of them. His not feeling free to burden any of them, whatever determined it, raised him now above the suspicion of being covetous among them. He had only been a giver, like a nursing mother.
4. What their behavior generally was toward the Thessalonians. "Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblamably we behaved ourselves toward you that believe." Their behavior is defined as being toward the Thessalonians as believers. We may think of Paul as speaking for himself and his companions. How did he bear himself toward these believers?
(1) Holily, i.e. with love and reverence toward God in them.
(2) Righteously, i.e. with due consideration for their position. This must be taken to include their position as believers. There was what was suitable for them, as adopted into the family of God through faith.
(3) Unblamably, a strong word which is used not infrequently by the apostle. It is the negative side of the two positions that have been given. Here there is a concentration of the self-praise, as it may seem, that pervades the paragraph. How could he act so holily and righteously toward the Thessalonians as to incur no blame from them or from God? But that is not all: he makes an appeal to them as witnesses, and, the second time in the paragraph, he makes a solemn appeal to God as Witness even of his inward disposition. It cannot be understood that he lays claim to perfection; for it is he who says in another place, "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect." But it must be understood that he claimed to be sincere, and sincere in no ordinary degree, in seeking the good of the Thessalonians. In claiming this he was not really praising himself; but he was making clear what was fitted to influence powerfully the Thessalonians in their fidelity to the gospel. He points to them as believers, because, it may be, they were fitted to appreciate the spirituality of his bearing. He points to them as believers, chiefly as showing that they worthily responded to what his bearing was.
5. Their fatherly dealing. There are frequent allusions to fatherhood in God in Scripture. One of the allusions to motherhood in God is in Isaiah 66:13, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." Both meet in God, forming a complete conception.
"No earthly father loves like thee, (1) Individual dealing. "As ye know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father dealeth with his own children." It is the part of a father to have his children under his eye. He is acquainted with their little histories and peculiar dispositions. And he does not deal with all alike, but studies their various ways, and deals with them accordingly. So it is the part of a minister not only to make a general declaration of the gospel, but also, father-like, to deal with his people individually, according to what he knows of their circumstances and needs. (2) Three words descriptive of the nature of fatherly dealing. "Exhorting you." It is the part of a father not merely to tell his children their duty, but also to exhort them, to urge them warmly to duty, especially from his own experiences of life. So it is the part of a minister not only to hold up Scripture precept for instruction, but also, father-like, warmly to recommend its observance, especially from his own spiritual experiences. "And encouraging you." It is the part of a father to hold out encouragement to the performance of duty. Nothing can be more fatal to the young than a discouraging tone. So it is the part of a minister not to be harsh, censorious, despondent, but, father-like, to catch a geniality and hopefulness from his message which may be said to have come from the fatherhood of God. "And testifying." The word can bear a stronger meaning - charging, conjuring. There are times when a father addresses his children as with his dying breath, conjures them by all that he counts dear and sacred, by a consideration of their best interests, not to give way to temptation, but to follow in the path of duty. So there are times when it is becoming for a minister to concentrate his earnestness and to address his people as with his dying breath, conjuring them by the authority of God, by the love of the Spirit, by the blood of Christ, by the dreadful issues at stake, by the solemnity of judgment, not to allow themselves to be cheated out of happiness, but to make sure of Christ as their everlasting Portion. (3) To what the fatherly dealing is to be directed. "To the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory." It is the part of a father to endeavor to hold the children to what is noble. For this purpose he loves to tell them of the good name their family has borne, of the call which that addresses to them to follow out a good career. And so he exhorts, encourages, conjures them. Let them not stain that noble name, let them not stop short of that noble career. So it is the part of a minister, father-like, to tell his people of their high dignity and destiny, of their being called by God into his own kingdom, of their being called in that kingdom to share with God in his glory. And so he exhorts, encourages, conjures them. Let them prove worthy of having place and honor in God's kingdom. Let the royal stamp be on all their conduct. - R.F.
(1) Individual dealing. "As ye know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father dealeth with his own children." It is the part of a father to have his children under his eye. He is acquainted with their little histories and peculiar dispositions. And he does not deal with all alike, but studies their various ways, and deals with them accordingly. So it is the part of a minister not only to make a general declaration of the gospel, but also, father-like, to deal with his people individually, according to what he knows of their circumstances and needs.
(2) Three words descriptive of the nature of fatherly dealing. "Exhorting you." It is the part of a father not merely to tell his children their duty, but also to exhort them, to urge them warmly to duty, especially from his own experiences of life. So it is the part of a minister not only to hold up Scripture precept for instruction, but also, father-like, warmly to recommend its observance, especially from his own spiritual experiences. "And encouraging you." It is the part of a father to hold out encouragement to the performance of duty. Nothing can be more fatal to the young than a discouraging tone. So it is the part of a minister not to be harsh, censorious, despondent, but, father-like, to catch a geniality and hopefulness from his message which may be said to have come from the fatherhood of God. "And testifying." The word can bear a stronger meaning - charging, conjuring. There are times when a father addresses his children as with his dying breath, conjures them by all that he counts dear and sacred, by a consideration of their best interests, not to give way to temptation, but to follow in the path of duty. So there are times when it is becoming for a minister to concentrate his earnestness and to address his people as with his dying breath, conjuring them by the authority of God, by the love of the Spirit, by the blood of Christ, by the dreadful issues at stake, by the solemnity of judgment, not to allow themselves to be cheated out of happiness, but to make sure of Christ as their everlasting Portion.
(3) To what the fatherly dealing is to be directed. "To the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory." It is the part of a father to endeavor to hold the children to what is noble. For this purpose he loves to tell them of the good name their family has borne, of the call which that addresses to them to follow out a good career. And so he exhorts, encourages, conjures them. Let them not stain that noble name, let them not stop short of that noble career. So it is the part of a minister, father-like, to tell his people of their high dignity and destiny, of their being called by God into his own kingdom, of their being called in that kingdom to share with God in his glory. And so he exhorts, encourages, conjures them. Let them prove worthy of having place and honor in God's kingdom. Let the royal stamp be on all their conduct. - R.F.
I. THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT MAKE THE DECLARATION OF THE GOSPEL AN ACT OF BOLDNESS. St. Paul had been "shamefully entreated" at Philippi. Danger threatened also at Thessalonica. But the apostle was nothing daunted, not even holding his life dear in the prosecution of his great mission. Similar dangers beset the missionary now, and no one has a right to undertake mission work who is not prepared to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Moral courage is not less requisite in outwardly peaceful circumstances. The discouragement of indifference, the chilling influence of ridicule, and even the hindrance of direct opposition, will meet us if we are faithful to our duty of declaring the gospel where it is most needed.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THOSE WHO ARE ENTRUSTED WITH THE GOSPEL NOT TO SHRINK FROM DECLARING IT IN SPITE OF ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES. It is a trust, and the trust must be discharged even if the steward die at his post. The world needs the gospel most when it is most opposed to it. For the sake of the very men who mock or resist us we must faithfully discharge our message. Others also need it who must not be kept out of their lawful privileges by our weak fears. Moreover, the glory of God must be sought above all considerations of personal safety. How strangely that passion of devotion to Christ which inspired the apostles to preach him at the peril of their lives contrasts with the selfish, comfort-loving habits of many who have undertaken to discharge the duties of the same stewardship in our own day!
III. A BOLD, DECIDED DECLARATION OF THE GOSPEL IS ALWAYS NECESSARY. Christianity is no religion for cowards. It is a gross error to suppose that it unmans its followers. The greatest heroes of the first century were the Christians. A manly courage is much needed in the present day. The gospel should always be declared clearly, positively, and confidently by those who have a sure faith in it themselves. It is a great mistake to think that a timid, apologetic tone will be more conciliatory. We have no need to be thus timidly apologetic for the gospel, if it is true; but if it is not true, we have no right to defend it at all. In either case a weak, half-hearted advocacy is culpable. Enmity is best overcome and ridicule shamed by courage. It is most foolish for the Christian advocate to be afraid of boldly stating his beliefs before his skeptical opponent. Let us, however, distinguish true boldness from heedless provocativeness on the one hand, and from mere insolence on the other. Christians are to be wise as serpents, to be courteous, and as far as in them lies to live peaceably with all men.
IV. THE SOURCE OF CHRISTIAN BOLDNESS IS IN GOD. This boldness is a very different thing from mere brute daring. It is spiritual, sober, thoughtful. It has to lace spiritual as well as carnal foes. It comes, like other Christian graces, as an inspiration from the Spirit of God. They who are most deeply in communion with God when by themselves will be most thoroughly brave when in the world. Thus Joshua was made courageous by his vision of the "captain of the host of the Lord" (Joshua 5:14). - W.F.A.
I. THE GOSPEL IS A TRUST.
1. The gospel is of great value. If property is put in trust it is presumably valuable. We carefully guard what we prize highly. God's message of reconciliation is a charter of liberty, a covenant of grace, a promissory note of future blessings.
2. The gospel needs to be guarded and administered. It is in danger of being lost, forgotten, perverted, and corrupted. Trustees are required in order to preserve it in its integrity and to give it forth to those who need it.
3. The gospel is entrusted to men. There are those who are put in trust with the gospel. Men are to trust God; God also trusts men. He confides in the honor and devotion of his people. As the steward is entrusted with his master's estate, the servant of God receives a trust of the rich treasures of the gospel. The treasure is committed to earthen vessels. Thus does God honor his children and use them for his good purposes.
II. THE TRUSTEES OF THE GOSPEL ARE CHOSEN AND APPROVED OF GOD. God called the prophets, and Christ called the apostles. Every true Christian minister is called of God. The Church is God's chosen company of trustees of the gospel. Christian nations are providentially appointed for its custodianship. Certain qualifications are required in the trustees, in order that they may be approved of God.
1. They must hold the truth themselves. "Not of error" (ver. 3). The first requisites are an understanding of and a belief in the gospel.
2. They must live in accordance with the truth. "Nor of uncleanness." The trustee of the holy gospel must be a regenerate man. Otherwise his conduct will damage the gospel which he holds.
3. They must be honest in the discharge of the trust. "Nor in guile." No self-seeking, double-dealing, or men-pleasing can be permitted in the trustees of the gospel. They must be sincerely devoted to the truth that is entrusted to them.
III. THE TRUSTEESHIP OF THE GOSPEL IMPOSES IMPORTANT DUTIES.
1. The gospel must be preserved in its integrity. The trustees are not permitted to tamper with the trust. We have no right to add to or to detract from the gospel as it is given to us in the New Testament. It is a matter of honor that one who holds office in a Christian Church should net avail himself of the advantages of his position to advance private views which in any way militate against what is contained in the gospel charter on which the Church is founded. The New Testament is a trust-deed, and its provisions must be studiously observed, or the trusteeship implied by any active work in the Church must be resigned. Any other course is dishonest.
2. The trust of the gospel must be discharged for the benefit of those for whom it is designed. The trustees must study the interests of the beneficiaries. Trustees of the gospel are teachers of the gospel. This truth of God is not to be wrapped up in a napkin, but made use of for the good of mankind. The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God that ultimately the Gentiles might receive those oracles from their hands. The Church is entrusted with the gospel that she may convey it to the world. The trust of the gospel carries with it the obligation of undertaking missionary enterprises.
3. The trust of the gospel must be discharged to the approval of God. It is his trust. He will call the stewards to account. Their aim, therefore, must be, not to please men, but "God which proveth our hearts." - W.F.A.
I. NEGATIVELY. "For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness; nor seeking glory of men."
1. The apostle and his colleagues did not attempt to win their way by flattery, either by setting forth high views of human nature, or by holding men's persons in admiration for the sake of advantage; for their gospel tended rather to humble man and subdue his pride. Flattery is a gross dishonor both to God and man, for it implies untruthfulness, and may become fatal in its results to easily deluded sinners. The apostle appealed to the Thessalonians in confirmation of his statement.
2. They did not use their position as a cloak of covetousness, as God could testify, who knows the heart. The apostle might say now, as he afterwards said to the elders of Ephesus, "I coveted no man's silver, nor gold, nor apparel." The false teachers were chargeable with covetousness, for "through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Peter 2:1, 3). How emphatically the apostle insists upon ministers of the gospel being free from this vice! "Not greed, of filthy lucre."
3. They were not fond of vain-glory. "Nor seeking glory of men, neither from you, nor from others, when we might have been burdensome as apostles of Christ," or might have stood on their dignity as apostles of Christ. There is no allusion here to his claim to ministerial support, but rather to the position of magisterial dignity he might have assumed, with all its pomp and peremptoriness and sternness. His spirit at Thessalonica was not that of lordship over God's heritage.
II. POSITIVELY. "But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children."
1. They were gentle in their intercourse with their converts; unassuming and mild, with no haughty or imperious airs, challenging honor and homage. They acted in the very spirit of the good Shepherd. Long afterwards the apostle could remind one of his present colleagues that "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves" (2 Timothy 2:24-26). This gentleness, which is at once a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and a characteristic of the "wisdom from above" (James 3:17), becomes all the more impressive when it is linked with the highest strength of character.
2. They were most affectionate in their intercourse with their converts. "Even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us."
(1) Their yearning love was manifest:
(a) In their imparting the gospel to them. As their spiritual parents they travailed in birth till Christ was formed in them, and then they fed them thereafter with the sincere milk of the Word.
(b) In their readiness to risk their lives for the sake of their children in the faith. They verily carried their lives in their hands.
(2) This apostolic solicitude on their behalf sprung out of their deep love for the Thessalonians, as being at once the trophies of their ministry, and as being pre-eminently docile in their attitude toward the gospel and its preachers. There is hardly any stronger tie in this world than that which links together a spiritual father and his converts. - T.C.
I. THE GOSPEL IS BEST COMMENDED BY AFFECTIONATENESS IN THE CHRISTIAN PREACHER. The gospel bases its first claims on its own truth and reasonableness, and it is necessary that men should be convinced on these points if due respect for the rights of the human intellect is to be observed. Nevertheless the most persuasive power is not to be found in hard reason; nor does it reside in the splendors of eloquence. It is much more effective when it comes from simple, natural affectionate-ness. Men are more vulnerable in the heart than in the head. The Christian teacher must attack both strongholds; he will be foolish indeed if he neglect the more accessible one. It is often seen in experience that affectionateness conquers where convincing logic falls dead, and where glowing rhetoric only dazzles the hearers.
1. The influence of the preacher depends chiefly on his affectionateness. His relations with his hearers are personal. He is more than the herald. He is the shepherd of the flock, the father or brother of the family, the nurse of the babes in Christ. Thus ties of love between pastor and people not only make the association in Church life happy; they also afford the greatest aids to the work of the ministry.
2. The truth of the gospel is best revealed through affectionateness. The gospel is no dreamy dogma, no hard law, no pompous manifesto. It is a message from a father to his children, and a story of love in death. The Bible is a most human book, homely, brotherly, pathetic in its affectionate character. But this character of the Bible and of the gospel is marred and almost lost to view when harsh language and cold feelings accompany the preaching of it. The gospel of love should be offered in a kindred spirit of love.
II. A RIGHT FEELING OF THE SPIRIT OF THE GOSPEL WILL LEAD TO AFFECTIONATENESS IN THE CHRISTIAN PREACHER. It is most important that the desired affectionateness should be genuine. The pretence of it is mere hypocrisy. Affectionate language which does not spring from a heart of love is a mockery. It is better to have an honest hardness than this assumed unctuousness. It is important, also, that the affectionateness should be healthy and manly, and should not degenerate into effeminate sentimentality. The gospel itself should inspire the right affectionateness.
1. The spirit of the gospel being love, if we truly receive the gospel it will inspire love. The greatest change which it produces in men is to cast out selfishness, and to give a heart of love to God and man.
2. We best show our love to Christ by loving our brethren. We love Christ in them. He who loves Christ warmly will have the spirit which St. Paul manifested to the Churches under his care. - W.F.A.
I. THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLE WAS ALWAYS LABORIOUS. He could say to the Corinthians that "he had approved himself as the minister of God in labors;" that "in labors he was more abundant" (2 Corinthians 6:4, 5; 2 Corinthians 11:23); exhausting his strength daily in his eager anxiety to reach the people with the gospel of God. If ever man went to the edge of his possibility, it was the Apostle Paul. The labor might be exhausting in itself, or on account of the obstacles thrown in his way, but it became the habit of his daily life.
II. IT WAS DOUBLY LABORIOUS AT THESSALONICA ON ACCOUNT OF THE NECESSITY HE IMPOSED UPON HIMSELF OF WORKING FOR HIS LIVING. Occupied in preaching or teaching through the day, he devoted his nights to his craft as a tent-maker.
1. The necessity in question was not imposed by either the Mosaic or the Christian Law. He showed to the Corinthians that alike natural justice, the Mosaic ordinance, and positive law, as announced by our Lord himself, required them to support the ministers of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9.). "They who preach the gospel shall also live of the gospel."
2. It was a necessity based upon a high Christian expediency. At Corinth he thought good "not to use his power in the gospel," and therefore preached the gospel there "without charge." The malignity of Jewish enemies led him to avoid even the appearance of covetous ness, or of attempting to "make a gain" of the Corinthians. We do not know under what circumstances he was led to pursue a similar course at Thessalonica. It may have been from similar accusations, or from a tendency he had observed among certain saints in the city to forswear work and go about as "busybodies." But his policy was exceptional, and affords no rule in modern times unless the circumstances should again become exceptional.
3. It was a necessity cheerfully accepted for the good of the Thessalonians. He had but two means of support in the city.
(1) He was not supported by super natural means, like Elijah in the desert.
(2) He was occasionally helped by the thoughtful kindness of the Philippians. "I robbed other Churches," he tells the Corinthians, "taking wages of them to do you service." He tells the Philippians, "For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again to my necessities" (Philippians 4:15-17).
(3) He had to supplement these occasional-gifts by "working with his own hands." Every Jew had to learn a trade. The apostle thus dignifies common industry. - T.C.
I. CONSIDER HIS PERSONAL DEPORTMENT. "Ye are witnesses, and God, how holily, and justly, and unblamably we behaved ourselves among you that believe." He touches on the twofold relationship of the Christian life toward God and toward man, for he had always exercised himself" to have a conscience void of offence toward man and God," and strove "to give no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed" (Acts 26:16; 2 Corinthians 6:3). He had striven to walk circumspectly in a world prone to suspect sinister ends even in the best of men. The apostle's walk was on high, even as his calling was high.
II. CONSIDER HIS OFFICIAL DEPORTMENT. It was manifest in his method of dealing with his converts, and in the end which he kept steadily in view in all his ministry.
1. His method of dealing with his converts. "As ye know how we exhorted and comforted, and testified to each one of you as a father doth his children."
(1) Mark the varieties in his mode of dealing with his converts.
(a) He exhorted them, for their position of persecution and temptation demanded that he "should give them much exhortation (Acts 20:2).
(b) He comforted them, m the presence of many disquieting circumstances in their condition.
(c) He testified to them, exhibiting gospel truth with all urgency.
(2) Mark the affectionate spirit of his dealing with them: "As a father doth his children;" for he combined a father's unwearying love with his power of direction and authority.
(3) Mark the individualizing interest in their welfare: "Each one of you." Whether they were rich or poor, few or many, he passed by none of them. They all had a place in his heart.
2. The aim of all his affectionate and individualizing interest in their welfare. "That you would walk worthy of God, who calleth you into his kingdom and glory." The duty here enjoined, "Walk worthy of God." This implies
(1) conformity to his revealed will;
(2) adornment of the gospel by a holy walk;
(3) supreme regard to the obligations involved in the high calling of God - these being necessitated by
(a) the nature of the call, which is not external, but spiritual;
(b) by the consideration of him who calls us;
(c) by the holy ends of the call;
(d) by the consideration of their high destiny:
for they are called to "his own kingdom and glory." This kingdom is that which is established in the mediation of Christ, into which we enter by the gate of regeneration, and which reaches its full and final development in the second coming of Christ. The glory is that which he impresses upon his people here, and which receives its full manifestation hereafter. - T.C.
I. TO BE WORTHY OF GOD IS THE HIGHEST AIM OF SPIRITUAL ASPIRATION. It is so high an aim that it seems to be hopelessly out of our reach. Are we not in everything unworthy of God? Our sinfulness is direct ill-desert, our unbelief, weakness, and imperfection dishonoring to Divine grace, our very virtues and good deeds of no absolute worth, because at best we are unprofitable servants, who have but done that which it was our duty to do. Nevertheless:
1. We should aim at the highest attainment, though as yet we may be far from reaching it.
2. We may become increasingly less unworthy of God.
3. We may truly honor God by our character and deeds.
4. We may hope at last to be worthy of God in the sense that we shall be fit to dwell with him; no disgrace to his Name when we bear it, and able to take our position as members of his family.
II. TO BE WORTHY OF GOD IS TO BE LIVING IN A RIGHT COURSE OF DAILY LIFE. This is expressed by the word "walk."
1. It must be a continuous course. To have passing phases of very pure spiritual thought is not to be so worthy of God as to walk continuously in obedience to his will though on a much lower plain.
2. It is to be striven after in daily life. We do not want angels' wings wherewith to soar into unearthly altitudes. We can walk on the lowly earth and yet be worthy of God. The worthiness depends on the spirit of our conduct, not on the sphere in which we live. With coarse surroundings, in toilsome drudgery, by humble tasks, the soul can so live as to be worthy of God.
III. IT IS THE DUTY OF ALL CHRISTIANS TO BE WORTHY OF GOD. The requirement does not belong to a counsel of perfection which a few rare souls may adopt at their will. It is laid upon all Christians as a duty. The special ground of the obligation is in what God has done for his people. He has called them "into his own kingdom and glory."
1. Gratitude requires us to walk worthy of God. His gifts and his promises reveal love and sacrifice on his part which naturally call for love and devotion on ours.
2. The future destiny of Christians also demands this conduct. The heir should behave as befits his future position. "Prince Hal" was an unworthy prince in his youth, especially because he disgraced himself in view of an exalted future. Christians are heirs of God's kingdom. Therefore they should walk worthily of him who has called them into it.
IV. IT IS THE OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING TO LEAD MEN TO BE THUS WORTHY OF GOD. If the aim of the spiritual life must be high, so also must be that of its guide and teacher. The preacher's work is not done when a soul is first turned from the slavery of sin to the service of Christ. Then follows all the education and training of the new life up to the perfect worthiness. Hence the need of affectionate influence and all graces of persuasion. - W.F.A.
accepted the truth. "Ye are my witnesses; now I am yours." His immediate ground of thankfulness was that they had received, not man's word, but God's, and that the Word was so thoroughly efficacious. "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received not the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God."
I. THEY APPRECIATED THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WORD OF MEN AND THE WORD OF GOD.
1. They first heard it no doubt with interest and docility of spirit. "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." The Word was not read but heard in the preaching of the apostles; it was no discovery of their own mind.
2. They received it as an external fact made known to them by man.
4. Their glad acceptance of it was conditioned upon its Divine origin. It was not man's word, representing a new speculation in philosophy or ethics; it was "the Word of God" (Romans 10:14). It was therefore
(1) an infallible Word;
(2) bearing the impress of Divine authority;
(3) and therefore to be received with reverence and love.
II. THEY MANIFESTED THE POWER OF THE TRUTH IN THEIR LIVES. "Which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
1. This effectual operation is conditioned upon their faith. "The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Hebrews 4:2). The gospel is only to the believer "the power of God to salvation" (Romans 1:16).
2. Its power was manifest in quickening, enlightening, sanctifying, and comforting under all afflictions and persecutions. - T.C.
I. ITS RECEPTION BY THE THESSALONIANS.
1. They believed that it came from God. Paul and Silas and Timotheus brought the message; the Thessalonians recognized it as the message of God. They felt that it came from him.
(1) Their words were such as never man untaught of God could speak. The gospel was utterly unlike anything that had been heard or read before. It stood alone, unique, separate from all other histories. No human imagination could have pictured it; no human genius could have thought it out. It must be of God; it could have no other source. It bore within itself the evidence of its inspiration, of its Divine origin. And
(2) they felt its energy within their hearts. It did not lie dormant there; it was living and powerful It wrought within them with a mighty working, drawing them by a strange constraining power away from their old self-pleasing lives into the new life of faith and love and self-denial. That living force showed that it was the Word of God. No mere human words could so stir the heart. The preaching of the cross might be a stumbling-block to the Jews, it might seem foolishness to the Greeks; but to those who had the precious gift of faith, it was "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
2. They showed their faith by their works. The infant European Churches imitated the oldest Churches, those of Judaea. All alike belonged to God; all were in Christ Jesus, living branches in the true Vine. The new converts sought to live like the first Christians. "Then had the Churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of God, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." They imitated them in active holiness, and they imitated them in patient endurance.
II. THE OPPOSITION OF THE WORLD.
1. The Gentile opposition. It first appeared in Macedonia. In Philippi the evangelists were for the first time brought before Gentile magistrates. The politarchs of Thessalonica had more sense of justice than the so-called praetors of Philippi. They contented themselves with taking security from the Christians who were brought before them. But the converts were exposed to great persecution in both places from the first. In his letters to both Churches, St. Paul again and again mentions their sufferings. In writing to the Corinthians he speaks of the "great trial of affliction" which beset the Macedonian Christians. The Thessalonians had to suffer much at the hands of their own countrymen. But they had been taught that those who would live a godly life must suffer persecution, and so they thought it not strange. It had been so from the beginning of Christianity. They looked to the example of the earliest Churches.
2. The Jewish opposition. The Jews had slain the prophets; they had slain the Lord Jesus; they had chased the apostle from city to city. They were St. Paul's own countrymen. He loved them dearly. He could find no words strong enough to express his intense longing for their salvation (see Romans 9:1-3). But they were constantly thwarting his work - that work of saving souls on which his whole heart was set. They were doing so now at Corinth, opposing themselves and blaspheming (Acts 18:6). St. Paul could not restrain his feelings of holy indignation. They call themselves (he says) the peculiar people of God; but they please him not. He willeth that all men should be saved, and they are contrary to all men. In that hatred of the human race which heathen writers attribute to them, they tried to hinder the apostle from preaching to the Gentiles. Nothing angered them more than the proclamation of a free salvation offered to Jew and Gentile alike (see Acts 22:21, 22). This wicked jealousy filled up the measure of their sins. Their sin was its own punishment. That hardened heart was the beginning of the judgment that was coming. Learn:
1. To reverence the Gospel as the Word of God.
2. To look for its inner working in the heart.
3. To imitate the saints of God in patient endurance. - B.C.C.
I. THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE WORD. "And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that when ye received from us the word of the message, even the Word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also worketh in you that believe." With this commences the second of the divisions indicated at the close of the first chapter. Our attention is turned away from the preachers to the hearers. It is confusing to join "also" to "we," and to suppose the meaning to be, with Lunemann, "We as well as every true Christian who hears of your conduct," or, with Ellicott, "We as well as you who have so much to be thankful for." It makes an easier transition to join "also" to "thank," making the subject of thanksgiving something additional to the earnestness of the preachers. We may translate freely, "Having this as an antecedent, we have this in addition as a consequent for which to thank God." Here, then, is a falling back into the thankful strain with which the Epistle commenced. The very word translated "without ceasing" is caught up. Having given out their strength in preaching, they had unceasing cause of thanksgiving to God in the result. In setting forth the result, the word is described from the point of view of the Thessalonians in relation to the preachers. The nearest translation is "the from-us-heard-word." This they received in the outward ordinance of preaching. Having thus received it, they next accepted it or received it into their inmost being. They gave this inner reception to it, as being, in their estimation, not the word of man. It was indeed delivered by men, It was a word of human salvation. In its very humanness it was fitted to reach men. But their estimation of the word rose above it as a mere human word to what it really was (as attested here), the Word of God. It was a Word given under Divine direction. It was a Word that came from the heart of God. It was a Word of the overflowing of Divine love. It was a Word, moreover, that was accompanied with the Divine efficacy. In harmony with its being the Divine Word, it is described as working in them that believe. Faith is the organ for our reception of the Word. We may receive the Divine Word in the outward ordinance of preaching, but if there is not this organ of inner reception it must remain inoperative. On the other hand, if there is faith, and in proportion as there is faith, does the mighty power of the word pass into us, even up to the full extent of our capacity and need. It is, therefore, our duty to see that we present no obstacle of unbelief to the efficacy of the Word in us. "That the Word may become effectual to salvation we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives."
II. THE ACCEPTED WORD WROUGHT IN THEM TO GIVE THEM CHRISTIAN HEROISM. "For ye, brethren, became imitators of the Churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews." There were, to appearance, other Churches of God in Judaea. It was, therefore, necessary to distinguish Christian Churches in Judaea. It is not to be understood that the Thessalonian Christians were designedly imitators of the Judaean Churches. In result they were imitators. In similar circumstances they exhibited a similar spirit. Judaea was notably the quarter where Christian heroism was most required. The Jews there were filled with deepest rancor against Christ. By their numbers they were more to be considered by the Roman power, and were able to go to greater lengths against the Christians. It could be said of the Thessalonian Christians that they were not behind the Judaean Churches in Christian heroism. They suffered the same things of their own countrymen. We are, therefore, to understand that they were subjected to severe persecution in Thessalonica. We know that the Jews had to do with the persecution as instigators, but, as they had little in their power without the action of the Gentile authorities, their own countrymen are referred to as those at whose hands the Thessalonians suffered. A position was held for Christ at Thessalonica as in Judaea. And, in recording this to the praise of the Thessalonians, they warm toward them and address them as brethren.
III. FOR THEIR ENCOURAGEMENT IN HEROISM THE JEWS ARE PRESENTED IN THEIR TRUE CHARACTER.
1. Their past conduct.
(1) Worst manifestation. "Who both killed the Lord Jesus." In the Greek the mind is first made to rest on the word "Lord." Then there is brought into neighborhood and sharp contrast with it the word "killed." The "Lord" of the Old Testament Scriptures to whom Divine attributes are ascribed - whom David owned as his Lord - they did not own or submit to; but, going in the opposite direction as far as they could go, him they murdered. They did this not only to him who was the Impersonation of authority, but was also the Jesus is third Accomplisher of the loving, saving purpose of God. "For" added as a word. This the Jews did as a nation. They said in effect, through their constituted authorities, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him." In thus charging guilt home upon the Jews, Paul was charging it home upon himself. For wherever he was at the time of the crucifixion, in his then state of mind he was in full sympathy with the action of the rulers. And it is right that we should see here not only the blackness of the Jewish heart, but the blackness of the human heart. This was what we did to our Lord when he came on an errand of mercy to our earth. We laid hands on him and put him to death. For this let us be deeply humbled before God. Let us say with Job, in nearer contact with God, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
(2) Manifestations leading up to the worst. "And the prophets." What the Jews did to their Messiah was net an isolated act. It was only of a piece with what their previous conduct had been. "Which of the prophets," said Stephen, "did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them which showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers." The treatment they gave to God's messengers, whose work it was to prepare the way for the Messiah by rebuke and prediction, led up to the treatment they gave their Messiah. In his pro-Christian state Paul was well entitled to be called "son of them that slew the prophets;" and so are all who abuse and thwart, or stand aloof from, those who are seeking to advance the cause of God in the world.
(3) Manifestation subsequent to the worst. "And drave out us." The reference seems to be to the driving of the apostles out of Judaea. This was overruled by God for the proclamation of the gospel beyond Judea; but none the less was it culpable. It showed that the spirit of penitence had not passed over them for the heinous crime of which they had been guilty. They were still holding to the words, "His blood be upon us, and upon our children."
2. Condemnation of their conduct.
(1) It was against God. "And please not God." The Jews thought they were pleasing God in what they did to Christ and also to the prophets and apostles. This is denied of them. They were really, in their anti-Christian position, setting themselves against the Divine ends. They were setting themselves against the whole meaning of their existence as a nation, against the teaching of their oracles, against the design of their rites. They were setting themselves against the evidence of miracles, and against the stronger evidence of a goodness which should have carried conviction to every honest heart. If they could be so far mistaken, have not we reason to be on our guard? We may think that we are pleasing God when we have never learned the alphabet of the Divine teaching, have never subjected ourselves to the Divine control.
(2) It was against man. "And are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved." Their condemnation manward is as strong as their condemnation Godward. They were contrary to all men, is the language used; and the proof which is given is conclusive. The gospel is the offer of salvation to all men. But the universality, which is its glory, was to them its defect. They had the idea of keeping salvation to themselves. They had the idea that they were blessed the more, the fewer they were that were blessed. And when the apostles spoke to the Gentiles, and thus preached the larger salvation, as if the blessing were being taken away from them, they forbade them in such manner as they could, by contradiction, calumnies, laying snares for their life. If this was their fall, let us beware lest it should be ours. The first saved (for as Christians we stand where the Jews stood) must understand it to be their duty, not to draw the line at themselves, but to reach forth in blessing to all the unsaved.
3. Final result of their conduct.
(1) In guilt. "To fill up their sins always." There is here a reflection f our Lord's words, "Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers." The Jews were on their trial as a nation. In this trial they should have filled up the measure of their good actions, of service to the world. That would have been their vindication before God. Instead of that, they filled up the measure of their sins. There is significant language used in Genesis 15:10, "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." It is a sad thing that it could be said of the Jews with Divine helps, as of the Amorites without Divine helps, that they were filling up their sins. They were filling up their sins always. It was a course which they did not alter by a genuine deep conformed repentance as a nation. The general tendency of their conduct, both before Christ, at the time of Christ, and after Christ, was to fill up their sins. They obstinately put away God from them, disregarded the Divine calls and warnings. And the ultimate result of such conduct, in the working out of the eternal purpose, could only be as here set down, the bringing of the measure of their sins up to the full.
(2) In punishment. "But the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." This is in contrast with the filling up of their sins, in their opposition to God and man. The wrath of God, which is here mentioned for the second time in the Epistle, is to be thought of as the predestined or the merited wrath. It is a wrath which descends upon nations as well as upon individuals. As the measure of their sins is thought of as being brought up to the full, so the wrath is thought of as reaching its utmost limit, when it must discharge itself - when, instead of probationary dealing, there must be inflictive judgment. The inspired writers here had words of our Lord on which to proceed. "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." The apostolic words were written within fifteen years of the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Jews were finally rejected as a nation. There is hope of their conversion at some future period; but it cannot be said that to this day the wrath of God, for their long course of disobedience, has been removed. - R.F.
I. ST. PAUL CLAIMED TO BE A TEACHER OF THE WORD OF GOD.
1. He did not admit that his teachings were merely human speculations on religious subjects. His position was entirely different from that of the most gifted philosopher, more exalted since he stood forth as the apostle of superhuman truth, and also more humble since he subordinated his own private ideas to the message of which he was but the bearer.
2. St. Paul did not profess to be simply a witness of the facts of the gospel. That was the position of the first Christian teachers. St. Peter and his companions of the day of Pentecost presented themselves as witnesses of the great transactions of the life of Christ, and chiefly of his resurrection. They narrated what they had seen and heard (Acts 2:32; 1 John 1:1). St. Paul had not been a companion of our Lord. But he had something higher than the knowledge of experience and observation. He did not learn his gospel of men; it was revealed to him in the solitudes of Arabia.
3. St. Paul claimed to be inspired with a Divine revelation. It was not his thought, nor even his testimony of Divine facts, but the Word of God that he proclaimed. It is plain that the apostle used his own language, and spoke in a characteristic and individual style. He also reasoned with his own intellect; for inspiration does not simply breathe through a man as through a mechanical instrument. But his language and thought and whole being were illumined and elevated by the Spirit of God, so that he saw the truth of God and was able to speak the Word of God.
II. THE THESSALONIANS ACCEPTED ST. PAUL'S MESSAGE AS THE WORD OF GOD.
1. They admitted the fact. They did so, no doubt, first because the power and personal influence of the apostle impressed them; then because they were convinced by his arguments; then because they must have felt the inherent beauty and greatness of what he taught; and lastly because they saw the good effects of his gospel. By these four gradations we are led on to a more and more consistent belief in the Divine authority of the gospel; viz. by authority, by argument, by the excellency of the gospel itself, and by its fruits.
2. The Thessalonians received the message as befitted its Divine origin.
(1) They believed in its truth. God only speaks what is true. To establish a message as the Word of God is to prove its truth.
(2) They submitted to its authority. There may be many things in the gospel which we cannot account for. Our faith in God should be implicit.
(3) They yielded to its influence. Thus they let it work in them. The Word of God is a word of grace and a word of command. To accept it aright we must avail ourselves of the grace and obey the command. To receive a word of pardon as from a king is to leave the prison when the door is open. To receive a message as from a master is to carry out the order.
III. ST. PAUL'S TEACHING PROVED ITSELF TO BE THE WORD OF GOD BY ITS EFFECTS. It was found to be working in the Church at Thessalonica. The Word of God is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). Christ's words were spirit and life (John 6:63). This Divine Word is no barren revelation of far-off celestial curiosities. It is a message concerning human and earthly as well as heavenly affairs. Like the first creative word, when God spake and it was done, the message of the new creation is a word that effects. God's words are deeds. But that they may be deeds in us it is necessary for us to receive them in faith. And in proportion to our faith will the energy of God's Word work in us. - W.F.A.
I. IT IS A HIGH HONOR AS WELL AS PRIVILEGE FOR CHURCHES TO BE SELECTED AS PATTERNS OF PATIENCE TO OTHER CHURCHES. "For ye, brethren, became followers of the Churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus." We are first to be imitators of Christ, then of all who follow in his steps, who keep on "looking to Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2). There were many Churches in Judaea, for Christianity was founded by Jews; its first converts were Jews; its first martyrs were Jews; and the Churches among them rejoiced in the fellowship of Christ, as the Source of their life and comfort.
II. THE PATH OF THE THESSALONIANS WAS ONE OF SEVERE TRIAL AND CONTINUOUS PERSECUTION. "For ye also have suffered like things from your own countrymen, even as they from the Jews."
1. They had received the Word "in much affliction." (1 Thessalonians 1:6.) The first outbreak of violence against them occurred after their conversion (Acts 17:5). They belonged to one of those Churches of Macedonia of which the apostle long afterwards wrote to the Corinthians as "enduring a great trial of affliction." It came from their heathen countrymen.
2. Their trials attested the genuineness of their conversion. The heathen would have had no quarrel with a dead faith. The Thessalonians did not "sleep as did others." They discovered by sharp experience that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).
3. Their trials involved the precious experience of a "fellowship in Christ's sufferings." (Philippians 3:10.)
4. Their trials manifested at once the strength of their faith and their Christian constancy.
III. IT WAS SOME COMFORT TO THE THESSALONIANS TO KNOW THAT THEY WERE NOT THE ONLY SUFFERERS FROM THE FURY OF PERSECUTORS. "Even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and drave us out." This terrible invective against the Jews illustrates the saying that the apostle often "goes off at a word." It recalls the language of Stephen before his murderers (Acts 7:52). The malignity of the Jews against their believing countrymen was extreme.
1. The Jews were murderers of Jesus and the prophets. Though the Savior was executed by the Romans, the responsibility of the terrible deed rests on the Jews, who "fur envy" delivered him up, and "killed the Prince of life." They likewise killed their own prophets, whose very sepulchers they afterwards built and garnished. What wonder, then, that the Thessalonian converts should escape!
2. The Jews, though zealous for God, did not please him. "They pleased not God," but rather provoked him to anger by their unbelief and their wickedness.
3. They were at cross-purposes with all mankind. They were "contrary to all men." They were anti-social, exclusive, and bitter, so that the heathen Tacitus could describe them as "holding an attitude of hostility and hatred to the human race." But it was specially manifest in their resistance to the calling of the Gentiles - "forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved. The Acts of the Apostles supply abundant evidence of this fact.
4. The end to which all this wickedness toward God and man was tending. "To fill up their sins at all times."
(1) God often allows nations to complete the sum of their wickedness before bringing upon them final retribution. "The iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full" (Genesis 15:16).
(2) The judgment upon the Jews was at hand - "but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." "There is now nothing between it and them." The destruction of Jerusalem was still future, but "the days of vengeance were already come." The fire was already burning, which would never be quenched till the vengeance was complete. The apostle seems to regard the moment of the rejection of the Messiah as marking the outpouring of the Divine wrath. The history of the Jews from that moment is a significant commentary on the passage. - T.C.
I. THE GREATEST SIN IS THAT OF SINNING WITHOUT RESTRAINT. It is a mistake to speak of every sin as of infinite guilt, or of all sins as equally guilty. Such an assertion is not only false, it tends either to despair or to reckless excess in sinning. However far one has gone in sin, it is better to stop than to go on to greater enormities. To be adding sin to sin, and to be sinning "always," are signs of reckless, abandoned depravity.
II. THERE IS A FULLNESS OF SINS WHICH BRINGS ITS OWN PENALTY. When sin reaches this point the penalty can no longer be stayed. The cup once full flows over in wrath and ruin. It is as though forbearance and guilt were in the scales. When guilt is full the balance dips. There is an end to all possible long-suffering. The more men go on in excesses of sin, the faster do they approach the inevitable day of reckoning. The sooner the sin is filled up to the measure which passes endurance, the sooner must the stroke of doom fall.
III. FULLNESS OF SINS MUST LEAD TO FULLNESS OF PUNISHMENT. They who fill up their sins always will have the wrath "come upon them to the uttermost." The worst debtor must be made to pay the last farthing. The swifter the rush downhill, the greater the crash at the bottom. The more tares that are sown in spring, the more bundles to burn in harvest. He who fills the present life with sins will have the next life filled with wrath.
IV. THERE SEEMS TO BE A LIMIT TO SINS. There is a fullness of sins. There is no fullness of virtues; these can be developed indefinitely. The good man is growing up to a perfection. The bad man is being corrupted, not to a perfection, but to a fullness. Evil has limits; goodness has none. Satan is let loose for a time. God restrains the wrath of the wicked. Sin, through rebellion against God, cannot break away from all Divine control. Sins are limited by several means:
1. Capacity. We have a limited power of sinning.
2. Time. God sometimes cuts the sinner off in the midst of his days, and brings the guilty nation to destruction.
3. Providential control. The fullness of sins is not the amount which God predestines to be committed, for God is not the author of sin, nor does he will or permit it. This fullness is the measure beyond which God stays the evil from proceeding. When the tide of iniquity, driven onwards by rebellious powers, reaches this fullness, God says, "Here shall thy proud waves be stayed," and the storm beats itself out in impotent fury. - W.F.A.
I. HIS GRIEF AT THE SEVERANCE OF PERSONAL INTERCOURSE WITH THEM. "But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season in presence, not in heart." The term is expressive of the orphan-feeling felt by children deprived of their parents, or of parents bereaved of their children. He seems to say like Jacob, "If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved."
1. His grief was a proof of his deep affection for them. Grace intensifies all right human affections.
2. Absence, instead of weakening, rather strengthened his desire to see them again face to face. Neither time nor distance could diminish his interest in them.
II. THE SEPARATION WAS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWED BY SEVERAL ATTEMPTS TO REVISIT THEM. "We endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire." The difficulties were great, but he tried once and again to get back to Thessalonica, probably in the period when Silas and Timothy were temporarily gone from him.
III. THE OBSTACLES TO HIS RETURN. "But Satan hindered us."
1. The apostle believed in the existence of a personal evil spirit as well as in his steadfast resistance to the kingdom of God in all its interests. He was "not ignorant of Satan's devices."
2. The obstacles may have arisen through Satan inciting evil men to raise conflicts and tribulations round the apostle, so as to allow of no leisure for the projected visit.
IV. THE GROUND OF HIS ANXIETY TO REVISIT THEM. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye before our Lord Jesus at his coming?" He did not desire to have his labor in vain.
1. They were closely identified with his own future honor and happiness, by the hope that they would not be "ashamed at Christ's coming," but would be "his joy and crown of rejoicing." He would then "rejoice in the day of Christ that he had not run in vain, neither labored in vain" (Philippians 2:15, 16). Therefore he longed to be near to them that "he might impart to them some spiritual gift," and watch over the walk of his spiritual children.
2. It's wish implies
(1) that there will be degrees of glory in heaven according to the measures of a minister's usefulness;
(2) that he will be able to identify his converts in heaven. - T.C.
I. HIS LONGING DESIRE TO SEE THEM.
1. His efforts to return to Thessalonica. He had not been long away. He was at Corinth now. Perhaps the jealousies, the dissensions, the sin which encompassed him there made him long all the more for the simple faith and love of his Macedonian friends. He was with them even now in heart, thinking of them in the hour of prayer, remembering them in his thankgivings. But there was a feeling of bereavement, almost of desolation, when he thought of their absence. So very dear they had become to him during the short time which he spent at Thessalonica. We feel, as we read these words, the depth of St. Paul's affection; we feel the power of Christian love.
2. What hindered him from coming. It was Satan, Satan the adversary - that awful being whose presence in God's world is so great a mystery, but whose personality is so clearly taught in Holy Scripture, whose power and malice we have all so often felt. Twice the apostle purposed to revisit Thessalonica; twice the hindrance came. The visit would have given him great comfort. Satan envied him that comfort, that sweet communion with his Christian friends. Satan hinders us, we may be sure. He tries to rob us of the consolations of religion, of the sweetness of Christian sympathy. His agency is more widespread than we think. He is the accuser of the brethren, their adversary in the religious life. But God sitteth on high. He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able. He will make all things, even the temptations of the evil one, work together for our good if we abide in his love.
II. HIS EXPRESSIONS OF AFFECTION.
1. They are his glory and his joy. They are so now. He had few joys in this world, few earthly comforts. His life was spent in hard labor amid dangers and privations. It was relieved by very few pleasures. The natural beauty, the historical associations of the places which he visited in his travels, seem to have given him no enjoyment. His one joy was to save souls; his one pleasure was the loving sympathy of his converts. He sought no earthly glory; fame was nothing to him. The souls won to Christ by his preaching were his glory.
2. They would be his crown at the last. Not they only, others saved by his preaching at Damascus, at Antioch, in Cyprus, in Asia Minor, were his hope and joy; but none were more tenderly loved than the Christians of Macedonia, none are addressed with more endearing words. He. ever looked forward to the coming of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; the great day was always in his thoughts. What joy would it be to present these happy souls to Christ, as a chaste virgin to the heavenly bridegroom! This was his hope; this would be his crown - the crown of glory that fadeth not away, which the chief Shepherd shall give in that day to those faithful presbyters who have fed the flock of God willingly and of a ready mind, being themselves ensamples to the flock. LESSONS.
1. True Christians will delight in the society of those like-minded with themselves.
2. We must remember the restless energy of Satan. We must trust in God. He is stronger than the strong man armed.
3. We must pray for grace to love the saints of God as St. Paul loved them. - B.C.C.
I. THEIR DESIRE WAS ALL THE GREATER THAT THEY WERE ORPHANED OF THE THESSALONIANS. "But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire." Very different were Paul and his associates from the Jewish persecutors. They had the most tender feelings toward the Thessalonians, whom they acknowledge as brethren. The principal statement is that they were orphaned. It is a word which is usually applied to children who are bereaved of their parents. It is here adopted as a strong word to express the great pain which those apostolic men felt in being separated from their loved converts. They have already called themselves father and mother to the Thessalonians. Now it is rather the Thessalonians who are father and mother to them, of whom they have been bereaved, by whom they have been left desolate. Two mitigating circumstances are added. It was separation for a short season, literally, "the season of an hour." It is the language of emotion. It was but the season of an hour, compared with the time they would be together in the better world. Then it was separation in presence, not in heart. Still, with these mitigating circumstances, they were in an orphaned state. All the more exceedingly, then, were they zealous to see their face with great desire. This reference to the effect of absence is a touch of nature which the Thessalonians could well appreciate.
II. PAUL WAS HINDERED IN HAVING HIS DESIRE TO SEE THEM GRATIFIED. "Because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us." They would fain have come unto them. Having said this, Paul (correctively so far) refers to two definite occasions on which his plans were to proceed to Thessalonica. The statement did not pertain to Silas and Timothy, as they were probably not with him. By necessity of fact he therefore detaches himself from the others: "I Paul once and. again." And once and twice Satan hindered him. There is distinct testimony here to Paul's belief in a personal tempter. Satan appears here in his real character as adversary of God's people. Repeatedly he actually succeeded in hindering Paul in his good intentions. Though only a secondary agent, he has a wide range in the use of means. We are to think of the means here not as sickness (which was allowed in the case of Job), nor as other work needing to be done elsewhere, but as difficulties caused by the working of evil in the minds of persecuting enemies or unfaithful friends. The language is, "Satan hindered us;" for there was not only a hindering of Paul, but of Silas and Timothy as well, who were interested in the advancement of the cause in Thessalonica.
III. ESTEEM WAS THE REASON FOR DESIRING TO SEE THE THESSALONIANS. "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy." The use of the plural, which begins with the preceding word, illustrates the humility and generosity of the apostle. As in the next statement of fact he has to slide again into the singular, he might naturally have preserved the singular in this intermediate burst of feeling. But he will not exclude Silas and Timothy when it is possible to include them. These apostolic men had their hope. Without hope it is not possible to endure existence. And if the future is not really bright, it is made to appear bright with false colors. They had not only their hope, but their joy; i.e. they were joyful in view of what they hoped for, which again was a crown of glorying. As Christian athletes they looked forward to their wreath of victory. This is thought of as the Thessalonian converts, they among others. These conquerors were not to appear alone before our Lord Jesus at his coming. But their converts in the various places were to be as a wreath of victory around their heads. It is faith that brings us into a fundamentally right relation to Christ; but within that relation there is room for greater or less activity. The teaching here is that we are to aim at not appearing before Christ alone at his coming. Christian parents and Christian ministers ought to be in a position to say then, "Behold I, and the children whom the Lord hath given me." There is incidentally a comforting thought in the language used. It is implied that Paul would know his converts at Christ's coming. We may, therefore, feel certain that Christian friends will know each other in the future state. And what a stimulus is this to be unremitting in our prayers and labors, so that all who are dear to us shall appear in that happy company at last, not one wanting! It is added, "For ye are our glory and our joy." As woman is said to be the glory of the man, so converts are here said to be the glory of ministers. The Thessalonian converts were a halo around the heads of their teachers. They were also their joy, a source of deep satisfaction, as theft wreath of victory at the looked-for coming. - R.F.
Acts 17:13, 14); or it may have been bodily sickness - "a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan." Whatever this immediate and visible hindrance was, the point of interest to us is that St. Paul attributed it to Satan. Let us consider the hindrance thrown in the way of good work by Satan.
I. SATAN HINDERS THE WORK OF THE GOSPEL.
1. The hindrance is to be seen in all times. Doors are shut; enemies are raised up; misunderstandings throw mission work into confusion.
2. The source of the hindrance may be discovered by its character. "By their fruits they shall know them." The excuse may be the preservation of order, the restraint of excesses, or conservative respect for old ways. That the real source of opposition is Satanic may be known when
(1) bad men are the agents,
(2) a good moral reformation is frustrated.
3. This hindrance converts mission work into a warfare. The Church becomes an army. The forces of light and darkness are drawn up in battle array. New territory cannot simply be claimed by planting the standard of the cross upon it. It must be fought for and won in conquest.
II. SATAN'S HINDRANCE IS INDEPENDENT OF THE CHARACTER OF THE CHRISTIAN LABORERS. Of course, if these men receive Satan into their hearts, so much the more effectually will their mission be frustrated. They become traitors who destroy their own cause by opening the gates of the citadel to the foe. Sin indulged by the servant of Christ is treason. This is a certain and fearful hindrance to success. But the Christian laborer may be faithful and may stilt be hindered by Satan. In the old tradition Satan dared to oppose the archangel Michael Shall we be surprised that he opposes a man? Satan resisted and tempted Christ. He hindered St. Paul. Therefore do not let us think that all difficulties will vanish if only we are true and faithful. Satan may hinder us, though we are innocent, through the wickedness of other men.
III. SATAN'S HINDRANCE IS OVERRULED BY GOD'S PROVIDENCE. Here St. Paul writes of Satan hindering him. In the Acts St. Luke tells us how, when the apostle and his friends "assayed to go into Bithynia... the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not" (Acts 16:7). Is it not possible that sometimes the two influences may have concurred in effecting the same results though originating in the very opposite sources and prompted by contradictory motives? Thus the messenger of Satan that was sent to buffet St. Paul was the means of applying a wholesome discipline and of saving him from undue self-exaltation. Thus, too, though Satan troubled Job, with the object of showing him to be a hypocrite; the great trial proved to be for the glory of God as well as for the honor of his servant. Satan tempted Christ, and so made him the better High Priest for us. Satan compassed the death of Christ, and thereby led to the redemption of the world. Satan's hindrance to our work may be overruled for its more full accomplishment in the end, just as the east winds of early spring help to secure a good fruit harvest by checking the too-early development of bud and blossom. Moreover, all this hindrance is but temporary. Satan's reign is for a season only. And when the hindrance is removed the final result will not have suffered for the delay. Perhaps it will even come the quicker for the temporary hindrance, as, when once it bursts its bounds, the stream rushes out with the more vehemence for having been dammed up. Let us not be impatient. Remember that God has all eternity to work with. - W.F.A.