1 Thessalonians 3
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
When the apostle could no longer control his longing to see his converts, he sent them Timothy by way of relieving his solicitude in their behalf. His love for them was manifest in all the circumstances of this mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) These afflictions had a most disturbing tendency. "That no one be disquieted by these afflictions." The converts had newly emerged from heathenism, and therefore the apostle was more concerned on their behalf. Yet, as we know from the Second Epistle, they remained firm. "We ourselves glory in you in the Churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure" (2 Thessalonians 1:4).

(2) These afflictions were of Divine appointment. "For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto." They were, therefore, "no strange thing." They come by the will of God, who has determined their nature, severity, and duration. "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves." The afflictions were not accidental.

(3) They were clearly foreseen by the apostle. "When we were with you we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction."

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

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

(4) Satan is the main source, of danger in these afflictions. "Lest by any means the tempter had tempted you. The apostle was "not ignorant of his devices," and was apprehensive lest Satan should get an advantage of his converts by moving them from the hope of the gospel, and causing them to relinquish their profession of it.

(5) The only security against Satan's temptations - faith; for this "is the victory that overcometh the world" - this is the shield "wherewith they could quench all the fiery darts of the wicked."

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

(1) In relation to the Thessalonians. Timothy would

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

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

(2) In relation to the apostle himself. "To know your faith." One object of his sending Timothy was to put an end to his own anxieties and doubts on their behalf, for he might fear that "his labor would be in vain." He might hope the best but fear the worst, for he was most deeply concerned in their welfare. - T.C.


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

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

"Crowded wilderness,
Where ever-moving myriads seem to say,
'Go! thou art naught to us, nor we to thee - away!'" St. Paul felt like this at Athens. To the student of history, to the lover of classical antiquities, Athens is one of the most attractive of cities. To St. Paul it was almost a desert. He does not seem to have found delight in natural beauty or in historic associations; the one object of his life was to extend the Redeemer's kingdom, to win souls to Christ. The Athenians of his day had much curiosity, much versatility, but no depth of character, no real longing after truth. They did not persecute; they had not earnestness enough for that. But mockery and indifference were more painful to St, Paul than danger and suffering. He could not feet at home in Athens. And he was one of those men to whom sympathy is almost a necessity; his one earthly comfort was the society of Christian friends. This Epistle shows the intensity of his affections; he can scarcely find words strong enough to express his love for the Thessalonians, his yearning desire to see them again. Yet he had spent only three weeks, or perhaps a short time longer, at Thessalonica. How, then, must he have prized the society of Timotheus, the dearest of all his friends! He was his brother, his fellow-laborer; he could ill spare him, especially while laboring in vain, as it seemed, in that most uncongenial place. But he would send him; he would endure that isolation which was so oppressive to him. Even for himself it was better than the cruel uncertainty which he could bear no longer; and the visit of Timotheus would be very useful to the infant Church at Thessalonica. So he thought it good; it pleased him, there was a pleasure mingled with the pain, to be left at Athens alone. There is a pleasure in self-sacrifice, severe but real; there is a peace in the conscious submission of the human will to the blessed will of God - a peace not granted to all, for not all take up the cross, but very precious, very high and holy.

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


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

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

3. To prepare them for tribulation.

(1) Afflictions must come. It is a law of Christ's kingdom. "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." The Savior endured the cross, despising the shame; the Christian must consider him, always "looking unto Jesus." "We are appointed thereunto," St. Paul says; not himself only, but all Christians. It is God's ordinance; it is "the trial of faith, much more precious than of gold." The gold perisheth, the faith abideth; it will issue in praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. But "we are appointed thereunto." We must recognize this, and accept it cheerfully as the law of our Christian race. The cross is the very badge and emblem of our religion; the cross is a sacred object in the Christian's eyes; but it will not profit us unless we bear the inner cross, the spiritual cross of self-sacrifice wrought into our souls by the power of God the Holy Ghost. The Lord Jesus bore the cross first; his death upon the cross gave a deep and awful and blessed meaning to the word; it invested the cross with glory and solemn beauty and attractive sweetness. His saints have followed him. One after another they have taken up the cross; they came out of great tribulation. From the quiet rest of paradise their voices seem to float around us yet, telling us of the power of the Savior's cross and the high rewards of suffering for his sake. "We are appointed thereunto," St. Paul said to the Thessalonians; he does not attempt to hide it from them. They were very young Christians, but, young as they were, they must experience the law of suffering. "Ye knew it," St. Paul says; for they knew the blessed story of the cross, and they knew the meaning of the cross. The Churches of Macedonia had a great trial of affliction. We are not called to suffer in the same way, but the cross has the same meaning still. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." "We are appointed thereunto." We are not in danger of the martyr's death, but the martyr's spirit is as necessary as ever it was; its essence lies in the prayer which we daily use, "Thy will be done." We must not be moved by these afflictions; they must not be allowed to disquiet us, to disturb the steadfastness of our faith. Affliction is the ordinary atmosphere of the Christian life.

(2) St. Paul had told them this. When he was with them, short as the time was - three weeks or a little more - he warned them of the coming trials. It was a great help when the time came. As Chrysostom says, if the physician warns his patient of the probable symptoms of his disease, he is not so terrified when they come. Thus the Thessalonians were prepared to see the sufferings of St. Paul and his companions - prepared themselves to follow them as they followed Christ. The preacher must not dwell exclusively on the bright side of religion, its beauty and its joys; he must point to the cross; he must prepare himself and his people to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

(3) But though he had warned them, he was still anxious. The affliction had come, as he had said. He knew that they were suffering; he felt for them in their trials. Especially he was anxious to know how that newly formed faith of theirs would endure the first shock of persecution. The tempter had tempted them - that was certain. These trials were his work. It was permitted; it was overruled for good, as the event showed. But it came from the same evil one who had tempted Job to curse God, and was foiled then by the patience of that holy man, and now, by the grace of God, vouchsafed to the Thessalonians. But St. Paul did not know the issue. He had beard of the temptation, and with the tender, trembling solicitude of a loving parent he feared - he could not help fearing - lest his labor should prove in vain. Mark, again, his firm belief in the personality of Satan. He knew his malice; he was not ignorant of his devices, and he feared for his children in the faith.


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

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

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

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

1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13. The subject is still

Great desire to see the Thessalonians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Through all eternity to thee
A joyful song I'll raise;
For, oh! eternity's too short
To utter all thy praise."

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

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

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

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

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


(1) More immediately. "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and to all men, even as we also do toward you." If there is any distinction between the two main verbs here, it is that the first refers more to range, the second to degree. It is implied that the Thessalonians already increased and abounded in love; still there was room for higher things. "Whether I come or no, the Lord make you to increase and abound in love." They were to increase and abound in love one toward another (within the Christian circle at Thessalonica), and toward all men (the wider Christian circle, and, beyond it, the world lying in wickedness). This is in conformity with what Peter says, that to brotherly kindness we are to add charity. There is a concentration of our affections in our home. But we are not selfishly to confine them there; rather are we to get there refreshment for a wider circle. So there is a concentration of our affections in the Church or enlarged home. But we are not to make it a close guild; rather, in its refreshing fellowship, are we to be fitted for embracing in our affection the whole world. The apostle supports his petition by his own example. It is literally," even as we also toward you." And it is better to leave it thus indefinite, that Paul's example may extend over past and present. He was not one who had confined his affections to any narrow circle; but they had gone out toward them in Thessalonica, and were still going out. It is true that, when the truth finds a home in a person, there is a look beyond him to its finding a home by him in others. And the more truly and deeply we are attached to men as persons, the more shall we with Paul feel prompted to view them as appointed for the transmission of the truth.

(2) Ultimately. "To the end he may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lent Jesus with all his saints." By the stablishing of our hearts we are to understand our being made proof in our inmost being against temptation, our being placed above the reach of a fall. This is to be brought about by love proceeding from faith. As love is said to be the fulfilling of the Law, and the bond of perfection, so it is here viewed as consummating our establishment. We are to be established, so as to be in the sphere of holiness, sanctity without blame, and that under the searching yet loving eye of God. Such a consummation seems far beyond us at present; but it will be realized for us at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. His power ever the evil of our hearts, through His blood and Spirit, will then be fully manifested. With imperfect holiness now, then we shall he saints indeed. And as Christ's saints, the trophies of his power, we shall attend on him at his coming, and swell the majesty of his train. Let us, then, give love the sweep of our being, to the dislodging of sin, to the incoming of saintliness, that in Christ's day of triumph we may be, with the saints: in his train. - R.F.

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


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

(1) a latent appetite or desire in the mind of the tempted, which appetite or desire may be natural or acquired, innocent or corrupt, such as the innate instinct of self-preservation or the artificial craving for strong drink; and

(2) external circumstances that tend to rouse the internal longing. Now, the tempter may work through either of these two elements of temptation. He may sway the mind towards certain thoughts and impulses, or he may present to the mind occasions of sin by bringing about an arrangement of circumstances which shall appeal to the internal desire in such a way that indulgence would be unlawful. Thus dangers appeal to the instinct of self-preservations and forbidden delights to the love of pleasure.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) grace of faith, which was unfeigned, growing, and lively;

(2) in the doctrine of faith, which had much light in it;

(3) in the profession of faith, which they held fast without wavering, out of a pure conscience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) The necessity of continued watchfulness and faith.

(2) The true secret of steadfastness - being "in the Lord." Thus only would "they build themselves up in their most holy faith," "continuing steadfastly in the Church's prayers and instructions."

(3) How much they could affect, not the comfort only, but the life of their teachers, by their vigilance and perseverance! - T.C.


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

(1) He prayed night and day. The quiet of the night is a time for holy thoughts. The psalmist thought of the Name of God in the night season, and received comfort. The Christian prays; he watches with Christ as he lies yet awake on his bed. He prayed night and day. While working at his daily labor, the hard work of weaving the goats' hair, he ever prayed. So it is with Christians now. They

"Ply their daffy task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls some holy strain repeat."

(2) He prayed exceedingly. "Above measure," the words mean literally. The more we pray, the more we love prayer. The prayers of the Christian increase in fervor, in earnestness, and in delight, the nearer he draws to God. Prayer occupies more and more of his time; it tends to assume more and more its proper place as the great work of life, the most important part of each day's business. St. Paul's love for the Thessalonians deepened the importunity of his intercession.

(3) He prayed that he might see their face. To see a good man's face, to hear his voice, to touch his hand, is a source of true pleasure. St. John trusted to speak face to face with his Christian friends, "that our joy," he says, "may be full." So was it with St. Paul.

(4) That he might be enabled to do them good. He had been but a very short time with them. He wished to give them further instruction, to fill up what was lacking in their knowledge. Christians may be living near to God, but there is always room for further advance in knowledge and in holiness. A saint of God like St. Paul can always do us good. Learn:

1. To rejoice in the spiritual progress of others.

2. To thank God for it.

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

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

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

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

(1) broader;

(2) deeper, founded on spiritual union; and

(3) warmer.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) Their faith wanted still greater power, for they had hardly yet escaped all danger of relapse into heathen impurities.

(2) It wanted to be more widely diffused through all the duties of life, for they needed to mind honest industry and forswear idleness.

(3) They needed fuller light upon the second advent.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Their love was to be an abounding love.

(1) There were defects in their love, as there were defects in their faith, to be supplied from the inexhaustible Source of all love.

(2) The objects of their love were

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1) It is not attainable in this life. We are not here "without spot or wrinkle."

(2) It is connected with the redemption of the body.

(3) It is connected with the final glorification of the redeemed; for all the saints are to be associated with the Judge as assessors in the final judgment (Luke 22:30; John 5:28; 1 Corinthians 6:3). Therefore let us pray for the increase of faith and love, and live in the blessed hope of the "day of Christ." - T.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

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