Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
1Th 3:1-13. Proof of His Desire after Them in His Having Sent Timothy: His Joy at the Tidings Brought Back Concerning Their Faith and Charity: Prayers for Them.
1. Wherefore—because of our earnest love to you (1Th 2:17-20).
forbear—"endure" the suspense. The Greek is literally applied to a watertight vessel. When we could no longer contain ourselves in our yearning desire for you.
left at Athens alone—See my Introduction. This implies that he sent Timothy from Athens, whither the latter had followed him. However, the "we" favors Alford's view that the determination to send Timothy was formed during the hasty consultation of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, previous to his departure from Berea, and that then he with them "resolved" to be "left alone" at Athens, when he should arrive there: Timothy and Silas not accompanying him, but remaining at Berea. Thus the "I," 1Th 3:5, will express that the act of sending Timothy, when he arrived at Athens, was Paul's, while the determination that Paul should be left alone at Athens, was that of the brethren as well as himself, at Berea, whence he uses, 1Th 3:1, "we." The non-mention of Silas at Athens implies that he did not follow Paul to Athens as was at first intended; but Timothy did. Thus the history, Ac 17:14, 15, accords with the Epistle. The word "left behind" (Greek) implies that Timothy had been with him at Athens. It was an act of self-denial for their sakes that Paul deprived himself of the presence of Timothy at Athens, which would have been so cheering to him in the midst of philosophic cavillers; but from love to the Thessalonians, he is well content to be left all "alone" in the great city.
And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
2. minister of God and our fellow labourer—Some oldest manuscripts read, "fellow workman with God"; others, "minister of God." The former is probably genuine, as copyists probably altered it to the latter to avoid the bold phrase, which, however, is sanctioned by 1Co 3:9; 2Co 6:1. The English Version reading is not well supported, and is plainly compounded out of the two other readings. Paul calls Timothy "our brother" here; but in 1Co 4:17, "my son." He speaks thus highly of one so lately ordained, both to impress the Thessalonians with a high respect for the delegate sent to them, and to encourage Timothy, who seems to have been of a timid character (1Ti 4:12; 5:23). "Gospel ministers do the work of God with Him, for Him, and under Him" [Edmunds].
establish—Greek, "confirm." In 2Th 3:3, God is said to "stablish": He is the true establisher: ministers are His "instruments."
concerning—Greek, "in behalf of," that is, for the furtherance of your faith. The Greek for "comfort" includes also the idea, "exhort." The Thessalonians in their trials needed both (1Th 3:3; compare Ac 14:22).
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
3. moved—"shaken," "disturbed." The Greek is literally said of dogs wagging the tail in fawning on one. Therefore Tittmann explains it, "That no man should, amidst his calamities, be allured by the flattering hope of a more pleasant life to abandon his duty." So Elsner and Bengel, "cajoled out of his faith." In afflictions, relatives and opponents combine with the ease-loving heart itself in flatteries, which it needs strong faith to overcome.
yourselves know—We always candidly told you so (1Th 3:4; Ac 14:22). None but a religion from God would have held out such a trying prospect to those who should embrace it, and yet succeed in winning converts.
appointed thereunto—by God's counsel (1Th 5:9).
For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
4. that we should suffer—Greek, "that we are about (we are sure) to suffer" according to the appointment of God (1Th 3:3).
even as—"even (exactly) as it both came to pass and ye know"; ye know both that it came to pass, and that we foretold it (compare Joh 13:19). The correspondence of the event to the prediction powerfully confirms faith: "Forewarned, forearmed" [Edmunds]. The repetition of "ye know," so frequently, is designed as an argument, that being forewarned of coming affliction, they should be less readily "moved" by it.
For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
5. For this cause—Because I know of your "tribulation" having actually begun (1Th 3:4).
when I—Greek, "when I also (as well as Timothy, who, Paul delicately implies, was equally anxious respecting them, compare "we," 1Th 3:1), could no longer contain myself (endure the suspense)."
I sent—Paul was the actual sender; hence the "I" here: Paul, Silas, and Timothy himself had agreed on the mission already, before Paul went to Athens: hence the "we," (see on 1Th 3:1).
to know—to learn the state of your faith, whether it stood the trial (Col 4:8).
lest … have tempted … and … be—The indicative is used in the former sentence, the subjunctive in the latter. Translate therefore, "To know … whether haply the tempter have tempted you (the indicative implying that he supposed such was the case), and lest (in that case) our labor may prove to be in vain" (compare Ga 4:11). Our labor in preaching would in that case be vain, so far as ye are concerned, but not as concerns us in so far as we have sincerely labored (Isa 49:4; 1Co 3:8).
But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
6. Join "now" with "come"; "But Timotheus having just now come from you unto us" [Alford]. Thus it appears (compare Ac 18:5) Paul is writing from Corinth.
your faith and charity—(1Th 1:3; compare 2Th 1:3, whence it seems their faith subsequently increased still more). Faith was the solid foundation: charity the cement which held together the superstructure of their practice on that foundation. In that charity was included their "good (kindly) remembrance" of their teachers.
desiring greatly—Greek, "having a yearning desire for."
we also—The desires of loving friends for one another's presence are reciprocal.
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
7. over you—in respect to you.
in—in the midst of: notwithstanding "all our distress (Greek, 'necessity') and affliction," namely, external trials at Corinth, whence Paul writes (compare 1Th 3:6, with Ac 18:5-10).
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
8. now—as the case is; seeing ye stand fast.
we live—we flourish. It revives us in our affliction to hear of your steadfastness (Ps 22:26; 2Jo 3:4).
if—implying that the vivid joy which the missionaries "now" feel, will continue if the Thessalonians continue steadfast. They still needed exhortation, 1Th 3:10; therefore he subjoins the conditional clause, "if ye," &c. (Php 4:1).
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
9. For what thanks—what sufficient thanks?
render … again—in return for His goodness (Ps 116:12).
for you—"concerning you."
for all the joy—on account of all the joy. It was "comfort," 1Th 3:7, now it is more, namely, joy.
for your sakes—on your account.
before our God—It is a joy which will bear God's searching eye: a joy as in the presence of God, not self-seeking, but disinterested, sincere, and spiritual (compare 1Th 2:20; Joh 15:11).
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
10. Night and day—(See on 1Th 2:9). Night is the season for the saint's holiest meditations and prayers (2Ti 1:3).
praying—connected with, "we joy"; we joy while we pray; or else as Alford, What thanks can we render to God while we pray? The Greek implies a beseeching request.
exceedingly—literally, "more than exceeding abundantly" (compare Eph 3:20).
that which is lacking—Even the Thessalonians had points in which they needed improvement [Bengel], (Lu 17:5). Their doctrinal views as to the nearness of Christ's coming, and as to the state of those who had fallen asleep, and their practice in some points, needed correction (1Th 4:1-9). Paul's method was to begin by commending what was praiseworthy, and then to correct what was amiss; a good pattern to all admonishers of others.
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
11. Translate, "May God Himself, even our Father (there being but one article in the Greek, requires this translation, 'He who is at once God and our Father'), direct," &c. The "Himself" stands in contrast with "we" (1Th 2:18); we desired to come but could not through Satan's hindrance; but if God Himself direct our way (as we pray), none can hinder Him (2Th 2:16, 17). It is a remarkable proof of the unity of the Father and Son, that in the Greek here, and in 2Th 2:16, 17, the verb is singular, implying that the subject, the Father and Son, are but one in essential Being, not in mere unity of will. Almost all the chapters in both Epistles to the Thessalonians are sealed, each with its own prayer (1Th 5:23; 2Th 1:11; 2:16; 3:5, 16) [Bengel]. Paul does not think the prosperous issue of a journey an unfit subject for prayer (Ro 1:10; 15:32) [Edmunds]. His prayer, though the answer was deferred, in about five years afterwards was fulfilled in his return to Macedonia.
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
12. The "you" in the Greek is emphatically put first; "But" (so the Greek for "and") what concerns "YOU," whether we come or not, "may the Lord make you to increase and abound in love," &c. The Greek for "increase" has a more positive force; that for "abound" a more comparative force, "make you full (supplying 'that which is lacking,' 1Th 3:10) and even abound." "The Lord" may here be the Holy Spirit; so the Three Persons of the Trinity will be appealed to (compare 1Th 3:13), as in 2Th 3:5. So the Holy Ghost is called "the Lord" (2Co 3:17). "Love" is the fruit of the Spirit (Ga 5:22), and His office is "to stablish in holiness" (1Th 3:13; 1Pe 1:2).
To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
13. your hearts—which are naturally the spring and seat of unholiness.
before God, even our Father—rather, "before Him who is at once God and our Father." Before not merely men, but Him who will not be deceived by the mere show of holiness, that is, may your holiness be such as will stand His searching scrutiny.
coming—Greek, "presence," or "arrival."
with all his saints—including both the holy angels and the holy elect of men (1Th 4:14; Da 7:10; Zec 14:5; Mt 25:31; 2Th 1:7). The saints are "His" (Ac 9:13). We must have "holiness" if we are to be numbered with His holy ones or "saints." On "unblameable," compare Re 14:5. This verse (compare 1Th 3:12) shows that "love" is the spring of true "holiness" (Mt 5:44-48; Ro 13:10; Col 3:14). God is He who really "stablishes"; Timothy and other ministers are but instruments (1Th 3:2) in "stablishing."