Matthew Poole's Commentary
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 The apostle showeth that out of his great care for
the Thessalonians he had sent Timothy to comfort and
strengthen them in the faith,
1 Thessalonians 3:6-8 whose good report of them had been a great
consolation to him in his distresses.
1 Thessalonians 3:8-10 He testifieth his thankfulness to God, and
earnest desire to see them,
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 praying God to guide him to them, and for their
increase in love and holiness unto the end.
The apostle proceeds upon the same argument to confirm his love to them, and care of them, that they might not doubt of it because of his long absence from them. Therefore he tells them, that though he could not come himself, yet he sent Timothy to them from Athens; which we find not mentioned in the Acts by Luke: and his love herein is commended the more:
1. Because he sent him out of a strong impulse of affection, he could not forbear any longer, or bear, it was a heavy burden to him till he had done it, as the word imports.
2. He was content to be left at Athens alone by parting with Timothy, though his company was so desirable and useful to him at that time. And he was well pleased so to do for their sakes; eudokhsamen, he had a complacence of mind in so doing, so much he preferred their good before his own contentment.
(To see numbers 3 and 4: See Poole on "1 Thessalonians 3:2".)
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:(To see numbers 1 and 2: See Poole on "1 Thessalonians 3:1".)
3. By the description he gives of him in the text: a man dear to him, and as his right hand in the service of the gospel. And his care of them is commended the more by sending so eminent a person to them.
4. From his end in sending him; which was to establish them, that through the fear of suffering, or any temptations, they might not forsake the faith they had received; and to comfort them concerning their faith: the word sometimes signifies to exhort, and the sense is good if we so read it; but because the faith they had embraced presented much matter of comfort to them, therefore our translation; well renders the word.
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.The apostle had mentioned before his great afflictions, and they knew well what he himself had suffered both at Thessalonica and Berea, Acts 17:1-34, and therefore might fear they might hereupon be shaken in their faith. And Timothy therefore was sent to comfort and establish them: God could do this without him, but the ministry is his ordinance he works by. And when he saith,
that no man should be moved, it shows what is a Christian’s duty, to be unmoved by sufferings for the gospel. The word here used by the apostle answers another word, used 2 Thessalonians 2:2, which alludes to the waves of the sea shaken by the winds. Fears, and doubts, or hesitations of mind, do move and shake it, which the apostle sent Timothy to prevent, or remove. And besides, he addeth an argument of his own to confirm them, when he tells them, ye
know that we are appointed thereunto. The word is used Luke 2:34 1 Timothy 1:9. But he means, we suffer afflictions according to the purpose and intention of God; they come not by chance, or merely from men’s wrath and enmity, but from the appointment of God. And whether the apostle speaks only of his own sufferings, and other ministers of the gospel, or of all saints in general, as Acts 14:22 Romans 8:17,36 2 Timothy 3:12, is uncertain; we may well understand it of both; so that he would not have these Thessalonians think it strange, as if some strange thing happened to them, 1 Peter 4:12, whereby to be shaken in their minds.
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.The apostle having said that they knew they were appointed to sufferings, tells them here they knew it because he had told them of it. Paul, by some extraordinary instinct or revelation, often foresaw his sufferings, and God more generally told him of them at his first conversion, Acts 9:16; and he told them of them that they might reckon upon sufferings. A faithful minister will not only tell the people of the crown, but of the cross of Christ. And what he foretold of his sufferings, he tells them
came to pass; whereby they might be strengthened further in their faith about the gospel he had preached to them, and not be offended at his sufferings, being foretold to them, as well as appointed of God.
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.The apostle here gives a further account of the reason why he sent Timothy to them, which was to know their faith, whether it continued stedfast under all their sufferings and temptations. He feared Satan, whom he calls
the tempter, might have some way or other tempted them, either by false teachers to seduce them, or by sufferings to affright them. He was more concerned about the inward state of their souls, than their outward condition; and commonly temptations go along with persecutions. And the apostle, having bestowed great labour upon them, feared lest it might
be in vain, that the tempter had prevailed. Satan’s first work is to keep men from believing, his next is to destroy their faith: young converts are commonly most assaulted. Paul’s heart was therefore very solicitous for them, so that (as he said before) he could not any longer forbear sending to know how it was with them.
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:We had bfore an account of Timothy’s sending, now of his return, wherein we have the message he brought, and the effect thereof upon the apostle. The message may be considered:
1. As to its new coming:
But now when Timotheus came, & c.; so that this Epistle seems to be written presently upon his return.
2. As to the good account it brought of them: it brought good tidings (the same word is here used that expresseth in the Greek the glad tidings of the gospel) of their faith, that it continued still stedfast; and of their charity, or love, that they had love joined with their faith, and their faith working by love, which showed it was living, and of a right kind.
And that ye have good remembrance of us always; they forgot him not, though absent some length of time from them; and it was a good remembrance, joined with love and esteem of his person, and of his ministry amongst them; and it was always, which implies the constancy of it.
Desiring greatly to see us; and not satisfied with this good remembrance of him being absent, they greatly desired his presence, to see him and his fellow labourers. And to answer their love on his part, he addeth,
as we also to see you. By all which he seeks to satisfy them of his continued care and remembrance of them, which was the effect of this message.
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:He was comforted by this faith of theirs in all his own affliction and distress. The faithfulness and constancy of a people is the great comfort of their teachers. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth, 3Jo 1:4.
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.The comfort of their faith was so great that it would be as life to him, if they stood fast in it; which he calls a standing
fast in the Lord. Life is not only the union of soul and body; comfort is the life of the soul, especially that which springs from Divine causes. And on the contrary, the apostacy and degeneracy of a people doth kill the hearts of their faithful teachers.
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;This is another effect of the message Timothy brought, it caused in the apostle great thanksgivings to God. First he rejoiced in their faith, and then gives thanks to God for that joy. The matter of his rejoicing was their faith, but the author and upholder of this faith was God; and in giving thanks to God for his joy, he gives thanks also to God for their faith from whence it sprang. The joy that ministers have in their people’s faith should break forth into thanksgivings. And the apostle’s thanks to God was beyond what he could return or express, as appears by the form of his speech:
For what thanks can we render? &c.; as Psalm 116:12: What shall I render unto the Lord? said David. And his rejoicing before God implies both the nature of it, it was divine and spiritual, and his respect to God therein, as David danced before the Lord with all his might, 2 Samuel 6:14; i.e. with a respect to God’s goodness then declared Or the apostle might mean his joy was inward, before God, rather than before men.
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?We have here the last effect of Timothy’s message upon the apostle, it put him upon prayer for these Thessalonians; expressed by the assiduity of it, night and day, & c., that is, in a constant course; as we noted before, 1 Thessalonians 2:9. And by the fervency of it, exceedingly, or excessively. The Greek word cannot well be Englished, yet is often used by the apostle when he would express any thing with an emphasis, as Ephesians 3:20, and in this Epistle, 1 Thessalonians 5:13. And by the matter of it; that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. Though his Epistles might avail towards it, yet his personal presence would do more. There is a peculiar blessing attends oral preaching, more than reading. The like prayer he made with respect to the Romans, and upon the same account also, Romans 1:10,11. Though the apostle had before commended their faith, yet there was something lacking in it. No faith is made perfect at first; yea, the best faith may have some defects. And the word is used elsewhere to signify something that is wanting, or left behind, 1 Corinthians 16:17 Colossians 1:24. And their faith might be defective:
1. As to the matter of it, some mysteries of faith they might not yet understand; as the disciples did not, till after Christ’s ascension; and some of the Corinthians a while doubted the doctrine of the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:12, &c.
2. As to the clearness of it, with respect to the truths they did already know and believe.
3. As to the lively operations and fruits of it.
The former defects are removed by doctrine, the last by exhortation and comfort, and the apostle desired to see their face on the account of both: and to perfect a thing is to make it complete, both as to parts and degrees. The word here used we find often in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 13:11 Galatians 6:1, &c.; and variously rendered in the several translations, but yet much to the same sense: the apostle being so suddenly driven from them, he left them as a house half built; but his affection to them was so great, that he longed to return to them for the perfecting of their faith, though he had met but a while before with such great perils at Thessalonica.
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.Here his prayer is expressed. The person to whom he prays is God himself, personally considered as God the Father, and relatively, when he styles him our Father: so ought believers to address themselves to God, not absolutely, but as to their Father. So Christ taught his disciples to pray: Our Father; and so the Spirit of adoption doth prompt the saints to pray: we come to God with greater freedom and confidence when we can come to him as a Father. And he prays also to Christ, whom he styles our Lord Jesus Christ. Whence we may have an argument that Christ is God, else he could not be the object of Divine worship: not that we are to present our prayers distinctly to the Son without considering his union with the Father, nor to the Father distinctly from the Son, but to the Father in and by the Lord Jesus Christ; for so only we can consider him as our Father in prayer. And he speaks of Christ also in his relation to his people: our Lord Jesus Christ. And the thing he prays for is, that God would direct his way unto them; that the hinderances of Satan, whatsoever they were, might be removed, and the providence of God open him a way to come to them: the word direct signifies in the Greek to make straight, and, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, is applied to the heart: The Lord direct your hearts, & c., which is setting the heart straight towards God; answering to the Hebrew word Jashar, which signifies to be upright, and is often used in the Old Testament. The French read it, address our way. And hence we learn our duty by the apostle’s practice to pray to have our way in all cases directed by God.
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:Increase and abound; these two words denote an increasing and overflowing abundance. This is another thing he prays for; the former respected himself, this respected them. He desired to come to them to perfect that which was lacking in their faith, and he prays now for the abounding and increase of their love; not only to love one another, but to increase and abound in it; to increase the habits and abound in the fruits of love. They were under sore persecutions, and their love to one another was more necessary at such a time. And not only to one another, but to extend their love towards all men. Either all men in general; for love is a general duty we owe to all men: Owe no man any thing but to love one another, Romans 13:8; and therefore all our duty to men is comprehended under it. And the apostle requires this love to be added to brotherly kindness, 2 Peter 1:7; yea, love is required to enemies, Matthew 5:44, though not as enemies, yet as men. Or more particularly, believers; as sometimes all men is taken under that restriction, Titus 2:11.
Even as we do toward you: and he setteth before them his own love to them, both as a pattern and motive hereunto. Though the love of Christ is especially to be looked at, and is proposed often by the apostle Paul as the great argument of love to men, yet he mentions his own love to them here to show the constancy of his affection to them though absent from them, and to show that he persuaded no duty to them but what he practised himself.
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.These words some refer only to the verse immediately preceding: by increasing and abounding in love, their hearts would be established unblamable in holiness. Which is true, for that holiness is justly to be suspected, at least is to be blamed, which is without love to men. And love itself is a great part of holiness; and who will blame holiness when it shines forth in love? Yea, it will be unblamable before God and men. And when God doth cause a people to increase in love, he doth hereby establish them in holiness that is unblamable; where love is wanting the heart is not established. The hypocrite will fall off in an hour of temptation, because he wants love; and though he may for a while make a fair show before men, yet he is not unblamable before God, who searcheth the heart: neither will he be found so at the appearance of Jesus Christ; which the apostle prays for here with respect to these Thessalonians, that they might be established in holiness until the coming of Christ; or that they might be found unblameable in holiness at his coming. Whereby the apostle signifies there is yet another coming of Christ, when there will a strict trial pass upon men, and therefore the saints should labour to be then found unblamable, or without spot and blemish, as 2 Peter 3:14.
At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints; whereof he gives a particular account in the next chapter. Others carry this verse as referring also to 1 Thessalonians 3:10, where he desired to see their face to perfect their faith, that both by their faith and love they might be established unblamable in holiness.