Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
I. The purpose of Timothy's mission to the Thessalonians was to establish,—to make them steadfast in the midst of persecution, to make them rooted and grounded in love, to make their very trials serve that all-important end, that they, as a church, might cast forth roots like Lebanon. The work of establishing them is, strictly speaking, God's work. But it is here none the less ascribed to Timothy, spoken of as his work, because he is a fellow-labourer with God.
II. The reason for the "steadfast endurance" is given in the words which follow: "For yourselves, know that we are appointed thereunto." This knowledge they had, both from apostolic teaching and their own personal experience, the knowledge that tribulation is the common lot of Christ's people. The world's scorn and enmity cannot fail to be excited by the Christian's character and conduct. Hence, holiness entails suffering as well as sin does, for sin will, in some way or other, persecute it.
III. In every case of resistance to the Tempter there is new accession of spiritual strength to the believer himself. In fighting the good fight of faith, in overcoming the Evil One, we gain new power. As the South Sea islanders imagine that the prowess and valour of the enemies they slay in battle pass over into themselves, so in truth is it with the soldiers of the Cross. The very force and strength of the temptations which he overthrows become his own. Therefore the exhortation of Ignatius, in his epistle to Polycarp, has a meaning for all time: "Stand firm as the anvil under its repeated blows; for a great combatant must not only be buffeted, but must also prevail."
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 105.
References: 1 Thessalonians 3:2.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 321. 1 Thessalonians 3:5. —Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 55. 1 Thessalonians 3:6.—J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 197.
1 Thessalonians 3:6-10I. The Apostle now tells us that, on Timothy's return from his mission, bearing good tidings of the Thessalonian Church, he had been comforted. The new-born joy, the tender love of his heart, lies like a gleam of light upon the very words he employs. He was comforted to learn that, amid all the darkness of their tribulation, their faith, like the night-blooming Ceres-flower, lived and spread abroad its fragrance. The good tidings which cheered his heart were also about the attitude of his friends to himself, their teacher. This he puts last; as, however precious in his own personal estimation, it is of slight importance compared to their remaining steadfast in faith and love. II. What is implied in the steadfastness of a Christian Church? (1) That individually and collectively the members of it are in the Lord—abiding in Him, both in faith and in practice. (2) That while "in the Lord" they are exposed to the danger of wavering. The language seems military. It suggests the idea of conflict. Christ's Church, every section of it, is exposed to assault. The army of the living God is subject to having its ranks broken into. This is the aim of the Tempter, of whom the Apostle has just been speaking.
III. The Apostle's joy rose from the contemplation of the state of others. In the highest sense, therefore, it was disinterested. It was a joy, further, which arose from the contemplation of the spiritual state of others. It was a pure joy, free from aught of earthly alloy.
IV. Believers, whatever may be their eminence in the Christian graces, have still "lacking measures of their faith." They need to be perfected in knowledge and in practice, if they would rightly be owned as the Gospel net for the bringing in of others. They need ceaselessly to be repaired, built up, if, as the Church of Christ, the ark of all safety, they would withstand all the rude billows of the world. Thus, filling up or perfecting that which is lacking in faith on earth, Christ's Church will at last pass into heaven, where there will be nothing that is lacking in glory.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 105.
Reference: 1 Thessalonians 3:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx., No. 1758.
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13I. We have to notice very carefully to whom this ejaculatory prayer is addressed: Now God Himself, even our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. It is quite evident that our Lord and Saviour, the Man Christ Jesus, the ascended and glorified Redeemer, is in the Apostle's thought viewed as standing in the same relation to human prayer as God the Father. The prayer of Paul's heart is addressed to both. While our Lord is distinguished from the Father in personality, He is one with Him in godhead, and therefore is He rightly addressed in the language of prayer. Prayer is the voice of human weakness addressed to infinite power.
II. The circle of Christian love, the sphere of its influence, is wide as humanity itself. There is to be no limit to its diffusion. Christianity has broken down all barriers of race or of creed. The question "Who is my neighbour?" ought never to be uttered by Christian lips. Increasing and abounding in love may be regarded as the end of all Christian striving, for after all it is the possession of this grace which brings men on earth nearest to the gates of heaven. But it is represented in the present connection rather as an end than as a means. "To the end He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness." He would teach them that Christian love, going out towards others in blessing, comes back again laden with new blessings to the soul. The hearts of Christ's people become in this way established. The heart in this way becomes united. Such a loving heart diffuses the fragrance of its own sweet life, the life of holiness, and is thus rewarded by being declared blameless, and that too in the sight of God.
III. Even amid the imperfections and limitations of earth and time, something of this experience is the believer's possession. But none the less the more advanced he is in the Divine life, the more is he conscious of doubts and waverings of heart; the more does he feel himself blameworthy, the more does he mourn over his unholiness in the sight of God his Father. Hence the Apostle in the closing clause carries our thoughts forward to that
"one far-off Divine event,
To which the whole creation moves."
Then truly and fully are Christ's people before God, even their Father, beholding the King's face.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 127.
References: 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 257. 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 3:13.—Ibid., vol. ii., p. 420. 3—E. H. Higgins, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 221. 1 Thessalonians 4:1.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 89; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. iv., p. 9. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Thessalonians 4:10.—E. W. Benson, Three Sermons, p. 26.
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:
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
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.
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.
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:
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
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.