1 Thessalonians 3:3
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.







That no man should be moved by these afflictions
God hath decreed the saints to distress. As He fore-appointed them to heaven, so He fore-appointed them to heaviness and hardships (ver. 3). The wilderness is the road to Canaan. Christ went by Bethany — the house of grief, to Jerusalem — the vision of peace. What was said of Christ may be said of a Christian, "Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" None ever yet went to heaven without conflicts.

I. THE MOTIVES TO QUICKEN THE CHRISTIAN THIS CONDITION.

1. Affliction will search whether thou art sound or no. Great troubles are great trials; hence afflictions are called temptations (James 1:2). Grace is brought to the proof when it is brought to persecution, as gold when it is brought to the touchstone. The soldier's knowledge or ignorance, courage or cowardice, will appear when the enemy, strong and subtle, meets him in the field. So a saint comes to the test when he comes to tribulation.

2. God intendeth to sanctify thee, and to make thee better by affliction. He sendeth prosperity to quicken thee to praise, and He sendeth adversity to stir thee up to patience and prayer. He forceth thee, like the ark, to sail in deep waters, that thy soul may mount nearer to the skies. The husbandman throweth his seed into deep furrows, and is glad of a sharp winter because it will thrive the better.

3. Many are the worse for affliction. Though the fire heateth the water and makes it more serviceable, yet it wholly consumeth the wood. The same flail that liberates the corn bruiseth the stalk. Afflictions that better a saint harden a sinner. Ahaz in his distress sinned more against the Lord, and every plague in Egypt increased the plague of Pharaoh's heart.

4. If godliness be thy business, under the cross thou mayest expect God's company. The worse the ways and the weather in which thou travellest, the more need of good society. Israel had the rarest manifestations of God when they were in the wilderness. Whoever be neglected, the sick child shall be tended not by the maid, but by the mother herself. God may leave His prospering saints to the guardianship of angels, but His afflicted ones may be sure of His presence and favour both in water and fire (Isaiah 43:8, 4).

II. THE POWER OF RELIGION MANIFESTS ITSELF IN AFFLICTION.

1. It leads the Christian to avoid those sins which an afflicted estate is prone to, such as despising God's hand, impatience under suffering and its continuance, and envying the condition of those who prosper.

2. It also helps him to exercise those graces which are required and proper in adversity, such as faith, rejoicing in the Lord, and contentedness with his condition. Whatsoever the rod be with which he is scourged, he kisses it. He blesses God taking from him as well as giving to him; and this turned his blows into blessings, the grievous cross on his back into a glorious crown on his head.

III. THE DIVINE END IN THE CHRISTIAN'S AFFLICTION.

1. It is to discover the Christian to himself. Thieves, when endeavouring to break into a house, and are prevented, do this courtesy to the master of the house — they show him the weakest part of his dwelling. Satan, by the troubles he brings on the saints, doth them often this kindness — by his rough waters their leaks are made known to them. To try the truth of grace, God led Israel many years through the wilderness, when He could have carried them a nearer way in a few days to Canaan, but it was to prove them, and to know what was in their heart.

2. It is to purge out some sins from the Christian. A garment is stricken with a staff that the dust may be beaten out. Tribulation comes from tribulus — a flail, because it makes the husk fly off. Joseph spake roughly to his brethren to make them repent of their sin; and so doth God deal severely with His children to make them mournful for their sin; and when once He hath brought them to that, He smileth on them.

3. It is to increase the graces of the Christian. Wisps scour vessels and make them the brighter; the fire purifieth the vessels of gold, and maketh them more meet for the Master's use. True Christians, like the vine, bear the more fruit for bleeding. Speaking of great afflictions, the Seer of the Apocalypse saith, "Here is the faith and patience of the saints." Here they are exercised, and here they are increased; for frequent acts of grace strengthen the habits of grace.

(G. Swinnock, M. A.)

Too long a period of fair weather in the Italian valleys creates such a superabundance of dust that the traveller sighs for a shower. He is smothered, his eyes smart, the grit even grates between his teeth. So prosperity, long continued, breeds a plague of dust even more injurious, for it almost blinds the spirit. A Christian making money fast is just a man in a cloud of dust — it will fill his eyes if he is not careful. A Christian full of worldly care is in the same condition. Afflictions might almost be prayed for if we never had them.

(C. H. Spurgeon.)

There is no more precious truth than that uttered by Archbishop Secker, "Afflictions are not a consuming but a refining fire to the godly." Fitly as Archbishop Trench said, "We sometimes wonder, with regard to some of God's dealings with His children, that He should cast them again and again into the crucible of trial." It seems to us as though they were already refined gold. But He sees that in them which we do not see, a further fineness which is possible; and He will not give over till that be obtained. It is just as in a portrait by some cunning artist, which is now drawing near to its completion. Men look at it and count it perfect, and are well nigh impatient that the artist does not now withhold his hand and declare it finished, while he, knowing better, touches and retouches as he returns again and again to his work. And why? Because there floats before him an ideal of possible excellence at which he has not yet arrived, but which will not allow him to rest or be contented till he has embodied it in his work. It is thus with God and some of His dear children. A storm among the Highlands of Scotland often effects great and rapid changes. The huge mountain that slumbers harmlessly in the sunshine with such calm and sullen majesty, is transformed by the tempest into a monster of fury. Its sides are suddenly sheeted with waterfalls, and the ferocious torrents work devastation among the glens and straths that lie in their impetuous course. The trees and shrubs that are but slightly rooted are swept away, and only the firmly grounded survive. So it is when the storm of persecution breaks upon the gospel and its adherents. The new converts, the roots of whose faith have not penetrated so deeply into the soil of truth, are in danger of being disturbed and carried away. Their peril is matter of anxiety to the Christian worker. Hence the apostle sends Timothy and writes this Epistle to the Thessalonians to "confirm and establish them in the faith." He shows —

I. THAT SUFFERING IS THE INEVITABLE LOT OF GOD'S PEOPLE.

1. Suffering is a Divine ordinance. "We are appointed thereunto." A strange way, one would think, of reconciling people to affliction to tell them they have nothing else to expect. Here lies the triumph of the gospel, that it prescribes such conditions and reconciles men to their acceptance. This it does by the grace it imparts, and the hope it affords.(1) The purity of the Church coming in contact with sin and misery produces suffering "Because ye are not of the world," etc.(2) Our trials do not happen without the knowledge, consent, and control of God.(3) The Divine appointment of suffering is for our highest culture; withdrawing our affections from the temporal, and fixing them on the eternal; cleansing our corruptions and strengthening us to the right.(4) The greatest suffering often brings us into the neighbourhood of the greatest blessing.

2. Suffering was the subject of frequent apostolic warning (ver. 4). Paul was an illustrious example of heroic fortitude (Acts 20:23). It is both wise and kind to forewarn God's people of coming afflictions that they be not overtaken unprepared. The predictions of the apostle "came to pass." Their first acquaintance with the gospel was in the midst of persecution and trial. The violent opposition continued, but the warning and exhortations of the apostle were not in vain (2 Thessalonians 1:4).

3. The suffering of God's people is a cause of ministerial anxiety (ver. 5). It has been pithily said, "Calamity is man's true touchstone." The faithful minister, knowing the perils of suffering, and the awful consequences of apostacy, is anxiously concerned about the faith of his converts. "There are three modes of bearing the ills of life: by indifference, which is the most common; by philosophy, which is the most ostentatious; and by religion, which is the most effectual"

(Colton).

II. THAT SUFFERING EXPOSES GOD'S PEOPLE TO THE DISTURBING FORCES OF SATANIC TEMPTATIONS. "Lest by some means the tempter have tempted you."

1. A suggestive designation of Satan. "The Tempter" — what unspeakable vileness and ruin are suggested by that name! All human woe may be traced directly up to him. The greatest champions of Christendom, such as Paul and Luther, had the most vivid sense of the personality, nearness and unceasing counter working of this great adversary of God and man. There is need of sleepless vigilance and prayer.

2. The versatility of Satanic temptations. "Lest by some means." He may descend suddenly, clothed with terror and burning with wrath, to surprise and terrify into sin. More frequently he appears in the seductive and more dangerous garb of an angel of light, the deceptive phantom of what he once was. Infinite are his methods, but his aim is one — to suggest doubts and impious inferences as to God's providential dealings of severity, and to produce apostacy from the faith.

III. THAT THE TEMPTATIONS OF A SUFFERING STATE IMPERIL THE WORK OF GOD'S SERVANTS. "And our labour be in vain." In vain as regards the great end of their salvation; they would lapse into their former heathenish state, and lose their reward; and in vain as regards the joy which the apostle anticipated from their ultimate salvation. It is true, no work done for God is absolutely in vain; the worker shall receive his just reward, but it may be in vain with regard to the object. It is bitterly disappointing to see the work that has cost so much, frustrated by temptation. How different might have been the moral history of thousands if they had not yielded to the first fiery trial.

IV. THAT GOD'S PEOPLE MAY TRIUMPH OVER THE GREATEST SUFFERING. "That no man should be moved." Drawn away by flattery, or shaken "by these afflictions." While piety is tried it is also strengthened by suffering. The watchful and faithful soul may use his troubles as aids to a richer experience and firmer consolidation of Christian character. Lessons —

1. To live a godly life involves suffering.

2. A period of suffering is ever attended with powerful temptations.

3. The grace of God is sufficient to sustain and deliver.

(G. Barlow.)

"Man was made for happiness" is the easy formulary concerning the nature and ends of life which seems generally accepted. But if that had been Paul's view, the text could hardly have been written, nor Christ borne the witness of Matthew 16:24, 25; nor the heroes of Hebrews 11 been pourtrayed. That formula may sound the philosopher's roadsteads, but is lost in the great sea of life as we launch forth to the depths which have been fathomed only by the life of the Lord. We need only read casually the lives of the great ones pourtrayed in Scripture to see that happiness was just the last thing they were thinking of; for had that been their aim, life must have been to them a dreadful disappointment. Paul at any rate was not afraid to hold forth a widely different rule and end even to young converts.

I. WHAT IS THE AIM OF MAN? What offers him the highest attraction, and puts him under the strongest restraint? To live a life after the image and mind of God, leaving the happiness question alone.

1. This may bring happiness or pain, but such a man has as his end something which transcends happiness and makes him oblivious of pain (Galatians 2:20). Self-love has forgotten itself in the love of Him whose love is the intensest passion that can possess the spirit, and fills it with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But the joy springs out of the passion, the passion is not cherished as the way to the joy.

2. We shall never arrive at a true Christian philosophy of life until we purge out the leaven of the last century philosophy, and consider the aim of man's life as something more than a search for happiness. To be is greater than to be anything; to live is greater than to possess or enjoy. Being will include both happiness and unhappiness as long as the world and the Spirit are at war, but it will not feel itself nearer its end in the one than in the other. To live God-like will alone satisfy it; and that is sharing the burdens and sufferings of Christ.

3. There is nothing to frighten a man in the vision of struggles and suffering for a worthy end. Nay, there is that which should attract him. All the nobler spirits will be more fired by the end than daunted by the suffering. A high end which God smiles upon and pursues, is what inspires men with indomitable courage, and exalted joy. You feel it in the smallest things. Your days of exultation are when you are toiling earnestly and bearing bravely for the sake of some noble end, on which you can ask God's blessing. Pain which you would feel keenly in lazier moods seems hardly to touch you. The most glorious moment of Jacob's life was that night of agonizing wrestling, though it left him a halting man and spoilt for much of happiness. It is life in its full beat and swing, not the satisfaction of desire which is bliss.

II. THE APPOINTMENT OF AFFLICTION AS THE MEANS.

1. The ordinance of affliction, "I am not come to send peace but a sword." The first fruit of the advent of the Saviour to the world, to a soul, is to deepen the sorrow of life, and to increase the pressure of its burden. It was no part of Christ's plan to makes a fool's paradise of the world. He came to deepen its experience in every way: to make it a more solemn thing to live, by unveiling life's issues; a more awful thing to sin, by unveiling God's holiness; a more hopeful and, therefore, more blessed thing to suffer, by declaring "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us." Easy had it been for Him to restore the beauty and joy of Eden; but something larger He had set before Him to realize. The world's chief sufferers have been the world's chief blessed ones in time and in eternity.

2. The author of the ordinance, God Himself. There is something terrible in the idea of the Epicurean God, sitting calmly on high with no eye to pity, no hand to save. Even the Jew, with his sublime conception of the God of Sinai, shrank from this. Isaiah 53 tells a nobler tale. Dark as the ordinance of sorrow may seem, He ordained it to Himself, before He ordained it to you. If the law be "through much tribulation ye shall inherit the kingdom," if the symbol of the new life be the Cross, the God from whom the law issues Himself won the kingdom by tribulation, and consecrated the Cross as its emblem by His own death. No soldier murmurs if his captain but leads him through the deadly peril. We are not afraid or ashamed to suffer in the flesh, when the chief sufferer is incarnate God.

3. The reason of the ordinance. There are a thousand subsidiary reasons, but the supreme one is that we may have fellowship with God. Man made happy on easy terms might have held just such fellowship with God as a light-hearted, innocent child can hold with one who has borne the burden of life's battle. He feels a passing interest in the child's prattle but keeps himself for the friend who has fought or suffered at his side. And God wants the fellowship of friends, not the prattle of children in eternity; friends whose powers have been exercised in the sternest of conflicts, and proved that they hate evil as He hates it, and love good as He loves it, by being willing to resist the one and to clasp the other even unto death. The suffering He ordains is precisely the fellowship of His suffering. Perfect through sufferings is the Divine perfectness whereby the perfected may converse with Him forever.

4. The end of the ordinance: Supreme and perfect bliss. The hunters after happiness miss it utterly. Those who lift the Cross as their symbol of life, and bear it till they change it for a crown, find in bearing it a blessedness which is kindred with the blessedness of God. It is a deep truth that none but those who suffer keenly can enjoy keenly. "So you who are troubled rest with us" is Christ's promise to those who dare to look boldly into this mystery of pain. Rest where the warrior can recall the incidents of the battle and reap the fruit of the victory — where the purified spirit shall shine resplendent — where rest shall be untiring service without disappointment or pain.

(Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

To what extent did the early Christians suffer persecution? Much has been said of the tolerant spirit of the Roman government, inclined to let all religions sleep peacefully under the shadow of its wings. But it is one thing to tolerate existing religions, another to sanction a new one, and that, too, not seeking to insinuate itself privately, but openly professing as its object the conversion of the world. Probably there has never been a civilized country in which such an attempt at proselytism would not have been at first met by persecution. Every page of the Acts is a picture of similar persecutions; and more remarkable than any part of it is the narrative which St. Paul gives of his own sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33), and which, amid many other reflections, suggests the thought, how small a part of his life has been preserved. From the state of Christianity in the time of Pliny or Taeitus, we can scarcely form an idea of its first difficulties. Everywhere it had to encounter the fierce spirit of fanaticism, wrought up in the Jew to its highest pitch, in the pagan just needing to be awakened. The Jews, the false brethren, the heretics, the heathen, were in league more or less openly at one time or other for its destruction. All ages which have witnessed a revival of religious feeling, have witnessed also the outbreak of religious passions; the pure light of the one becomes the spark by which the other is kindled. Reasons of state sometimes create a faint and distant suspicion of the new faith; the feelings of the mass rise to overwhelm it. The Roman government may be said to have observed in general the same line respecting the first preachers of the gospel, as would be observed in modern times: that is to say, of matters of faith and opinion, as such, they hardly took account, except in so far as they endangered the safety of the government, or led to breaches of the public peace. It seemed idle to them to dispute about questions of the Jewish law in Roman courts of justice; but they were not the less prepared to call to account those by whose supposed agency a whole city was in an uproar. Hence, when the really peaceful character of the gospel was seen, the persecutions gradually ceased and revived only at a later period, when Christianity became a political power. Allowing for the difference of times and seasons, the feelings of the Roman governors were not altogether unlike those with which the followers of John Wesley, in the last century, might have been regarded by the magistrates of an English town. And, making still greater allowance for the malignity and depth of the passions by which men were agitated as the old religions were breaking up, a parallel not less just might be drawn also between the feelings of the multitude. There was in both cases a kind of sympathy by which the lower class were attracted towards the new teachers. Natural feeling suggested that these men had come for their good: they were grateful for the love shown of them, and for the ministration to their temporal wants. There was a time (Acts 2:47; Acts 4:21) when the first believers were in favour with all the people; but at the preaching of Stephen the scene changes and the deep irreconcilable hostility of the two principles is beginning to be felt; "it is not peace, but a sword"; not "I am come to fulfil the law," but "not one stone shall be left upon another." The moment this was clearly perceived, not only would the farsighted jealousy of the chief priests and rulers be alarmed at the preaching of the apostles, but the very instincts of the multitude itself would rise at them. More than anything that we have witnessed in modern times of religious intolerance, would be the feeling against those who sought to relax the bond of circumcision as enemies to their country, religion and God. But another aspect of the new religion served to bring home these feelings even yet more nearly — the description of the family, as our Lord foretold, the father was against the son, etc. A new power had arisen in the world, which seemed to cut across and dissever natural affections. Consider what is implied in the words "of believing women not a few"; what animosities of parents and brethren, etc. An unknown tie, closer than that of kindred, drew away the individuals of a family, and joined them to an external society. It was not only that they were members of another church, or attendants on a separate worship. The difference went beyond. In the daily intercourse of life, at every meal, the unbelieving brother or sister was conscious of the presence of the unclean. It was an injury not readily to be forgotten, or forgiven in its authors, than which in this world none could be greater. The fanatic priest, led on by every personal and religious motive; the man of the world, caring for none of those things, but not the less resenting the intrusion on the peace of his home; the craftsman, fearing for his gains; the accursed multitude, knowing not the law, but irritated at the very notion of this mysterious society of such real though hidden strength — would all work together towards the overthrow of those who seemed to them to be turning upside down the political, religious and social order of the world.

(Prof. Jowett.)

An example of this was seen in the case of Demas, who was allured by the love of this world, and forsook Paul in his sufferings at Rome, and departed to Thessalonica (2 Timothy 4:10). The devil is often more to he feared when he fawns than when he roars. The man of God at Judah overcame Satan at Bethel, but was ensnared by him under the oak tree (1 Kings 13:14). David vanquished Satan in the battlefield (1 Samuel 17:48), but was vanquished by him in the cool of the evening on the housetop (2 Samuel 11:2).

(Bp. Wordsworth.)

Church history nowhere gives a more striking illustration of these words, and of the power which lies in them to strengthen and comfort, than in the story of the banishment of some five thousand bishops and presbyters, with their adherents, into the desert, by Hunneric, during the African persecutions of the sixth century. They were torn from their homes, and shut up amid squalor and hunger in a small prison, and afterwards driven, with every species of maltreatment, over the burning sands. Yet the song of that suffering pilgrim band had its constant refrain, "Such glory have all God's saints."

(J. Hutchison, D. D.)

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