I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
I. THE APOSTLE ASKS AN INTEREST IN THE PRAYERS OF THE THESSALONIANS. "Brethren, pray for us."
1. He did not feel himself independent, in spite of all his high graces and gifts, of the intercessions of the humblest disciples. His request is a proof of his deep humility.
2. His position, with the care of all the Churches upon his heart, entitled him to their prayers. He said to the Roman Christians, "Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me."
(1) He wanted a door of utterance as well as a door of entrance.
(2) He wanted to be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.
(3) He wanted to see the gospel flourishing in all the Churches.
II. EXHORTATION FOR CHRISTIANS TO SALUTE EACH OTHER. "Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss." Eastern customs differ from Western; but the salutation ought still to prevail in all our Churches, not in the letter, but in the spirit. It ought to express the feeling of oneness, of affection, of equality among the disciples of the same Lord. Christianity purifies and elevates worldly courtesy.
III. SOLEMN ADJURATION TO HAVE THE EPISTLE READ TO ALL THE BRETHREN. "I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethren." Conjectures have been freely expressed that the elders at Thessalonica may have been disinclined to read the letter to the Church. There is not much ground for the opinion.
1. This Epistle was the first ever written by the apostle to any Church; and as the disciples may not have known how to use it, he gives specific directions on the subject.
2. He recognizes the right of all the brethren to read it. Rome denies to the laity this right. - T.C.
I charge you by the Lord that this Epistle be read unto all the holy brethrenLuke 4:16; Acts 12:27; 15:21). The injunction here reminds us of the blessing in Revelation 1:3, and the impressive solemnity with which it is given is worthy of note. Surely it suggests the duty of reading passages of the New Testament in church, and even the guilt of neglecting it, or of keeping it from the people. This is one of the passages which give us an idea of the great authority attributed to the Epistles from the earliest times. They were carried by the apostle's delegates (like the iggereth of the synagogues); they were held to have equal dogmatic authority with the apostle himself; they were read out and finally deposited among the archives of the church; they were taken out on solemn days and read as sacred documents, with a perpetual teaching. Thus the epistolary form of literature was peculiarly the shape into which apostolic thought was thrown — a form well adapted to the wants of the time, and to the character and temperament of St. Paul.
1. The coordinate authority of the Epistles with other portions of Holy Writ. The Old Testament lessons came as messages from God in the synagogue; the New Testament lessons come as the same in the church.
2. The prominent place they should occupy in public worship. Too many regard them as amongst the "preliminaries," and treat them accordingly. Singing, prayer, reading, preaching are each of the utmost importance. If any deserve prominence it is reading, for that is the declaration of the pure Word of God.
I. HOW THE BIBLE SHOULD BE READ IN CHURCH.
1. Distinctly. When mumbled the time is simply wasted, and the people deprived of edification and comfort. Those who protest against their being read in a dead language should beware of reading them in a dead voice.
2. Reverently. Carelessness is a grave fault; it begets careless hearing. The Word read is a savour of life unto life or of death unto death. What a responsibility, therefore, rests on the reader!
3. Impressively. The art of elocution is by no means to be despised. We take all possible pains to impress our own messages on the minds of those who listen. We are pathetic, earnest, persuasive, as the case may be; how much more then should we be with the message from God?
4. Without note or comment. This should be the rule, although there may be exceptions. Comment comes naturally in the sermon. The Bible should be allowed a fair chance to do its own work. "My Word" — not a comment on it "shall not return unto Me void." "All Scripture...is profitable for doctrine," etc.
1. As a perpetual safeguard against heretical teaching. The preacher may err from the truth, but if the Bible be in the reading desk, the antidote is always at hand.
2. As a continual supply of teaching, comfort, and edification. If the preacher be inefficient, the reading of the lessons will do much to supply the want.
3. As an ever-recurring reminder of the duty of searching the Scriptures. It is to be feared that the Scriptural knowledge of multitudes is just what they learn on Sunday.
4. As a constant witness of God's presence in His Church. The speaker is not far away from his speech.
(J. W. Burn.)all the Christian brethren in Thessalonica.
I. THE APOSTOLIC INJUNCTION IS AN EXPRESS DIVINE COMMAND. All the people must have access to the Word of God. So important was this considered that it was deemed necessary to enjoin those who should receive the Word of God, under the solemnities of an oath, and by all the force of apostolic authority to communicate what they had received to others.
II. THE UNLIMITED CHARACTER OF THIS APOSTOLIC INJUNCTION. Not a single member of the Church at Thessalonica was omitted from it, whether high or low, rich or poor. The command is, indeed, that the Word of God be "read unto all the holy brethren," but by parity of reasoning it would follow that it was to be in their hands; that it was to be ever accessible to them; that it was in no manner to be withheld from them. Probably many of them could not read, but in some way the contents of revelation were to be made known to them; and not by preaching only, but by reading the words inspired by God. No part was to be kept back; nor were they to be denied such access that they could fully understand it. It was presumed that all the members of the Church would understand what had been written to them, and to profit by it.
III. THE SIN OF VIOLATING THE INJUNCTIOn. If all be true we have stated, and true all is, it follows that there is great sin in all decisions and laws which are designed to keep the Scriptures from the people, and great sin in all opinions and dogmas which prevail anywhere, denying them the right of private judgment. The richest blessing of heaven to mankind is the Bible; and there is no book ever written so admirably adapted to the popular mind, and so eminently fitted to elevate the fallen, the ignorant, and the wicked; and there is no more decided enemy of the progress of the human race in intelligence and purity than he who prevents in anywise the free circulation of the Holy Volume, while there is no truer friend of his species than he who causes it to be read by all men, and who contributes to make it accessible to all the peoples of the world.
(A. Barnes, D. D.)
Religious Tract Society Anecdotes.The following is an extract from a petition which was signed by 416 Roman Catholics in the vicinity of Tralee, the parents and representatives of more than 1,300 children, and presented to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kerry in 1826: — "May it please your reverence, — We, the undersigned, being members of the Roman Catholic Church in your bishopric, beg leave to approach you with all the respect and deference due to our spiritual father, and to implore your pastoral indulgence on a subject of much anxiety to us, and of great importance to the bodies and souls of our dear children. We approach your paternal feet, holy father, humbly imploring that you will instruct the clergy to relax that hostility which many of them direct against the Scripture schools, and to suspend those denunciations and penalties which are dealt to us merely because we love our children and wish to see them honest men, loyal subjects, good Christians, and faithful Catholics. In short, permit us to know something of the Word of God, so much spoken of in these days."
(Religious Tract Society Anecdotes.)
I. TO THE DIVINE CHRIST.
1. Look how the letter begins (1 Thessalonians 1:1). What is the meaning of putting these two names side by side, unless it means that Christ sits on the Father's throne, and is Divine.
2. More than twenty times in this short letter that great name is applied to Jesus, "the Lord" — the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament Jehovah.
3. Direct prayer is offered to our Lord. Thus the very loftiest apex of revealed religion had been imparted to that handful of heathens in the few weeks of the apostle's stay amongst them. And the letter takes it for granted that so deeply was that truth embedded in their new consciousness that an allusion to it was all that was needed for their understanding and their faith.
II. TO THE DYING CHRIST.
1. As to the fact. "The Jews killed the Lord Jesus." And then, beyond the fact, there is set forth the meaning and the significance of that fact — "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us." I need but mention in this connection another verse which speaks of Jesus as "He that delivereth us from the wrath to come." It is a continuous deliverance, running all through the life of the Christian man, and not merely to be realized at the far end; because by the mighty providence of God, and by the automatic working of the consequences of every transgression and disobedience, that "wrath" is ever coming towards men and lighting on them, and a continual Deliverer, who delivers us by His death, is what the human heart needs. This witness is distinct that the death of Christ is a sacrifice, is man's deliverance from wrath, and is a present deliverance from the consequences of transgression.
2. And if you will take this letter, and only think that it was merely a few weeks' familiarity with these truths that had passed before it was written, and then mark how the early and imperfect glimpse of them had transformed the men, you will see where the power lies in the proclamation of the gospel. The men had been transformed. What transformed them? The message of a Divine and dying Christ, who had offered up Himself without spot unto God, and who was their peace and their righteousness and their power.
III. TO THE RISEN AND ASCENDED CHRIST. "Ye turned unto God...to wait for His Son from heaven whom He raised from the dead." And again, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." The risen Christ, then, is in the heavens.
1. Remember we have nothing to do with the four Gospels here: we are dealing here with an entirely independent witness. And then tell us what importance is to be attached to this evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Twenty years after His death here is this man speaking about that resurrection as being the recognized and notorious fact which all the churches accepted, and which underlay all their faith. Then if, twenty years after the event, this witness was borne, it necessarily carries us back a great deal nearer to the event, for there is no mark of its being new testimony, but every mark of its being the habitual and continuous witness that had been borne from the instant of the alleged resurrection to that present time. The fact is, there is not a place where you can stick a pin in, between the resurrection and the date of this letter, wide enough to admit of the rise of the faith in a resurrection of the Church to the admission that the belief in the resurrection was contemporaneous with the alleged resurrection itself.
2. And so we are shut up to the old alternative, either Jesus Christ rose from the dead, or the noblest lives that the world has ever seen, and the loftiest system of morality that ever has been proclaimed, were built upon a lie. And we are called to believe that at the bidding of a mere unsupported, bare, dogmatic assertion that miracles are impossible. I would rather believe in the supernatural than the ridiculous. And to me it is unspeakably ridiculous to suppose that anything but the fact of the resurrection accounts for the existence of the Church and for the faith of this witness that we have before us.
IV. TO THE RETURNING CHRIST. That is the characteristic doctrinal subject of the letter. The coming of the Master does not appear here with emphasis on its judicial aspect. It is rather intended to bring hope to the mourners, and the certainty that bands broken here may be reknit in holier fashion hereafter. But the judicial aspect is not, as it could not be, left out. And the apostle further tells us that "that day cometh as a thief in the night." That is a quotation of the Master's own words, which we find in the Gospels; and so again a confirmation, from an independent witness, as far as it goes, of the Gospel story. And then he goes on, in terrible language, to speak of "sudden destruction, as of travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape." These, then, are the points of this witness's testimony as to the returning Lord — a personal coming, a reunion of all believers in Him, in order to eternal felicity and mutual gladness, and the destruction that shall fall by His coming upon those who turn away from Him. What a revelation that would be to men who had known what it was to grope in the darkness of heathendom and to have no light upon the future! I remember once walking in the long galleries of the Vatican, on the one side of which there are Christian inscriptions from the catacombs, and on the other heathen inscriptions from the tombs. One side is all dreary and hopeless, one long sigh echoing along the line of white marbles — "Vale! vale! in aeternum vale!" ("Farewell, farewell, forever farewell!") — on the other side, "In Christo, In pace, In spe" ("In hope, in Christ, in peace"). That is the witness that we have to lay to our hearts. And so death becomes a passage, and we let go the dear hands, believing that we shall clasp them again.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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