Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
I. THE ADDRESS.
1. The description. St. Paul repeats the opening words of the First Epistle. He addresses the same Church; he describes it in the same sacred words. It is "in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." He could say of it nothing higher, nothing holier. To be in God, in Christ, is of all positions the loftiest, of all blessings the most precious. None are so highly exalted as those who are nearest to Christ; none have such rich store of heavenly treasure as those who abide in him, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead. There is but one slight variation. In the First Epistle he said, "the Father;" here it is "our Father." The pronoun implies a close, endearing, affectionate relationship. The Church is in God our Father, in the embrace of his fatherly love, chosen by his electing grace; in the Lord Jesus Christ, saved by his precious death, living in that life which flows from Christ, which is Christ.
2. The salutation. He uses the same words as in the First Epistle; he could find no more suitable terms to express his good wishes for his converts. He could desire nothing better for them than grace, and peace; grace, the origin, the source, of every highest blessing; peace, the sweet and holy end, the very crown, of the Christian life. It is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that these and all other blessings flow. St. Paul joins together the two Divine Persons; they could not be thus associated as the one ultimate source of grace and peace, were they not both alike Divine. Peace is the fruit of the Spirit; with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord Jesus sends unto us from the Father comes the sacred gift of peace. Grace and peace come from God the Father by the incarnation, atonement, intercession of God the Son, through the indwelling presence of God the Holy Ghost. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God flow into the Christian heart through the fellowship of the Holy Ghost. All that the Christian can desire for himself, for his friends, for the whole Church, comes from God; he seeks it of God in prayer; he knows that God will hear. "This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
II. THE THANKSGIVING.
1. The duty. Thanksgiving is a debt which we owe to God, a debt which we must always acknowledge, which we can never fully discharge. It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks for all things unto God. We must thank him for his grace given to ourselves; and if that grace abides in us, we shall feel ourselves bound to thank him for the working of the same grace in others. We shall regard every true conversion, every increase of grace in others, as a blessing granted to the whole Church and to ourselves. We shall feel a keen, living interest in each soul that is gathered into Christ's flock, and so share the angels' joy over one sinner that repenteth. For the welfare of each member affects the whole Church; when "one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it." Such was the feeling of St. Paul. "We are bound," he says - we owe it as a debt - "to thank God always for you." He fulfils his own precept; he gives thanks always. The thanksgiving of the faithful Christian must be continuous, never ending.
2. The ground of St. Paul's thanksgiving.
(1) The faith of the Thessalonians. He had gladly recognized their faith and love in his First Epistle; he had again and again exhorted them to abound more and more. Now, writing a second time after a short interval, he thanks God for the growth of their faith. It had increased "exccedingly;" he uses one of those strong words which his ardent feelings so often suggested. "Lord, increase our faith," is a prayer which we cannot make too often. Faith must grow if it is true and living; for it is the evidence of things not seen; it brings the cross of Christ, the presence of God, within the range of our mental view. That holy vision will draw us nearer ever by its constraining power, quickening and deepening in our hearts the faith which first brought us by the leading of the Spirit to the Saviour. The faith of the Thessalonians was growing exceedingly; so it will be with us, in spite of the unbelief and indifference which so fill the air, if we persevere in prayer, and try, in humble dependence on the grace of God to fashion our lives according to our prayers.
(2) Their love was abounding also. Love is the fairest ornament of a Christian Church. Faith is the root, love is the fruit. The tree that grows downwards will grow upwards also; the fair growth of foliage, flower, and fruit will bear some proportion to the unseen depth and strength of the root below. The Thessalonian Church was rich in the fruit of the Spirit. And their love was not only increasing in fervour, but in range also. It was not partial, not limited to this man or that man according to natural tastes and similarities of disposition. It extended throughout the Church; the love of each one of them all was abounding toward one another. It is a bright picture. Indeed, the Thessalonians were not without their faults, as we find in ch. 2. and 3.; but the apostle, in his love and thankfulness, gladly dwells on the spiritual progress of the Church before he proceeds to notice the shortcomings of individual members. It shows his love and his wisdom. The encouragement of the opening verses would dispose the Thessalonians to receive in a good spirit the few reproofs that follow.
3. The expression of his thankfulness. He not only gives thanks to God; he glories before men. "We ourselves," he says - "we glory." Though his deep humility might have withheld him from glorying over a result which was due, under God, to his own zealous labours, the rapid growth of their faith and love so filled him with exuberant gladness that he could net refrain his lips. "God forbid," he says elsewhere, "that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." But he is really glorying in the cross now; he glories, not in his own achievements, but in the triumphs of the cross. It was the work of God in real truth, not his work; he knew it well. Indeed, he had laboured abundantly - that he knew, he could not help knowing it; but he gladly explains the abundance of his labours by the abundance of grace that was vouchsafed unto him. "Yet not I," he says, "but the grace of God that was with me." The faith, hope, and love of the Thessalonians proved, as he said in the First Epistle, their election. God had chosen them to be his own; his grace worked mightily in them. And now St. Paul was glorying in the faith and patience of his converts. They were in great affliction; he sympathized with them, he comforted them; but yet he rejoiced over them. Their affliction by the grace of God was turned to a blessing; it proved the steadfastness of their faith and their patience, and it strengthened them.
1. Thankfulness is the Christian's duty; thank God always. 2, Especially thank him for his grace working in his people.
3. Glory in the victories of grace, not in worldly successes.
4. Pray for continual progress in faith, love, patience. - B.C.C.
I will give unto thy master's son all that pertained to Saul and to all his house,
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