1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.…
"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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.