1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Why when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;…
I. THE MISSION OF TIMOTHY.
1. He could no longer forbear. Mark the intensity of his affection. He repeats the words twice, ver. 1 and ver. 5, first in the plural, then in the singular number, implying, perhaps, that while all the missionaries longed to know how it fared with the Thessalonians, his longing was the most overmastering. He must hear of his converts, cost him what it might. The suspense was agonizing; he could endure it no longer; so deep, so burning, was his interest in their spiritual state. What an example to Christian pastors now!
2. He would submit to any sacrifice; he would be left alone at Athens. "Alone in London" has almost passed into a proverb. Loneliness is nowhere felt so much as in a great city -
Where ever-moving myriads seem to say,
'Go! thou art naught to us, nor we to thee - away!'" St. Paul felt like this at Athens. To the student of history, to the lover of classical antiquities, Athens is one of the most attractive of cities. To St. Paul it was almost a desert. He does not seem to have found delight in natural beauty or in historic associations; the one object of his life was to extend the Redeemer's kingdom, to win souls to Christ. The Athenians of his day had much curiosity, much versatility, but no depth of character, no real longing after truth. They did not persecute; they had not earnestness enough for that. But mockery and indifference were more painful to St, Paul than danger and suffering. He could not feet at home in Athens. And he was one of those men to whom sympathy is almost a necessity; his one earthly comfort was the society of Christian friends. This Epistle shows the intensity of his affections; he can scarcely find words strong enough to express his love for the Thessalonians, his yearning desire to see them again. Yet he had spent only three weeks, or perhaps a short time longer, at Thessalonica. How, then, must he have prized the society of Timotheus, the dearest of all his friends! He was his brother, his fellow-laborer; he could ill spare him, especially while laboring in vain, as it seemed, in that most uncongenial place. But he would send him; he would endure that isolation which was so oppressive to him. Even for himself it was better than the cruel uncertainty which he could bear no longer; and the visit of Timotheus would be very useful to the infant Church at Thessalonica. So he thought it good; it pleased him, there was a pleasure mingled with the pain, to be left at Athens alone. There is a pleasure in self-sacrifice, severe but real; there is a peace in the conscious submission of the human will to the blessed will of God - a peace not granted to all, for not all take up the cross, but very precious, very high and holy.
3. So he sent his closest friend and companion. His words show how he felt the separation. He describes him as his brother; elsewhere he calls him his son in the faith, his dearly beloved son. His presence, his loving care, his affectionate sympathy, were very dear to St. Paul. His help, too, was very needful; he was the minister of God, St. Paul's fellow-laborer in the gospel (the readings are somewhat confused, but the meaning is plain); he could assist him in his difficult and almost heartless labor at Athens. Like St. Paul, he delighted to serve God, to do God's work, to preach the glad tidings of the atonement, the resurrection of Christ, the life and immortality brought to light by the Lord Jesus. There was work, hard work, enough and more than enough, for both of them at Athens; but St. Paul, in his intense anxiety for the Thessalonians, sent to them his dearest companion and his best helper. Old work must not be neglected for new; it is a common temptation. The care of all the Churches pressed upon St. Paul. The minister of God must care for all the souls entrusted to his charge.
II. THE PURPOSE OF TIMOTHY'S MISSION.
1. To stablish them. They were but neophytes - Christians of a few months. The first work of drawing men to take an interest in religion is often easier than the work which follows of stablishing and building them up in the faith. It is hard to persevere; we know it from our own experience. It may be that by God's grace we have drawn nigh to the crucified One; we have felt something of the sweetness of his precious love; our hearts have burned within us as we listened to his voice, "Come unto me." In such moments we have felt, perhaps, that our work was well-nigh done, and our souls saved for ever; we thought that we could never fall from him whom we had learned to love so dearly. But a little while, and we found ourselves miserably disappointed. The time of temptation came; or perhaps, without any definite temptation, the freshness of those glowing feelings passed away; we lost our first love, and sunk back into that cold indifference which we hoped we had shaken off forever. We lost all that we seemed to have gained; we had to begin our work again. Alas! many are thus always beginning; their spiritual history is a series of oscillations between permitted carelessness and feeble repentance. They make no real progress towards that holiness without which we cannot see God. They need a Timotheus to stablish them. It is one of the most important, one of the most difficult, duties of the ministers of God to persevere themselves, to lead others to persevere.
2. To comfort them, or rather, perhaps, to exhort them. They needed both, comfort and exhortation. The cross was coming. They were but babes in Christ; they shrunk from its sharpness. But "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." The grace of perseverance is best acquired in the bracing air of affliction. "The trying of our faith worketh patience." Self-denial, the mortification of the flesh, are, alas! to many of us but empty sounds. They must become realities in our daily lives if we are to be Christians indeed. The sentimental religion of mere poetry and feeling is a weak and sickly exotic; it will never bear the cold blasts of temptation, it will not stand in the evil day. Timotheus was to comfort the Thessalonians in their troubles, to exhort them to patient endurance, that their faith might not fail them, that it might rather grow and increase.
3. To prepare them for tribulation.
(1) Afflictions must come. It is a law of Christ's kingdom. "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." The Savior endured the cross, despising the shame; the Christian must consider him, always "looking unto Jesus." "We are appointed thereunto," St. Paul says; not himself only, but all Christians. It is God's ordinance; it is "the trial of faith, much more precious than of gold." The gold perisheth, the faith abideth; it will issue in praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. But "we are appointed thereunto." We must recognize this, and accept it cheerfully as the law of our Christian race. The cross is the very badge and emblem of our religion; the cross is a sacred object in the Christian's eyes; but it will not profit us unless we bear the inner cross, the spiritual cross of self-sacrifice wrought into our souls by the power of God the Holy Ghost. The Lord Jesus bore the cross first; his death upon the cross gave a deep and awful and blessed meaning to the word; it invested the cross with glory and solemn beauty and attractive sweetness. His saints have followed him. One after another they have taken up the cross; they came out of great tribulation. From the quiet rest of paradise their voices seem to float around us yet, telling us of the power of the Savior's cross and the high rewards of suffering for his sake. "We are appointed thereunto," St. Paul said to the Thessalonians; he does not attempt to hide it from them. They were very young Christians, but, young as they were, they must experience the law of suffering. "Ye knew it," St. Paul says; for they knew the blessed story of the cross, and they knew the meaning of the cross. The Churches of Macedonia had a great trial of affliction. We are not called to suffer in the same way, but the cross has the same meaning still. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." "We are appointed thereunto." We are not in danger of the martyr's death, but the martyr's spirit is as necessary as ever it was; its essence lies in the prayer which we daily use, "Thy will be done." We must not be moved by these afflictions; they must not be allowed to disquiet us, to disturb the steadfastness of our faith. Affliction is the ordinary atmosphere of the Christian life.
(2) St. Paul had told them this. When he was with them, short as the time was - three weeks or a little more - he warned them of the coming trials. It was a great help when the time came. As Chrysostom says, if the physician warns his patient of the probable symptoms of his disease, he is not so terrified when they come. Thus the Thessalonians were prepared to see the sufferings of St. Paul and his companions - prepared themselves to follow them as they followed Christ. The preacher must not dwell exclusively on the bright side of religion, its beauty and its joys; he must point to the cross; he must prepare himself and his people to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
(3) But though he had warned them, he was still anxious. The affliction had come, as he had said. He knew that they were suffering; he felt for them in their trials. Especially he was anxious to know how that newly formed faith of theirs would endure the first shock of persecution. The tempter had tempted them - that was certain. These trials were his work. It was permitted; it was overruled for good, as the event showed. But it came from the same evil one who had tempted Job to curse God, and was foiled then by the patience of that holy man, and now, by the grace of God, vouchsafed to the Thessalonians. But St. Paul did not know the issue. He had beard of the temptation, and with the tender, trembling solicitude of a loving parent he feared - he could not help fearing - lest his labor should prove in vain. Mark, again, his firm belief in the personality of Satan. He knew his malice; he was not ignorant of his devices, and he feared for his children in the faith.
1. Pray for the love of souls; seek to love souls with a great love, as St. Paul yearned for the salvation of his converts.
2. Be content, like him, to suffer privations for the souls of others.
3. Pray for the grace of perseverance; be distrustful of self; trust only Christ; watch always.
4. Expect afflictions, chastisements; they must come; they form a necessary part of Christian experience; be prepared for them. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
WEB: Therefore, when we couldn't stand it any longer, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone,