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