1 Thessalonians 3:3-5
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.…
God hath decreed the saints to distress. As He fore-appointed them to heaven, so He fore-appointed them to heaviness and hardships (ver. 3). The wilderness is the road to Canaan. Christ went by Bethany — the house of grief, to Jerusalem — the vision of peace. What was said of Christ may be said of a Christian, "Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" None ever yet went to heaven without conflicts.
I. THE MOTIVES TO QUICKEN THE CHRISTIAN THIS CONDITION.
1. Affliction will search whether thou art sound or no. Great troubles are great trials; hence afflictions are called temptations (James 1:2). Grace is brought to the proof when it is brought to persecution, as gold when it is brought to the touchstone. The soldier's knowledge or ignorance, courage or cowardice, will appear when the enemy, strong and subtle, meets him in the field. So a saint comes to the test when he comes to tribulation.
2. God intendeth to sanctify thee, and to make thee better by affliction. He sendeth prosperity to quicken thee to praise, and He sendeth adversity to stir thee up to patience and prayer. He forceth thee, like the ark, to sail in deep waters, that thy soul may mount nearer to the skies. The husbandman throweth his seed into deep furrows, and is glad of a sharp winter because it will thrive the better.
3. Many are the worse for affliction. Though the fire heateth the water and makes it more serviceable, yet it wholly consumeth the wood. The same flail that liberates the corn bruiseth the stalk. Afflictions that better a saint harden a sinner. Ahaz in his distress sinned more against the Lord, and every plague in Egypt increased the plague of Pharaoh's heart.
4. If godliness be thy business, under the cross thou mayest expect God's company. The worse the ways and the weather in which thou travellest, the more need of good society. Israel had the rarest manifestations of God when they were in the wilderness. Whoever be neglected, the sick child shall be tended not by the maid, but by the mother herself. God may leave His prospering saints to the guardianship of angels, but His afflicted ones may be sure of His presence and favour both in water and fire (Isaiah 43:8, 4).
II. THE POWER OF RELIGION MANIFESTS ITSELF IN AFFLICTION.
1. It leads the Christian to avoid those sins which an afflicted estate is prone to, such as despising God's hand, impatience under suffering and its continuance, and envying the condition of those who prosper.
2. It also helps him to exercise those graces which are required and proper in adversity, such as faith, rejoicing in the Lord, and contentedness with his condition. Whatsoever the rod be with which he is scourged, he kisses it. He blesses God taking from him as well as giving to him; and this turned his blows into blessings, the grievous cross on his back into a glorious crown on his head.
III. THE DIVINE END IN THE CHRISTIAN'S AFFLICTION.
1. It is to discover the Christian to himself. Thieves, when endeavouring to break into a house, and are prevented, do this courtesy to the master of the house — they show him the weakest part of his dwelling. Satan, by the troubles he brings on the saints, doth them often this kindness — by his rough waters their leaks are made known to them. To try the truth of grace, God led Israel many years through the wilderness, when He could have carried them a nearer way in a few days to Canaan, but it was to prove them, and to know what was in their heart.
2. It is to purge out some sins from the Christian. A garment is stricken with a staff that the dust may be beaten out. Tribulation comes from tribulus — a flail, because it makes the husk fly off. Joseph spake roughly to his brethren to make them repent of their sin; and so doth God deal severely with His children to make them mournful for their sin; and when once He hath brought them to that, He smileth on them.
3. It is to increase the graces of the Christian. Wisps scour vessels and make them the brighter; the fire purifieth the vessels of gold, and maketh them more meet for the Master's use. True Christians, like the vine, bear the more fruit for bleeding. Speaking of great afflictions, the Seer of the Apocalypse saith, "Here is the faith and patience of the saints." Here they are exercised, and here they are increased; for frequent acts of grace strengthen the habits of grace.
(G. Swinnock, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.