St. Paul testifieth his great love to the Thessalonians; partly by sending Timothy unto them, to strengthen and comfort them; partly by rejoicing in their well-doing; and partly by praying for them, and desiring a safe coming unto them.
Anno Domini 52.
BY the reasoning in the beginning of this chapter, it appears, that the learned Greeks took occasion, from the sufferings of the Christian preachers, to raise a third and very plausible objection against the miracles which they wrought in confirmation of the gospel. Said the philosophers, If these men really possess miraculous powers, why do they flee from their enemies, and not rather work miracles for their own preservation: which, at the same time, would convince the most obstinate that they are sent of God? The behaviour of these pretended missionaries from God, who, instead of restraining their enemies by their miraculous power, flee from them in a frightened, clandestine manner, is a clear proof that their miracles are nothing but impositions on the senses of mankind. The reader will recollect, that this very argument was used for discrediting our Lord's miracles, Matthew 27:41-42. Also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him. This objection being much insisted on by the philosophers, some of the Thessalonian brethren who came to Berea informed Timothy thereof, who, when he followed the Apostle to Athens, no doubt, related the matter. Now, this beinga natural objection, the Apostle was greatly distressed that he had it not in his power to return to Thessalonica, to shew the falsity of it. Wherefore, when he could no longer bear his anxiety, that is, his solicitude for the welfare of his Thessalonians, he determined to remain at Athens alone, 1 Thessalonians 3:1. And sent Timothy to establish the brethren, and to exhort them concerning their faith, 1 Thessalonians 3:2.—by telling them, that no man should be moved by these afflictions: he meant the afflictions which had befallen him, and his sudden flight from Thessalonica and Berea; as is plain from what follows; for yourselves know that we were appointed to this: we apostles were appointed to suffer, and were not allowed to deliver ourselves from persecution by miracle, 1 Thessalonians 3:3.—This the Thessalonians knew; for St. Paul had told them, that when Christ made him an apostle, he appointed him to suffer for his name; that all men might have a clear proof of his being himself fully persuaded of the things which he preached. The power of miracles, therefore, was not bestowed upon the apostles that they might deliver themselves from persecution.—They were to prove the truth of the gospel by their sufferings, as well as by their miracles. Besides, St. Paul having foretold the very persecution which befel him in Thessalonica, his sudden flight could not be imputed to fear, occasioned by any unforeseen evil, but to Christ's injunction to his apostles, when persecuted in one city, to flee into another. Upon the whole, the Apostle's fleeing from Thessalonica and Berea was no proof of the falseness of his miracles, as his enemies contended; neither was it inconsistent with his character as a missionary from God, 1 Thessalonians 3:4.
Objection 4. A fourth objection was levelled, by the philosophers, against St. Paul in particular. They affirmed that, notwithstanding all his fair speeches to the Thessalonians, he did not really love them. For he had left them to bear the persecution by themselves, without giving them any assistance, either by his exhortations or his example.And from this they inferred that he was a hypocrite, who had deceived them with professions of a love which had no place in his heart. In answer, the Apostle told the Thessalonians, that they might know how tenderly he loved them, from the following circumstances: that, not knowing what impression the arguments of the sophists might make upon them, his anxiety for their perseverance in the faith was extreme; and that he sent Timothy to them from Athens, for this purpose also, that he might know their faith, 1 Thessalonians 3:5.—Farther, he told them, that, being informed by Timothy of their firm adherence to the gospel, and of their entertaining a most affectionate remembrance of him, their spiritual father, at all times; and that they as earnestly desired to see him, as he to see them, 1 Thessalonians 3:6.—the good news had given him the greatest consolation in all his afflictions, 1 Thessalonians 3:7.—because their standing firm in the Lord, was life to him, 1 Thessalonians 3:8.—Wherefore, he could not be enough thankful to God for all the joy which he felt on account of their steadfastness, 1 Thessalonians 3:9.—And having the greatest concern for their welfare, his daily prayer to God was, that he might be allowed to visit them, in order to supply the deficiencies of their faith, by giving them more complete views, both of the doctrines and of the evidences of the gospel, 1 Thessalonians 3:10. Withal he prayed, that God himself would remove every obstacle which might hinder his prosperous journey to them, 1 Thessalonians 3:11.—And, still farther to convince them how tenderly he loved them, he supplicated Christ in particular, to make them abound as much in love to one another, and to all men, as he abounded in love towards them, 1 Thessalonians 3:12.—that their hearts might be established unblameable in holiness, and be found so at the coming of Christ to judgment, 1 Thessalonians 3:13.—Sentiments and affections of this kind never were found in the breast of any impostor. And therefore the Apostle's tender feelings, thus warmly expressed, (the sincerity of which the Thessalonians could not call in question, when they considered his known veracity, as well as all the other circumstances mentioned in this earnest apology) might well convince them that the calumnies whereby the enemies of the gospel endeavoured to discredit him as a missionary from God, were without foundation.
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Our fellow-labourer— It appears, from Acts 17:14 that Timothy had been in those parts before, as St. Paul's fellow-labourer; and as, doubtless, he was well known to the Thessalonians, his coming, on this occasion, would be the more agreeable to them.
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For yourselves know— Here seems to be a particular allusion to Acts 9:15-16; Acts 20:23. What Apostles, prophets, and even common Christians were to expect in the world, see Matthew 10:34-36. Acts 17:5.Romans 8:17. Ephesians 3:13. &c. &c.
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But now when Timotheus came, &c.— This should rather be read, But now that Timothy is come,—and hath brought,— therefore (1 Thessalonians 3:7.) we are comforted.
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For now we live, if, &c.— "For now I live, indeed; I relish and enjoy life, seeing you continue steadfast in the profession, faith, and practice of the Christian religion, in which, through the favour of God,I was employed in initiating you." Here is a pattern for all the pastors of the Christian church. It would have deprived this great Apostle of much of the satisfaction and comfort of his life, to haveheard that his converts in general, at Thessalonica or elsewhere, did not persevere; but it was happiness, it was comfort, it was life worth enjoying, to hear of their steadiness and perseverance.
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Direct our way unto you.— This prayer of St. Paul was heard, and his request granted; for he had an opportunity to go over Macedonia again once or twice, and to give them much exhortation, Acts 20:1-3. He then most probably perfected what was still wanting in their faith, and rectified or confirmed them as to their experience and practice.
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The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.— How often and how skilfully does St. Paul mention the Lord Jesus Christ, and his coming to judgment, to support and animate them both to do and to suffer, according to the good and holy and acceptable will of God! See Daniel 7:10. When our Lord Jesus Christ comes thus attended, he will present all his sincere and faithful followers to his Father, unblameable in holiness. Who would not desire to be thus presented to God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, attended by all his saints, and all the holy angels! See 2 Corinthians 11:2. Ephesians 5:27. 2 Peter 3:14.
Inferences.—What an amiable example to gospel-ministers has the great Apostle held forth, in his warm affection to, and solicitous concern for, the church! They, like him, ought to demonstrate their love to, and use all means for, the establishment and comfort of the souls that are under their guidance and care; and for taking off discouragements which might arise from the hardships for the sake of the gospel, which God, in his wise providence, may have allotted to them, and given them reason to expect. And, ah! what a touching and painful grief of heart is it, to tender and faithful pastors, to be afraid, lest, through the subtlety and violence of Satan and his emissaries, professors, of whom they have hoped well, should miscarry, and all the labour which had been spent upon them should come to nothing! But O! the joy which springs up in their souls, and adds a relish to life itself, when they find that their dearly beloved charge continue steadfast in the faith, and that their faith works by love to Christ and one another, and to his ministering servants, especially to such of them as have been instruments of their conversion; and that it spreads with a benevolent temper towards all mankind! How does their knowledge of this engage their thankfulness to God, and animate them to go on with cheerfulness and joy in all their services and sufferings; and to contribute what in them lies for the further establishment of their flocks in faith and love, and for perfecting all which concerns them, that they may be unblameable in holiness in the sight of God, until, and in, the day of Christ! For this they have a longing desire to see them, and be further helpful to them; for this they labour, whether present or absent, looking up to God to direct their way; and for this they continually pray to the God of all grace, as their God and Father in Christ, and to the Lord Jesus, as their great Head and Mediator, who will certainly appear a second time, to the salvation of all his faithful saints. And may it be our chief concern, and happy lot, to be found among those who will be gathered together to glorify him at the last day!
REFLECTIONS.—1st. The solicitude which the Apostle felt toward his Thessalonians, engaged him to send Timothy to them, and to be left alone at Athens, however useful or comfortable such a friend, at that time, might be to him. Wherefore, when we could no longer forbear, so anxious was I to hear of your affairs, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; and sent Timotheus our brother and minister of God, and our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ; and this in order also to establish you in the truth, to build you up in the glorious doctrines of the gospel of Jesus, and to comfort you concerning your faith, exhorting you to abide unshaken in your profession, and suggesting the most encouraging motives thereto; that no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. God has been pleased, for his own glory and the good of his church, in his permissive Providence, to suffer his servant to be thus persecuted; for verily when we were with you we concealed nothing from you, but told you plainly before the persecutions came, that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear reflecting upon your very critical and trying circumstances, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter should have tempted you to turn back from the profession of Christ, and our labour be in vain, notwithstanding all the promising appearances which emboldened my confident hope in your fidelity. Note; (1.) We must count the cost before we inlist under Christ's banner. (2.) The devil usually seeks to discourage new converts by the violent opposition which he raises against them. (3.) Faithful ministers labour to confirm the faith, and to comfort the hearts of those who are suffering for righteousness' sake.
2nd, The Apostle:
1. Expresses the vast satisfaction which he felt at Timothy's report: but now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your unshaken faith in Christ, and fervent charity towards each other; and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you; therefore, brethren, we were comforted, and all my anxious fears gave place to holy joy in and over you, in all our affliction and distress, which we were here suffering when Timotheus arrived, but which were now made light and easy, by the knowledge of your faith in Jesus, and fidelity to his cause; for now we live and are happy in the midst of all our persecutions and dangers, if, or seeing ye stand fast in the Lord, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel. Note; Nothing is such an encouragement to suffer for Christ and his gospel, as seeing the happy effects of our labours upon those among whom we minister.
2. The glad news filled him with thankfulness to God, and opened his heart and lips in prayer. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, or how sufficiently express our gratitude, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God, night and day praying exceedingly, with unusual fervour and vehemence, that, if the Lord so pleased, we might see your face again, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith, helping you to farther and clearer discoveries of the gospel, and leading you to fuller and more assured confidence in the Lord? Note; (1.) The strongest believers need still to have their faith increased. (2.) The ministry of the word is the great means which God usually blesses for that happy purpose.
3. He tells them what was a constant subject of his prayers for them. Now God himself and our Father, who, as God, hath all power to supply every want of his people, and, as our reconciled God and Father, is, in the fulness of his love and grace, disposed most tenderly towards us; and our Lord Jesus Christ, who is equally with the Father the object of our prayers, and through whose mediation we receive an answer of peace, direct our way unto you, and in his providence enable us to accomplish the purposes that we have formed. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you, advancing to higher attainments in this godlike temper; to the end that he may stablish your hearts in faith and love, unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, approving yourselves to him in all simplicity and godly sincerity, that you may be acknowledged by him at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to judgment, with all his saints, who in that day shall stand before his throne, and share his triumphs. Note; (1.) An increase in love is the best symptom of the flourishing state of the Christian's soul. (2.) All God's people desire to be found unblameable in holiness before him, and so to walk as to please him well in all things. (3.) It is God alone by his grace who can make us such as he would have us to be; therefore to him must we, without ceasing, direct our prayer. (4.) The Lord Jesus shall quickly come in glory with all his saints. Happy the soul that shall then have boldness in his presence.