1 Thessalonians 3At the latter end of the foregoing chapter, St. Paul acquainted the Thessalonians with his desires and intentions to come once and again unto them, but was always providentially hindered. Now here he gives them to understand, that such was the fervour of his affection towards them, that although he could not come, yet he could not forbear to send to them, though he left himself alone, preferring their necessity before his own conveniency: When we could no longer forbear; that is, "When I could no longer satisfy myself without knowing your state and condition, I chose, though with much inconveniency to myself, rather to be left at Athens alone, in the midst of my afflictions and tribulations, than that you should be longer destitute of one to supply my absence, in order to your confirmation and comfort." See here a special instance of ministerial love and affection in St. Paul, preferring the church's good before his own comfort, and postponing his own conveniency to their necessity; though Timothy's company was very desireable, very necessary and useful for him, yet, he denies himself to serve them; We thought it good to be left at Athens alone.
Observe, 2. The person sent by him, Timothy, with his deserved character and commendation, a brother, that is, a Christian, a believer, a brother in Christ; a minister of God, that is a preacher of the gospel; his fellow-labourer, or one that joined heart and hand with him in the preaching of the gospel from place to place. See here, a special instance of St. Paul's apostolical care for the churches of Christ, when he could not visit them in person, he sends to them, not any one he could come at, but the fittest he could get, one who was most likely, through God's assistance and blessing, to carry on the work he was sent about: I sent you Timotheus my brother.
Observe, 3. The great end for which he was sent unto them; it was to confirm them, and to comfort them; to confirm them in the faith of Christ, and to comfort them under all their sufferings for the sake of Christ. The strongest faith needs confirmation and establishment; and it is the minister's duty, in trying times especially, to guard his people's faith upon the stability whereof their strength and safety doth depend.
As if the apostle had said, "One great end why I have sent Timothy among you is this, lest either upon the account of your own afflictions, or my sufferings, you should be moved from your stedfastness, either drawn away by fraud and flattery, or driven away by force and terror;" that no man be moved by these afflictions.
Observe also, the argument to confirm them in the faith, amidst all their sufferings and afflictions, and that is drawn from the pleasure and purpose, the ordination and appointment of God, concerning their afflictions; Ye yourselves know, that we are thereunto appointed.
Learn hence, 1. That the best of saints are subject to be moved by their afflictions.
2. That it is the high commendation of a Christian, not to stir or be moved from his stedfastness by the heaviest shock of affliction that may fall upon him: That no man may be moved by these afflictions.
Some render the word appointed, set as a mark to be shot at; some saints, with holy Job, are set on purpose as a mark for the arrow of affliciton to be levelled at, yet then are they to keep their ground, and stand immovable; we honour God abundantly, when we are immovable in our active obedience; and we glorify him eminently, when we are immovable in our passive obedience; when we stand to it in the midst of sufferings, and are no more moved either by cowardice or impatience, than a post that is shot at. This is the glory of a Christian, and his great duty, and it is the glory of God, and his certain due.
Learn, 3. That believers are under a divine appointment from God himself, to undergo trouble and affliction. The ultimate destination of believers, is to rest,(God hath not appointed them unto wrath, but to obtain salvation): But the intermediate destination of them is to trouble and affliction, in order unto rest, and to prepare them for that rest. Seeing then that afflictions are appointed to us, and we appointed to them, seeing there is a decree of God concerning them, a decree as to the matter of them, as to the manner of them, as to the measure of them, as to the time of them, when they shall commence, how far they shall advance, how long they shall continue, seeing every thing in affliction is under an appointment; how meek and humble, how patient and submissive ought the Christian's spirit to be under them! And with what steadiness of expectation may and ought he to look up to heaven for a sanctified use and improvement of them! Let no man be moved by afflictions, knowing we are appointed thereunto.
Our apostle informed the Thessalonians in the foregoing verse, with the purpose and decree of God concerning the afflictions which were before them; in this verse he appeals to themselves, as to his own sincerity, in acquainting them, at their first conversion, that they must, through many tribulations, enter into the kingdom of God, and it came to pass accordingly; when we were with you, says the apostle, we told you, before it came to pass, that we should suffer triblulation, and it shortly after came to pass as we told you.
Learn hence, that it is the duty of the ministers of Christ to give timely warning of, and to acquaint young converts early with, the pleasure of God, to exercise all that belong to him with the cross, with a variety of afflictions, trials, and sufferings, before they come, that so they may not stumble, nor be offended at them when they come. The sincerity of our apostle is here very remarkable; when he came first to preach the gospel at Thessalonica, he did not flatter them with the expectation of an earthly paradise of pleasure, but told them plainly, that Christianity had a cross attending it, that a suffering hour would come, and they must expect it; when we were with you, we told you that we should suffer tribulation.
Learn, 2. That when Christians have had timely notice from the ministers of God, and from the word of God, of approaching trials and troubles, before they come, they ought to fore-arm themselves, and not to faint or sink under them when they come, much less to forsake religion because of them, but to continue stedfast, knowing that the heavier the cross is, the weightier will their crown be; for affliction, there is glory; for light affliction, a weight of glory, and for light affliction, which is but of a moment, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2Cor 4:17.
Observe here, 1. One special end why St. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica, it was to know their faith, that is, their constancy in the faith; for he had a fear upon him lest Satan the tempter had taken occasion, from the present persecution they were under, to turn them from Christianity; and that by their yielding to his temptation, and apostatizing from the faith, his labour in the gospel had been in vain amongst them.
Here note, that the saints' persecutions are called temptations, and ascribed to Satan the tempter, who, by his ministers and instruments, endeavours to hinder the progress of the gospel, and by persecutions, to terrify and turn men from the profession of it.
Note further, that there is a holy jealousy in the minds of the faithful ministers of Christ, who, though they hope the best, yet are apt to fear the worst, with reference to the poor people, lest they should run in vain, and labour in vain amongst them; for though their labour shall not be in vain, with respect to themselves, their reward is with the Lord; (the careful nurse shall be paid, though the child dies at the breast;) yet, with respect to their people, they may be in vain, yea worse, for a testimony against them, Mr 6:11.
Observe, 2. How happily the apostle's fear was prevented, touching these Thessalonians, by the return of Timothy, and the good tidings which he carried along with him, of the stedfastness of their faith, of the fervency of their charity, and of their particular respect to himself, having always remembrance of him in their prayers, and making a repectful mention of his ministerial labours and diligence, and this always when they had occasion to speak of him.
And lastly, by their passionate and impatient desire to see him, (so much the original word signifies) to which he adds, that his desire was no less ardent to see them, though the providence of God had hitherto hindered him.
Learn hence, that the best tidings which can be brought to the ear of a faithful minister of Jesus Christ is this, that his people are sound and stedfast in the faith, maintainers of charity, and promoters of good works, and do account highly of, and honourably esteem the ministers and ambassadors of Jesus Christ; Timothy brought us good tidings of your faith, charity, and kind remembrance of us.
Learn farther, from the Thessalonians' fervent desire to see St. Paul, and he to see them, that Christian love doth earnestly long to evidence itself in Christian fellowship, and passionately desires the communion of saints, for the mutual comfort and spirtual advantage of each other; the sweetest privilege, next to communion with God, is communion with his saints.
O! What a pleasure is it, to behold the beautiful and blessed graces of the Holy Spirit of God, sparkling and shining in each other, exciting and quickening one another, acquainting each other with their experiences, and making known to each other their griefs, their doubts, and fears. No wonder then that the Thessalonians desired so passionately to see St. Paul, and he as earnestly to see them.
In these words our apostle declares the transcendant joy and overflowing comfort, which was found in his soul, upon the knowledge he had received of the constancy and stedfastness of the faith of these Thessalonians; we were comforted in our affliction by your faith:
Of all comforts which the people of God can afford to the ministers of the gospel, there is none comparable with that which results from the unfainting perseverance in the faith, and the unblameable holiness of their life.
No comfort can be greater than our people's gracious demeanour; this put a kind of new life into St. Paul, in the midst of all the sorrows and sufferings, the afflictions and persecutions, he underwent.
Now we live, says he, if ye stand fast in the Lord, that is, a life of joy and comfort; or, we live, that is, it will be a mean to prolong our life, as well as add to the comfort of it; and the contrary tends to the shortening of our days.
Those that do impair the cheerfulness of their minister's lives, such as deaden their spirits, and break their hearts, by their obstinate non-compliance with the rules of the gospel, are no better than murderers in the account of God.
If ministers may, as all other persons do, value their lives by the joy and comfort of them, then may they say, with the great apostle, "We live, as we see any of our people stand fast in the Lord; and we die, as we see others stick fast in their sins."
Observe farther, how highly thankful the apostle was to God, and what unspeakable praise he renders to him, for administering to him this occasion of joy, by the constancy and perseverance of the Christian faith at Thessalonica; What thanks can we render to God for you, and for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes?
The faithful ministers of Christ think that their hearts can never sufficiently be carried forth in thankfulness to God, for the success of their labours in the lives of their people; What thanks can we render? As if he had said, "I can never be sufficiently thankful, or I can never fully express my thankfulness to God for this honour, this favour, this benefit, that any one soul should be brought home to God by my ministry, much more that a Christian church should be planted by my endeavours at Thessalonica; and that God should keep them steady and stedfast in shaking times, and support them under such persecutions and trials as would shock an ordinary patience and constancy of mind: O! What thanks can I render God for this joy?"
Obseve here, how abounding St. Paul was in the duty of prayer for the Thessalonians; his prayer was assiduous and constant, night and day; it imports frequency and constancy in performance of the duty, 1Thess 3:10. His prayer was also very fervent and affectionate, praying exceedingly, excessively, as the word will bear. Spiritual affections are strong and vehement.
Note here, the admirable pattern which St. Paul sets before all the bishops and pastors of the church to the end of the world, namely, to be much, very much in prayer, to abound in this duty.
Observe, farther, the subject matter of St. Paul's prayer, that he might see their face, and perfect what was yet lacking in their faith. Here note, that St. Paul's short stay among the Thessalonians when he first planted the gospel, did not permit so full and complete an explication of the matters and mysteries of Christianity, as the apostle did desire; he therefore prays that God would bring him again amongst them, that he might supply what was wanting in their faith, that he might increase their knowledge, confirm their faith, inflame their love, excite their desires, quicken their endeavours, and carry on that good work to perfection in them, of which God had laid the foundation by him.
Learn hence, 1. That even in the faith of the most renowned, as well as of the new converted Christians, there is some deficiency and defect.
2. That one great end of the ministry of the word is, to help faith forward towards perfection; that which was the instrument to beget faith, is also the mean of increasing and confirming it, namely, the ordinances of God in general, and the ministry of the word in particular. As faith cometh by hearing, so is it confirmed by hearing also; longing to see your face, that we might perfect what is lacking in your faith.
Observe here, 1. An implicit acknowledgment that our journeys intended, and visits designed, to be given to our friends, are not in our power, but under the direction of God: we cannot visit a friend when we please, but when God will give us leave; we are not at our own disposal, but God's.
Accordingly here, St. Paul begs of God to direct his way unto them, that all obstacles and impediments being removed, the providence of God might direct him, as in a right line unto them, as the original word imports.
Observe, 2. The persons whom he directs his prayers to, for this mercy: to God and Christ.
Where note, That Christ is invocated as well as the Father, he is therefore God as well as the Father; because this invocation of him by all persons, proves him omniscient, searching the hearts of men, and also omnipresent, being with his people in all places; and consequently proves our Lord Jesus Christ to be truly and undeniably God.
Still our apostle perseveres in prayer, on the behalf of his beloved Thessalonians; and the particular mercy he prays for, is, their abundant increase in the grace and duty of love, first amongst themselves and their fellow-brethren in Christ, all Christians far and near; next towards all men, heathens and infidels, their bitter and bloody persecutors not excepted.
Where note, The true property of Christian love; it is, 1. A brotherly affection, which every true Christian chiefly bears to all his fellow-members in Christ, for grace sake;
2. A gracious propensity of heart, which a Christian bears for God's sake to all mankind, whereby he wills, and to his power procures, all good for them.
Here a particular and special reason is assigned, why he prayed so fervently for their abounding in love, namely, in order to their establishment in faith and holiness; teaching us, that as true love evidences the co-existence of all graces, so it gives stability and establishment to all graces.
Learn hence, 1. That growth in grace is accompanied with stability both in faith and holiness.
2. That a general and abounding charity, being that by which we become most like unto God, tends exceedingly to our establishment in all grace, and renders us unblameable before God, at the appearance of Christ.
Learn, 3. That there will be no possibility of appearing unblameable before Christ at his coming, without the love and practice of universal holiness in our Christian course.
Learn, 4. That the perfecting of a saint's graces, and rendering him altogether unblameable, without spot or imperfection in grace and holiness, is reserved till Christ's coming. Then, and not till then, shall our holiness be perfected, our love improved to a seraphim's likeness, all burning; then shall we obey with vigour, praise with cheerfulness, delight in God above measure, fear him without torment, trust him without despondency, serve him without lassitude and weariness, without interruption or distraction, and be perfectly like unto him, as well in holiness as in happiness, as well in purity as in immortality.
Come, then, Lord, down to me, Or take me up to thee.
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