The apostle sent Timothy to establish and comfort the Thessalonians (1-5) He rejoiced at the good tidings of their faith and love. (6-10) And for their increase in grace. (11-13)
Verses 1-5 The more we find pleasure in the ways of God, the more we shall desire to persevere therein. The apostle's design was to establish and comfort the Thessalonians as to the object of their faith, that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world; and as to the recompence of faith, which was more than enough to make up all their losses, and to reward all their labours. But he feared his labours would be in vain. If the devil cannot hinder ministers from labouring in the word and doctrine, he will, if possible, hinder the success of their labours. No one would willingly labour in vain. It is the will and purpose of God, that we enter into his kingdom through many afflictions. And the apostles, far from flattering people with the expectation of worldly prosperity in religion, told them plainly they must count upon trouble in the flesh. Herein they followed the example of their great Master, the Author of our faith. Christians were in danger, and they should be forewarned; they will thus be kept from being improved by any devices of the tempter.
Verses 6-10 Thankfulness to God is very imperfect in the present state; but one great end of the ministry of the word is to help faith forward. That which was the instrument to obtain faith, is also the means of increasing and confirming it, namely, the ordinances of God; and as faith cometh by hearing, so it is confirmed by hearing also.
Verses 11-13 Prayer is religious worship, and all religious worship is due unto God only. Prayer is to be offered to God as our Father. Prayer is not only to be offered in the name of Christ, but offered up to Christ himself, as our Lord and our Saviour. Let us acknowledge God in all our ways, and he will direct our paths. Mutual love is required of all Christians. And love is of God, and is fulfilling the gospel as well as the law. We need the Spirit's influences in order to our growth in grace; and the way to obtain them, is prayer. Holiness is required of all who would go to heaven; and we must act so that we do not contradict the profession we make of holiness. The Lord Jesus will certainly come in his glory; his saints will come with him. Then the excellence as well as the necessity of holiness will appear; and without this no hearts shall be established at that day, nor shall any avoid condemnation.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 . PROOF OF HIS DESIRE AFTER THEM IN HIS HAVING SENT TIMOTHY: HIS JOY AT THE TIDINGS BROUGHT BACK CONCERNING THEIR FAITH AND CHARITY: PRAYERS FOR THEM.
1. Wherefore--because of our earnest love to you ( 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 ).
forbear--"endure" the suspense. The Greek is literally applied to a watertight vessel. When we could no longer contain ourselves in our yearning desire for you.
left at Athens This implies that he sent Timothy from Athens, whither the latter had followed him. However, the "we" favors ALFORD'S view that the determination to send Timothy was formed during the hasty consultation of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, previous to his departure from Berea, and that then he with them "resolved" to be "left alone" at Athens, when he should arrive there: Timothy and Silas not accompanying him, but remaining at Berea. Thus the "I," 1 Thessalonians 3:5 , will express that the act of sending Timothy, when he arrived at Athens, was Paul's, while the determination that Paul should be left alone at Athens, was that of the brethren as well as himself, at Berea, whence he uses, 1 Thessalonians 3:1 , "we." The non-mention of Silas at Athens implies that he did not follow Paul to Athens as was at first intended; but Timothy did. Thus the history, Acts 17:14 Acts 17:15 , accords with the Epistle. The word "left behind" (Greek) implies that Timothy had been with him at Athens. It was an act of self-denial for their sakes that Paul deprived himself of the presence of Timothy at Athens, which would have been so cheering to him in the midst of philosophic cavillers; but from love to the Thessalonians, he is well content to be left all "alone" in the great city.
2. minister of God and our fellow labourer--Some oldest manuscripts read, "fellow workman with God"; others, "minister of God." The former is probably genuine, as copyists probably altered it to the latter to avoid the bold phrase, which, however, is sanctioned by 1 Corinthians 3:9 , 2 Corinthians 6:1 . The English Version reading is not well supported, and is plainly compounded out of the two other readings. Paul calls Timothy "our brother" here; but in 1 Corinthians 4:17 , "my son." He speaks thus highly of one so lately ordained, both to impress the Thessalonians with a high respect for the delegate sent to them, and to encourage Timothy, who seems to have been of a timid character ( 1 Timothy 4:12 , 5:23 ). "Gospel ministers do the work of God with Him, for Him, and under Him" [EDMUNDS].
establish--Greek, "confirm." In 2 Thessalonians 3:3 , GOD is said to "stablish": He is the true establisher: ministers are His "instruments."
concerning--Greek, "in behalf of," that is, for the furtherance of your faith. The Greek for "comfort" includes also the idea, "exhort." The Thessalonians in their trials needed both ( 1 Thessalonians 3:3 ; compare Acts 14:22 ).
3. moved--"shaken," "disturbed." The Greek is literally said of dogs wagging the tail in fawning on one. Therefore TITTMANN explains it, "That no man should, amidst his calamities, be allured by the flattering hope of a more pleasant life to abandon his duty." So ELSNER and BENGEL, "cajoled out of his faith." In afflictions, relatives and opponents combine with the ease-loving heart itself in flatteries, which it needs strong faith to overcome.
yourselves know--We always candidly told you so ( 1 Thessalonians 3:4 , Acts 14:22 ). None but a religion from God would have held out such a trying prospect to those who should embrace it, and yet succeed in winning converts.
appointed thereunto--by God's counsel ( 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ).
4. that we should suffer--Greek, "that we are about (we are sure) to suffer" according to the appointment of God ( 1 Thessalonians 3:3 ).
even as--"even (exactly) as it both came to pass and ye know"; ye know both that it came to pass, and that we foretold it (compare John 13:19 ). The correspondence of the event to the prediction powerfully confirms faith: "Forewarned, forearmed" [EDMUNDS]. The repetition of "ye know," so frequently, is designed as an argument, that being forewarned of coming affliction, they should be less readily "moved" by it.
5. For this cause--Because I know of your "tribulation" having actually begun ( 1 Thessalonians 3:4 ).
when I--Greek, "when I also (as well as Timothy, who, Paul delicately implies, was equally anxious respecting them, compare "we," 1 Thessalonians 3:1 ), could no longer contain myself (endure the suspense)."
I sent--Paul was the actual sender; hence the "I" here: Paul, Silas, and Timothy himself had agreed on the mission already, before Paul went to Athens: hence the "we,"
to know--to learn the state of your faith, whether it stood the trial ( Colossians 4:8 ).
lest . . . have tempted . . . and . . . be--The indicative is used in the former sentence, the subjunctive in the latter. Translate therefore, "To know . . . whether haply the tempter have tempted you (the indicative implying that he supposed such was the case), and lest (in that case) our labor may prove to be in vain" (compare Galatians 4:11 ). Our labor in preaching would in that case be vain, so far as ye are concerned, but not as concerns us in so far as we have sincerely labored ( Isaiah 49:4 , 1 Corinthians 3:8 ).
6. Join "now" with "come"; "But Timotheus having just now come from you unto us" [ALFORD]. Thus it appears (compare Acts 18:5 ) Paul is writing from Corinth.
your faith and charity--( 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ; compare 2 Thessalonians 1:3 , whence it seems their faith subsequently increased still more). Faith was the solid foundation: charity the cement which held together the superstructure of their practice on that foundation. In that charity was included their "good (kindly) remembrance" of their teachers.
desiring greatly--Greek, "having a yearning desire for."
we also--The desires of loving friends for one another's presence are reciprocal.
7. over you--in respect to you.
in--in the midst of: notwithstanding "all our distress (Greek, 'necessity') and affliction," namely, external trials at Corinth, whence Paul writes (compare 1 Thessalonians 3:6 , with Acts 18:5-10 ).
8. now--as the case is; seeing ye stand fast.
we live--we flourish. It revives us in our affliction to hear of your steadfastness ( Psalms 22:26 , 2 John 1:3:4 ).
if--implying that the vivid joy which the missionaries "now" feel, will continue if the Thessalonians continue steadfast. They still needed exhortation, 1 Thessalonians 3:10 ; therefore he subjoins the conditional clause, "if ye," &c. ( Philippians 4:1 ).
9. For what thanks--what sufficient thanks?
render . . . again--in return for His goodness ( Psalms 116:12 ).
for you--"concerning you."
for all the joy--on account of all the joy. It was "comfort," 1 Thessalonians 3:7 , now it is more, namely, joy.
for your sakes--on your account.
before our God--It is a joy which will bear God's searching eye: a joy as in the presence of God, not self-seeking, but disinterested, sincere, and spiritual (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:20 , John 15:11 ).
10. Night and Night is the season for the saint's holiest meditations and prayers ( 2 Timothy 1:3 ).
praying--connected with, "we joy"; we joy while we pray; or else as ALFORD, What thanks can we render to God while we pray? The Greek implies a beseeching request.
exceedingly--literally, "more than exceeding abundantly" (compare Ephesians 3:20 ).
that which is lacking--Even the Thessalonians had points in which they needed improvement [BENGEL], ( Luke 17:5 ). Their doctrinal views as to the nearness of Christ's coming, and as to the state of those who had fallen asleep, and their practice in some points, needed correction ( 1 Thessalonians 4:1-9 ). Paul's method was to begin by commending what was praiseworthy, and then to correct what was amiss; a good pattern to all admonishers of others.
11. Translate, "May God Himself, even our Father (there being but one article in the Greek, requires this translation, 'He who is at once God and our Father'), direct," &c. The "Himself" stands in contrast with "we" ( 1 Thessalonians 2:18 ); we desired to come but could not through Satan's hindrance; but if God Himself direct our way (as we pray), none can hinder Him ( 2 Thessalonians 2:16 2 Thessalonians 2:17 ). It is a remarkable proof of the unity of the Father and Son, that in the Greek here, and in 2 Thessalonians 2:16 2 Thessalonians 2:17 , the verb is singular, implying that the subject, the Father and Son, are but one in essential Being, not in mere unity of will. Almost all the chapters in both Epistles to the Thessalonians are sealed, each with its own prayer ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23 , 2 Thessalonians 1:11 , 2:16 , 2 Thessalonians 3:5 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ) [BENGEL]. Paul does not think the prosperous issue of a journey an unfit subject for prayer ( Romans 1:10 , 15:32 ) [EDMUNDS]. His prayer, though the answer was deferred, in about five years afterwards was fulfilled in his return to Macedonia.
12. The "you" in the Greek is emphatically put first; "But" (so the Greek for "and") what concerns "YOU," whether we come or not, "may the Lord make you to increase and abound in love," &c. The Greek for "increase" has a more positive force; that for "abound" a more comparative force, "make you full (supplying 'that which is lacking,' 1 Thessalonians 3:10 ) and even abound." "The Lord" may here be the Holy Spirit; so the Three Persons of the Trinity will be appealed to (compare 1 Thessalonians 3:13 ), as in 2 Thessalonians 3:5 . So the Holy Ghost is called "the Lord" ( 2 Corinthians 3:17 ). "Love" is the fruit of the Spirit ( Galatians 5:22 ), and His office is "to stablish in holiness" ( 1 Thessalonians 3:13 , 1 Peter 1:2 ).
13. your hearts--which are naturally the spring and seat of unholiness.
before God, even our Father--rather, "before Him who is at once God and our Father." Before not merely men, but Him who will not be deceived by the mere show of holiness, that is, may your holiness be such as will stand His searching scrutiny.
coming--Greek, "presence," or "arrival."
with all his saints--including both the holy angels and the holy elect of men ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14 , Daniel 7:10 , Zechariah 14:5 , Matthew 25:31 , 2 Thessalonians 1:7 ). The saints are "His" ( Acts 9:13 ). We must have "holiness" if we are to be numbered with His holy ones or "saints." On "unblameable," compare Revelation 14:5 . This verse (compare 1 Thessalonians 3:12 ) shows that "love" is the spring of true "holiness" ( Matthew 5:44-48 , Romans 13:10 , Colossians 3:14 ). God is He who really "stablishes"; Timothy and other ministers are but instruments ( 1 Thessalonians 3:2 ) in "stablishing."