1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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The circumstances surrounding Paul’s forced removal from Thessalonica; his affection and care for the new converts there
Now this forced removal of the Apostle as the chief laborer, without weakening the bond between him and the disciples, formed other links which would consolidate and strengthen the assembly, knitting it together by that which every joint supplied. This is connected (all things are but the instruments of the power and wisdom of God) with the circumstances of which the Acts of the Apostles give us the principal details.
After the persecutions excited by the Jews, the Apostle made a short stay at Thessalonica and was then obliged to leave that city and go to Berea. Even there the Jews of Thessalonica followed him and influenced those of Berea, so that the Berean brethren had to provide for his safety. The person to whom they committed him brought him to Athens; Silas and Timotheus remained at Berea for the moment, but soon at his command rejoined him at Athens. Meantime, a violent persecution raged against the Christians at Thessalonica, a city of importance, in which, as it appears, the Jews had already exercised a considerable measure of influence over the heathen population-an influence that was undermined by the progress of Christianity, which the Jews in their blindness rejected.
The Apostle, learning this state of things from Silas and Timotheus, was concerned at the danger his new converts ran in being shaken in faith by the difficulties that beset their path while they were still young in the faith. His affection would not allow him to rest without putting himself in communication with them, and already from Athens he had sent Timotheus to inquire into their condition and to establish their hearts by reminding them that while yet with them he had told them these things would happen. During his absence Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, where Timotheus again comforted him by the good tidings he brought from Thessalonica, and the Apostle resumed his labors at Corinth with renewed energy and courage (see Acts 18:55And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. (Acts 18:5)).
The occasion of the letter; the laborer strengthened and encouraged; their happiness his greatest joy
On the arrival of Timotheus Paul wrote this letter. Timotheus had informed him of the good state of the Thessalonian Christians-that they held fast the faith, that they greatly desired to see the Apostle, and that they walked together in love. In the midst of his sorrows and of the opposition of men-in a word, of the afflictions of the gospel-the Apostle’s spirit is refreshed by these tidings. He is himself strengthened, for if the faith of the laborer is the means of blessing to souls, and in general the measure of the outward character of the work, the faith of the Christians who are the fruit of his labors, and who correspond to it, is in return a source of strength and encouragement to the laborer; even as their prayers are a great means of blessing to him.
Love finds in their spiritual welfare both its food and its joy; faith, that which sustains and strengthens it. The Word of God is felt in it. “I live,” says the Apostle, “if ye stand fast in the Lord. What thanks,” he adds, “can we render to God for you, for all the joy wherewith we rejoice for your sakes before God?” Beautiful and affecting picture of the effect of the operation of the Spirit of God, delivering souls from the corruption of the world and producing the purest affections, the greatest self-renunciation for the sake of others, the greatest joy in their happiness-divine joy, realized before God Himself, and the value of which was appreciated in His presence by the spiritual heart that abode in it, the heart which, on the part of that God of love, had been the means of its existence.
Paul as a laborer, not a master, dependent on God for his work
What a bond is the bond of the Spirit! How selfishness is forgotten and disappears in the joy of such affections! The Apostle, animated by this affection, which increased instead of growing weary by its exercise, and by the satisfaction it received in the happiness of others, desires so much the more, from the Thessalonians being thus sustained, to see them again; not now for the purpose of strengthening them, but to build upon that which was already so established, and to complete their spiritual instruction by imparting that which was yet lacking to their faith. But he is, and he ought to be, a laborer and not a master (God makes us feel this), and he depends entirely on God for his work and for the edification of others. In fact, years passed away before he saw the Thessalonians again. He remained a long time at Corinth, where the Lord had much people; he revisited Jerusalem, then all Asia Minor where he had labored earlier; thence he went to Ephesus, where he abode nearly three years; and after that he saw the Thessalonians again, when he left that city to go to Corinth, taking his journey by the way of Macedonia, in order not to visit Corinth before the restoration of the Christians there to order.
Paul’s submission to the will of God as his Father, and to Christ as the Son over God’s house
“God himself”-it is thus that the Apostle’s desire and his submission to the will of God expresses itself-“God himself direct our way unto you.” His desire is not vague. He refers to God as to his Father, the source of all these holy affections, Him who holds the place of Father to us and orders all things with a view to the good of His children, according to that perfect wisdom which embraces all things and all His children at once. “Our God and Father himself,” the Apostle says. But there is another consideration-not, assuredly, in opposition to this, for God is one, but which has another and less individual character: and he adds, “And our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ is Son over God’s house, and besides joy and blessing and individual affections, there was the progress, the welfare and the development of the whole assembly to be considered. These two parts of Christianity act assuredly upon each other.
The assembly’s well-being and the individual affections, dependent on the government of a Lord like Jesus and the love of a Father
Where the operation of the Spirit is full and unhindered, the well-being of the assembly and the individual affections are in harmony. If anything is lacking in the one, God uses the failure itself to act powerfully on the other. If the assembly as a whole is weak, individual faith is exercised in a special manner, and more immediately upon God Himself. There are no Elijahs and Elishas in the reign of Solomon. On the other hand, the watchful care of the assembly by those divinely engaged in it is the true energy of its spiritual organization, strengthens the life, and reawakens the spiritual affections of its slumbering members. But the two things are different. Therefore, the Apostle adds to “our God and Father...and our Lord Jesus Christ,” who, as we have said, according to Hebrews 3, is Son over His house. It is a blessing that our path depends on the love of a Father, who is God Himself, acting according to the tender affections expressed by that name; and, as to the well-being of the assembly, that it depends on the government of a Lord like Jesus, who loves it with a perfect love: and who, although He took such a place, is the God who created all things, the Man who has all power in heaven and on earth, to whom Christians are the objects of incessant and faithful care- care which He expends in order to bring the assembly finally unto Himself in glory according to the counsels of God.1
(1. It is well here to recall that, though Christ is Son over God’s house, as Lord He is not Lord over the assembly but over individuals. Besides this, He is in a general sense Lord of all. But His action towards individuals ministers to the well-being of the assembly.)
The power and exercise of love
Such then was the Apostle’s first wish, and such were they with regard to whom he formed it. Meanwhile, he must leave his beloved Thessalonians to the immediate care of the Lord on whom he depended (compare Acts 20:3232And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)). To that his heart turns. May God “direct my way to come to you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all.”
And his heart could present its affection for them, as the pattern of that which they ought to feel for others. This power of love maintains the heart in the presence of God and makes it find its joy in the light of His presence and earnestly desire that all saints may be in His presence, their hearts fitted for it and there. For God is love, and the exercise of love in the Christian’s heart (fruit of the presence and the operation of the Spirit) is, in fact, the effect of the presence of God; and at the same time it makes us feel His presence, so that it keeps us before Him and maintains sensible communion in the heart. Love may suffer and thereby prove its strength, but we are speaking of the spontaneous exercise of love towards the objects which God presents to it.
Love as the bond of perfectness, the true means of blessing; two great principles as to God and our Lord Jesus
Now, being thus the development of the divine nature in us and the sustainment of our hearts in communion with God Himself, love is the bond of perfectness, the true means of holiness, when it is real. The heart is kept, far away from the flesh and its thoughts, in the pure light of the presence of God, which the soul thus enjoys. For this reason the Apostle prays, while waiting to give them more light, that the Lord would increase love in them, in order to establish their hearts unblamable in holiness before God even our Father in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. Here we find again the two great principles of which I spoke at the end of chapter 1: God in the perfection of His nature; and the Lord Jesus in the intimacy of His connection with us-God, however, as Father, and Jesus as Lord. We are before God, and Jesus comes with His saints. He has brought them to perfection; they are with Him, and thus before God known in the relationship of Father.
The actual and present expectation of the Lord’s coming and the consummation of the work
Observe also that everything refers to this hope: it was an actual and present expectation. If they were converted, it was to serve God and to wait for His Son from heaven. Everything related to that wondrous moment when He should come. That which holiness was would be demonstrated when they should be before God, and the saints would be with their Head; moreover, manifested with Him in glory, even as then they should also fully enjoy the fruit of their labor and the reward of love in the joy of all those whom they had loved.1
(1. It is very striking how holiness here and manifestation in glory are brought together as one thing in Scripture, only the veil drawn aside when the glory is there. Even Christ was declared Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. We beholding the glory with unveiled face are changed into the same image from glory to glory. So here; we are to walk in love, to be unblamable in holiness. We should have said here; but no, the veil is drawn at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. In Ephesians 5 He washes us with the Word, to present us a glorious body without spot to Himself.)
The scene which would be the consummation of the work is presented here in all its moral bearing. We are before God, in His presence, where holiness is demonstrated in its true character; we are there for perfect communion with God in the light, where the connection of holiness with His nature and with the manifestation of Himself is apparent; even as this manifestation is in connection with the development of a nature in us, which by grace sets us in relationship with Him.
“Unblamable in holiness before God”
“Unblamable,” he says, “in holiness,” and in holiness “before God.” He is light. What immense joy, what power, through grace, in this thought, for the time present, to keep ourselves manifested before Him! But only love, known in Him, can do this.
A relationship of love giving the nature of God to His children
But also we add “our Father.” It is a known and real relationship, which has its own peculiar character, a relationship of love. It is not a thing to be acquired, and holiness is not the means of acquiring it. Holiness is the character of our relationship with God, inasmuch as we have received His nature as His children, and it is the revelation of the perfection of that nature in Him in love. Love itself has given us that nature and has placed us in that relationship; practical holiness is its exercise in communion with God, having fellowship with Him in His presence according to the love which we thus know, that is, God Himself as He has revealed Himself towards us.
The accomplishment of God’s ways as to those whom He has given to Jesus; the power and joy of love
But the heart is not alone: there is companionship in this joy and in this perfection; and above all it is with Jesus Himself. He will come, He will be present, and not only He who is the Head, but all the saints with Him will be there also. It will be the accomplishment of the ways of God respecting those whom He had given to Jesus. We shall see Him in His glory, the glory which He has taken in connection with His coming for us. We shall see all the saints in whom He will be admired, and see them in the perfection which our hearts desire for them now.
Observe also that love makes us rise above the difficulties, the persecutions, the fears, which the enemy seeks to produce. Occupied with God, happy in Him, this weight of affliction is not felt. The strength of God is in the heart; the walk is sensibly connected with the eternal happiness possessed with Him, and the affliction is felt to be but light and for a moment. Nor this only; we suffer for Christ’s sake: it is joy with Him, it is intimacy of communion, if we know how to appreciate it, and all is invested with the glory and salvation that are found at the end-“at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.”
The Lord’s coming linked with practical, daily life
In reading this passage one cannot but observe the immediate and living way in which the Lord’s coming is linked with daily, practical life, so that the perfect light of that day is thrown upon the hourly path of the present time. By the exercise of love they were to be established in holiness before God at the coming of Christ. From one day to another, that day was looked for as the consummation and the only term they contemplated to the ordinary life of each day here below. How this brought the soul into the presence of God! Moreover, as I have already in part observed, they lived in a known relationship with God which gave room for this confidence. He was their Father; He is ours. The relationship of the saints to Jesus was equally known. The saints were “his saints.” They were all to come with Him. They were associated with His glory. There is nothing equivocal in the expression. Jesus, the Lord, coming with all His saints, allows us to think of no other event than His return in glory. Then also will He be glorified in His saints, who will already have rejoined Him to be forever with Him. It will be the day of their manifestation as of His.