1 Thessalonians 3:1-13

1 Thessalonians 3:1‑13  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Edward Cross
1 Thessalonians 3
1. Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
2. And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
3. That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
4. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
5. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labor be in vain.
6. But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
7. Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
8. For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
9. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
10. Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
11. Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
12. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
13. To the end he may Stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
As in the preceding chapter we see the devoted and self-sacrificing love of the apostle, as of a nursing mother and of a father cherishing, instructing, and bringing up their children with tender care: so here we see the anxiety with which he thinks of them as exposed to the perils and sufferings of their new pathway.
It is instructive and inspiring to see the various feelings of the Spirit of Christ brought into play in the ministry of His servant, and the emotions that fill his breast. His work was not the work of a mere preacher. The least part of it was the preaching. apostle, evangelist, preacher, pastor, teacher, father, mother, friend, and lover, all in one, he sought not theirs but them. He sought them at the cost of all he had — himself. He sought them not merely for their present, but for their eternal, their highest good. He sought them, not for themselves and their welfare merely, but for the Lord Jesus Christ and for God. He was a servant in the true sense of the word; and with the perceptions of the Spirit, and the presentiments that are alike the pleasure and the pain of true affection. Nor is he alone in this, though surely foremost. Others are joined with him in the same spirit; and in the same unselfish spirit he joins them with himself.
As we have already remarked, Thessalonica was the resort of a large colony of Jews, and the place was greatly under their influence, even as it is to this day. Now the Jews were, as I might so say, the hereditary enemies of the testimony of God, and therefore of Christ and of Christianity (ch. 2:15), and it was therefore no wonder that the Christians at Thessalonica suffered sorely at their hands. In Acts 17 we read that they succeeded in chasing Paul out of Thessalonica, and not content with that, they followed him to Berea and stirred up against him the people in that place also, so that from there he had to leave for Athens. Carrying therefore in his mind the sense of the persecuting opposition from which he himself was suffering, he was naturally in much anxiety about the baby converts he had left in Thessalonica, and in his tender solicitude on their behalf he elects to be left alone in solitude at Athens (and how solitary he must there have felt!) — and he sends Timothy back to them to inquire of their welfare, and to establish and exhort them concerning their faith, encouraging them that no man might be moved by these afflictions.
Already he had foretold them that tribulation is the appointed lot of the believer. In this statement there is nothing new. The Lord Himself had clearly foretold it to His disciples, (John 15:20-25; 16:2-3320Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. 21But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. 23He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father. 25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. (John 15:20‑25)
2They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I go my way to him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? 6But because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. 12I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. 14He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. 15All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. 16A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father. 17Then said some of his disciples among themselves, What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father? 18They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. 19Now Jesus knew that they were desirous to ask him, and said unto them, Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? 20Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. 21A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. 22And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. 23And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. 24Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. 25These things have I spoken unto you in proverbs: but the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall show you plainly of the Father. 26At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: 27For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God. 28I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father. 29His disciples said unto him, Lo, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no proverb. 30Now are we sure that thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask thee: by this we believe that thou camest forth from God. 31Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe? 32Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me. 33These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:2‑33)
). It is the necessary adjunct of the testimony of God in a world that hates Him: and it was not only the preaching but the portion of the Church from earliest times (Acts 5:41; 14:2241And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41)
22Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)
).
But from then till now, and so it ever will be, that the north wind is as necessary for the garden as is the south wind, “that the spices thereof may flow out” (SoS. 4:16); and while the storm of persecution may do some damage, yet nevertheless, generally speaking, it does more good. Some indeed think that when they are saved, they are saved from all trouble; and they think it strange when some fiery trial overtakes them. The apostle says rather “Rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12, 1312Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:12‑13)). As well might a sailor expect to learn navigation on a duck-pond, as for a Christian to follow Christ, and not take part in His sufferings. “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” It is the royal lot of the Christian, and therein “the Spirit of glory and of God” resteth upon him (1 Peter 4:1414If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. (1 Peter 4:14)): although we none of us like it.
How greatly therefore was the apostle comforted in his own distress and affliction by the good tidings that Timothy brought him of their faith and love, and of how they reciprocated his feelings towards him, and desired to see his face, even as he did theirs. He is comforted in all his distress by their faith; and what intensity of feeling is betokened in the words “because now we live if you continue to stand firm in the Lord” (Lit. trans.). Joy in their present standing, comfort in the lowliness of their faith, solicitude as to all that was still before them: — “if you continue to stand firm in the Lord.” Their trials were not yet over, nor was the goal reached: so that while his heart is filled with thankfulness to God, and joy before Him on their account, he is also importunate above measure in prayer, night and day, that he might see their face, and perfect that which was deficient as to their intelligence in the faith.
And how natural and unaffected is all this: the exposure, the laying bare of those deep and tender feelings of the heart that cannot be hid I And how it invests Christianity with an open, frank transparency, a ‘deep and vital reality, an earnest and practical expression, which is too easily lost sight of amidst the withering controversies of terminology, and the profitless disputes of words which loom so largely before the apostle’s mind as the rank growth of later times (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14-2314Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. 15Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 16But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; 18Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. 19Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. 22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. (2 Timothy 2:14‑23)).
The grammatical structure of this verse is remarkable. With two nominatives the verb “direct” is in the singular. The same construction occurs again in 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 1716Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, 17Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. (2 Thessalonians 2:16‑17); but the order of the Persons there is changed. As another has put it, “God the Father and Christ the Lord forming, so to speak, one in the thought of the apostle’s mind, though personally clearly distinguished,” each individually, or both collectively, are rightly addressed in prayer (cf. also 2 Thess. 3:5-165And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. 6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 7For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 16Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:5‑16)).
He prays (ver. 11) that his way may be directed to them, if such be the will of God: but (ver. 12) under any circumstances his heart enlarges towards them, and enwraps them in his own spirit, breathes into them, and as it were feeds them with his very breath, in his desire that in any case, whether he sees them or not, “ the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all men, even as we do toward you.”
Too often we are content to love those that love us, and them not very much. But the word of the gospel teaches us to “love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:27, 2827But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, 28Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. (Luke 6:27‑28)). We see how necessary it was to inculcate such pure and wholesome teachings on these, who were till so recently, poor benighted pagans. We might add, how important for those who teach to themselves practice, lest their guilt become doubly dyed, and their judgment correspondingly severe. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
The Thessalonian saints had seen a living illustration of this doctrine in the spirit and conduct of those who, at the risk of their own lives, had come to preach it to them, and to practice it amongst them; and who could now use the moral weight of their own behavior amongst them, as being the exponents themselves of what they had taught to others. Happy men! May we seek each one to be animated by and to carry out into practice the same spirit.
“Jesus bids us shine,
You in your small corner,
And I in mine.”
Notice too that he puts love (ver. 12) before holiness (ver. 13). Holiness is not the life of the Christian; but love is. It is a holy love. But it is love, divine love, the very nature of God Himself and of the child of God, that produces holiness: not holiness that produces love. And as this is connected with the responsibility of the Christian it is therefore referred to the presence of “God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.”
It is not a question here of going into the Father’s house for the enjoyment of all the grace connected therewith; but though God is always our Father, still it is here at the time of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the consequences of Christian responsibility will be manifested, and it will appear how far we are unblameable before Him. This must not be lost sight of in the remembrance of His grace: and again His grace must not be beclouded in view of this. This will be the holy judgment of God at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ with His holy ones, when every secret will be searched and every hidden thing laid bare.
But he is careful to say it is all “before God, even our Father.” And with this are closely connected the words of the apostle Peter: “as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.... and if ye call Him Father (Lit. trans.) who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Pet. 1:15-1715But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 16Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 17And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: (1 Peter 1:15‑17)). We need to distinguish between, but not to divorce these two great principles: the government and the grace of God.
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We must have faith, not only in the form of fixity of doctrine, but also in the shape of constant dependence upon God.
A whole Bible for my staff, a whole Christ for my salvation, and a whole world for my parish.
You can work without praying but it is a bad plan and your work will be mainly barren. But you cannot pray in earnest without working.
Rest in the Lord, my soul;
Commit to Him thy way.
What to thy sight seems dark as night,
To Him is bright as day.
Rest in the Lord, my soul;
He planned for thee thy life,
Brings fruit from rain, brings good from
And peace and joy from strife and pain.
Rest in the Lord, my soul;
This fretting weakens thee,
Why not be still? Accept His will;
Thou shalt His glory see.