1 Thessalonians 3 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

1 Thessalonians 3
Pulpit Commentary
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;
Verse 1. - This verse is closely connected with the concluding verses of the last chapter, from which it should not be separated. Wherefore; on account of my affection toward you and my repeated vain attempts to see you. When we. Some refer the plural to Paul, Silas, and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1); others to Paul and Silas, as Timothy had been sent to Thessalonica; but it is to be restricted to Paul, as is evident from 1 Thessalonians 2:38 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5, and inasmuch as Paul was left alone at Athens; the plural being here used for the singular. Could no longer forbear; could no longer restrain our longing and anxiety to know your condition. We thought it good; a happy translation of the original, expressing both "we were pleased and resolved." To be left at Athens alone; an expression of solitude. Alone in Athens, in the very metropolis of idolatry. Compare with this the common saying, "Alone in London." In the Acts of the Apostles we are informed that Paul came to Athens alone, and that there he waited for Silas and Timothy (Acts 17:14, ]5), and that these fellow-workers rejoined him at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Many expositors, however, from this and the next verse, infer that Timothy at least joined Paul at Athens, but was sent back by him to Thessalonica, to inquire into the condition of his converts in that city. Such is the opinion of Olshausen, Neander, De Wette, Lunemann, Hofmann, Koch, and Schott; and, among English expositors, of Macknight, Paley, Eadie, Jowett, Ellicott, and Wordsworth. There is no contradiction between this view and the narrative of the Acts. Luke merely omits to mention Timothy's short visit to Athens and departure from it, and relates only the final reunion of these three fellow-workers at Corinth. Indeed, Paley gives this coming of Timothy to Athens as one of the undesigned coincidences between this Epistle and the Acts of the Apostles. Still, however, we are not necessitated to suppose that Timothy joined the apostle at Athens. The words admit of the opinion that he was sent by Paul direct from Beraea, and not from Athens; and that he and Silas did not join Paul until they came from Macedonia to Corinth. Such is the opinion of Hug, Wieseler, Koppe, Alford, and Vaughan.
And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:
Verse 2. - And sent Timotheus. This was a great act of self-sacrifice on the part of Paul; because to be without an assistant and fellow-laborer in the gospel in such a city as Athens, the very center and strong hold of heathenism, full of temples and idols, must necessarily have brought upon him many discomforts; and yet his anxiety for the Thessalonians overcame all motives of personal convenience. Our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow-laborer. The reading of manuscripts here varies. Some important manuscripts read, "our brother and fellow-worker with God" - a phrase which is elsewhere employed by the apostle: "for we are laborers together with God" (1 Corinthians 3:9). Retaining, however, the reading of the text, Paul here calls Timothy his brothel expressing his esteem and fraternal affection for him; "a minister of God," expressing Timothy's official position and the honor conferred on him by Christ; and his "fellow-laborer," expressing his laborious work in preaching the gospel, and reminding the Thessalonians of his labors among them. Different reasons have been assigned for this eulogy pronounced by Paul on Timothy. Some suppose that it was to show how eagerly he consulted the welfare of the Thessalonians, by sending to them a person of such importance and of such use to himself as Timothy (Calvin); others think that it was to recommend Timothy to the favorable regard of the Thessalonians in the absence of himself (Chrysostom); but it appears to be the natural outburst of affection for his favorite disciple. In the gospel of Christ. Timothy had labored with Paul and Silas in the publication of the gospel at Thessalonica, and was consequently well known to the Thessalonians, and favorably regarded by them. To establish you, and to comfort you; or rather, to exhort you, as the matter of exhortation follows. Concerning your faith; in order to the continuance and furtherance of your faith. The purpose of the mission of Timothy; namely, to confirm the Thessalonians in the faith, to exhort them to perseverance in Christianity, notwithstanding the persecutions to which they were exposed.
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.
Verse 3. - This verse contains the object of the exhortation; the clause is an accusative to the verb. That no man should be moved (or, shaken) by; or rather in; expressing the position in which they were placed. These afflictions. The same word as "tribulation" in the next verse. For yourselves know. How they knew is explained, partly from the forewarnings of the apostle, and partly from their own experience. That we; not to be referred to Paul only, nor to Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, nor to Paul and the Thessalonians, but to all Christians in general; that we Christians. Are appointed thereunto; namely, by God. Our afflictions do not result from chance, but are the necessary consequence of our Christianity; they arise from the appointment and ordinance of God. Tribulation is the Christian's portion. Whatever truth there may be in the saying that prosperity is the promise of the Old Testament, affliction is certainly the promise of the New. We must be conformed to Christ in his sufferings. "In the world," says our Lord, "ye shall have tribulation" (John 16:33). When our Lord called Paul to his apostleship, he showed him how great things he must suffer for his Name's sake (Acts 9:16). All the apostles suffered from persecution, and concerning Christians in general Paul asserts that it is only through tribulation that they can enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22; see Revelation 7:14).
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.
Verse 4. - For; assigning the reason why they should not be moved by these afflictions. Verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we; here also Christians in general. Should suffer. Not a simple future, but denoting that it was thus appointed in the counsels of God - that their tribulation was the result of the Divine purpose. Tribulation (affliction); even as it came to pass, and ye know; that is, from your own experience. The affliction, then, was not some strange thing which had befallen them.
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 labour be in vain.
Verse 5. - For this cause, when I could no longer forbear; no longer repress my anxiety, and endure my want of information concerning you. I sent to know your faith; to receive information concerning your spiritual condition. Lest by some means the tempter; a designation of Satan, used also by Matthew 4:3. Have tempted you, and our labor be in vain; that is, useless, without result (see on 1 Thessalonians 2:1; comp. also Galatians 4:11, "I am afraid, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain"). The temptation to which the Thessalonians were exposed was that of apostasy from Christianity, through the fear or endurance of persecution. That the tempter had tempted them is probable - it was almost unavoidable; that he had succeeded in his temptation, and had thus rendered the apostle's labors among them useless, was uncertain - a contingency which might possibly have taken place.
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:
Verse 6. - But now when Timotheus came from you unto us. Timothy, as we learn from the Acts, in company with Silas, joined Paul at Corinth (Acts 18:15), and brought him information concerning the state of the Thessalonian Church. And brought us good tidings; the same word which is elsewhere employed for preaching the gospel. The information which Timothy brought to the apostle was as it were a gospel to him (comp. Luke 2:10, "Behold I bring you good tidings"). Of your faith and charity. The good tidings which Timothy brought referred to the spiritual condition of the Thessalonians - their faith had not been shaken and their love had not waxed cold under the persecutions to which they were exposed; and along with their faith and love was the affection which they bore to the apostle, and their earnest desire to see him. And that ye have constant remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you. The affection between the Thessalonians and the apostle was mutual.
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:
Verse 7. - Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you - with reference to you - in all our affliction and distress. Some refer "affliction" to outward troubles, and "distress" to internal evils - referring the one to the persecutions arising from his Corinthian opponents, and the other to his bodily infirmity (Koch). Such a distinction is, however, precarious. The words do not refer to the apostle's anxiety on account of the Thessalonians, for that was removed by the coming of Timothy. Clearly some external trouble is denoted. Paul, when he preached the gospel at Corinth, and before he obtained the protection of Gallio, was exposed to much persecution and danger. The Jews had expelled him from their synagogue (Acts 18:6), and attempts had been made against him which at length broke out into an insurrection against him, when he was dragged before the Roman tribunal (Acts 18:12). His condition at Corinth when he wrote this Epistle was dark and gloomy. By your faith; by the steadfastness of your faith. The good news which Timothy brought of the faith and love of the Thessalonians comforted the apostle amid all the trials and difficulties and disappointments of his ministry (comp. with this passage 2 Corinthians 7:4-7).
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
Verse 8. - For now we live. Not to be referred to the eternal and future life (Chrysostom); or to be weakened as if it merely signified, "We relish and enjoy life notwithstanding our affliction and distress" (Pelt); but the meaning is the good tidings which Timothy has brought have imparted new life unto us; "we are in the full strength and freshness of life, we do not feel the sorrows and tribulations which the outer world prepares for us" (Lunemann). The apostle considers his condition of affliction and distress as a kind of death: so, elsewhere he says, "I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31); and from which death he was now again raised to life. If; provided - a hypothetical assumption. Ye stand fast; continue firm in the faith of the gospel. In the Lord; the element of true life.
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;
Verse 9. - For; assigning the reason of the declaration, "now we live." What thanks can we render to God again for you. As their steadfastness in the faith was owing to God's grace, thanks was to be rendered to God on their behalf. For all the joy; joy in all its fullness (comp. James 1:2, "Count it all joy"). Wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God. Giving prominence to the purity of their joy.
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
Verse 10. - Night and day (comp. 1 Thessalonians 2:9) praying exceedingly. Denoting the intense earnestness and anxiety of the apostle for the spiritual welfare of the Thessalonians, that found vent to itself in incessant prayer for them. Now follows the subject-matter of his prayer. That we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith. The faith of the Thessalonians was not perfect; it was "lacking" in several respects. It was defective in extent; they were ignorant of many of the doctrines of the gospel, and had formed erroneous views of other doctrines, such as the second advent. It was defective in application; they had not yet renounced all the corrupt practices of their former heathen life, nor had they embodied all the precepts of the gospel into their actual life. The Thessalonians were as yet but novices. So also the reason which impelled Paul to wish to come to Rome was to supply that which was lacking in the faith of the Roman converts (Romans 1:11). Confirmation was a work in which the apostle delighted, being both important and desirable. In general, faith at first is weak and defective; it is only developed by degrees. Especially is it increased by every increase of spiritual knowledge. "Add to your faith knowledge" (2 Peter 1:5, 6). The remark of Calvin is worthy of attention: "Paul is desirous of having the opportunity given him of supplying what is wanting in the faith of the Thessalonians, or, which is the same thing, completing in all its parts their faith which was as yet imperfect. Yet this is the faith which he had previously extolled marvelously. From this we infer that those who far surpass others are still far distant from the goal. Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something further."
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.
Verse 11. - Now God himself and our Father; or, as we would express it according to the English idiom, God himself, our Father, omitting the conjunction. And our Lord Jesus Christ. Some suppose that the three Divine Persons of the sacred Trinity are here expressly named: God the Holy Ghost, and the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; but the words in the original will not bear this sense: "God himself and our Father" is the same Divine Person. Direct. It is to be observed that the verb "direct" is in the Greek in the singular, thus denoting a unity between God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. At all events, we have an express prayer directed to Christ, thus necessarily implying his Divine nature. Our way unto you.
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:
Verse 12. - And the Lord. By some referred to the First Person of the blessed Trinity, God our Father (Alford); by others to the Holy Ghost, as the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are afterwards both mentioned in the prayer; but it is to be referred, according to the prevailing usage in Paul's Epistle, to the Lord Jesus Christ. Make you; literally, you may the Lord make, putting the emphasis on" you." To increase and abound in love one toward another; toward your fellow-Christians. And toward all men; toward the human race in general. "This is the character of Divine love to comprehend all; whereas human love hath respect to one man and not to another" (Theophylact). Even as we do toward you; that is, as we abound in love toward you.
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.
Verse 13. - To the end (in order that) he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God. In the sight of God, in his judgment who searcheth the hearts. The words, "before God," are to be conjoined neither with "holiness" nor with "unblamable," but with the whole phrase, "unblamable in holiness." Even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; at the second advent. With all his saints. By "saints" or "holy ones" are by some understood the angels who shall accompany Christ to judgment; but although the term "saints" is used of the angels in the Old Testament, it is never so employed in the New. The word seems to denote those holy men who have died in the Lord and who shall be raised at the advent, and accompany Christ to the judgment.

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