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3. Timothy's Encouraging Report
1Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone; 2and sent Timothy, our brother and God's minister in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith; 3that no man be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that hereunto we are appointed. 4For verily, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction; even as it came to pass, and ye know. 5For this cause I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain. 6But when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you; 7for this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: 8for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. 9For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; 10night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith? 11Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you: 12and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you; 13to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
1 Wherefore, when we could no longer endure. By the detail which follows, he assures them of the desire of which he had spoken. For if, on being detained elsewhere, he had sent no other to Thessalonica in his place, it might have seemed as though he were not so much concerned in regard to them; but when he substitutes Timothy in his place, he removes that suspicion, more especially when he prefers them before himself. Now that he esteemed them above himself, he shews from this, that he chose rather to be left alone than that they should be deserted: for these words, we judged it good to be left alone, are emphatic. Timothy was a most faithful companion to him: he had at that time no others with him; hence it was inconvenient and distressing for him to be without him. It is therefore a token of rare affection and anxious desire that he does not refuse to deprive himself of all comfort, with the view of relieving the Thessalonians. To the same effect is the word εὐδοκήσαμεν, which expresses a prompt inclination of the mind. 554554 “Vne affection prompte et procedante d’vn franc coeur;” — “A prompt disposition, proceeding from a ready mind.”
2 Our brother. He assigns to him these marks of commendation, that he may shew the more clearly how much inclined he was to consult their welfare: for if he had sent them some common person, it could not have afforded them much assistance; and inasmuch as Paul would have done this without inconvenience to himself, he would have given no remarkable proof of his fatherly concern in regard to them. It is, on the other hand, a great thing that he deprives himself of a brother and fellow-laborer, and one to whom, as he declares in Philippians 2:20, he found no equal, inasmuch as all aimed at the promotion of their own interests. In the mean time, 555555 “En parlant ainsi;” — “By speaking, thus.” he procures authority for the doctrine which they had received from Timothy, that it may remain the more deeply impressed upon their memory.
It is, however, with good reason that he says that he had sent Timothy with this view — that they might receive a confirmation of their faith from his example. They might be intimidated by unpleasant reports as to persecutions; but Paul’s undaunted constancy was fitted so much the more to animate them, so as to keep them from giving way. And, assuredly, the fellowship which ought to subsist between the saints and members of Christ extends even thus far — that the faith of one is the consolation of others. Thus, when the Thessalonians heard that Paul was going on with indefatigable zeal, and was by strength of faith surmounting all dangers and all difficulties, and that his faith continued everywhere victorious against Satan and the world, this brought them no small consolation. More especially we are, or at least ought to be, stimulated by the examples of those by whom we were instructed in the faith, as is stated in the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (Hebrews 13:7) Paul, accordingly, means that they ought to be fortified by his example, so as not to give way under their afflictions. As, however, they might have been offended if Paul had entertained a fear lest they should all give way under persecutions, (inasmuch as this would have been an evidence of excessive distrust,) he mitigates this harshness by saying — lest any one, or, that no one. There was, however, good reason to fear this, as there are always some weak persons in every society.
3 For ye yourselves know. As all would gladly exempt themselves from the necessity of bearing the cross, Paul teaches that there is no reason why believers should feel dismayed on occasion of persecutions, as though it were a thing that was new and unusual, inasmuch as this is our condition, which the Lord has assigned to us. For this manner of expression — we are appointed to it — is as though he had said, that we are Christians on this condition. He says, however, that they know it, because it became them to fight the more bravely, 556556 “Plus vaillamment et courageusement;” — “More valiantly and courageously.” inasmuch as they had been forewarned in time. In addition to this, incessant afflictions made Paul contemptible among rude and ignorant persons. On this account he states that nothing had befallen him but what he had long before, in the manner of a prophet, foretold.
5 Lest perhaps the tempter has tempted you. By this term he teaches us that temptations are always to be dreaded, because it is the proper office of Satan to tempt. As, however, he never ceases to place ambushes for us on all sides, and to lay snares for us all around, so we must be on our watch, eagerly taking heed. And now he says openly what in the outset he had avoided saying, as being too harsh — that he had felt concerned lest his labors should be vain, if, peradventure, Satan should prevail. And this he does that they may be carefully upon their watch, and may stir themselves up the more vigorously to resistance.
He shews here, by another argument, by what an extraordinary affection he was actuated towards them, inasmuch as he was transported almost out of his senses by the joyful intelligence of their being in a prosperous condition. For we must take notice of the circumstances which he relates. He was in affliction and necessity: there might have seemed, therefore, no room for cheerfulness. But when he hears what was much desired by him respecting the Thessalonians, as though all feeling of his distresses had been extinguished, he is carried forward to joy and congratulation. At the same time he proceeds, by degrees, in expressing the greatness of his joy, for he says, in the first place, we received consolation: afterwards he speaks of a joy that was plentifully poured forth. 557557 “Ample et abondante;” — “Large and overflowing.” This congratulation, 558558 “Ceste façon de tesmoigner la ioye qu’il sent de la fermete des Thessaloniciens;” — “This manner of testifying the joy which he feels in the steadfastness of the Thessalonians.” however, has the force of an exhortation; and Paul’s intention was to stir up the Thessalonians to perseverance. And, assuredly, this must have been a most powerful excitement, when they learned that the holy Apostle felt so great consolation and joy from the advancement of their piety.
6 Faith and love. This form of expression should be the more carefully observed by us in proportion to the frequency with which it is made use of by Paul, for in these two words he comprehends briefly the entire sum of true piety. Hence all that aim at this twofold mark during their whole life are beyond all risk of erring: all others, however much they may torture themselves, wander miserably. The third thing that he adds as to their good remembrance of him, refers to respect entertained for the Gospel. For it was on no other account that they held Paul in such affection and esteem.
8 For now we live. Here it appears still more clearly that Paul almost forgot himself for the sake of the Thessalonians, or, at least, making regard for himself a mere secondary consideration, devoted his first and chief thoughts to them. At the same time he did not do that so much from affection to men as from a desire for the Lord’s glory. For zeal for God and Christ glowed in his holy breast to such a degree that it in a manner swallowed up all other anxieties. “We live,” says he, that is, “we are in good health, if you persevere in the Lord.” And under the adverb now, he repeats what he had formerly stated, that he had been greatly pressed down by affliction and necessity; yet he declares that whatever evil he endures in his own person does not hinder his joy. “Though in myself I am dead, yet in your welfare I live.” By this all pastors are admonished what sort of connection ought to subsist between them and the Church — that they reckon themselves happy when it goes well with the Church, although they should be in other respects encompassed with many miseries, and, on the other hand, that they pine away with grief and sorrow if they see the building which they have constructed in a state of decay, although matters otherwise should be joyful and prosperous.
9 For what thanksgiving. Not satisfied with a simple affirmation, he intimates how extraordinary is the greatness of his joy, by asking himself what thanks he can render to God; for by speaking thus he declares that he cannot find an expression of gratitude that can come up to the measure of his joy. He says that he rejoices before God, that is, truly and without any pretense.
10 Praying beyond measure. He returns to an expression of his desire. For it is never allowable for us to congratulate men, while they live in this world, in such unqualified terms as not always to desire something better for them. For they are as yet in the way: they may fall back, or go astray, or even go back. Hence Paul is desirous to have 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. But 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 always keep in view our deficiencies, (ὑστερήματα,) 559559 “Τστερήματα πίστεως. —Afterings of faith, as it may be significantly enough rendered, let but the novelty of the expression be pardoned.” —Howe’s Works, (London, 1822,) volume 3 page 70.—Ed that we may not be reluctant to aim at something farther.
From this also it appears how necessary it is for us to give careful attention to doctrine, for teachers 560560 “Les Docteurs et ceux qui ont charge d’enseigner en l’Eglise;” — “Teachers and those that have the task of instructing in the Church.” were not appointed merely with the view of leading men, in the course of a single day or month, to the faith of Christ, but for the purpose of perfecting the faith which has been begun. But as to Paul’s claiming for himself what he elsewhere declares belongs peculiarly to the Holy Spirit, (1 Corinthians 14:14) this must be restricted to the ministry. Now, as the ministry of a man is inferior to the efficacy of the Spirit, and to use the common expression, is subordinate to it, nothing is detracted from it. When he says that he prayed night and day beyond all ordinary measure, 561561 “Night and day praying exceedingly—Supplicating God at all times; mingling this with all my prayers; ὑπὲρ ἐχπερισσοῦ δεόμενοι, abounding and superabounding in my entreaties to God, to permit me to revisit you.” —Dr. A. Clarke.—Ed we may gather from these words how assiduous he was in praying to God, and with what ardor and earnestness he discharged that duty.
11 Now God himself. He now prays that the Lord, having removed Satan’s obstructions, may open a door for himself, and be, as it were, the leader and director of his way to the Thessalonians. By this he intimates, that we cannot move a step with success, 562562 “Nous ne pouuons d’vn costé ne d’autre faire vn pas qui proufite et viene a bien;” — “We cannot on one side or another take a step that may be profitable or prosperous.” otherwise than under God’s guidance, but that when he holds out his hand, it is to no purpose that Satan employs every effort to change the direction of our course. We must take notice that he assigns the same office to God and to Christ, as, unquestionably, the Father confers no blessing upon us except through Christ’s hand. When, however, he thus speaks of both in the same terms, he teaches that Christ has divinity and power in common with the Father.
12 And the Lord fill you. Here we have another prayer — that in the mean time, while his way is obstructed, the Lord, during his absence, may confirm the Thessalonians in holiness, and fill them with love. And from this again we learn in what the perfection of the Christian life consists — in love and pure holiness of heart, flowing from faith. He recommends love mutually cherished towards each other, and afterwards towards all, for as it is befitting that a commencement should be made with those that are of the household of faith, (Galatians 6:10) so our love ought to go forth to the whole human race. Farther, as the nearer connection must be cherished, 563563 “Il faut recognoistre et entretenir;” — “We must recognize and maintain.” so we must not overlook those who are farther removed from us, so as to prevent them from holding their proper place.
He would have the Thessalonians abound in love and be filled with it, because in so far as we make progress in acquaintance with God, the love of the brethren must at the same time increase in us, until it take possession of our whole heart, the corrupt love of self being extirpated. He prays that the love of the Thessalonians may be perfected by God, intimating that its increase, no less than its commencement, was from God alone. Hence it is evident how preposterous a part those act who measure our strength by the precepts of the Divine law. The end of the law is love, says Paul, (1 Timothy 1:5) yet he himself declares that it is a work of God. When, therefore, God marks out our life, 564564 “Nous prescrit en ses commandemens la regle de viure;” — “Prescribes to us in his commandments the rule of life.” he does not look to what we can do, but requires from us what is above our strength, that we may learn to ask from him power to accomplish it. When he says — as we also towards you, he stimulates them by his own example.
13 That he may confirm your hearts. He employs the term hearts here to mean conscience, or the innermost part of the soul; for he means that a man is acceptable to God only when he brings holiness of heart; that is, not merely external, but also internal. But it is asked, whether by means of holiness we stand at God’s judgment-seat, for if so, to what purpose is remission of sins? Yet Paul’s words seem to imply this — that their consciences might be irreproveable in holiness. I answer, that Paul does not exclude remission of sins, through which it comes that our holiness, which is otherwise mixed up with many pollutions, bears God’s eye, for faith, by which God is pacified towards us, so as to pardon our faults, 565565 “Nous fautes et infirmitez vicieuses;” — “Our faults and culpable infirmities.” precedes everything else, as the foundation comes before the building. Paul, however, does not teach us what or how great the holiness of believers may be, but desires that it may be increased, until it attain its perfection. On this account he says — at the coming of our Lord, meaning that the completion of those things, which the Lord now begins in us, is delayed till that time.
With all his saints. This clause may be explained in two ways, either as meaning that the Thessalonians, with all saints, may have pure hearts at Christ’s coming, or that Christ will come with all his saints. While I adopt this second meaning, in so far as concerns the construction of the words, I have at the same time no doubt that Paul employed the term saints for the purpose of admonishing us that we are called by Christ for this end—that we may be gathered with all his saints. For this consideration ought to whet our desire for holiness.