Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The division of chapters at this point is unfortunate. The import of 1 Thessalonians 3:1 lies in its connection with 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20 of ch. 2. We have included the whole of this chapter in the same section of the Epistle with the foregoing paragraph. See note introductory to ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:17.
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;1. Wherefore when we could no longer forbear] Wherefore (i.e. because of our longing to see you) no longer bearing it (the frustration of our attempts to return to Thessalonica). “Bear” is the same word as in 1 Corinthians 13:7 : “Love beareth all things”—bears up under, holds out against. “This protracted separation and repeated disappointment was more than we could endure.”
to be left at Athens alone] left behind … alone (R. V.).
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:2. and sent Timotheus] Timothy: see note on this name, ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:1.
The Acts of the Apostles traces St Paul’s footsteps from Thessalonica to Berœa, and on from Berœa to Athens: read Acts 17:10-16; and consult the map in regard to the route. But its account of the movements of his companions appears at first sight inconsistent with what we read here. For in Acts 17:14-16 we find Silas and Timothy both left behind at Berœa, while Paul goes on to Athens, instructing them to follow and rejoin him there as soon as possible. “Paul waited for them at Athens;” but they do not seem to have arrived. The two comrades of the Apostle are not mentioned by St Luke again until he tells us of their return together from Macedonia, when they find him at Corinth (Acts 18:1-5). St Paul interpolates between the time of his leaving the two at Berœa and of their return in company from Macedonia reported by Luke a distinct mission of Timothy by himself to Thessalonica. There is, after all, no conflict between the Apostle and his historian and friend. He relates an incident which St Luke in his general and cursory narrative passed over, either as unimportant for his purpose, or because he was unaware of it. Since we have good reason to believe in the accuracy of both, we must adjust their statements to each other. This may be done In two ways: It is possible that Paul on arriving at Athens and finding that he could not return to Thessalonica from that city, sent directions to Timothy to go back in his place to the Macedonian capital, instead of coming on to Athens, while Silas still remained in Macedonia; and that, after Timothy had made this visit, they both rejoined their leader at Corinth. Or it may be—and this agrees better with the words “left behind”—that Timothy did come to Athens from Berœa, and was immediately despatched again to Thessalonica, so that the Apostle was practically alone from the time he left Berœa until Silas and Timothy rejoined him at Corinth.
The “we” of 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 3:6 appears to refer to the Apostle himself; comp. 2 Corinthians 10, 13 for the interchange of “I” and “we” in St Paul’s manner of referring to himself. He may write we representatively, where others are joined with him in sympathy, though not in act. If Silas was now with Paul at Athens, he also must shortly have returned to Macedonia (see Acts 18:5); but the words “left alone” would seem in that case to be pointless. It was a trial to St Paul at this time to be “left alone.” But his anxiety about the Thessalonians compels him, notwithstanding, to send his young helper to them.
our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ] This description of Timothy is given in varying forms by the ancient MSS. The Revisers prefer to read, our brother and God’s minister, &c.; but they say in the margin, “Some ancient authorities read fellow-worker with God.” Possibly this is what the Apostle wrote: our brother and a fellow-worker with God. The other variations can best be explained by it; and copyists would scarcely have substituted by this bold expression the easy phrase “minister of God,” which occurs in other Epistles, had the latter been the original reading. “God’s fellow-worker” expresses a thoroughly Pauline idea (see 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1), and would serve to exalt Timothy in the eyes of the Church. It agrees with what the Apostle says of him in 1 Corinthians 16:10 : “Timothy worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do; let no one therefore despise him.” The Received Text, as in many other instances, results from the combination of two earlier and briefer readings of the passage. Codex B, the best of the Greek MSS, reads simply, our brother and fellow-worker in the gospel of Christ.
to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith] Establish is stablish in 1 Thessalonians 3:13 and elsewhere; the same word is rendered “strengthen thy brethren” in Luke 22:32, also Revelation 3:2; it signifies to make stable, fix firmly.
For comfort exhort or encourage is a preferable rendering. St Paul employed another and quite different verb for “comfort,” in express distinction from that here used, in ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:11 (see note). The Greek verb has a wide range of meaning; but all its uses in these two Epp. may be brought, with that of the cognate noun, under the ideas of appeal (ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:12), or encouragement (ch. 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). This latter was indeed an older sense of comfort in English (Latin confortare).
The Apostle sends Timothy to do what he wished to do himself, and continues to do by this letter—what, above all, he prays God to do for them; see 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 : “May He encourage your hearts, and stablish you.” (Comp. Introd. p. 35.) They were afflicted, and needed “encouragement;” they were new to the Christian life, and needed “establishment.”
Concerning is, more strictly, on behalf of (in furtherance of) your faith. In ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 faith, love, and hope; in 1 Thessalonians 3:6 faith and love; here faith alone stands for the whole religion of a Christian.
That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto.3. that no man should be moved by these afflictions] Better, that no mam be moved (R. V.). “Objective sentence, explaining and specifying the subject-matter of the exhortation” (Ellicott). “That” means “to the effect that.”
With “moved” comp. the fuller expression of 2 Thessalonians 2:2, “Shaken in mind or troubled”; also Colossians 1:23, “moved away from the hope of the gospel.” But the Greek verb here used seems to imply “moved to softness” (Jowett).
Not by, but literally in, or amid these afflictions; for these were not so much the cause by which faith was likely to be shaken, as the circumstances amid which it was assailed and which lent force to every temptation. “Amid these afflictions” the reasonings of unbelief and the enticements of idolatry and sin would have redoubled force. It was Timothy’s business to shew that such trials ought not to disturb, but rather to confirm their faith.
for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto] The R. V. gives the verb its proper emphasis: hereunto we are appointed.
St Paul delicately associates himself with his persecuted friends, passing from “you” of the last sentence to “we;” comp. the transition in ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-5. Indeed “these afflictions” were directed in the first instance against the apostles (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 3:7, &c.), and came on the Thessalonians through association with them.
Appointed is identical with “set for defence of the gospel” (Php 1:16) and “set upon a hill” (Matthew 5:14), indicating the situation in which one is placed. This was their appointed post and station. And they well “knew” that such was their “calling of God:” “the fiery trial” was no “strange thing” (comp. 1 Peter 2:20-21; 1 Peter 4:12).
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.4. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before] More precisely, used to tell you; this was no single warning, but one repeated and familiar. For other references to the apostles’ previous instruction, see ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:5; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
that we should suffer tribulation] So rendered again in 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:6, and elsewhere in the A.V.; but the word is the same as that used in 1 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:7, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6—affliction (R. V.). The A.V. too often breaks the connection of the sacred writer’s thought by needless variations of this sort.
should is made clearer by the Revised are to suffer: this was matter of certainty in the future, being Divinely appointed (1 Thessalonians 3:3),—a thing one might count upon. And so the event proved: even as it came to pass, and ye know.
All this is recalled to the minds of the readers and dwelt on with iteration, not to justify the Apostle’s foresight—for it needed no gift of prophecy to anticipate persecution at Thessalonica—but to make them realise how well they had been prepared for what they are now experiencing, and so far to reconcile them to it; comp. John 14:29; 1 Peter 4:12, “Beloved, count it not strange.” Dr Jowett gives an admirable analysis of the causes of persecution in the Apostolic times in his notes upon this Chapter (The Epp. of St Paul to the Thessalonians, &c., pp. 70–73, 2nd edition), from which we extract the following sentences:—“The fanatic priest, led on by every personal and religious motive; the man of the world, caring for none of these things, but not the less resenting the intrusion on the peace of his home; the craftsman, fearing for his gains; the accursed multitude, knowing not the law, but irritated at the very notion of this mysterious society of such real, though hidden strength, would all work together towards the overthrow of those who seemed to them to be turning upside down the political, religious, and social order of the world.… The actual persecution of the Roman government was slight, but what may be termed social persecution and the illegal violence employed towards the first disciples unceasing.”
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.5. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith] Rather, I also, no longer enduring it, sent, &c. St Paul repeats what he said in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, but in a different manner, there stating the facts themselves, here indicating his own share in the trouble of his readers: “You were in affliction, and your faith endangered; and I too felt for you an unendurable anxiety.” He has just spoken of Timothy as sent to comfort them, but he was sent at the same time to comfort him (the Apostle), to relieve his distressing fears about them (see 1 Thessalonians 3:5 b and 6). His own troubles and despondency at Corinth helped to make him apprehensive for the Thessalonian Church (see 1 Thessalonians 3:7, and comp. Acts 18:5; Acts 18:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 2:3).
The Greek verb for “know” in this clause is different from that employed in the last; it means to ascertain, get to know—that I might ascertain your faith—“might learn its condition, and know whether or not you were still standing fast in the Lord.”
lest by some means the tempter have tempted you] “Have” is here the English subjunctive perfect, modern “should have”; but the Greek verb is indicative, and implies a positive expectation: lest by any means the tempter had tempted you (R. V.)—a fact of which there was little doubt; the apprehension is revealed in the next clause (Greek subjunctive),—and our labour should prove in vain. This was the dark thought which crossed the Apostle’s mind, that he could “no longer bear.”
This “labour” (or “toil,” same word as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3, see note, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:9) is that which St Paul described pathetically in ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12, beginning with the “entrance” that certainly “was not vain.” To think that all this labour might be lost, and a success at first so glorious end in blank failure!—The sentence might be rendered quite as grammatically, and more vividly, in the interrogative, expressing the apprehension as it actually arose in the Apostle’s mind: I sent that I might know about your faith: had the Tempter haply tempted you, and would our labour prove in vain?
“The Tempter” is so styled once besides, in the account of Christ’s Temptation, Matthew 4:3. Comp. note on Satan, ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:18. While “hindering” Paul from coming to their help, Satan would be “tempting” the Thessalonians to forsake their faith. This fear wrung the Apostle’s heart.
In passing from 1 Thessalonians 3:5-6 there is a striking change from painful suspense to relief and joy—
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:6. But now when Timotheus came from you unto us] But when Timothy came even now unto us from you (R. V.): this rendering puts due emphasis on the words “from you” (it was Timothy’s coming with news from Thessalonica that relieved the Apostle’s mind); and it gives the proper meaning and connection to the introductory “now,” which qualifies “came” and denotes just now, at this juncture. Timothy’s return has been anxiously awaited; and no sooner has he arrived and told his story, than Paul sits down and writes out of a full heart this affectionate and grateful letter. For Timothy brought us glad tidings of your faith and love (R. V.).
“Brought-glad-tidings” forms a single word in the Greek, the same that everywhere else in the N.T. signifies “the glad tidings”—the news of God’s salvation and of the coming of His kingdom. Hence the peculiar force of the word here. This was gospel news, witnessing to the truth and enduring power of God’s message; for this reason it was glad tidings to the Apostle from the Thessalonians (“now we live,” 1 Thessalonians 3:7)—a gospel sent to him in return for his gospel brought to them (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, &c.).
of your faith and charity] for these comprise the whole Christian life, and imply the “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” added to them in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Ephesians 1:15; Philemon 1:5-7; 1 John 3:23 : “that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” This is the sum of our religion. Read, faith and love (R. V.).
and that ye have good remembrance of us always] So that the Thessalonians reciprocate Paul’s feelings towards them; he “remembers” them “without ceasing” (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3), they equally remember him. Good is kindly, well-disposed remembrance; their sufferings and the slanders of his enemies might have alienated their minds from the missionaries, but it was otherwise.
“Remembrance” represents the same Greek noun as “mention” in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2; following make it has a more active, following have a passive signification.
desiring greatly] R. V., in one word, longing,—which renders fitly a delicate Greek verb, rare except In St Paul, that denotes yearning regret for an absent beloved object (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:17, “bereaved of you”). He uses it in 2 Corinthians 5:2 to express his desire for the new, spiritual body, “the house from heaven.” Longing to see us, even as we also to see you. The expression recurs in Romans 1:11 and 2 Timothy 1:4. For the Apostle’s “longing,” see ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18.
Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith:7. therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you] for this cause (R. V.), the Greek phrase being identical with that of 1 Thessalonians 3:5. But while its reference there was to the peril of the tempted Thessalonians causing the Apostle intense anxiety, here it is to their loyalty and affection bringing him a corresponding joy. For a similar instance, comp. 2 Corinthians 7:6-7 : “He that comforteth the downcast, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus … and in the comfort with which he was comforted over you,” &c.
For the verb “comfort” see note on 1 Thessalonians 3:2.
in all our affliction and distress] distress and affliction (R. V.), or necessity and affliction. The first of these terms, as e.g. in 1 Corinthians 9:16 (“Necessity is laid upon me”), implies outward constraint, stress of circumstances, or sometimes of duty; while the second (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4) commonly denotes trouble from men. For similar and more extended combinations, see 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 12:10.
The preposition is literally over (as in last clause), not in. It was not simply that Timothy’s tidings brought comfort to the Apostle amidst his present trials; but this comfort bore upon those trials. The steadfastness of the Thessalonians heartened him to meet his troubles at Corinth. This effect of Silas and Timothy’s arrival “from Macedonia” is hinted in Acts 18:5.
we were comforted … through your faith (R. V.). This conveyed the needed solace to the lonely Apostle. Their “faith” was the essential point, that about which Timothy was sent to enquire (1 Thessalonians 3:5); if this remained, all would go well. So our Lord prayed for Peter, “That thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32). “By faith ye stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24; see next verse).
For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.8. for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord] “if ye stand fast:” the pronoun bears the emphasis. St Paul felt as though his life was wrapped up in this Church. A load of apprehension was lifted from his mind, and he resumed his work at Corinth with the sense of renewed health and vigour, saying to himself, “Yes, now one really lives!” For in truth
“The incessant care and labour of his mind
Had wrought the mure, that should confine it in,
So thin, that life looked through and would break out.”
His heaviest burden, weighing down body and mind alike, was “the care of the Churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28-29).
This passage, like the Epistle to the Galatians and the Second to Corinth, shews St Paul as a man of high-strung and ardent nature, sensitive in his affections to an extreme degree. His whole soul was bound up with the Churches he had founded (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:8, and note). They were his “children,” his “loved and longed for,” his “joy and glory, and crown of boasting.” He lived for nothing else. Read in illustration of this 2 Corinthians 7:2-16.
For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God;9. For what thanks can we render to God again for you] “Again” belongs to the verb “render;” and “thanks” is strictly “thanksgiving.” So we may translate, more freely: what due return of thanksgiving can we make to God? The Apostle puts this question in proof of the strong declaration he has made in 1 Thessalonians 3:8. He says: “The news that Timothy brings from you is new life to me, so much so that I can find no words sufficient to express my gratitude to God for the abounding joy which now fills my heart in thinking of you.”
The same verb, to render due return (one word in Greek), is employed in a very different connection in 2 Thessalonians 1:6.
for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes] More exactly, because of you, or on your account. Observe the emphasis of delight with which the Apostle dwells on “you;” he repeats the pronoun eight times in the last four verses.
before our God] comp. 1 Thessalonians 3:13, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3. God was the witness of this exceeding joy, which strove in vain to find expression in fit words of praise.
The condition of alarm and depression which St Paul had previously experienced made this rebound of joy the more vivid. Only those who have suffered much know joy in its full capacity, “as dying, and behold we live! as sorrowing, but ever rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith?10. night and day praying exceedingly] In this last adverb, peculiar to St Paul, he strains language to express the ardour of his feeling: beyond measure exceedingly; it recurs in ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:13 and Ephesians 3:20. Night and day puts more vividly the “without ceasing” of ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:9.
“Praying” is here, more strictly, begging, or beseeching, and points to the want of the suppliant (comp. 2 Corinthians 5:20, “We beg you, on Christ’s behalf, Be reconciled to God”); whereas the ordinary word for prayer (see e.g. ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:1) indicates devotion towards the object of worship. Prayer goes with thanksgiving, as in ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, and constantly in St Paul; comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18.
that we might see your face] might makes the realisation seem distant and doubtful; read may (R. V.). See notes on ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:17.
and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith] Or, may make good the deficiencies of your faith; not so much what was lacking in as lacking to their faith. Thessalonian faith was in itself steadfast and vigorous (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8; 2 Thessalonians 1:3, “Your faith groweth exceedingly”); but it needed the supplement of added Christian light and moral wisdom. Hence the teaching and admonition the Apostle supplies in chaps. 4, 5 and in the Second Epistle (see Introd. pp. 23–25). Timothy’s return from Thessalonica and the news he brought, while removing St Paul’s great anxiety, made him still more sensible of the need this young and most promising Church had for the continued instruction which he alone could supply. This increased his eagerness to revisit the Thessalonians. For a similar wish—less warmly expressed, inasmuch as it concerned strangers—see Romans 1:9-15; Romans 15:23.
The word rendered “perfect” means to fit up, furnish, fully equip; it is used of “mending nets” (Matthew 4:21), of “vessels fitted for destruction” (Romans 9:22), and of “perfecting saints for work of ministration” (Ephesians 4:12).
Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.11. Now God himself and our Father] Now may our God and Father Himself (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3), and our Lord Jesus (R. V.). For this title of Christ, see notes on ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:19. The copyists have added Christ.
Literally the verse begins, But may our God, &c. There is a transition, by way of contrast, from the thought of Paul’s own (human) wish and longing, that has been so fervently uttered, to the thought of God, Who alone can fulfil His servant’s desire. The prayers of ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and 2 Thessalonians 2:16 begin in the same style.
direct our way unto you] Lit., make straight. This verb is rendered “guide our feet into the way of peace” in Luke 1:79; 2 Thessalonians 3:5 gives the only remaining example of it in the N.T. It is frequent in the Septuagint; see, e.g., Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered (Greek, directed) by the Lord; and He delighteth in his way.” Perhaps this verse of the Psalm was running in the Apostle’s mind.
It is notable that the Greek verb of the prayer is singular, though following a double subject; similarly in 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (comp. the Salutation, ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:1). For Christ is one with the Father in the prerogative of hearing and answering prayer. This belief was derived from our Lord’s own teaching: see John 5:17; John 5:19; John 10:30; John 10:38; John 14:13-14; Matthew 28:18—“I and the Father are one … If ye shall ask Me (R. V.) anything in My name, I will do it,” &c.
The prayer of 1 Thessalonians 3:11 has its goal in 1 Thessalonians 3:13. “Our Lord Jesus” is He whose “coming” Paul and his readers are looking for. And He, together with the Father, is desired to “direct” the Apostle’s steps to Thessalonica, with the aim, ultimately, of furthering their preparation for His coming (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; also 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:12. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one towards another] In the Greek order, But you may the Lord make to increase, &c.—“whatever it may please Him to appoint in respect to us and our coming” (Ellicott). 1 Thessalonians 3:12 is linked with 11, just as 1 Thessalonians 3:11 with 10, by contrast. The Apostle is thinking now of what the Thessalonians were to each other and might do for each other, in distinction from himself.
“The Lord” is still the “Lord Jesus” of the adjoining verses, the Pattern and Fountain of love. Comp. John 13:34; Ephesians 5:2 (“Walk in love, as the Christ also loved you”). Christ is invoked as the Lord, in His Divine authority and power to grant this prayer (comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:5).
Increased love would be the best supplement of their “defects of faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:11), and the basis of the unblameable holiness in which they are to appear at Christ’s coming (1 Thessalonians 3:13). In “brotherly love” the Thessalonians already excelled (ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; comp. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3); but this is a grace of which there can never be too much. Its “increase” lies in its own growth and enlargement; its “abundance” is the affluence with which it overflows toward others. These synonyms are delicately varied in Romans 5:20 : “where Sin increased (or multiplied), Grace superabounded.”
But this multiplied and overflowing love is not to be confined to the brotherhood: toward one another, and, he adds, toward all. Similarly in ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:15. For the Thessalonian Church, cruelly persecuted, this wider love was peculiarly necessary, and difficult. It meant loving their enemies, according to Christ’s command (Matthew 5:44).
The Apostle has shewn them by his example how to love each other in Christ (see ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20); and remembering this he adds, even as we also toward you. Comp. the appeal of Christ in John 13:34 (“even as I loved you”). Paul’s love too was not stationary, but living and growing. This verse has the same turn of expression as 1 Thessalonians 3:6, “even as we also (long to see) you.”
Faith was the object of the Apostle’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:10; Love in ver.12; and now 1 Thessalonians 3:13 crowns both, as it seeks for the Thessalonians, in view of Christ’s coming, a well-assured Hope (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3):—
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.13. to the end he may stablish your hearts] On “stablish” see note to 1 Thessalonians 3:2; and on “hearts,” ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:4; comp. also 2 Thessalonians 2:17.
This is an O.T. phrase, found in Psalm 104:15, “Bread that strengtheneth (Greek, stablisheth) man’s heart”; and Psalm 112:8, “His heart is established, he shall not be afraid.” The only N.T. parallel is in James 5:8, “Be patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” In all these places it signifies the imparting of conscious strength; and denotes here, therefore, not so much a making firm or steadfast in character, but giving a firm confidence, a steadfast and assured heart (contrast the language of 2 Thessalonians 2:2). This would be the effect of the abounding love prayed for in the last verse. The Apostle’s thought runs in the same groove as St John’s in 1 John 3:18-21 and 1 John 4:16-17, “Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement.… Perfect love casteth out fear.” The Church was living in the expectation of Christ’s speedy return to judgement, a prospect before which the heart naturally quails; in order to “assure their hearts before Him,” the Thessalonian believers must increase and abound in love. “Love” is the one thing that “never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:18, and 1 Thessalonians 5:14 show that courage and joyous confidence in Christ were wanting in some members of this Church.
The words unblameable in holiness form, then, a secondary predicate of the sentence: “to the end He may establish your hearts, making them unblameable,” or “so as to be unblameable in holiness before our God,” &c. The clause appears to be proleptic, or anticipatory (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:8; Php 3:21). Similarly in ch. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the keeping of “spirit, soul and body” prayed for belongs to the present, but unblameably carries our thoughts at once to “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (see note). We take the Apostle’s thought, amplified, to be this: “May the Lord make you to abound in love … so that you may have the confidence and strength of heart in which abiding you will be found blameless in holiness before God at Christ’s coming.” This blamelessness will be manifest at the coming of the Judge; but it is imparted already, and belongs to those whose hearts are filled with love to their fellow-men, and so with confidence toward God (comp. again 1 John 4:16-17); in which confidence they anticipate the day when they shall be found “holy and without blemish before Him.” This assurance of heart resembles St Paul’s, expressed in 2 Corinthians 1:12 : “Our glorying is this, the testimony of our conscience that in holiness and sincerity of God we have behaved ourselves in the world.” Such confidence must always be guarded by strict self-scrutiny and absolute dependence upon Christ. It was encouragement, however, rather than caution that St Paul’s readers just now required (see 1 Thessalonians 3:2). This verse and the last set forth Christian perfection in its twofold aspect, as constituted at once by an unbounded love to men and a blameless consecration to God.
On “holiness” see notes to ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:7, also 1 Thessalonians 2:10.
This “blamelessness” of the Thessalonians will be approved before our God and Father, Who listens to the Apostle’s prayers and thanksgivings and witnesses his joy on their account (1 Thessalonians 3:9, ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3), and delights to see the good pleasure of His will accomplished in His children. He, the Trier of hearts (ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:4), permits them now through Christ, and will surely permit them hereafter to stand in His presence with hearts unafraid—in the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.
This is the goal of the Apostle’s prayers and labours for the Church (comp. ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12); and the aim of the hopes and strivings of the Thessalonian believers (ch. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5, &c.). He prays that they may be able with good right to look forward confidently toward that Day, trusting not to be “ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:3). On the title “Lord Jesus” see notes to 1 Thessalonians 3:11, and ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; and on “coming” (parousia), ch. 1 Thessalonians 2:19.
Observe that “the Lord” (Christ) is the Agent of all that is set forth in 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. Christ fills His people’s hearts with love and sanctifies them by His Spirit, so that at the last He may present them to the Father as His joy and crown. Then He will be “glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10-12).
His saints (or holy ones) are those, “unblameable in holiness,” whom Christ will acknowledge and associate with Himself at His coming. These last words have been shaping the Apostle’s prayer all along. To those who possess abundantly the spirit of love (1 Thessalonians 3:12) the hope is given of being found amongst the “holy ones,” approved by God, who will attend the Lord Jesus on His glorious return to earth. Christ will not then be solitary, but will have a vast retinue of “the saints,” visible in forms of splendour like His own (Php 3:20-21) and “with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). For this association of the returning Saviour and His saints, see further ch. 1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:17, and notes; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; and 2 Thessalonians 2:1, “The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him.”