Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone;III. AFFLICTIONS AND COMFORT
His longing for the beloved Thessalonians and his solicitude for them became so great that he could no longer forbear and he decided to be left alone in Athens and send Timotheus to Thessalonica. He knew they had great afflictions and that there was danger that they might not endure and then his labors among them would have been in vain. He therefore sent Timotheus whom he calls “our brother, minister of God and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ.” The purpose of his mission was to establish the believers still more and to bring them comfort concerning their faith. This would result, under the blessing of God, in their steadfastness. “That no man should be moved by these afflictions, for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto”--it is the lot of all true believers. In fact he had forewarned them of all this when he was in their midst. “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation, even as it came to pass, and ye knew. This was part of the apostolic message, as we learn from Acts 14:22. “Confirming 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 .”
Tribulations had now come upon the Thessalonians and they were severely tested. He knew they were in the Lord’s hands, that His watchful eye was upon them and that His power was sufficient to keep them. Yet he had deep concern and anxiety for them, for he also knew Satan’s power. “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.” The day of Christ, when the servant receives the reward and the saints are “the crown of glorying” is in his thoughts. If the tempter succeeded he would not have that crown of glorying in the presence of the Lord. (See 1John 2:28. “And now little children, abide in Him: that when He shall appear, we [the laborers) may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.”) While Timotheus was away Paul left Athens from where he had sent him to visit Thessalonica. Paul went to Corinth ; it was there he received the good tidings from Thessalonica, and, as we state in the introduction, after Timotheus’ return he wrote this Epistle (Acts 18:5).
“But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought good tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you.” It was good tidings Timotheus brought to Paul. They were standing fast in faith; they continued in love, nor had they forgotten Paul. Their hearts longed for him as his own soul desired to see them. In the midst of tribulations which had come upon them they were blessedly sustained.
And how all this cheered the apostle. He is comforted. “Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith; for now we live if ye stand fast in the Lord.” He had also his sorrows, his afflictions and much distress. But the good tidings from the Thessalonians refreshed his spirit and filled him with new energy. As a servant of God he is so fully identified with those for whom he labored and whom he loved that he could say, “for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.” He feels as if he could not render sufficient thanks to God for them and for all the joy wherewith he now rejoiced, on their account before God. He also prayed night and day exceedingly that he might see their face and help them still more, so that which was lacking in their faith might be perfected. Then, knowing himself dependent upon God and the Lord Jesus Christ, He looks to direct his way to them.
“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 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” (J.N. Darby).
We must not overlook the testimony to the deity of our Lord of the eleventh verse. “Now God and our Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you!” The verb “direct” in the Greek is in the singular. God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are in the thought of the apostle one, though, personally, clearly distinguished. It is a striking proof of the unity of the Father and Son.
He prayed “the Lord make you to increase and abound in love, one toward another and toward all, even as we also towards you.” Love is the bond of perfectness and as such the true means of holiness “in order to establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” This is the third time the coming of our Lord is mentioned by Paul in this Epistle. First he spoke of waiting for His Son from heaven as the characteristic of a true believer (1Thessalonians 1:9-10); then we read of the gatherings of the saints in the presence of the Lord, the time of glory and joy, when the faithful servant will receive the reward (1Thessalonians 2:19-20), and now another phase is added. The Lord is coming with all His saints; it is now not the coming for His saints, but with them, in the day of His manifestation as well as the manifestation of all the saints with Him. It is the same of which we read in Colossians 3:4, “When Christ is manifested who is our life then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory.” He also speaks of this in his second Epistle: “When He shall come to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all that have believed (for our testimony unto you has been believed) in that day” (2Thessalonians 1:10). In view of this coming manifestation in glory the Holy Spirit urges a walk in practical holiness, so as to be unblamable in holiness before our God and Father. It is an incentive to holy living.
“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, 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 for ever with Him. It will be the day of their manifestation as of His.”