Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Turning now, and as it were, with a sense of relief from warnings against impurity and covetousness, but still keeping in view the aim of his whole exhortation, viz., "the will of God, even your sanctification," the Apostle resumes the subject of brotherly love. The cultivation of the Christian graces is the best safeguard against any relapse on the part of believers into the besetting sins of the Gentile world. It is here said that the Thessalonian Christians abounded in the grace of love. It was their crown of glory.
I. Their love had a wide sphere for its activity. All their brother Christians throughout the whole of Macedonia had been revived and comforted by it. Paul learned this, doubtless, from Timothy's report. But what form did this brotherly intercourse assume? Possibly the circulation of Luke's Gospel, in whole or in part, to which honourable work Thessalonica appears to have been directly called. But this brotherly love also manifested itself in pecuniary assistance rendered to those who were in want. The hearts of many brethren in Macedonia were blessing their benevolence.
II. None the less, Paul wrote to them, "But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more." Their brotherly love was to show its life in continuous growth. There can be no halting-point in this, or in any other Christian grace.
III. Idleness is a foe to all growth in grace. Spenser speaks of "sluggish idleness, the nurse of sinne." It is the very cancer of the soul. Activity, on the other hand, if it be in the line of duty, even means progress. God helps the worker, and looks after him. The Christian must be ever ready to assist others, but he must never be ready unnecessarily to be assisted by others. Others' needs he must recognise as his own special burden, but his own special burden he is not to be eager to put on others.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 150.
1 Thessalonians 4:10Christian Growth.
I. In what are we to increase? There is little or no advantage in the increase of some things. It but increases our danger, and, adding to our cares, lays weightier burdens on the back of life. More riches will certainly not make us happier; and perhaps, paradoxical as it may sound, they may not even make us richer. Nor is the increase even of wisdom, though a higher and nobler pursuit, without its own drawbacks. It is harder to work with the brain than with the hands; to hammer out thoughts than iron. It is not increase of these things at which the text calls us to aim; but of such riches as makes it less difficult, and more easy, to get to heaven; of the wisdom that humbles rather than puffs up its possessor. It is the increase of those spiritual endowments which are catalogued by St. Paul as being the fruits of the Spirit.
II. How are we to increase in these? (1) We are to increase equally. All our graces are to be cultivated to the neglect of none of them. If one side of a tree grows, and the other does not, the tree acquires a crooked form, is a misshapen thing. Analogous in its results to this is the unequal growth of Christian graces. The finest specimen of a Christian is he, in whom all the graces, like the strings of an angel's harp, are in most perfect harmony. (2) We are to increase constantly. Slow and silent growth is a thing which you can neither see nor hear; while the higher a believer rises, his ascent becomes not more difficult, but more easy, he never reaches a point where progress ceases. Begun on earth, it is continued in heaven; the field that lies before us, stretching beyond the grave, and above the stars, illimitable as space, and endless as eternity. (3) We are to make efforts to grow. While all our hopes of salvation centre in the cross of Christ, and all our hopes of progress hang on the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, let us exert ourselves to the utmost, reaching forth to higher attainments, and aiming at daily increase in every holy and Christian habit.
T. Guthrie, The Way to Life, p. 264.
1 Thessalonians 4:10-11I. In what forms must we labour to advance Christ's Kingdom? In age after age the saints of God have possessed their souls in joy and patience, not gadding about as busy-bodies or other people's bishops, but doing quietly their humble duty, and spending peacefully their holy lives. It has never, in any age, been possible for God's servants to look round them without sorrow. Is there any consolation under this state of things? There is this consolation, that in spite of ourselves, and in spite of our traditional theology, we are driven to trust and hope in God, that He did make the world, and He who made it will guide. Man must do his duty, but man cannot do the work of Providence, and therefore he must wait in quietness and hope. When Saint Francis of Assisi was troubled and disquieted about the great Order which he had founded, and into which the elements of evil began early to intrude, he dreamed that God came to him in a vision of the night, and said, "Poor little man, why dost thou trouble thyself? Thinkest thou not that I am able, if I will it, to protect and keep thy Order?"
II. Let us, then, as our help against morbid anxiety, leading, as it so often does, to spurious excitement, let us remember always that the world is in God's hands, not in the devil's, and not at all in ours; and further, that things may not be so bad as they seem to us. If you ask me what you are to do, I answer, Join in any part of Christ's work, so wide, so blessed, so truly humble. Choose it wisely; join in it heartily; let there be no single life among you which is a life of mere easy self-indulgence, but let every life be consciously dedicated to the service of others, and ready to make sacrifices for their good. Keep your own consciences free from the stain of shame of having added to the world's guilt and misery by the greed of your selfishness, by the baseness of your passions, or by the bitterness of your hate. Show thus actively and passively that you fear God, and love your brother-man, and you may be doing infinitely more, and infinitely more blessed and permanent work for Christ than if you took on yourself to teach, it may be, before you have ever learned, or with loud prolamations of your own conversion set up yourself as a blind leader of the blind. Remember that the vast majority of Christians are simply called to do their duty in the state of life to which God has called them.
F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 33.
References: 1 Thessalonians 4:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:11.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, No. 13. 1 Thessalonians 4:11.—A. Craig, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 330; W. Dorling, Ibid., vol. viii., p. 120. 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:12.—W. Braden, Ibid., vol. ix., p. 33; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. viii., p. 99. 1 Thessalonians 4:13.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 275; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 232.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14The Sleep of the Faithful Departed.
St. Paul, in the text, speaks of the saints unseen as of those that "sleep in Jesus"; and Christians are wont to call their burial-grounds cemeteries or sleeping-places, where they laid up their beloved ones to sleep on and take their rest. Let us therefore see why we should thus speak of those whom we call the dead.
I. First, it is because we know that they shall wake up again. What sleep is to waking, death is to the resurrection. It is only a prelude, a transitory state ushering in a mightier power of life; therefore death is called sleep, to show that it has a fixed end coming. It is a kindly, soothing rest to the wearied and world-worn spirit: and there is a fixed end to its duration. There is a waking nigh at hand, so that the grave is little more than the longest night's sleep in the life of an undying soul.
II. Again, death is changed to sleep, 'because they whom men call dead do really live unto God. When the coil of this body is loosed death has done all, and his power is spent; thenceforth and for ever the sleeping soul lives mightily unto God.
III. And once more, those whom the world calls dead are sleeping, because they are taking their rest. Their rest is not the rest of a stone, cold and lifeless, but of wearied humanity. They "sleep in Jesus." Theirs is a bliss only less perfect than the glory of His kingdom when the new creation shall be accomplished. Consider a few thoughts which follow from what has been said. (1) We ought to mourn rather for the living than for the dead. The passing of the soul is awful even to the saints. Wherefore let no man weep for the dead; that awful change for them is over. They have fulfilled their task, ours tarrieth. (2) It is life, rather than death, that we ought to fear. For life and all it contains—thought and speech and deed and will—is a deeper and more awful mystery. Let us fear life and we shall not be afraid to die; for in the new creation of God death walks harmless.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. i., p. 308.
References: 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 4:14.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 278; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. ii., p. 390.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-15The Apostle now turns to speak of Christian hope. It is a transition to a new and all-important theme—the hope of the Christian in regard to the saints at the second coming of their Lord. The coming of the glorified Saviour is, as it were, the red thread running through the whole tissue of these two epistles. It is more or less prominent in all its parts, giving the whole its colouring and plan.
I. The Gospel has revealed to man the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the re-union in Heaven of long-divided hearts. The Apostle thus exhorts believers to cherish feelings in regard to departed friends of a far different kind from those which took gloomy possession of heathen breasts. Christ's people are "as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing." The eye of their faith can see the bright light in the cloud of even the heaviest earthly trial. They do not refuse to shed tears, but they also do not refuse to dry them at their Saviour's bidding.
II. The Apostle gives one reason why Christian sorrow in presence of death is to be different from that of the others. It lies in the threefold repetition in this passage of the word "asleep," as applied to the Christian dead, a figure possibly suggested here by our Lord's own parable of the ten virgins, the imagery in both passages being the same. It was generally thought among the Thessalonian Christians that at the Lord's second and glorious coming, the departed saints—the resurrection not having then taken place—would not have a share in the peculiar joys of meeting with Him, and greeting Him on His return to earth. That joy, they thought, would only be shared in by the living. The Apostle bids them not be sunk in sorrow about their absent friends. If these had been among those on earth who had clung through reproach to the crucified One, they would assuredly not be torn from His fellowship when He came in glory. They are not severed from their Lord now; they cannot be severed from Him when He comes again.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 163.
Reference: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 273.
1 Thessalonians 4:14The Intermediate State.
I. Where are the saints? and what are they doing? And the Spirit answers, they "sleep in Jesus." Now you must not for a moment understand this expression as though it meant that the spirits of the sainted dead are passing the interval, till the resurrection, in a state of unconsciousness or inactivity. The idea is utterly abhorrent alike to feeling, to reason, and to Scripture. For we can conceive no idea of soul but in the motion of thought and feeling. A soul without consciousness is a contradiction in terms. Even here thought never ceases; nor is it possible that God would have been at such amazing pains to make and remake a being for His glory and then consign that being for thousands, it may be, of years, to a condition in which he cannot glorify Him. And St. Paul himself speaks conclusively, at the beginning of his Epistle to the Philippians, when he compares and balances those two things—to remain for the Church's sake, or to die and be with Christ. Now it would be no question of balance at all if he did not expect assuredly to be consciously happy with Christ; for then to remain and serve the Church, would it not be unquestionably better than to be passing that same period in a useless and joyless suspension of all life and power?
II. Let us follow, if we may catch a glimpse of, the untrammelled spirit. The word of God is distinct that it is passed into Paradise—"To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise"—by which we are to understand, not heaven—Elijah only of all the saints is said to have gone to heaven, and that, it may be, because his spirit was never separated from his body—but we are to understand some happy place (the word means garden, and associates itself therefore in the mind with the first Eden) where the separate spirits of the just are with Jesus, awaiting His second coming and their bodies, after which they are to enter into that final and perfect glory, which we call heaven. For neither they without us, nor we without them, shall be made perfect; but all the people of God, of every age, will go into heaven together. Till then, we are instructed to believe that the souls of the faithful "sleep in Jesus"—the word may mean with Jesus, or more strictly, through Jesus—in Paradise.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 55.
References: 1 Thessalonians 4:14.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 472; Ibid., vol. xxii., p. 308; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 213; Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 181. 1 Thessalonians 4:16.—J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, vol. vi., p. 106.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-18The Apostle draws aside yet more the curtain of futurity. He increases and confirms the comfort which "by the word of the Lord" he offers to believers, by revealing additional truth about the resurrection day. "For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout." There are three accompaniments of His coming. (1) A shout, an authoritative shout, one that indicates command. "Behold the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet Him." Here we have the very command which, once uttered, must be obeyed: the command which not only musters the retinue of angels and glorified saints, but also summons all men, of every age and race, to meet their God. (2) "The voice of the archangel." Angels have been ready and will be again. Christ's ministering spirits. In regard to the voice of the archangel here, Scripture gives us no hint. It may be the shout of command caught up by him from the lips of the Lord Himself and repeated to the gathering hosts. (3) "The trump of God." Under the old dispensation there is special prominence assigned to the trumpet as an instrument consecrated to religious uses. The last trump will call together the rejoicing saints into the heavenly Sion. It will be a signal of weal or woe, according to the character of those who hear. It is worth while appending Bishop Alexander's note on 1 Thessalonians 4:16 :—"Of all the solemn associations connected with the verse, few can surpass the following, recorded in many of the foreign papers of the day: At the earthquake of Manilla, the cathedral fell upon the clergy and congregation. The mass of ruin overhead and around the doomed assemblage was kept for a time from crushing down upon them by some peculiarity of construction. Those outside were able to hear what was going on in the church, without the slightest possibility of clearing away the ruins or of aiding those within, upon whom the building must evidently fall before long. A low, deep bass voice, doubtless that of the priest officiating, was heard uttering the words, 'Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.' As this sentence came forth the multitude burst into a passion of tears, which was soon choked. For some deep groans issued from within, apparently wrung from the speaker by intense pain, and then the same voice spoke again in a calm and even tone, as if addressing a congregation, and all heard the words, 'The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.'" An incident of this kind shows us how, in every age of the Church's history, and in circumstances of the most awful extremity, the comfort which the Apostle offers to the Thessalonians has in no way lost its power.
J. Hutchison, Lectures on Thessalonians, p. 176.
References: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 260. 1 Thessalonians 4:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1374; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 345; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 364; Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 94.
1 Thessalonians 4:18Personal Identity in the Resurrection.
I. The context states the identity of the saint after the resurrection and before it. We shall be the same persons hereafter that we are here. It is a very true and simple thing to say, and yet if we think of it, it includes a truth that throws a wonderful light on the future state of the saint, and answers many of the questions which a devout curiosity naturally asks concerning the future. The identity of the saint here and hereafter, as one and the same person, is involved in the phrase that we shall be raised again. We, not other beings in our name and place, but we, in our actual personal identity, shall be raised to life again at the last day. (1) Our bodies will be the same. I do not say materially the same, and that the very identical atoms which compose our frame of flesh now will compose our frame then. For we are told that these are always changing, and are never quite the same two hours together. (2) Our mental and moral selves will be the same. Whatever is part of our being will survive in a higher state. We shall be ourselves still. We shall be ever with the Lord.
II. From this follows, I think, without a doubt, the truth of mutual recognition and of society in the better world. Sociability is of God, and will be, I believe, a new channel through which we shall enjoy Him. It is our sinfulness, and our sinfulness alone, that ever sets our love to each other, and our love to God in opposition. They will be harmonised in heaven, when both the body and the soul will be pervaded, penetrated with God, and every feeling, every affection, every thought, will be a new revelation of His glory. The Apostle does not say, I shall be ever with the Lord, or you, singly and individually, but we. He is writing to converts, for whom he expresses the tenderest affection, and to whom he says, "Ye are our glory and joy"; and can the idea of their society have possibly been absent from his mind, when he wrote the words, "we shall be ever with the Lord"?
E. Garbett, Experiences of the Inner Life, p. 288.
References: 1 Thessalonians 4:18.—G. Prothero, Church of England Pulpit, vol. i., p. 249. 1 Thessalonians 5:1.—F. W. Farrar, Ibid., vol. xiv., p. 85.
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:
That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:
That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.
For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words.