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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

1 Thessalonians 3

Analysis Of The Chapter

This chapter 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13 is a continuation of the course of thought pursued in the previous chapter, and seems designed to meet the same state of feeling existing in Thessalonica, and the same objection which some there urged against the apostle. The objection seems to have been, that be had really no attachment for them, and no regard for their welfare; that he had fled from them on the slightest danger, and that when the danger was passed he had not returned, but had left them to bear their afflictions alone. It appears to have been inferred from his long absence, that he had no solicitude for their welfare, and had brought them into difficulties, to escape from which, or to bear which. he was now indisposed to render any assistance. It was important, therefore, for him to remind them of what he had actually done, and to state his real feelings toward them. He refers them, therefore, to the following things as proof of his interest in them, and his affection for them:

(1) He had sent Timothy to them at great personal inconvenience, when he could not go himself: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5.

(2) He had been greatly comforted by the report which Timothy had brought of their steadfastness in the faith; 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8. Every expression of their attachment to him had gone to his heart, and their faith and charity had been to him in his trials the source of unspeakable consolation. His very life depended, as it were, on their fidelity, and he says he should live and be happy if they stood fast in the Lord; 1 Thessalonians 3:8.

(3) He expresses again the earnest desire which he had to see them; says that it had been to him the subject of unceasing prayer night and day, and beseeches God again now that he would be pleased to direct his way to them; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-11.

(4) As a proof of affection, the chapter is closed with a fervent prayer that God would cause them to abound more and more in love, and would establish their hearts unblameable before him; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. The Thessalonians well knew the apostle Paul. They had had abundant proof of his love when he was with them; and if his enemies there had succeeded in any degree in causing their affection toward him to become cool, or to excite suspicions that he was not sincere, their love must have been rekindled, and their suspicions must have been entirely allayed by the expressions of attachment in this chapter. Language of warmer love, or of deeper interest in the welfare of others, it would not be possible to find anywhere.

Verse 1

Wherefore - See 1 Thessalonians 2:18. This particle (διὸ dio) is designed here to refer to another proof of his affection for them. One evidence had been referred to in his strong desire to visit them, which he had been unable to accomplish 1 Thessalonians 2:18, and he here refers to another - to wit, the fact that he had sent Timothy to them.

We could no longer forbear - That is, when I could not 1 Thessalonians 3:5, for there is every evidence that Paul refers to himself only though he uses the plural form of the word. There was no one with him at Athens after he had sent Timothy away Acts 17:15; Acts 18:5, and this shows that when, in 1 Thessalonians 2:6, he uses the term apostles in the plural number, he refers to himself only, and does not mean to give the name to Timothy and Silas. If this be so, Timothy and Silas are nowhere called “apostles” in the New Testament. The word rendered here “could forbear” (στέγοντες stegontes), means, properly, “to cover, to conceal;” and then to hide or conceal anger, impatience, weariness, etc.; that is, to hold out as to anything, to bear with, to endure. It is rendered suffer in 1 Corinthians 9:12; beareth, 1 Corinthians 13:7; and forbear, 1Th 3:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:5. It is not elsewhere used in the New Testament. It means that he could no longer bear up under, hide, or suppress his impatience in regard to them - his painful emotions - his wish to know of their state; and he therefore sent Timothy to them.

We thought it good - I was willing to suffer the inconvenience of parting with him in order to show my concern for you.

To be left at Athens alone - Paul had been conducted to Athens from Berea, where he remained until Silas and Timothy could come to him; Acts 17:15. It appears from the statement here that Timothy had joined him there, but such was his solicitude for the church at Thessalonica, that he very soon after sent him there, and chose to remain himself alone at Athens. Why he did not himself return to Thessalonica, is not stated. It is evidently implied here that it was a great personal inconvenience for him thus to part with Timothy, and to remain alone at Athens, and that he evinced the strong love which he had for the church at Thessalonica by being willing to submit to it. What that inconvenience consisted in, he has not stated, but it is not difficult to understand,

(1) He was among total strangers, and, when Timothy was gone, without an acquaintance or friend.

(2) The aid of Timothy was needed in order to prosecute the work which he contemplated. He had requested that Timothy should join him as soon as possible when he left Berea Acts 17:15, and he evidently felt it desirable that in preaching the gospel in that city he should have all the assistance he could obtain. Yet he was willing to forego those comforts and advantages in order to promote the edification of the church at Thessalonica.

Verse 2

And sent Timotheus - That is, evidently, he sent him from Athens - for this is the fair construction of the passage. But in the history Acts 17:0 there is no mention that Timothy came to Athens at all, and it may be asked how this statement is reconcilable with the record in the Acts ? It is mentioned there that “the brethren sent away Paul (from Berea) to go, as it were, to the sea: but Silas and Timotheus abode there still. And they that conducted Paul brought him to Athens;” Acts 17:14-15. The history further states, that after Paul had remained some time at Athens, he went to Corinth, where he was joined by Timothy and Silas, who came to him “from Macedonia;” Acts 18:5. But in order to reconcile the account in the Acts with the statement before us in the Epistle, it is necessary to suppose that Timothy had come to Athens. In reconciling these accounts, we may observe, that though the history does not expressly mention the arrival of Timothy at Athens, yet there are circumstances mentioned which render this extremely probable.

First, as soon as Paul reached Athens, he sent a message back to Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, and there is every probability that this request would be obeyed; Acts 17:15. Secondly, his stay at Athens was on purpose that they might join him there. “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred within him;” Acts 17:16. Thirdly, his departure from Athens does not appear to have been in any sort hastened or abrupt. He had an opportunity of seeing the city Acts 17:23; he disputed in the synagogue and in the market “daily” Acts 17:17; he held a controversy with the philosophers Acts 17:18-22; he made converts there Acts 17:24, and “after these things” he calmly went to Corinth. There was no tumult or excitement, and it is not suggested that he was driven away, as in other places, because his life was in danger. There was, therefore, ample time for Timothy to come to him there - for Paul was at liberty to remain as long as he pleased, and as he stayed there for the express purpose of having Timothy and Silas meet him, it is to be presumed that his wish was in this respect accomplished.

Fourthly, the sending back of Timothy to Macedonia, as mentioned in the Epistle, is a circumstance which will account for the fact mentioned in Acts 18:5, that Timothy came to him “at Corinth,” instead of at Athens. He had given directions for him to meet him at Athens Acts 17:15, but the history mentions only that he met him, after a long delay, at Corinth. This delay, and this change of place, when they rejoined each other for the purpose of laboring together, can only be accounted for by the supposition that Timothy had come to him at Athens, and had been immediately sent back to Macedonia, with instructions to join him again at Corinth. This is one of the “undesigned coincidences” between the history in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of Paul, of which Paley (Hor. Paul.) has made so good use in demonstrating the genuineness of both. “The epistle discloses a fact which is not preserved in the history; but which makes what is said in the history more significant, probable, and consistent. The history bears marks of an omission; the epistle furnishes a circumstance which supplies that omission.”

Our brother - See the notes at Colossians 1:1. The mention of his being a “brother” is designed to show his interest in the church there. He did not send one whose absence would be no inconvenience to him, or for whom he had no regard. He sent one who was as dear to him as a brother.

And minister of God - Another circumstance showing his affection for them. He did not send a layman, or one who could not be useful with him or to them, but he sent one fully qualified to preach to them, and to break to them the bread of life. One of the richest tokens of affection which can be shown to any people, is to send to them a faithful minister of God.

And our fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ - A third token of affectionate interest in their welfare. The meaning is, “I did not send one whom I did not want, or who could be of no use here, but one who was a fellow-laborer with me, and whose aid would have been of essential service to me. In parting with him, therefore, for your welfare I showed a strong attachment for you. I was willing to endure personal inconvenience, and additional toil, in order to promote your welfare.”

To establish you - To strengthen you; to make you firm - στηρίξαι stērixai This was to be done by presenting such considerations as would enable them to maintain their faith steadfastly in their trials.

And to comfort you concerning your faith - It is evident that they were suffering persecution on account of their faith in the Lord Jesus; that is, for their belief in him as a Saviour. The object of sending Timothy was to suggest such topics of consolation as would sustain them in their trials - that is, that he was the Son of God; that the people of God had been persecuted in all ages; that God was able to support them, etc.

Verse 3

That no man should be moved - The word rendered “moved” (σαίνω sainō) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means to wag, to move to and fro, as of dogs which wag their tails in fondness (Hom. Od. K. 216. AEl. A. N. 10:7. Ovid. 14:258); then to caress, to fawn upon, to flatter; then to move or waver in mind - as from fear; to dread, to tremble. See Passow and Wetstein. Here the sense is, to be so moved or agitated by fear, or by the terror of persecution, as to forsake their religion. The object of sending Timothy was, that they might not be thus moved, but that amidst all opposition they might adhere steadfastly to their religion.

These afflictions - See the notes at 1 Thessalonians 2:14.

For yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto - It is not quite certain whether by the word “we” here the apostle refers to himself; or to himself and the Thessalonians; or to Christians in general. On either supposition what he says is true, and either would meet the case. It would be most to the purpose, however, to suppose that he means to state the general idea that all Christians are exposed to persecution and could not hope to avoid it. It would then appear that the Thessalonians had partaken only of the common lot. Still there may have been a special reference to the fact that Paul and his fellow-laborers there were subjected to trials; and if this be the reference, then the idea is, that the Thessalonians should not be “moved” by their trials, for even their teachers were not exempt. Even their enemies could not say that the apostle and his co-workers were impostors, for they had persevered in preaching the gospel when they knew that these trials were coming upon them. The phrase, “we are appointed thereunto,” means that such was the divine arrangement. No one who professed Christianity could hope to be exempted from trial, for it was the common lot of all believers; compare 1 Corinthians 4:9 note; 2 Timothy 3:12 note.

Verse 4

For verily, when we were with you, we told you before ... - It is not mentioned in the history Acts 17:0 that Paul thus predicted that special trials would come upon them, but there is no improbability in what is here said. He was with them long enough to discourse to them on a great variety of topics, and nothing can be more probable, than that in their circumstances, the subjects of persecution and affliction would be prominent topics of discourse. There was every reason to apprehend that they would meet with opposition on account of their religion, and nothing was more natural than that Paul should endearour to prepare their minds for it beforehand,

That we should suffer tribulation - We who preached to you; perhaps also including those to whom they preached.

Even as it came to pass, and ye know - When Paul, Silas, and Timothy were driven away, and when the church was so much agitated, by the opposition of the Jews; Acts 17:5-8.

Verse 5

For this cause - Since I knew that you were so liable to be persecuted, and since I feared that some might be turned from the truth by this opposition.

When I could no longer forbear - See the notes at 1 Thessalonians 3:1.

I sent to know your faith - That is, your fidelity. or your steadfastness in the gospel.

Lest by some means - Either by allurements to apostasy, set before you by your former pagan friends; or by the arts of false teachers; or by the severity of suffering. Satan has many methods of seducing people from the truth, and Paul was fearful that by some of his arts he might be successful there.

The tempter - Satan; for though the Jews were the immediate actors in those transactions, yet the apostle regarded them as being under the direction of Satan, and as accomplishing his purposes. He was, therefore, the real author of the persecutions which had been excited. He is here called the “Tempter,” as he is often (compare Matt. iv.), and the truths taught are:

(1) That Satan is the great author of persecution; and,

(2) That in a time of persecution - or of trial of any kind - he endeavors to tempt people to swerve from the truth, and to abandon their religion. In persecution, people are tempted to apostatize from God, in order to avoid suffering. In afflictions of other kinds, Satan often tempts the sufferer to murmur and complain; to charge God with harshness, partiality, and severity, and to give vent to expressions that will show that religion has none of its boasted power to support the soul in the day of trial; compare Job 1:9-11. In all times of affliction, as well as in prosperity, we may be sure that “the Tempter” is not far off, and should be on our guard against his wiles.

And our labour be in vain - By your being turned from the faith; notes, Galatians 4:11.

Verse 6

But now when Timotheus came from you unto us - To Corinth, after he had been sent to Thessalonica; Acts 18:5; compare notes on 1 Thessalonians 3:2.

And brought us good tidings - A cheerful or favorable account. Greek “evangelizing;” that is, bringing good news.

Of your faith - Of your faithfulness or fidelity. Amidst all their trials they evinced fidelity to the Christian cause.

And charity - Love; notes, 1 Corinthians 13:1.

And that ye have good remembrance of us always - That is, probably, they showed their remembrance of Paul by obeying his precepts, and by cherishing an affectionate regard for him, notwithstanding all the efforts which had been made to alienate their affections from him.

Desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you - There was no disposition to blame him for having left them, or because he did not return to them. They would have welcomed him again as their teacher and friend. The meaning of this is, that there was between him and them a strong mutual attachment.

Verse 7

We were comforted over you - See the notes, 2Co 1:3-7; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7. The sense here is, that their steadfastness was a great source of comfort to him in his trials. It was an instance where the holy lives and the fidelity of a people did much, as will always be the case, to lighten the burdens and cheer the heart of a minister of the gospel. In the inevitable trials of the ministerial office there is no source of comfort more rich and pure than this.

Verse 8

For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord - This is equivalent to saying, “My life and comfort depend on your stability in the faith, and your correct Christian walk;” compare Martial 6:70. Non est vivere, sed valere, vita - “Life consists not merely in living, but in the enjoyment of health.” See also Seneca, Epis. 99, and Manilius, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, as quoted by Wetstein. The meaning here is, that Paul now enjoyed life; he had that which constituted real life, in the fact that they acted as became Christians, and so as to show that his labor among them had not been in vain. The same thing here affirmed is true of all faithful ministers of the gospel. They feel that they have something that may be called life, and that is worth living for, when those to whom they preach maintain a close walk with God.

Verse 9

For what thanks can we render to God again - That is, what expression of thanksgiving can we render to God that shall be an equivalent for the joy which your holy walk has furnished, or which will suitably express our gratitude for it.

Verse 10

Night and day - Constantly.

Praying exceedingly - Greek, abundantly; that is, there was much more than ordinary prayer. He made this a special subject of prayer; he urged it with earnestness, and without intermission; compare 1 Thessalonians 2:17.

And might perfect that which is lacking in your faith - Might render it complete, or fill up anything which is missing. The word used here (καταρτίσαι katartisai), means, properly, to make fully ready, to put full in order, to make complete; see the Romans 9:22 note; 2 Corinthians 13:9 note; Galatians 6:1 note. It is rendered mending, Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19; perfect and perfected, Matthew 21:19; Luk 6:40; 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; Heb 13:21; 1 Peter 5:10; fitted, Romans 9:22; perfectly joined together, 1 Corinthians 1:10; restore, Galatians 6:1; prepared, Hebrews 10:5; and framed, Hebrews 11:3. It is not elsewhere used in the New Testament. The meaning here is, that whatever was deficient in their views of religious doctrine the apostle desired to supply. It is to be remembered that he was with them but a comparatively short time before he was compelled to depart to Berea, and it is reasonable to suppose that there were many subjects on which he would be glad to have an opportunity to instruct them more fully.

Verse 11

Now God himself - This is evidently a prayer. He earnestly sought of God that he might be permitted to visit them, and that he would so prepare the way that he might do it.

And our Father - Even our Father. The reference is particularly to the “Father,” the First Person of the Trinity. It does not refer to the divine nature in general, or to God as such, but to God as the Father of the Lord Jesus. It is a distinct prayer offered to him that he would direct his way to them. It is right therefore to offer prayer to God as the First Person of the Trinity.

And our Lord Jesus Christ - This also is a prayer, as much as the former was, for it can be understood in no other way. What can be its meaning, unless the apostle believed that the Lord Jesus had power to direct his way to them, and that it was proper for him to express this wish to him; that is, to pray to him? If this be so, then it is right to pray to the Lord Jesus, or to worship him; see the John 20:28 note; Acts 1:24 note. Would Paul have prayed to an angel to direct his way to the church at Thessalonica?

Direct our way unto you - Margin, “guide.” The Greek word - κατευθύνω kateuthunō - means, to guide straight toward or upon anything. It is rendered “guide,” in Luke 1:79, and “direct” here and in 2 Thessalonians 3:5. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. The idea is that or conducting one straight to a place, and not by a round-about course. Here the petition is, that God would remove all obstacles so that he could come directly to them.

Verse 12

And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love - compare notes, 2 Corinthians 9:8. The word “Lord” here probably refers to the Lord Jesus, as this is the name by which he is commonly designated in the New Testament; see the notes on Acts 1:24. If this be so, then this is a petition to the Lord Jesus as the fountain of all grace and goodness.

Verse 13

To the end he may stablish your hearts - That is, “may the Lord cause you to increase in love 1 Thessalonians 3:12, in order that you may be established, and be without blame in the day of judgment.” The idea is, that if charity were diffused through their hearts, they would abound in every virtue, and would be at length found blameless.

Unblameable - See the 1 Thessalonians 1:10 note; Philippians 2:15; Philippians 3:6 notes; Hebrews 8:7 note; compare Luke 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The meaning is, so that there could be no “charge” or “accusation” against them.

In holiness - Not in outward conduct merely, or the observance of rites and forms of religion, but in purity of heart.

At the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ - To judge the world; notes, 1 Thessalonians 1:10. As we are to appear before him, we should so live that our Judge will find nothing in us to be blamed.

With all his saints - With all his “holy ones” - τῶν ἁγίων tōn hagiōn. The word includes his “angels,” who will come with him Matthew 25:31, and all the redeemed, who will then surround him. The idea is, that before that holy assemblage it is desirable that we should be prepared to appear blameless. We should be fitted to be welcomed to the “goodly fellowship” of the angels, and to be regarded as worthy to be numbered with the redeemed who” have washed their robes and have made them pure in the blood of the Lamb.” When we come to appear amidst that vast assemblage of holy beings, the honors of the world will appear to be small things; the wealth of the earth will appear worthless, and all the pleasures of this life beneath our notice. Happy will they be who are prepared for the solemnities of that day, and who shall have led such a life of holy love - of pure devotion to the Redeemer - of deadness to the world - and of zeal in the cause of pure religion of universal justice, fidelity, honesty, and truth, as to be without reproach, and to meet with the approbation of their Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 3". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.