Having established these great principles, the apostle, with an open and overflowing heart, appeals to his whole walk among them as a proof of his having walked in the same spirit as in their own case he was rejoicing in. It was not that he exhorted others, while availing himself of their affection, for his own advantage. It was not that he encouraged them to endure afflictions, without having courage himself to undergo the same. Ill-treated and insulted at Philippi, he was bold in God to renew his attacks on the kingdom of darkness at Thessalonica, and that with great energy. He had not used flattering words to win them; he had set the truth before them, as being himself the servant of God. He had worked with his own hands, that he might not be burdensome to them. All was before God in the light and by the energy of the Holy Ghost, and in a spirit of devotedness; even as he desired that they should walk as they knew he had walked among them, as holily, justly, and unblamably; as also he had exhorted them, with all affection and tenderness, to walk worthy of God, who had called them unto His own kingdom and glory.
We see again in this expression the close relationship of the Christian, in his individual character, with God. He has his portion in God's own kingdom and glory, and his conduct should become such a position. Here it is his own position in relationship with God, as before it was his relationship with God and the Lord Jesus.
The apostle then speaks of the means by which this world of new thoughts was acquired by the Christian. It was that God had spoken to reveal Himself and His counsels. God had committed the gospel to Paul (chap 2:4), and he had acted as being in the presence of God, and responsible to Him.
The Thessalonians also, on their part, had received the word, not as the word of Paul, but as the word of God Himself addressed to them by the mouth of Paul. It is interesting, as for us also a serious thought, to observe that (with regard to the manifestation of the power of God down here), although the work is of God, the fruit of His servants' labors answers to the character and depth of that labour itself Thus the bonds of grace are established, and communion; there is mutual understanding. The work manifests the workman. The labourer rejoices in that which his heart had desired for the souls that are the fruit of his labour; and these know how to appreciate the walk and the work of the labourer, acknowledging the power of grace in him who was the means of bringing them into this position; and the one and the others, knowing God, rejoice in the fellowship of His grace.
Paul was very largely with God in his own soul and in his work. The Thessalonians had in consequence received the word in the same power; and they with him, were thus in communion with God according to that power and that intimacy.
We see here, in passing, the Jews deprived of this relationship with God, the remnant of that people received, and suffering from the enmity of the mass. The elect from among the Gentiles awakened, on their part, the hostility of their fellow-countrymen by the testimony which they bore against the prince of this world in their christian walk, and by their confession of a heavenly Christ-a Christ whom the world had rejected.
The religion of the Jews had become pure jealousy of others. The pretension to the exclusive possession of religious privileges-very precious when they enjoyed it with God as a testimony of His favour-was nothing but a spring of hatred, when God in the fullness of His sovereign grace chose to bless others who had a right to nothing. By this exclusive pretension they denied the rights of God, who had formerly chosen them as a people; they denied His grace, according to which He acted towards sinners, and which would have been the source of better blessings for themselves. But meantime their refusal to come in had transferred the scene of our hopes and our joys from earth to heaven, where we know the Lord, and where He will remain until He comes to assert His claims over the earth. Before He asserts them, He will take us to Himself.
Meanwhile the word of God is the source of our confidence-the revelation of glory, of truth, and of love. It is mighty in them that believe. The Jews are set aside. By their opposition to grace towards the Gentiles, they had taken the position of enmity against God in grace, and wrath was come upon them to the uttermost. It was not yet executed; but they had put themselves in this position. It was not only that they had broken the law, they had already killed their prophets who were sent to them in grace; they had already slain the Christ, Jesus the Lord. Sovereign grace alone could bring in a remedy. This they resisted; because, according to that grace, God was good to the Gentiles, and granted to them, at the same time as to themselves, better privileges than those which they had forfeited. Wrath therefore was finally come upon them as a nation. Christians were now in the enjoyment of better privileges in place of the Jews.
It is not here the moment for explaining the future dealings of God with the remnant of that people. The apostle speaks here of the people, in order to shew that the only ones in relation with God were Christians-those who had received the word. It was the reception of the word by faith, and nothing else, which brought souls really into relationship with God. Hereditary privileges were found to be, in their nature, opposition to grace and sovereignty, and thus to the character and rights of God Himself; for God is sovereign, and God is love.
The word reveals grace; it is obeyed by believing it. And, brought into relationship with God, the Christian walks in His communion and in His ways, and waits for the Son, in whom He has revealed Himself to men. This is the fruit of that which the Christian has received through believing-an efficacious principle of life, and a light from God for the way.
The apostle blessed God that it was thus with the Thessalonians; and, having made this point clear, he returns to the joy of his communion with them in the positive blessing which the revelation of God in their hearts by the word had brought them, He would gladly have seen them to enjoy this communion in intercourse with them face to face; but as long as it was by the word only that the knowledge of God was obtained--in a word by faith-as long as the Lord was absent, another result flowed from this fact; namely, that these joys were mingled with conflict-conflict however, which, although to the eye of man interrupting enjoyment, made it more sweet, more real, preserved its heavenly character, and made the Lord Himself, from whom they could not be separated, the center,m the common point in which hearts were united, with the consciousness that they were in the wilderness, and that they were awaiting a scene and a time in which evil and the enemy's power would no longer be, but where Christ would be all. Joyful hope, holy happiness, powerful link of the heart to Christ! When He shall be all, our joy will be complete, and all saints will possess it. Paul wished to have seen them again, and had so even twice, but Satan hindered it. The time should come when he would fully enjoy both them and his labour among them, by seeing them in full possession of glory at the coming of Christ.
In the apostle himself, when at Thessalonica, christian life was fully developed in love and in holiness. He had been among them in tenderness, as a mother cherishes her children; ready to impart not only the gospel to them but even his own life, so dear were they to him. He had been at the same time holy and without blame in all his conduct. What energy of life and love springing up by the power of God, regardless of all the consequences save the blessing of the elect and the glory of God! This is true christian life. The heart, not filled with questionings through unbelief but strong in faith, counts on God in order to serve God. Thus love is free, beside oneself for God, prudent and full of consideration only for the good of others. And what bonds this creates! Persecution only hastens the work by compelling to go elsewhere, when perhaps the labourer would be tempted to enjoy the fruits of his labour in the society of those who had been blessed through him. (Compare chap. 2:2) Though absent, the apostle's heart was still bound to them; he remembered his beloved ones; he prayed for them; he blessed God for the grace bestowed on them; assuring himself with joy, when he thought of it, of their portion in glory as the elect of God. (Chap 1:3,4; 2:13)
The bond remained firm; and, the way to present enjoyment of personal communion being obstructed by the devices of Satan (by permission of God), his heart rose higher, and sought the full satisfaction of the want produced in it by love, in the moment when a Christ present in His power should have removed all obstacles and accomplished the purposes of God with respect to the saints; when His love should have borne all its precious fruits in them; and when Paul and his dear children in the faith should enjoy together all that grace and the power of the Spirit should have wrought in them. Unable for the moment to satisfy the desires of his heart by seeing them, it was to that hour that Paul looked. And observe that, if he does so, it is because his heart was already filled with it for himself. The power of the Spirit, acting in accordance with the truth, always leads the heart to that hour. It impels the heart to labour in love in the midst of this world, causes thus the opposition of the darkness of this world to the light (whether on the part of man or of the prince of darkness) to be realised, and makes us always feel the need of that day of light, when evil shall no longer be present to hinder the happiness of the new man in his enjoyment of that which is good, in his communion with those dear to God, and above all, in the enjoyment of the presence of his glorified Saviour, who has loved him, and who (for the exercise of his faith) is at present hidden from him.
It is He who is the source and object of all these affections, who sustains and nourishes them, who attracts them ever to Himself by His perfections and by His love, and, in the sorrows of the christian life, carries the heart onward thus to the day of our being with Himself, to the day of His coming, when the heart will be free to occupy itself with all that binds us to Him without interruption. This thought of His presence has the mastery, when the heart is fresh in the divine joy of redemption. We find this here. We are converted to wait for Him (chap 1); we shall enjoy the communion of saints, and the fruit of our labors when He returns (chap 2); that day gives its force and its measure to our thoughts respecting holiness (chap 3); it destroys the anguish of heart which would otherwise accompany the death of the saints (chap 4); it is for that day we are kept. (chap 5) The coming of the Lord, the presence of Jesus, fills therefore the believer's heart, when life is springing up in its freshness-fills it with a joyous hope, the fulfillment of which shines bright before our eyes, there where all our desires will be accomplished.
To return to the end of chapter 2, the link which Satan sought to break by interrupting its enjoyment was but the rather strengthened by bring connected with the coming of the Lord. The current of the Spirit, against which he had been allowed to set up this dike, though turned from its natural bed, could not be stopped, for its waters ever flow; they gushed out in waves that enriched all around them, taking their course towards that sea which contained the fullness of those waters and fed the source from which they sprang.
It should be observed here, that the special fruits of our labors are not lost; they are found again at the coming of Christ. Our chief personal joy is to see the Lord Himself and to be like Him. This is the portion of all saints; but there are particular fruits in connection with the work of the Spirit in us and by us. At Thessalonica the spiritual energy of the apostle had brought a number of souls to God and to wait for Jesus, and into a close union in the truth with Himself. This energy would be crowned at the coming of Christ by the presence of these believers in the glory as the fruit of his labors. God would thus crown the apostle's work by bearing a striking testimony to its faithfulness in the presence of all these saints in glory; and the love which had wrought in Paul's heart would be satisfied by seeing its object in glory and in the presence of Jesus. They would be his glory and joy. This thought drew yet closer the bonds that united them, and comforted the apostle in the midst of his toils and sufferings.