RPM, Volume 14, Number 26, June 24 to June 30, 2012

Gleanings from Paul on Prayer


By   A.W. Pink    

25. Prayer for Brotherly Love

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13


  "Now God Himself and [even] our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all . . . [saints], even as we do toward you: 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." There are five things which call for our consideration in connection with this prayer. First, its setting: it is necessary to ponder what is said in the foregoing verses in order to appreciate the request in verse 11. Second, its intensity, intimated in the phrase "night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face" (1 Thess. 1:10). Third, its objects: God the Father and His Son in His mediatorial character (1 Thess. 1:11). Fourth, its petitions, which are two in number (1 Thess. 1:11-12). Fifth, its design: that their hearts might be established "unblameable in holiness before God" (1 Thess. 1:13). May the Holy Spirit act as our Guide while we endeavor to fill in that outline.

At an early date in his ministerial labors Paul, accompanied by Silas and the youthful Timothy, visited Thessalonica (now called Salonika). Originally he had purposed to preach the gospel in Asia, but had been forbidden by the Spirit; then he sought to enter Bithynia, but again the Spirit of God checked him (Acts 16:6). Arriving at Troas the divine will was made known to the apostle by means of a vision in the night, wherein there appeared to him "a man from Macedonia" who besought him, "Come over into Macedonia and help us" (Acts 16:9). First, Paul and his companion made a very brief stay at Philippi where they were made a blessing to Lydia and her household. The enemy stirred up fierce opposition, which resulted in the beating of Paul and Silas and their being cast into prison; only for God to intervene by a miracle of grace, which eventuated in their release. From Philippi they came to Thessalonica where there was a synagogue of the Jews, which Paul entered and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures. Yet from a comparison of 1 Thessalonians 1:9 with Acts 17:1-10 it seems clear that the majority of those saved during this short sojourn in that city were Gentiles.

The Opposition of the Enemy

The enmity of the serpent was manifested at Thessalonica almost as bitterly as at Philippi, so that after a short stay there the brethren "sent away Paul and Silas by night" (Acts 17:10). Nevertheless, brief as had been their visit, the Seed had been sown, the blessing of God had rested upon the preached Word, and an effectual testimony had been raised up to the glory of His great name. So much so that His servant declared to that infant church, "Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. From you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad" (1 Thess. 1:7-8). What a grief it must have been to leave these young and unestablished converts, and how deeply Paul yearned to be with them again, appears in his statement "But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us" (1 Thess. 2:17-18).

Paul was no stoical fatalist who might reason that there was not any need for him to be concerned about the spiritual welfare of those babes in Christ, that since God had begun a good work in them He would assuredly carry it forward to completion. No, far from it. He was fearful that they might be stumbled at the opposition and be dismayed by the flight of His ambassador. Paul was uncertain whether their young faith could withstand such rude shocks. Therefore he sent one of his companions to inquire of their condition and to help them. "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" (1 Thess. 3:5). Let our readers carefully ponder these words of the apostle and honestly ask themselves the meaning of this statement.

It is blessed to behold how God sets a balance to the trials and comforts of His people. The apostle was sorely exercised over the situation of those young believers, when God graciously afforded his heart relief. "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; therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith" (1 Thess. 3:6-7). How graciously God times His mercies! The good news brought by Timothy was just the cordial which the burdened soul of Paul now needed. But note the order in which he mentions the two things in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. He does not place first their kindly remembrance of himself and their longing to see him again. No, rather he gives precedence to the favorable report supplied of their "faith and love"—that was for him the grand and principal item in the "glad tidings" of his messenger! How characteristic of this self-effacing herald of Christ! Those words, "your faith and love," were a brief but comprehensive expression of their spiritual case: if those graces were in healthy exercise, Paul knew there could be nothing seriously wrong with them.

Paul’s Tender Affection for the Thessalonian Saints

"For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God?" (1 Thess. 3:8-9). How those words reveal again the spirit of the apostle! No mother’s heart beats with more tender affection for her offspring than does that of the genuine evangelist or pastor for his own children in the faith. His delight lies in their spiritual progress: "my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown" (Phil. 4:1). Paul regarded his converts thus. Said another of the apostles, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth" (3 John 4). Contrariwise, no mother suffers severer pangs of grief over the illness of her children or their waywardness when they have grown up than does a true servant of God as he witnesses the backsliding or apostasy of those who made a credible profession of faith under his ministry. So much then for the setting of our present passage, or the occasion of this prayer.

"Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith" (1 Thess. 3:10). The young Thessalonian Christians "desiring greatly to see" Paul and his party (1 Thess. 3:6) found an answering response in the hearts of Paul and his companions. The language which Paul here used indicates the intensity of his desire and the earnestness of his supplication. His praying was not cold and mechanical but earnest and persistent. The word here rendered "praying" means "beseeching," being the one employed in connection with the leper who, in his dire need and deep longing, "besought" the Lord to heal him (Luke 5:12). It is not the perfunctory nor the flowery petition which brings down answers from above but "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man" which "availeth much." Some are more occupied with their eloquence and the correctness of their grammar than they are with the frame of their spirit and the state of their heart—at which God ever looks. When the soul truly longs for a certain favor from God, the sincerity and intensity of that longing will be evinced not only by earnest crying unto Him but by importunity—asking, seeking, knocking "night and day" until the request is granted.

Real Prayer a Striving with God

Why are so much exertion and pains called for, seeing that God is fully acquainted with all our need and has promised to supply the same? First and foremost, for the exercise of our graces. God is pleased to try our faith and patience, for nothing more honors and pleases Him than to behold His people continuing to supplicate for that which He appears to deny them, as in the case of the Syrophenician woman (Matthew 15:28). Real praying is no child’s play. Ponder that exhortation of the apostle’s to the Roman saints: "Strive together with me in your prayers" (Rom. 15:30). This word is taken from the gymnastic contests, in which the combatants put forth their utmost strength. If we are to prevail with God, then we have to put forth all that is within us: we must stir up ourselves (Isa. 64:7) to lay hold of God. Again, this is recorded of Epaphras on behalf of the Colossians: "Always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Col. 4:12). Such praying cost Epaphras something! Yes, and such praying resulted in something!

Our Praying Sadly Defective

Is it not at this very point that our praying is so sadly defective? It is too mechanical and formal. Spiritual ardor, soul-exertion, reality are absent. Does someone reply, but it is not my prerogative to exercise faith or to supplicate acceptably and effectually when I will! I have no spiritual power of my own. We sometimes wonder what is meant by such language, and fear that in most cases it proceeds from a serious error, or else it is an idle excuse behind which dilatory souls seek to shelter. It is quite wrong for the Christian to suppose that he has less spiritual ability and strength than he has natural. The fact is that man, be he regenerate or unregenerate, is a dependent creature, wholly dependent upon his Maker for every breath he draws, every thought he thinks, every act he performs, spiritual or natural, for "in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Man may pride himself in his self-sufficiency, boast of his free-will, and imagine he is lord of himself, but he only deceives himself and denies his creaturehood in so doing.

When Pilate vaunted himself to Christ, asking, "Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" He answered, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:10-11). Roman official though he was, and invested with Caesar’s authority, yet Pilate was utterly impotent, with no more inherent and self-sufficient power to perform a natural act than a lump of inanimate clay until God should vouchsafe it unto him. The clear teaching of Holy Writ is that man has not a particle more of natural power in and of himself than he has spiritual power. "But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God [thy relation to Him, and thy complete dependency upon Him]: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:18), i.e., who supplies thee with health, strength, and wisdom to perform natural acts, and who alone determines the measure of thy success therein. "For she did not know [nevertheless it was a fact!] that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, . . . [yes, even when] they prepared [the same] for Baal" (Hos. 2:8).

What effect does such a belief have upon you? What fruit does it produce in your daily life? Does it merely result in Muhammadan apathy and fatalistic inertia, or does it cast you back upon God so that you seek His enabling for everything? Scripture not only reveals the dependency of the creature upon its Maker, his inherent helplessness, but it also teaches that man is a responsible creature, a rational and moral agent, accountable to God for all his thoughts, words, and deeds. Do you "believe" that too? If not, your creed is sadly defective. You are responsible to glorify your Maker, to be subject to His authority, to do those things which are pleasing in His sight. But, you reply, I am unable to do so. True, and you are equally unable to dig your garden unless God grants you strength, or to attend to your financial matters unless He gives you wisdom. Do you therefore lie in bed and do nothing? The only difference between our power and powerlessness to perform natural and spiritual acts is this, that our hearts are averse to the latter. The natural man hates God, and the things of the Spirit are foolishness to him. He loves material things, and therefore he pursues them eagerly.

"Ye Have Not Because Ye Ask Not"

Let us bring this matter down to a very simple and practical level. Here is a housewife who desires to make a cake. Suppose, for the sake of our illustration, that God has in His grace enabled her to purchase all the necessary ingredients. In such a case if she does not use the wisdom God has given her to perform her task successfully, if she does not concentrate her mind on what she is engaged in, if she becomes careless in following the recipe and the cake is a failure, whose fault is it? God has endowed you with reason, given you His Spirit, and His Word to instruct you, and bidden you to call upon Him for the supply of every temporal and spiritual need. Who is to blame if you do not appropriate and wisely use these mercies? Without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), yet strengthened by Him we "can do all things" (Phil. 4:13). It is therefore an idle excuse, a piece of wicked hypocrisy, if we plead our helplessness as an extenuation of our coldness and formality in prayer, and are not earnest and fervent in supplicating the throne of grace.

Having enlarged upon the intensity of the apostle’s prayer rather more than we intended, let us return to the desire which prompted it, namely, that he "might perfect that which is lacking in your faith"(1 Thess. 3:10). First, those words reveal the exalted standard which this servant of the Lord kept before him and the high ministerial level at which he aimed. Notwithstanding the fact that Timothy had just brought Paul "good tidings" of their "faith and charity" (1 Thess. 3:6), still that did not content him, for he knew "there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed" (Josh. 13:1). Let the pastor be thankful when he sees his sheep in a healthy condition, but let him also labor for their further growth.

Second, in these words we perceive the faithfulness of Paul. He did not feed their vanity by complimenting them upon their attainments, but gave them to understand that, far from having cause to be complacent, there was still room for much improvement, and that they needed to continue pressing forward to those things which are still before. Let the minister give credit to whom credit is due, but diligently avoid overdone praise, knowing that "a flattering mouth worketh ruin" (Prov. 26:28).

Things Lacking in Our Faith

"That . . . we might perfect that which is lacking [‘the things lacking, plural in the Greek] in your faith" (1 Thess. 3:10). How many professing Christians would resent such a statement as that! Yes, some of God’s own people are in such a sickly condition and so hypersensitive that their poor feelings would be hurt if such an imputation were made against them. Yet it is a fact that the most spiritual and mature Christian has various things lacking in his faith. First, in its scope: how many portions of the Word he has not yet apprehended, how many of its precepts and promises are still unappropriated. Second, in its operation: there is not the fruit from it which there should be in our daily lives. Third, take "faith" here as a grace also, and how much darkness and doubting mar the best of us. So it was with these Thessalonians. Just as Paul longed to visit the saints at Rome so that he might "impart unto . . . [them] some spiritual gift" (Rom. 1:11), in like manner he desired to again see these young Thessalonian converts of his that he might be of further help to them.

"That we . . . might perfect . . . [the things which are] lacking in your faith." Egotism lies behind that touchiness which resents an insinuation of our ignorance. Oh, when shall we learn that—pride even more than unbelief—is the chief adversary to our making progress in the things of God? The more truly wise any man is, the more conscious he is of his ignorance, of the paucity of his knowledge. Only the conceited novice, the one who has a mere smattering of his subject, vainly imagines he is master of it and refuses to receive further instruction from his fellows. "If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). As we have said so often, the grand secret of success in the Christian life is to continue as we began. And, among other things, that means to be emptied of our self-sufficiency, to maintain before God the attitude of a little child, to preserve a teachable spirit, and that to the end of our lives. If we persist in doing all these, we shall daily be aware of how much is still lacking in our faith, and we shall welcome every available help, no matter how weak the instrument.

Paul’s Prayer for Them

Since Paul was providentially detained from immediately carrying out his desire, he prayed for and wrote to the new converts: "Now God himself . . . [even] our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you" (1 Thess. 3:11). Thus this prayer, like the "grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" found at the beginning of most of Paul’s epistles, was addressed conjointly to the Father and to the Son in His mediatorial character. Therein we behold the Savior’s absolute deity, for it was an act of worship which was here being rendered to Him, and His divine law is explicit: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10). We are expressly forbidden to accord divine homage to any creature. When the awestruck John fell down to worship an angel, he promptly said, "See thou do it not" (Rev. 22:10). Instead of the angels being fit objects of worship, as Rome blasphemously teaches, the divine edict is "Let all the angels of God worship him" (Heb. 1:8) who, as the context shows, is the incarnate Son. Being co-essential and co-eternal with the Father, all are commanded to "honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him" (John 5:23).

Prayer to Be Directed to the Son

Prayer is not only to be offered to God in the name of Christ but also directly to Christ as our Lord and Savior. When a successor to Judas was to be chosen for the apostolate, prayer was made to the Lord (Acts 1:2-4). Apart from the fact that "the Lord" always has reference to Christ (unless there is something in the passage which clearly distinguishes the Father from Him), John 6:70 and 15:16 oblige us to regard that allusion as being to the Son. The dying Stephen specifically addressed his petitions to the Lord Jesus (Acts 7:59-60). From Acts 9:14 and 21 it is clear that it was customary for the early Christians to "call upon his name," i.e., supplicate Him. Upon the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, he was bidden to call on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). So prominent a feature was this in the lives of the primitive saints, that they received their characteristic designation from the same: "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:2). Timothy was instructed to "call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22).

We turn now to consider the two petitions of this prayer: the one more immediately concerning Paul himself, the other the Thessalonian saints. The former is recorded in verse 11: "Now God himself . . . our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you." First, that request concerned taking a journey. Second, it concerned a ministerial journey. Third, the one who desired to take it was exercised over it and wanted his steps to be ordered of the Lord. The terms of expression (and they are a legitimate and simple analysis of the petition), make it at once apparent that there is something here of interest and moment to each of us; that this petition has been placed on permanent record for our benefit—for our instruction and guidance. We should ponder each verse of Scripture, seeking to ascertain what in it will provide help for the details of our lives. God’s Word is given us as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path—for us to walk by—an unerring guide to direct our way through the maze of this world. To put it another way, the apostle has here left us an example which is wise to follow.

We Are Dependent upon God’s Will and Enablement

The strongest-willed and most resolute person on this earth cannot take a journey of so much as a hundred yards unless God wills and enables him. "Go to now [a word of rebuke], ye that say, to day or to morrow we will go into such a city, . . . whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow . . . For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that" (James 4:13-15). Even though God may grant us permission to carry out our plan, that is very far from saying that He will prosper the same. How that serves to illustrate what we have said about the entire dependency of man upon his Maker! In the verse now before us we are shown what effect that fact, that truth, should have upon us. It should counteract our spirit of self-sufficiency. It should cast us upon the Lord, seeking His enablement for all things. That was exactly what the apostle was here doing: acknowledging his dependency upon God and supplicating Him concerning his journey to Thessalonica.

"O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). How very few professing Christians believe that! Nevertheless, that is the truth, and therefore we are bidden, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:5-6), yet not without our concurrence. God treats us as rational creatures, as moral agents, and therefore we are required to trust Him fully, to repudiate the competency of our own reason, and to own Him in all our conduct. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD" (Ps. 37:23)—not those of a wicked man, though his steps are "ordained" or appointed. Sometimes God lets us have our own way, as He did Israel of old, and then we miss His best and He sends leanness into our souls (Ps. 106:15).

When planning a journey, for instance, the first question to determine is simply this: "Is it your plain duty (as required by your calling or your obligations to others) to take this journey? If there be any uncertainty, then spread the matter before God and seek wisdom from Him. Observe how frequently it is recorded of David, the man after God’s own heart (i.e., who in his official life was so completely subject to the divine will), that when contemplating a journey he "inquired of the LORD" (1 Sam. 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:19, 23), seeking His guidance each time and waiting upon Him. When your path is plain, then definitely pray God to give you good speed (Gen. 24:12), and grant you journeying mercies. Act on Psalm 37:5, and count upon the fulfillment of its promise. While on your journey, so far as conditions permit, endeavor to redeem the time by profitable reading (Acts 8:28).

Ministerial Journeys

Considering ministerial journeys, first we would observe that in Paul’s case God’s will respecting them was not made known to him uniformly, nor did he have any unmistakable leading as some today boast of. He and his companions had "assayed to go into Bithynia," but we are told that "the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts 16:7). Was he then acting in the energy of the flesh? Certainly not, no more than David was when he purposed to build the temple. Paul’s trip to Macedonia was the result of a vision, but that was exceptional. Often persecution forced him to flee elsewhere. Sometimes Paul’s movements were regulated by direct command from God, other times by providential circumstances, yet other times by his own spiritual instinct and desires. When he bade farewell to those at Ephesus he said, "I will return again unto you, if God will" (Acts 18:21)—if God permits and enables. Our "times" are in His hand (Ps. 31:15), and though we propose this or that, it is God who disposes (Prov. 19:21). Later, Paul did return to Ephesus (Acts 19:1).

"I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will" (1 Cor. 4:19). Speaking generally, the apostles knew no more about the common events of life than did other men, nor were they usually directed by a supernatural impulse for their journeys. "Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you" (Rom. 1:10). Those words should teach us that, while the will of God concerning any event is not yet ascertained, we have the right and liberty to desire and pray for what we want, providing that our desires be conformed to God’s holiness and our requests subject to His will. Our desires must at once be renounced as soon as it is clear that they are not agreeable to the divine will. Rightly did Moule point out "the indifference of mystic pietism, which at least discouraged articulate contingent petitions, is unknown to the apostles." And again Moule stated, "His inward harmony with the divine will never excluded the formation and expression of such requests, with the reverence of submissive reserve." Only One has ever had the right or necessary qualification to say, "Father, I will."

"For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you. But now having no more place in those parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey" (Rom. 15:22-24). The opening "for which cause" is explained in the preceding verses: the pressure of continuous evangelistic labors had been the principal factor causing Paul to defer his visit, from which we learn that the call of duty deterred him from carrying out his earlier inclination. Matthew Henry well said, "God’s dearest servants are not always gratified in everything they have a mind to. Yet all who delight in God have ‘the desire of their heart’ fulfilled (Ps. 37:4), though all the desires in their heart may not be humored." Note that Paul said, "I trust to see you," not "I shall see you," for he knew not what a day might bring forth. We ought to be very slow in making any promise, and those we do make should ever be qualified with "if God permit."

Guidance by the Holy Spirit

"For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit" (1 Cor. 16:7). Here again we see the beloved apostle making personal acknowledgment of both the providential and spiritual government of Christ and his subservience thereto. Two things must concur; his purpose and conviction of duty as formed by the Spirit indwelling him, and the ordering of his external circumstances, confirming and making possible the execution of his purpose. Paul was crossed several times in his intentions. Sometimes he was forbidden by the Spirit (Acts 16:7), sometimes hindered by Satan (1 Thess. 2:18), at other times prevented or long delayed by the pressure of work. Some doubt that he ever took his journey into Spain (Rom. 15:24). Matthew Henry said, "The grace of God often with favor accepts the sincere intention, when the providence of God in wisdom prohibits the execution. Do we not serve a good Master, then! (2 Cor. 8:12)."

A Special Word to Ministers

It is our desire and aim to furnish something in these pages suited to the needs of all classes of readers. We feel that a word or two should be offered for the particular benefit of those who are engaged in the ministry. One of the matters which, at some time or other in his career, deeply exercises the conscientious servant of God is that of his particular field of labor, especially when he is justified in leaving one field for another. Great care and caution need to be used and prayer is needed for patience as well as wisdom. Ours is an age of discontent and restlessness, and not only are most of God’s people more or less infected by its evil spirit, but many of His servants are influenced by the same and suffer from wanderlust. Some who make a change of pastorate every two or three years suppose they find a warrant in doing so from the experience of the Apostle Paul: but that is a mistake. He was never settled in a pastorate, but was instead engaged in missionary or evangelistic activities, and therefore he furnishes no example to be followed by those who have the care of local churches.

When contemplating a change, spare no pains in endeavoring to make sure that the particular portion of the Lord’s vineyard is the one where He would have you labor. If it is a church where you would be required to employ worldly and carnal methods in order to "attract the young people" or to "maintain its finances," it is no place for a servant of Christ. Take time and trouble to find out what the local conditions are, and you will probably be spared from entering a position where the Holy Spirit would not use you. Far better minister to a small company of saints than to a large one of unregenerate church members. No plan should be formed without reference to God’s will. His glory and the good of His people must ever be your aim. If you are assured that God led you into your present field, be very slow in entertaining any thought of removal. An invitation to a more "attractive" field is far more likely to be a divine testing of your heart than an intimation that God would have you make a move. Consider not your own inclinations but the welfare of those to whom you are ministering. Seek grace to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3), and let faithfulness rather than "success" be your earnest endeavor.

"Now God himself . . . [even] our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you." This prayer demonstrates that Paul was no fatalist, arguing that, since God had predestinated everything that would come to pass, there was no need for him to be uneasy about his plans for the near future. No, he was deeply exercised that his steps might be ordered of God, and therefore did he trustfully commit his way to Him (Ps. 37:5). In spite of his intense desire to visit these saints (1 Thess. 3:6, 10), he refused to rush matters and act in the energy of the flesh. Nor did he assume that their yearning to see him again was a clear intimation of God’s will in the matter: he waited to be definitely guided from on high. It is not for any minister of the Gospel to effect his own design without divine leave: rather it must be by God’s permission and providence, by His directing and ordering, that each change is to be made. Until His will is clear, remain where you are (Rom. 16:23). If you are at a crossroads, entreat the Lord to block the way He would not have you take. Never force matters nor act hastily.

The "God himself" is emphatic, literally "But Himself, God even the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, may direct our way unto you." The "himself" is in contrast with "We would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us" (1 Thess. 2:18). If God Himself directs us, then none can hinder! Scripture does not inform us what way Satan had "hindered," therefore it is useless and impious for us to speculate about it. Not that Satan had in any way hindered the execution of God’s purpose, only the fulfilling of the apostle’s "desire." God blessedly overruled and outwitted Satan, for in consequence of Paul’s being hindered in the first century, we in this twentieth century now have the benefit of this epistle. In the all-too-brief comments of Ellicott’s commentary a valuable point is here brought out: "The verb ‘direct’ is in the singular (which of course the English cannot [as explicitly] express), showing the unity of the Father and Son, and the equality of the two Persons." There was a blessed propriety in Paul’s conjoining the Son with the Father in this petition, for it acknowledged Him as the One who holds the stars in His hand (Rev. 1:16) and opens and shuts all doors (Rev. 3:7).

The Grace of Love Now Especially Needed

"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you" (1 Thess. 3:12). This is the second petition, but we shall not dwell upon it at the same length as the former: not because it is of less importance, but because it calls for less explanation. What is needed here is not so much exposition as the turning of these words into earnest supplication. If ever there was a time in the history of Christendom when God’s people needed to entreat the throne of grace for an increase and an abounding in love, it is surely now. The exercise and manifestation of this cardinal grace is at an exceedingly low ebb. Sectarian bigotry, carnal strife, roots of bitterness, thrive on every hand. Yea, things are in such a deplorable state today that many of God’s own people hold quite a wrong idea as to the nature and fruits of love. Most of them misconstrue natural affability and temperamental geniality for love. A hearty handshake, a warm welcome, may be had at the world’s clubs and social centers where Christ is not even professed! The love for which the apostle here prayed was a holy, spiritual, and supernatural love.

Spiritual love proceeds from a spiritual nature and is attracted by the sight of the divine image in the saints. "Every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him" (1 John 5:1). No one can love holiness in another unless he has holiness in his own soul. Many love particular Christians because they find them to be sweet-tempered or generous-hearted, but that is merely natural and not spiritual love. If we would love the saints spiritually we must disregard what they are temperamentally by nature, and contemplate them as the objects and subjects of God’s love, loving them for what we see of Him in them. Only thus shall we be able to rise above individual peculiarities and personal infirmities, and value them with a true spiritual affection. This does not mean that we shall ignore their offenses or condone their sins (Lev. 19:17). On the other hand, often what we regard as "slights" from them is due to our own pride. We are hurt because we do not receive the notice which we consider is our due. At times it is not good for the people of God to know too much of each other (Prov. 25:17). Familiarity may breed contempt.

Neither the reality nor the depth of Christian love is to be measured by honeyed words or endearing expressions. Actions speak louder than words. Gushy people are proverbially superficial and fickle. Those less demonstrative are more stable. Still waters run deep. Spiritual love always aims at the good of its object. It is exercised in edifying conversation, in seeking to strengthen and confirm faith, exalt God’s Word, and promote piety. The more another magnifies Christ the more should he be endeared to us. We do not mean mere glib talk about Christ, but that overflowing of the heart toward Him which compels the mouth to speak of Him. We should love the saints for the truth’s sake, for being unashamed to avow their faith in such a day as this. Those who reflect most of the image of Christ and carry about with them most of His fragrance should be the ones we love most.

Love for the brethren is ever proportioned to our love for the Lord Himself, which at once explains why the former is at such a low ebb. The sectarian bigotry and the bitterness growing all around us are not hard to explain. Love to God has waned! "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, . . . soul and . . . strength" comes before "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But the love of material things and the cares of this world have chilled the souls of many toward God. Our affections must be set steadfastly upon the Head of the Church before they will wax warm to its members. When the Lord is given His rightful place in our hearts, His redeemed will also be given theirs. Then love will not be confined to that narrow ecclesiastical circle in which our lot is cast; it will embrace the entire household of faith. Then we shall have "love unto all the saints" (Eph. 1:15), and that will be evidenced by "supplication for all saints" (Eph. 6:18)—those in the four corners of the earth whom we have never seen. "Salute every saint" (Phil. 4:21)—poor as well as rich, weak as well as strong.

The Connection of This Petition with the Former One

At first glance there appears to be no connection, for what relation is there between one being guided in a journey and others loving one another? Yet the fact that this petition opens with "and" gives plain intimation that there is a coherence between them. A little meditation should discover what that is. What would have been the use of the apostle visiting the Thessalonian assembly if strife and division had prevailed in their midst? Under such circumstances the Lord would not have clothed Paul’s words with power. Paul, instead of building up the Christians, would have had to reprove and rebuke them for their carnality, for most certainly he was not one of those who would ignore what was wrong and act as though things were all right. Nothing more quickly grieves and quenches the Spirit than dissension and a spirit of ill-will in an assembly.

"And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another." This petition was addressed more specifically to the Head of the Church, from whom the nourishment and increase of its members flow (Col. 2:19). From Him we receive His "fullness" (John 1:16); from Him we receive "the supply of the Spirit" (Phil. 1:19); yet we are required to seek for these. We are not to infer from the apostle asking for some particular thing that those for whom he supplicated were deficient therein, but rather the reverse. Because he perceived that a certain grace was in healthy exercise, he felt encouraged to ask God for an increase of the same. Such was unmistakably the case here. Paul had opened his epistle by referring to their "labor of love" (1 Thess. 1:3). He later declared, "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" (1 Thess. 4:9-10). Why then this petition? "That ye [may] increase more and more" (1 Thess. 4:10). The answer to this large petition is recorded in 2 Thessalonians 1:3.

The Object in View

"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" (1 Thess. 13). First, this verse expresses the design in Paul’s petitions. Our hearts are sadly fickle and inconstant in their frames, and need divine establishing against the fear of man, the frowns of the world, and the temptations of Satan. Second, holiness before God was the grand object in view, and the abounding of love the means for promoting the same (Col. 3:14). Third, the establishing our hearts (which God ever eyes) is our great need, yet how little concern we have about their state! Much head and hand religion, but the heart is neglected! So far as we recall, never once have we heard this petition used in public prayer! Fourth, at the return of Christ these desires will be fully realized.    

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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