COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 3:12And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13To 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." KJV (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)
There are fundamental objectives accomplished in salvation-objectives that take the precedence in life. If these purposes are not fulfilled, everything else has been in vain. If they are realized, God is glorified, the Lord Jesus honored, the laborers rewarded, and the saints glorified. There is no question that Satan aggressively seeks to turn believers away from the real purpose of salvation. In summary, he seeks to anchor them in this world, and turn their eyes inward, to their own self-interests. In so doing, he is tempting them to exalt themselves above the Most High God, even as He himself aspired (Isa 14:14). Part of the "whole armor of God" is having our feet "shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace" (Eph 6:15). This is the embrace of the message of the Gospel which informs us of Divine intent-an eternal purpose for which Jesus is presently preparing us. The faith that comes from hearing this message (Rom 10:14) moves us away from purely self-interests and the affairs of this present evil world, preparing us for the ultimate confrontation of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the text before us, Paul expresses his deep desire for the establishment of the Thessalonians. He knows their effort is involved, but does not anchor their faith to self-effort. In words that are both a prayer and an exhortation, he informs them that the Lord can make things happen that eventuate in ultimate blessing. We do well to ponder these gracious words.
THE LORD MAKE YOU TO INCREASE AND ABOUND
" 12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you." Other versions read "the Lord CAUSE you to increase,"NASB "the Lord make your love increase and overflow,"NIV "the Lord multiply you and make you abound,"DUOAY-RHEIMS "the Lord make to exceed and abound,"DARBYS and "the Lord make your love grow and overflow."NLT Some versions may appear to reflect a rather impersonal view ("make you, cause you"), while others accentuate personal involvement ("make your love"). What is here desired involves the personal growth of the Thessalonians in a specific and needful area. They themselves will be advanced by increase in the matter specified. It is similar to the body of a child maturing as his appetite matures.
MAKE YOU. There is an approach to spiritual life that denies God makes anything happen within us. Such a view unduly exalts the will and ability of men. There are no aspects of spiritual life that can be improved independently of the Lord Himself. At the precise point He is not involved, spiritual advancement becomes impossible. This kind of language should not be strange to us. Jesus spoke of Himself MAKING men free (John 8:36). God is declared to be able to MAKE us perfect in every good work, to do His will (Heb 13:21). He can MAKE us perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle us (1 Pet 5:10). When His graces abound in us, they MAKE us neither useless nor unfruitful (2 Pet 1:8). If ever the people of God are to advance to spiritual maturity, it will be through Divine power.
INCREASE AND ABOUND. The Spirit is ever seeking to move us forward, advancing us from one stage of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). This is involved in increasing, or abounding. It is moving to new plateaus of conformity to Christ's image. God gives increase (1 Cor 3:6-7). He multiplies both the seed that is sown and the harvest that comes from it (2 Cor 9:10). Jesus ministers to His people in order that they might "increase with the increase of God" (Col 2:19). Further, there is no point in spiritual life when this increase ceases, or is out of order. Thus, the Scriptures speak of increasing "more and more" (1 Thess 4:10).
"Abound" is a similar word, speaking of exponential multiplication, or rapid growth that can only be accounted for by Divine activity. Consolation can "abound" (2 Cor 1:5). God's people can "abound in everything," even the giving of their resources (2 Cor 8:7). There can be remarkable and rapid advance in "knowledge and judgment" (Phil 1:9). Increasing and abounding are Kingdom traits that must be eagerly sought by, and found in, the saints.
LOVE TOWARD ONE ANOTHER. The desired area of increase and abounding is that of love. This makes perfect sense, for we ourselves "are taught of God to love one another" (1 Thess 4:9). The idea is that what God gives and teaches must grow and abound. We receive nothing from God that is in a fixed condition. It always comes in seed form, and advances to maturity through the power of the Lord. In this case, the desire is for the Lord to cause our love for one another to flourish, overflowing toward each other. Here is a perfect example of the very nature of the Kingdom. Love does not think of itself, or "does not seek its own" (1 Cor 13:5). At personal expense, it aggressively seeks the welfare of brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul expressed a similar desire for the Philippians: "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" (Phil 1:9). It is not that the Thessalonians were deficient in this grace. This is not a rebuke. Rather, it is a prayer for continued growth in "fervent charity among yourselves" (1 Pet 4:8). After all, we have been separated from the world, and daily live with its hatred toward us. What makes more sense than the people of God being tightly "knit together in love" (Col 2:2). This was particularly true for the Thessalonians, who were experiencing tribulation and distress.
LOVE TOWARD ALL MEN. Fervent love toward one another is special-"brotherly love" (Rom 12:10; Heb 13:1). However, our love is not confined to the household of faith, although it is "especially" toward them (Gal 6:10). It is also to be directed toward "all men." These are people who are not members of the body of Christ. In fact, they are enemies of God, Christ, and ourselves as well. Many of them treat us with no kindness or consideration, but rather cause heaviness of heart to us. Yet, Jesus commanded us, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt 5:44-45). Here is an area where God can cause our love to "increase and abound." We must take care not to allow the conduct of our enemies to stop the increase of our love toward them. We have Paul's love for the Jews who persecuted him, as an example (Rom 9:1-3).
TO THE END THAT HE MAY ESTABLISH YOUR HEART
" 12ba-13a . . . as we toward you. To the end He may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father . . . " Other versions read, "so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father,"NKJV "So that your hearts may be strong and free from all sin before our God and Father," BBE and "As a result, Christ will make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy when you stand before God our Father." NLT
AS WE TOWARD YOU. In coming to the Thessalonians, writing to them, and desiring to see them again, Paul is exhibiting the kind of love he desires for them to have. His love for them did not wane when he had to leave them. Rather, it increased and grew like a roaring fire. His love did not move him to go back to Thessalonica and confront their persecutors, reasoning with them that they should ease up on his brethren. If that was the manner in which the Lord worked, he would surely have taken the role of a mediator between the saints and their foes. Instead, he sought their spiritual stability-that they might be more than equal to the challenges their faith had brought to them. Rather than seeking more love of all men toward the Thessalonian saints, he prayed God would cause their love to increase toward one another, and "toward all men." This is not the manner of the flesh.
TO THE END. The overflowing of Paul's love was not merely sentimental or emotional. There was a Kingdom objective that compelled him. Both his love and the increase and abounding of the Thessalonian's love was to an appointed end. Their increasing love was the means God would use to make them firm and unmoveable in the faith. There was an unavoidable result that would be realized when their love grew.
This was a work that Jesus Himself would do: i.e., "to the end HE may . . . " This is one of the ways He shepherds His flock (John 10:11; Isa 40:11). His mediatorship is also involved in this ministry (Heb 12:24), as well as His indispensable intercession (Heb 7:25). Something more is involved in our salvation than getting us out of darkness and free from sin. Those are the prelude to the fulfillment of a purpose that will fit us for eternity.
HEARTS ESTABLISHED. An established heart is essential to withstand the assaults of the wicked one, and appropriate our appointed inheritance. Only an abounding love can lead to this appointed objective. Erratic and unstable hearts are not loving hearts. The love of God has not been shed abroad in such hearts by the Holy Spirit, a fervent love for the brethren is not growing, and a love "toward all men" is deficient. A heart that is "established" is not afraid of ones enemies (Psa 112:8). Such a heart has been "established with grace," made firm by the discerned experience of Divine favor (Heb 13:9). An established heart is one in which the "Day Star" has risen (2 Pet 1:19). It is one in which God has been "sanctified" in both fellowship and favor (1 Pet 3:15). It is a heart that has not been "hardened" (Heb 4:7), and in which the peace of God rules (Col 3:15). Such a heart can only be produced by the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will perform that work as love increases and abounds.
UNBLAMEABLE IN HOLINESS. This is an arresting expression that can provoke an aggressive quest for the blessing of God. Think of it: "unblameable in holiness," NASB "holiness that you may be blameless," NRSV and "strong and free from all sin." BBE The idea is that holiness consists of being "blameless"- a state to be sought for all believers (1 Cor 1:8; Phil 2:15; Thess 5:23; 2 Pet 3:14). It is marvelous to hear that provision has been made for such a condition through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). When sin occurs in us, it puts blame upon us, rendering us unholy. It is then that we must flee to the fountain that has been opened "for sin and uncleanness" (Zech 13:1). As it is written, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). If this is the objective toward which Jesus is working, then it must also be ours.
BEFORE GOD OUR FATHER. The aim is to be blameless before God the Father. It is He that has been offended by our sin, and it is He that has provided both a covering for our sin, and power to obtain the victory over it. The Lord is able to "keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 1:24). However, He will not do it by simply speaking a word and instantly transporting us to a state of blamelessness. Instead, this will be accomplished through the mediatorial work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will accomplish the objective by increasing our love toward one another and toward all men, in order that we may be more supple in His powerful hand. He aims to present us without any flaw to the Father. That is Paul seeks for the Thessalonians.
AT THE COMING OF JESUS CHRIST WITH ALL HIS SAINTS
" 13b . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints." There is an appointed time when the necessity of holiness will be fully known. The aim of the Apostle is to prepare the saints for that predetermined day. There is a sense in which nothing else matters but this. To be unprepared to stand before the Father on this appointed day is to be condemned. Here is the reason for our lives and our labors in Christ Jesus.
AT THE COMING. There are few doctrines so marred with the opinions of men as that of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. As if that were not bad enough, there are also few doctrines that are as rarely proclaimed with power as this one. Yet, this is one of the most pivotal teachings of the Scriptures. Upon it, the hope of the saints is suspended. There are at least 250 references to Christ's return in the New Testament Scriptures. Every Gospel contains numerous references to Christ's coming. The Epistles contain nearly sixty references to Jesus' return, and all of them are foundational and central.
Before He was betrayed, Jesus declared to His disciples, "I will come again" (John 14:3). Following His ascension into heaven, two heavenly messengers arrayed in white said to His disciples, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). The resurrection of the dead will occur "at His coming" (1 Cor 15:23). That is when believers will be a crown of rejoicing to those who ministered to them (1 Thess 2:19). The great despot who will work in the power of Satan will be destroyed at that coming (2 Thess 2:8). This is the "coming" for which the saints are waiting (1 Cor 1:7). The keeping and perfecting power of God is to be performed until "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 5:23). Powerful pleadings and beseechments are made on the basis of this coming (2 Thess 2:1). Perseverance and endurance are maintained in view of this coming (James 5:7).
This is the day to which faith looks, and toward which it hastens, speeding its coming (2 Pet 3:12). This is "the day of the Lord" (1 Thess 5:2), "the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:8), and "the day of redemption" (Eph 4:30). The Divine agenda is progressing toward this day. Everything about salvation is readying believers for this day. A people that do not speak often of this day are a weak people. Preachers who do not proclaim this day are guilty preachers. Hearts that do not yearn for it are faulty hearts. Those who have no interest in this day have only confirmed the Lord is not perfecting them. They stand on the precipice of eternal disaster, regardless of their profession. If our religion does not focus on the return of Jesus and make us ready for that glorious event, it is vain and useless. As it is written, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor 15:19).
The aim is to be "blameless in holiness before God . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The only place in which such preparations can be made is this world, and the only time they can be made is now. Salvation is the environment in which the objective will be realized, and faith and love are the experiences through which it will be accomplished.
It is not possible to overemphasize the coming of the Lord. Of this day it is written, "He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed" (Acts 17:31). Nothing can thwart or delay the coming of that day. It is drawing closer, being "nearer than when we believed" (Rom 13:11).
WITH ALL HIS SAINTS. When our Lord returns, He will bring all of the faithful who have departed this life. Later, in an extended proclamation of this fact, Paul writes, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him" (1 Thess 4:14). These are the ones who are "absent from the body" and "present with the Lord" (2 Cor 5:6,8). They will be presented blameless in holiness before the Father. It only needs to be established whether those who "are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord" will be included in the spotless number (1 Thess 4:15).
The desire Paul is expressing in this passage is that the Thessalonians will be among those who will be gathered by the reaping angels (Matt 13:39). That is the ultimate test of whether we are the Lord's or not. Faith unites us now with this vast body of redeemed souls, "the spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb 12:23). That unity is not to be taken for granted, as though everything from that point on is automatic. There remains much work to be done in the strongest believer, and only the Lord can perform it. He will not do it without the prayers of discerning ones. Nor, indeed, will it be accomplished apart from an increasing and abounding love. The objective of the work is to be blameless in holiness when He returns. We should expect, therefore, a marked increase in holiness here and now.