2 Thessalonians 3:1 - Homilies By W.f. Adeney
Money is not the sinew of the spiritual wars of the Church. The necessary appeals for money so urgently pressed by the friends of missions should not blind our eyes to the higher needs of those great enterprises. All the wealth of the Stock Exchange could not convert one soul. As it was in Israel's great battle with Amalek, when Joshua could only prevail in the field so long as Moses prayed on the mountain, the missionary is successful in proportion as the Church is prayerful. In order that this assertion may not fall powerless as an empty, dogmatic platitude, inquire how it may be substantiated by a consideration of the chief elements of true success in the mission field.
I. THE SPIRITUAL CHARACTER OF THE LABOUR OF THE MISSIONARIES . Money cannot make missionaries. It may send men abroad, feed, clothe, and house them, but it cannot put an apostolic spirit in them, nor cheer and strengthen that spirit when it flags; and yet without such a spirit no missionary work can be looked for. Careys do not come with good balance sheets, nor are Moffats evolved out of glowing financial reports. The great want of the missionary societies is men, not money.
1 . Prayer is necessary that the right men may be forthcoming. God only can find the men, and the most gifted men will fail except they go in pursuit of a Divine vocation. St. Paul was appointed "not from men, nor through man" ( Galatians 1:1 ); he was sent on his specific mission through indications of the Holy Spirit in response to the prayers of the Church at Antioch ( Acts 13:2 ).
2 . Prayer is necessary that missionaries may be sustained. There is much to damp the ardour and depress the spirit of the missionary amid all the degraded scenes of his work. St. Paul had been praying for his friends at Thessalonica; in return he sought their prayers for his work. He so identified himself with his mission as to regard prayer for the mission as prayer for himself.
II. THE EXTERNAL PROGRESS OF THE TRUTH . St. Paul asks for prayer "that the Word of the Lord may run." Nothing is more striking than the fact that the rate of progress of Christian missions is not at all proportionate to the perfection of the mechanism with which they are organized. The years of biggest subscriptions are not always the years of most numerous conversions.
1 . Prayer is necessary that God may remove obstructions to the progress of Christianity. Governments may hinder missions. Countries are sometimes closed against missionaries. Then we must pray that God would open a way. What doors has he opened in our day! The Word is now free to run through the vast populations of China. "The great dark continent" is opening up to the light. This is not done by money. "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."
2 . Prayer is necessary that God may dispose the minds of men to receive the truth. In a neighbouring Macedonian Church lived the first European resident converted by St. Paul, and of her it is said, "whose heart the Lord opened, to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul" ( Acts 16:14 ). Therefore we must pray that God's Spirit may go with the Word, to prepare the soil to receive it and to quicken it when it is sown.
III. THE INTERNAL FRUITFULNESS OF THE GOSPEL . The apostle is not satisfied with desiring that the Word of the Lord may "run;" he wishes also that it may be "glorified." This further wish strikes a high note. It reminds us that missionary success cannot be measured by the numbers of the converts. The great question is—what is the character of them? Statistical reports are delusive. The missionary who can make no sensational return of long lists of converts may be doing the most real, solid, lasting work in laying the foundation of true Christian character in a few. There are nominal Christians in heathen lands who are a dishonour to the name they bear, as there are also at home. Prayer is necessary that a right character may be cultivated in mission Churches. Christ was glorified when the man who had been a fierce demoniac sat clothed and in his right mind at the feet of his Deliverer. The Christian who has been a savage is the finest witness of the power of the gospel. But it is very difficult to irradicate the vices of heathenism, as missionaries know to their sorrow. Let us pray for this most hard but most needful work.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 3:3 . — Security.
It is interesting to notice how much anxiety St. Paul spends on the normal and permanent character of his Christian converts. He is not satisfied with having won their first confession of faith, nor is he content that now and again they should flash out with some brilliant display of spiritual energy. His chief concern is with their life throughout, his chief desire for the strength and persistence of its higher character. It is important for all of us to bear in mind that salvation is not an isolated act, that it is a chronic condition. We are always in danger of failing unless we are kept in a continuous Divine security.
I. THE TWO ELEMENTS OF SECURITY .
1 . Internal stability. We are in danger of falling through our own weakness. Badly built houses do not wait for an earthquake to throw them down; they crumble to pieces.
2 . External protection.
II. THE GREAT GROUND OF SECURITY . St. Paul does not wish, or hope, or pray for the security of his friends. He knows and is confident that they have a good ground of security. Our fears are due to our unbelief. Faith has her feet on an immovable rock.
1 . The ground of our security is Christ.
2 . The reason for trusting in Christ for security is his faithfulness. It should be sufficient for us to have confidence in his goodness. He is so gracious, so kind, so generous to help, that we may be sure that he will aid his people in their greatest dangers. But we have more than this assurance. He has promised help ( Matthew 28:20 ); he is appointed by God as our Saviour, and therefore, in fulfilment of his great mission, fidelity leads him to see to the security of his people. W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 3:5 .—The patience of Christ.
The Christian life has two aspects, a heavenward and an earthward aspect. In its heavenly relations it should be filled with love to God; in its earthly relations—especially when under such trials as befell the early Christians—it needs to be fortified to endure with patience. The latter grace claims particular attention.
I. GREAT PATIENCE IS REQUISITE FOR THE ENDURANCE OF EARTHLY LIFE . Very great differences in successive ages and in various individual lots make the amounts of patience necessary for each man to be very unequal. It would be foolish for one in our own day, to whom the lines have fallen in pleasant places, to pose with the solemn, martyr-like demeanour which was natural to Christians in the days of persecution. They needed patience to face cruel calamities which we happily are spared. Nevertheless, "man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward;" the quietest public times see the bitterest private sorrows in some households; great, awful spiritual troubles come upon men whose external circumstances are placid and sunny; and even where no one heavy blow falls, innumerable small vexing cares, like the Egyptian plague of flies, fret and wear the soul. Therefore patience is still greatly needed. It is one thing to suffer trouble and quite another thing to bear it, not to be crushed by it, not to rebel against the Power that sends it, even in secret thought, but to stand up under it, with dumb, unmurmuring endurance, like those sad, calm Caryatides that have stood for centuries bearing on their patient heads ponderous temple structures.
II. THE PATIENCE OF CHRIST IS THE MODEL AND THE INSPIRATION FOR THE PATIENCE OF CHRISTIANS . This wonderful patience of Christ may be best appreciated when we come to meditate on its relation to his circumstances and experience.
1 . His previous glory. They who have once known better days feel the smart of adversity most keenly. From heaven's throne to the cross—what a descent!
2 . His extreme sufferings. Was ever there sorrow like his? Gross insult was added to cruel torture; and insult tries patience worse than pain.
3 . His sensitive nature. There are men who seem to feel a needle prick more acutely than others feel a sword thrust. Our Lord was one who felt most acutely, with the painfully delicate perception of the most refined nature.
4 . His powers of resistance. He might have summoned legends of angels to his assistance.
5 . The marvellous spirit with which he endured all. "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter." He not only prayed for his murderers, but he calmly weighed their guilt and defended them on account of their ignorance. This wonderful patience of our Lord is a model for us; it is also an inspiration. As we turn from the petty complaints of men to the sight of that awful, Divine patience, surely our murmurings must be shamed and silenced.
III. IT IS REQUISITE THAT GOD SHOULD DIRECT OUR HEARTS INTO THE PATIENCE OF CHRIST .
1 . The patience must penetrate to our hearts. Patience of language and of constrained demeanour is superficial and will not satisfy God, nor can it remain long without the deeper patience of the heart.
2 . Our hearts cannot receive this patience till they are directed aright by God. It depends on our disposition, which we must have moulded by the hand of God into a firm faith and a calm endurance.
3 . This patience follows love to God. Our hearts are to be first directed into love. When we love as Christ loved we can endure as he endured.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 . — Pauperizing charity.
There appear to have been idle, talkative persons in the Thessalonian Church who neglected their trades while they made themselves very prominent in the Christian assemblies, expecting to be supported out of the common funds. St. Paul justly rebukes their disgraceful conduct. He points to his own example. Even he, an apostle, devoted to the work of the Churches, did not draw from the funds of the Churches, but supported himself by his own labour. The wholesome direction which he gives has a certain grim humour about it. Here is his remedy for the tiresome, loquacious idlers: starve them into industry. That process will bring them to their senses. It would have been well if the same wise, manly counsel had always prevailed in the Church. A weak and foolish administration of Christian charity has too often fostered the poverty it aimed at curing. Some of the reasons which make it positively wrong for the charitable to support the idle should be well weighed by those persons who are more kind hearted than reflective.
I. IT INJURES THE RECIPIENT . Thus paupers are bred and multiplied.
1 . The sin of idleness is encouraged; for idleness is a sin. Those who encourage it will have to bear part of the guilt of it.
2 . The indolent are tempted to many vices. The idle members of the Church gave to the Thessalonians the greatest trouble. Work is a moral antiseptic.
3 . Independence is destroyed. The able-bodied pauper is quite unmanned by the loss of his independence. There was some sense in those stern old Elizabethan laws against sturdy beggars and vagrants.
II. IT INJURES THE GIVER .
1 . Where public funds are thus misappropriated, an injustice is done to those who contribute to them. We do not pay poor rates in order to encourage idleness, nor do we give communion offerings for that unworthy object. District visitors who have the administration of moneys subscribed by other people should remember this, and not permit soft-heartedness to oust justice.
2 . Where only private benevolence is concerned, the heart is hardened in the end by the sight of the abuse of charity.
III. IT INJURES THE TRULY NEEDY . We take the children's bread and give it to dogs, and the children starve. The idlers are the most clamorous for assistance, while the deserving are the most backward to make their wants known. Suffering in silence, they are often neglected, because greedy, worthless persons step in first and ravage the small heritage of the poor.
IV. IT INJURES THE COMMUNITY .
1 . It discourages industry generally. Not only are the idle encouraged in their discreditable way of living, but a tax is put upon industry, and men do not feel so strongly inclined to work honestly for their daily bread.
2 . It propagates the worst class of society. The idle part of the population of great cities are the canker of civilization. There vice and crime breed most freely. It is the law of England that no man need starve. But it is right and necessary that when the state gives bread it should compel labour— i.e. , of course, if there is health for work. Idleness is the curse of the East; Syrian felahin will sit to reap their corn. Wise Christians will ever protest against this fatal vice, and all who administer Church funds should feel a heavy responsibility resting upon them to guard against increasing it by well meant but foolish doles of charity.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 3:14 . — Church discipline.
There are several references to Church discipline in the writings of St. Paul, showing that he was desirous to see order and a healthy character of Church life maintained among his readers. In an earlier verse of the present chapter ( 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ) he advises the Thessalonians to withdraw themselves "from every brother that walketh disorderly;" now he bids them not keep company with those who refuse to obey his apostolic message.
I. IDLENESS IS AN OFFENCE HEAVY ENOUGH TO MERIT CHURCH DISCIPLINE . The preceding verses show that St. Paul has in mind those idle busybodies who walked disorderly ( 2 Thessalonians 3:11 , etc.). We visit dishonesty, intemperance, etc., with censure. The apostle goes further, and selects idleness for special notice by the Church. So great does he feet the evil of it to be.
II. NEGLECT OF APOSTOLIC INJUNCTIONS IS THE IMMEDIATE OCCASION FOR THE EXERCISE OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE . The idle are first to be admonished ( 2 Thessalonians 3:12 ). When admonition fails, further measures must be taken. The apostles had no ambition to be lords over Christ's heritage; though their commanding influence naturally gave great weight to their directions, similar to that which comes unsought to the European missionary among converts from heathen savagery, Nevertheless, it was not this adventitious authority that St. Paul relied upon. He wrote under inspiration. His message was prompted by the Divine Spirit. When we refuse to hearken to the admonitions of the New Testament we are resisting the Holy Spirit of God.
III. CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS TO BE EXERCISED BY MEANS OF QUIET SEPARATION . There is no word here of physical force. It was impossible for a Christian community living in a pagan city to call in the aid of the civil power to execute its decrees; but there is every reason to believe that, had the possibility of anything of the kind been contemplated in the mind of St. Paul, he would have repudiated it—holding as he did that his weapons were not carnal. Further, there is no reference to spiritual excommunication, no cursing with bell and book. Simple separation is all that is advised. This is a peaceful, gentle, but effective mode of censure. It would, of course, directly stop the evil practice of idlers living on the Church funds. And it would administer a rebuke that would be all the more eloquent that it was silent. It is always our duty to see that our Church fellowship is kept pure. We should have the courage to separate from those who disgrace the Christian name. We should be careful for our own sakes that the society we select to move in is healthy and elevated in moral tone. For the sake of others we should discourage unworthy conduct by refusing to associate with those who are guilty of it. Some who are not brave enough to do this are guilty of great meanness in talking against offenders behind their backs, while treating them in the most friendly way when in their presence.
IV. THE OBJECT OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS TO RECOVER THE OFFENDER . The most stern penalties are to be inflicted with a merciful end. Here the mild punishment of quiet separation is to aim at restoring the wrong doer. First he is to be shamed, as he will be if there be any right spirit in him. Men should feel ashamed of idleness. Then and throughout he is to be regarded, not as an enemy, but only as an erring brother. Thus tender and sympathetic should Christians be with one another in regard to their failings, remembering that it is only through the forgiving grace of Christ that any of us enjoy the privileges of Christianity. There is no room for a Pharisee in the Church, and we must beware lest the exercise of Church discipline develop his ugly spirit.—W.F.A.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 . — Peace from the God of peace.
After giving directions about the small trouble that disturbed the Thessalonian Christians—small indeed when compared with the bitter factiousness and the graver sin that subsequently disturbed the Church at Corinth—St. Paul prays that peace may reign among them and that the Lord may be with all of them, with the erring in their restoration as well as with the faithful brethren. The peace which he desiderates so earnestly is clearly more than mutual concord; it is that deep peace of God in the heart which is at the root of peace among men, and is itself the greatest of blessings.
I. PERFECT CHRISTIAN PEACE IS UNIVERSAL . What most strikes us in regard to the peace here referred to is the universality of its scope and area.
1 . Perfect Christian peace is continuous and unbroken. It is to be enjoyed "at all times." In closing the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wished his readers to "rejoice alway" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ). Now he prays that they may have continuous peace. If we cannot have the joy of the angels we may have the peace of God, which is better. As there are some who have happiness without peace, so there are others who have peace without happiness. There is a transient superficial calm which the world calls peace; but volcanoes slumber beneath, and in a moment it may be shattered as with an earthquake. There is no peace in the wicked. There is an eternal peace for the people of God.
2 . Perfect Christian peace comes through various means. St. Paul adds the curious phrase, "in all ways." It is not only that peace may be enjoyed continuously in spite of changing and adverse circumstances, but those very circumstances, even the most unfriendly of them, are to minister to the peace. This may appear paradoxical, but in experience we find that the troubles and distractions which would upset all peace if we only had the surface peace of earth drive us nearer to God, and so help us to realize more perfectly the eternal peace of heaven.
II. PERFECT CHRISTIAN PEACE FLOWS FROM CHRIST . It is not to be got by any efforts of our own wills. We cannot pacify ourselves any more than the sea can calm the raging of its own wild waves. He who said, "Peace, be still!" to the storm on the lake is the only One who can quell the tempests that surge in human hearts. Christ infuses his own peace because he is the Lord of peace.
1 . He is at peace in his own soul. Peace is contagious. The peaceful gives peace. We may often see how much one quiet, self-possessed man can do to allay the panic of a whole crowd. " My peace I give unto you," said Jesus ( John 14:27 ).
2 . He reigns in peace. Christ does not provoke enmity and warfare except against evil. Among his own people he reigns pacifically.
3 . He directly bestows peace. St. Paul's wish is a prayer. We pray that Christ may breathe his peace into us by a direct inspiration. This richest, deepest, purest blessing is for those who dwell near to their Lord and drink of his Spirit.—W.F.A.
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