Grace works by joints and bands in the body, which is so constituted by our Lord Jesus to this end. If Paul could not visit the Thessalonians, he sent Timothy. Love seeks not its own things, and can find resources according to Christ, whatever the hindrances which Satan puts in the way.
"Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought good to be left behind at Athens alone, and sent Timothy our brother and workfellow* under God in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage concerning your faith, that no one might be moved by [lit., in] these afflictions. For yourselves know that for this we are set. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction, even as it came to pass, and ye know. On this account I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest perhaps the tempter had tempted you and our labour should be in vain. But when Timothy came just now unto us from you and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us even as we also [to see] you: on this account we were comforted by you, brethren, in all our distress and tribulation through your faith, because now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord. For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you for all the joy wherewith we rejoice on your account before our God, night and day beseeching exceedingly that we may see your face, and perfect what is lacking in your faith? Now our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus direct our way unto you; and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all, even as we also toward you; in order to establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints" (vers. 1-13).
* Probably the various forms of the MSS. here are due to correctors who wishers to soften what they did not relish or understand. omits τὸν συνεργὸν ἡμῶν, B omits τοῦ Θεοῦ. The Clermont copy seems to have preserved the true text as given above, though some erroneously here as elsewhere, render it "fellow-worker with God." Compare 1Co_3:9; 2Co_6:1. "Under God" may be a paraphrase, but seems in our tongue needed to guard from a mistake against which true knowledge of God and His word ought to have preserved souls. The Greek genitive admits of relations far wider than the English. It is a question of contextual requirement.
To the apostle visiting Athens it was no small trial to forego the companionship of his true and beloved child in faith. But his affectionate concern for the Thessalonians could not otherwise be satisfied. He knew that they were but babes spiritually, and that they were exposed to enemies, Jewish and Gentile, as subtle as determined and unscrupulous. He was himself about to brave Satan in a stronghold of his religious influence and of philosophic speculation, where the name of Jesus had never yet been proclaimed, still less had he himself the fellowship of brethren in Christ with whom to pray and take counsel. A storm of popular fury, stirred up by Jewish instigation among the Gentile rabble, had burst out against Jason (Paul's host) and other brethren in Thessalonica, which led to the hurried leave of Paul and Silas that night after a sojourn of but few weeks. The same Jewish influence had stirred up the crowds at Berea, whither they had repaired, and where they found a yet readier reception of the word, and withal remarkable care in bringing what was preached to the test of the scriptures. There Silas and Timothy staid, while Paul was once more hurried off to Athens. But the heart of the apostle could not rest as to the Thessalonians, young as they were, and exposed to danger, suffering, and snares. "And we sent Timothy our brother and work-fellow under God in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage concerning your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For yourselves know that for this we are set. For even when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer afflictions even as it came to pass, and ye know." The Holy Spirit by the apostle, as the Lord Jesus previously, had given full warning of the special and constant troubles that await the saint in passing through the world - peace within beyond thought of man, peace in Christ, but tribulation in the world. Faith alone can enjoy the one and endure the other. Such is meant to be the experience, none other the expectation, of Christians while waiting for Christ. Even the youngest must thus learn, for the real enmity of the world and of its prince spares none, and so the apostle prepared the converts in Thessalonica to look for distress. Nor was this at all too soon. They had already the gravest reason to know the truth and wisdom of his warnings, but they had the witness of love in the visit of Timothy for their establishment and encouragement concerning their faith. Grace only could call into such a path; grace alone can sustain in it; but grace does not fail. Still the Lord works by means, as by Paul's sending, by Timothy's going and comforting the saints, and by their joy in the consolation, whatever might be the pressure of affliction. Flesh would weary, murmur, doubt, and turn aside from the truth which entailed such sorrow. Faith sees Christ, gives God thanks, perseveres at all cost, and grows by the exercise. while the links of love are strengthened on all sides.
"On this account I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest perhaps the tempter had tempted you, and our labour should be in vain. But when Timothy came just now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us even as we [to see] you; on this account we were comforted in you, brethren, in all our distress and tribulation through your faith; because now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord." The Second Epistle will afford ample evidence that the apostle might well dread that the tempter would avail himself of the circumstances to dishonour the Lord in those who bore His name at Thessalonica. For the present, however, the work stood in the vigour and freshness in which it began, and Timothy had such good news to bring back as cheered the fervent and affectionate heart of him that sent him, and changed his anxieties into thanksgiving that rose above all his own distress and affliction. Their faith shone, their love burned, they had always good remembrance of the stranger to whom they were indebted for hearing of the living and true God, and of His Son the Deliverer risen from the dead Who is coming from the heavens. They longed to see again the messenger whom they recognised as bringing them unequivocally God's word, whatever the varied storms of trial it had brought on them from man, the very trials proving their sincerity and truth, for had they not been told before that so it was to be? It was strength as well as joy to the labourer, as he most energetically expresses it, "now we live if ye stand fast in [the] Lord."
The joy of the apostle, as it was of divine love, so was it holy: no vain proselyting zeal, but delight in the presence of God over that which was the fruit of His grace to the praise of Jesus; delight over that faith and love kept bright and firm, in young confessors of Christ left alone, notwithstanding the fierce hostility of Jews and Greeks. "For what thanksgiving can we render again to God for you for all the joy wherewith we rejoice on your account before our God, night and day beseeching exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?" If theirs was the love of Jonathan, his was certainly more than the love of David. It is the love of the divine nature in the power of that Spirit, which finds its ever-growing joy in the blessing of others, and especially of those already blessed, that what is wanting may be perfected in personal ministry. "Now our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you; and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another and toward all, even as we also toward you; in order to establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints."
Such was the prayer dictated by the apostle's affection as the Holy Spirit brought their need before him in God's presence. And the way of the apostle was directed to the Thessalonians, but not before another epistle to them followed, and years of labour elsewhere intervened. What he meanwhile seeks for them is no less important for ourselves and all saints - the increase and abounding of love in us, one toward another, and toward all, in order to the establishing our hearts unblameable in holiness. This is God's way as surely as it is not man's; for he insists on holiness in order to love, whereas in truth love must work in order to holiness. It is a true principle from the gospel all the way through; for God's love it was that met and blessed us in sovereign grace when we were enemies, powerless and ungodly, in Christ's death for us, and this was the most powerful motive which wrought in us to holiness. So is it here among the saints, who are exhorted to love mutually as well as toward all, in order that their hearts should be confirmed in holiness without blame; even as Christ, in love to the church, first gave Himself, and then washes with the word, that He may present it to Himself glorious, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
But there is another consideration of great weight and interest in this brief prayer. Not only does he join in a most striking unity our God and Father Himself with our Lord Jesus in his earnest prayer for the blessing of the saints by a renewed visit, but he desires that the Lord may confirm their hearts blameless in holiness "before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints" - not merely now before God, so that it should be real, but at the coming of the Lord with all that are His, without a break in thought till that day when the failure or faithfulness of each shall appear beyond controversy. For as it is a question of responsibility, it is not simply His coming that is here spoken of, but His coming with all His saints, that is, His day when they shall appear with Him in glory, and He shall come to be glorified in His saints and to be admired in all them that believed. How this brings the light of that day on the present hour! Even if one may not for the Lord's sake walk with all the saints now, it is not that the heart is alienated, but it anticipates that glorious scene in which they shall come forth with Him, the objects of our love because they all are of His.