Before doing anything else the preacher ought to read Acts 17:1-9 and 1 Thessalonians 1-3.
Paul, Silas and Timothy had spent at least three Sabbaths in Thessalonica teaching both Jews and Gentiles the Scriptures. Because of persecution at the hands of the Jews they were driven from Thessalonica. Paul went on to Berea and thence to Athens. He wanted to return to visit the Thessalonian Christians but Satan prevented him from doing so (1 Thessalonians 2:18). He was in anxiety about the welfare of the Thessalonians and so sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how they were faring.
Though Paul and his helpers spent a relatively short time establishing a congregation in Thessalonica, the people had truly received the Word of God for what it was and had suffered at the hands of their countrymen (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
What did Timothy find? They were standing firm in their Christian convictions and were as anxious to see Paul as he was to see them. Paul was simply elated over this good news and, it would seem, immediately wrote what we know as 1 Thessalonians.
Kretzmann: Paul here rises to an enthusiasm bordering on ecstasy.
In verses 6-8 Paul said: "But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and had brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand fIrm in the Lord." (NASB)
Paul is elated over the firm stand which the Thessalonians are making. He is happy over their faith and love. He mentions that before his happiness over their desire to see Paul and his helpers. Now Paul has something to live for and, evidently, Paul attacked his difficult work in Corinth with renewed vigor.
And now we come to verse 9. This remarkable verse contains four consecutive adverbial prepositional phrases. We quote the NKJV, emphasizing the prepositions: "For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy which we feel for your sake before our God?"
The Thessalonian Chrstians gave Paul great joy. Paul is saying that he cannot find words adequate to express his thanks to God for what they are. TEV does it thus: "We thank him for the joy we have before our God because of you." NIV (above) is similar.
Lenski: As though standing in God's presence Paul and his helpers live and work; from God they receive this as they do every other blessing; ever their hearts automatically turn to God.
Ward: The joy was of the utmost purity because it was before our God. The writers were fully aware that God knew about it and that they were in his presence.
Bruce: This or a similar phrase ('in the presence of our God') is more common in 1 Thessalonians than in any other Pauline letter. In 2:19 and 3:13 it has an eschatological reference, here, as above in 1:3 it refers to the missionaries' present practice. . . . This consciousness of the divine presence excludes any notion of personal success or fleshly satisfaction.
When one rereads chapters 1-3 one realizes what Lenski means when he writes:
Lenski: The firm stand of the Thessalonians brought a great benefit to the Thessalonians themselves, but its influence went beyond them and became of the greatest benefit to Paul and his assistants and to their work in Macedonia and Achaia.
Bruce: This rhetorical question is reminiscent of Psalm 116:12 'What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me?'
Though Paul is surely grateful toward the Thessalonians, he gives thanks to God. Through Paul God had given them their faith and love. And this caused them to remember Paul with kind thoughts. This verse is so human and yet so divine. Paul is giving God all the glory and thanks for the Thessalonians' relationship to God, other people and Paul and his helpers in particular.
Note that Paul calls God our God.
Before we leave this verse we note, as indicated by Bruce above, that the "in the presence of God" phrase is found again in verse 13. There it is plainly eschatological. Here it is not. But the same idea is found in both. Paul is implying that he is as conscious of God's presence as he will be on the last great day.
The thanking, rejoicing and praying are all going on at the same time. This letter is from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. Their prayers for the Thessalonians were constant. Paul was praying that he might "see their face." He was very human.
Is "faith" to be understood as fides qua (the faith with which we believe) or fides quae (that which we believe )? Kretzmann takes it in the latter sense:
Kretzmann: The Thessalonians were still in need of instruction of exhortation, of intercession; for no Christians attain to complete perfection in this life. The fundamental outlines of the truth were in their possession, but it was necessary to fill out these outlines, to supply the details, to make them perfectly fitted to every good word and work.
Lenski: Here faith is the one thing mentioned (both in the objective and the subjective sense), just as in verse 5 and 7, the basis and ground of all that constitutes Christianity.
Bruce: There were important areas in which they required further instruction. What some of those areas were may be gathered from the subject matter of 4:1-5:22. Since it was not likely that in the near future there would be an opportunity to give the Thessalonians the necessary instruction face to face, it was given in the next part of the letter.
The intensive "our" occurs again in the Thessalonian Epistles with reference to God at 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:16 and 3:16. In each case it makes its own noun very emphatic.
The first person of the Trinity is called "God and Father." The second person is called "our Lord Jesus." The "and" equates the Father and incarnate Christ. Note the repetition of "our," genitive of relation. God is my Father through Jesus Christ my Lord.
Paul is enlarging on his prayer in verse 10. There perhaps he means that they long to see the Thessalonians. Here perhaps he is asking for providential guidance to the Thessalonians so that they may continue their work among them. Cf. 2:18. NIV translates: "For we wanted to come to you--certainly I, Paul, did, again and again--but Satan stopped us." The work and hindrance of Satan makes a Christian very conscious of the necessity of God's careful guidance at all times.
Ward: The prayer that God in Christ, the object of faith and obedience, who is known in prayer and worship, would lead them on their way is a charter to all those devout souls who seek his guidance and help in such ordinary matters as a journey. The verse corresponds to the first part of verse 10.
The punctuation between verses 11 and 12 amounts to a semi-colon. That means that the two thoughts are drawn closely together. Note that the last word in 11 and the first word in 12 are the same. Its position in verse 12 is quite emphatic. By the way, in verse 11 Paul was praying about presence with the Thessalonians in this life. In verses 12-13 Paul is praying for their steadfastness because of the coming and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ on the last great day. In verse 11 two persons of the Trinity are mentioned. Likewise in verse 13. But in verse 12 we have only "Lord." Bruce is of the opinion that only Jesus is meant since He was called by that title in verse 11. But Lenski feels that the entire Godhead is meant in view of verses 11 and 13.
We have two aorist optative transitive verbs denoting a wish. KJV, NKJV, NASB and RSV translate them "to increase and abound." NIV reads "increase and overflow." NEB has "mount and overflow." And AAT translates "grow and overflow." The verbs are likely synonyms but the use of two verbs makes the idea emphatic.
Paul is not criticizing the Thessalonians' attitudes but wants to make sure that they are not satisfied with a static religion. "For each other" means that this love should be mutual and "for everyone else" indicates that it should be directed to all people without exception. That surely was not easy in that day of rampant paganism.
Paul is using himself and his helpers as models for the Thessalonians. The NASB reads: "May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you." But TEV reads "Grow more and more and become as great as our love for you." The text does not say that the love of the Thessalonians was less than that of Paul and his helpers. Note that Paul is not telling them to increase and grow in love but he prays that the Lord would cause them to do so.
It becomes clear in this verse that Paul has the eternal destiny of his hearers in mind. That is THE point for every preacher to remember.
Likely this pericope was chosen for the second last Sunday after Pentecost because of "when our Lord Jesus comes." It looks forward to the coming of Christ, not only that in Bethlehem but also that on the last day.
Paul is preparing his readers for the last day. The "may he strengthen" clause at the beginning of the verse denotes purpose according to Rienecker but Lenski calls it intended result. Paul prayed that God would establish or fix their hearts. This denotes both the inner thoughts and the outer actions, words and deeds.
"Blameless" does not mean "sinless." It means that no one can accuse the person of living in known sin and that his life is not offensive to others.
Rienecker: The prayer gains sublimity in that they must be prepared to stand unblamable in holiness before God as judge, the searcher of the inward motives of men, who tests and tries the hearts of men.
The last phrase stresses the true holy nature of their living. It is set apart from the world for the purpose of service to God and man. Does the prepositional phrase pertain to holiness of living now or to the occasion of the last times. TEV, NIV, JB, NEB and AAT make the phrase temporal and thus make the idea eschatological. AAT is typical: ". . . before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones!" That is the most likely interpretation.
The chapter is about the great day of the Lord. We see no difficulty in this allusion to Zechariah 14:5. But who is meant by "holy ones?" None of our versions translate it as "angels." Five versions have "with all his saints." Two have "with all his holy ones." TEV reads "with all who belong to him" and NEB: "with all those who are his own." Bruce cites Deuteronomy 33:2 and Daniel 7:10 in support of the idea that angels are meant.
Bruce: This description (Zechariah 14:5) is based on that of earlier theophanies in the Old Testament: when God reveals Himself for deliverance or for judgment, he is regularly attended by his angels.
Matthew 25:31 clearly says that the Son of man will be attended by His angels.
Bengel: This comprehends angels and the elect of the earth.
On the word "love" in this context compare 1 John 4:712. And on the blameless condition of Christians at the time of the Parousia look at Matthew 25:31-40. Good works are not a cause of justification but a proof thereof. The sanctified life is not optional. John 15:18 makes it abundantly clear that good works are fruits, not roots, as someone has said.
Kretzmann: The apostle never fails to call attention to the end and aim of the Christian's life, the perfection of heaven, the reward of grace to those that remain steadfast in faith and love, in holiness of life, to the end.