WHEN WE READ the apostles earliest epistle which he wrote to the saints in Thessalonica we can see his earnest desire to continue widening the range of faith of these young believers. Judging from his comment on Timothys report, Paul was satisfied that his toil in that city had not been for naught; now he knew of their faith (1 Thess.3:1-8). Hence he would not want to criticize it, as if it were inadequate in amount. For instance, he would have had no reason at all to call them scant of faith, and, as a matter of fact, he never uses this expression.
SCANT OF FAITH
It occurs only in Matthew and in Luke when our Lord wanted to encourage His little flocklet not to worry about eating and drinking and clothing (Matt.6:30-34; Luke 12:27-32), when the disciples on the lake were afraid of drowning because of the storm (Matt.8:23-26), when Peter hesitated to continue walking on the water (Matt.14:31), when the disciples worried about their next meal, after the Lord had fed 5000 people with five cakes of bread and again 4000 with seven cakes (Matt.16:7-12), and when the signs and miracles (which accompanied the kingdom proclamation) were gradually vanishing and the disciples were unable to cure the epileptic son (Matt.17:14-20). Here the Lord called their unbelief scant faith. All these occurrences, however, are relevant to the kingdom proclamation; and the term, scant of faith, is used only in connection with some physical need, as we have seen. Since our Lord is the only One Who ever used the two terms under consideration, it follows that at that time no one else felt entitled to do so. Being under grace, even a man like Paul would never dare call any one scant of faith. Judgment and criticism in this sphere is strictly reserved to the Lord (compare 2 Tim.2:19).
THE DEFICIENCIES OF YOUR FAITH
Now we will admit that Paul had something different in mind when he wrote, For what thanksgiving are we able to repay to God concerning you for all the joy with which we are rejoicing because of you in front of our God, night and day superexcessively beseeching to see your face and to readjust the deficiencies of your faith (1 Thess.3:9,10). The apostle does not consider the Thessalonians faith as being too scanty; it is rather the deficiency in their knowledge of the truth to which he is pointing. He wants to add a new truth to their range of faith, such as that developed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where we read, The Lord Himself will be descending from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord. So that, console one another with these words!
PUTTING ON THE CUIRASS OF FAITH AND LOVE
Paul, in Ephesians 6:14, uses the term cures in order to describe the security
afforded by righteousness, he employs the same figure of speech in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 to
emphasize the general protection presently given by sober faith and gracious love.
CONSOLED TOGETHER THROUGH ONE ANOTHERs FAITH
Timothy had been sent to the Thessalonians to establish and console them for the sake of
their faith, and had come back, bringing with him the evangel of their individual faith
and love, the apostle was, indeed, consoled through their faith, and was able to repay
thanksgiving to God for them and beseech Him for an opportunity to readjust the
deficiencies in their range of faith as we have seen. Now the Thessalonians were not the
only ones whose individual faith toward God had come out (all over Macedonia and Achaia
and everywhere). We find a similar line of thought in the first part of Romans (1:8-12).
SHARING SOME SPIRITUAL GRACE
When comparing these verses in the first Roman chapter with the corresponding declaration in the first Thessalonian epistle, we will find that Pauls task of readjusting the deficiencies corresponds to what in Romans 1:11 is described as sharing some spiritual grace with you, namely such grace as they had not yet heard of. While the Thessalonians needed information on meeting the Lord in the air, the Romans were still ignorant as to justification, conciliation, and Gods sovereignty. Now it is through the function of their individual faith toward God and His Word that these spiritual graces are received, thus widening the range of their faith, as may be gathered from the following quotations from UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, volume 31, beginning on page 139, volume 36, page 173, and volume 39, page 12.
THE FUNCTION OF FAITH
has been suggested that faith is an act of merit on our part which procures
justification, and all who do not obey in this way, do not deserve it. What a travesty of
the truth! Faith has exactly the contrary function. Because it has no merit, it is
the only requirement in this economy of purest and fullest favor. Any other condition
would clash with it, but faith, having no deserts, is in full-harmony with grace
(Rom.4:16). Even faith obedience does not consist of acts performed in order to
deserve Gods gifts, but is a figure in which the obedience to Gods law is
displaced by faith in His Word. Faith is merely the channel through which
grace may operate. It cannot act through works or attainments of any kind. These can only
nullify its effects.
FAITH IS THE CHANNEL
In Pauls latest and highest revelation an appeal is made to the fact that salvation is through faith (Eph.2:8), as heralded in Pauls evangel, and is in grace. The point is that the condition of salvation which is ours through faith, apart from works, is in the sphere of grace; hence we were vivified together with the Circumcision recipients of Pauls evangel, when Christ was vivified. Such a blessing could not come to any mortal on the ground of attainment, but justified by faith . . . we have the access also, by faith, into this grace in which we stand (Rom.5: 1,2). This is enlarged upon in one of the most precious passages even in the precious Ephesian epistle. For in grace are you saved, through faith, and this is not out of you; it is Gods approach offering, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them. The scene of our salvation is not in ourselves or our deeds, but in Gods favor. He is the One Who is working and even prepares the good works which we may do.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Abraham is set before us as the great example of justification by faith. In the epistle to the Romans, after showing that no one comes up to the standard of Gods glory, Paul makes known the foundation truth of the evangel of the Uncircumcision, that justification is by gratuitous grace, through faith (Rom.3:22-26). He then enlarges on this and shows that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. Let us consider briefly, what Paul reveals concerning this great grace. To begin with, he tells us that his evangel is Gods power for salvation to everyone who is believing because in it Gods righteousness is revealed for faith (Rom.1:16,17). Here we have a tremendous contrast to almost all previous revelation. There we are occupied with mans righteousness or rather unrighteousness, from Adam on, and especially after Israel was given the law of Moses. Hitherto Gods righteousness condemned man. Now it is made a part of the evangel to save him. Heretofore the revelation of His justice was against all because of their unrighteous acts, now it is on all who are believing because it is a gratuitous gift of grace bestowed on men for their faith (Rom.3:21-24). Hitherto man has sought to display his righteousness through his deeds, and failed. Now God displays His righteousness by justifying those who believe, and it is an unqualified success (Rom.3:24-26).
THROUGH THE FAITH OF CHRISTFOR OUR FAITH
No man, of course, could acquire Gods righteousness by means of his deeds. At best he could only establish one of his own. Nor can a man acquire his own righteousness by believing. It is Gods righteousness that is reckoned ours by faith. The only One Who knew no sin was made a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming Gods righteousness in Him (2 Cor.5:21). It is a righteousness of God through Jesus Christs faith, for all, and on all who are believing; it is out of His faith for our faith (Rom.1:17; 3:22). Hence Paul says, Not having my righteousness . . . but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God for faith (Phil.3:9).
Why should faith be reckoned for righteousness? Whatever is not of faith is sin. What God says is supremely right, and it is a mistake not to assent to it. Confidence in God is the aim and object of all human experiences, along with distrust in man. At the consummation, God will become All in all, and man nothing in anyone. Whatever leads in that direction is in accord with Gods purpose and will. When God speaks, no matter what He says, the only right lies in confidence in and conformity to His revelation. This alone will guide us to the universal goal. Nothing, therefore, can be more righteous than faith; it not only is right, but guides the believer aright, along the path that leads to the bread and wine of God, the life and joy which await all creation at the consummation. Those who have no faith, cannot but stray from the way. They follow false trails that lead away from the goal. Even those who are respectable, and who know nothing of sordid sins, are bound to miss the path apart from faith. It is impossible to be right unless we believe what God has revealed: faith is reckoned for righteousness (Rom.4:5,6).
GOD IS CONCILIATED
Here is an evangel we can preach without reservations. It is really good news. It is true whether it is accepted or not, for it has two grades or degrees, one for the unbeliever and an added one for the believer. God is conciliated to both. Man is conciliated only if he believes. God is not reconciling the world now, as the Authorized Version says; He is rather conciliating the world to Himself (2 Cor.5:19), and refuses to fight with it now, but sends us as ambassadors of peace who refuse to hold mens offenses against them. So long as we are here, God is at peace with the world, no matter how much they may offend him, and wish to war with Him. Today the cross avails to conciliate the world, and to reconcile those who receive the conciliation.
EONIAN BLESSINGS ARE ONLY FOR FAITH
Until we believe, the eonian blessings are in no sense our due through Christs death, for all that He did was for our sake, not in our stead. The eonian fruits of His sacrifice are only for faith. After the eons, then, indeed, the value of His sufferings and death will overflow to all, for then reconciliation will reach the whole universe (Col.1:20). But those then reconciled with God will miss the bliss of eonian salvation which is the subject of the evangel, as well as the high honors which are ours with Christ in His celestial kingdom.