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TEXT: II Thessalonians 3:1-18
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #13: Final Thoughts
When I was a boy, the Bay Area was a lot smaller than it is today. Driving up the Old Oakland Road, forty years ago, we used to say, Don't blink or you'll miss Milpitas!
I'm reminded of this every time I read Romans and Galatians. The books are so closely reasoned that-if you blink-you miss what they're saying. You may find true and edifying thoughts in them, but you won't get the message. That takes undivided attention and hard thinking.
Neither of which I'm very good at!
Thankfully, I don't have to be at the moment because I and II Thessalonians are not tightly argued books of theology, but personal letters. This means they are short, practical, and easy to understand. No chapter is more this way than the last one. What is II Thessalonians 3 about? Several things, of course, all of which Paul groups under the word, finally.
THE PRAYER REQUESTS, VV.1-2
He starts with a couple of prayer requests, vv.1-2,
Brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course and may be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, for not all have faith.
Before we get to the requests, note the relationship-
Paul has a higher calling and more gifts than anyone in Thessalonica, but he doesn't put himself above anyone. Everyone in the church-man, woman, and child, new convert, pastor-every believer is Paul's brother or sister in Christ. If they have different roles to play in the Church, they have the same place in the Family-they're all children of God! Heirs of God-he says in another place-Joint heirs with Christ.
In a good family, brothers and sisters care for each other. And that's what Paul has-a good family. What does he want from them? More than anything else, he wants their.money?
No. He can get by without their money. In fact, he has gotten by without it. Though he had a claim on their money, he never pressed it. The time he was in Thessalonica, he worked with his hands to make a living-and gave away what he didn't need.
What he cannot do without is their prayers--
Finally, brethren, pray for us.
The us refers to Paul, Silas, Timothy, and their partners in ministry. They needed prayer support. And more than 'need' it, they demand it. Paul is not asking for anything, he's ordering them to pray for him.
We know it's our duty to pray-'Pray without ceasing' the Bible says. But do we know that it is also our duty to pray for each other? To pray for each other's body and soul, and even more, to pray for each other's ministry? This is what Paul says-'Pray, pray for me, pray for Timothy, pray for Silas, pray for Luke, keep on praying for us! Pray for us till we're beyond all need of prayer!
What does Paul want them to pray about? Two things. First, success in preaching-
That the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified as it is with you.
Paul was a sports fan; the picture he has in mind here is the Word of God as a runner who wins the race! He wants to Word to do what it set out to do. Which is-not to compete, but to win-- to save sinners and to make the Church holy and wise.
Paul does not preach to fill time, make a living, or quiet his conscience. He's after results!
At this point, popular Calvinism is open to criticism. I've heard pastors say, 'Preach the Word and leave the results to God'. If, by this, they mean, 'Don't manipulate people', then I agree with them. But is that what they mean? Is it all they mean?
I'm not so sure of that. The goal of witnessing is not to witness-it's to win souls to Christ. The goal of teaching is not to teach, but to make the people who listen to you godlier.
In short, we want the Word of God to get the job done! But to do that, it must have the blessing of God. Which most often comes in answer to prayer.
Therefore, pray for each other. Pray for me and for others who teach the Word of God. Pray for the ones you know are witnessing; pray for the ones who aren't witnessing! Pray for yourself. Pray that the Gospel will do here and now what it did there and then, Acts 19:20,
So the Word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
This is Paul's first request: pray for Gospel success. That's a good one to pray for, for there is no doubt that it's agreeable to the will of God. Some things you have to wonder about-Does the Lord want me to win the lottery? Does He want the Raiders to win the Super Bowl? But others, you don't: Does the Lord want His Word to triumph? Of course He does. So pray for it! And, not just 'in general', but in particular-bless this sermon, for example!
His second request is for personal safety,
And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.
Paul is a deeply spiritual man, and his prayers reflect his priorities. He often prays for 'spiritual' things, for courage under fire, for patience in persecution, and so on. But, if some things are primary, others are secondary. And secondary does not mean 'non-existent'.
Paul hopes that he and his friends will not be martyrs for Christ! If that's the Lord's will in the future, fine, but let's push it off as far as we can!
His main enemies at the time were unbelieving Jews who were remarkably unreasonable and wicked. Unreasonable because the Scriptures they studied every day said Jesus is the Messiah, but they said He isn't, and wicked because, not willing to let God judge the Christians on the Last Day, they were doing it themselves, hunting Paul and others in every city!
If it's okay with God, Paul wants to escape persecution. He accepts it if it comes, but if it doesn't have to come, he can do without it. Pray we won't be persecuted, that the Jews will lay off and the Romans won't use the power of the state against us.
These are the two things Paul wants them to pray for. Now, I won't make too much of this, but it's worth noting that he prays for Gospel success first and personal safety second. He'd rather win souls and suffer than to have peace without success.
I wonder if we pray this way? For the glory of God first, and then for ourselves? This is how Paul prayed. And how the Lord taught us to pray, Thy Kingdom Come first, and then, Give us this Day our Daily Bread.
THE AFFIRMATIONS, VV.3-4
After seeking their prayers, Paul praises the Lord and the Thessalonians, vv.3-4,
But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.
There's a play on words here. If 'not all men have faith', the Lord is faithful. If He has promised to support and protect them from Satan He can be counted on to do it. Paul does not fear for his friends because he knows the Lord will take care of them. And not only that, but He's at work in them producing obedience and He will keep up the good work.
This is pastoral psychology at its best! Without flattering them, Paul is bucking up the church by reminding them of the Presence, power, and compassion of Christ! They may be lonely, but they are not alone! Christ is with them! With them in the courtroom, with them in prison, with them at the stake!
Paul is confident the believers will live up to their high calling.
Is this how you think about other Christians? Is this how you speak to them and about them? I find a great deal of pessimism, of defeatism, of despair. We look at our friends who are just that way, and suppose they will never change and that God won't use them. But is this what the Bible says? Don't hope for much? Think the worst of others? Or is its message quite the opposite? I John 4:4,
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, for greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
If you want to help others, you must have hope. And you can have it because Where sin abounds grace does much more abound, and the Lord's strength is made manifest in our weakness.
Though Paul is very optimistic about his friends, he knows everything depends on the Lord. So he prays the Lord will support them in their trials.
THE BLESSING, V.5
The blessing, v.5,
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
This love of God does not mean that 'they would love Him more', but that He would fill them with His love. As for the patience of Christ, it means the Lord would provide them the same endurance He had in His sufferings and death.
THE DISCIPLINE, VV.6-15
If half of this chapter is about several things, the other half is about one thing, it's about church discipline, vv.6-15.
This is always a sensitive issue, with abuses on both sides. While most churches practice none at all, others run to the opposite extreme and overdo it. The New Testament has quite a bit to say on the topic, but for now, we will limit ourselves to what Paul says here. So, what does he say?
In the first place, he says church discipline is mandatory, v.6a,
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The disciplinarian of the church is not the mean pastor, the proud deacon, or the noisy member. It is Jesus Christ Himself. Because the Church is His house, He says who is welcome and who isn't.
In the second place, Paul says who is not welcome in the church, vv.6b-11,
Every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.
Some people in the church would not work. This led them to mooch off others, and with nothing to do with their time, they became gossips.
Paul says they are without excuse because he had taught them better--by word and example. He had preached on working and against idleness, and he had shown them how to work by making tents all day and preaching all night. Most had taken his example to heart.
But some had not. After fair warning, they must be expelled from the church.
Note carefully who these people are and who they are not: they are not new converts who don't know they ought to work. They are not people who struggle with working. They are not people who want to work but cannot find a job. They are not people who have low-paying jobs and cannot make ends meet. They are not people who have a hard time holding a job. These people are welcome in the church and need our prayers, encouragement, and help.
The ones who are not welcome in the church are those who will not work.
Why is Paul so hard on these people? Because he loves them, vv.14-15,
Do not keep company with him that he may be ashamed.Do not count him an enemy but admonish him as a brother.
He does not take them for unsaved men, but believes they are still brothers in Christ. So, if they're brothers, why should we stay clear of them? So they will become ashamed of themselves and quit being lazy busybodies.
He does not want the church to curse them or even to punish them. He wants us to discipline them. And this, though never pleasant, is a good thing.
Whom the Lord loves He chastens and scourges every son He receives.
Because Church Discipline falls on our brothers (and not our enemies), it must done with sorrow, not vindictiveness, but it must be done. It's a matter of obeying Christ and loving our brethren.
THE CLOSE, VV.16-18
The chapter closes with a blessing, a personal note, and another blessing, vv.16-18,
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.
Three things upset the Thessalonians: persecution, the Second Coming, and Church Discipline. The first, of course, was scary and hard to cope with. May the Lord give you peace in your pain, a good conscience, and a sure hope of glory. The second was stirring up their emotions. May the Lord relieve your tensions and enable you to wait patiently for His coming, content not knowing the day or hour, week or year, decade, century, or millennium! The third is always hard and often divisive. May the Lord give you calm and unity doing His will. In all these things, May the Presence of our Lord be with you.
The personal note, v.17,
The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every Epistle; so I write.
Paul, it seems, had an unusual penmanship. Galatians 6:11 makes you think his letters were huge (like a man who doesn't see well, perhaps, or who cannot hold a pen properly). Maybe this has something to do with his persecution; maybe one of the stones thrown at him put out an eye or broke his hand.
In any event, though others wrote his letters, he signed them. This safeguarded the Church from counterfeit letters. No one, it seems, could forge his signature.
Just for the record, it also proves he didn't write Hebrews, because it does not bear his signature.
The last blessing, v.18,
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
'Grace' is a word very dear to Paul. It means 'God's favor, a favor unthought, unsought, unbought'. But it comes to us out of His overflowing goodness. But, notice, he doesn't assign grace to 'God', but to Christ. Because Christ is God, and any grace we have, comes from and through Him!
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