2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 - Paul's Confidence in God's Faithfulness
Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Paul is coming to the close of a very brief letter which he has sent to the Thessalonian church. He has really dealt with only one doctrinal matter in this letter and has given them the right view concerning the time immediately prior to the return of Christ. He has, of course, also spoken of the faith which these Christians had professed both by mouth and by life because it is a letter to a church he loves. In the latter part of this last chapter he will deal with the kind of life which does not proceed from faith and will give instructions to the church concerning this matter. However, in the first five verses of this chapter he deals with those things which are usually found in his closing words of a letter. In some of his epistles he then brings greetings of individuals or churches or asks that his greetings be given to various individuals. This he does not do at the close of this epistle. This may be due to the fact that these were the first epistles he wrote.
The word translated "finally" may also be translated "as for the rest." There are other things concerning which he might write them. But, that must wait till another time. They had to be corrected in their thinking about the doctrine of the last things because their incorrect view could do real spiritual harm.
Request for Prayer
In closing he would ask them to remember him in their prayers. This is the kind of request which is always in place and often seems to be asked because that seems to be the proper thing today. However, the Apostle asks for the prayers of the church in deep seriousness. He is fully aware of the fact that his work cannot be accomplished in his own strength. The mind of Paul was one to be reckoned with by his opponents, but the winning of an argument does not convert! He asks for the prayers of the churches time and again in his epistles. The Lord must accomplish the work — Paul and his helpers are but instruments in God's hand. He recognizes the power of the prayers of His people. God will hear them. No labors can be accomplished in one's own strength and certainly not the labors for the Lord. How often are not his own prayers interwoven with his teaching? He asks them to pray for him and those with him continuously. And certainly, a church which is indeed the body of Christ will pray. He is not asking too much nor is it a casual request.
Prayer for Gospel Success
He not only asks them to pray for him, but is much more specific than only asking that the church should pray for a blessing on these laborers. He asks them to pray that the word of the Lord may "run." This is a rather strange expression. From his other writings it becomes evident how often he uses figures of speech. So here. Nor is it only a Pauline expression. The Psalmist speaks of the word of the Lord "running" in Psalms 19 and 147. It means that it will quickly accomplish its task and that there be no barriers to the progress of that word. For this they must pray. The Apostle realizes that the time is short for the tremendous task which the church and the Apostles have received. May, therefore, the word of God travel like lightning to conquer the hearts of men.
Not only are they to pray that the word of the Lord may travel swiftly, they are also asked to pray that that same word may be glorified. Although the figurative language employed in the previous phrase is now dropped, he is still speaking in an unusual manner. How can the word be glorified? Is it not glorious in itself? The Apostle here emphasizes the purpose of the word. It is glorified when it accomplishes its purpose. When the word penetrates the hearts of men and leads them to faith and conversion the word is glorified. This is made clear when he adds "as also it is with you." Among these Thessalonians the word of God had been crowned with glory when they believed and were formed into a church of Jesus Christ and bore witness to His grace. Let them continue to pray that the word of God may so operate in many other places.
Triumph Over Enemies
Let this be the first concern in their prayer for the Apostles that the word of the Lord many prosper. In that same connection they must also pray that the Apostles may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men. Paul is writing from the city of Corinth. He has suffered much here especially at the hands of the Jews. These people, though they were the Old Testament people of God to whom so many favors had been given, opposed the gospel more than any others. They are unreasonable, unrighteous, and evil men. They have "religion" but are evil! They are hindering the work of the Apostles and he asks that Christians pray for deliverance from such. But, this prayer is again for the welfare of the cause of the gospel and not, first of all, for his personal welfare. Paul finishes this verse with a typical Pauline understatement when he says: "for all have not faith." No, this has become very evident not only in Corinth, but in all the places where he has come. And, those who do not possess faith are not satisfied with their lack of faith, but also seek to prevent others from believing! Theirs is a zeal born of hatred for the gospel. Paul asks the church to pray that he may be delivered from such men.
"God is Faithful"
There is always the danger that one can see only the impediments to the spread of the gospel and the evils they do to His servants. This leads to an unbalanced view of reality. Paul does not fall into this error. All men may not have faith — but God is faithful! He uses a play on words. God is the One who has given His promises to His people. He has worked faith through the gospel in the hearts of many. The eyes of His servants must be focussed on Him rather than upon the difficulties encountered in this world. Paul has no difficulty with this matter. It is amazing that a man who has suffered so much at the hands of his countrymen does not dwell more on the shameful way he has been treated by them. His eye is fixed on His God. He is only called to be faithful and to leave the results in the hand of his Sender.
That Lord who is faithful will be with His people in Thessalonica. He will give them stability in the faith. They need not wonder what is going to become of them seeing He allows such difficulties in the life of His Apostle. Their faith is real and genuine and He will establish them in this faith more and more. He will also guard them from the evil one. It seems as though Paul is fighting against the evil one every moment in the person of unrighteous and evil men. Has God guarded him? Nothing shall separate him from his God. The Thessalonians must remember that they too shall be guarded from the evil one so that they will always be safe. The faith which has once been given them will not be taken from them by anyone!
Confidence in the Lord
No biblical writer speaks as often of the confidence which he has as Paul. This man who had seen all things crumble during his lifetime speaks again and again of the confidence he has in the future. His whole manner of life had been changed radically at the time of his conversion. He could no longer count on the stability which the nation of Israel had exhibited in the past. Even his view of the law had been changed. He speaks of a change of masters in his life when he writes to the Romans. All his former hopes lie in ruins. His whole system of thought had been completely changed. One would think that such a man would have been so shaken to the roots of his being that he would become very cynical. However, the opposite is true. He now realizes that those things on which he had depended in the past gave no true stability to his life. His faith in Jesus Christ had changed everything. This is the Lord who will finish what He has begun and will stand on the earth at the latter day. This is the Lord who is always faithful to His promise. Now it makes no difference what happens in the present — his Lord is in control.
Therefore in the Lord's People
Seeing he has this firm confidence in his Lord, he can also speak of the confidence he may have in the people at Thessalonica. It belongs to the nature of man that he cannot be depended on, but these to whom he is writing are in the Lord! They are united with the Lord and as a result Paul can also have confidence in them. Their nature has been changed in their union with Jesus Christ. They are no longer tossed about but stand on a firm foundation.
The confidence which he has in them is in relation to the things they are doing and will do. He is going to give certain commands in the closing part of this chapter and is paving the way for these things. The Lord is faithful in all His works but His people are also called to responsible tasks. Everything is dependent on the Lord but this does not leave His people without responsibility. These seemingly contradictory teachings have often been a problem for God's people. How can men still be responsible when God is in complete control? This is, however, never a problem to the Apostle. He does not look on these things in the abstract but always in the historic situation. Of course, God is in control over all things including the lives of His people! But, His people, who are in Him, are to live in obedient faith. The extent to which they are found to be obedient is an indication of their union with Christ. He knows the faith of these people and therefore has confidence in them that they will do those things which he commands them. He does not separate the work of God from the responsibility of the believer. So only can the two be harmonized, as this same author does in Philippians 2:12-13.
In the last section of this chapter he is going to speak of those who are not obedient to the word of God. These will have to be reproved and the members of the church will also play a role in the correction of these people. Therefore he must have confidence in the true believers at Thessalonica. He realizes that by nature they are subject to the same temptations as those who are to be reproved. They will not be able to uphold the honor of the Christ and the truth of the word by themselves. He therefore prays that their hearts may be directed into the love of God. So only will they be safe and so only will they be able to acquit themselves of their responsibility. He means the love which God has for them. They must not only contemplate that love but they are to live into it. When their hearts are filled with God's love to them, they will be able to accomplish all that is asked. The love of God is powerful. It enables His people to do all things. Thus he has again come full circle. The Lord is faithful; His people must do the things which have been commanded them; and the love of God enables them to do it.
Paul has experienced all manner of opposition in his labors for the church of Christ. The Thessalonians have also experienced some of the opposition to their faith. These things can be expected from those who have been enemies of the cross from the beginning. However, when opposition comes from those who have confessed the same faith — it will be more difficult. The Apostle is going to address those in the church in the latter part of this chapter. May the Lord therefore direct the hearts of his true servants into the patience (or endurance) of Christ. They will need far more endurance than they have by nature. Only the Christ of God can be their example. He was rejected, He was despised, He was maligned — but He continued His work "to do thy will, O God." The faith of these Christians will be tested — but he has confidence in them, provided that they live very close to their God. All obstacles must be removed so that their hearts may be filled with the love of God for them and that they may partake of the endurance of Christ.
So he has prepared them for the final words addressed to them. These words too must be spoken for the welfare of this church. He will speak bluntly so that there is no possibility of misunderstanding his intentions. But, the faith of His people must be protected! His pastoral heart is clearly revealed in these verses.
Questions for Discussion
Are we becoming too free with our asking for prayers? Discuss. Prayers are sometimes asked for a large number of Kingdom workers and their work. Do you think that those who ask for these prayers really expect the people to do so?
Are we to pray for the minister of the congregation every day or just on Sunday?
What do you understand by the words "that the word of the Lord may run?" Do you think this is often the burden of the prayer of God's people?
What does the faithfulness of God mean in our lives?
Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are often spoken of as being an impossible problem for us. How does Paul deal with this question? Is the historical part of Scripture also doctrinal? Explain.
What does the love of God and the patience of Christ do for our practical everyday life?
Daring to speak the truth is noble. Can it also be damaging? Discuss.