I find it rather interesting that after being a Christian for over 27 years, and reading my bible for just as long, I would not be any wiser in my battle against daily temptations. How quickly and easily I fall, repeatedly in the same sin, only to feel the same shame and regret once again. I should know better, right? After all, I have read over and over those concerning words of Jesus to His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Herein lies my dilemma. But in those words of Jesus, I am reminded of my need, my weakness, and how I can overcome temptation in my daily walk of faith!
My battle with temptation and how easily I am deceived by it came to light one day while celebrating my thirtieth wedding anniversary with my wife. We were away for the weekend in the mountains of Pennsylvania without any of the modern conveniences around, except for one small general store. I went to the store to locate a particular item we needed and found myself wandering around the section of the store that showcased the cookies, cakes, pies, and everything else that is sweet goodness in our world. I am not supposed to have any of these wonderful things because I deal with Gout, and I have decided to remove them from my diet for better health and because I have a problem: I am an addict. I love sweets more than anything! That is no small thing, “For you are a slave to whatever controls you,” Peter wrote in his second epistle (2 Peter 2:19b). But I am to be controlled by God’s Spirit, motivated by Christ’s redeeming love in all things, and that includes what I feed my stomach.
In case you are wondering, I did not give in to the temptation this time. Instead, I saw an illustration in my circumstances that genuinely helped me see the utter danger in playing with temptation. If you had been watching me, you would have had many laughs, I suppose. Up and down the aisles I went, looking, touching, desiring to take just one with me. Which one would it be? Then I began feeling a bit guilty about what I was doing. After all, I know I shouldn’t have any, not even a piece, and yet, there I was, putting myself in the exact position I should have been fleeing. This went on a few minutes, several strolls up and down the aisle until I “came to myself” and asked the Lord for strength to resist and forgiveness for my foolishness in entertaining temptation. That’s my point, temptation! It is not the particular avenue of approach it manifests itself in, but its purpose and result.
I left that store stronger and wiser with those words of Jesus still echoing in my mind. I am a needy person; we all are. My spirit is willing to obey God’s will for me, which in this case is to resist temptation, but my body is weak. The words of James are true and proven true each time we play around with those temptations that lead us into sin: “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17).
Rather than being alert and prayerful, I was going through the motions, much like the disciples. They heard what Jesus said but didn’t hear what Jesus meant. Jesus, upon entering the garden, after leaving some of the disciples behind, took Peter, James, and John along with Him further into the garden. He expresses how “crushed with grief” He was even to the point of death and instructs them to remain there and keep watch with Him while He went beyond them further. The hour of His passion has come! He returns to find them sleeping and admonishes them to keep watch and pray so that they would not give in to temptation. He wanted them to stay awake so they would be prepared for whatever might come. Sure, they were physically and emotionally exhausted. Still, even so, they were not prayerfully watching, and as a result, they would not be ready for the tragedy that was about to happen.
Peter, in his first epistle, directs believers to “stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him and be strong in your faith” (5:8-9). Peter, much like Jesus, is telling those folks that they need to be alert, so they can recognize when the enemy is trying to trip them up. My first error was not “keeping watch,” or staying alert in my spiritual walk. Something so simple, so ordinary, was the avenue in which the enemy sought to trip me up, and I almost fell.
My second error was that I did not realize that even though I had good intentions, I still needed to exercise self-control to gain victory (Romans 12:1). Even though I felt spiritually strong that day because I hadn’t given in to the temptation to eat “junk food” the past few weeks, it didn’t mean that I was beyond having an issue with it at some point in my daily walk of faith. Greater men than I have fallen into temptation. Men like David (2 Samuel 11), Samson (Judges 16), Achan, who gave in to the temptation that someone else’s money brought him (Joshua 7). Galatians 5:16 reminds us that we need to “live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” The moment I started playing with the fires of temptation which began within my heart; my desires, not the items on that store shelf, they began leading me into sinful actions, actions that will inevitably only bring shame, guilt, and remorse.
As a result of this situation and the imminent danger it posed regarding my personal holiness, I was reminded to take nothing for granted in my walk as a Christian. I have been prodded by the Holy Spirit to keep my head in the game and to be ever watchful of my enemies: my own corrupt heart and Satan, the enemy of my soul (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 peter 5:8). I am reminded that if I am diligent at pursuing a more intimate, personal relationship with my Savior, I will be better able to resist my enemy, and he will flee from me (James 4:7).
Reminders are essential; Peter and Paul thought so as well as our Heavenly Father (2 Peter 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 10:3-4). I need reminders of things, even things I should be pretty stable with by now. I tend to get very comfortable in my daily life and begin taking things for granted. When that happens, I am at risk again to fall into temptation.
” And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
When you have the opportunity to be a witness for Christ and share the Gospel with someone, who do you think is the “soul winner?” I ask this question because there has only been one soul winner in all of history, contrary to some modern-day teaching, and it isn’t you or I. It is and always has been the Holy Spirit.
Ray Stedman said it well, “we are not salesman for God, with a mandate to talk people into buying something. . . No salesperson is dependent upon a person working within him to do the job properly. Yet that is who we are as witnesses for Christ.”
“Our witness as a believer is vitally related to the Holy Spirit. Jesus had said that the Holy Spirit would be a witness and that the apostles would be witnesses. He had shown them how the Holy Spirit would not testify of Himself but Christ.
In this verse, the fulfillment of that promise is evident. The apostles were conscious that the Holy Spirit of God indwelled them. They recognized that they were instruments of God to the degree that that Spirit possessed them.
There is a tremendous lesson here for every believer. No one can be a witness for Christ and a herald of the Gospel by individual initiative. It is only as one follows the direction of the True Witness that he can communicate to others the divine testimony.”
Empowerment for witnessing comes from Him.
PRAYER: Father, help us trust that your Spirit within us is the only one who can save sinners. Grant to us encouragement to witness for Christ and boldness to speak the truth in love to those who desperately need to hear it. Amen.
Brief intro: Well, faithful readers, we have finally come to the end of Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians! We have witnessed much love, concern, and pastoral care on the part of the apostle towards this young church. We also experienced something that, perhaps, we weren’t expecting: finding so many grand doctrinal themes present within the small number of words that had been written to this church. Themes related to the church, end times, faith, unity, fellowship, deception, and leadership. Others such as prayer, missions, hope, encouragement, discipline, and the congregation’s role. Take some time and read through these letters again, and I am sure you will locate others!
This has been an exciting journey for me, and I hope for you as well. I learned a lot and was reminded of many things. With that said, let’s take a look at Paul’s concluding remarks to the Thessalonians.
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all.”
FOCUS ONE: In these word’s we find another prayer on their behalf. One thing you should have noticed throughout this study is Paul’s passion and persistence for prayer. I pray that such a passion and endurance would be growing in our hearts as well. In verse 16, we find these two petitions:
“May the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance.”
The Lord be with you all.”
I want to zoom in on two things that stand out to me in this verse. One being the topic of peace and the other found in the statement “the Lord be with you.” What does the apostle mean by that statement?
So, let’s put our focus on the word peace for a moment. In this text we see that the Lord is called the Lord of peace. In Romans 15:33, He is called the “God of peace.” Isaiah uses the term “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6), and in Galatians 5:22, the Holy Spirit, the third person in the trinity, produces as one of the fruits of Himself, peace! It makes sense, considering that He is part of the Godhead: one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, 1 Corinthians 14:33 states that He is “not a God of confusion but of peace!”
Why do I mention all of that? Because Paul knows, as should we, that the godhead, in perfect unity, manifests as one of its attributes, peace, divine peace! And, actively seeks to bestow this peace unto His Children! How amazing is our God, dear Christian? Because the God of peace raised Christ from the dead (Hebrews 13:20-21) and has place His Spirit within each of those He redeems (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16), He constantly seeks to give strength to His people and bless them with His peace (Psalm 29:11).
His peace passes all understanding. It “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Psalm 23:1-6 is an excellent example of His perfect peace as it relates to earthly experiences. Please take a moment and read that Psalm and write down all the reasons you see in it for you to have peace. This peace has two realms or facets to it. The positional (Romans 5:1-2) and the experiential (Psalm 23; Romans 14:13-19).
One last point to make regarding peace. The peace that our Lord gave to us through the gospel – is a peace that is meant to be shared with others (Ephesians 5:6). Are your feet prepared with the gospel of peace?
The next statement I want to discuss with you is the “be with you all” statement. Does it seem odd to you that Paul, the great apostle to the gentiles, would ask for such a thing in his prayer? After all, the Lord promised to be with us always (John 14:18, 20, 23). It isn’t if the apostle was led to ask for such a thing.
Paul knows, as should we, how important it is for God’s people to know His indwelling presence in their day-to-day lives. He knows that it is essential for us to grow in His grace and knowledge. He understands that such an experience can be hindered by un-confessed sin that we try to hide, thereby grieving the Holy Spirit and hindering His working within us.
As followers of Christ, we find our strength to live daily in Him alone (2 Timothy 4:17). He not only strengthens us, but provides comforts, equips, and leads us down the narrow way as He works out our sanctification. So, for believers to grow in Christ and experience His presence more wholly, they must submit to His word, His authority, and His will.
“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.”
FOCUS TWO: It appears that Paul felt it necessary to confirm his authorship of this letter. He states that:
This is his greeting in his own hand. And, this is what he does in every letter.
We see this in his other letters, for example:
1 Corinthians 16:21 – “in my own hand.”
Galatians 6:11 – “large letters in my own hand.”
Colossians 4:18 – “I Paul write this with my own hand.”
Philemon 1:19 – I Paul am writing this with my own hand.”
Paul seems to have felt it necessary o leave a distinguishing mark in his letters to verify that his writings were from him and not from someone posing as him. Remember what he mentioned in chapter 2:1-3? Paul wants to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
Many of his letters were written by others at his dictation, (but) to guarantee their genuineness, he closes each one with a line or two from his own hand. Do some research on your own, and you will find the science of handwriting fairly interesting. “Such analysis is based on the premise that no two individuals can produce exactly the same writing.” So, Paul understands this truth and thereby closes each letter by writing something in his own hand, noting that it would be recognizable from others!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
FOCUS THREE: “Grace, grace, God’s grace. . .” Grace is unmerited or unearned favor. It is the opposite of what sinners deserve! Paul always begins and ends his writings with his earnest desire that his readers experience God’s grace and peace! Please take a moment and reflect on his many preambles and benedictions. It is in God’s grace that Christians live, move, and have their very being. And, take notice that Paul does not exclude anyone he addresses in his letter from this blessing. Not even those he rebuked earlier (3:11-12)!
What will strengthen his readers as they continue to face opposition? What would be their ever-present ally as they share the gospel of peace? God and His amazing grace!
“What will go before them as light, as a shield, as a defense? In all their suffering, in all their temptations and despondency, God’s grace will go before them.” His grace will be sufficient!
For further thought:
1. How have you been affected by what you have learned and been reminded of in this study?
2. In what ways have you been applying Paul’s teaching in your own life?
3. Any questions regarding this study? Email me, and I will do my best to help find the answer.
In the novel, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., an important book comes to light. It is titled “What can a thoughtful man hope for mankind on earth. . .” The chief character is anxious to read it. But when he does, he finds that it doesn’t take long. The whole book consists of one word: “Nothing.”
If you are a Christian, you are probably shirking your head right about now. After all, we have Jesus, right? Yes, we do, and that’s why we have hope!
The Bible begins with the stories of creation, the fall of man, and the penalty of death being imposed upon humanity. As the story develops, we witness God giving humanity hope. Hope first enunciated to Eve and then later developed in the promise to the fathers and the prophets. The Jews had distorted that hope and made it only an earthly, national hope.
But to Paul, it was much more than that. The Gospel he was appointed to announce was designed to secure “the hope of eternal life” to those who received Christ. He did not view this as a hope newly proclaimed; instead, the apostle linked it with that promise made “long ages ago” (2 Timothy 1:9-10).
That promise was related to God’s purpose in creation-to take unto Himself a people who would enjoy eternity with Him. And it was a secure promise because it was made by God, who cannot lie.
Our only hope is in that promise of God.
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, help us see how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that because of your atoning work we should be called “children of God.” Grant us confidence and boldness for the future, as we know that “when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.” Amen.
*Adapted from The Topical Chain Study Bible, Pg. 1504
BRIEF RECAP: In our last study we meditated on Paul’s petition for prayer on behalf of himself and his associates (3:1-5). We discussed how the Apostle viewed prayer for others and ourselves as vital to our Christian lives. In those verses, the context was regarding the spread of the gospel and protection from “perverse and evil people,” who are under the control of the “evil one” (v.3). But regardless of our current context and life’s complex situations that we face, we all need divine aid in persevering through it all (v. 3)!
As Paul continues his letter, he addresses a situation within the church that already had been addressed in his first writing (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12); those who refuse to work and are a burden to others thereby exploiting them for their own gain.
He does this by placing the situation and the explanation of why such behavior shouldn’t exist among them between two imperatives (commands). The first imperative is toward those who are obeying the word of the Lord and how they are to treat those who don’t (v. 6). The second is for those who are living in disobedience to known truth and casting off the example given them by the Apostle and his associates (v.12). Ready? Let’s dive in!
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you avoid every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (v.6).
Focus one: Perhaps it would make more sense to begin with the problem and then place our focus on Paul’s response to it. Paul “heard it through the grapevine,” that some of the believers in Thessalonica were leading undisciplined lives, were not working, and rather than being busy were busy bodies (v.11). It wasn’t everybody in the church, but it only takes a few to break unity and cause strife. It appears that some people were not following the apostles exhortations and to some degree their disobedience most likely was a result of misapplying Paul’s teaching on the return of Jesus Christ. Since it appears, from what we read in these letters, that they believed His return would be in their lifetime.
The resulting behaviors than fostered laziness, living out of step with their profession of faith, and therefore led some to exploit the lives of others. Rather than being occupied with work, “some were leading idle lives, minding everybody’s business but their own” (Ewert).
The Apostle finds himself having to rebuke some for such behavior and exhort others who were following his teaching to apply a Christ-like loving response to those who were not. But, don’t think that means that they were to just “let it go,” or they were to “forgive and forget” what troubles these others were causing the body. Not at all. The most Christ-like and loving thing they could do would be to respond to these people by “withholding their fellowship in order to put such people to shame in hopes that they would repent and mend their ways and be restored to full fellowship” (Ewert). (V.6,14-15) Shame was a powerful tool in that culture for motivating a person to realign their behavior with the communities values. In this case Christ’s values! They are NOT to be excommunicated as we see in 1 Corinthians 5, but be denied close social contact with other believers.
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” (vv. 7-10).
FOCUS TWO: This was burdensome to the apostle because when he was with them he not onlytaught them about the Lord’s return, he and his companions were examples to them in leading disciplined, productive, godly lives while waiting for the Lord (vv. 7-10). They were not burdensome to any of them laboring hard day and night. They led disciplined, intentional gospel centered lives in order to model to these people what such lives look like, so they would have an example to follow.
So, Paul hearing that there was such an issue within the Thessalonian church, felt led to exhort this congregation in two ways. First, how are those who are walking in obedience to respond to those who aren’t, and second, what are those walking in disobedience supposed to do now that Paul has reminded them of his former instructions?
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you avoid every brother who leads an undisciplined (unruly) life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (v.6).
FOCUS THREE: Now that we looked at the situation and why Paul is addressing it, let’s now put our focus on the imperatives surrounding it that he gives to instruct these believers regarding their current dilemma. In verse six he gave this command to those who are walking uprightly and following their example, clearly because some discipline is necessary for the unruly people. His exhortation is clear, simple, and according to “the tradition” they received from him.
This tradition most likely is a reference to gospel instruction and gospel living that Paul gave them while he was present with them (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 5:14). Because “these people refused to work and instead relied on financial support from other believers, because they ignored his previous instruction, he commands the rest of the church to avoid them” (social distancing, removing close fellowship). Such people who refuse to work and care less about being a burden to others, are NOT to be supported!
Some may argue that doing such a thing “is not loving.” But is it truly loving to let people continue in their sin, to hurt others? Is it loving to allow lazy people the opportunity to continually exploit those who labor faithfully?
After laying down some guidelines for the bulk of the church, Paul then addresses the whole church generally, and the lazy busy bodies in particular (v. 11-13). His command to them is found in verse 12.
“Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.”
His command to these people is very clear and direct. Stop doing what you are currently doing and be obedient to the things that you were previously taught. Stop being lazy and work with your hands to provide for yourself and your family. “Paul is not offering advice (command and exhort), the health and witness of the church is at stake.”
In verses 14-15 the apostle adds some more instruction for those who are living rightly on how to handle those within their body that refuses to obey these instructions:
“And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that personand do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
NLT: Don’t think of them as enemies but warn them as you would a brother or sister.”
The words for brother and man are words used in general speaking of people and those united in some fellowship together, in this case the church.
Paul uses the word admonish (noutheteo) here which means to warn someone of the consequences of their actions. Paul is making it clear that this is the responsibility of the whole church and at the same time he is providing a model for them to follow of “church discipline.” Discipline, yes. But discipline aimed at the restoration of the person, not their condemnation!
Going back to verse 12 we find Paul’s encouragement to these believers as they deal with unruly people among themselves: “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”
Dealing with unruly people can be hard, exhausting work. It can way heavy on our hearts and minds. It can lead us into bitter and complaining spirits. But despite the hard exhausting effort involved Paul exhorts them to persevere. Thankfully, dear Christian, we have the Holy Spirit residing within us. We know the “Lord of peace” who is able to grant us peace in every circumstance as we read in verse 16! He is able to sustain us as we seek to help one another along the narrow way.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. Are you weary of doing good. What other scriptures can you find that will encourage you to persevere?
2. What does Matthew 18:15-17 teach regarding church discipline?
3. How is that form of discipline different from what Paul speaks of in our text (vv. 12-15).
“We like to think that because we believe the right doctrine and belong to the right church we can always count on the Lord’s blessing in our lives. Israel believed their covenant with God and the presence of the ark in battle would assure them of victory over the Philistines. They lost the battle and the ark was captured by the enemy.”
“The Philistines also believed their idol to be superior to God until it fell and broke in pieces when the ark was placed beside it. The inhabitants of every city where the ark was placed were plagued with tumors. When the ark was returned, the Israelites who received it were punished for looking inside contrary to the law.”
We learn a valuable lesson from this historical account. The lesson is this: that even those in a covenant relationship with God cannot expect His blessing when they are (disobedient) to His laws and commandments.
Presumption, or “going beyond the limits of what is permitted or deemed acceptable,” regarding God’s holiness and kindness towards us, will always end up with His chastening hand upon us, not His blessings (Hebrews 12:6). God loves us and desires to bless us, but His holiness is always foremost in all His doings!
“Because God’s holiness is a function of His transcendence, because he is high and exalted, nothing in creation can match the Lord in His glory, power, and purity.”
So, let us each day walk with faith and in obedience to His revealed will for us, not presuming upon Him more than he has promised (Romans 15:18)!
PRAYER: Father, forgive us for those times we tend to presume upon you things that we shouldn’t, or expect more than you promised. Please help us to regard your dignity and majesty above all else, so that our lives would be lived by faith and your name lifted up among the lost. Amen.
*Adapted from the Topical Chain Study Bible , 1983
* Quote from Ligonier Ministries article, “the meaning of holiness.”
Brief Intro: Paul has just finished praying for the believers in Thessalonica (2:16-17) and now petitions them to pray for him and his companions. He begins this petition with the word “finally,” signaling to his readers that he is concluding this letter.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.”
FOCUS ONE: If you haven’t taken notice yet, prayer is of extreme importance to Paul. Prayer for others and also prayers for him! There are many examples throughout Paul’s epistles of the former, but I would like to reference a few examples of the latter.
Romans 15:30-32: “strive together with me in your prayer to God for me.”
2 Corinthians 1:10-11: “you also joining in helping us through your prayers.”
Ephesians 6:18-20: “and pray on my behalf.”
Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; and of course 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2
I think we can safely surmise from reading all of these references for prayer that Paul was more telling them to pray than he was asking them to pray! But don’t take that as Paul being arrogant or cold. As one commentator notes: “It is a sign of the apostle’s humility that he would ask his convert’s, young in the faith, to pray for him.” It’s not hard to understand why: Prayer is commanded in scripture, prayer is necessary for every child of God, and prayer changes things! Christ, Himself, expects that His beloved would be a prayerful people (Matthew 6:6).
We are urged to pray for:
The salvation of sinners
For the comfort and encouragement of others
For their joy and peace and the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives
Our government and its leaders,
The right words to say
For our spiritual leaders
The list goes on and on. Now, that doesn’t mean that we always have to pray for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g every time we pray, but we are to be diligent in our prayer lives to pray broadly when we do pray so that we cover more than one area of need each time we pray. We witness this very thing in Paul’s petition for their prayers on his behalf (vv. 1,2). These requests of the Apostle are focused and directed at one item: The proclamation of the gospel and protection while proclaiming it everywhere He opens doors. But that isn’t always the immediate focus, as evidenced above.
The gospel is not the words of men but the very words of God! That is why it has such a tremendous effect in the hearts and minds of those who hear and believe. It is not about politics, crime, or entertainment. Instead, it is a message about the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done to save us from God, our creator (Psalm 7:11; John 3:36; Revelation 20:15)! Paul wants it to spread rapidly because when God’s people are boldly proclaiming it, it spreads, and souls are saved from eternal damnation (Matthew 7:21-23), and that brings God glory!
However, the Apostle realizes that there will always be opposition to the gospel, fierce opposition. We are used to being mocked, ignored, and perhaps may even lose our job or influence because of it. But, Paul is thinking on a much higher plane here. He is thinking about beatings, stoning, and imprisonment, to name a few things.
Paul knows that unbelief is prevalent in society and so perverse and evil people will always be against the truth, always turn from the light, and always attack those who share the “gospel of peace.” Perhaps in the apostles’ mind, (1) “praying for his safety and for others who spread the gospel is tantamount to praying for the progress of the gospel.”
“But, the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
FOCUS TWO: Even though perverse and evil people exist and seek to stop the spread of the gospel, Paul is confident in the Lord’s faithfulness, and why shouldn’t he be? “If we are faithless, He remains faithful-for He cannot deny Himself” ( 2 Timothy 2:13)! Paul told the Corinthians that God is faithful and would not let them be tempted beyond their ability (1 Corinthians 10:13). John wrote that God is faithful in His forgiveness of our sins if we confess them (1 John 1:9). GREAT is thy faithfulness is the shout of the lamenter, Jeremiah (Lamentations 3:22-23). Since He is faithful (credible) in all those things, He most certainly will be with these petitions since they are according to His will! But what does Paul mean by these terms?
Guard you against the evil one
He is speaking about their need for strengthening to continue the “good fight of faith” amid the opposition and persecution they are facing. And their need for protection as they do so. But take notice of a subtle shift in opponents! In verse two, Paul spoke of evil and perverse men. In this verse, he is directly referencing the evil one.
Behind all the evil in the world and the people who practice it is this evil one. Satan is the arch-enemy of God and, therefore, those who are God’s. He’s referenced in scripture as a serpent and dragon (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:12). We are told that he is a murder and the Father of lies who promotes false teaching and loves to keep the lost, lost in their transgressions and sins (John 8:44; 1 Timothy 4:1). To face such a foe would be utter foolishness if it were not for the faithfulness of God in supplying us His Holy Spirt and the “armor of God!”
“And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into steadfastness of Christ.”
FOCUS THREE: The confidence that Paul holds regarding these believers to obey the commands given is not based on human wisdom, power, or resolve to do what is right. Instead, it is based on, and tied to, the Lord. His knowledge; His power; His resolve to fulfill His word (Jeremiah 1:12; Isaiah 55:6-11). As such, he is also confident in them, these young converts, because of their love for Christ and desires to be with Him in glory (2:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
In verse five, the Apostle writes another short prayer or benediction; perhaps, such as we see in verse 16 and his other writings. His desire for them is that the Lord would accomplish two things in their hearts:
To grow in their love for God
And into the patience of Christ
It is not that these believers were stagnant in their faith or love for God and others, quite the contrary (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9-10). But, the Apostle wholly desired continual growth in these areas of their lives. We grow physically, we grow mentally, and we must grow spiritually (2 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 6:1-2). Spiritual growth is vital for us as individual believers, but its benefits do not end with us. Spiritually growing believers, spiritually mature followers of Christ are examples to those around them of how faith works out in daily practice (Philippians 3:17; Matthew 5:16; Hebrews 13:7).
Growing love for God is not Paul’s only desire; growth into the patience of Christ is as well. It appears that Paul may be reflecting on the patience of Christ when He walked among us and suffered to fulfill the Father’s will (Philippians 2:5-11; Isaiah 53). Such patience would be needed for these believers to endure the persecution they would be facing while following the example Christ gave while he suffered and died in their place (1 peter 2:21-24)!
RECAP: Have you ever felt shaken in mind, deeply, even fearfully alarmed by a thought or statement that seemed to challenge your understanding of God and His grace, or God and His ultimate plans for you? In our previous study, Paul began to correct the church’s misunderstanding regarding the Lord Jesus Christ’s coming again (2:1). It was being propagated among them that the day of the Lord had come, and they missed it (2:2-3a)! They were being “shaken from their minds” and were “disturbed” within their souls at the prospect of such a thing. Why didn’t they remember what Paul previously taught them when he was with them (2:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:9)? How quickly rumors and deception can knock us off our feet!
With such a message discouraging these believers and perhaps weakening their faith, Paul reminds them of what he told them when he first came to them (2:5,6).
BRIEF INTRO: With all said he felt needed to be said, the Apostle begins to focus on his reader’s spiritual growth. He wants them to be strengthened and comforted in God’s choosing or “electing” them for salvation (2:13). Paul lays out how this salvation has come to them and the results of God’s grace upon them in these following two verses.
13″ But we should always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you [a]from the beginning for salvation [b]through sanctification [c]by the Spirit and faith in the truth14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, [d]that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
FOCUS ONE: Verse thirteen begins much like verse three in Chapter one began. But, there is a slight difference in emphasis in each one. In chapter one, Paul was led to thank God for their faith growing and maturing. In our text, Paul expresses thankfulness for the work begun in them by the Holy Spirit, which He is still doing in them and will until their faith becomes sight (Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 5:7)!
He gives thanks to God for His choosing them for salvation (2:13). In eternity past, God in love chose those Thessalonians for salvation. His purpose in election is always “salvation!”
What Paul is speaking of here is the (1) “act of God by which, before the foundation of the world, He chose in Christ those whom He graciously regenerates, saves, and sanctifies (Romans 8:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 1:4-11).
The means God uses to achieve this purpose are:
The sanctifying work of the Spirit
Belief in the truth
The regeneration of sinners and their sanctification is God’s will (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). Regeneration happens when the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner of his/her sinfulness and need for forgiveness and then opens up their hearts to respond in repentant faith (Acts 16:14). Personal or experiential sanctification is a process that begins at salvation and continues in this life until Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 5:23). (1) “Every saved person is involved in a daily conflict—the new creation in Christ doing battle against the flesh—but adequate provision is made for victory through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”
Positional sanctification is accomplished at salvation and can never be undone! It has to do with the believers standing before God, not his/her walk (Acts 20:32; Hebrews 10:10). And it is accomplished by the finished work of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11). What a great source of comfort for believers to know that God’s Holy Spirit is actively working in their lives, transforming them more into the image of their savior!
But it is not by the Spirit’s work alone that a sinner is redeemed; He uses His written Word to convict sinners of their sins and need for Christ’s righteousness (John 16:8-11; Romans 10:17).
Now, take notice of the first word in verse thirteen, “BUT.” That’s important because it signals to his readers that he is changing his focus. The wrath, the judgment, the pain and anguish of soul, just spoken of, is NOT FOR YOU dear Thessalonians, NOR YOU dear Christian! Ultimately one day, we will gain possession of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will enter into His glory at His parousia, presence!
15 “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter [e]from us.”
FOCUS TWO: So then, or because of the truthful facts just mentioned, Paul gives them a command-stand firm. What an exciting appeal to make in light of the things just mentioned. (2) “If God’s call to salvation and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit underscore the divine initiative, this imperative (command) to stand firm puts the emphasis on human response!” These Christians were already urged to stand firm in the face of persecution (1 Thessalonians 3:8), now they are being told to stand firm regarding sound teaching.
John wrote in his first epistle: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Paul wrote the believers in Rome: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
He also wrote his beloved son in the faith, Timothy: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine. . . “(2 Timothy 4:3-4).
If these believers needed such an exhortation to stand firm regarding sound teaching, we more so. As much as things change, they remain the same. The false teachings we deal with today are not “new inventions,” just the same ole lies dressed up differently! The media and internet, our technology, allow for a broader, more attractive presentation of false teachings. More people can be deceived today faster than in any other age. So, stand firm dear Christian, hold to sound doctrine, and expose what is not.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
FOCUS THREE: These verses appear to be Paul’s prayer for these believers based upon all that he reminded them of and encouraged them with when he was with them. In his prayer, he addresses both the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father, who has graciously bestowed His love upon them. The words “who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace,” are possibly a reference to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is there where such “eternal” comfort and good hope would find its supreme manifestation by His grace (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; John 15:13). Our hope is good in that it is not only our hope in this life but a hope that reaches beyond the grave and into eternal life (Romans 8:24; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Psalm 71:5). Biblical hope is a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5).
In verse seventeen, we read Paul’s petitions for the Thessalonians, and at this time, he has only two requests of the Lord for them. This prayer is the second of four small prayers throughout this letter that the Apostle employs (1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:5; 3:16). His petitions?
That God would comfort them
That God would strengthen their hearts
And that the Father would do this for them in “every good work and word.”
“Paul has just assured them that God the Father has given them eternal comfort and good hope,” but it appears that he wants them to experience it more fully while they are suffering under persecution. God has various ways in which He can comfort and strengthen believers. He can work through His Spirit, His Word, and even His redeemed children to answer Paul’s prayer!
Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would comfort them (John 14:26).
Paul wrote the Ephesians “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).
The Psalmist wrote that God’s steadfast love comforted him because of the promises He gave him in His word (Psalm 119:50;76).
The writer of Hebrews explains how God’s word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12), and Paul told Timothy how it benefits believers in their daily walk in (2 Timothy 3:16).
And Paul explained to the Philippians how they are to comfort, encourage, and strengthen one another by having the same attitude as Christ had when He was on the earth (Philippians 2:1-11).
Believers of any generation need God’s help to do the good works that He has prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2:10). And in case you think it is odd that words and works are coupled together in this prayer, think again. We see this often throughout scripture (Luke 24:19 regarding Jesus; Acts 7:22 regarding Moses). Read through the book of Acts, and you will find that one always accompanied the other in the early days of Paul and others’ missionary efforts!
The Bible clearly shows that our works and our words go hand in hand in our walk of faith in Jesus Christ as we seek to share the gospel with others. Live it out, but also speak about it as well.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. What Bible verses strengthen and comfort you? How can you use them to pray for others to be strengthened and comforted?
2. Look up the verses given in focus one regarding “election” and write down what they teach us about God’s sovereignty in our salvation.
3. What have you learned, or are reminded of in our study so far, that has comforted and strengthened you in your walk-in Christ?
(1) John MacArthur
(2) David Ewert Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians