Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Paul began to wrap this letter up with a few final comments, the first of which was to ask for prayer.
- What were his prayer requests?
- What do they say about Paul?
You might have noticed that this prayer request kind of morphs into more reassurance for the Thessalonians which perhaps says something about the character of Paul. He knew he needed prayer and he was not ashamed to ask for it but he was always thinking of other people and always building up disciples of Jesus Christ.
But when asking for prayer, what was his request? What was top priority for him? Again, he wasn’t really thinking about himself. He said, “pray for us” but it wasn’t a selfish prayer. “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly. And be honoured just as it was with you.”
- So, who was he praying for?
He was praying for himself and for his team (It was “us” not “me”) because they were called to spread the gospel. The prayer was “May we be effective. May we be able to make huge progress. May we be able spread this message far and wide. May we have opportunities and open doors.
Then he asked for prayer that the gospel “be honoured, just as it was with you”. He asked for prayer for those who would share the gospel – for himself and his team – but he also asked for prayer for those who would receive it. When it is heard, may it be honoured. May it be received and taken seriously and understood. May people respond.
So, who is on Paul’s mind? Himself? Is he wanting to be successful and receive the glory? I don’t think so. That is not Paul’s heart. His heart is that people come to know Jesus.
For example, look at Colossians 1:27-28 where Paul sums up his purpose and his priorities.
Col 1:27-18 We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Paul said that all his energy – no, all the energy that Jesus gave him – was focused on presenting everyone fully mature in Christ. That is what disciple-making is all about – bring people to faith in Jesus then bringing them to maturity in Jesus.
That is his heart; that is what prompted him to ask first and foremost for success in spreading the gospel. So, who is he really praying for?
He is praying for the lost. He wants to see people saved. Put that in context.
- Can you think of anything we have seen in this letter already that makes this particularly relevant?
In the previous chapter, when he was exhorting the Thessalonians to stand firm amidst persecution, he had talked about how people were perishing. People did not love the truth but instead delighted in sin. People were not honouring the gospel. They were hearing it and dismissing it. Light came into the world but they preferred the darkness. They treated the gospel as of no value – something to be discarded and maybe even mocked. These were the people who were persecuting the Christians.
In chapter 1 he had also talked about God’s judgement and said that God would punish those who did not know Him and did not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
2 Thess 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might…
There has been quite a lot about judgement.
- Is judgement something Christians delight in?
Paul does not say these things with any glee. He was not delighting in the fact that people would be judged. He is certainly realistic about it. It is true: if people ignore the salvation God offers because they want to continue living their lives the way they want to, then it is true that a day of reckoning is coming and it will not be pretty. That is the realism but it is not what Christians want; it is not even what God wants. The Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved. That was Paul’s heart too and the reason his priority prayer request is about the gospel spreading and being honoured.
But he wasn’t only praying for the lost. If people treated the gospel as being of no value then, by implication, they were saying that Jesus was of no value. You might remember that the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Confession. What is the chief end of man? Why do we exist? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Paul wanted people to be saved but he also wanted God to be glorified. If Jesus was treated with contempt, Paul grieved because he was all about God receiving the glory that is rightfully His.
2 Thess 1:12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…
His passion for the gospel and for the spreading of the gospel arose out of love for God and love for others. Those two commands that Jesus said were the most important and the second most important, must lead us to evangelism. If we love God, we want God to receive glory; we want more and more people honouring and worshipping God. And if we love people, we do not want them punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of God.
Would this have been your priority prayer? Pray for me that I might be effective in rapidly spreading the message about Jesus?
Paul said to the Thessalonians, may the gospel be honoured as it was with you. It is interesting, I think, to see what happened when Paul preached in Thessalonica. READ 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 and 2:13.
When the gospel came, it was not simply words. It came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. God moved powerfully. They recognised it as the word of God not just human words and they welcomed it with joy even in the midst of severe suffering. They repented. Hey turned from idols to serve the living and true God. They then set about learning how to live as Christians, becoming imitators of Paul and of Jesus Himself. Then the gospel message rang out from them throughout two whole provinces – Macedonia and Achaia. Everybody knew about their conversion and their faith. They proclaimed it.
The early Christians knew that their God-given task was to tell others about Jesus but mission is not often at the core of today’s churches.
We live in a context where we find it increasingly difficult to talk about Jesus. There is more antagonism and apathy. We also might not have experienced a context where the church has been strongly missional. We haven’t had it modelled for us. Or, even if we have, the world is changing so rapidly that those methods do not seem to work anymore. We start at a disadvantage. The question is: What do we want the future to look like? Could we go on a journey with the desire to reflect the heart of Paul so that our priority prayer request is also that God might use us to rapidly spread the gospel? Could we go on a journey towards loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls so that we want to see Him receive more and more glory, and loving others enough that we don’t want to see them punished with everlasting destruction? That journey might start with just looking to build relationships and serve in the name of Jesus. And then becoming better at knowing how to offer the good news of Jesus Christ.
The second part of Paul’s prayer request was “and pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. Paul was not asking to be able to retire from evangelism – “Lord, please give me an easy and comfortable life far from the dangers of wicked and evil people”. On the contrary, he knew he was going right back into the battle and so he sought prayer for God’s deliverance.
There are people out there who will oppose the gospel. He does not mention it here but there are also spiritual forces violently opposed to anyone hearing the gospel of Jesus. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
Our world seems to have gone crazy with all sorts of bizarre ideas that are accepted as normal, huge secularisation meaning that people ignore God, immorality on a large scale and a justifying of that, huge social problems, etc. In a crazy world, God needs people whose first thought is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and who are willing to suffer for that. People are perishing in large numbers all around us. God is not honoured. The world is being misled and sleep-walking to destruction. God needs people who love Him and love others and whose focus is that people need to hear about Jesus. Is that you?
Paul knew he was putting himself into danger. He knew he needed the Thessalonians’ prayer. But notice his very next statement: “Not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful.” That is where His confidence is. And that is where the prayer requests morph back into encouragement for the Thessalonians. Paul forgets about his own situation and assures them that God will be faithful to them in their situation. “but the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one… May He direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”
We can have confidence that God is faithful and will strengthen us and protect us.
- What do we need to pray in our context that picks up Paul’s prayer concerns?