Facing What’s Coming (2 Thessalonians 2:13-15)

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians was written to a church that had been formed recently in a hostile environment. Indeed, Paul and his colleagues had been forced to leave the city because of intense opposition instigated by Jews who did not like his message. Now he sends a second letter to the church, providing pastoral insight and counsel for them to benefit from in a spiritual sense. We can consider briefly what he wrote in this section of the letter.

The previous section indicates that the church of Christ will always exist in difficult times. Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica of the existence of a kingdom that opposes the kingdom of Jesus, and that this enemy kingdom will continue to work in different ways until the second coming.

This means that it is at work today, but it will be at work in ways that suits today, depending on which place we are speaking about. We should not expect the tactics of the enemy to be the same everywhere. Yet whatever it may do, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of certain realities.

Prayer – his personal example
What kind of person was Paul as far as his prayer life was concerned? Many details could be deduced from his letters. We can see four features of his prayer life in this passage.

(a) He engaged in what we can call intelligent prayer for the Thessalonians. After all, he would not have prayed the same details for churches in other places.

(b) In addition, he engaged in incessant prayer. It is a brave man who uses the word ‘always’ with regard to his prayers. As we read it here, we must conclude either that he was exaggerating or else he was telling the truth. When he prayed, he let his mind wander over to his friends in Thessalonica and recalled their aims and prayed about them.

(c) Paul prayed for Jesus to be honoured in and through the Thessalonians.

(d) Paul at the time was engaged in a prayer triplet with Silas and Timothy and we can see that his two friends prayed in the same way that he did. Can we ask, ‘Would Paul be comfortable in a prayer triplet with us?’

His petitions can be divided into two areas. The first one concerns God making his people in Thessalonica worthy of his calling.

Some might respond to this and say, ‘I thought God would do this without my prayers. Does his intentions for the Thessalonians depend on my prayers?’ The answer to that question would be ‘no’, but the answer would also include the reminder that prayer is a God-given opportunity to share in his activities.

In fact, true prayer is usually nothing else. When we ask God to bless the gospel in a certain place we are sharing in his activity in that place. And the same is true of most petitions we make asking the Lord to intervene and change a situation.

What does Paul have in mind when he prays for his friends to become worthy of God’s calling? He is not praying for perfection in them because he knows that is not possible in this life. I would suggest that what he has in mind is grateful service.

Imagine a slave in a good master’s house at that time. If he is a Christian slave, he wants to be worthy of his master. Other slaves go around moaning about this and that. But the Christian slave thinks about all the good things that his master gives him and as he lists them in his mind he says to himself, ‘My master is very good to me and therefore I will gladly serve him.’ The friends of his master observe the way the slave works and they say to the master, ‘You have a worthy slave there.’

In a far higher sense, we are God’s slaves, but we are not in slavery as the world defines it. Instead we are enjoying the Master’s bounty and because that is the case our lives in general should be worthy of such a gracious God.

The second area of his petitions concerns their activities, which he describes as ‘resolves for good’ and ‘works of faith’, and for which he wants God to work in power. I suspect he is describing the same things by those phrases, except that when he calls them ‘resolves for good’ he has in mind their connection to people and when he calls them ‘works of faith’ he has in mind their connection to God. This means that we cannot bring good to other people unless we are acting in faith.

We should observe that Paul indicates that every one of those activities needs God’s power in order to be blessed. This is a reminder that when we do something we either do it in our own strength or we do it in God’s strength. How do we know when we are doing it in God’s strength?

One way is that we ask him in faith for his power. Maybe as we look back over the past year we might see many examples where we failed to ask for God’s power. For example, we know that we are going to speak to one another, but did we ask that God would speak powerfully through our words? Did we ask him to give us the words to say to each person that we would encounter?

We may think that is a very trivial matter. Yet if we don’t do little things by faith, what expectation can we have that we will do bigger things by faith? After all, Jesus said that he that is faithful in least will also be faithful in much.

The prospect that Paul reminds his friends about is glory for Jesus and also a shared glory for us. That is what Paul says he is praying for. It will be a great day when it occurs, the day Jesus returns in power and honour, with his people there with him sharing in his glory.

Paul does not only want Jesus to be glorified (that will happen anyway), he also wants the Thessalonians to have an experience of blessing as well. They will get it if they pray for God’s power in all that they engage in for him.

How should we view 2018? It is a year for targeting future glory, not because we are self-centred but because we are Christ-centred. We should not be surprised at this because that is one reason why the Father and the Son give grace to their people.

Perseverance in truth
Paul then stresses the importance of them adhering closely to what he had taught them, either when he had been present or later by his letters. Standing firm means that they should not move an inch from his teaching. He was telling them to adhere to the truth, and not to anything else. This was the only place of safety against the enemy kingdom.

Of course, what Paul means by traditions are not some notions that he imagined by himself that they should follow. Rather he is referring to the instruction he gave as an apostle of Christ under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The application for us is that we should adhere to God’s Word as we face the attacks of the enemy kingdom in our particular situation.

Obedience to the Word and meaningful prayer are good resolutions for 2018.

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