In chapter 3:1-5, Paul speaks of the faithfulness of God. First, he presents a prayer-point concerning the business of making known the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then expresses his faith in God's willingness to protect the Thessalonian believers from the evil one so that they will be free to continue to serve the Lord as Paul has instructed them.
v1. In the first two verses Paul gives two prayer points. The first concerns the "message of the Lord", the gospel. He asks that it may "spread rapidly" (run). Paul is asking for the free movement of the gospel in the communities in which he ministers. He also asks that the gospel "may be honoured" (glorified). The gospel is certainly honoured when people respond to it, so Paul's request may be that people submit to it.
v2. His second prayer point is that he might be delivered out of the hands of "wicked and evil men". He is most likely thinking of those who opposed his gospel ministry. These men dogged his mission and sought to undermine his evangelistic outreach in the local synagogues. A substantial element of this opposition came from Jewish Christians who opposed Paul's Gentile mission, and particularly his teaching on God's free grace through faith apart from obedience to the Mosaic Law. For Paul, this opposition, based on concepts of legalism and nationalism, were most likely the "secret power of lawlessness .... already at work". Here was the present "coming" and "display" of the Man of Lawlessness. Mr. Loss was doing the "work of Satan" and therefore Paul could rightly ask that the powers of darkness be stayed for the sake of gospel proclamation, cf., chapter 2.
v3. For some reason Paul moves his focus from himself to that of his readers. What he says for them in their situation certainly applies to his own difficulties. He knows Jesus is able to stand with him, as well as with the Thessalonians, for he is "Lord". The powers of darkness cannot stand against the King of the Ages. He knows that Jesus will do two things. First, he will "strengthen", in the sense of establish them in their Christian lives. They will not be left to the wiles of the powers of darkness. Second, Jesus will "protect", in the sense of guard them from the powers of darkness (Satan).
v4. Paul's confidence in "the Lord" is that the Thessalonians will persevere in their Christian lives, living out the directions that Paul has given them in the Lord. Paul can be confident that the Thessalonians, who have put their faith in Christ, will indeed "do the things we command." This confidence rests on the promise of the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.
v5. On the basis of his confidence that the Lord will work his work in the Thessalonians (as in himself), he prays for them. He prays that the Lord will do what he has promised he will do. He prays "according to His will". Paul prays for the removal of obstacles, that their whole beings might be focused first, on "God's love", that the Lord may direct their inner being to love as God loves. And second, that the Thessalonians might persevere in the Christian life with the perseverance that Christ showed. "I pray that the Lord will guide you to be as loving as God and as patient as Christ", CEV.
It is a great shock when we come to realize that we are not the center of the universe. What a terrible day it was when we finally came to see that mum and dad were not going to give us everything we wanted. I can't remember that day, but I am sure I put on a tantrum of some kind. Good parenting is not a give them what they want parenting. Mum and dad are not always going to carry us.
In my early Christian life I approached prayer as if it was a kind of tool to get God to do what I wanted. When I was in trouble, he was there to help me out if I asked him. He was there to give me all the good things of this life, if I asked him. He was there for healing, if I asked him. God was at my beck-and-call.
Of course, he could say no or not yet, but if he did, I was a bit suspicious that maybe I didn't ask in the right way. I may not have had enough faith. I may not have persisted enough. I obviously needed to get rid of all my doubts and then wear him down. But then he may have said no to work our his sovereign purposes. Maybe I needed to be taught a lesson. A bit like an article I once read where a young wife was trying to find some reason for the death of her husband. She concluded that God had taken him to strengthen her Christian life. She was drifting and so God killed her husband to bring her back. An interesting point of view!
I came unstuck with this sort of thinking when I discovered that most of the verses from the Bible - the "ask and you shall receive" (anything) type verse - most of these in context were not saying ask whatever you like and God will do it for you. In fact, they were very specific in telling us what God has promised to do for us. I finally came to realize that God answers the prayer that is "according to his will", not the prayer that is according to my will.
We feel very vulnerable when the support of our parents is taken away from us. We feel alone, deserted even. I think that's the way we feel when we lose the cosy feeling that God is there fixing everything up for us. All of a sudden we are no longer dependent, but independent. We are masters of our own destiny and facing the rush of circumstance alone. Very vulnerable indeed.
Yet, once we overcome the initial shock we start to again see God's involvement in our lives, but this time through mature eyes. His involvement is clearer, his intervention far more powerful. We begin to see him doing the things he said he would do. We can then place ourselves in the center of his will, and no longer be observers of the Divine drama, but rather participants.
In our passage for study Paul covers a number of points of prayer for himself and for the Thessalonians. They are worth looking at because they provide some guidelines on prayer which is according to the will of God, prayers that will be answered yes.
Paul asks that the gospel spread rapidly into society and that it be honoured, in the sense of people believing in it. God's Word does not return to him void, it achieves its intended end. We are not be able to identify who will respond to the gospel, but people will believe, the lost will be found. This we can pray for believing.
The "evil one" seeks to frustrate God's plans, particularly the work of the gospel. Paul prays that he be "delivered" from those who seek to frustrate his ministry. Trouble will come, particularly when we touch gospel truth, but the powers of darkness cannot ultimately frustrate gospel ministry, or our dependence on Christ, cf. 3:3. This we can pray for believing.
Paul asks that the Thessalonians be strengthened for their service to Christ, both in what they say and in what they do. He asks that they be established firmly as disciples. This is primarily a function of the ministry of the Spirit who, through the Word of God, bolsters us up in service to Christ. We come to understand the truth and find we have the power (albeit imperfectly) to speak it and live it. God's promise to us is that we will be empowered to speak for Christ when asked to do so, and to live for Christ in our daily lives, cf. 3:4. This we can pray for believing.
The indwelling Spirit of Christ intends to mould our character into the image of Christ - to shape God's character of love in our inner beings. Paul prays for his readers that they may experience the reality of God's love in their lives. This we can pray for believing.
Paul asks that the total being of his readers persevere in the Christian life. He asks this of the Lord of the universe and so their keeping on is through Christ, not their own effort. In Christ they will persevere. This we can pray for believing.
1. List the prayer points contained in this passage and discuss the relevance of each for discipleship today.
2. Some of the prayer points are backed up by propositional truths in the form of promises from God. Examine the passage and see if you can identify some.
3. What has this passage got to say on the issue of evangelism?