So far in these two letters Paul has:
- Given thanks for their faithfulness in spite of persecution and trials.
- Defended his own conduct against false accusations.
- Instructed them concerning the return of Jesus.
- Before Jesus returns – the Apostasy – Man of Lawlessness revealed
- When Jesus returns – believers caught up – wicked punished
- He has also encouraged them to remain steadfast, in the meantime: continue believing the truth and follow the path of truth in order to avoid the destruction awaiting those who follow the path of lies and deception.
After these instructions Paul leaves them with two final exhortations as he closes his epistle.
Exhortation #1 – Pray
1Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4We have confidence in the Lord concerning you that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5May the Lord direct your heart into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
- II Thessalonians 3:1-5
Paul has begun this letter by praying for them, now he closes the letter by asking them to pray for him. He guides them in the things to pray for:
Vs. 1 – That the Gospel will grow and spread as it did with them (church growth begins with prayer, then and now).
Vs. 2 – That Paul will be delivered from those who oppose the gospel because of lack of faith (the world opposes the church, then and now).
Vs. 3 – He reassures them concerning the things he has spoken (be assured that it will all happen, don't doubt).
Paul knew that the Gospel is God's powerful tool to save man, but prayer is what keeps the Gospel in motion and being spread. You can't save people just by praying for them; somewhere along the way you have to preach the Gospel to them. They have to know the terms of their salvation. They have to be confronted with the painful truth that unless they obey the Gospel and follow Christ they are lost. We have to risk telling them this, and take the chance that they will be upset with us or reject and even humiliate us.
There is no salvation without the Gospel, but there is no Gospel being sent without prayer. Jesus prayed that God would send workers (Matthew 9:37-38).
Vs. 4-5 – In the last verses of this section Paul reminds them that God will answer their prayers. And in answer to their prayers God will not only guard Paul, but will also guard them and help them to grow in love and perseverance. These then, are the type of things we should also be praying for ourselves.
Exhortation #2 – Stay Busy in Doing Good
Vs. 6 – Paul describes the problem they are having and how to handle it. They should remain aloof (means to mark off a boundary) from those who are living disorderly lives (not according to what they had been taught). What had they been taught?
- Faithfulness, good works
- Prayer, purity
- Not to unnecessarily be a burden to others
We must remember that in the first letter Paul had admonished those who were not working to get busy and quietly support themselves (I Thessalonians 4:11). Apparently some still believed that the end was at hand and did not obey this admonition. Paul, in the name of Christ, commands the church to take action. In this section he describes five things they should be busy doing:
1. Remain aloof (stay away)
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
- II Thessalonians 3:6
We've already mentioned this one. They are to note and withdraw from lazy, undisciplined, unrepentant Christians so that their behavior is made public and dealt with. This is not easy to do but very effective when done in a proper and loving way.
2. Follow the example of the Apostles
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 would 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, so that you would follow our example.
- II Thessalonians 3:7-9
The Apostles are the living examples that Christ left for us to follow. We copy Christ when we copy the examples of their lives and their faith.
3. Remember and obey the teaching
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
- II Thessalonians 3:10-12
The Apostles taught on the subject of right living in the Lord; remember this teaching and teach it to the ones who need to obey it…on all matters.
4. Don't be discouraged
But as for, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
- II Thessalonians 3:13
Don't be tired of doing good, working hard and encouraging those who are not doing good and working hard. God will reward you – this is His promise, so don't quit.
5. Discipline those who refuse to repent
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
- II Thessalonians 3:14-15
They had to continue to warn and teach the disobedient and unrepentant one while remaining separated from him. They had to do this unpleasant task and still remember that he was a brother and needed to be disciplined in love. One of the reasons that there is often division and trouble in the church is the reluctance to discipline correctly those members who are not following the teachings of Christ. These became like a cancer on the body, robbing it of strength and health.
Obviously, this is a short list of the type of things Christians ought to be doing, but the Thessalonian Christians definitely had to focus on these areas in order to remain viable as a church.
Paul has thanked, taught, exhorted, and now he closes his letter with a variety of thoughts that the Thessalonians needed to ponder.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
- II Thessalonians 3:16
God is with them in every situation. His presence is what brings them the peace they feel and want to remain in.
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.
- II Thessalonians 3:17
This letter is genuine. They may have received fake reports in the past which led to confusion and disturbed their sense of peace, but his letter is true. They can therefore follow its instructions with confidence. He probably had someone else write the letter as he dictated and then signed it with his own hand (2:2). Some think that his "thorn" in the flesh was poor eyesight that necessitated this and produced the unusual signature he talks about.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
- II Thessalonians 3:18
He offers a final blessing on the church. If they have the Lord's favor upon them, there is nothing that can harm them, and their blessings and future are secure.
In this final chapter Paul describes a people who have believed the truth and this truth is what separates them from those who are in darkness and who will be punished when Jesus returns. In this closing portion Paul does three things:
- He encourages them to pray that the truth will continue to spread. Prayer is the fuel of the Gospel and Paul wants them to pray to this end.
- He commands them to take action against those who are living in a disorderly way within the church.
- He exhorts them to follow his example in the way they live their everyday lives.
The theme for these lessons in I and II Thessalonians has been "Be Ready" because the Lord is coming. Note that Paul, in the closing section of his second letter actually spells out the type of things all Christians need to be doing in order to – Be Ready:
1. Believe the Truth
The reason people perish is because they ultimately end up believing a lie. For example, they believe as true that:
- Jesus is not God
- Jesus is not Lord
- Jesus is not Savior
- God will not punish sinners
- There is no god
It is the belief of what is false that condemns a person in the end. In order to believe the truth however, we need to:
- Want to believe the truth – Hebrews 11:6
- We must hear it – John 17:17; Romans 10:17
- We must obey it – Matthew 7:21
In order to continue believing what is true we need to:
- Continue hearing God's word – I Peter 2:2
- Continue obeying God's word – John 15:6-7
Believing the truth is not a once in a lifetime event like baptism. It is an on-going process. In this process we grow deeper in appreciation and understanding of God's word as we continue in study and obedience. You cannot appropriate truth without corresponding obedience. Growth in the knowledge of God's truth requires obedience to God's truth.
As you believe, so you become. What you believe changes you only when you respond to it in obedience. In order to be ready we must also…
2. Pray Always
Paul prayed for them, they prayed for him. As Christians we must be strong in prayer if we are to be truly ready. We have more good reasons to constantly pray than the one reference in Thessalonians. We pray because:
- Jesus, God's Son, prayed often – Matthew 26:36
- Satan is powerful and always at work – I Peter 5:8
- God commands us to do it – I Thessalonians 5:17
- God answers prayer. It works! – James 5:16
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us that the battles we as Christians fight are not physical – even if the battlefield is the physical world. The wars and conflicts here on earth are the results of spiritual activities going on in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6:12). The armies of the earth fight many battles here but are of no consequence in affecting the spiritual warfare above.
It is the Lord's army who does battle with these heavenly forces through prayer, that has a direct effect on the spiritual warfare taking place here on earth.
Be ready by believing the truth, by on-going prayer and by…
3. Staying Busy
We give ourselves lots of excuses not to work hard, not to make an effort, always taking the easy way out. If we realized that laziness is a major contributor to the three D's that are a curse on our society and in our families: depression, discouragement and division.
Whether it be in society, in our families, or in the church – laziness contributes to the three D's that end up destroying these institutions. Many times it isn't the actual work that's missing but the willingness to work that's missing. In every parable on the subject of the sudden return of Christ, one of the key ideas is that the acceptable or ready servants who received a blessing from the Master upon his sudden return was the one who was busy.
There is a question that both epistles to the Thessalonians ask us, "Are You Ready?" Are you ready for Christ's return in the sense that you are busy:
- In the study, knowledge and obedience to your faith.
- In your devotion to prayer. John was praying when the Lord appeared to him in a heavenly scene.
- In your hard work on behalf of the Gospel and the Church.
Let us remember that Jesus will return and when He does these are the things He will be looking for among those who claim to be His disciples.
The lessons are now yours and I pray that you will all be ready for Him when He comes.
- What are the major elements of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians?
- What were the major things Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to pray for and how do these apply to us? (II Thessalonians 3:1-5)
- What is Paul's encouragement to the Christians from II Thessalonians 3:6-15?
- How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?