STUDY NINE: 2THESSALONIANS 2:13 – 3:18

© Rosemary Bardsley 2023

But out of this world that loves evil rather than truth, God has saved these Thessalonian believers. Because of this Paul is both thankful and prayerful.

 

A. WHAT PAUL PRAYED
As he has done previously both in this letter and in his first letter Paul thanks God for making these Thessalonians his own. He knows that unless God had drawn them to himself they would still be unbelievers, they would still be under the power of the evil one and headed for the condemnation of which Paul has just written.

Read verses 13 and 14.
What was God’s part in bringing the Thessalonians to salvation?

 

What did the Holy Spirit do?

 

What was God’s purpose in choosing them?

 

What part did the Thessalonians have in their own salvation?

 

Because God had chosen these people, because the Spirit of God set them apart as God’s possession, because God called them through the gospel, Paul is constrained to always thank God for them. If God had not proactively put his hand on them and brought them to himself they would not be saved. They would still be deceived by the devil’s lies. Condemnation would still hang over them. But God has called them to his kingdom and to glory (1Th 2:12); God has called them through the gospel so that they might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 14).

Read these verses. What does it mean to share in the glory of Jesus Christ?
John 17:21

John 17:24

Romans 5:2

Colossians 3:4

Hebrews 2:10

Paul is very much aware of what God has saved the Thessalonians from and what he has saved them for. The contrast is great.

A.1 Paul’s command – verse 15
So great is the contrast between their present salvation and the condemnation they have escaped that Paul commands them to ‘stand firm’ and ‘hold to the teachings we passed on to you’. Only such perseverance will prove the integrity of their faith in Christ.

A.2 Paul’s prayer – verses 16, 17
Paul’s prayer addresses both ‘our Lord Jesus Christ himself’ and ‘God our Father’, and adds ‘who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope’. Note that he uses Jesus’ full title, as he has done a number of times in these letters. He acknowledges that God is our Father – a relationship that is part of the salvation we have in Christ; he acknowledges both God’s love and God’s grace. And he acknowledges that it is this love and grace of God that has given us both eternal encouragement and good hope. Apart from God’s love and grace we would have no hope of eternal life and no encouragement – no comfort, no assurance, because apart from God’s love and grace we would have only our own questionable (non-existent) merit to depend on.

So Paul prays that our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father will ‘encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word’ – verse 17. The first part of this prayer is about what’s going on in the inner part of our being – in our thoughts, our will and emotions: there Paul prays for encouragement. The second part is about how we live outwardly – our words and our actions: here Paul prays for strengthening.

Note: Paul’s prayer here is similar to his prayer in 1:11:

1:11 – ‘that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose or yours and every act prompted by your faith’

2:17 – may he ‘strengthen you in every good deed and word’.

These two prayers stand in contrast to that kind of teaching that tells us we have to ‘find God’s will’ before we act. Paul does not pray that the Thessalonians will find out what God’s will is then do it; he assumes that their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be prompting them to do what is good, and asks God to empower and strengthen them to carry out those good purposes and actions issuing from their faith.

 

B. FURTHER REQUESTS

Read 3:1 – 5. Answer these questions:
Verse 1 - What prayer did Paul request for his ministry?

 

Verse 2 – What did he request for himself and his associates?

 

Verse 3 – How did he reassure his readers?

 

Verse 4 – What was Paul’s confidence?

 

Verse 5 – What two things did Paul pray for his readers?

 

What do you understand Paul to be praying for in verse 5?

 

Which of these prayers are relevant today?

 

Which people and ministries could you pray these prayers for?

 

How much does your confidence in the Lord align with verse 3?

 

If you are in some kind of ministry, do you have the same confidence as Paul in verse 4?

Paul is realistic – he knows there are wicked and evil people around, and he knows there are people without faith; but he also knows both God and what God is doing, so he prays with confidence, not only in God but in what God is doing in the Thessalonian believers.

 

C. THE PROBLEM OF IDLENESS

As we have already seen Paul taught and practised a strong work ethic:

In 1Thessalonians 2:6 – 9 he mentioned how himself and his associates had worked night and when they were in Thessalonica so that they would not be a burden to the local people.

In 1Thessalonians 4:11, 12 he instructed them to make it their ambition to work with their hands as he had told them, so that they might win the respect of outsiders and not be dependent on anybody.

In 1Thessalonians 5:14 he said to ‘warn those who are idle’.

Now in 2Thessalonians 3:6 – 15 Paul addresses the issue of idleness again, and gives extremely stern warnings against it.

Paul has heard that some of them are idle; he calls them ‘busybodies’ – verse 11.

Read 3:6 – 15. Answer these questions:
Verses 6 & 14: What does Paul tell the believers to do with those who are idle?

 

Verses 7 – 9: What example was set by Paul and his associates?

 

Verse 10: What rule had Paul given them?

Verse 12: What did Paul urgently command the idle people to do?

 

Verse 13: What instruction did he give to everybody?

Verse 14: Why did Paul tell the Thessalonian believers not to associate with a brother who continued to be idle?

Verse 15: What boundary did Paul put around this harsh instruction?

 

Paul was obviously very concerned about the slack attitude of some of the Thessalonian believers. His instructions to ‘keep away from every brother who is idle’ and ‘take special note of him’ and ‘do not associate with him’ are quite severe. This is particularly so when we remember how much Paul stresses God’s grace and our unity in Christ. It is obvious from his instruction in his first letter (4:11, 12) that he is concerned about two things:

[1] The reputation of the believers in the eyes of their unbelieving culture. Paul wanted nothing in the lives of the believers to generate negative opinions about Christ and the gospel. Rather, a strong work ethic would win the respect of ‘outsiders’. Similarly, Paul warned the Ephesians ‘be very careful how you live’ (Ephesians 5:15), and the Colossians ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders (Colossians 4:5). And Peter commanded ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (1Peter 2:12). And Jesus said ‘Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5;16). There is much more at stake here than whether or not a person is lazy. The reputation of the believers, the reputation of the gospel, and the glory of God is what Paul is concerned about.

[2] He is also concerned about the financial burden the idle Christians are putting on others. Those others could be other believers, or they could be non-Christian relatives. Whoever they are Paul does not want the Christians to be dependent on others. Paul, Silas and Timothy when they were in Thessalonica set an example of hard work; they did not expect the Thessalonians to supply their physical and financial needs; they worked hard to earn their living so they would not be burden. Now they expect the Thessalonians to follow that example.
Paul is so adamant about this that he twice tells them not to associate with any brother who is idle (verses 6 & 14); this is with a view to making him feel ashamed. Whether Paul means to keep away from the idle person altogether, or to not associate with him in his idleness, is not totally clear. Probably the latter is his intention. What is clear is that Paul modifies his command by saying not to regard him as an enemy, but to warn him as a brother (3:15). There is still some association; and there is still the responsibility to warn the idle person. Perhaps Paul has in mind the proverb ‘Do not go where evil men go’ (Proverbs 4:14, GNB), or the mindset of Psalm 1:1 – ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers’.

For further on what God thinks about idleness check these verses:
Proverbs 6:6 – 11

 

Proverbs 12:11

Proverbs 13:4

Proverbs 14:23

Ephesians 6:7, 8

Colossians 3:17, 23

 

FINAL GREETINGS

Two things are of note in Paul’s final greetings:

[1] His prayer: ‘May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.’ Although Paul prays for peace for his readers in almost all of his letters, this is the only place where he refers to ‘the Lord of peace’. And it is the only place where he prays that God will grant this peace ‘at all times in every way’. Perhaps he was moved by the persecution the Thessalonians were suffering; perhaps he was considering the anxieties they had about events involved in the second coming of Christ.

[2] His reference to writing his greeting in his own hand – a distinguishing mark of all his letters. [Note that the Thessalonians had had communications supposedly from Paul, that were not from Paul – 2Thessalonians 2:2. So he is here telling them how to recognize a letter from him. Even if someone else wrote the actual letter, Paul himself would write the final greeting.

REFLECTION
What are your feelings about the work ethic commanded by Paul?

 

What changes would Paul’s work ethic require in your attitude?

 

Does Paul mean that we should be busy working all the time? What biblical principle is relevant to this question?

 

How could you encourage a fellow-believer who is habitually lazy?

 

GENERAL REFLECTION
From both letters, what are the most significant things you have learned?

 

How are these two letters impacting your faith and life?