Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 with your family.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (ESV)
Pray for Us
Paul’s ministry depended on prayer. In his letters, he often reminds his readers that he is praying for them. He prays they would grow in their knowledge and love of God and that God would be glorified in them (see 2 Thess. 1:11).
But Paul doesn’t only pray for his readers; he also asks his readers to pray for him. “Pray that the word would speed ahead and be honored, says Paul, “as happened among you.” From 1 Thessalonians 1, we know that the Gospel was eagerly received by the Thessalonian believers. They had personally experienced the transforming work of Jesus. Paul asks them to pray that the same thing would also happen for others.
If we have believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ, then we should desire that others would receive this gift as well. Do you pray for the ministry of missionaries and other churches? Do you pray for your own evangelism? Apart from God’s saving grace, sinners are naturally opposed to the gospel. Not only that, but the Enemy is also at work to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). Paul asks to be delivered from “wicked and evil men.” When we pray for our ministry to unbelievers, we are acknowledging that we are utterly dependent upon God to make our evangelism fruitful. We do not rely on human eloquence or intelligence; instead, we recognize that God uses weak and imperfect vessels like ourselves to make his glory known.
Discuss: This week, spend some time praying for the work of evangelism in your local community and in the world. Is there a missionary that you can be praying for? Is there another church or ministry that we can be supporting through our prayers? Don’t forget to pray for the work of evangelism that is happening through the ministry of our church as well!
Confidence in the Lord
Paul was deeply affectionate towards the Thessalonian church. In his first letter to them, he compares himself to a nursing mother and an encouraging father (See 1 Thess. 2). Although he could no longer be with them in person, Paul was not afraid that the Thessalonians would abandon the faith or ignore his teaching.
We see this in 2 Thessalonians 3:3-4: “The LORD is faithful. He will establish and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things we command.” Paul understands that he is not the one who saved the Thessalonians. His confidence is “in the Lord.” He is merely the instrument through which Jesus worked. And when Jesus begins a good work in our hearts, he is faithful to bring it to completion.
Paul was not a “helicopter parent.” He says, “We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will do what we command” (v.4). Paul knew that the Thessalonian believers would listen to his teaching, because he knew that Jesus was working a genuine transformation in their lives. Christians are meant to grow up into full Christian maturity – as individuals and as a community. One of the marks of maturity is genuine obedience from the heart.
Spiritual maturity does not mean that we just strike out on our own. We are still called to honor the various authorities that God has placed in our lives – pastors, parents, and other shepherds in the faith. Nevertheless, we should not remain spiritual infants, constantly depending on others, never learning to read God’s Word, to pray, to follow Jesus with our own two feet. Parents can teach us the commandments of Jesus, but they cannot obey Jesus on our behalf. Pastors can proclaim the truth of the Gospel to us, but they cannot believe in the Gospel for us.
Discuss: Are you reliant on others for your faith? What steps are you taking towards spiritual maturity?
How do we become a people who genuinely obeys God? Verse 5 tells us: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Here, we see three things.
First, it is God who transforms. It is the Lord who directs hearts to him. Thus, like Paul, we should pray for ourselves and one another, asking for God to change us.
Second, the transformation is heart change. Obedience is not only a matter of external behavior. A person may have good behavior while having a heart that is far from God. When God transforms us, he begins by working in our hearts, changing our desires, directing our hearts towards him.
Third, the heart change is directed towards the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ. Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). When God gives us a heart that loves him, our actions and external behaviors change to reflect the love that we have for him. We cannot have genuine obedience if we do not love God. This love for God and the resultant obedience is not temporary, but it perseveres even as Jesus persevered. When we find it difficult to love God and obey, let us look to Jesus, who, for our sake, endured the cross.
We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:10). We can be steadfast because Christ was steadfast. All of this is shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. Here, we see God’s love, paying the debt that we owed to him. We see God taking the initiative to forgive us by providing the perfect substitute to die in our place, in order that our old, sinful selves might die with him. We see Christ patiently trusting and obeying the Father, even in the face of death. And in the resurrection of Jesus, we see also the promise of new life, held forth to all who repent and believe in him.
Discuss: Is there disobedience in your life that reveals a lack of love for God? What heart change should you be praying for?