2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 328 - September 1883


2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

From prayerful desires for his beloved Thessalonians the apostle turns to ask their intercession on behalf of the testimony of the Lord generally, and especially of himself and his companions in their continual exposure to the adversary.

"For the rest, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men, for all have not faith. But faithful is the Lord who shall establish you and keep from evil. And we have trust in [the] Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we enjoin. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of Clod and into the1 patience of Christ." (Ver. 1-5.)

It is beautiful to see how grace binds all believing hearts together through Christ. The apostle was the most gifted and energetic servant whom the Lord ever raised up to spread the knowledge of Himself throughout the world. In him the call of sovereign grace, not only as a saint but as an apostle, found its highest expression: "not of men, nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and Clod the Father who raised him from the dead." He neither received the gospel of man nor was he taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. And when it pleased Him who separated him from his mother's womb, and called him by His grace, to reveal His Son in him that he might preach Him among the nations, "immediately I conferred not," says he, " with flesh and blood." Yet the same man, who was thus formed and led of Clod manifestly to break the very semblance of a successional chain in official position as well as in the revelation of the truth, earnestly enlists the prayerful interest of the youngest brethren, his own newly-born children in the faith, in world-wide labours, both evangelic and ecclesiastic, encompassed with grave and frequent perils. On the one hand no one, no thing, must intervene between the risen Christ and His servant sent on the mission of His grace; on the other he (most markedly independent of men in his mission, in order that no mist may obscure the call of Christ or the message of His love) is the most dependent of all men on divine guidance and support, and thus the most desirous of the sustaining prayers of the saints.

What gracious wisdom there was in God's thus ordering must be apparent to any .spiritual mind. Was it Paul and his companions who alone reaped the blessing of the saints, however young in the faith, thus praying? Could anything be more strengthening or elevating or purifying to the believers themselves, unless it were direct occupation with Christ Himself, which indeed was promoted in no small degree by this very identification of heart with that which is ever so near His heart? Whatever draws out the affections towards the Lord in that which glorifies Him and His word is so much the purer gain for His treasury and ours, as it is deliverance from self and present things where Satan easily ensnares. And as His word ran and was glorified with the Thessalonians, they could the more really and simply pray that so it should be elsewhere. They were not cast down or distracted by internal and humiliating complications, which preoccupy the spirit and hinder the outgoing of heart far and wide for the blessing of others to His praise. Paul could freely ask, and they without stint or effort give, their prayers. The word of the Lord might make rapid progress, without a deep result in man, and without glory to Him who is its source; the apostle would have them pray that it should be glorified even as also among themselves it was. They could therefore the more truly and heartily desire this from God elsewhere.

Besides there fail not many adversaries, as surely as grace gives an open and effectual door for the testimony of Christ. Never does the apostle, never did a spiritual man, boast of the numbers, or the position, the wealth or the intelligence, of his supporters: no surer sign of the world, nor of Satan's snare among those who take the ground of faith. The apostle does ask their prayers "that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, for all have not faith." The word here translated "unreasonable," ἄτοποι, meant originally "out of place," and hence strange, marvellous, and in a moral sense worthless, as saying and doing what was unsuitable and out of the way. I know not why " the faith" should be preferred to "faith" in the abstract: the Greek will bear either. Nor do these adversaries mean Jews only, though these were prominent and active in bitter unbelief. Faith is natural to no sinner's heart; it is ever of grace.

There is, however, a blessed resource, as they are told by one who well knew how far party hatred and personal detraction can go:—"But the Lord is faithful who shall establish you and keep from wickedness" (or "evil" Ver. 3). His faithfulness answers to the faith of His own, be it ever so feeble; His face is against those that do evil, as His eyes are upon the righteous, and His ears unto their cry. Hence the confidence that He would strengthen the Thessalonian saints and guard them from evil. So faith reasons and is ever entitled to reason. Nor can any ground be stronger; for it is from God to man, not from man to God, as men are prone to reason to their disappointment, shame, and sorrow. For, as our Lord Himself warned His own, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." They sleep when they should pray, and may flee or even deny where they ought to stand and confess. How different the other side! " But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." Rorn. v. 8-10. So here the argument of the Lord's grace is before the apostle who would have the disciples strong in Him and in the strength of His might, the secret of victory to faith.

But if the end be thus sure, grace makes the way plain, the yoke easy, and the burden light. The obedience of Christ is the law of liberty. To a single eye His path is alone the question. Therefore the apostle has nit a doubt that the saints addressed are as desirous of doing the Lord's will, as he of making it duly known. "And we have trust in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we enjoin" (Ver. 4). For there is a distinction between Christ's giving us rest, and our finding rest to our souls. The former is of sovereign grace, however labouring or burdened we might be, and the gift is free and full to sinners according to the glory of His person and the goodness of the errand on which He came and suffered; the other is of divine government, and we as children of God find rest to our souls day by day, not certainly in self-will which is our danger, but in simple-hearted subjection to Him and confidence in Him; even as He Himself always did the things which pleased the Father who sent Him, and could say that it was His food to finish His work—that He kept His Father's commandments and abode in His love. It is in obeying Him only that the believer finds rest to his soul; and so the apostle counts on the Thessalonians here.

Verse 5 comes in beautifully to complete the paragraph: "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ." Could anything more effectually strengthen or keep souls in obedience? We need not follow those who in times ancient or modern contend that the Holy Ghost is here objectively before us: there is no sufficient ground for abandoning the usage of scripture. By "the Lord" is meant as elsewhere Jesus the Son of God, to whom he wishes to keep them straight; and this, by drawing and fixing their affections in the love of God and in the patience of Christ.

But even here, and in both respects, we have to face the doubts of learned men and their difficulties in submitting to the truth. We are told with sufficient confidence, that the first, from the fact of his wishing that their hearts may be directed into it, must be subjective, the love of man to God. The objective meaning, God's love, is said to be out of the question. This may seem "natural"; but it just destroys the force of the truth. The simple meaning is: also the deepest and alone true. The apostle would have our hearts guided into the love of God, the love in which He has His being, forming His counsels, and acting as well as revealing Himself. This too alone secures our love to Him, which is at best tiny indeed, compared with that unfailing source and infinite fulness which Christ personally and in His work has discovered to us, and the Holy Spirit has shed abroad in our hearts. It is, one grants, very natural to think of our love to Him; but the sight of Christ by faith gives the word living power and leads us into God's love as revealed in Christ, who alone (and not we) could be an adequate object to draw out and unfold the affections of God and His moral glory. And thus it is that we learn ourselves even to be the object of His love in a way and degree which otherwise had been impassible, for He gives His own to know that "as He is, so are they in this world," and that the love wherewith the Father loved the Son is in them, and Himself in them (1 John iv. 17, John xvii. 26).

Such love as this alone delivers from self practically.; whilst it produces its like in us without effort or thought about it. Nor is there any other means comparable, for it is His way; especially if our hearts are also directed " into the patience of Christ," not, I think, the endurance which He showed when here, however true and blessed it may be for us to cultivate that, but His patient waiting for the blissful meeting of His own, thenceforward changed into His glorious image at His coming. For this He waits patiently in heaven, as we now wait for Him on earth. Into the communion of His patience, as well as of God's love, would He lead our hearts. Toward the beginning of the first epistle the Thessalonians were said to be converted to serve a living and true God, and to await His Son from the heavens. Here toward the end of the second we have in substance the same elements, with the shade of difference proper to each case. The apostle sought the well-being, enjoyment, and progress of the saints; and what can effect these so well as directing their hearts into the love of God and the patience of Christ? The God whose love we know us His Father and our Father, His God and Our God; the words the }'ether gave to Him He has given to us; and He is coming to introduce us into the glory which will make the world know that the Father sent Him and loved us as He was loved. We ought not to wait for any such demonstration of it, but to rest in His perfect love, as we wait patiently for Christ. Rev. iii. 10 is a clear instance that ὑπομονή has this meaning; and so in 1 Thess. i. 3. Other occurrences in the sense of "endurance" cannot disprove it. We must leave room for the modifications of language by the context in all speech, most ο f all in a book so surpassingly rich and deep as the Bible. One-sidedness, always a hindrance and a danger, is nowhere so injurious as in the exposition of scripture: yet where is it so habitual? May we be warned and watchful.



1) The omission of the article in the Received Text has no known MS. to warrant it. Erssmus, the Complutensian, and R. Stephens rightly read it; Beza seems to be the bad guide who misled the Elzevirs after the Authorized Translators, who may or may not have noticed it. It is strange that Bishop Middleton did not observe the fact.