Category Archives: II Thessalonians

Final Remarks (chapter 3:14-18)

After many months studying the two letters written to the church at Thessalonika, we have arrived at the final few verses. Verses 14-15 are a couple more clauses added to the preceding verses (most of the chapter is one very long run-on sentence) to reinforce Paul’s instruction. The Greek word often translated “obey” carries the idea of hearing. It paints a picture here of someone standing at a door listening, but not responding to the call from the other side. Paul demands discipline, but he does so with the affection of brotherhood. N.T. Wright comments:

“Every parent knows that there are times when a child has to be punished. No parent worthy of the name will want to do so in anger and bitterness. Every true father or mother faces the difficult task of communicating to a child the fact that, precisely because they love them so much, they must now impose some kind of sanction. The child will sometimes need to learn the hard way what, we assume, the parents had tried to teach by word and example. In such a case, it is failure to discipline, not discipline itself, that would be the sign of a lack of love.”

In my own spiritual journey, I have often been the obstinate child, but I can recognize now the wisdom of the loving family and leadership that does not fear appropriate discipline. It can take longsuffering patience to see good fruit, but my life is a testament to many who have listened to the lessons in scripture.

Finally Paul concludes this letter with words of peace and grace. He calls on the power of “the Lord of peace Himself” to grant peace. Dr. Morris observes:

“Peace is a comprehensive term for the prosperity of the whole man; this is what Paul seeks for his friends. Its supernatural origin is indicated by its association with the Lord. True peace in the deepest sense is something that man can never acquire by his own effort, but it comes as a free gift from God. The peace for which the apostle prays is one which will constantly remain, and which will not vary however much outward circumstances and conditions may alter. It is because we know that the Lord is with us, and that He will never forsake those who trust in Him (Hebrews 13:5) that our peace remains unshaken. The Christian’s peace is the presence of the Lord.”

next week: review Thessalonians and begin Romans the following week

Disorderly Walking (chapter 3:6-13)

At the beginning of this final chapter Paul started with prayer and words of encouragement, but here his words appear more stern. The Greek word translated as “command” is a military term referring to orders coming from the commander and passed down the line of battle so that all know what they must do. Paul is using the full authority of the “name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” And yet he also addresses them with the affectionate term “brothers.” G. G. Findlay observes:

“The charge is addressed to brothers; it is not the mere command of a superior, but appeals to the sense of a common duty in the readers. At the same time, it is a command – not a personal wish, nor advice open to debate and qualification; it is delivered on the authority of Jesus Christ as Lord of His people, by those who have the right to speak in His name.”

So what then is the issue which Paul chooses to address with such firmness?  Apparently there were some in Thessalonika who were not doing their fare share of the work. Perhaps believing that Jesus was returning very soon, they argued that they didn’t need to work and they took advantage of those who continued working. In verse 6 and again in verse 11, Paul describes these people with two Greek words: peripatountas, walking around (implying habitual living) and ataktos, idly (or unruly, or disorderly). This is another military image of the undisciplined soldier who fails to maintain their proper place in the line of battle.

I find Paul’s response to this problem very interesting. We are told to “keep aloof from” (or “keep away from” or “avoid” or “draw back from”) them. The Greek word, stellesthai, is a nautical term referring to furling or shortening sails. It is done in strong wind conditions to protect the sails and the boat from damage. This activity reduces the effective force of the wind on the sail (and can slow forward progress). But it is a temporary measure, and the same sails can later be unfurled.

We know that every member of the body of Christ has an important part to play. We should all work together as the church to advance the gospel. Paul’s instruction can guide us when not everyone is in line with the mission. Verse 13 reminds us to stay focused on our own role and not “lose heart doing what is right.”

next week: finish chapter 3

Prayer Concerns (chapter 3:1-5)

Before concluding this letter, Paul shares his own prayer concerns. As he prays for the church at Thessalonika, he also expects them to pray for him. His desire is for the Word of the Lord to “run and be glorified” just as it had with them. Paul wants to see the gospel spread rapidly and glorify God. Dr. Morris writes:

“it brings before us a picture of the word of the Lord as active and vigorous, moving swiftly to accomplish the divine purpose.”

In his commentary, G. C. Findlay notes:

“This glorifying of the word of the Lord is not subjective – the lauding, exalting of it by men, but objective – the display of its saving  effects. The glory of God’s word shines in the character and worth of those who have received it.”

Paul’s prayer is not just that the message will spread rapidly, but that the power of the gospel will have dynamic life-changing results thus glorifying the Lord. As we begin this new year, perhaps with new resolutions to make changes in our own lives, we should have similar prayers in our own hearts.

Paul’s focus on God is emphatic in verses 3-5. It is the Lord (verse 3) who is faithful to strengthen and protect. Their confidence is in the Lord (verse 4) which sounds much like Philippians 1:6. And it is the Lord (verse 5) who will direct their hearts “into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.”

These words can encourage us with a fresh new year to make our lives an example of the love of God and the steadfastness (or perseverance or patience) of Christ.

next week: chapter 3:6-13

 

Encouraged to Stand (chapter 2:13-17)

This week as we celebrate Christmas, Paul’s words give us even more reason to rejoice. He reminds us that we are loved by the Lord and chosen by God for salvation. Paul is looking forward, and so it is helpful here not to consider what we are saved from, but rather what we are saved for. Verse 14 summarizes the purpose of the gospel. The “obtainment of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the reason God calls us. We are created to glorify God.

Paul then in verse 15 presents the imperatives: stand firm and hold to the “traditions” (teachings) which you were taught. About this Greek word, paradoseis, Dr. Morris writes:

“It stands for all Christian teaching be it oral or written. The essential thing is that it is something handed on by one to another, but received in the first place from God. The prominent idea is that of an authority external to the teacher himself. The gospel is not of human origin, and the preacher is not at liberty to substitute his own thoughts for that which he has received.”

The second chapter of this letter ends with what should be heard as a shout. The encouragement that Paul is passing on comes from the “Lord Jesus Christ Himself” and “the God the Father of us” who loves us and gives us eternal encouragement and hope! Now that’s something to sing about! Go tell it on the mountain!

next week: begin chapter 3

Truth Destroys Lies (chapter 2:8-14)

Webster’s dictionary defines counterfeit as “made in imitation of something else with intent to deceive.” In our world many things are counterfeited including products, ideas, people and money. The simplest way to identify a counterfeit dollar is to place it next to the real thing. Paul clearly understands that the deception of Satan, the lies of the lawless one, will be revealed with the appearance of Christ.

In this passage Paul contrasts the ones who are perishing with those that receive salvation. The key difference is the response to the truth. Dr. Morris writes:

“The reason for their perishing is that they received not the love of the truth. Received implies welcome; these men have no welcome for the gospel. The love of the truth (which is stronger than simply ‘the truth’) is an unusual expression, found only here in the Greek Bible, and it is placed in an emphatic position. We must understand truth not as an abstract moral quality, but rather as the truth of the gospel, the truth which is revealed by God and which comes from God.”

Paul’s words (particularly verse 12) remind me of the words in the third chapter of the gospel of John. Most people can quote John 3:16, but read also verses 17-19. “… men loved the darkness rather than the light …” Paul moves toward the conclusion of this chapter giving thanks to God for choosing  us for salvation and calling us through the gospel. As Christians praise God that we have the light of the Truth!

next week: finish chapter 2

Mystery of Lawlessness (chapter 2:5-8)

As an answer to false teaching Paul refers back to what he had taught when he was with the Thessalonians. Today we do not know all the details of  this teaching, but it undoubtedly came from Paul’s knowledge of the Hebrew scripture and revelation he had received through his personal encounter with Christ. Similar messages can be found in the Old Testament prophets such as Daniel and Isaiah. The political environment of the Roman world likely influenced Paul’s words, perhaps making him cautious not to provoke the authorities unnecessarily. We are left then with a puzzle for which we do not have all the pieces.

Two key words, mystery and lawless, are at the center of understanding this passage. The word translated “mystery” appears in the book of Daniel and elsewhere as “secret” and is found in the Gospels referring to the truths conveyed to disciples but veiled from others by parables. Dr. Morris writes:

Musterion in the Bible does not mean a ‘mystery’ in our sense of the term, but a secret which man can never fathom and which can be known only by revelation. Usually it is implied that it has been revealed, so that it is now an open secret, at least among the initiates.”

The term lawless should not be misunderstood to imply anarchy or lack of laws. In America we pride ourselves as a country that operates under “the rule of law,” but we may still be guilty of the Biblical meaning of lawlessness. The key to understanding this term is to view it as rebellion against God. Any attempt to oppose or dethrone God is lawlessness. The adversaries of God may use deception, and even construct laws to justify rebellion, but it is still lawlessness.

The good news is found in verse eight where the truth is revealed with the appearance of Christ. The reign of the man of lawlessness will be short and end with the return of Christ. Dr. Morris observes:

For the Lord even to show Himself will be sufficient to destroy the enemy. Destroy translates katargesei, a verb which basically means ‘to make idle’, and thus ‘to render inoperative’. It does not mean that the lawless one is annihilated, but that he is made completely powerless.”

The world will see this final victory at the return of Christ, but followers of Christ can enjoy this reality now. The mystery has already been revealed to all who believe in Jesus. The power of the gospel is already at work in those who surrender to the will of God.

next week: more from chapter 2:8-14

False Teaching (chapter 2:1-4)

The second chapter of Thessalonians appears to be a response to wrong ideas that were being spread during Paul’s absence. It seems that some were actually saying that the day of the Lord had already come. Paul is concerned that believers may doubt the truth they had been taught. In verse two he mentions three means by which they may be shaken or disturbed. Similar methods can still be used to deceive Christians today.

Paul begins a description in verse three of events yet to come that will precede the return of Christ. Throughout church history many attempts have been made to define just who is this “man of lawlessness” and numerous books written about the antichrist. Dr. Morris comments:

“this passage is probably the most obscure and difficult in the whole of the Pauline correspondence and the many gaps in our knowledge have given rise to the most extravagant speculations. It will be well for us to bear in mind that we do not possess the key to everything that is here said, and accordingly to maintain some reserve in our interpretations.”

As we struggle to understand this passage, it is good to recall what we do know. This man of lawlessness, like Judas Iscariot, is called “son of perdition” which means he is doomed to destruction when Jesus Christ is revealed at the Day of the Lord.

next week: continue chapter 2