You Can Keep at It

Explore the Bible Series

February 22, 2009

 

Background Passage: II Thessalonians 3:1-18

Lesson Passage: II Thessalonians 3:1-18

 

Introduction:

 

Several problems troubled the infant church in Thessalonica, both theological and practical. As a matter of priority, all Christians should realize that the church is not perfect. This affirmation needs to run deeper than a mere flippant remark about the fallibility of the church; rather, it needs to penetrate into our understanding of the Christian life.Even First-Century churches, under apostolic leadership, experienced problems, not unlike the difficulties that may trouble churches today.As we conclude our brief study of I and II Thessalonians, we should reconsider the problems this ancient church faced.

 

Both of these epistles make clear that theological controversy had ravaged the unity of the church.The false teaching, it seems, followed two paths.First, someone had led the Thessalonians to question what would happen to their loved ones, who died in the faith, if the Lordís return tarried. This is, of course, one of the major themes of I Thessalonians.In the second letter we encounter a somewhat different problem.Someone proposed that the Parousia had already occurred, and this false teacher(s) may have even forged a letter, allegedly sent by Paul, to confirm this heresy.Study the epistles of Paul, and you will discover that this was not the last time the apostle dealt with theological conflicts.

 

Paulís antidote for this doctrinal problem was return to theological basics.Contrast the elaborate eschatological systems that characterize so much evangelical thought today with the gracious, straightforward clarity of Paulís thought.He refused to speculate beyond the Lordís clear revelation, and he avoided fanciful, complicated interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.Instead, Paul provided a wonderful, awe-inspiring, panoramic vision of the Lordís return and strove to comfort the Lordís people as they anticipated the Day of the Lord.Thoughts of the Parousia, Paul made clear, should engender great comfort and encouragement.

 

Practical, experiential problems surfaced in Thessalonica, as well as the theological issues. The church needed a firm reminder to respect their leaders, and Paul, on several occasions, repeated the admonition to pray.Moreover, he cautioned them about the dangers of sexual sins and the prevailing idolatry of the day.More than once, the apostle encouraged the church to remember the weak, poor, and helpless; but, he also enjoined the able-bodied to work for a living, not relying on the church for their sustenance.

 

Years ago, Ernest Reisinger cautioned me about the dangers of ministerial life.In particular, he warned me about striking a balance between doctrine and devotion.Paul struck that balance in his letters to the Thessalonians, and this weekís lesson focuses on several practical issues that should arrest the attention of believers in every generation.

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Practical Counsel Concerning Prayer (vv. 1-5): Paul concluded this epistle, as he did I Thessalonians, with an admonition to pray.In this case, he centered on his hopes that the Thessalonians would pray for his little band of missionaries (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy).Paulís sojourn in Athens had not met with much success and the work in Corinth posed some grave hardships for the apostleís continued work.Humility drove the apostle to covet the prayers of his friends.

A.    Paulís confidence in prayer (vv. 1-2): The apostle asked the Thessalonians to pray for the advance of the gospel; and, in doing so, he used two powerful, active verbs.The ESV translates the first verb ďmay run aheadĒ, a word that reflects the active, vibrant nature of the gospel.The second verb ďhonoredĒ denotes the glory of the Good News.The two terms, therefore, reflect the power of the gospel and the effect of Paulís message on responsive hearers.In addition, Paul acknowledged his need for prayer in regard to men who opposed him, in Corinth.

B.     Paulís confidence in God (vv. 3-5): In the context of his reflections on prayer, Paul affirmed the faithfulness of God, and he promised that the Lord would protect the Thessalonian believers from the evil one.†† Verse Two demands some interpretive finesse.The Greek vocabulary could refer to Satan (the ESV follows this view). Paul certainly believed in a powerful, malicious being who opposes the people of God.However, the language may reflect the difficult circumstances Paul faced in Corinth (See Acts 18:12-17); in fact, it could even indicate Paulís concern about evil men.Whatever the case, the apostle promised that God, in his divine faithfulness, would guard and protect the Thessalonians.What did Paul mean by ďguardĒ and ďprotectĒ?Certainly, he did not mean that the Lord would shield his people from hardship or persecution.Paulís own experience demonstrates the folly of such a view (beatings, scourgings, stoning, imprisonment, death threats).Perhaps Paul meant that God would not protect believers from hardship, but he would preserve them in the difficult.The Lord would guide the Thessalonians to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ.

 

II.                Practical Counsel Concerning Unruly Believers (vv. 6-15)

A.    The nature of the problem (v. 6): Idlers troubled the church.Perhaps some, already disposed to laziness, realized they could take advantage of the churchís compassion and generosity.Some may have excused their laziness by appealing to Paulís claim that Christ would soon return.Why work hard to support oneís family if the end would come in the near future.Whatever the motive for this idleness, Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to distance themselves from such a person.

B.     The apostleís example (vv. 7-10): Paul earned his own living while evangelizing in Thessalonica.We know that the apostle labored as a leather worker and made tents; therefore, he did not place an undo financial burden on new churches.It is, of course, perfectly acceptable for churches to appropriately compensate those who labor in the word, but Paul waived his privilege so that he might provide a sterling example of selfless service to Christ.

C.     The apostleís command (vv. 11-15): While working in Thessalonica, Paul gave the church a general principle, ďIf anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.Ē This admonition, of course, did not apply to the ill or helpless (See I Thessalonians 5:14); rather, it related to able-bodied people who would not work.The church, in redemptive love, was to establish some emotional distance from unruly people.Christians must not treat these people as unbelievers, but they must impress on the disorderly people.Paul anticipated that this kind of correction might prove difficult for Godís people; so, he encouraged them to not grow weary in well doing.

 

III.             Conclusion of the Epistle (vv. 16-18): In some ways, this benediction follows Paulís familiar pattern, but one aspect of this paragraph deserves note.Paul made special mention of his signature affixed to this letter.As noted in an earlier outline, it appears that someone may have written a fraudulent letter to Thessalonica, signing Paulís name to lend authority to the counterfeit epistle (See I Thessalonians 2:2).The apostleís signature, apparently in his distinctive hand, authenticated II Thessalonians.Note that Paul makes a similar claim in Galatians (See 6:11).