Sunday School Lesson for November 18, 2001
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Focal Teaching Passages: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15; 3:1-2
Paul’s Gratitude (2:13-15)
Once again, Paul communicates his gratitude to God for his Thessalonian brothers and sisters whom he describes here as "beloved by the Lord," or more literally, those who stand in the constant love of God. These have been faithful and steadfast under trial and in the face of continual hardship due to their commitment to Christ. He expresses this deep gratitude in terms of a solemn obligation—"we should always give thanks to God for you." The overarching basis for this spirit of thanksgiving relates to God’s elective mercies that have been poured out on them from eternity past.
1 Peter 1:1-5- Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,
In short, the apostle is declaring that the One who had begun a good work in them from all eternity will indeed bring it to completion, even amidst potent opposition and hardship (Phil. 1:6).
The theme of divine election continues in this verse as Paul proclaims the ultimate purpose and goal for their salvation. They have been "called" through the preaching of "our gospel" in order that they might "gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is, God has saved them so that the very character and nature of the Lord Jesus Christ would be displayed in their lives. The "glory" of Christ is clearly "in view in all the gospel; further, when men receive the gospel, they become sharers in His glory (cf. John 17:22; Rom. 8:17)" (Morris, 137). Therefore, salvation ultimately concludes in the praise and exaltation of Christ for whose glory all things exist (Col. 1:16).
In light of the security of their salvation and the certainty of God’s eternal purposes, Paul calls upon his beloved brethren to continue to "stand firm" in the gospel. Specifically, they are exhorted to steadfastly "hold to the traditions which you were taught." That is, they are ordered to continue believing and teaching the doctrines which the apostles had communicated to them. In so doing they should "neither be frightened by the magnitude of the opposition, nor be unsettled by uncertainties about the details of the end" (Morris, 138). In reality, then, the antidote to their fears regarding both their present struggles and their future destiny was to be found in the unchangeable, eternal truths of the gospel. We may be certain that included in the apostolic "traditions" was the core doctrine of the Christian faith— justification by faith alone (Rom. 3:21-28; Gal. 3:7-14). By resting upon the Word and promises of God, Paul’s suffering brethren could weather any storm of opposition or persecution allowed to come their way.
Paul’s Personal Request for Prayer (3:1-2)
With the conclusion of his letter in view, Paul now turns to request prayer for himself, his companions, and his ministry. His simple plea is "brethren, pray for us." This deeply personal request implies the need for the constant intercession of his Christian brethren. Those heeding his call could actually participate with him in his apostolic endeavors through the exercise of fervent prayer (1 Thess. 5:25). By making such a plea, Paul was following his normal pattern of seeking the spiritual support of his fellow-believers:
Romans 15:30- Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,
2 Corinthians 1:11- you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many.
As Paul’s specific areas of concern are revealed it becomes apparent that the missionaries "were much more concerned that their gospel witness should not be impeded than they were for their own safety" (Bruce, 198). Paul has in mind two essential requests that should be the focus of their faithful prayers:
Ephesians 6:19- and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
Colossians 4:3- praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.
That Paul also desired that the gospel message would "be glorified," indicates his fervent hope that the message of Christ crucified and raised would be received and embraced by sinners everywhere as in Thessalonica—"just as it did with you."
We have noted two major points in our focal passages:
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: When others contemplate you and your church, are they filled with a sense of obligation to thank God on your behalf?
Two: How is the doctrine of election relevant to you? If its purpose is to comfort and strengthen believers, particularly those who are being severely persecuted, should it be of concern to us now? How does this doctrine aid or impact our Christian lives (holiness, prayer, witness, worship, service)?
Three: In light of verse fourteen, is it proper to say that God saved us primarily that we might avoid the fires of hell? Is there, perhaps, a greater purpose in view?
Four: What images does the command "stand firm" (v. 14) bring to mind? Could an outside observer come to the conclusion that you are standing firm in your faith in Christ and in the truths of the gospel?
Five: Note the interesting juxtaposition of Paul’s statements regarding election (2:13-14) and his desperate plea for prayer concerning the spread of the gospel (3:1-2). Does the doctrine of election eliminate the necessity of prayer and evangelism? Are these truths contradictory in nature? How does a biblical view of God’s sovereignty serve both our prayers and our preaching (including witnessing and teaching)?
Six: Should we think it odd today when men oppose believers and the work of the church? Is peaceful co-existence between the world and the church possible? Can you think of any biblical passages that speak directly to this issue?