2 THESSALONIANS 3: 1 – 5
Before I start you may be aware that the government has now given permission for churches to be open for private prayer. To enable this to happen however is very complex and involves deep cleaning between each person etc. I think it unlikely that kinnoull will open for this in the near future. I would remind you however that we do have the secret garden at the right hand side of the church towards the river which is always available for people to sit and contemplate and pray if the weather allows!
The Passage that we are looking at this morning has phrases that are ambiguous, phrases that different translators have viewed in different lights but there is an overarching theme which is obvious and clear. It is a theme that has become very important over these last few weeks and I think has to be a major theme going forward. It is that mutual dependence is necessary for the well being of us as individuals and for the church as a whole. Indeed I would argue that it is good for the well being of society as a whole. It preserves us from lone hero syndrome where we think we have to fix everything ourselves and also selfish pursuit syndrome, both of which wreak havoc.
So let us hear the scripture: –
3 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
There are three parts to this section. The first is an instruction for the Thessalonican church to pray. It is written to you in the plural and refers to us in the plural. None of it is in the singular none of it is directed for or to individuals. It is directly evangelical. It is praying that the message of Jesus, the Word of the Lord, the Gospel, however you wish to describe it should spread rapidly and be accepted widely. It is a prayer for change, that people might be changed by hearing the Gospel. Given the difficulties that the church was undergoing in Thessalonica at this time you can understand this prayer very well. If the word spread, if the word got accepted and people changed the church would not suffer so much, relationships with previously unbelieving family members could be restored and life would become easier and more pleasant for everyone. Community would be restored which, we have all realised over these last few weeks, is so important. It is a prayer I believe we can all share in, it is one which we all can endorse and support. I feel very strongly that we always need to include this sort of prayer in all our prayers that we keep the evangelical imperative to the fore in our hearts and minds.
The second thing to note about this section is that the writer may be a towering figure in the early church, one of the most significant evangelists the church has ever had but he does not think of himself as a lone wolf. He is not a lone hero. He recognises that what he does he does in concert and with the support of others. Hence he does not pray for his own deliverance from those he describes as wicked and evil because of their opposition to the gospel, but for the deliverance of his little group as he uses the word we rather than I. I find it extraordinary that some people think they can be lone wolves in their faith, that they do not need to the support, encouragement and even accountability of others. If the greats such as Paul and Peter needed companions in their faith how much more do we? One of the greatest challenges I think we face as we move forward is how Kinnoull Church can reach out to those who have sought comfort in the church during these strange times and incorporate them into the fellowship of the church to give them the support and encouragement they need to continue to develop their faith as this lockdown draws to a close. If they find the idea of entering the church still a bit daunting can we encourage them through faith exploration groups meeting over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in someone’s house? It is just another wee challenge that we face as we try to find a new normal moving forward.
Verses 3 and 4 go on to stress Paul’s confidence and assurance about the church in Thessalonica. Remember this was one of the most successful of his early churches, in spite of all the opposition. He has confidence that the church will continue to prosper and flourish in spite of the attacks of the evil one. In some ways these verses prefigure the first verses of the section we will tackle next week where he warns about those who are idle in the church or sew disorderliness. Today we might jokingly refer to them as pew warmers. They come, they keep the pew warm on a Sunday, but have little to do with the work of the church from Monday to Saturday. We see them as mostly harmless, Paul, as we will discover next week, has a harsher view of them which comes out of the environment of persecution that surrounds them at this time.
The last section then is an intercessory prayer for the church in Thessalonica. Now the Greek is a little ambiguous but I believe we can look at the two parts of the prayer in this way. First of all he prays I believe not for them to have a love for God, as some would translate it, but a more positive that they would have God’s kind of love. Certainly that is what I what I pray for. That thee steadfast love, grace and mercy that our God has be shown through me and through you. This is a prayer for a powerful love within the church, a love that has often been short-changed in the church’s desire for purity, correctness and righteousness. This is echoed by the second part of the prayer that the church should have Christ’s own steadfastness rather than the alternative reading which is a steadfastness towards Christ. Hesed, in the Hebrew, is a very powerful Old Testament term which is the steadfast love of God. It is a love that continues even when the chosen people keep going astray. It is a steadfast love which never gives up but instead is constantly working to bring the people back. I must confess, I struggle with this. To have such love is mentally and spiritually exhausting and I know I am not alone in this. If you are an elder you know how tempting it is to give up on individuals or families who ever come to the church, never invite you in when you visit and really have no connection yet they are members and so you are obliged to keep in contact. With God’s kind of love and the steadfastness of Christ you can do this even when others would fail. Will you love them back into the family? Maybe yes or maybe no but that is the prayer Paul had for the church in Thessalonica and I believe it is also his prayer for Kinnoull.
None of this we can do as lone wolf Christians. It is simply too big a load to carry, hence Paul’s call for mutuality and solidarity. It is a call that echoes down through the ages to today. May we, in our own way take up this call to the glory of God and joy of his Kingdom.