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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: February 19, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome to HBS and thanks for being with us today.
Please open your Bible at 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
Paul’s Oneness with the Thessalonian SaintsVerse 3:1-3.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may (literally, run or) have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.”
With the word “Finally” Paul added his commands, exhortations, requests, and the practical applications of what he has been teaching the Thessalonians in this letter. His request for prayer in this case is not for boldness to preach the gospel of grace or strength to endure life’s troubles it’s “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified,” (3:1). He’s referring to the spread of the gospel the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ revealed to him and called him to preach to the gentiles or all nations (Romans 1:1-5; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 6:19; 2 Timothy 1:11).
It should be further observed that he asked for their prayers that it might be with him “even as it is with them” (3:1b). With that comment we pick up on the fact that there are variations in persecution. The Thessalonian saints were suffering fierce persecution themselves and we looked at this topic not that long ago, but in actuality this served “to spread the gospel of God’s grace” throughout Macedonia and beyond (1 Thessalonians 1:8) it did not hinder it much to the dismay of the persecutors. In Paul’s case, however, he and his co-workers suffered from a different kind of persecution. We pick up on this from these words in his prayer request “that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men:” who “have not faith” (3:2). Thus, we conclude from this statement that certain Jews continued to plot and scheme against Paul and those men that labored with him in the cause of Christ (See Acts 18:1-17; 20:3, 23:11-22).
We get some idea of the kind of persecution Paul endured while at Corinth, Greece, when we realize that a concerted effort was made by the unbelieving, religious Jews of the synagogue in that city to have him condemned by the Roman proconsul and cast into prison. His antagonists meant to restrain both Paul and his message.
His request for prayer that the Word might have “free course” serves to remind us of two of his other requests for prayer from the saints. 1) In Ephesians 6:19-20, that he might be given “utterance” and “boldness,” and 2) in Colossians 4:3, that God would open to him “a door of utterance,” to proclaim, “the revelation of the mystery,” for which he had been imprisoned. Paul’s one deep passion was to make known the gospel of God’s grace to all and for this he suffered greatly (Acts 9:10-16; Romans 1:13-17, 10:1, 16:25-27; 1 Corinthians 1:17-24, 2:6-8; Philippians 1:12-21).
Paul asked the members of every grace church he wrote to pray for him, except the Galatians, and that’s not difficult to understand. When you put others under the law, you bite and devour them (Galatians 5:15), you don’t pray for them. But Paul knew the assembly in Thessalonica was a loving assembly (1:4-9), and so he asked them to pray for “us” (2:3:1), that is, himself, Silas, and Timothy (1:1).
It’s okay to ask other people to pray for you, especially since Paul said you should pray for “all the saints,” and you are one of the saints (Ephesians 6:18) if you’ve believed Paul’s gospel. It is also okay to pray “in every thing” (Philippians 4:6). But Paul didn’t ask the saints to pray for him so he could have an easier life, he asked for their prayers so he could continue to serve the Lord faithfully (Ephesians 6:18-20; Colossians 4:3). When he prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed it was because he thought it would enable him to serve the Lord better, but the Lord had to explain otherwise (2 Corinthians 12:9). So while it is okay to pray for yourself and those things that concern you, the more you mature in the faith and learn to pray like Paul, the more likely your chief concern will be aligned with Paul’s, i.e., serving the Lord and others.
“The word of the Lord” (3:1) to Israel was nothing short of a threat of judgment (Ezekiel 6:3), but today the word of the Lord is found in Acts 13:38-39, 49. The Greek word for “free course” is translated “run” elsewhere in the N.T. which means Paul was asking them to pray “the word of the Lord” would be able to run “free” of the hurdles he’d seen runners jump at the Isthmian games in Corinth. We should, therefore, pray this too, and then make sure we are not one of the hurdles. You become a hurdle when you live your life in such a way as to damage your testimony and God’s, by refusing to serve the Lord and others, and by criticizing His Word.
“The word of the Lord” is “glorified” (3:1) when it is believed and acted upon (Acts 13:48). The Word didn’t have “free course” with the Thessalonians (3:1) when Paul established the church (Acts 17:1-9), but it did now that he was gone. So, he’s asking them to pray that it would now have “free course… ”with him as it was with them.” Of course, Paul knew he’d be delivered “from unreasonable and wicked men,” knowing he couldn’t die till he’d finished running the course set before him, as did John (Acts 13:24,25) and the two witnesses (Revelation 11:7). Paul also had a course to complete and a testimony to tell (Acts 20:24) and he knew God wouldn’t call him home until he until finished both (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
But if he knew he couldn’t die till then, why did he ask the Thessalonians to pray for his deliverance? Paul was asking them to pray in accordance with God’s will. We see the same thing in his letter to the Corinthians, where he knew he’d be delivered, but asked the Corinthian saints to pray for it (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
“And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.”
These “unreasonable and wicked men” Paul speaks of are unsaved Jews who won’t respond to God’s offer to “reason” with them (Isaiah 1:18). Paul also reasoned with Jews who didn’t believe (Acts 17:1-4l 18:1-6), but unsaved religious-minded gentiles also presented a problem for him (Acts 19:29-34).
But we know Paul was also asking to be delivered from saved religious men when he adds, “for all men have not faith, but the Lord is faithful” (3:2-3). Since the word “faith” can mean faithful (Romans 3:1-3), Paul was comparing the Lord’s faithfulness to the faithlessness of Believers, who can be just as “unreasonable and wicked” as unsaved men and in some cases even more so.
In declaring that God will be “faithful” to do what He says He will do 100% of the time, the thing that Paul said God would faithfully do is to “stablish” them (3:3). That word, as any other word in the Bible, has different meanings depending on the context. In 2:16-17 “the blessed hope” of the Pre-tribulation Rapture could “stablish” them, but we know that depended on their being “faithful” (2:1-2). Paul’s saying the Lord will “stablish” the true Believer, “unblameable in holiness before God” (1 Thessalonians 3:13), when He returns to heaven with every member of the Body of Christ. That return will be before the Tribulation, and that is how the Lord plans to “keep (them) from evil” (3:3), i.e., the evil of the Tribulation. Please know the Scriptures offer us no guarantee that we will be saved from any other evil in this life.
Paul’s Confidence in the Lord
“And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”
To put “confidence” in someone (3:4) means to put your trust in them (Psalm 118:8). Since the Lord is trustworthy, Paul had “confidence in the Lord” (3:4) concerning many things. For example he was “confident” he was saved (2 Corinthians 5:6-8), because he was “confident” that the Lord would continue that good work He had begun in him: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (or the Rapture):” (Philippians 1:6).
When Paul wrote: “And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you” please note he did not say, “We have confidence in you.” He said, “we have confidence in the Lord.” Paul's statement about the Thessalonians in this verse must have been encouraging. He expressed “confidence in the Lord” that they are doing and will continue to do what He commands. This confidence was not based on human effort or merit. It was based "in the Lord." What does this mean? Left to themselves, most likely, the Thessalonians would not be able to carry out Paul's commands, which are the very commands of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). But the Lord was working in and through them, i.e., helping them live a life that pleases God: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We note that Paul exhorted the Philippians to “work out” and not "work for" their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
When you study your Bible, rightly divided, never forget what the settings for these various letters from our Apostle Paul are. For instance, the Thessalonian letters were the first two letters he wrote to grace Believers. They were not the last in line, as the N.T. presents them. As near as I can tell, Paul was with these people for about three weeks and that’s not a long time considering the fact that this small group of Believers had been living lives that were steeped in paganism before Paul presented the gospel to them. Paul gives us some idea what this means in Romans 1:18-32. For the sake of time I’m not going to go over all that in detail, but suffice to say it’s required reading in order for your understanding to be complete. To say pagans lived amoral lives is a gross understatement. And so, these were the kind of communities our Apostle Paul entered simply preaching the gospel of grace (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and the Lord opened their hearts to receive His message (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
While studying this Scripture passage I came across an article from one of the early church writers re: two pagan women that were slaves. Evidently, these women became Believers of Paul’s gospel and soon after came under bitter persecution, but here’s the thing, their faith never wavered. This is hard for most people to understand. I say this because a “stablished” Believer of many years is more likely to endure persecution than a new Believer fresh out of an immoral lifestyle. Human nature dictates choosing the path of least resistance; this is where most people are “comfortable.” But for these two women to be so transformed that they were willing to suffer persecution, in its many forms, without recanting their faith is truly remarkable and stands as a testimony of faith to all.
These and other concerns like them are the situations that Paul had to address as he wrote these letters. He was with the Thessalonians for only a few weeks, and I’m certain that time was well spent, but when you start from zero knowledge there’s a lot to learn. That being said, in his absence other “gifted” men were on the scene to help them grow in knowledge of the Lord and in the faith (Ephesians 4:11-13). And so now we know why Paul wrote these letters so soon after leaving them. Before I let this go just let me say this is what the diligent Bible student must always keep in mind. What was the purpose of Paul’s letters to these assemblies? When were they written and to whom were they written? When you approach the Scriptures with this mindset, you’re well on your way to be “a workman approved of God” (2 Timothy 2:15).
And then, with the same passion that had overtaken him ever since his Damascus RD conversion, Paul expressed further “confidence” that “…the Lord will direct their hearts “into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (3:5).
The first thing I want to mention is in all of Paul’s writings he never once mentioned his deep love for God or for the Lord Jesus Christ, but rather he speaks of God’s love for him and every lost sinner. For to him, the chief of sinners, was given the greatest revelation of the love of Christ (Romans 5:8-9). It was this appreciation of this great love that set and kept Paul on fire for the Lord and strengthened his resolve. This alone helps to explain the utter abandon with which he labored and suffered for the cause of Christ. For he admits to being “pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life;” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and would have given up, but he could not, he would not, for the love of Christ bore him along as an ocean tide. This is the sense of the word “constrains” in 2 Corinthians 5:14. God’s infinite love for the lost sinner, demonstrated in the grace that had saved him, continually overwhelmed him and was to him a constant source of contentment and strength to endure persecution and suffering in its many forms (Philippians 4:11-14). This is what he wanted for the Thessalonians, i.e., that their hearts might be directed, not “to love God,” but rather, “into the love of God.”
In closing this section of Scripture Paul encourages these saints, despite or in view of all their persecutions, to continue what they had begun. They had “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and now he prays that “the Lord will direct their hearts “into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ” (3:5), clearly indicating that patient waiting is what should be expected of them and every true Believer in view of God’s grace and longsuffering toward all.
(To be continued)
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