Saturday, July 04, 2015

Strengthened and protected by the word of God (Ministry in Thessalonians #28)

Finally brothers, pray for us, that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 

Over the years I have learned so much from Paul's prayers. I love the theology tucked into these passages, often overlooked at the beginning and end of his books. I also love the permission some of these prayers give to ask God for big things! This passage is one of the most specific prayers, and it is rich with meaning.

The humility of Paul and his team is such a lesson for all of us. Despite being the "apostle to the Gentiles", who planted this church and left after only 3 weeks, Paul asks THEM for prayer. Think back to the early years of your walk with the Lord. Imagine one or two years in getting a letter from someone who was instrumental in leading you to the Lord - asking you to pray for him or her! What an encouragement that would be to your faith, to be entrusted to pray for someone you loved and respected so much.

But what is truly amazing is what he asks them to pray.
   - That the message they proclaim would spread rapidly and be honored
   - That they would be delivered from wicked and evil men

This is a Gospel-centered prayer request! Paul wants others to receive the message of the Lord as the word of God, not the word of man - just as the Thessalonians did (1 Thess. 2:13). As the team moves forward in proclaiming that message, Paul asks prayer for deliverance from "wicked and evil men". There are those who intentionally oppose the Gospel's advance, and Paul wanted to be delivered from them -- not for his own comfort, but so the message could continue. This prayer provides biblical permission to pray for deliverance of those who are imprisoned or otherwise persecuted for their faith!

Ever the pastor, Paul then reassures them -- God is faithful and will strengthen and protect YOU. He draws an important distinction - while they pray that they "may" be delivered from evil men ... he is certain of God's protection from "the evil one". What a beautiful reminder tucked into this prayer that even when men on the earthly level "succeed", God still ultimately protects from the evil one. Satan wants to steal our faith. God promises to protect us from his ultimate goal.

How does that strengthening and protection work? I see a key in the very next verse. While it seems to break the flow of the prayer, it is really an important part of it. Paul is certain that the Thessalonians are doing "the things we command" -- standing firm on their teachings which were the very words of God. As we hold on to the word of God and doing what it says, our faith grows - because "Faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the word of God" (Romans 10:17). As our faith grows, we are strengthened and protected from Satan's schemes. It's a beautiful way that we can be part of what God is doing in our own hearts!

And our hearts - that's the focus on the end of Paul's prayer. He prays for their hearts to be directed - the word refers to all hindrances being removed - into two things: God's love and Christ's perseverance. Knowing God's love assures us that everything in His Word is for our GOOD. And while scholars debate whether the final phrase should read "Christ's perseverance" or "the perseverance of Christ" the point is clear: Jesus fully obeyed God, and by His empowerment we can do so as well. Continue to obey the clear commands of Scripture is only possible with His perseverance.

As we look at this passage and the previous one from a ministry perspective, one thing stands out clearly to me: The word of God must be central in our lives and worship. We must know it, read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, teach it, proclaim it, hear it read ... in every way, the strength of the church and individual believers depends on the place we give the word of God. If those we minister to lack assurance of its accuracy, inerrancy, and authority, some apologetic teaching might be in order, because the minimization of God's word has led to errors more numerous to count. Once we establish the Bible as the word of God, then we should proclaim it fully in every way we can. It will make every difference in the world!

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