Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonian Christians
June 1st, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE THESSALONIAN CHRISTIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 2:16- 17
6-1-58 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning hour entitled Paul’s Prayer for the Christians of Thessalonica. We have come to the last verses of the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, and if you turn to it in your Bible, you can easily follow it. The message is a textual sermon; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. This is the prayer:
Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
[2 Thessalonians 2:16-17]
This church at Thessalonica needed that prayer for hope, and for consolation, and encouragement. Paul had left, but they had to stay. Paul left because of the fierce fires of persecution. In order that his life might be spared, the brethren hid him in the night and sent him away under cover of darkness [Acts 17:10]. But by nowise and in no sense did that allay the fierce persecution; it raged. And the little band, the little flock, this new group of converts in the capital city of Macedonia had to bear the brunt of that terrible fury [1 Thessalonians 2:14].
Now they not only had that fierce opposition on the outside, but because of their sorrows and their trials there arose a more hurtful trouble on the inside. It came about like this: because of their tribulation and their persecution, there arose hot-headed and fevered teachers who stood up to prophesy, and who said that they had a revelation from God, and that they were quoting the very words orally spoken by Paul the apostle, and they produced spurious letters, false letters from the apostle Paul, saying that the great final tribulation of the Lord had come, and that they were in it now, and that they were to expect the appearing of Jesus immediately [2 Thessalonians 2:2]. Well, the effect of that upon the little band of Christians at Thessalonica was disastrous; for, as they are described here in this next chapter, many of the people said, "It is no use longer to work or to serve. Jesus is coming immediately. We are in the dark days of the tribulation now" [2 Thessalonians 3:7-10]. So they ceased from effort; they desisted from all work. And they became just false prophets and busybodies and walking disorderly; and threatened the very order of the church and the communion of the saints in Thessalonica [2 Thessalonians 3:11-15].
Now it was out of that that Paul wrote this second letter. He says two things. First: they are to work. He says, "Even when we were with you, we commanded you, If any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies" [2 Thessalonians 3:10-11]. In one hour they’d be talking in six different people’s houses, just stirring up a ferment. So that was the first thing he told them: if you do not work, you are not to eat [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. "For this we commanded you when we were with you, that you are to serve until the Lord comes; if that is a thousand years from now. It is much better," Paul would say, "for the Lord when He comes to find us at our tasks," whatever God hath called us to do, to find us faithful in it [2 Thessalonians 3:4-6].
Then [secondly] he speaks of this awful day of tribulation [2 Thessalonians 2:1-12]. Isn’t it a tragedy? This is just another instance of the power of the working of error. The greatest hope, the sweetest promise, the infinitely blessed dream and future of the people of God is that we shall see our Lord, that we shall live in His presence, that there shall be a great gathering of God’s children unto Him [2 Thessalonians 2:13-14]. But isn’t it an illustration of the power of error that even that wonderful and glorious doctrine can be so turned, can be so filled with fanaticism until it becomes a hurt instead of a blessing, and instead of an encouragement it becomes a reason for a turning aside from tremendous effort?
Well, Paul answers in the second place now concerning the coming of our Lord: It is true, he says, that there will be dark days of tribulation. There will be the working of the mystery of iniquity until finally it consummates in the son of perdition, the man of sin, elsewhere called the Antichrist [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. Then he speaks of those awful, awful days:
This one who shall appear after the energizing, the working of Satan, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the truth, that they might be saved.
And for that cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
That they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure unbelief and rejection.
[2 Thessalonians 2:9-12]
Oh, it’s a dark, dark thing that he says. Then he turns to this prayer of consolation and comfort for the children of God. "But," he says, against that dark background of God’s final visitation of judgment in this earth, "But," he says,
We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you, elected you, to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, in the gospel of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[2 Thessalonians 2:13-14].
Then he prays: "And now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father who loved us, give you everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, encourage your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work" [2 Thessalonians 2:16-17]. That’s the text.
Now his prayer begins with a most unusual address. It is strikingly emphatic: "Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father" [2 Thessalonians 2:16] – be pretty hard to disassociate the deity of Christ from the reading of these texts. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God, pros ton theon: equal, the Word and God [John 1:1-2]. And he’d just spoke of the Spirit; the great Trinity, the Three in One [2 Thessalonians 2:13, 16]. "Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father" [2 Thessalonians 2:16], and he personalizes it, "our Lord and our God"; "Our Father which art in heaven" [Matthew 6:9]. Then follows these ascriptions: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, our Father, who hath loved us" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. Not that He pitied us – and He does pity us; that beautiful psalm, "As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" [Psalm 103:13-14] – He hath pitied us, but he doesn’t say it. Nor does he say "who hath mercy upon us." And He does have mercy upon us, else would He destroy us from the face of the earth. Nor did he say, "who hath been benevolent toward us," though God is benevolent and kind toward us. But he says, "Our Lord Jesus, and our God, who hath loved us" [2 Thessalonians 2:16], and that you cannot describe. You must feel it to know it. You could never make a young man understand what it is to love a bride until first he experiences it. For you can’t say it in language and in sentence, and you could search the dictionary through forever and never find it. You could never ultimately describe the deep and abiding love of a mother for her child. You have to see it and look at it. It is so with the love of God. It is not possible in language or in eloquence, in poetry or in song, ever adequately to portray the love of God for His children. Like the sainted John exclaimed in the third chapter of his first letter, "Behold, what manner of love the Lord God hath bestowed upon us" [1 John 3:1].
Now he says in this ascription, "God, and our Lord Jesus, hath loved us" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]; he puts it in the past. When? Loved us when we were rebellious, and sinners, and lost. When? Loved us before we were born. When? Loved us before the morning star announced the first morning. Loved us before the first angels covered their faces with their wings in holy awe and reverence before God. Loved us in the beginning. "We are bound to give thanks to God for you, brethren, because God hath from the beginning elected you" [2 Thessalonians 2:13], chosen you, named you, wrote your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], before the foundation of the world [Ephesians 1:4]. "He hath loved us" [2 Thessalonians 2:16].
I think I could understand how God could love the saints, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, even those great holy men whose biographies I read from time to time; but it doesn’t say, "God loved just the saints, the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs, the holy men." But the Word includes us: "hath loved us." You and me, in all of our fault and prodigality, in all of our failures and shortcomings; "God, even our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, hath loved us" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. You will find one of the great revelations in the doctrines of the Book is this: that redemption is never ascribed to the wonderful attributes of God’s wisdom, or of God’s power, or of God’s sovereignty, or of God’s holiness, or of God’s justice; but without exception, redemption is always ascribed to God’s love, "who loved me, and gave Himself for me" [Galatians 2:20].
Now he continues, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation or encouragement" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. Everlasting consolation and encouragement: the Lord hath forgiven all of our sins and transgressions [Ephesians 4:32]. We are washed in the blood of His Son [Revelation 1:5]. Our names are written in the Book of Life, and they can never be blotted out [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. There is the mystery of the substitute: our Lord who died in our stead [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And we never die twice, never pay the penalty twice. Some of you men who are lawyers here this morning, if a man were convicted for a crime, and were hanged for the crime, the book is closed; it’s been paid for. So it is with our sins and our crimes against God: they are paid for, one time, in the blood and the cross and the death of the Son of God [Hebrews 9:26]; and God never asks that they be paid for again. I am washed, I am forgiven, I am free in the sacrifice, the atonement, the tears and sobs and blood and agony and death of Jesus our Lord: everlasting consolation [Romans 8:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:16]. And our salvation never is rooted or grounded in us, but it is established forever in Christ our Lord [Acts 4:12]. We are never saved on the basis of the sand of creature obedience, but upon the everlasting, immovable, eternal Rock of the atonement and the redemption of Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Peter 2:6], "who hath given us everlasting consolation" [2 Thessalonians 2:16], our sins forgiven, our names elected for life, for eternity [John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7], "And all things working together for good to those who trust in God, who are the called according to His purpose" [Romans 8:28]. However the fortunes of life may turn and the vicissitudes of life may come and go, all of it for good to those who love the Lord. "Yea, though I sleep in the dust of the ground and worms through this skin destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" [Job 19:26], resurrection and immortality, everlasting consolation, "and good hope through grace" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. Consolation for now, "good hope through grace" for the future. However it is, it shall be full of blessedness and bliss for the children of God. If we are parted and separated in bereavement and sorrow and death in this life, we shall hope to meet one another in a life and in a world that is yet to come; "Good hope through grace" [2 Thessalonians 2:16].
Now, may I comment especially on Paul’s addition of that? You have it translated "through grace," en charite. A phrase that Paul greatly used, with deep meaning, constantly, was "in Christ," "in Christ," "in Christ" [Ephesians 1:3-14]; uses it scores and scores of times, "in Christ." Now, next to that phrase in beauty and in meaning is this little phrase here, en charite, "in grace," translated here "through grace" [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. What does he mean by that? Why, humbly and simply this: that our hope in God, our everlasting consolation and encouragement, our good hope, is never rooted or grounded or based in us, never, not in our worth, nor in our merit, nor in our goodness; but it is always rooted and grounded and based in the grace of God, in His mercy [Ephesians 2:4-9]. And any hope that we have for the blessedness of a life shared in the world to come never lies in us, or our goodness, or our worth, or our merit, or our righteousness, but it lies in the goodness, in the grace, in the unmerited love and favor of God our Father [John 3:16, Romans 5:8].
So many people have a faith that flickers. They are persuaded that if they behave themselves well enough, that by and by finally they will achieve heaven. Consequently, their faith burns feebly, and their lives are filled with foreboding and dread and maybe, "Ah, shall we make it? Maybe we won’t. Having lived these years, yet might fall. Having devoted my life to Christ, yet might ultimately fall away. Having looked to Jesus in faith, yet might fall into hell." Oh, what an unusual thing, what a dark thing, and how absolutely contradictory to the great encouragement that we have in Jesus Christ and in the revelation of the Holy Book. For without exception, all the way through, our Book tells us that "He that believeth in Him hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed out of death into life," everlasting consolation and good hope [John 5:24]. Why? Because of us? No. Our worth and merit? No. Our goodness and achievement? Never! But because of the grace of God [Ephesians 2:8].
The soul that leans on Jesus for repose,
He will never, no never, devote to its foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
He will never, no never, no never forsake.
["How Firm a Foundation," John Rippon]
The Lord God may visit us with the rod, but never with the sword. We may fall into the fires of purification, but never the fires of damnation. He may chide with us, but He loves us still. And the relationship of sonship is never, never changed. If you don’t believe that, try to unborn your son. Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone, blood of your blood, this is your son: "And when Adam saw Eve he said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh . . . Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh [Genesis 2:23-24]. "I speak a great mystery concerning Christ and His church," a great mystery [Ephesians 5:32]. What Paul means there in the fifth chapter of Ephesians was [that] the thing God did back there was a revelation, a deep spiritual meaning. It meant Christ and His church, that is, we are of His body, of His bones, of His flesh [Ephesians 5:30]; the mystery of the two in one, in grace, in grace.
Oh, what consolation and comfort as he describes here, when a man can turn aside from the foundation of his faith and his salvation in himself and look to Jesus. I may be weak, but He is strong. I may falter and stagger, but He never fails. I may be discouraged; He is never discouraged. The Rock on which I stand never changes [Hebrews 13:8], though I may tremble upon it; in grace, saved through grace; in grace, saved forever [Ephesians 2:8], everlasting consolation. The devil may try us and buffet us, the devil may assail us, and the storms flood around us, but the boat never sinks – God’s keeping hand.
I started to sing this morning, and I – could I use an expression of these kids? – I "chickened out" on it. But I started to sing this morning, as I was thinking through this text, an old timey song that I saw a bunch of Hardshell Baptists singing. They were out there under the trees; they were in a brush arbor meeting. They’d split logs and had them out there under an arbor, and they were having a revival, and I attended the revival, bless them. And, I tell you, they just moved my soul the way they did, just out of the blue of the sky: nobody announce anything, nobody say anything, they just all stood up right in the middle of the service, and started shaking hands with everybody else and shaking hands with me. And the tears rolling down their faces, and they were singing that old song, "God’s Unchanging Hand." I say, if I hadn’t lost my nerve, I was going to sing that song for you this morning because some of you kids have never heard it. But it’s a great old song, "God’s Unchanging Hand."
Now, he says this is given us: it is not earned, and we don’t possess it because we have been good enough to deserve it, or we’ve merited it; but it is given to us who hath given us this everlasting consolation and good hope through grace [2 Thessalonians 2:16]. Why, I could not imagine a father paying wages to his child; I mean, other than trying to get the boy maybe to mow the lawn or something like that. But you don’t look to your child in any other way except in love, and you give it to him; give it to him, don’t expect it back. Why, I don’t suppose I ever saw a man who was a father who expected for his son to pay him back what he did for him. Well, the thing kind of does a little twist in your heart, even to think of the situation. I don’t want it back, what I do for my child. No, I’m so glad to do it. That’s you. Out of the love of your heart you give it, and that’s our salvation in God’s mercy to us: it is a free gift, not of works, not we earn it, but God gives it to us [Ephesians 2:8-9].
Then he concludes, "That it might comfort your hearts, encourage your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" [2 Thessalonians 2:17]. Now Paul says God’s grace and His mercy and His love all are given to us that we might be encouraged in our hearts, and that we might be established in every good word and work. All of these things that he’s described here in the Book, of what God means to us and what Jesus has done for us, all of this is to encourage our hearts; it’s to lift us up and to establish us in the good works and the good words and the good deeds of the Christian life [2 Thessalonians 2:17]. Whenever I’m depressed, I’m that far fallen below what God would delight to see in me, for a Christian ought to be a triumphant believer, and we are to live in an atmosphere of peace of mind which the world seeks and never finds. To us, it’s a free gift of God. Our hearts are to be quiet in Him, and we’re to lift up our eyes, look above the clouds and above the thunder and the lightning and the storm, and there is our great God who never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8], and who loves us still and who makes everything work for our blessing. We are to be happy Christians, glorious and triumphant in our hearts and in our spirits and in our lives, and never depressed or cast down; not we, not we.
Last Friday night of this week, last Friday night, I went out to the Fair Park Music Hall to deliver the commencement address for Sunset High School. Principal C. C. Miller of the high school invited me to be the speaker upon that beautiful occasion, and so I went out there Friday night and delivered the commencement address. They had just a few less than five hundred graduates, and after the address, why, he had me sit down right there, and where I could watch the giving out of all of those certificates, those diplomas; about five hundred of them. Well, it was interesting to me to watch those young people come up and the response out there, after each one, well, you know, they’d clap. Well, some of them, when they came up there on the rostrum and received from the hand of the school board official the high school diploma, why, some of them, they would clap uproariously for, like, the captain of their football team, and the valedictorian – who, by the way, belongs to our church – and other personal and happy pupils that were popular among the group. I want you to know that as I was sitting there and watching those students come up there to receive their diplomas, there came up on the platform the finest, brightest boy you ever saw, in a wheelchair, his two hands, you know, working the wheels of his chair. And he put himself up there on the platform, and rolled himself up there in front of the officiating dignitary, and reached up and took his diploma from the hands of the man. And I tell you, they rocked that auditorium with applause! Oh, it just moved my heart to see that. It looked as though everybody were just going to keep on clapping for that boy. Well, after it was over, I called the principle. I said, "Brother Principal, Brother Miller, I want to ask you about that boy, the brightest fellow with the happiest smile and the finest spirit." I said, "Principal, isn’t that boy a Christian?" And he said, "Yes sir, pastor. That boy is one of the finest Christians I ever saw, and one of the finest Christian boys in this city." He said he was cut down just a few years before by polio. He was a young athlete and had every promise of success in athletics; and he was cut down, and he’s paralyzed now with polio. But you’d never know it. Why, you would think the world was his, the way he looks out of his eyes, and the way his spirit is; and no wonder they all clapped till the rafters rang.
That’s the way God wants us to be! to be encouraged in our hearts and established in every good word and work [2 Thessalonians 2:17]. It may be a deep valley, but through our tears, we’re to see the face of Jesus. May be a dark night, but beyond is God’s sun and the promise of the morning. We’re never to be discouraged, not we; never to be down, not we; never to be depressed, not we. We’re to live on the victorious side of God’s kingdom, looking up, looking out, looking forward and going on.
I haven’t time even to speak of that last, "establish you in every good word and work" [2 Thessalonians 2:17]. That’s like the apostle Paul. Do you remember how he closed the great resurrection chapter, the fifteenth of 1 Corinthians? After he closed in that great peroration, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:54-55]. Now, do you remember how he closes it? "Therefore, my brethren, therefore be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" [1 Corinthians 15:58]. God brings to His children an ultimate, a final, and a certain victory: "Established in every good word and work" [2 Thessalonians 2:17].
Now we sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord; somebody put his life in the church; a family you, or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony around, down these stairwells; in this great throng of people from side to side, into the aisle and down here to the front: "Pastor, today I give my heart in trust to Jesus," or "Today we’re putting our lives with you in the fellowship of this wonderful and precious church." While we sing the song, would you come, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.