Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonian Christians
June 1st, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
2 Thessalonians 3:3-13
PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE THESSALONIAN CHRISTIANS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 3:1-18
6-1-58 7:30 p.m.
All of us turn now to the last chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, chapter 3, 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, and let us read it. The third chapter; you notice we are getting toward the end of the Bible. Chapter 3 of the second Thessalonian letter, we have it? Now let us all read it together, 2 Thessalonians, the third, the last chapter:
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.
Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us.
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that 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.
Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
[2 Thessalonians 3:1-18]
And the text, 2 Thessalonians 3:5, "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ."
The text is a prayer, as you can see. The apostle Paul points a way that he himself is not able to achieve for his Thessalonian Christians. Or could I say it like this: he’s like a pilot; he is sailing by the coastal shores, the beautiful radiant coasts of Immanuel’s land, and he points out to his dear people the rivers of life that flow up into the heartland of God’s great love and mercy, marvelous experiences with the Lord, and he himself cannot pilot the ship up into all of those channels, and up into the heart of the great rich experiences with God. But he points the way, and he prays for them, that the great adventure will be directed by God Himself, "The Lord guide you into those marvelous experiences of the love and grace and mercy of Jesus" [2 Thessalonians 3:5, 16, 18]. Paul had been with them out in the sea, and to the place where God buries our sins and transgressions. And he’d been with that little flock in the time of persecution and storm, when neither sun nor moon nor star appeared by day or by night. But finally, this brave pilot has to admit that he cannot guide their ship any longer. So he points out to them the beautiful coasts, and Immanuel’s land, and the great country of God; but gives the adventure of its direction in the hands of the Lord Himself: "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
So, he first prays for them, that God would direct their hearts into the rich, deep, experience of the love of God [2 Thessalonians 3:5]. It is the same kind of a thing as if you were to pass by a palace or a beautiful home and you look at it and admire it, the well kept, well trimmed swards, the beautiful gardens, the flowers, the hedges, the shrubbery, all of the wonderful things that go into the making of a palatial home. It is one thing just to pass by and look at it; it is another thing to be welcomed inside, to be directed into the heart of it. And that’s what he prays for us here: that God Himself shall welcome us and direct us into all of the rich treasures of the love and goodness and mercy of God. Think of its immeasurable greatness. Did you ever think of how it is impossible even to measure that little world "so"? "For God so loved the world" [John 3:16], just measure that little word, "so." The surveyor’s chains as he maps out a whole continent, or a geographer’s plummet, the lead that he drops down into the depths of the sea, or the astronomer’s telescope looking into the infinite beyond; they couldn’t measure that little word "so," nor could they outline it, nor could they graph it. It is beyond us, the immeasurable goodness of God in the pouring out of His love and grace for us.
Think of its eternal character: it has no beginning, and it has no ending; it always is, it always was, it always shall be; it is in God Himself. And think of its infallible constancy. No man shall ever come to God and find that it is past the forgiveness and the love and the forbearance of Christ Jesus, not this side of His glorious appearing. Wherever you are, however you are, there God is in His gracious open-hearted favor toward you. In a far country by yourself, you’re not by yourself; the Lord is there. Sick and ready to die, God is there. In our sins as prodigal and wastrel, "Even when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" [Romans 5:6] – "That the Lord may direct your hearts into the love of God" [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
And this finally is the great constraining experience that brings us to the Lord, and that brings us in affection and devotion to Christ. You know there are many motives for a man’s being a Christian. We can be scared to death. Don’t have much of that anymore, but I used to hear these preachers preach when I was a little fellow, and when they got through describing hell and damnation, it frightened me, scared me, and I wanted to be saved. That’s a good motive and a good reason for being saved, if for no other reason than that God would deliver us from the condemnation and the judgment of our sins. Moses, I mean, "Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark, to the saving of his house" [Hebrews 11:7]. But the great, ultimate reason for the moving of a man toward God could never lie in being afraid. It lies in the constraining experience of the devotion and affection of God for us, and the outflowing and outpouring of our souls to Him, always! Same kind of a thing as if a man were married because he had to be; got a shotgun wedding, got a fellow with a gun at your head, "Brother, you say this vow or I pull the trigger!" and he’s scared not to, so he gets married. Now that’s one reason to marry. I submit it might be fellow would rather live with the dame than to be shot, though sometimes he might hesitate, he might debate it. I’m not saying that it’s not a reason, it’s one that might commend itself; but I’m just saying it is a poor reason, a poor reason! Same thing about a man joining his soul with God: it is a poor reason to give your heart and your life to Jesus because of fear and trembling and abject servility. How much more wonderful is it to give your heart to God out of the fullness of the love of your soul, and out of gratitude and appreciation for what God has done and does mean to us?
No more beautiful story in the Bible than Jesus, seated at the table, a guest in the house of Simon the leper; seated as they are in an Oriental custom, with His feet away from the table, reclining on a couch, breaking bread. The woman comes from the street, and bathes His feet with her tears, and dries them with the hairs of her head, and breaks over Him an alabaster box of ointment that fills the whole room with its perfume [Matthew 26:7-13; Luke 7:36-40; John 12:1-8]. Why, just to think of that is glorious. She was forgiven much, and loved much [Luke 7:36-44]. And so with us. And the great motive for our work and our service to God is never to be one of fear; "I’m afraid if I don’t do this I’ll be damned." "I’m afraid if I don’t obey this command I’ll be lost." "I’m just afraid that if I don’t live the Christian life, God will disintegrate me, and put me aside, and shut me out, and close the door in my face." That’s a poor motive and an unworthy one. The great motive for the service of our lives, and souls, and the devotion of our hearts to Jesus is here in this next verse; in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, for His sake, for love’s sake, for devotion’s sake [Luke 7:47].
I was with a man who is the leading pastor in his denomination – not a Baptist – in his denomination, he’s their leading, number one preacher. And I spent a day and a night with him at convocation, at a meeting. And being reared in a different part of the world from where I grew up, and being in a different denomination, I was doubly interested in him. And he told me a thing in his life that so illustrates the moving power of compassion and love. His father must have been a glorious man, from what I could hear of him, and must have been very, very wealthy and very rich. He was the president of several corporations and was chairman of the board of several great companies. His father, he said, lost everything in the Depression, in the collapse of the stock market in New York in 1929. But until then, his father was a great leader in the business world. They lived in a palatial home in one of the cities in the North and East, out on the edge, not in the city, but a beautiful palatial estate, outside on the edge of the city. Well, when this man was a little fellow, a little boy, his mother died. And the father was rearing the boy with the servants in that beautiful home. And upon a day, while the boy was playing out there on the palatial grounds, a group of Gypsies went by. And they had a little goat with a cart. And the little boy watched them go by, and he ran out to that Gypsy that had the little goat and the cart, and looked at it in such admiration, and when the Gypsy saw how the boy was dressed and the beautiful home out of which he came, his eyes just glowed – and I can see that – with the possibilities of a marvelous transaction. I can just see that; that Gypsy looking at that little boy all dressed up and that beautiful palatial home there by the side of the road. And so he encouraged the little boy, and the little boy wanted more than anything in the world, he wanted that goat and that little cart.
Now this part of the story I cannot remember; I can’t tell you how it was that the boy got down to his daddy, I can’t remember that. But somehow or the other, the boy got down to his father, got down to his daddy’s place. Now his father was having a board meeting of one of the big corporations. And when the little fellow went up to the secretary to see his father, why, the secretary wouldn’t hear of it: "James, no. Your father is in a board meeting, and a very important one. And under no conditions can you go in there." So the little fellow, who knew the secretary and the people there at the office, the little fellow just stayed around. And when the secretary wasn’t looking, he made a dash, and got in there where the board was meeting and his father, the chairman of it, seated at the head of the big table. And the little boy went up there to where his father was seated, presiding over that big board meeting of the corporation, and just poured out the whole story of the Gypsy and the goat and the little cart; and he wanted his daddy to come and to buy the goat and the cart from the Gypsy.
Well, I can just see that. And the boy said, this preacher said, that his father stood up at the head of the table, after the boy had just poured out the whole story of the goat and the little cart, that his father stood up, and looked at the astonished men who were there in the board meeting, and explained to them that the little boy’s mother had recently died, and that he was trying to be a mother and a father to the lad, and was rearing the little fellow with the servants in the home. And he said to the men, "Gentlemen, if you will, excuse me, while I go see about buying the goat and the cart for my little boy." And he said his father excused himself from the board, and went out to the house, and negotiated at a handsome price with the Gypsy, and bought him the goat and the little cart.
Well, when he told me that, I could just see that father. Had that mother been alive and that little boy went in there, the father would have picked him up by the nape of the neck and the seat of the pants and thrown him out. It wouldn’t have been the snap of your fingers. That little boy would have got the worst spanking he ever got in his life. And I don’t know what he said to the secretary and to everybody. But when the little boy made his appeal, and the father explained, "He doesn’t have a mother, and I’m trying to be mother and father, for love’s sake, for her sake, you will excuse me gentlemen, while I see about the goat and the cart."
Now that’s the motive that lies back of all of our work and devotion to Jesus: it’s for love’s sake, it’s for His sake, it’s for Jesus’ sake. And that’s motive enough: to love Him, to trust Him, to remember Him, to do it for Him, "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
And so that leads to the second part of that text, "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" [2 Thessalonians 3:5]. Now, I found something there that, looking at it in the English, I had never known. It says here in the Greek, hupomonen tou Christou, "the patience of Christ." Hupomonen is "the bearing up under, the endurance, steadfastness, and so patience," into the patience of Christ. Well, there’s no waiting in it. Into the hupomonen tou Christou, "into the patience of Christ." All right, this is what I found. When the translators made this King James Version in 1611, when the translators made the version, they translated it as you have here, "into the patient waiting for Christ"; but in the margin, they put over here, "the patience of Christ," just a literal translation of the Greek text. And the reason they translated it in the text like this is on account the men who translated that Bible so long ago felt that Paul meant more than just the patience of Christ, subjective genitive, "the patience that belongs to Christ." But they felt that Paul meant more than that, and referred also to our patience that extends to Christ, being not weary in well doing, our waiting and working. So they translated it like you have it here in this English version, "a patience toward Christ, that manifests itself in waiting for Him" [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
Now in this moment, I want to speak of it both ways: a subjective translation and an objective translation. First, the subjective, "the patience of Christ," His patience, His patience for us: coming down from heaven into this world [Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 10:5-14], living thirty years at Nazareth; three years of ministry, but thirty years at a carpenter’s bench, patience of Jesus. Think of His patience for us being tempted of the devil. Do you ever sit down sometimes and think through those things that happened when Satan came to try Jesus, to tempt Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11]. They had known each other from the eternities! That’s not the first time Jesus ever met Satan or Satan ever met the Christ. They had been together in heaven before the world was made [Ezekiel 28:14-15; John 1:1-2]. It was because of the lifting up of the spirit of Satan, the cherub that walked in the glittering fire of the stones of glory, against the Son of God: he would take His place [Isaiah 14:12-14]. Think of the patience of our Lord, assuming our humanity, and being tried and tempted of the devil, of Satan, of Lucifer [Matthew 4:1-11; Hebrews 4:14-15]. Patient for us. "The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all" [Isaiah 53:6]. Could have legions of angels at His command [Matthew 26:53], but patient for us, dying for us, suffering for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And think of His patience with us. Think of your life, the derelictions in it. Think of your life, the cold backslidings in it. Think of your life, the shortcomings that almost daily characterize it. Don’t you wonder that the Lord doesn’t destroy you with fire from heaven? His patience with us [2 Thessalonians 3:5].
And now, the objective genitive, the objective genitive: "the patience of Christ" [2 Thessalonians 3:5], that is our patience in waiting upon the Lord, in serving the Lord, the patience of Christ, which manifests itself in our unwearying well doing [2 Thessalonians 3:13]. Now the context of that is that a man is to work, he is to earn his bread [2 Thessalonians 3:10-12]. So what is well doing? Well doing then is, among other things, the common acts of life. Well doing is the summarization of the whole Christian servitude, dedication to Christ. And in the context there, he’s talking about people who don’t work. And he says, "Now you work, and be not weary in well doing" [2 Thessalonians 3:12-13]. So well doing includes the common ministries of life. You’re serving God when as a carpenter you use the saw and the hammer. You’re serving God if you are a cobbler, when you work at the last. You’re serving God if you are a housewife, when you sweep the floor and cook the dinner and wash the dishes. All of these things are Christian acts as unto God. An apron sometimes is as holy as a vestment, and a kitchen corner is as sacred as a cathedral. Any place is a holy place for a child of God! And any day is a holy day, and any act is a holy act committed and consecrated unto Him. Well doing is the tasks that God hath given us. And we are to do them faithfully until He comes. And may He find us at it. You at your task, I at my task; in other words, God says, "Holy doing, well doing, is not just preaching, and formal praying, and going to church; but well doing and holy doing is also the tasks that you have in your life." Do them as unto God.
That’s one great distinctive characteristic of an honest-to-goodness born again Christian: "This is my job." He’s not murmuring at it, and grouchy about it, and despondent about it, and blue about it. "This is my task," and do it as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23], not weary in well doing. Not weary in well doing [2 Thessalonians 3:13], our patient waiting upon Christ [2 Thessalonians 3:5]; it refers to our forbearance in criticism, and it refers to our continuance in a ministry, in a task, in a work, when we’re not appreciated. And brother, there’s a lot of that lack of appreciation, and sometimes open hostility. Just remember this: dirt that is flung on you by other people will soon dry off, and you can brush it away. Oh, if we could just contain ourselves, our spirits and our hearts and our tempers, when people criticize us. Just let it go, let it go, forget it, let it dry and brush it off. Then remember this: you know when people criticize you, they may be criticizing you for something that you didn’t do, or you’re not worthy of criticism for; but if they really knew you, they could criticize you for a whole lot more, and things that would be true. Isn’t that right? And let’s thank the Lord they don’t know those things.
O Lord, if I could just live above criticism, where it didn’t affect me, didn’t affect me. Patient waiting upon Christ, and O Lord, if I could get to the place where I worked as unto the Lord [Colossians 3:23]; and if nobody appreciated it, I was doing it for Jesus anyway. Oh, this choir, if they’d just sing unto the Lord, and if they were never appreciated, nobody ever said anything to them, or picked them out, or complimented them; doesn’t matter, they were singing as unto the Lord. And I’ll tell you choir, if you ever get to where you can do that, why, I’m going to look for angel wings flapping back of me every time I stand up here to preach.
And wouldn’t it be great if we could do that? You know, we get hurt when people don’t say nice things to us, and compliment us, and encourage us. And that’s human, and that’s natural; you just can’t help but lick up molasses when they pour it on you, and you like it, you know, oh my! But if you’re ever sensitive to criticism that’s good, you’ll also be sensitive to criticism that’s bad. If it’s possible, we ought to do our work in patience, as unto the Lord, and let Him commend us, let Him say the words of commendation. And then if God gives us somebody who also voices it, we’re grateful; but we are waiting upon the Lord, and doing our work as unto Him. Listen to me, listen to me: God sends His sunshine, and God sends His rain on the just and the unjust [Matthew 5:45], the thankful and the unthankful. Yea, there are whole nations that take God’s gifts from heaven, and instead of praising the great Giver, they thank gods of silver, and gold, and stone, and wood. Why, you’d think God would say, "I am going to quit giving them anything"; but He doesn’t. He just bestows His blessings on them just the same, whether they thank Him or not, or whether they appreciate it or not. And that’s the way we’re to be in our lives: serving God whether anybody compliments us, working for God whether anybody notices it or not, working for God whether there’s any appreciation expressed or not; just patiently waiting upon the Lord, not weary in well doing [2 Thessalonians 3:13].
And that means carrying out the great commandments of the Lord: plead when nobody’s converted, just keep on pleading; praying when nobody’s saved, just keep on praying; teaching when nobody turns, just keep on teaching; sowing the Word when nobody seems to receive the seed, just keep on sowing; just staying with it. Paul said almost this same thing in Galatians 6:9, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." God won’t let us down. You go to work in the vineyard, and just keep on working; you go out there in the field and keep on laboring; you go out there scattering seed, don’t you weary, don’t you tire; God will give you a harvest.
I had a friend who was pastor right over close to me one time, and he held his own revival meeting. And he held his revival two weeks, and he preached one day and two days and three days and seven days, and not a soul was converted. And he preached the eighth day, and the ninth day, and the tenth day, and the eleventh day, and the twelfth day, and the thirteenth day, and not a soul was saved. And I’d see him almost every day. And oh, I tell you, he was so blue, and he was so discouraged. And bless your soul, now you listen: he just stayed preaching the best that he knew how, doing the best he could for the Lord, and bless your soul, on the last Sunday night of the fourteenth day, he had more than forty people saved. It was a Pentecost. We’re to be that way. Why, did you know, when I come down here to preach, if somebody isn’t saved, somebody doesn’t come down that aisle, I thank God through your prayers, it is a rare occasion; in fact I can’t remember when nobody came. But whenever we have a service, and nobody comes, and we have it once in a while, I am the bluest preacher you ever saw. I ought not to be that way. I ought to just pray twice as much. And we ought to just work twice as hard. And next Sunday, God will give us twice a harvest. He won’t let us down. And we’re not be weary, and we’re not to be discouraged. These old hardened sinners, just keep on praying for, and this worldliness among our people, just keep on asking God; preaching the gospel, and teaching the Book, and getting down on your knees to pray, and make appeal. And the Lord will do something about it. "Be not weary in well doing [2 Thessalonians 3:13], for in due season, at God’s time, you will reap, you will reap" [Galatians 6:9], patiently waiting before the Lord [2 Thessalonians 3:5], looking forward from His gracious hands for the infinite reward.
Now, we’re going to have two services tonight. Nobody is to leave this first one until we’ve made this appeal. Then after we’ve made the appeal, and God in answered prayer will give us a harvest tonight, then we’re going to have an opportunity for any to leave who might want to, before we share the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. But right now, all of us are to stay here in prayer, in reverent intercession. And while we sing this song of appeal, somebody you to give his heart in trust to Jesus; somebody you to put his life in the church, while we sing the song, would you come? Into the aisle and down here to the front, by the side of the pastor, would you make it now? In this balcony around, coming down these stairwells, from side to side, into the aisle and here to the front, "Pastor, tonight, I give my heart openly, publicly, in trust to Jesus." Or, "Tonight, I rededicate my life; I have grown cold, I have fallen away, I have been weary, and have forsaken my task, my assignment of God; but I am coming back." Or somebody to put his life in the church; a family, or just one somebody you, while we all prayerfully, earnestly sing this appeal, into the aisle and down to the front, would you come? "Preacher, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God," while we stand and while we sing.