Summary: In the light of the Lord’s impending return, we’re to pray that our faith will grow and that our love will increase. Since those who don’t know God will be punished when Christ appears, we must avoid mediocre spirituality and apathetic prayers.
Praying for the Right Things
One of my favorite commercials is for a cell phone company in which cellular static has caused some confusion between a married couple. The wife had just asked her husband to bring home “a movie, something old.” The husband however, thought she said, “Bring home a monkey with a cold.” The camera then shows a monkey lying on the couch with a thermometer in his mouth. In his best Joe Friday imitation, a man dressed in black says, “It’s the static, ‘mam.” After he gets done extolling the virtues of his wireless network plan, the wife says, “What about the monkey?” To which cellular man responds with something like: “Have him rest and drink plenty of fluids.”
Misinformation can mislead members of the church as well. That’s exactly what happened in Thessalonica. The Book of 2 Thessalonians was written just months after 1 Thessalonians because these Christ followers had encountered some spiritual static. As a result, the believers were bewildered. They were puzzled because of the intense persecution they were facing, which led some of them to think they were in the Tribulation period (this is addressed in chapter 1); many were confused about the Second Coming because of a letter they had received from someone who had forged Paul’s name (chapter 2); and a number of believers were mixed up so much that they had quit their jobs to wait for the return of Christ (chapter 3).
Each chapter contains a correction of a very common response that many of us have when faced with some misinformation. Here’s another way to look at this brief book:
Problem: Believers were forlorn
Solution: God will set everything right
Problem: They were filled with fear
Solution: The Day of the Lord has not yet come
Problem: Some were fanatical
Solution: Stay busy with the Lord’s work
As Paul, Silas and Timothy processed the information they received about these young brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, they immediately wrote another letter in an effort to correct their confusion and comfort their concerns. We can learn a few lessons from this.
We often need multiple exposures to God’s truth before it begins to make sense. I know that I need to hear something many times before it starts to sink in. That’s why it’s important for us to read and pray every day, make worship attendance a priority, to plug into a small group, to join an IMPACT class, and for women be involved in the ladies’ Bible study.
It’s easy for us to get sidetracked when things are difficult. Because these believers were undergoing trials their capacity to cling to truth was diminished.
Helping others grow requires patience and realistic expectations. We must remain committed to Christians who get confused and we’re called to be diligent when disciples get diverted. I told someone recently that the Christian life often feels like three steps forward and two steps back, but at least we’re making progress. Hang in there with those who are wayward, worried, or weak. Follow Paul’s methodology: comfort and correct, encourage and exhort, affirm and admonish.
Spiritual growth is often accomplished through a variety of means. Preaching and prayer were Paul’s primary means for maturing believers. But there’s one other way to accelerate growth. We don’t like to talk much about this but it’s unavoidable if we’re serious about following Christ. Do you know what it is? It’s persecution. Preaching, prayer, and persecution can be catalysts for Christian growth.
The introduction to this letter is very similar to the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians. Take a look at verses 1-2: “Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Once again, Paul writes as a member of a team with Silas and Timothy. The church of the Thessalonians was a church on fire, as keepers of the flame, but they were also a church in the fire because of the pervasive persecution they were facing. They needed to be reminded that they were in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what was happening, they were not alone. Grace and peace were available to them.
This chapter can be outlined as follows:
Indications of God’s Pleasure (3-4)
A Vindication of God’s Justice (5-10)
A Celebration of God’s Glory (11-12)
Indications of God’s Pleasure (3-4)
I love how much encouragement Paul gave to people. He was practicing his own admonition from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks always” when he wrote in the first part of verse 3: “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so…” The word “ought” means “to be under obligation.” He had no choice but to give thanks because God’s work was so obvious in their lives. Paul was positive, not negative about these believers. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with them, he “caught them being good.” That’s a good practice for us to follow.