Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians, Part 2
Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 | Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians, Part 2
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn to 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. Last week, we started this passage on prayer, and this week we are going to finish it out and complete chapter 1.
How are you feeling this morning? Are you discouraged? Maybe you’ve been watching the news lately… that’s discouraging. Maybe you’ve been dealing with some discouraging situations at work or at home. May a discouraging health situation has arisen. I pray that this morning’s Sunday school lesson will encourage you. Because the theology that stands behind this prayer is awesomely good news! Here it is in a nutshell: God saved you, He is changing you, and He is going to finish what He started and bring it all to a glorious conclusion. Isn’t that exciting? Let’s pray, and then we’ll get into it some more.
If you remember, last week I said that this prayer consists of three requests and a reason or a result. Last week, we looked at the first request: “God, count them worthy”–in other words, “Help them to walk worthy.” This week, we will look at the final two requests and the reason.
- Request #2: “Fulfill Their Good Desires” (v. 11).
Now, you’ll notice that the NKJV interprets the “good pleasure of goodness” in v. 11 to be God’s “good pleasure of goodness.” Do you see that? The NKJV is somewhat of an outlier on this. I have a book called an exegetical summary which surveys a number of translations and Thessalonians commentaries, and pretty much every one else takes this phrase as a reference to the Thessalonians’ goodness. And I believe that is the right interpretation, because the next phrase, “work of faith” must be a reference to the Thessalonians’ faith, right? Think about it; God doesn’t have faith. He doesn’t need faith. He is sovereign and all-knowing. It is us who need to have faith. Does that make sense? So, if “work of faith” is a reference to the Thessalonians’ faith, then “desire of goodness” is probably also a reference to the Thessalonians’ goodness. Do you follow?
Also, you can see right there in the NKJV translation, that the word “His” before “goodness” is in italics. Do you remember what that means? The italics is telling you that the word “His” is not in the Greek. Rather, it was supplied by the translators for the sake of clarity. But in this case, I think the italicized word is misleading.
So let me give you a different option. Here is the NIV translation of verse 11. You’ll notice that the NIV also supplies a word before the phrase “every desire for goodness.” What word do they supply? (“your”) I think this is the right interpretation. In other words, Paul’s request is this: “May God fulfill your every good desire.”
This request is very encouraging to me. Because, first, it indicates that you and I have good desires. Wow! I don’t know about you, but I know all about my bad desires. I fight those every day. Anyone else in the same boat with me there? James 4:3 is talking about prayer and it says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” “God is not answering your prayers because you are asking for the wrong reasons! Your requests are motived by sinful desires!”
Give me some examples of evil desires. (sinful sexual desires, covetousness, selfish ambition, hateful desires or wanting something bad to happen to someone else, etc.) Are you fighting those desires every day? Are you saying no to them? I hope that you are!
But Christian, did you also know that as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life, you also have good desires? What are some examples of good desires that a Christian might have? (desire for people to get saved, desire for people to become more like Jesus, desire to glorify God, etc.) Wow! How encouraging! Where do these good desires come from? Certainly not from my flesh, because in Romans 7:18, Paul says, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells….” So if nothing good comes from my flesh, how do we explain these good desires? You’ve been born again! You’ve been given a new nature! And not only that, but the Holy Spirit of God has come to reside in your heart, and He is giving you good desires. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will!
So what does Paul pray in relation to these good desires? “God, fulfill them.” Isn’t that an encouraging prayer? “God, give them what they want.” Not that Paul is praying for the Thessalonians to be happy, healthy, and rich! How do we know that is not the case? Because they are undergoing significant persecution! But Paul is praying for God to fulfill these positive spiritual desires that are in the Thessalonians’ hearts.
What an uplifting way to pray for one another! To recognize desires in each other that can only come from God and then to pray that He would fulfill those desires!
Request #3: “Complete Their Work of Faith” (v. 11).
Let’s talk about the grammar in the second half of v. 11 really quick just to make sure that we’re all on the same page. The verb is “fulfill,” and the direct objects are “every good desire” and “[every] work of faith.” Then there is a prepositional phrase thrown in there, which tells us how God is going to do these things: “with power.” So, request number two: “fulfill their every good desire.” Request number three: “Fulfill (or “complete”) their every work of faith.” Are you with me?
This phrase reminds us of Paul’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, in which he says that he remembers without ceasing their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Their faith resulted in work, their love resulted in labor, and their hope resulted in endurance. I think we can all understand that.
But let’s make this a little more concrete. Give me an example of a work of faith. Let’s start with biblical examples. (Noah building the Ark. The children of Israel marching around Jericho. Naaman washing in the Jordan River. Paul planting churches.)
Now, give me a more modern example of a work of faith. (Our missionaries serving around the world, whether in Tanzania or at Ironwood. Serving in the nursery at Life Point.) Basically, a “work of faith” would be any task that you take on because you believe God’s Word. Are there tasks like that in your life? Are there projects that you are working on, people you are investing in, even areas in your own sanctification that you are working on–that you would not do if you were not a believer?
The Thessalonians were doing stuff like that. And Paul prayed that God would complete those good works.
Don’t you love to finish a job? I was describing my ideal day to Elise last week, and I told her that to me, one of the things that makes a good day is when I complete a big task. I love checking things off of my list. Paul prays, “God, complete their works of faith.” What would that look like?
Let’s go back to our biblical examples. How about Noah? If Paul were praying for Noah, he might say, “Lord, help him to finish that Ark! He’s been working on that thing for thirty-five years, Lord; help him to get it done!”
However, I don’t think this prayer is only about what we do for the Lord; it is also about who we are becoming. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, Paul prayed, “Now may the God of peace sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So this prayer would include the idea, “God, complete their working out of their salvation in the process of Christian growth.”
Again, this is an encouraging prayer request, isn’t it? If you are going to pray this way, you will have to look around and see the things that other Christians are working on–things they would not be busy with if they did not believe–and then pray, “God help them to finish what they’ve started.
“…And Lord, do it ‘with power.’” These are the last two words in v. 11. “Lord, fulfill their good desires and complete their works of faith with power.” Aren’t those two words “with power” awesome? Sometimes when you are working on a job, you just need a little bit more power.
For Father’s Day, Elise bought me an impact driver. Have you ever used one of those? You will never want to go back! Men, you could probably all tell me stories about a job you were working on in which you weren’t getting it done until you added more power. When it comes to good desires and works of faith, you won’t get it done without God’s power! Don’t try to drive that screw with your little toy screw driver. Go down to Lowe’s and buy an impact drill!
We desperately need the powerful work of the Spirit in our lives! The American church in general is very anemic. Lord, show us Your power! Do things in and through us that cannot be explained apart from the work of Your Spirit! If everything we are doing here at Life Point can be explained in terms of advertising and finances and business models, etc., then we are doing something wrong! We need for God to pour out His power!
So we have looked at Paul’s three requests. Now let’s look at the result of his requests (v. 12). The result of these three requests being answered is mutual glorification.
Result: Mutual Glorification
When the Thessalonians walk worthy and when God fulfills their desires and completes their good works, He will be glorified in them and they will be glorified in Him. Again, this is so encouraging!
First, it is encouraging to think that I can glorify God. God can actually work in my life in such a way that people will see it and give Him the glory.
But perhaps even more amazing is the thought that I can be glorified “in Him” or because of my relationship with Him. As I’ve said many times the last couple of months, one of God’s plan for His children is that they would share in His glory! And it is not selfish ambition for you to desire that, as long as you desire God’s glory most of all.
When I came to this verse, I immediately thought of a couple of verses in John 17. Turn with me to John 17:1, 5 (John 17:1, 5). Do you see the mutual glorification going on in these verses?
Our Christian lives are to be patterned after Christ. Christ both glorified God and received glory from God through His obedience to God’s plan, even when that meant tremendous suffering. And we glorify God and receive glory from Him in a similar way. It is as we faithfully endure suffering that we glorify God and receive glory from Him. And of course, all of that culminates when Jesus returns and we are glorified. We can glorify God in the present, but ultimately, this is all pointing forward to the Rapture.
When you stop to think about it, it’s hard to imagine that all of this could be true for us. God’s plan for our lives is so amazingly good that it overwhelms us at times. But let’s not forget that this is all of God’s grace. It is not because of anything good in us. The last part of v. 12 says, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God is not doing these things in you because you are so good; He is doing them because He is so good. So don’t forget to thank Him.
I knew we were going to have a short lesson today, so I thought, what better use for our remaining time than to pray together? So in a minute, I am going to have you gather into small groups like we sometimes do on Sunday nights and pray; but before you do that, let me just say, don’t close your Bibles! Keep them open to 2 Thessalonians 1; and then as you are praying, keep these truths in vv. 11-12 in mind. Pray for one another in your group and for our church, that we all would walk worthy of our calling in Christ. Pray that God would fulfill the various good desires that He Himself has given us and that He would complete the works that we have begun in faith. If there are specific good desires or works of faith that come to mind, then you can pray for those specifically. Pray for the Spirit to work powerfully in each other’s lives. And most of all, pray that God would be glorified in us and that we would be glorified in Him.