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Persecuted Christians Pray for Each Other

October 20, 2019 Speaker: Kristopher Schaal Series: 2 Thessalonians

Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

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2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 | Persecuted Christians Pray for Each Other.

Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school! Please turn to 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5. Today we get to study yet another passage on prayer. My title this morning is, “Persecuted Christians Pray for Each Other” (2 Thess 3:1-5)

[Prayer]

I have three main points this morning: “The Thessalonians’ Prayers for Paul,” “Paul’s confidence in the Lord,” and “Paul’s Prayers for the Thessalonians.” Let’s start by looking at the Thessalonians’ prayers for Paul.

  1. The Thessalonians’ Prayers for Paul (vv. 1-2)

In chapters 1-2, Paul prays for the Thessalonians. But isn’t it interesting that in this passage, he asks them to pray for him? This fact has at least two implications.

First, even the most mature believers among us should be humbled, recognizing that we need prayer.

Think about it: Paul was not above asking for prayer! And this isn’t the only time he asks for prayer, either! He also does so in 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Romans 15:30-32, 2 Corinthians 1:11, Philippians 1:19, and Philemon 22. Paul asked for prayer a lot! And if he needed it, then you and I certainly need it, too!

Ministry will never be effective apart from the supernatural work of the Spirit. So it doesn’t matter how much training or experience or how many gifts you have; you always need prayer to accomplish God’s work! The wise Christian worker recognizes this and is humble.

Second, even the most immature Christians among us should be emboldened to pray, knowing that their prayers really work!

In his commentary on this verse, John MacArthur says, “Paul’s request is a good reminder that even the newest believers have the privilege, in the Spirit, through prayer, of participating in the release of God’s power (cf. Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19) on behalf of the strongest, most experienced servants of God.” [1]

Maybe you are a new Christian and you’ve thought to yourself, “I can’t really make much of a difference until I get older and stronger in my faith.” Wrong! You have access to the same God that Paul did! You can be used in a powerful way!

So please, pray for us! Pray for me and Pastor Kit. Pray for the deacons and ministry directors and Sunday school teachers and other leaders here at Life Point. Pray for our missionaries. Pray for other Christian workers around the world.

Someday, when we get to heaven, there is going to be a little old lady who is greatly rewarded for her participation in ministries that she never saw with her own eyes; she just prayed for them. Have you ever thought about that? Most of us don’t have the ability to pack up our bags and move to the Congo. But you can be a participant in the Vintons’ ministry through prayer. Isn’t that exciting? Imagine how many ministries you could potentially invest in! The sky is the limit! What a great opportunity to lay up treasures in heaven!

Paul says, “Pray for us.” But what specific requests does he give?

First, he asks for prayer that the gospel would run and be glorified (v. 1).

“The word of the Lord” in this verse means “the message about Jesus”–in other words, the gospel. Paul says, “Pray that the gospel would run and be glorified.” That’s a cool metaphor!

What does it mean for the gospel to “run”? (It means for it to advance.) So then why use the word “run”? Paul wants the gospel to go viral. He wants it to spread fast.

But of course, Paul isn’t just praying for a superficial reception of the gospel. He also prays for it to be glorified, and he adds the phrase, “just as it was with you.” How was it with the Thessalonians? Well, turn back to 1 Thessalonians 2:13 (1 Thess 2:13).

How did the Thessalonians glorify the gospel? They “welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” They gave this message from God the elevated position it deserves, and they responded accordingly. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 says that they received the word in much affliction, and 1:9 says that they turned to God from idols. The Thessalonians glorified the gospel by reordering their lives around that message!

Like the Thessalonians, you and I should pray for the advance and glorification of the gospel. However, even more fundamentally, we must long for the advance and glorification of the gospel. And then we must work for the advance and glorification of the gospel.

If I came up to you after church and asked, “What can I pray for you about?” would one of your requests be the advance and glorification of the gospel in your family, workplace, and neighborhood? Are you burdened that the gospel is not spreading as quickly as you would like? Are you grieved by the fact that people do not glorify God’s word?

Are you taking active steps to promote the advance and glorification of the gospel? Do you think about that when you say hi to your neighbor while checking the mail, talk to the lady at the drive-through, or post to Facebook? Is it your heartbeat?

It obviously was Paul’s. That’s why when he asked the Thessalonians to pray for him, his first request was the advance and glorification of the gospel.

Second, Paul asks for deliverance from wicked men (v. 2).

This request gives us a window into Paul’s personal life. He is basically asking for protection. Why does Paul ask for physical protection? Because for him, physical safety was a real concern and something that was constantly on his mind!

Paul was a real person. He did not particularly enjoy pain. And this verse reminds us that it is not wrong or somehow unspiritual to pray for protection from trials!

However, we have to remember that for Paul, physical protection was not his primary goal. If what Paul really wanted above all else was to be safe, he would never have gone on a missionary journey! Now, all things being equal, he would rather be safe (as would any of us)! But he would rather be persecuted for preaching the gospel than not preach the gospel and be safe. Does that make sense?

So physical protection wasn’t Paul’s primary goal. It also wasn’t an end in itself. I think that Paul wanted to be delivered from “unreasonable and wicked men” in large part so that the gospel would run and be glorified. Does that make sense? This second request, in a sense, fits inside of the first.

Paul wanted to be delivered from “unreasonable and wicked men.” What do those adjectives mean?

The word for “unreasonable” means disordered in a sinful sort of way. The NASB translates it, “perverse.” And taken together, the words “unreasonable” and “wicked” describe (once again) people who actively oppose the gospel message. One commentator said it this way. He said, “Both adjectives describe the evil aggression of these people and not simply some passive character flaw.” [2] Paul is dealing with the same kind of people in Corinth that the Thessalonians are facing in Thessalonica. And in the midst of persecution, Paul asks prayer for physical safety.

And so we see the Thessalonians’ prayers for Paul. Next, we see Paul’s confidence in the Lord.

  1. Paul’s Confidence in the Lord (vv. 3-4)

Between vv. 2-3, Paul makes an interesting transition. He goes from asking prayer for his own deliverance to expressing his confidence that God will deliver the Thessalonians. You say, “Why is that significant?” Well, because it reminds us that Paul and the Thessalonians were in this together. They were both suffering the same types of things, and Paul was very concerned about them–not only for their physical safety but that their faith would not fail. This is the same concern that Paul had back in 1 Thessalonians 3. He was consistently concerned for these new believers.

But what I find especially interesting about 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 is Paul’s confidence.

In v. 3, Paul expresses his confidence that God will establish (or “strengthen”) the Thessalonians and guard them from the evil one (that is, Satan). John MacArthur says of this verse, “The Lord fills His children with internal spiritual strength (2 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 3:16) while He shields them from external attacks (Eph. 6:16).” [3] Aren’t those two of the most important things you would want if you were in battle? –personal strength to fight and someone or something to guard you. Paul says, “I’m sure you will have both necessities.”

And then in v. 4, Paul expresses his confidence that the Thessalonians both are doing and will continue to do what he has commanded. Paul is very optimistic!

What makes Paul so optimistic? Was he just a “glass-half-full” kind of guy? No, Paul’s confidence was in the Lord.

Notice in v. 4, Paul doesn’t actually say, “We have confidence in you”; he says, “We have confidence in the Lord concerning you.” And v. 3 starts out with the words, “God is faithful.” Paul is echoing something he said back in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 (1 Thess 5:23-24).

Whenever Paul is concerned about the Thessalonians in these letters, he falls back on the trustworthiness of God. Paul is confident that despite all of the difficult persecution the Thessalonians are facing, Satan will not destroy them, nor will they fall to the ground in defeat. They may fall, but they will rise up again. Why? Because they are so great? No! Because our faithful God ALWAYS finishes what He started. He is not in the business of saving people and then letting them go on their own. He will hold us fast!

There is an important application for us here. As Christians, we believe in human depravity, right? Most of the unsaved world doesn’t believe in that, but we do! Depravity is one of the fundamental teachings of Scripture! People are bad! We believe that!

So, because we believe in depravity, we should never trust anyone, right? You should always be suspicious of your pastor, because even pastors do bad things. You should never trust your husband or your wife. You should go about life with this sort of cynical spirit, right? Wrong!

What truths do we have in Scripture that counterbalance our belief in depravity and allow us to remain optimistic? We believe in the power of God to save people and transform lives, and we believe that God is faithful. That is why Paul can look at a group of saved sinners and say, “I am confident that you will be fine–not because I have confidence in you, but because I have confidence in the Lord.”

Sometimes you meet cynical Christians who tell you that their problem is that they cannot trust people. But in reality, their problem is that they will not trust the Lord. They do not know God well enough to be comfortable trusting Him. What a tragedy!

Brothers and sisters, let’s be people who are optimistic about what God is doing and will do because our trust is in the Lord.

So we’ve seen the Thessalonians’ prayer for Paul and Paul’s confidence. Now let’s look at Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians.

Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians (v. 5)

This verse expresses Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians.

Now, there is a small interpretation question in this verse, and that is, “What do ‘the love of God’ and ‘the patience of Christ’ refer to”? Is Paul talking about our love for God our about His love for us? And is the phrase “patience of Christ” a reference to our endurance as we wait for the Rapture or to Christ’s endurance as He suffered on the cross?

My opinion is that Paul is referring to characteristics of God that motivate believers. In other words, Paul is saying, “I want you to think about and appreciate the love of God for you so that you will express that same love for others. I want you think about and appreciate Christ’s endurance so that you too will endure suffering.”

Paul says the same thing at other times. As it relates to God’s love, Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19, “…that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

God wants us to bask and swim in His love so that you would be loving like He is.

We sing hymns about this: “The Love of God” or “Here is Love,” that beautiful text born out of the Welch Revival. I don’t have time to read those texts to you this morning, so here is assignment to do at home. Google “Here is Love.” If you don’t have the internet, I’ve printed several copies, and I have them up here in the pulpit. Come by after Sunday school and grab one of them. Take it home, read it slowly, and use it as a guide for prayer. Think about what the author was saying and thank God for His matchless love for you.

As it relates to the patience (or “endurance”) of Christ, Hebrews 12:1-3 says this: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”

One of the best ways to get motivated to endure suffering in your own life is to consider the example of Christ. Jesus willingly endured the cross. Nothing you are called to do will ever be as hard as that!

Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that they would enter into the character of God and model that same character in their own lives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, what do we take away from this text? I think the two primary applications are 1) stand firm, and 2) pray for persecuted Christians. Let’s discuss those concepts in reverse order.

  1. Pray for Persecuted Christians.

One of the areas in which I want to be growing as a Christian is in the area of prayer. I hope that has come out in my teaching. With regards to prayer, one of my shortcomings is a failure to pray adequately for believers around the world, particularly for those who are suffering.

Have you ever noticed that one of the curses of being blessed is that it is difficult to sympathize with others who are suffering?

I don’t know about you, but whenever I get sick, I pray for people who are sick. I usually pray for people who are sicker than I am. Why? Because if the flu is bad–what must cancer, MS, or chronic pain be like? You see, all of a sudden, I can sympathize with people who are suffering.

I think it’s difficult for American Christians to sympathize with and pray for persecuted Christians because our lives are so good.

I want to share with you an infographic that is a part of the “World Watch List 2019,” an annual report put out by an organization called Open Doors. According to this report, 1/9 Christians experienced “high levels of persecution” last year. “1,266 churches or Christian buildings were burned or attacked.” “2,625 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned.” And “4,136 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons.” That means that if today is average, 11 Christians will be martyred.[4] And yet when was the last time you prayed for these people? When was the last time I prayed for them?

You say, “I don’t know how to pray for them.” There are lots of resources that will guide you through praying for the persecuted church! Many of them are online.

But more importantly, the Bible will guide you through praying for the persecuted church! For instance, this passage points to three important requests: 1) that God would strengthen them/protect them from Satan, 2) that the gospel would run and be glorified, and 3) that God would deliver them from perverse and wicked men.

So, for instance, this report highlights the 50 most-persecuted countries in the world. So you could download this report (I can print you a copy if that would be helpful) and then pray for one of those countries per day for the next 50 days, using these three requests to drive your prayers. You could do it some other way, as well; but however you do it, please pray for persecuted Christians!

  1. Stand Firm.

American Christians are not exempt from opposition, even if the persecution we face is like the flu compared to what the people I have just mentioned suffer. In fact, there are brothers and sisters right here in our church who suffer as a result of opposition to their faith. Maybe you’re one of them. In one sense, we all are. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 3:3 that we are appointed to suffering. He also said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Not may, not might, but will! Mark it down; it’s going to happen!

So as you face persecution (and we will probably be facing more of it in the coming years in our country), I pray that you would stand firm. That you would speak up and refuse to be intimidated. That you would continue going to church and sharing your faith.

The point of persecution is to silence Christians, to silence the gospel, to silence God. But praise God, that will never happen! The gospel will run and be glorified, even in the darkest pfo laces! And God will strengthen and guard His people. Why?Because He is faithful. That is the characteristic of God that is at the heart of this passage. Let’s rest in His faithfulness today.

[1] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2002), 293.

[2] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 336.

[3] John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 & 2 Thessalonians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 2002), 296.

[4] https://www.opendoorsusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/WWL2019_FullBooklet.pdf

 

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