Topic: Expository Passage: 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18
2 Thessalonians 3:16-18 | Seasons Greetings!
(Sorry no audio this week.)
Good morning! Welcome to Sunday school. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18.
This is our final study in the book of 2 Thessalonians. Next week, we will begin a series examining how various Bible characters responded to temptation. It is a series I am very excited about, and I think it will be practically helpful to you, so please come back next Sunday!
In the next few weeks, many of us will be sending out Christmas cards. (Some people already sent theirs out–overachievers!) It’s interesting to see what well wishes people come up with to put on Christmas cards. “Season’s Greetings!” “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!” “Joy, Peace, Love.”
Today’s passage includes three well wishes for the Thessalonians that Paul inserted at the close of his letter. These were three things Paul was praying about for the Thessalonians, and he states them in the form of a benediction or blessing. By examining these three items, we will be reminded of God’s overwhelming goodness to us.
However, before we do that, I want to point out just a few small details about today’s text. So let’s read 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18, and then we’ll get started (2 Thess 3:16-18).
Like I said, we are going to examine Paul’s three prayer-wishes for the Thessalonians in just a moment, but before we do, I wanted to point out a couple miscellaneous things from the text.
First, I wanted to point out the prominence of prayer in this letter. This was something I wasn’t totally expecting when we began studying 2 Thessalonians. These verses represent the fourth prayer in the letter (c.f. 1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:5), besides two thanks reports (1:3-5; 2:13-14) and the prayer requests in 3:1-2! This is simply another reminder that Paul was a man of prayer.
We often emphasize the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, which is good. But what we find when we begin studying the word is that prayer is almost equally important! So shame on us if we do not give prayer the emphasis it deserves.
The second thing I wanted to point out before going on is the content of v. 17 (v. 17). That’s kind of an odd verse, isn’t it? Can anyone explain to me what is going on there?
Paul is signing off on his letter. The background of this is that Paul would normally dictate his letters to a scribe. In the book of Romans, the scribe actually emerges and says hi to us. It’s great! “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord (Rom 16:22).” Did Tertius write the book of Romans? Well, yes and no. Paul wrote it word for word, but Tertius put those words on paper.
That said, Paul did have a habit of writing at least one thing by himself in all of his letters. And what was that? (his signature) Why do you think Paul signed his letters? (It was a sign that they were authentic.) Is it possible that someone may have tried to forge a letter as if from Paul? (Yes) How do we know that? (3:2)
Commentator Gene Green says this about Paul’s personal signature in his letters: “Much more than being a personal note, the subscript was a weapon in the war against heresy.” So Paul understands full well that He is an apostle writing with apostolic authority. And lest someone pretend to be him, he makes a habit of signing his letters.
That leads me to my final miscellaneous point, which is that apparently, by this time, Paul had already written several letters (v. 17). Now why is that significant? Because along with Galatians, the Thessalonian epistles are usually considered the earliest writings of Paul in the Bible. You say, “Do you think we should date these books later?” No, I don’t think we should date them later. What I do think this means is that there were other letters Paul wrote that haven’t survived and that God didn’t intend for us to have in our Bibles.
That fact should actually increase our confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible. How do we know, for instance, that 2 Thessalonians is inspired? One reason is that out of all of the letters that Paul apparently wrote, this was one of the ones uniquely preserved by God and recognized by the church as Scripture.
Alright, let’s put those things aside now and take a look at Paul’s three well wishes for the Thessalonians. We’ll consider these wishes out-of-order, so we’ll start in v. 18. Paul’s first prayer-wish for the Thessalonians is grace (v. 18).
What is grace? Grace is Paul’s one-word summary of all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us in and through Jesus. (repeat) Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. It is Christmas for the Christian. Grace is a joyful word!
God’s unmerited favor is poured out on believers and unbelievers alike; but the type of grace Paul is referring to here is specifically the kind that is given to Christians, because Paul calls it, “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the grace that comes to us through Jesus because we are saved.
We just celebrated Thanksgiving, so we have been being thankful all month. (Hopefully you’re not tired of it!) But even so, let’s take a few minutes this morning to be thankful again. What are some of the benefits that are ours because of our salvation? List some examples of God’s grace to us through Jesus.
I saw this quote from G.K. Chesterton on Facebook last week: "The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank." Did you notice any unbelievers stumbling around with their expressions of thankfulness last month? Why is Thanksgiving challenging for unbelievers? It is challenging because unbelievers do not know the one to whom they owe thanks. Thankfulness is not just some ambiguous feeling; thankfulness has an object. We are thankful to God! So if you don’t believe in God, you are kind of lost on this whole topic of thankfulness.
But also, Thanksgiving is challenging for unbelievers because they do not recognize their own unworthiness. Thankfulness thrives in a heart of humility. But if you don’t believe that you are a sinner and you think you deserve everything you have and more, why would you be thankful? If that is the case, then you literally have no one but yourself to thank!
We as Christians don’t need to stumble in these ways. We know exactly to whom we are thankful, and we know that we are unworthy.
Thanksgiving is over for 2019; but for the Christian, every day should be Thanksgiving because God’s grace has been poured out on us through Jesus.
So Paul’s first prayer-wish for the Thessalonians is grace. His second prayer-wish is peace (v. 16).
The word “peace” in v. 16 is the Greek word eirene, but it is related conceptually to the Hebrew word shalom. We tend to think of peace merely as the absence of conflict. But shalom involves not only the absence of one thing, but also the presence of something else. The peace that God gives is not just the absence of conflict or even just emotional tranquility. You can have emotional tranquility as a result of believing a lie! I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want that kind of peace!
The peace that God gives is not just the absence of conflict; it is the presence of a right relationship with God and every form of well-being that flows from that wholeness. Logically speaking, peace follows grace. The first step is God’s kindness to us through Jesus. That is called “grace.” The second step is the well-being we experience as a result of that grace. That is what the Bible refers to as “peace.” There would be no peace if it wasn’t for grace.
In the Old Testament, shalom can refer to physical health, prosperity, relational harmony or unity, or just to that basic idea of a full and complete life. If you have shalom, there is really nothing more you could ask for! It is a beautiful word.
Perhaps the most important prayer-wish for shalom in the Old Testament is found in Numbers 6:24-26 in what is known as the priestly blessing (Num 6:22-27). The intersection of wonderful themes in vv. 24-26 is almost overwhelming! You have God’s blessing, His keeping of His people, His favor upon them described in terms of a smile, His grace, and then the crescendo–the peace that flows from those things. Now Paul is blessing the Thessalonians with very similar language, the primary difference being that Jesus is now more clearly at the center it all. Who is “the Lord” in 2 Thessalonians 3:16? It is Jesus!
So when Paul prays, “May the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace,” he is asking, “May Jesus Christ, who is Himself overflowing with shalom wholeness and prosperity and who alone has the prerogative to grant this same peace to others, grant it now to you. May Jesus give you peace in every imaginable way and may shalom goodness follow you all the days of your life, just like David said in Psalm 23.” It is a beautiful prayer!
But of course, what is the rub with this prayer in the context of 1-2 Thessalonians? (The Thessalonians are being persecuted!) Is there any indication in either of these letters that Paul anticipated that the persecution would end any time soon? No! In fact, he implies in 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 that persecution is normative for the Christian (1 Thess 3:3-4)!
So, is it possible for Christians to experience shalom wholeness in the midst of bloody persecution? The answer has to be “yes”! We see this principle taught over and over again in the New Testament, and Paul even alludes to it here. He says, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace…” what is that next word? (“always”) “May you have peace when times are good, and peace when times are bad. Peace when you are being persecuted, and peace when you are enjoying temporary relief from persecution. Peace when the doctor gives you a clean bill of health, and peace when you are diagnosed with cancer. Peace when your house or 401k goes up in value thousands of dollars in one year, and peace when your investments go down in value thousands of dollars in just one calendar year. Peace when you are celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and peace when are called upon to bury someone you love.”
You see, when Paul prayed for Jesus to grant the Thessalonians peace “always,” he was not asking for the removal of everything bad from their lives! Paul knew that this was impossible in a sin-cursed world! Rather, he was praying for a peace that transcends every trial.
Jesus spoke of the same kind of peace on the last night that He spent on earth with His disciples prior to His crucifixion. Turn with me to John 16:33 (John 16:33). So right here, in one single verse, you have the same strange concoction that we observed in Thessalonians–peace and tribulation together. That doesn’t seem possible, does it? It defies human logic! That’s why this peace can only come from God.
Look at what Jesus says about this peace in 14:27 (John 14:27). Whose peace is Jesus giving to His disciples? (His own peace!) Christ Himself is overflowing with shalom. He is the “Lord of peace.” That’s what it said in 2 Thessalonians 3:16. And notice what kind of peace Christ doesn’t give. The world’s peace. What does fake, worldly peace look like?
In comparison with true peace, the worldly counterfeit is shallow and fleeting. It does not extend to the deepest issues of life, and it will vanish as soon as your circumstances change. That’s why it is so cool that Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:16, “May the Lord grant you peace always and in every way”–deep, lasting peace.
There’s a hymn that always comes to mind when I read John 14:27. It’s called, “Constantly Abiding.” The first verse says,
“There’s a peace in my heart that the world never gave,
A peace it cannot take away;
Tho’ the trials of life may surround like a cloud,
I’ve a peace that has come there to stay!”
Isn’t that a great thought! The world didn’t give me my peace, so the world can’t take it away! Are you experiencing that kind of peace today? Don’t settle for the cheap, worldly alternative! True peace can be yours today!
And that brings us to Paul’s third prayer-wish for the Thessalonians, which is the presence of Christ (v. 16).
The Presence of Jesus
Not only have we recently celebrated Thanksgiving, but we will soon celebrate Christmas. And perhaps the most wonderful, glorious truth about Christmas is that God didn’t choose to just give us these gifts of grace and peace from afar.
Do you remember that story in Exodus after the Golden Calf incident in which Yahweh says to the people through Moses essentially, “Go ahead and go up to Canaan. I will send my angel before you and drive out all of your enemies just like I said I would do for you.” But here’s the catch: “I am no longer going with you.” How does Moses the man of God respond to that idea? He says in 33:15, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here!” In other words, “No! God, no! It can’t work that way! Your presence was what this whole exodus thing was about! You were going to dwell with your people! God, we don’t want your gifts; we want You! If you don’t go with us, even if we gain all our wildest dreams, we will have lost everything!” And that was exactly how God wanted Moses to respond because Moses was exactly right.
True Christians are never satisfied with a Santa Claus God. What’s a Santa Claus God? It’s a God who gives you everything you always wanted, but with whom you have no real relationship. That ordering of things cuts the very heart out of the gospel! Because at the very center of the gospel is a person, and His name is Immanuel– “God with us.”
God didn’t choose to grant us grace and peace from afar. He came to us time and time again and most importantly, He came to us in the person of His Son Jesus who actually became one of us and died in our place on the cross. After Jesus had completed His earthly ministry, He ascended back into heaven, but before doing so, He promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would bring the presence of the risen Christ into the hearts of every one of His followers so that even though Jesus is no longer physically present with us, in a very real sense, He is still with us today. Not only that, but Jesus is coming again. And it is no coincidence that in the opening verses of Revelation 21, that great chapter that describes the eternal state, a voice announces from heaven, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” Just like it was in the beginning, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. Just like it was, only better!
And so, friends, that baby in a manger is the perfect symbol of one of the most heart-warming messages we could ever hear: God with us. In spite of all of our sin, just like the children of Israel in the wilderness, God blesses us, keeps us, makes His face shine upon us, is gracious to us, and gives us peace.
What does that mean for the unbeliever? It means that you need to get saved! You need to repent of your sins and believe on Jesus!
What does it mean for the Christian? It means that you need to get as close to Jesus as possible. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” In John 15, Jesus told His disciples, “Abide in Me”– in other words, “Stay close to Me!” Christian, your experience of grace and peace is directly related to your proximity to Jesus. So don’t wait around! Take the steps that you need to take in order to draw near to Him!
For some of you, that may mean a fast. Maybe you need to set aside something in your life that entices you so much that it distracts you from Jesus. That could be social media, books, a hobby, sports, or food.
For some of you, that may mean hard work on the basic spiritual disciplines. New Year’s is a month away, but you can make a resolution to start reading your Bible and praying every day right now! And what about regular church attendance? These are basic ways that we draw close to Jesus! The prayer of our hearts should always be “Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee!”
I recently started adding a particular sign-off phrase to most of my emails. And I did so as a result of discovering the prominence of these two themes in the introductions and conclusions of Paul’s letters. In the past, I would say something like, “Thanks, Kristopher,” or “God bless, Kristopher.” But now I write, “Grace and peace,” Kristopher. We could sign your Christmas cards the same way, couldn’t we? Because you could not come up with a better or more fitting prayer-wish!
May our Lord Jesus Christ be gracious to you and grant you His shalom because He is with you.