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2 Thessalonians Lesson 12: 3.1-9

Sunday School Lesson 12 - 2 Thess. 3:1-9 - GOD IS FAITHFUL 

INTRODUCTION:  Last week, in 2 Thess. 2:9-17, Paul continued to tell us about the end times as he explained that once the "Restrainer" is removed, there will a "coming" by a "Man of Lawlessness," who will rise to power as the Antichrist (vv. 9-12).  Although millions will be saved during the Tribulation period, the vast majority of the world's population will follow the Antichrist as their God, and God would send a deluding influence that will condemn them to judgment and death.  The main point of application we derive from this, is that as believers in this age, we are responsible for studying and understanding both basic Bible doctrine and end-time prophecies so we will be prepared.  With all the resources available to us, we have no excuse.  We also learned that the Age of Grace-when people can still be saved-is finite.  We know that there are many lost people sitting in church pews today who have not taken the final step of giving their lives to Jesus as Lord.  They need to be warned NOW that their time may be running out; tomorrow might be too late.  This week, in 2 Thess. 3:1-9, we'll hear Paul talk about two things:  (1) the vital importance of prayer as churches and  individuals; and (2) the problem of people who refuse to work and expect support from the church. Christian life. 

Read 2 Thess. 3:1-2 - PRAY FOR US

1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it was also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from troublesome and evil people; for not all have the faith.

v. 1:  "Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it was also with you" - This opening verse gives us a wonderful picture of Paul-a veritable giant among Christians-humbly seeking prayer for himself and his co-workers from people he had led to Christ and was still teaching them to become mature in their faith.  Paul always actively sought the prayer support of others because he recognized his own inadequacy and his need of God's enablement.  And notice he didn't simply say "pray for us," but made specific requests:     

"that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified - Notice that Paul's first request  focuses entirely on the message (the word of the Lord = the gospel) rather than the messenger.  The word used for "spread rapidly" (Gk. trechó) is a present continuous tense that literally means to keep on spreading indefinitely.  And when he adds that the message "be glorified," Paul is acknowledging that the gospel is God's message (not his) and that God deserves all the glory for it.  

v. 2:  "and that we will be rescued from troublesome and evil people; for not all have the faith" - This is the second request.  Scholars believe that the "troublesome and evil people" Paul seeks rescue from are most likely the Jews there in Corinth who had heard him preach. The phrase "for not all have the faith," points to the reason these people are a threat:  they had heard and rejected the gospel and were doing everything in their power to stop it from spreading.  This was nothing new, for Jews everywhere had opposed Paul's efforts-even to the point of trying kill him-since the early days of his first missionary journey.         

Read 2 Thess. 3:3-5 - WE HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD CONCERNING YOU

3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing, and will do, what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the perseverance of Christ.

v. 3: "But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one" - While there are many who have no faith and oppose both the gospel and its messengers, Paul shifts the focus to assure the Thessalonians that that they can rest in the fact that God is "Faithful."  Proof of this was confirmed when Satan tried to destroy the Thessalonian's new faith and even got as far as driving out the messengers (Paul and Silas); however, the evil one not only failed to hinder their faith but failed to stop them from boldly proclaiming their new found faith with many, many others who came to know Christ as a result of their faithfulness.  Very simply, the strength of their faith overpowered and overcame the faithlessness of those who opposed them.  Later, Paul expressed it this way:  "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).  

v. 4:  "We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing, and will do, what we command" - The key idea here is "confidence in the Lord."   Paul expressed the belief that the Thessalonians were doing all the things that Paul's team had commanded and taught them, but his confidence was rooted in the Lord-in other words, that he trusted God to faithfully be at work among them in their spiritual growth and obedience to instruction because of their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, which empowered them; and this same idea applies to our church and any other church that hopes to make a difference for the sake of the gospel.

v. 5a:  "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God" - Even though Paul was confident in the Lord, this verse indicates that he never took God for granted-i.e., today's success is no assurance of tomorrow.  Therefore, we see Paul pray that the Thessalonians may be led more deeply in their love of God, so that it will "direct" their "hearts," which is really a synonym for our inner-most person-our minds, emotions, and wills. This is how we show the love of God, not only to those we know, but also the effect that love can have upon others who happen to hear us.  It's powerful and appealing.    

v. 5b:  "and to the perseverance of Christ" - These Thesslonians had been enduring intense persecution since Paul had left them, and they were tired of it.  So, Paul prays that God will continue to empower them with "the perseverance of Christ," which is a unique form of perseverance-real staying power-that is derived from being in a personal relationship with Christ.  The indwelling of Holy Spirit gives Christians the kind of perseverance that belongs to Christ, which was demonstrated in His sufferings on earth and is being demonstrated now as He awaits His return.  It makes Christians distinct from any other people.  In the background of these five verses is the confident expectation of the sure return of the Savior, which, even today, gives us cause to persevere.  

Read 2 Thess. 3:6 - KEEP AWAY FROM EVERY BROTHER OR SISTER WHO LEADS A DISORDERLY LIFE

6 Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother or sister who leads a disorderly life and not one in accordance with the tradition which you received from us.

NOTE:  This verse signals a change of subject.  In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul said this:  "But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." (1 Thess. 4:10-12).  This was intended as a reproof to any church members who were refusing to work and support themselves.  Now, based on Timothy's report, he learns that the problem has gotten even worse.

v. 6a:  "Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" -  Using the familiar term "brothers and sisters," (Gk. adelphos), Paul reminds them that their bond as Christians "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," is just as close as that of siblings in human families.

v. 6b:  "that you keep away from every brother or sister who leads a disorderly life" - Paul now commands faithful church members to withdraw fellowship from those who walk "disorderly" (Gk. ataktós, lit. refers to someone with a rebellious attitude, like an insubordinate soldier who refuses to keep his position in ranks).  These are people who have blatantly ignored Paul's instruction to work and to be responsible for themselves and instead, have become trouble-makers who have become a burden on the rest of the congregation.   

v. 6c:  "and not one in accordance with the tradition which you received from us" - This is the crux of the problem:   because these people are idle with nothing else to do, they've apparently become busybodies who meddle and interfere with the good order of the work in the church.  In commanding the faithful members to "withdraw" from these idle members, Paul doesn't mean permanent expulsion from the church but hopes it will get the attention of the idlers who are troubling the church and encourage them to go back to work in their normal, day-to-day occupations.

Read 2 Thess. 3:7-9 - FOLLOW OUR EXAMPLE

7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined way among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a role model for you, so that you would follow our example.

v. 7a:  "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example" - Here, Paul invokes the best instruction method ever devised:  teaching by example.  Engrained in both the Jewish and Greek cultures of these Thessalonians was the ethic that students should strive to imitate their teachers. 

v. 7b:  "because we did not act in an undisciplined way among you" - The word for "undisciplined" is the same as that used for disorderly in v. 6b.  Paul emphatically points out that he and his associates did not act that way-i.e., did not become freeloaders who were a financial burden.   

v. 8a-b:  "nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day" - We know from Luke (Acts 18:2-3) that Paul was a tentmaker by trade who routinely used his skills to support himself and his co-workers during the missionary journeys.  He essentially recaps what he told the Thessalonians in his first letter about how he and Silas had worked day and night to not only to support and feed themselves but also to reimburse those who supplied them with food and drink.  The "hardship" came from the fact that he worked hard all day long "with labor," referring to the strenuous manual effort involved in tent making, then labored well into the each night, instructing and teaching these new Christians in the fundamentals of the faith.  

v. 8c:  "so that we would not be a burden to any of you" - Paul did this voluntarily so that he might bear the burden rather than impose it on the Thessalonian believers.  As a preventative, he also understood that accepting any financial support could provide an opening to potential critics who would do their level best to damage his witness for Christ.

v. 9a:  "not because we do not have the right to this" - Paul was entitled to seek material support from the people he ministered to as a traveling apostle, evangelist, and teacher, but chose not to do so for the reasons cited in v. 8, above.  The principle of supporting traveling evangelists was established when Jesus initially sent his disciples out in twos as missionaries and instructed them to seek support from the households they served (Mt. 10:10; Luke 10:7).  Later still, Paul established that it was appropriate for traveling evangelists to rely on the people they were serving to provide them with food and lodging (1 Cor. 9:1-14).

9b:  "but in order to offer ourselves as a role model for you, so that you would follow our example" - The word Paul uses here for "example"  (Gk. tupos), literally translates to a permanent impression stamped with a metal die.  In addition to protecting himself and his co-workers from potential criticism, Paul's goal in doing this was to set a strong example of self-reliance and humble service, one he hoped the Thessaloninan believers would always remember and follow.  We will cover part 2 of his instructions pertaining to those who refused to work next week.  (Note:  The Lifeway people who developed this reading plan apparently stopped here in order to create 13 lessons for the teaching quarter.)       

APPLICATION-The Importance of Praying and Working       

1.  Paul's teachings instruct us that a Church can never afford to underestimate the fundamental importance of prayer in the success of our programs, ministries, and overall mission.  The fact of the matter is that too much work in churches today is attempted by human plans, with far too much emphasis on methods, programs, and other human effort rather than dependence on God.  We need to pay close attention to the example of Paul.  He fully understood that as individuals and as a church body, we can accomplish very little without seeking God's divine enablement in prayer (vv. 1-2).      

2.  Paul's teachings instruct us that as a church and as individual believers, all of our future success depends on "confidence in the Lord" (vv. 4-5).  As long as we place all of our confidence in God rather than self, God's Spirit will "direct our hearts" (our inner-most person).  Operating with confidence in God, empowers in two important ways:  (1) it enables us to demonstrate the love of God, which is powerful and appealing to those who hear and see us at work; and (2) gives us the "perseverance of Christ," which means tremendous staying power to endure the various trials and obstacles that we inevitably run into (vv. 3-5).              

3.  Paul's teachings instruct us that able-bodied church members who refuse to support themselves are rebels.  As a church, we should make provision for people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to work.  However, able-bodied people who refuse to work and try to take unfair advantage of the generosity of the church and its members are, in effect, rebelling against the good order of the church.  Paul describes such people as "busybodies" who make trouble and generally cause disruption that interferes with the work of the church (v. 6).

4.  Paul's teachings instruct us that we should disassociate ourselves from able-bodied church members who refuse to support themselves.  This isn't permanent expulsion from the church, but is intended to be an incentive that is designed to encourage such irresponsible members to seek gainful employment to support themselves (and their families) (v. 6).

5.  Paul's example and personal work ethic encourages us that we should try to pay our own way even when we are entitled to be compensated by the church.  First of all, some church members can afford to do this and some can't.  In our work for the church and its various ministries and activities, there are all kinds of things-usually small things-that we can elect to pay for out of our own pockets rather than seek reimbursement or giving the bill to the church.  It's a judgment call (vv. 7-9).