COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. 5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.” KJV (2 Thess 3:3-5)
One of the distinctions of the New Covenant is the complete reliance of its constituents upon the Lord. He is the Object of their faith and hope, and the Sustainer of their lives – and they know it. That is involved in the promise, “they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the Lord” (Jer 31:34). Because of this circumstance, the Spirit frequently reminds the church of its dependency upon the Lord. In this text, Paul again prays for the church. He prays with the purpose of God in mind, NOT an institutional objective. What he prays reveals how Divine power is employed in keeping the body of Christ. It makes known to us how faith capitalizes on the working of the Lord. While we are encouraged to let all of our requests be made known to God, there is a focus in prayer that has the power of God behind it. Some requests are answered by the peace of God ruling our hearts and minds (Phil 4:6-7). Other prayers serve to shape us into the Divine image, and prepare us for the coming of the Lord. Both forms of prayer are valid and necessary, but the latter carries more weight, and will realize a greater degree of fulfillment. There is less room for ignorance in such prayers, and more room for faith. This by no means suggests that personal requests be dropped from our prayers! God forbid such a thought. We are exhorted to let our requests “be made known unto God.” But they are not the focus of our prayer life, just as surely as this world is not the focus of our faith. The truth of the matter is that our personal requests are more apt to be favorably answered when they are offered within the greater context of prayers like that of this text. Blessed is the individual who sees and understands this.
THE FAITHFUL GOD ESTABLISHES AND KEEPS
“ 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.” In the world, elementary and basic facts do not need to be repeated. Unless they suffer from mental deficiency, adults do not need to be reminded that fire burns, what is stored diminishes with use, and jumping off a ten story building leads to death. However, things are not that simplistic in the Kingdom of God. Fundamental Kingdom facts must be frequently brought to our minds, lest they slip away from us. The reason for this is our presence in a hostile and debilitating world. We live by faith, not by reason, and therefore we require the refreshment of our perspective. This takes place when basic realities, such as the ones stated in this verse, are again sounded in our ears. These are basic, but they are not simplistic.
THE LORD IS FAITHFUL. The Spirit frequently reminds us of this staple fact. God is faithful to the purpose into which He called us (1 Cor 1:9). He is faithful in not allowing us to be tempted above our ability (1 Cor 10:13). He is faithful to fulfill His promises (Heb 10:23). He is faithful and just to forgive our sins when we confess them (1 John 1:9). The Lord is trustworthy, or worthy of our trust. He has proved Himself to be faithful in the record of His dealings with men like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. His faithfulness was most fully manifested in the sending, sustaining, raising, and exaltation of Jesus. We can shout with Jeremiah, “Great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam 3:23), and confess with David, “I have declared thy faithfulness” (Psa 40:10). Our text will confirm to our hearts that our stability and protection are dependent upon the faithfulness of God. While we do enter heartily into the work of becoming established in the faith and resisting the wicked one, the decisive involvement belongs to the Lord – and He is absolutely faithful to accomplish it.
ESTABLISH YOU. Other versions read, “strengthen you,” NASB “make you strong,” NLT and “give you strength.” NJB To “establish” means to set someone up so they remain immoveable. Being established involves our understanding, and focuses on our ability to withstand the pressures of the world, the drawings of the flesh, and the assaults of the wicked one. It has to do with remaining firm through and after trials, being able to withstand the test of the furnace and the flood. Establishment means we are not moved by the floods of false teachings, misplaced emphases, and distorted theologies that are all about us.
Although being established has proved to be a weakness in the church, it is not owing to any lack of commitment from God Himself. It is not common to hear professed believers speak about establishment – even though considerable is said of it in Scripture. God has “power to establish” (Rom 16:25). Hearts can be established unblameable in holiness (1 Thess 3:13). Every word and work can be established (2 Thess 2:17). God can establish us after we have suffered a while (1 Pet 5:10). We are exhorted to be “established in the faith” (Col 2:7).
The opposite of being established is being “tossed too and fro by every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:14). It is being “unstable,” and thus easily “beguiled” (2 Pet 2:14). Being “double minded” is antithetical to being stable. When people are moved by imaginations, thrown off course by temptation, and thrust into withdrawal from God by circumstance, it is because they are not established! Much of the difficulty experienced by the average church is directly traceable to the people not being established.
Preachers and teachers are to labor tirelessly to establish the saints. Each believer is to zealously seek to be established. But after all is said and done, it will require the Lord Himself for us to be established, made firm, and able to stand in battle. Establishment will not and cannot happen without the Lord’s involvement with His people. How blessed to know, therefore, that He is “faithful to establish you.”
KEEP YOU FROM EVIL. Other versions read, “guard you from the evil one,” NJKV and “protect you from the evil one.” NASB Because all evil emanates from Satan, keeping us from him equates to keeping us from evil. There is a strain of theology that teaches Satan is powerless, and can thus be instantly repelled by the casual rebuke of believers. If such were the case, we would require no protection from evil. The very fact that God is faithful to keep us from evil confirms the nature of the warfare in which we are engaged. This fact also emphasizes that Satan is subject to the Lord, and is powerless to offset His keeping power. This is a matter that must be received by faith, for circumstance will often seem to contradict it – such as when Peter was sifted by Satan in the palace of the high priest (Luke 22:31-32;Mark 14:54-72). Just as surely as Jesus struggled with temptation in the Garden (Heb 2:18; 5:7), so you will struggle with it also. Yet, just as surely as Jesus was kept from Satan’s intentions, so you will kept from evil. It is a matter of God’s faithfulness, and thus you are to trust Him in this matter. This is something He WILL do, but He will do it through your faith.
CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD TOUCHING YOU
“ 4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.” It is one thing to intellectually accept the fact that God is faithful to establish us and keep us from the evil one. It is quite another thing to have confidence that He will do so. It is one thing to know God will do this for you. It is another thing to know He will do it for your brethren. In this verse we see the marvelous capacity of faith. It is possible to possess assurance that God will work His will in other members of Christ’s body – that everything does not depend upon us, or upon them.
CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD TOUCHING YOU. Other versions read, “we have confidence in the Lord concerning you,” NKJV “we have faith in the Lord about you,” BBE and “we are confident of you in the Lord.” NLT The confidence to which Paul refers is not fueled by the conduct of the Thessalonians themselves, but by the persuasion of the faithfulness of God. It is as though his “confidence” first rises to the heart of God, and then projects down to the Thessalonians. Because there is a very real association of the Thessalonians with the Living God, Paul can have confidence in the Lord regarding His work in them. Their unhesitating reception of the Gospel (1 Thess 1:6; 2:14), and willingness to suffer for His name (1 Thess 3:4; 2 Thess 1:5) confirmed their identity with the Lord. Paul knew “that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
Where a proper response to the Gospel, and an willingness to suffer shame for His name, are not present, this kind of confidence is, at the very best, weak. Frail and vacillating discipleship does not promote such confidence, but moves one to a state of questioning whether or not God is at work at all. Thus Paul writes, “I am afraid of you” (Gal 4:11), “I stand in doubt of you” (Gal 4:20), “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor 11:3) and “I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would” (2 Cor 12:20).
But where there is evidence of Divine working in even small measure, confidence in the working of the Lord can be had concerning the people. “I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things” (2 Cor 7:16). “I have confidence in you through the Lord” (Gal 5:10). “ . . . the great confidence which I have in you” (2 Cor 8:22). “Having confidence in thy obedience” (Phile 21). Thus confidence is fed by two mighty streams. First, the nature of God, who is devoted to establishing His people. Second, the preliminary and observable work that He has already accomplished in His people.
BOTH DO AND WILL DO. Other versions read, “that you are doing and will continue to do what we command,” NASB “that you are practicing the things we commanded you, and that you always will,” NLT “that the things which we enjoin, ye both do and will do.” DARBY This level of confidence is challenging to consider. Ponder those you are confident fall into this category. The very attempt to recall such people will confirm the rarity of this kind of thinking. Apart from the grace of God and faith, men are not prone to consider the people of God in this manner – yet this is a Kingdom norm. Those who are living by faith, which is the only way spiritual life can be maintained, have this effect upon others who are living by faith. The very fact that people are doing “the will of God” can produce confidence that they will continue to do so. Present grace is a guarantee of future grace. Present obedience is a pledge of future obedience. This is true, however, only when seen from a higher vantage point.
It is not that Paul was depending upon the Thessalonians themselves. He has confidence “in the Lord touching” them. Their manner of life confirmed God was working in them, and God is faithful to continue His work. Taking it a bit further, God works through the faith of His people – “by grace through faith” (Eph 2:8). His faithfulness guarantees He will continue to work through that faith.
What we command. Faith does not balk at the commandments of the Lord, but is eager “to keep and to do all” God requires (Josh 23:6). The demand of God under the Law was to “keep all these commandments which I command you, [in order] to do them” (Deut 11:22). While Israel failed miserably in doing this, faith fulfills that requirement. That is involved in “the righteousness of the Law” being “fulfilled in us” (Rom 8:4). In these words, Paul is expressing confidence that the following is taking place, and will continue to do so: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). The commandments Paul gave were to the Thessalonians like the Lord’s yoke and burden: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30). The faith of the Thessalonians made this so.
THE LORD DIRECTS HEARTS INTO PATIENT WAITING
“ 2b And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.” Here Paul, injects another prayer, showing that, indeed, his confidence concerning them is “in the Lord.” He does not simply rely on some form of Kingdom automation for the saints to keep on doing what was commanded of them. He knows how to go straight to the heart of the matter. The continued obedience of believers is contingent upon the status of their hearts! If their hearts are flawed, they will not be able to keep doing what is required of them. When hearts become contaminated, obedience begins to wane. If hearts are pointed in the wrong direction, the commandments of the Lord no longer seem important. The person with a defiled heart does not even view God’s commandments with respect, much less have a fervent desire to do them. Thus, Paul prays about our hearts.
THE LORD DIRECT YOUR HEARTS. Other versions read, “And may your hearts be guided by the Lord,” BBE “May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding,” NLT and “May the Lord turn your hearts.” NJB The ability of the Lord to direct, or guide, the hearts of men is precious to me. Perhaps it is because it was hidden to me by my own perception of the Lord and His Kingdom. Over the years, I have heard little, if any, consideration of this precious reality. This is largely owing to its utter lack of utility in promoting institutionalism.
God can and does “incline” men’s hearts to Himself (1 Kgs 8:58). He can keep thoughts in the hearts of people and prepare their hearts for Himself (1 Chron 29:18). David knew the Lord could direct his way to keep His statutes (Psa 119:5), and incline his heart to His testimonies (Psa 119:36). Even the heart of the king is in the hands of the Lord, and He can turn it “whithersoever He will” (Prov 21:1). The Lord can “open” the heart of an individual so they can “respond” to His word NASB (Acts 16:14). If it is true that “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer 10:23), how blessed to know the Lord can “direct your hearts.” This is part of the “increase” that the Lord gives (1 Cor 3:6).
By directing the heart, the Lord moves it into the proper emphasis or focus. He points people in the right direction, moving them to consider the real “issues of life” (Prov 23:4). That means we are too weak in ourselves to get our spiritual bearings, or find the “narrow way” that leads unto life. The truth of the matter is that if we are “not as the horse or as the mule” (Psa 32:9), God will lead us in a “plain path” (Psa 27:11).
THE LOVE OF GOD. Here is where the Lord directs our hearts: “into the love of God.” This refers primarily to “God’s love,” NIV and secondarily to our love for God. As we are directed into “an ever deeper understanding of the love of God,” NLT it sparks a fervent love for God Himself. As it is written, “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Among other things, this confirms that men cannot be brought to understand God’s love for them, or to themselves love God, by commandment alone. Even though the “first and great commandment of the Law” is to love God with all of our persons, no one apart from Christ Himself was ever able to do this. There must first be a comprehension of the love God has for us, then our hearts can be filled with a personal love for Him. That requires Divine direction, and it is insightful when men pray for such a thing to happen! Furthermore, because we are in a fiercely competitive arena, there is no point in the life of faith when no further need for this prayer exists. While in the body, you will always need such prayers.
PATIENT WAITING FOR CHRIST. Translations differ in this verse. Older ones read, “patient waiting for Christ.” Newer ones read, “patience of Christ,” or “Christ’s perseverance.” NIV The latter means God will direct us into the kind of patience and steadfastness Christ Himself possessed. The former means we will patiently wait for the return of the Lord Jesus, persevering through all tests of our faith. Actually, there is no difference between the two views. Jesus endured, or was “patient,” in anticipation of “the joy set before Him” (Heb 12:2). The “joy” set before us is nothing less than the return of the Lord Himself (1 Pet 4:13; Jude 24). We can say with David, we will, indeed, be made “exceeding glad with thy countenance” (Psa 21:6). The verse reads properly, “waiting for Christ.”
We have, after all, turned to God from idols to serve Him and “to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess 1:10). His return is the “blessed hope” of the church (Tit 2:13), for then we “shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). The persuasion of this fuels our determination to “stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11).
It might appear too challenging to patiently wait for Christ, enduing all manner of hardship and trials. But we must entertain no such vain imagination. This patience does not depend upon our self-strength, but upon Divine direction. The fact that Paul prayed God would direct our hearts in this way confirms that He is inclined and committed to do so.