PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE ON PRAYER.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.
As we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another – as you look back and forward – what will you prayer for?
As you look back at 1996 what will you thank God for – and as you look forward to 1997 what will be your desire of God?
Do I need to ask the question – do you even pray? Do you talk to God? What do you talk about?
Is what we pray for determined by our wants and desires or is our prayer agenda molded by what God considers important?
What can we learn about prayer and how to pray aright from this prayer of Paul’s for the Church in Thessalonica.
This is the prayer:
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)
In order to understand this prayer we need to ask “With what in mind?”
v.11 begins “With this in mind,..” What? v.3-10 tell us what Paul has in mind as he prays for the Christians in Thessalonica. This is Paul’s Perspective on Prayer –
1. PAUL IS THANKFUL FOR THE PRESENT EVIDENCE OF GRACE.
(2. Paul is confident in the future prospect of vindication)
Thanksgiving is clearly part of Paul’s Perspective on Prayer. But what is it that Paul gives thanks for ?
What do we most commonly give thanks for?
- grace at meals
- for material blessings – house, job, food,
- we may shoot up a brief prayer of thanks along with a sigh of relief for a near miss on the motorway
- for someone recently converted
- for recovery from a serious illness
BUT for the most part our prayer of thanksgiving relate to our material well-being and comfort – the bare truth is that our most frequent expressions of thanks reflect what we value the most. If it is true that a large proportion of our prayers are thanksgiving for material prosperity then it is because we value material things.
The things Paul mentions may not be the things that we are in the habit of thanking God for.
1.1. Paul gives thanks that his readers’ faith is growing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more,……
growing faith – not referring to the initial faith that they had at salvation – when they were converted – when they first can into a living relationship with Jesus.
He is referring to their increasing reliance upon the Lord.
The word for faith (pistis) can equally mean trust or faithfulness – These Thessalonians are growing – they are not content with yesterday’s attainments but are striving for spiritual maturity –
Is this your experience? Are you growing spiritually? If you are asked to say what Jesus means to you, do you have a current testimony of your relationship with God now or is it the same stale testimony of 10 years ago?
Paul gives thanks because he sees in the Thess. Xns a growing faith.
1.2. Paul gives thanks that their love is increasing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-4
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing…….
Paul is not talking about their love for God [although that is probably increasing too] but he is talking about their practical love for each other – not some sloppy sentimental feeling.
What is it that is causing this love for each other? It can only be because they are Jesus’ disciples.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)
But surely any group that has a common purpose has a kind of tolerance and cohesion – camera clubs and football clubs and Choral Societies etc… there can of course be divisions and power politics in such groups but it is not unusual to see a certain level of love and care in such groups.
The church – ideally at least – is different because it is as varied as can be; made up of people who, humanly speaking, very often have nothing in common ~~ can have rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, introvert and extrovert…… the only thing that holds all this together is their devotion to Jesus flowing out of his incredible love for them.
That is why when there are squabbles and infighting in a congregation it is because this love and purpose have been lost sight of and there is nothing at a social, economic or educational level to hold it together.
If Christians lose sight of their first and primary allegiance, viz. to Jesus, there will be squabbles.
Our love for Jesus is mirrored in our love for others who profess to love the same Jesus. We must however ask ourselves this question – “Am I involved in the lives of my fellow Christians – thus being in a position to show love” I all you ever do is come to Church on a Sunday morning and that is the sum total of your Christian fellowship then it is easy to be loving because it is only skin deep – it is easy to love from a distance. If you live in isolation as a Christian then you need to question your love and devotion to Jesus.
Paul has heard reports of the growing love that the Thessalonian Xns have for each other – this is not just true of a small, spiritually elite group within the church but it is true of ‘every one of you’ – Paul knows that this must be the work of God and directs his thanks and praise to God for the evidence of his grace in the lives of these Thessalonian Christians.
1.3. Paul gives thanks for their perseverance under trial.
2 Thessalonians 1:4 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (NIV)
This is not simply Paul’s private view – it is the view of his fellow workers “we” and they share this with other Churches as an example and an encouragement.
Paul is not patting himself on the back saying “Look what a wonderful Church I have planted!” NO! He is saying “Look at these Thessalonians – they are a testimony to the grace of God – look how they are growing and loving each other even in difficult circumstances and in the face of opposition – they just keep on! Isn’t this a great example and encouragement to the rest of us!”
His boasting is in effect praise to God !
What does all this tell us about Paul’s Perspective on Prayer?
Paul has a heavenly mindset – the things that he values and cherishes are the things of God – it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t concerned about the earthly things but he has a heavenly perspective.
If it had been me – I would have been preoccupied that God would remove the suffering and trials and make life easy for them. Maybe Paul prayed that BUT it was not he preoccupation – he was more concerned for their perseverance in the midst of difficulty.
If what we prize is earthly and transitory then our hearts and minds will incline to that – Jesus taught that our hearts will run to where our treasure is….
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)
Like Paul we must look for signs of grace in the lives of others for which we can thank God – it can be a great encouragement and incentive to us when we see the grace of God at work in the lives of others.
What of our lives ?? What do others see in us? Are we an encouragement to others for the way we respond to difficulty and trial? ~flat tyre ~ redundancy ~ illness ~ a disappoinment ~ dropped from the team ~ dumped by your girl-friend~ ~~
When last did you prais God for what you observe in other Christians?? When last did you take the Church Directory and pray through it – praising God for the members — or take time to pray for the missionaries you know — “Thank you Lord for their trust, their faithfulness, their stickability, their love …”
There is another feature of Paul’s Perspective on Prayer that we need to look at.
2. PAUL IS CONFIDENT IN THE FUTURE PROSPECT OF VINDICATION
That fact that these Christians are growing, loving and persevering is evidence that God is right.
2 Thessalonians 1:5
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (NIV)
Paul is not saying that as a result of their endurance through suffering they have gained access to God’s Kingdom. If you hang in there and keep a stiff upper lip that will make you acceptable to God — NO! NO!
Entrance into God’s Kingdom is through repentance and faith in Jesus! This occurred for the Thessalonians when they believed the good news about Jesus that Paul brought to them
2 Thessalonians 1:10 …….. you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)
It is the teaching of scripture that beyond conversion real Christians will ultimately persevere. We may stumble and fall, we may have doubts like Thomas, we may at moments disown our Lord like Peter but ultimately a real Christians will persevere – like Thomas he will say “My Lord and my God!” and like Peter will weep.
Two brief points about points about vv5-10:-
1) The kingdom of God in this context is the consummated kingdom – i.e. the new heaven and the new earth.
2) The Thessalonians perseverance is not mere stamina – grin and bare it – but a stedfast endurance with an eye on the goal – the glorious kingdom!
Christians don’t seek suffering out of a kind of masochism – we don’t believe that suffering is intrinsically good.
In these verses Paul is not talk about heaven BUT rather what the prospect of heaven means for believers and hell for those who oppose them.
For believers there will be vindication – for others there will be retribution
2.1. For believers there will be vindication
2 Thessalonians 1:6&10 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. … 10 on the day he comes ….. to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)
There is a real expectation here!
There was a time when the second coming of the Lord was much preached about – if not debated among evangelical Christians.
Have we not lost something of our anticipation of the Lord’s coming?!
This is a profound and central truth of our faith – this world as we know it will come to and end. There will be a new heaven and a new earth – Christ will return in glory.
These should not be simply credal statements – these should be truths that transform the way we live now.
We should be investing in the Bank of Heaven where Matthew 6:20 …….., where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (NIV)
Sadly many of us have been seduced into investing our time and money and energies into what is earthly and temporal and will one day go up in a puff of smoke.
How we spend our time and money and energy tells us what we believe to be important – where are you investing??
If, when Jesus returns there will be vindication for some …..
2.2. For others, there will be retribution.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 …… This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people …… (NIV)
Many do not like the idea of retribution. Maybe you don’t!!
Some how we feel that it doesn’t fit with love and peace and forgiveness.
Some how an angry God who wreaks vengeance on people seems to fit better an OT view of God.
BUT God is just – why should we expect from God what we don’t expect from a human judge.
ILLUS: Remember a few years ago when a Welsh Court sentence a rapist to pay for his victim to have a holiday!! and in the same week another court find a man £500 for littering!!
There was outrage in the press! This is unjust!! It is not fair!! Is there nothing to be said for retribution!!
The Christian gospel is solidly based on the notion of retribution! Where there is evil it must be paid back or God is affronted! God cannot overlook evil on the ground that he is loving and kind! IF God was like that he would be weak and unconcerned about justice!
God is concerned about love and justice! His holiness demands retribution — while his love sends his Son to absorb that retribution.
The cross stand for God’s justice and his love!
For the Christian forgiveness is never detached from the Cross!!!
Forgiveness is never the product of love alone! — Forgiveness is only possible because there was a real offence and a real sacrifice to offset that offence!
But when people see themselves as the centre of things and reject Jesus saying “I’ll do it my way!” — then they will face retribution because they have refused to accept God’s forgiveness and love.
Jesus suffered retribution so that you and I could be reconciled to God.
In some cases not only do some refuse God’s forgiveness they then take it upon themselves to make life difficult for those who have accepted Jesus!
Paul say of these —
2 Thessalonians 1:6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you ……
Hell is not just a place of being cut off from God – sinners will not be crying out for another opportunity to repent. There is no biblical evidence that there is any repentance in hell.
The evidence is that the self-centredness of man persists and persists – and so does the judgement. People refuse to accept God as God – they persist in there self-centredness — they will not accept Christ’s sacrifice. And so ….
2 Thessalonians 1:9 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (NIV)
A very sobering truth!!
In this present world – those who reject God seem so strong and so right and so wise BUT Christian understand this — the final vindication of God’s revelation and the claims of the gospel come at the end of the age 2 Thessalonians 1:10 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)
The importance of this truth as the context for Paul’s prayer crucial! Paul’s fundamental orientation is to the end of the age – to the vindication of God’s people!
Where is our emphasis? In our materialistic world – where comfort and self-fulfillment and pleasure and excess and individualism rule it is hard to follow a rejected, despised and crucified Messiah. Unless we have our eyes fixed on the END we will fail. Unless we see that there is a new heaven and a new earth coming we will fail! Our vision will be small – our efforts unworthy – our motivation wrong!
Can we expect to be biblically spiritual people if we are not oriented to the world to come!
Put in the context of this passage can we pray correctly if our focus is on this world and not on the one to come!
Are you growing – loving – persevering? How does the anticipation of Christ’s return shape your values and your prayers?
Can you say with Paul
2 Thessalonians 1:11
11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. (NIV)
What is your prayer for yourself and for your fellow believers as you enter 1997!!
Lord help us live in the light of Your coming,
striving for purity, fleeing from sin.
Catching a glimpse of what we are becoming,
being transformed to Your likeness within.
The trumpet shall sound,
look to the skies
for Jesus is coming again.
Then through the clouds His children shall rise,
to share in His glorious reign.
Lord help us see there is hope beyond measure,
Joy beyond suffering, justice restored.
Fixing our eyes on the heavenly treasure,
Jesus our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord.
Lord fill our hearts with a real expectation,
Heirs of the promise, our destiny sealed.
Praising our Saviour with glad adoration,
when in Your glory You shall be revealed.
Geoff Baker © 1995 Sovereign Music UK [Keswick 1995]
PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE ON PRAYER.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.
1. PAUL IS THANKFUL FOR THE
PRESENT EVIDENCE OF GRACE.
Paul gives thanks…
… that his readers’ faith is growing.
… that their love is increasing.
… for their perseverance under trial.
2. PAUL IS CONFIDENT IN THE FUTURE
PROSPECT OF VINDICATION.
For believers there will be vindication
(For others there will be retribution)
Paul prays “With this in mind…”