A Commentary by John Stott

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. Paul concludes with a prayer.

It is instructive to observe that, having expressed his thanks to God for having chosen and called the Thessalonian Christians, he not only exhorts them to stand firm, but also now prays that God will establish them. We see, then, how Christian praise and Christian prayer belong together. The fact that God promises to do something (for which we praise him), far from discouraging prayer, actually encourages it, because God’s promises are the only ground of our assurance that God will answer our prayers. Prayer is not a way of inducing God to do what he has said he will not do; it is the God-appointed way of enabling him to do what he has promised to do and enabling us to inherit his promises. God’s promises and our prayers must not be separated.

Paul opens his prayer with these words: *May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father*. We notice how once again Paul couples the Father and the Son. He did it in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 3:11. But this time he startles us by even putting the Son before the Father. It is amazing enough, within twenty years of the resurrection, that Paul should have bracketed Jesus Christ with God; it is yet more amazing that now he brackets God with Jesus Christ. He also goes on, in spite of the plurality of the subject (Father and Son), to use the singular reflexive *who* and the singular verbs *loved* and *gave*. Paul is evidently quite clear, at least in the practice of prayer if not yet in theological formulation, about the equality and the unity of the Father and the Son.

Paul goes on to describe Father and Son by the reflexive clause, *who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope* (16). His love, his grace and his gifts are brought together, and his gifts (‘eternal encouragement’ and ‘good hope’) seem to mean the same thing, since the encouragement (*paraklesis*) is specifically said to be ‘eternal’ and our Christian hope looks forward to eternity also. The apostle’s two prayers are that God will *encourage your hearts*, fortifying them inwardly, *and strengthen you (sterizai*, ‘establish’, as in 1 Thess.3:13) *in every good deed and word* (17), which is the outward and public evidence of the inward strength. ‘A good hope ought to work itself out in a good life.’

We have now looked at Paul’s thanksgiving (13-14), exhortation (15) and prayer (16-17). The theme of all three has been the same: Christian stability. He thanks God that he has chosen and called the Thessalonians to salvation (that most stable of all states); he appeals to them to stand firm; and he prays that God will establish them. That is, his plea to them to stand is sandwiched between his assurance that they will and his prayer that they may. Yet still something is missing, which I have so far deliberately omitted from the exposition of the text. What is it that binds together Paul’s thanksgiving, exhortation and prayer? What is the ultimate secret of Christian stability? It is the love of God. Three times Paul alludes to it in 2 Thessalonians 2 and 3. First, he describes the Thessalonians as ‘brothers loved by the Lord’ (2:13; cf. 1 Thess.1:4). Secondly, he describes the Father and the Son as the God ‘who loved us’ (2:16). Thirdly, he prays that the Lord will ‘direct your hearts into God’s love’ (3:5). Behind God’s election, call and gifts there lies God’s love. That God is love, that he has set his love upon us, that he loves us still, and that his love will never let us go, is the foundation not only of all reality, but of Christian confidence and Christian stability too. Our stability is not only impossible, but actually inconceivable, apart from the steadfastness of the love of God.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

(Ps. 136:1, RSV).

Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18.  The responsibility of Christians.

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.