A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:16-18. Conclusion: a threefold blessing.
The serious division between the workers and the loafers is threatening to split the Thessalonian church. There is a real possibility that disciplinary action may have to be taken. Paul has issued some clear instructions about this in case the disobedience of the minority persists. But he ardently hopes that the recalcitrant church members will repent without the need for discipline. So he pronounces a threefold blessing from Christ upon his church, which takes the form of being half prayer, half wish.
First, *may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way* (16a). In his first letter Paul wrote of ‘the God of peace’ (1 Thess.5:23); here ‘the Lord of peace’ means Jesus Christ. For the Old Testament prophets depicted the Messiah as the ‘Prince of Peace’, who would inaugurate a kingdom of peace (Is.9:6-7). And so it proved to be. For ‘he himself is our peace’, who by his cross reconciled Jews and Gentiles to each other, and both to God, ‘thus making peace’ (Eph.2:14-15; cf.Col.1:20). Because he is ‘the Lord of peace’, he is uniquely qualified to ‘give peace’, a pervasive peace ‘at all times and in every way’, or (reading *topos* instead of *tropos*, which Lightfoot favoured) ‘at all times, in all places’. Only his peace could bring an end to the Thessalonians conflict.
Secondly, *The Lord be with all of you* (16b). It is one thing to receive the peace of Christ as a gift; it is another to enjoy the presence of Christ himself in the midst of his people – ‘all’ of them, Paul stresses, ‘the dissident brothers as well as the loyal and obedient’.
Thirdly, *the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all* (18), The same wish concluded Paul’s first letter (1 Thess.5:28), except that here he adds the word ‘all’, as at the end of verse 16. Grace and peace are also united in the final greetings of the first letter (1 Thess.5:23, 28), and at the beginning of both letters (1 Thess.1:1 and 2 Thess.1:2). They are pre-eminent gifts of Christ to his church, each involving the other, since there can be no peace without grace. And ‘grace’, the unmerited favour of God which secures and bestows salvation freely, epitomizes Paul’s gospel. This must be why at this point, having thus far dictated his letter (Cf. Rom.16:22), he takes the pen from his scribe and writes his final grace-wish with his own hand. It is *the distinguishing mark* in all his letters, he says. *This is how I write* (17). He is aware of the deceitful activity of forgers (2:2). So he adds his autograph as a ‘mark of genuineness’ (JB). ‘This authenticates all my letters’ (NEB). It became his regular practice (Cf. 1 Cor.16:21; Gal.6:11; Col.4:18; Phm.19). In fact, he probably closed every letter in his own hand even without expressly saying so’.
One cannot read the last three verses of this letter without earnestly desiring for contemporary churches what Paul desired for the Thessalonian church, namely the peace, the presence and the grace of the Lord. Is it possible? Only, I think, if these blessings are read in their context and if we share Paul’s perspective on the primacy of the Word in the life of the church. Indeed, one of the perennial questions facing the church in every age and place concerns its relationship to the Bible. How do the people of God and the Word of God relate to one another? Did the Word create the church or the church the Word? Is the church over the Bible or under it? Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches answer these questions differently, and our division at this point is arguably deeper and wider than at any other.
2 Thessalonians 3 throws a bright light on this controversy, since it gives pre-eminence to the Word. Its opening prayer that ‘the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph’ (RSV) puts all parochialism to shame and challenges us to develop a global vision and a commitment to world evangelization. And Paul’s repeated commands, with their expectation of obedience, also condemn those churches whose attitude to the Word of God appears to be subjective and selective. They wander at random through Scripture, choosing a verse here and discarding a verse there, like a gardener picking flowers in a herbaceous border. They have no concept of a thorough study of the Bible, or of a conscientious submission to its teaching. Let not such a church imagine that it will receive the blessing of the Lord! For to despise the Word of the Lord is to despise the Lord of the Word, to distrust his faithfulness and to disregard his authority.
To which kind of church do we belong? Is its vision global or merely parochial? Is its attitude to Scripture principled or unprincipled, obedient or disobedient? While history moves towards its denouement and we await the rebellion of Antichrist which will herald the revelation of Christ, can we say from the heart ‘Let the Word of the Lord run and be honoured throughout the world’ and ‘Let the Word of the Lord be honoured and obeyed in the church’? For then, fully committed to the Lord and his Word, we can humbly expect to enjoy in our day his peace, his presence and his grace.
Tomorrow: This completes the study of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Tomorrow we will start on the message of 1 Timothy.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|