A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3. 2). The word must be spread in the world.
By the words *Finally, brothers*, Paul indicates that he is about to take up his last topic and that ‘the end of the letter is in view’. But before he broaches his final theme he issues an emphatic appeal to his readers to *pray* for him and his mission team (indeed, to ‘keep on praying’ for them, the verb being a present imperative). That he asked for their prayers at the end of the first letter (1 Thess.5:25), and now repeats his request, is a mark of his humility. That he also tells them of his intercession for them (E.g. 1 Thess,1:2; 3:11-13; 5:23; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; 2:16-17; 3:5, 16) is a mark of their rich reciprocal relationship. Christian Fellowship is expressed in, and deepened by, our prayers for one another.
What does Paul ask the Thessalonians to pray for? He mentions two complementary items. First, *that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured*, or literally, ‘may run and be glorified’. The apostle loved to use vivid figures of speech. If in his first letter he likened the proclamation of the gospel to a trumpet blast or peal of thunder, which ‘rang out’ from Thessalonica (1 Thess.1:8), he now personifies the word as a runner. Perhaps he is thinking of the Isthmian games, for which Corinth was famous, and in particular of the athletes who carried the Olympian torch. But the imagery also occurs in the Old Testament: ‘his word runs swiftly’ (Ps.147:15; cf. Ps.19:4b-6 quoted in Rom.10:18). The Thessalonians are asked to pray that the gospel may run well, run fast, and that, wherever it goes, it may have ‘a glorious reception’. If Paul is still picturing the word as an athlete, he may now be seeing it ‘crowned with glory’ at the winning post. On the other hand, the apostle may be making a more general allusion to the ‘honour’ which the word deserves to receive (as in Acts 13:48). In this case the prayer is that the Lord’s message may ‘speed on and triumph’ (RSV) or may have a ‘swift and glorious success’ (REB), *just as* happened (Paul adds) *with you*. The word had come running into Thessalonica, and had been honoured by the reception it was given (1 Thes.1:6). Now Paul asks them to pray that it may run on further, and may be received and glorified by others as it had been by them.
Without doubt the apostle is referring to the evangelization of the Roman Empire. After leaving Thessalonica and then Berea, he evangelized Athens, the intellectual capital of the empire. He is now in Corinth, its commercial capital, and is experiencing some opposition to the word. Already he is beginning to dream of evangelizing Rome, the empire’s administrative capital, for the main port of Corinth looked north-west across the Adriatic Sea to Italy. He urges his readers to pray that the gospel may run in every direction, and be welcomed.
Secondly, Paul asks for prayer that he and his missionary companions may be *delivered from wicked and evil men* (2; Cf. Rom.15:31). It is one thing for the gospel to win friends who embrace it; it is another for the evangelists to be rescued from its enemies who oppose it. Since he uses the definite article, Paul seems to have a particular group in mind, perhaps the Jewish opponents of the gospel in Corinth (Acts 18:6ff.). He describes them not only as *evil* but as *atopoi*, literally ‘out of place’, and so ‘unreasonable’ (AV), ‘wrong-headed’ (REB). ‘perverse’, and even ‘bigoted’ (JBP, JB). The reason why they reject the gospel is that *not everyone has faith* or (because of the definite article) ‘the faith’. The latter is an objective body of belief, the former the faculty of believing it. *But*, Paul adds immediately, *the Lord (i.e. Jesus) is faithful* (3a, cf.1 Thess.5:24). In Greek, as in English, there is a deliberate play on the words *faith* and *faithful*. Indeed, by this contrast Paul is expressing his conviction that the faithlessness of human beings cannot possibly overturn the faithfulness of God, as shown in his covenant commitment to his people and his word.
God’s faithfulness to his word is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. It was written of Samuel, for example: ‘The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.’ (1 Sam.3:19). Again, God said to Jeremiah at the time of his call: ‘I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.’ (Je.1:12). He had made a similar promise to Isaiah: ‘My word…will not return unto me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’ (Is.55:11). Paul shares this assurance. True, there was opposition from ‘evil men’ (2), and behind them from ‘the evil one’ himself (3). True also, they were engaged in spiritual warfare and so needed spiritual weapons: Paul had to preach and the Thessalonians had to pray. Yet behind his preaching and their prayers stood the faithful Lord himself, who watches over his word, and who confirms it by his Spirit in the hearers’ hearts, so that it works in them effectively (1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13; cf. 1 Cor.2:5).
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-3. 2). The word must be spread in the world (continued).
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.