A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:1-3. 2). The word must be spread in the world. (continued).
Moreover, the same faithful Lord is faithful to his people as well as to his word. For *he will strengthen (sterizo*, ‘establish’, as in 1 Thess. 3:2, 13; 2 Thess. 2:17) *and protect you* (and ‘us’ too, indeed all his people) *from the evil one*. As in the Lord’s prayer (‘rescue us from the evil one’) so here, the reference is surely to the devil in person, and not to ‘evil’ in general. The context requires this. As Professor F.F.Bruce puts it, ‘the personal “evil one” forms a more effective antithesis to the personal *Kurios* (sc. “Lord”)’. The great affirmation ‘the Lord is faithful’ is now seen to be pivotal. It looks back to the spread of the word and on to the strengthening of the church. God will not allow either his word or his church to fail. Hence Paul’s ‘confidence in the Lord’ about both, and his sense of the propriety of praying for both.
What can we learn from these verses about mission? It is true that, in the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation’ (*Dei Verbum*), 2 Thessalonians 3:1 is quoted with reference to the place of Scripture in the church. Lay people are to read it, scholars to interpret it, and clergy to preach it. ‘In this way, therefore, through the reading and study of the sacred books, let “the word of the Lord run and be glorified” (2 Thess.3:1)’. But, although indeed an ‘intensified veneration for God’s word’ should bring ‘a new surge of spiritual vitality’ to the church, Paul’s perspective in these verses is not the renewal of the church but the evangelization of the world. Three aspects of world mission are emphasized.
First, mission is concerned with the message which is being spread, and this message has a given and defined content. Astonishing as it may sound, by ‘the message of the Lord’ the apostle is alluding to his own preaching. ‘Pray for *us*, he urged, ‘that the message of the *Lord* may spread rapidly’. He knew himself to be bearer of God’s word (as in 1 Thess.2:13). His gospel was God’s gospel (1 Thess.1:5, 8; 2:2, 4, 9). Today it is often the cultural elements of the message we preach which preoccupy people. And rightly so. We have to divest our gospel of the cultural clothing in which we have received it and sometimes even of the precise cultural garb in which Scripture presents it. We also have to re-clothe it in cultural terms appropriate to the people to whom we proclaim it. ‘Gospel’ and ‘culture’ are two different entities; they must not be confused. Nevertheless, underneath its various cultural garments, the gospel remains a cluster of truths, which have been revealed by God, which may not be manipulated or edited by us, and which continue to be transcultural good news for everybody everywhere. This ‘message of the Lord’ must run throughout the world.
Secondly, mission is concerned with the reception as well as the proclamation of the message. This is why people who are committed to world evangelization pray that the evangel will *be honoured*, and that the evangelists will *be delivered from wicked and evil men*. There is in mission an interplay between four groups. The intercessors pray. The missionaries preach. Some hearers honour the word by believing it. Others refuse the message and oppose those who bring it.
Thirdly, mission is concerned with what John Mott at the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh called ‘the superhuman factor’. Evangelism is not a merely human activity undertaken by human energy and ingenuity. Unseen spiritual forces are also at work. Hence the call to prayer. Behind the evil men opposing the gospel stands the evil one. Behind the bearers of the Lord’s message stands the faithful Lord. What encouragement Christian missionaries should draw from the affirmation that *the Lord is faithful!* Since some lack faith and are either unresponsive or actively resistant, how can we hope *that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured?* Only because behind the word of the Lord is the faithfulness of the Lord. It is he who spoke the word in the first place and who speaks it still, who confirms its truth in human hearts, and who causes it to take root and bear fruit. He also stands faithfully by his covenant people, promising that he will never leave or forsake them.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 3:4-15. 3). The word must be obeyed in the church.
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.