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Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 1:1-2


Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope,

To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.


Last week’s post concluded my study of 2 Thessalonians.

Today’s post begins a study of 1 Timothy, Paul’s letter to his true spiritual child, his successor.

Matthew Henry died before he completed his commentary on this letter, and the preacher Benjamin Andrews Atkinson completed it.

I could not find anything on the Revd Mr Atkinson other than a listing for a set of four of his sermons from 1737 with the splendid title, The decay of practical religion lamented, and the Scripture method for reviving it considered, available on Amazon.

We could do with a book like that today.

His or Henry’s introduction to 1 Timothy is concise (emphases mine):

Hitherto Paul’s epistles were directed to churches; now follow some to particular persons: two to Timothy, one to Titus, and another to Philemon—all three ministers. Timothy and Titus were evangelists, an inferior order to the apostles, as appears by Eph 4 11, Some prophets, some apostles, some evangelists. Their commission and work was much the same with that of the apostles, to plant churches, and water the churches that were planted; and accordingly they were itinerants, as we find Timothy was. Timothy was first converted by Paul, and therefore he calls him his own son in the faith: we read of his conversion, Acts 16 3.

The scope of these two epistles is to direct Timothy how to discharge his duty as an evangelist at Ephesus, where he now was, and where Paul ordered him for some time to reside, to perfect the good work which he had begun there. As for the ordinary pastoral charge of that church, he had very solemnly committed it to the presbytery, as appears from Acts 20 28, where he charges the presbyters to feed the flock of God, which he had purchased with his own blood.

Henry’s commentary says that Paul wrote this letter in AD 64.

The church in Ephesus was having problems, even after Paul had spent three years planting and nurturing it. Paul knew this would happen, because false teachers came in to his churches after he left.

Paul believed that Timothy was the person best suited to undertaking the difficult task of resolving doctrinal issues and apostasy in that church.

John MacArthur says:

Just as you would hope as a Christian, as a Christ-exalting, God-honoring Spirit-filled Christian parent that your child would be all that a physical child could be in the fullness of physical and mental and emotional and social stature, so it is that spiritually all of us would desire to raise one who would be truly a genuine child in the faith that is a real reflection of our spiritual life and values.

And for Paul to so designate Timothy sets Timothy aside in a very special way. He was Paul’s very genuine reflection. He was a true child of the apostle in terms of his spiritual life. He was all that any discipler could ever hope for, could ever pray for. He was what Paul would have wished him to be in every sense. He is the child of Paul’s ministry. He is the protégé; he is the offspring; he is the spiritual son which Paul has raised, and he is reflective of all that Paul would desire that he should be. And it is to this marvelous man that this and the second epistle is written.

Paul’s two letters to Timothy were about the ministry:

For us it is the beginning of a new adventure, an adventure with the Word of God, an in-depth study of rich and profound truth that are going to come to us, first of all, in 1 Timothy. The epistle itself deals with many great subjects, subjects which were needful for Timothy to know in his ministry to the church. It deals with, for example, error in the church and how that error is to be confronted, the proper pattern for church leadership. The importance of sound theology and the centrality of teaching is a major theme. The call for godliness and holiness in living and ministry, the proper attitudes and roles of men and women in the church, how to deal with discipline in the church, how to confront issues in the church, how to deal with a sinning leader in the church, the correction of problems that threaten the church, these are themes dealt with in 1 Timothy, also in 2 Timothy and also in Titus.

As such, Paul begins the letter by stating that he is an Apostle of Christ Jesus and is writing it by command of God our Saviour and Jesus Christ our hope (verse 1).

MacArthur gives us information about the name and the Apostle Paul:

A familiar name to any student of the New Testament, Paulus in Latin, a favorite name among Cilicians, and Paul was from Tarsus a city in Cilicia. It means little or small, and it may have been an indication that at his birth he was small, and it may be an indication that even then when the letter was written he was small – man not of particularly striking stature nor of particularly marked appearance.

In fact he was criticized. If you read 2 Corinthians chapter 10 verses 1 and 10 – read that section there in between if you will – but particularly verse 1 and 10, it indicates to us that Paul did not have anything about him that was particularly striking. And the sort of athletic-minded bodily preoccupied Greeks would have looked down on his rather groveling slavish common low stature. They use the word tapeinos in 2 Corinthians 10:1 to refer to him and it would be an indication of his weak, unimpressive, rather sickly and small stature. So it may be that he was small from the very beginning.

But his name Paul sort of loses that initial significance and he becomes to us a man of tremendous stature, a man of comprehensive capability, a man uniquely used by God in the history of redemption, a man who stands head and shoulders above all men. No matter what he was physically, spiritually he is to us a giant, and the very name Paul when you say it sort of belongs in massive granite block letters.

And so it is Paul who also was named Saul. And it was not uncommon for people in that particular culture to have both a Greek name – Paul, and a Jewish name – Saul, especially because he was a Jew. His father was a Jew. And though he was born in a Greek-Roman environment outside of the land of Israel – born in Tarsus, born in a city which was a part of the Roman Empire – he became, when he was born, a citizen of Rome by birth, his father being a Roman citizen. So it was natural for him to have a Jewish name, because he was of the tribe of Benjamin and the most prominent person in the tribe of Benjamin was Saul, so he was given that name. But it was also Paul and that was the name to identify him with the Greek-Roman culture into which he was born. He is called Saul, by the way, in the book of Acts until the thirteenth chapter and the ninth verse, where he first begins to embark on his ministry to the Gentiles, and from them on he is never called Saul again. He was Saul in a Jewish context until he became the apostle to the Gentiles, from then on he is known as Paul.

Paul was a well trained Pharisee and is likely to have been one of Gamaliel’s students in Jerusalem. He had no time for Christianity and was instrumental in allowing the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr.

MacArthur takes up the story:

Chapter 8 of Acts, verse 1, goes on, “Saul was consenting unto his death.” He was not an innocent bystander. He was a part of it. “And also at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the apostles.” Then in verse 3 it says, “Saul made havoc of the church, entering into every house and haling men and women, committing them to prison.” And that’s what scattered them abroad. So here was a Jew of the Jews, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a man committed to a Pharisaic interpretation of the law, a man so zealous of his Judaism that he was slaughtering people who were not following properly in the path that he thought was the path of righteousness. He was breathing out threatenings and slaughters against the church, the Scripture says, and making havoc.

He was on his way to Damascus to see that Christians were persecuted there, when Christ blinded him for three days and began teaching him before restoring his sight. Afterwards:

He was then sent out to Nabatean Arabia, where for several years, he wandered in the wilderness receiving from the Lord preparation for ministry. He came back. The church was afraid of him, because they remembered his reputation. He was introduced to the church by Barnabas and he was accepted, and then became a pastor of a church in Antioch along with other men listed in chapter 13 of Acts verse 1. He was one of those pastors in Antioch. As you read further into the chapter, he along with Barnabas, another of those five pastors in Antioch, was separated for mission work. And in Acts 13 he then is sent to reach the world, the Gentile world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A remarkable man who in Galatians chapter 1 affirms that he did not receive his revelations, he did not receive his gospel, he did not receive his teaching from men. Nobody taught it to him, not even the apostles, but it was given him directly by Jesus Christ. Christ saved him; Christ called him into the ministry; and Christ gave him His revelation. It is this man who is writing the letter. This man with a strong Jewish heritage, a strong Pharisaic background, a zealot for the law, who is now an apostle of Christ Jesus by the commandment of God our Savior in Christ Jesus our hope. He is the one who writes.

MacArthur explains the word ‘apostle’, which is similar to emissary or ambassador:

It means one who is sent – one who is sent. In fact, Kenneth Wuest says the verb apostellō from which this noun comes means to send off one on a commission, to do something as one’s personal representative with credentials furnished. The simplest way to translate it would be envoy or ambassador, someone who goes on a mission bearing the credentials of the one who sent him. In its widest sense, an apostle could be anybody sent – anybody. It could be even a person sent as an ambassador or an envoy in a secular environment, in a political environment. In the widest sense it’s just a general word, meaning someone sent under commission with a mission to carry out.

In the New Testament sense, it is used of one who was an ambassador for Christ carrying the gospel.

MacArthur explains the difference between an Apostle of Christ, of which Paul was the thirteenth, and apostles of the church:

There are apostles in the New Testament beyond the Twelve who were sent with the message of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 8:23 they are called apostles of the churches, a very important term. In Philippians 2:25 Epaphroditus is called an apostle of the Philippians. So there are apostles in the very general sense of preachers who are articulate the gospel …

But there were twelve, with the addition of Matthias when Judas was disqualified, and then there was one other named Paul who are not apostles of the churches, but they are Apostles of Christ Jesus. And that is a unique designation which sets apart the Twelve plus Paul as unique apostles. We might say with a capital A. These men were different than the apostles of the churches. That is they were not sent by the churches. They were sent by Christ Himself. They were taught by Christ Himself, as Paul says of himself in Galatians 1:12. And that’s why here he says, “I am an apostle of Christ Jesus.” These men were called and chosen and sent personally by Jesus Christ. You’ll remember that the Twelve were chosen by Christ, that Paul was chosen by Christ. “A chosen vessel,” the Lord said to him, to bring light to the Gentiles. They not only were chosen and sent by Christ, but these apostles were witnesses of Christ personally, witnesses of His words and His deeds and His resurrection. You could not be an Apostle, with a capital A, unless you had seen the risen Christ. You say, did Paul see the risen Christ? Yes, he saw Him in glory on the Damascus Road, and he saw him two other times in exalted visions that God gave him. They were eye witnesses of the risen Christ.

Thirdly, these Apostles, with a capital A, were gifted uniquely by the Holy Spirit to impart divine truth. It was to them that Jesus said, “When the Spirit comes He will lead you into all truth . . . and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said unto you,” John 14:26 and John 15:26. So they were apostles who called, commissioned and sent by Christ, apostles who saw Christ, heard His words and saw Him after His resurrection, apostles uniquely gifted by Christ for the proclamation of divine truth through direct revelation.

And then finally, they were apostles who had the ability to cast out demons and heal the sick. They had the ability to do signs and wonders and mighty deeds which are called in 2 Corinthians 12 “the marks of an apostle.” And in Hebrews 2:3 and 4 they were able to do signs and wonders and manifest gifts of the Spirit as confirmation of the message they preached. In Ephesians 2:20 it calls them foundation. The church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. So Paul then, in simply giving this title – an apostle, would not tell us as much as we need to know, and so he adds an apostle not of the church but of Christ Jesus.

MacArthur points out that Paul refers to Christ Jesus rather than Jesus Christ:

Only in the ministry and teaching and writing of Paul do we find them in this order, Christ Jesus. Usually it’s the other way around. And there, I believe, is a reason for that. May I suggest to you that whenever you read James or Peter or John, it is always Jesus Christ. And it may well reflect the fact that for them their first acquaintance with Jesus was indeed as Jesus the man. It wasn’t until later that it became apparent to them that He was also the living incarnate Son of God. And the word Jesus is His earthly name – rom the Old Testament Joshua or Jehoshua which means Jehovah saves – but still it was His human name.

Then came Christ which is the name that is His name of Messiahship. It’s the word anointed. It speaks of Him as sovereign, as King, as Lord. It was not until later that the disciples who first knew Him as Jesus came to understand that He was Christ. But for Paul, the first time Paul ever met Him he met Him in His glorified state in a post-resurrection vision of glory, and so for Paul it is Christ and then it is to understand that that Christ whom he met was none other than the human Jesus. I don’t want to read too much into it, but it’s a nice demonstration of Paul’s perspective, and we find it only characteristic of Paul to reverse those.

Timothy already knew that Paul was an Apostle. However, Paul identifies himself as such and uses the words ‘by command’ in order to impress upon his protegé that he will have a lot of serious issues to resolve and that he must do so in a certain way:

And so to strengthen Timothy’s hand he affirms that this comes authoritatively from one who was commissioned not by a church but by Christ Jesus Himself – Christ Jesus Himself.

Now he’s not through with this affirmation. “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus” – now he gives us another strong statement about why he’s writing – “by the commandment of God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope unto Timothy.” Now he is not only an apostle by the commandment of God our Savior and Christ our hope, but he is writing by the commandment of God our Savior and Christ our hope. What he is really saying here is not only is my commission based upon God’s purpose, but my letter is also, so you better listen to what it said. It’s a strong word – a strong word. It’s as if he said, “I have a direct command from God and Christ to write this letter, Timothy. Now carry this out.” It puts a great burden on Timothy, it puts a great burden on the church who no doubt would have heard that letter read to them.

Now just a couple of notes. The word commandment here is epitagē and it refers to a royal commandment. It refers to the commandment from a monarch or a king which is not negotiable. It’s not an object for discussion. He is under orders from the sovereign of the universe. And now Timothy is under orders from the sovereign of the universe and so is the congregation to which Timothy carries out the ministry. Usually, and I think for many people who have studied 1 Timothy, this somehow gets overlooked. But usually Paul would refer to himself as Paul an apostle by the will of God. Doesn’t that sound familiar? By the will of God. And that’s true. Such as in 2 Timothy where that’s exactly what he says, “An apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God according to the promise of life,” and so forth. But here he doesn’t talk about the will of God and the promise of God. He talks about the commandment of God because there are some things that are in great disarray in this church. This church has been around long enough to have problems, false teaching, sin. And so he comes on very strong, speaking from commandments.

There is a specific reason why Paul links ‘God our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope’. Because of the deleterious influence of false teachers, some of the Ephesians doubted Christ’s deity:

And so what Paul is doing here, by saying God our Savior and Christ our hope, is linking Christ and God to the same essence, therefore articulating the deity of Jesus Christ. And I think that was very important at the outset because apparently it was under question among some of the people to whom Timothy ministered. Chapter 3 verse 16 he says, “And without controversy” – somehow in Ephesus there was some controversy about this. There was some discussion about this. But there shouldn’t be for – “great is the mystery of godliness that God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on the world and received up into glory.” That’s a creedal description of the work of Christ. Apparently there were some who were even attacking the deity of Christ, and there is a necessary reminder that there’s no controversy on that issue. God was manifest in the flesh. And so God our Savior and Christ our hope linked together the Father and the Son in common life. And that’s as it ought to be. As I’ve said, that is a ringing theme throughout the gospel record – those two are one …

And you can always find in false religious systems the denial of the deity of Jesus Christ. There must have been an aberrant Christology. There must have been an attack on the character of Christ.

Paul refers to God as Saviour, because other Ephesians believed false teachings about the Father being remote and permanently angry. They believed that Jesus calmed God’s wrath. The truth is that God always has been mankind’s Saviour from the beginning. It is important to point this out, because some churches today preach that same error:

Liberal theologians have many of them acquiesce to this view – that the God of the Old Testament is an angry, mad, vengeful, furious, wrathful God who wants to destroy everybody, but Jesus Christ came along and appeased Him. The idea that God is a God of anger and judgment and fury, and Christ is the loving gentle Savior who comes and appeases this angry God. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is our Savior and salvation began not with Christ but with – whom? – with God. It was God who master planned salvation from the very beginning – God our Savior.

That, by the way, is a very interesting phrase that appears only in the pastoral epistles. It is a unique phrase to the pastoral epistles, but is derived from the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament the designations are very clear that God is a Savior. And I don’t want to belabor the point but just to mention that repeatedly in the Old Testament the text of Scripture speaks about God saving, God reaching out in salvation. For example, were you to look at the Psalms – see if I can mention a couple that come to mind – Psalm 25:5, “Lead me in Thy truth and teach me. For Thou art the God of my salvation.” This is not foreign to God. This is God’s desire. “The Lord,” verse 1 of 27 says in the Psalms, “The Lord is my light and my” – what? – “salvation.” Verse 9 it says, “Thou hast been my help. Leave me not neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.” And Psalm 42, is it, verse 5, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God. For I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” In other words, God is a God of salvation. God is a God of grace. God is a God of deliverance. That the Old Testament makes abundantly clear

Now there may have been some reason among the Ephesians for Paul to say this. There may have been some who were teaching that God was not interested in salvation. That also kind of makes sense, because of chapter 2 verse 3, it says there in 1 Timothy, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who will have all men to be” – what? – “saved.” So there may also have been – it’s very difficult, and I might as well say this at the beginning, it’s very difficult to reconstruct the error in the Ephesian church to which Paul writes. We really can’t – we can’t get a handle on it. It’s very elusive. It has Jewish elements and it also has Hellenistic or Greek elements. Some kind of false religion was moving through that congregation and threatening the church. And of course Ephesus was a flag-ship church, sort of leading all the other churches of Asia Minor, and it was important to keep it corrected. But it must have been that somewhere along the line there was some questioning about whether God was really Savior, because it’s repeated by Paul. The only place he ever uses it, as I said, is in the pastoral epistles. It must have been of some issue. So God is our Savior. By the way, chapter 1 verse 11 emphasizes it in other terminology, “According to the glorious good news from the blessed God.” Again emphasizing that God has given us the good news …

So apparently there were some errorists, some false teachers, some heretics in this church that Timothy was laboring with, and they were wanting to rob the church of salvation. They were defining a God who was not a Savior. Maybe it was an incipient Gnosticism where God was a distant being who started everything and was far off and didn’t care, and there were a series of emanating sub-gods off of Him through which we would try to go and get some appeasement, and Jesus was one who would go to this angry indifferent God and sort of appease Him and make things better for us. Whatever it was, we really can’t label it, there must have been some who were attacking the very essence of God’s redeeming love and some who also were attacking the character and deity and work of Jesus Christ.

MacArthur explains ‘Christ Jesus our hope’:

God our Savior; that’s past tense; that’s the source. Christ our hope; that’s the future promise. God designed the plan, and Christ brought it to pass, and He is our hope. The reason we can hope in the future is because of what Christ has done. Right? Our future hope is tied to Jesus Christ. The salvation that God planned and God designed is realized in Christ Jesus through His death and resurrection. He has become our hope for future glory. In Philippians chapter 3 verse 20, “Our citizenship is in heaven from which also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We’re looking for Him to come and change our vile bodies and make it like His glorious body. He’s our hope – He’s our hope. Colossians 1:27 says, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” First John 3:2, “When we see Him we’ll be like Him. And whoever has this hope purifies himself.”

MacArthur summarises the verse:

the very issues of salvation are at stake in this letter. So the letter comes then with a heavy emphasis on authority because there has to be an understanding among those people that this letter is coming from one who was commissioned by God and Christ and one who is writing by the direct will of God and Christ to speak to issues which are at stake in that church.

MacArthur gives us a history of the church in Ephesus, a happy story with a sad ending. Satan is never far away:

isn’t it sad to think about the fact that here we are about the middle of the sixties, about 64 A.D., we’re about 30 years away from the death of Jesus Christ, and already inside the church there are those who would deny the loving, redeeming, saving plan of God and the deity of Jesus Christ? This is 30 years after His death, and already that’s not outside the church, that’s in the church. And who do you think brought it in? Take a wild guess. That’s the work of the adversary. And so we learn what Paul learned very early, and especially working with the Ephesian church, which he had warned already earlier before this was ever written, that when I leave you’re going to have problems. Remember that in Acts 20? Perverse men are going to rise from within you. Wolves are going to come in and try to mess you up. “I know it will happen as soon as I leave,” he said. “And I commend you to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up. I know what will happen.” And sure enough, he left and it happened. And it happened so extensively that by the nineties when John wrote the Revelation, the letter to Ephesus was that you for all intents and purposes have left your first – what? – love. The Ephesian church became the victim of error initially, and then apparently it got its act together under Timothy, corrected the error and then became a victim of apathy and indifference.

And it’s an old story, beloved, the enemy will work on the church in whatever way the church will allow it. If the enemy cannot corrupt the theology, the enemy will bring apathy. And here we have a chronolog of this Ephesian church. First this a glowing and exciting and thrilling church in its beginnings. It becomes the church to which Paul gives three years of his life to lay the foundations. The church to which he gives Timothy for oversight and leadership among its already established leaders at this particular time. But in the process of moving from the ministry of Paul till the time that Timothy has come there, in those very few years, maybe ten or twelve years at the most, the church has already reached a place where heresy is filling the place. Timothy apparently was able to set that right. And in a few years after that, the church has become totally apathetic and lost its first love. It’s a frightening thing to think about. But the reason the New Testament gives us these letters is so that we can continually be correcting the same things that will always exist in the life of the church.

Paul addresses his letter to Timothy, ‘my true child in the faith’ (verse 2).

MacArthur discusses Timothy’s early life, having been brought up by two godly Jewish ladies, Lois and Eunice:

Timothy means one who honors God. It’s a beautiful name – one who honors God or he who honors God. No doubt it was given to him by his mother and grandmother who must have been devout Jews, because according to 2 Timothy they taught him the Scriptures from a child. I believe that it’s most likely his father who was a pagan, who was a Greek not a Jew, was not a Christian, not a believer, and may well have been dead at this particular time. But it’s certainly not a factor in Timothy’s spiritual progress. The factors were his mother and grandmother and perhaps they had named him ‘he who honors God’ wishing with all their hearts that he would indeed live up to his name, which in fact he did. His grandmother’s name was Lois, according to 2 Timothy 1:5, and his mother’s name was Eunice, and they had carefully and faithfully taught him the Word of God. In fact in 2 Timothy 3:15, “From a child you have known the holy Scripture.” So they gave him a name of great, great significance.

It is likely that Timothy was 15 when he met Paul and 35 when he received this letter:

This marvelous man, Timothy, who was with Paul for up to 20 years from the time of his conversion as a man in his late teens to the time of about 35 years of age when he’s receiving this letter. All of that time he’s been with Paul in some kind of ministry with the exception of the time that he sort of seems to disappear during Paul’s imprisonment. He was left behind at Berea with Silas when Paul escaped to Athens and later joined Paul there. In due time he came to Athens in Acts 18. He was sent as Paul’s emissary to Macedonia in Acts 19. He was there when the collection from the churches was being taken to Jerusalem with Paul in Acts 20. He was with Paul in Corinth when he wrote his letter to Rome. He was Paul’s emissary to Corinth when there was trouble in the church, as I read you in the fourth chapter of 1 Corinthians. He was with Paul when he wrote 2 Corinthians. It was Timothy who went to see how things were going in Thessalonica, and he was with Paul when he wrote the letter to that Thessalonian church. He was with Paul in prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. He was with Paul when he wrote the Colossians. He was with Paul when he wrote Philemon. He was constantly with him, a beloved disciple. The son of a Jewish mother, a son of a Greek father, he was a perfect companion. He had the Jewish heritage to have access into the synagogue where Paul always began his ministry. He had the Gentile background to understand the culture and be accepted by the Gentiles as well. He was a unique and marvelous tool of God.

MacArthur says that Paul also cherished Titus as an evangelist, but Timothy was even more like him:

out of all this group, the group of those who were the direct products of his evangelism and those who were the indirect products, those who were redeemed before he ever met them, out of all of this group there are only two people that he calls ‘true child in the faith.’ Now that is not necessarily to say there were no others, but there were two that he branded as his true children in the faith, they were true replicas of his life and character and ministry. One is Timothy which we note here in 1 Timothy 1:2, “my true child in the faith.” And the other is Titus. And in Titus chapter 1 and verse 4, Paul writes to Titus, “true child after the common faith.”

Now there’s a reason that there are two epistles written by Paul to these two men; they were key men in Paul’s life. There are reasons why Paul put Timothy in charge of the work at Ephesus. There are reasons why Paul put Titus in charge of the work on the island of Crete. And the reason is because he was greatly concerned about both works, and because he couldn’t be there himself, he wanted one who would be an exact replica of himself in that place. And these two were indeed replicas of Paul.

Now of the two, Timothy and Titus, one stands out uniquely as apparently most reflective of Paul, and that would be Timothy. We learn that from two passages of Scripture. The first is in Philippians chapter 2, and Paul says in verse 19, “I trust” – writing to the church at Philippi – “I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly to you.” I’m going to send you Timothy. Why? Verse 20, “Because I have no man like-minded.” Now what he means to say there is there’s nobody like me like Timothy is like me. I have nobody that is as much like me as he’s like me. And I want to send him because, “He will naturally care for your state.” In other words, he will do for you what I would do for you.

And then in verse 21 that rather sad and pensive statement of Paul, “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” What a heartbreak. I’m looking around at the people I’ve invested myself in and I can only find one who is like me and the rest are seeking their own things, not really open to the things of Jesus Christ as they ought to be. “But you know the evidence” – or the proof – “of him” – you know Timothy – “that as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. It’s him therefore that I hope to send.” Isn’t that a marvelous testimony to the character of this young man? Now by the time he writes 1 Timothy, Timothy has been with Paul nearly 20 years, so he really is a product. He really is marked by the Pauline identification.

In 1 Corinthians we have another passagePaul was greatly concerned about the Corinthian church much earlier in his ministry than the writing of 1 Timothy. But even that concern much earlier in his ministry brought him to the place where he wanted to send Timothy. This would be as much as ten years before the writing of 1 Timothy. And even then Timothy was already a product. And so in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul expresses his deep concern and then in verse 17 says, “Because of this” – because I’m so concerned about you – “I have sent you Timothy, who is my beloved son and faithful in the Lord” – and here it comes – “who shall bring you in to remembrance of my ways which are in Christ.” In other words, “He’ll remind you of me.” So the Philippians he says, “I sent Timothy because he’s like me.” To the Corinthians he says, “I’m sending Timothy because he’ll remind you of me.” That is a true child. And that beloved, is what any man of God or woman of God would love to reproduce. You love to have someone who can go and represent you and be you in another place. And so Timothy was more like Paul than anybody else. And he then is addressed as such in this wonderful opening of the epistle.

This is where we are in Paul’s life:

The Apostle Paul has been released from his first imprisonment. The book of Acts ended with him in prison. I believe he was released from that. Upon that release he goes back to some of the key churches and one of them is the church at Ephesus which was such a part of his life, where he for three years had been the pastor himself, the church out of which were founded all the other churches of Asia Minor. He went back to that church, and when he got there he found an unimaginable thing. He found apostates among the elders, heretics among the leaders. And so according to chapter 1 verse 20, he had to throw them out and deliver them over to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. So he did a little purging himself. Then he left. And chapter 1 verse 3 says he went to Macedonia, because he had to go on and visit some other churches, but chapter 1 verse 3 says he left Timothy in Ephesus. And so when he writes to Timothy here, his true child in the faith, he is writing to him in Ephesus. And Timothy is there to counteract the effect of these false teachers and false elders and false leaders.

… And consequently it’s not long after Paul, having left Timothy in Ephesus and traveled to Macedonia, stops and writes back to Timothy and writes this letter to strengthen him and encourage him and tell him what he needs to do and give him some clout to do it with. And almost at the same time – he wrote Titus before he wrote 2 Timothy – and gave Titus very similar instruction who was also another child in the faith who was maintaining Paul’s profile in Crete.

And as we all know, these are the pastoral epistles because they are written to men who are setting in order the things in the church and they are the swan-song of the Apostle Paul’s life and ministry. These are the last things he writes. He writes 1 Timothy, then Titus, then back to 2 Timothy, and the Lord takes him to heaven.

Paul was martyred in Rome.

Before returning to Timothy, Paul gives Timothy a special blessing in verse 2, one not only of grace and peace, but one that also includes mercy from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Henry’s commentary says that mercy is essential in ministry:

Some have observed that whereas in all the epistles to the churches the apostolical benediction is grace and peace, in these two epistles to Timothy and that to Titus it is grace, mercy, and peace: as if ministers had more need of God’s mercy than other men. Ministers need more grace than others, to discharge their duty faithfully; and they need more mercy than others, to pardon what is amiss in them: and if Timothy, so eminent a minister, must be indebted to the mercy of God, and needed the increase and continuance of it, how much more do we ministers, in these times, who have so little of his excellent spirit!

MacArthur tells us why Paul addressed Timothy as ‘my true child in the faith’:

he identifies Timothy as gnēsios teknon – true child, genuine child. And I believe he says that in order to point out the contrast between Timothy and some of the other leaders who were not genuine and were not reflective of Paul’s doctrine or character. So true child in the faith is not an arbitrary title but it is one that sets Timothy apart from the less than genuine, less than true, less than legitimate, hypocritical, apostate, false leaders and teachers that were influencing the church.

So Timothy’s genuineness is introduced at the beginning so that the church will know that in the eyes of Paul this is the standard, this is the model, this is the pattern, this is what everyone else is to be measured by, the character and life and teaching and ministry of Timothy, who is reflective of Paul as the child of Paul. So the emphasis is this is a son of Paul more so than an emphasis on the son of God aspect, although of course Timothy is both. He then is the living test of genuineness. And if the people want to know what a leader is, be he true or false, they need only to measure that leader against Timothy.

MacArthur sets out five characteristics of a true child of the faith, which are excerpted below. His sermons have much more detail:

Let’s look at the first one. A true child of the faith is initially identified by saving faith. In other words, we all realize that you can’t be a genuine child of the faith unless you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are redeemed. So salvation is the beginning. Timothy was genuinely saved. And that’s very basic but very important, because this church had people who apparently were not saved …

You say, well how did Paul lead Timothy to Christ? Well, we don’t have a direct word on that, but if you go back to Acts chapter 14 and start reading about verse 6 and read to verse 25you’ll read the story of Paul going in to the area of Galatia. Galatia was a south-central province in Asia Minor. And within Galatia there was a little town under Roman rule called Lystra. It was one of many towns, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, all in the same area of Asia Minor. Today it would be modern Turkey. And when Paul went to Lystra, there was a man there who couldn’t walk. And so this man came and had faith to believe so Paul says to him, “Stand up and walk.” And the guy starts jumping around and running and leaping …

… And all this was going on in the public square. No doubt Timothy and his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, were there. And I believe that it was at the preaching of Paul and the wonderful things that happened in that place that they were converted. And most Bible scholars do believe that as well.

I wrote about those verses several years ago here and here. In my description for Acts 14:19-23, I wrote:

The next day, Paul and Barnabas set off for Derbe, which Matthew Henry wrote was the home town of Timothy, although his name did not feature in these verses.

Having made many converts there, Paul and Barnabas (perhaps Timothy, too) returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to support the respective congregations and appoint elders by congregational election for every local church. They also prayed and fasted over their choices, committing them to the Lord.

MacArthur says:

Timothy then followed on with a baptism in which he gave a marvelous profession of his faith in Christ, and I believe it wasn’t long after that that hands were laid upon him – in chapter 16 no doubt, hands were laid upon him as the Word of God came through a prophet that he was called of God to be in the ministry. Hands were laid on him by the elders that Paul had ordained in Acts 14, and Timothy was commissioned to the ministry, and off he went to serve Christ as a companion of the Apostle Paul. So his faith was real.

You can read more about that event as well as Eunice and Lois here.

MacArthur continues:

The second thing that marks true children of the faith, true disciples, is continuing obedience. Not only saving faith but continuing obedience. It is a given, folks, and I don’t need to belabor the point, that the New Testament outlines the fact that true believers have a pattern of obedience …

Timothy had it. And there were some there that didn’t …

Then very briefly a third thing, we’ll just introduce, humble service – humble service. A true child of the faith, a true product is a servant.

… Timothy was a true child in the faith because he was marked out by humble service.

He was a standard. He was humble. Back in chapter 1 verse 3, we have a little note there that Paul had left him in Ephesus. And he stayed willingly. It’s a small thing but we just are reminded of that. Do you know what happened when Paul took him in Acts 16, gathered him to go with him and travel, what did he do to him first? Remember that? Acts 16:3, he circumcised him. Now that’s a difficult thing for a man just before his twenties to go through, but he did that. He had a humble heart. And Paul felt that he because he had a Jewish mother but a Gentile father and had not been circumcised, he might have some difficulty being accepted by the Jews. And Paul’s strategy was to go to the synagogue and the Jews, and he wanted Timothy to have as much access as possible so he asked that he be circumcised and Timothy was anxious and willing to do that.

And he served the Apostle Paul – I wish we had time to chronicle all of the things that he did for Paul, but he served him – really by the time of the writing of 1 Timothy it’s nearly 20 years that he has served alongside the Apostle Paul. He went on important missions to Thessalonica and Corinth. He accompanied Paul on his last trip to Jerusalem. He was by his side in his imprisonment, and now he’s with him after his imprisonment, humbling serving on his behalf in Ephesus. He was a real servant. In chapter 4 verse 14 he was given a gift, confirmed through prophetic utterance and affirmed by the laying on of the hands of the elders. He was anointed as a servant and he turned out indeed to be a true servant, a true servant, serving faithfully the Apostle Paul. And it wasn’t easy, and he stumbled. And by the time Paul writes 2 Timothy, he’s really going through some struggles, trying to hold his ground. It wasn’t easy. But he was a genuine servant with a humble heart. And in Romans 16:21 Paul calls him, “Timothy, my fellow worker.”

MacArthur has two more characteristics to cover:

There’s a fourth of the marks that mark Timothy, and I think it’s so important throughout this epistle, and that is this: his genuineness was marked by sound doctrine

The mark of a genuine child of Paul would be one who taught sound doctrine, contrasted to the false teachers. So, the true child of faith has saving faith, continued obedience, humble service, and sound doctrine. I don’t believe for a moment that Paul ever would have left Timothy there if he hadn’t have been a teacher of sound doctrine. If anything is representative of Paul, it is that …

And there’s one other, a fifth, that is so vital: courageous conviction. I really believe that the movers and the shakers in the spiritual dimension are those who have great conviction …

Now, many in Ephesus lacked the courage of conviction. They were compromisers …

Timothy was to be that uncompromising, strong man of God. Over in chapter 4, verse 3, he says – verse – chapter 4, verse 13, rather – he says, “Keep reading, keep teaching, keep exhorting. Don’t neglect the gift. Meditate on these things” – verse 15 – “give yourself wholly unto them.” And verse 16: “Take heed to yourself, and the doctrine; continue in them.” In other words, what you teach, and what you are; be an example of the believers; all of that. In chapter 6, verse 20: “Keep what’s committed to your trust, Timothy.”

MacArthur tells us that Timothy died a martyr — in Ephesus, no less:

By the way, tradition says Timothy was killed in Ephesus – later on, 97 A.D. – for opposing the vile perversions of idolatry in the cult of Diana. He was a man of courage, who had great boldness in the faith, which is in Jesus Christ. This is the man to whom Paul writes this great epistle. And may I say to you, this is the man and the woman that God wants us to be? Marked by saving faith, continuing obedience, humble service, sound teaching, courageous conviction.

That would have been around the time John wrote Revelation.

The church in Ephesus is no more and hasn’t existed for centuries.

In next week’s verses, Paul discusses the destructive effect of false teaching on the congregation.

Next time — 1 Timothy 1:3-7


bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.


16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s prayer request for his ministry, the threat of evil men with no faith, the constancy of the Lord in protecting His faithful from Satan and the Apostle’s statement of confidence in the Thessalonians’ Christian journey.

As he closes his second of two letters to the congregation, he gives general reminders, particularly about the importance of work (emphases mine):

Warning Against Idleness

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.[d]

Paul has a message for those in Thessalonica who are hard working and supporting the church: do not weary in doing good (verse 13).

John MacArthur says:

When I first read it, I thought, “Well, what does this have to do with anything?” and then as I thought, I saw it.  “But as for you, brethren” – that’s the rest, those of you that are working, those of you that are having to pay for these people, having to pass out your money and give them food – “the rest of you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”  You see, the potential was they would become so tired of these deadbeats, they’d become so fed up with giving this money and this charity to these lazy people, that they would become very weary of the whole process, and then when somebody came with a real need, they would be indifferent to it So he’s saying, “Look, don’t you grow weary of doing what is really good.”  The assumption is they were weary of taking care of these people who should have been taking care of themselves, and he says don’t let your weariness translate over to weariness in doing what you really should do, doing what is good.  Kalos is the term that’s attached to the verb there.  It means what is perceived by others to be noble, so says Milligan in his lexicon.  What is perceived to be noble.  Do what is noble. 

You go back to the Psalms and you’re going to find out over and over again that we’re to take care of the poor and that when you take care of the poor, God will bless you.  Go back to Proverbs, you’re going to find the same thing.  Go back to Isaiah, go to Luke chapter 14 verses 12 to 14, and what does Jesus say?  When you have a dinner, when you have a reception, don’t invite the wealthy people who are going to reciprocate, invite the blind and the lame and the halt and the maimed and the poor who can never pay you back, and God will pay you back in eternity in the resurrection.  Take care of the poor. 

Matthew Henry’s commentary has a more uplifting message about the verse:

He exhorts those that did well not to be weary in well-doing (v. 13); as if he had said, “Go on and prosper. The Lord is with you while you are with him. See that whatever you do, that is good, you persevere therein. Hold on your way, and hold out to the end. You must never give over, nor tire in your work. It will be time enough to rest when you come to heaven, that everlasting rest which remains for the people of God.

Paul has strong words about those who refuse to obey the content of his letter: the congregation should take note of that person and, effectively, shun them so as to shame him into obedience (verse 14).

Paul really wanted everyone in the congregation to earn their own way. There were cultural reasons why people didn’t work. The Greeks considered work a punishment from the gods. Even though the people Paul wrote about were Christians, old habits die hard. There was also another group who thought that the Second Coming was imminent; therefore, they questioned the need to work when Jesus could be returning at any moment.

MacArthur says that:

they perhaps have been influenced by some of the Jewish background of the scribes who thought that anything other than studying the law was an unworthy way to spend your life.  They surely were affected by the general Greek attitude that work was demeaning and sordid and base and low and belonged only to slaves and not to freemen. 

And they probably had had those predispositions somewhat exaggerated by virtue of the fact that someone had come along and told them that they were already in the day of the Lord and the return of Christ was imminent and there probably wasn’t much use in doing anything other than evangelizing and studying the Word of God.  And so they had given themselves to that happily because of their disdain for work anyway Problem was, at least long term, if you can call several months long term for the Thessalonians in that Paul had dealt with it when he was there.  Several months later, when he wrote them the first letter, he dealt with it, and here he is writing a second letter and dealing with it a third time They didn’t want to work.  It was beneath them. 

MacArthur explains Paul’s reasoning:

Not only does disfellowship, example, survival, and harmony constitute a motive for going to work, but shame.  Look at verse 14.  “If anyone doesn’t obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him so that he may be put to shame.”  If anybody doesn’t obey the instruction in this letter, I’m telling you, they are really obstinate.  He said it over and over again when he was there.  He wrote it a couple of times in the first letter.  He’s now saying it again, and if these people don’t obey this instruction, you take special note of that man.  Mark him out.  Give him serious attention.  Keep on noticing that person.  Keep your eye on that person for the purpose of not associating with him.  Watch him so that you can avoid him.  Stay away from him. 

Withdraw your fellowship, a double compound verb meaning do not get mixed up with.  Put the pressure of isolation.  Only this time, you’re pushing him further.  This continues to be that third step of discipline where you’re isolating him but your isolation is keeping him at a distance.  You take note, you watch the pattern, and you avoid the man in order that he may be put to shame.  Now you’ve gone beyond just his isolation, you’re trying to make him feel shame.  That’s a distasteful word.  Literally in the Greek it means to turn on yourself, to feel what you really are.  Let him see what he really is, a wicked, disobedient, recalcitrant sinner.  Shame him because he won’t work. 

Can you imagine someone saying that today, especially on social media? The Conservative MP Lee Anderson ventured partially into that territory on food banks last year and got hammered for it. He also said that those visiting his local food bank in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, had to sign up for courses on budgeting and cooking in order to continue to use it. He’s been there and done it as a single father, so he knows whereof he speaks, but that didn’t matter. St Paul would have backed him up, that’s for sure.

Henry is gentler, yet no less firm on the censure:

The directions of the apostle are carefully to be observed in our conduct towards disorderly persons. We must be very cautious in church-censures and church-discipline. We must, First, Note that man who is suspected or charged with not obeying the word of God, or walking contrary thereto, that is, we must have sufficient proof of his fault before we proceed further. We must, Secondly, Admonish him in a friendly manner; we must put him in mind of his sin, and of his duty; and this should be done privately (Matt 18 15); then, if he will not hear, we must, Thirdly, Withdraw from him, and not keep company with him, that is, we must avoid familiar converse and society with such, for two reasons, namely, that we may not learn his evil ways; for he who follows vain and idle persons, and keeps company with such, is in danger of becoming like them. Another reason is for the shaming, and so the reforming, of those that offend, that when idle and disorderly persons see how their loose practices are disliked by all wise and good people they may be ashamed of them, and walk more orderly.

Paul says that the shunned person should not be considered an enemy but rather as a brother in need of correction (verse 15).

Henry says there is always hope that such a person can mend his errant ways:

if they be reclaimed and reformed by these censures, they will recover their credit and comfort, and right to church-privileges as brethren.

MacArthur goes further, citing Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

No matter what the sin is, it’s the same things that should motivate.  The threat of losing the fellowship with other believers, the fact that you have not followed the holy example of those who have walked before you, even the issue of survival – because you can die from continued sin, some Corinthians did – and certainly the idea of harmony, you’re disrupting and ripping and tearing the unity of the church, and certainly shame, you should feel guilt and shame, and certainly love should call you back as those who are in the body of Christ and are your brothers and sisters woo you.  And so this is how we deal with any believer in any pattern of sin. 

And if they resist this, then you can treat them like an enemy.  Then you can turn them over to Satan.  Then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, “I don’t want you to have any fellowship with them, I don’t even want you to eat with them.”  I want you to turn them out totally.  But here, Paul, one more time, for the third time in three steps, is pleading with the church to call them back. 

Paul concludes with his benediction, his prayer of blessing, to the Thessalonians.

He prays that the Lord of peace himself gives the Thessalonians peace at all times, in every way and that the Lord be with them all (verse 16).

MacArthur explains that Paul wants to ensure they know they have to rely on the Triune God, not themselves:

This is the fourth time he has had, what we would call, a prayer wish, a benediction, in which he expresses the desire of his heart.  It’s almost as if he can only go so far and he’s got this uncapped desire to ask God to enable them to do what he says.  And every so often the praying just bursts forth.  He goes a little while in chapter 1 and then prays for God’s enabling, a little while in chapter 2 and prays for God’s enabling, and twice he does it in chapter 3.  You see, he understands that no matter what you know as a Christian, you don’t pull it off on your own You must be aided by the Lord, you must lean on His resources.  And so in this last simple little closing section Paul calls on divine resources.  He calls on personal blessings from the Lord to enable the Thessalonians, and all the rest of us, to respond to what he has taught.  And he really is speaking about four things that we need.  We need the Lord’s peace.  We need the Lord’s strength.  We need the Lord’s truth.  And we need the Lord’s grace.  And all four of them are in those three little verses; the Lord’s peace, strength, truth and grace …

First of all then he prays or wishes for their experience of God’s peace, verse 16, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace.”  The first two words, “now may” mark a transition.  The word “now” is transitional.  He’s moving from command and exhortation to petition and to prayer.  He is now turning to the Lord.  He is expressing not the prayer itself but the wish in his heart that shows up when he prays.  And his wish is for them to experience peace, peace.  He’s asking for what God has already promised, for God has promised His own peace and strength and truth and grace.  It isn’t that he is asking something that God gives reluctantly or not at all.  In fact, prayer really is asking God for what it is His will to give.  Prayer really is lining up with what God has promised to do.  He recognizes that God has promised His people peace and strength and truth and grace.  And he pleads for God to fulfill His promise.  He lines himself up with what God has expressed as His own intention and purpose.  His first request is for that lovely, that most sought after, that most evasive and that most elusive reality called peace.

We hear and read the word ‘peace’ all the time, so much so that it has lost its meaning.

Here Paul writes of an inner peace that only God can give each one of us. He can only give us that peace when we are reconciled to Him as believers through Jesus Christ.

MacArthur says:

We’re talking about a spiritual peace.  And spiritual peace — the true, deep-down peace — is the attitude of the heart and mind that calmly, confidently believes and thus knows that all is well between the soul and God That’s the peace we’re talking about.  It’s that confidence that everything is right between myself and God and He is lovingly in control of my life in time and eternity.  It is the presence of a calm assurance built on the knowledge that my sins are forgiven, God is concerned with my well-being and heaven is ahead.  It’s a deep-down peace. It has nothing to do with what anybody says to you, it has nothing to do with what anybody does to you, or doesn’t do to you, it has nothing to do with any circumstance in life whatsoever.  It is the peace that God gives to His beloved children.  It is their possession and their privilege by right.

This peace is defined for us in several ways in verse 16.  First of all, it is divine.  “Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace.”  The Lord of peace is the one who gives it.  He is the one who grants it.  “Himself,” by the way, that pronoun is emphatic in the sentence and it’s emphasizing His personal involvement in this.  “Himself, the Lord of peace, may He give you peace.”  May God, the Lord, personally give it to you because it comes personally from Him.  It is the very essence of His nature.

To say it simply, peace is an attribute of God I don’t know if you think of it that way, you think of God being characterized by attributes of grace, and mercy and justice and righteousness and wisdom and truth and omnipotence and immutability and eternality and whatever. But do you ever think of God as being characteristically peace?  He is peace.  Whatever it is that He gives us He has and He is.  God is love, we don’t argue about that.  And God is also peace.  He has no lack of perfect peace in His being.  God is at all times at perfect peace.  There’s no stress.  God is never stressed.  God is never in anxiety. God never worries, God never doubts, and God never fears. God is never at discord with Himself.  He is never at cross purposes, it’s never so that He can’t make up His mind.  He is never troubled.  He is never indecisive.  He is never unclear.  He is never unsure.  He is never threatened.

God lives in perfect calm, God lives in perfect tranquility, God lives in perfect contentment.  Why?  Because He’s in charge of everything and He can operate everything perfectly according to His own will exactly the way He wants it all the time.  There is nothing in the entire universe that goes on that He doesn’t know about and there is nothing in the entire universe that can withstand His purposes.  He knows there are no surprises for His omniscience.  There are no unknowns to His omnipresence.  There are no changes, no doubts, no fears.  Even His wrath is clear, controlled, calm, and confident.  There are no threats to His omnipotence.  There is no possible sin that can stain His holiness. There is no sinner who can appear before Him who is beyond His grace.  There is no threat to His immutable plan.  There is no guilt in His mind. There is no shame in His mind. There is no regret in His mind for He has never done anything, said anything, or thought anything that He would in any way change.

He enjoys perfect and eternal harmony within Himself.  He therefore is peace.  And here He is called “the Lord of peace,” the Lord of the peace, literally, the definite article is there.  The peace, not the kind the world has, but the real peace, the divine kind.  He is peace, He is the source of peace.  And what Paul wants is that the Lord of peace would give His kind of peace.  If you look at the Trinity you find that it’s clear in Scripture that every member of the Trinity is peace and gives peace.  First Thessalonians 5:23 says, “The God of peace,” so does Romans 15:33, Romans 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Philippians 4:9, and Hebrews 13:20, a common name for God, the God of peace.  He is the author of peace.  First Corinthians 14:33 says, “He is not the author of confusion but of peace.”  He is peace, the originator, the source and the author of it.

The second member of the Trinity, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ is here called “the Lord of peace.”  Interestingly enough at the end of 1 Thessalonians Paul refers to the God of peace, here to the Lord of peace, both the first and second member of the trinity equally being God, equally being Lord, equally being the source of peace Ephesians 2:14 says, “Christ who is our peace.”  He is called in Scripture “the prince of peace.”  He is peace.  He is the source of peace.  Colossians 1:20, He has made peace.

Also the Holy Spirit is the source of peace. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.  Romans 14:17 says the kingdom is peace in the Holy Spirit.

So, God is peace.  It is that divine peace possessed by the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — that Paul wants us to have, that well-being that is deep-down settled and confident that all is well with God.

Divine peace is a free gift from God, one that He bestows on the truly faithful:

… we learn that it’s not only divine but it is a gift.  “Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you peace.”  The word “grant” is the verb to give.  It speaks of a gift.  It is a sovereign gracious gift from the Trinity, bestowed on those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a gift from God.

In Psalm 85, a wonderful verse, verse 8, you might not read this verse and think about it, but in Psalm 85:8 I read it to you because it ought to be kept in mind. “I will hear what God the Lord will say, for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones.”  God grants peace to those who belong to Him.

This is so much a part of the New Testament.  Start at Romans some time and read it in the first chapter of each of the letters: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Philemon, go into 2 John, and as you read you’ll find in all of those epistles peace, peace, peace given to God’s people.  Sometimes it says grace and peace.  Peace is a gift from the Lord.  It is given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ and an example of that, you remember, in John 20 as he walked in the upper room to meet His disciples He said, “Peace be unto you,” in verse 19.  In verse 21 He said, “Peace be unto you,” and again in verse 26, “Peace be unto you.”  He was the giver of peace.  It’s as if the Father authored peace, the Son purchased peace, and then gives it to us now in this age through His Holy Spirit

There’s a third element in what he says and that is that this peace is not only divine and a gift but it is always available.  “May the Lord of peace Himself continually give you peace.”  By throwing the word “continually” in there, he is affirming that it is constantly available.  This is not presumptuous as if God can only give it intermittently. He knows it’s always available.  And he says, “I want God to give it to you all the time.”

Henry addresses the second half of verse 16, about the Lord’s presence:

That the presence of God might be with them: The Lord be with you all. We need nothing more to make us safe and happy, nor can we desire any thing better for ourselves and our friends, than to have God’s gracious presence with us and them. This will be a guide and guard in every way that we may go, and our comfort in every condition we may be in. It is the presence of God that makes heaven to be heaven, and this will make this earth to be like heaven. No matter where we are if God be with us, nor who is absent if God be with us, nor who is absent if God be present with us.

So that the Thessalonians know the letter is authentic, Paul writes his greeting in his own handwriting (verse 17). He would have dictated the rest of his letter to someone else to write.

MacArthur explains that false teachers sometimes sent not only the Thessalonians but also other of Paul’s congregations counterfeit letters:

Back in chapter 2, look at verse 2 for a moment.  Somebody had come along and told them some lies .. And they lied to them about the Day of the Lord.  This was a false teacher.  But in order to make his lies believable, the middle of verse 2 says, he had “a letter as if from us,” to the effect that the Day of the Lord has come In other words, to be believable, the false teacher said, “I’ve got a letter from Paul,” and he was waving around this thing, “this is my letter from Paul.”  And Paul realized he had to deal with this. And I guess he hadn’t really faced this before.  But when he wrote the first epistle it probably came to his attention that people were, one, not accepting it as from him That became a reality soon and is still a reality today.  You still have people today who want to deny that Paul wrote his letters.  But there were…there are those people who would say, “Nah, nah, that’s not from Paul, we don’t accept that as authoritative.”  If they didn’t like what it said they wouldn’t accept it as authoritative.

Well, Paul hadn’t…hadn’t really faced that until he wrote a letter.  So he wrote 1 Thessalonians and now he becomes very much aware that people are going to deny his authorship. Secondly, they’re going to forge letters that aren’t written by him as if they were and therefore they’re going to take truth away from the church and they’re going to add lies to the church and confuse the church.  Well he’s so burdened that they get the truth that what he says to them at the end of this letter is to seal the fact that this is indeed his own letter, he has written it.  He says, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” He’s dictated the letter, as was his custom.  And he comes to the very end and he takes the pen away from his amanuensis or his secretary and with his own hands he says, “I am writing this greeting with my own hand and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter.”  From now on, every single letter that comes from me is going to have something I have personally written with my own hand at the end, and then he adds, “This is the way I write.”  You can tell whether it’s authentic because it’s going to have my writing, which is inimitable.  We still do that.  We authenticate documents today by a signature.

And what is he saying?  He’s saying I am very concerned that you have the truth of God.  There’s a lot more to come.  I mean, you’ve got two letters. You’re going to be exposed before this deal is over to more of them from me, to some from John, to some from Peter, to some from Jude, to one from James.  And you need to know all of that is the truth of God.  I don’t want any doubt about mine and so I’m going to sign off every time like this.  The only time he deviates from that in the future is in the book of Philemon which apparently, according to Philemon 19, he wrote all in his own handwriting and didn’t dictate it in any part.  And perhaps Galatians, according to chapter 6 verse 11, he may have written the whole of the letter to the Galatians as well.  But always his own inimitable handwriting was there because he was so consumed with the fact that God’s people needed to have the revealed truth and not be confused about what was authentic He was the inspired instrument of truth and God wanted His people to have truth.  And Paul could say with John, he had no greater joy than to see his children walk in the truth.  He wanted them to have the truth.  He knew they needed it.  And so he throws in this which also expresses his wish for them to have the truth and to know it is the truth.

He was very concerned about that.  In Romans chapter 9 and verse 1, “I am telling the truth,” he says.  In 1 Timothy chapter 2 and verse 7, “And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, I am telling the truth, I am not lying.”  And why does he say that?  Well, because there were people who were denying him.  In chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians verse 10, “As the truth of Christ is in me,” and he goes on.  He was concerned about people knowing he spoke the truth.  God is a God of truth, He is the only true God, He is the God who cannot lie.  And Christ is His incarnate truth.  And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.  And the Word is the body of truth. Thy Word is truth, John 17:17.  God wants us to have His truth.  He’s given us the indwelling Spirit of truth who is the anointing, who leads us into all truth so that we need not be taught by any human source.  So Paul says, I wish you truth, and I don’t want you to be confused about it.

Paul ends by praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with them all (verse 18).

MacArthur discusses grace:

What is grace?  God’s goodness, God’s benevolence given to those who don’t deserve it.  God’s goodness, God’s benevolence given to those who don’t deserve it.  It is grace decreed by God given to us through Christ.  Grace and truth, it says, came through Jesus Christ.  The grace of God has appeared, Paul said to Titus.  It has appeared through the work of Christ.  It comes to us as the Spirit of God brings saving grace.  And once we become a Christian then there is enabling grace.  And that’s what he’s praying about, the enabling grace, grace for endurance, grace that is sufficient, as 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, for every serious trial.  Grace for service, the kind Paul talked about in 1 Timothy 1, when he says as explicitly as it could be said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me because He considered me faithful, putting me into the service, (or into the ministry) even though I was a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor and it was the grace of our Lord that did it.”

Grace for service, grace for endurance, grace for growth spiritually, grow in grace, 2 Peter 3:18.  Grace for love and grace for humility and grace for sacrifice and grace for generosity.  All of those things typified by the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.  In fact, they summed it up.  They summed it up.  They were examples, Paul said, of the surpassing grace of God which is in you.  He wants God’s grace.  There…God’s enabling grace to take them through their trials, to make them effective in ministry, to cause them to grow, to strengthen their love and their humility and their sacrifice and their generosity that they would be overwhelmed with this grace.

It’s available.  There’s no limit to it.  And again, the conditions to receive it are: trusting God, obeying His Word, enduring His refining process, doing good, walking in the Spirit, living your Christianity from the heart, living by the Word of God and praying.  As we are what we ought to be, God infuses us with His peace and His strength and His truth and His grace.

Anyone who wants to know how to live in a godly manner can read the reflections from MacArthur and Henry in my exegesis on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), a long read, granted, but one that explains those eight tenets thoroughly. Jesus gave us the blueprint. It is up to us to live by it, with the help of divine grace.

Henry has a beautiful prayer at the end of his commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:

Let us be thankful that we have the canon of scripture complete, and by the wonderful and special care of divine Providence preserved pure and uncorrupt through so many successive ages, and not dare to add to it, nor diminish from it. Let us believe the divine original of the sacred scriptures, and conform our faith and practice to this our sufficient and only rule, which is able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. Amen.

This concludes my study of 2 Thessalonians.

Next week, I will begin a study of 1 Timothy, along with an introduction to its content and purpose.

Next time — 1 Timothy 1:1-2

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Pray for Us

Finally, brothers,[a] pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured,[b] as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.[c] And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.


Last week’s post explored Paul’s discussion of the Antichrist, ‘the lawless one’, who will come one day, controlled by Satan. When Jesus returns, He will kill the Antichrist with ‘the breath of His mouth’, but not before unbelievers — the damned — are in thrall of what he does. This, Paul says, is because God has condemned them for refusing ‘to love the truth and so be saved’. Therefore, God punishes them with ‘a strong delusion’ so that they can do nothing but ‘believe what is false’.

Today’s verses are in the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

As he did from all of his churches, Paul sought the prayers of the Thessalonians for his continuing ministry.

John MacArthur describes this message from Paul to his friends in Thessalonica:

It’s very tender. It’s very personal. It is Paul saying this is what I expect from you, this is what I cherish in terms of your Christian conduct.

He asks them to pray for him and his associates Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) that the Word of the Lord — the Gospel message — may speed ahead and be honoured, as was the case with in Thessalonica (verse 1).

Matthew Henry points out the importance of prayer, especially for our absent friends, including the clergy (emphases mine):

I. The apostle desires the prayers of his friends: Finally, brethren, pray for us, v. 1. He always remembered them in his prayers, and would not have them forget him and his fellow-labourers, but bear them on their hearts at the throne of grace. Note, 1. This is one way by which the communion of saints is kept us, not only by their praying together, or with one another, but by their praying for one another when they are absent one from another. And thus those who are at great distance may meet together at the throne of grace; and thus those who are not capable of doing or receiving any other kindness may yet this way do and receive real and very great kindness. 2. It is the duty of people to pray for their ministers; and not only for their own pastors, but also for all good and faithful ministers. And, 3. Ministers need, and therefore should desire, the prayers of their people. How remarkable is the humility, and how engaging the example, of this great apostle, who was so mighty in prayer himself, and yet despised not the prayers of the meanest Christian, but desired an interest in them.

MacArthur says:

He desires that they be prayerful. “Finally, brethren,” verse 1, “pray for us.” The shepherd wants the prayers of his people. Now think about it for a moment. Paul was without equal as a gifted, powerful, competent, effective minister. He had immense natural abilities, brilliant, logical, persuasive, erudite, educated, trained, religious, spiritually minded, perceptive, experienced. He had it all. But all that natural ability and all that education and all that religious training and all that experience and all of that skill, highly developed through the years, was not the source of his great power and it was not the source of his usefulness. It was the power of God at work in him that transcended his natural giftedness; that made him the man that he was for divine purposes. He himself confessed in Colossians 1 verse 29, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He had no confidence in his flesh. And he knew that whatever success he had was not related to his natural giftedness or any of those things which had occurred in his life on the human level, but to the very power of God surging through him. He was dependent on the Lord entirely for every aspect of his ministry. He even said, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” He knew where his power source was.

And consequently there are frequent pleas for his people to pray for him. And those pleas underline and underscore how strongly he leaned on divine power. I sometimes think that those in ministry who are least naturally gifted … get the most prayer because people assume that naturally gifted people don’t need any. Nothing could be further from the truth. There may be greater temptation for those more gifted to trust in their own giftedness. There may be greater possibility for human ingenuity to take over for the power of God in the unusually gifted than in those who are more humbly gifted. Thus those with the greater gifts may be those with the greatest need for prayer.

Some translations use ‘glorified’ instead of ‘honoured’ in that verse.

Henry explains the prayer petition that Paul requests and applies it to us today:

Observe, further, what they are desired and directed to pray for; namely, (1.) For the success of the gospel ministry: That the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, v. 1. This was the great thing that Paul was most solicitous about. He was more solicitous that God’s name might be sanctified, his kingdom advanced, and his will done, than he was about his own daily bread. He desired that the word of the Lord might run (so it is in the original), that it might get ground, that the interest of religion in the world might go forward and not backward, and not only go forward, but go apace. All the forces of hell were then, and still are, more or less, raised and mustered to oppose the word of the Lord, to hinder its publication and success. We should pray, therefore, that oppositions may be removed, that so the gospel, may have free course to the ears, the hearts, and the consciences of men, that it may be glorified in the conviction and conversion of sinners, the confutation, of gainsayers, and the holy conversation of the saints. God, who magnified the law, and made it honourable, will glorify the gospel, and make that honourable, and so will glorify his own name; and good ministers and good Christians may very well be contented to be little, to be any thing, to be nothing, if Christ be magnified and his gospel be glorified … Note, If ministers have been successful in one place, they should desire to be successful in every place where they may preach the gospel.

MacArthur says that Paul has borrowed from Psalm 147:

Pray that God’s Word, he says, may spread rapidly.  The Greek verb trechō means literally “to run.”  Pray that the Word may run.  He’s borrowing this concept, shows his knowledge of the Old Testament, from Psalm 147:15 where it says, “God’s Word runs very swiftly.”  So he says pray that the Word will run like a powerful runner, like a strong runner moving unobstructed and unhindered, making rapid progress

Pray that the Word will go rapidly.  Pray that when I’m given opportunity I’ll open my mouth.  Pray that when I’m ready to open my mouth God will open a door so I can speak, and then when I get the opportunity, pray that I’ll say what needs to be said; always asking the church to pray for the success and the spread of the message.

In 2 Timothy 2:9 he reminded young Timothy the Word of God is not bound.  I might be; it isn’t.  Pray that it will move powerfully through the land.

And then he adds this, “And be glorified,” and be glorified.  What does that mean?  It simply means appreciated, honored, respected, extolled, admired.  He’s simply saying that it will be received with a proper response, that people will hear the gospel and they will affirm it to be the gospel, the saving truth.  He’s talking about acceptance.

Paul also wanted the Thessalonians to pray that he and his associates be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all men have (the gift of) faith (verse 2).

MacArthur reminds us of the danger Paul constantly faced:

He also knew the meaning of persecution. He faced difficulty. He faced a solitary life. He faced danger constantly. He usually was self-supporting, usually had to preach to people who didn’t want to hear what he said in places where he never was invited to start with. Life for him was one unending challenge and the threat of death was imminent. He bore in his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He faced death on a daily basis. And he knew he couldn’t succeed in his own human flesh and he was dependent upon the power of the Lord and he knew that power was released through the prayers of his people.

He was experiencing trouble in Corinth, where he was writing this letter:

… as he writes this he’s in the city of Corinth. Things haven’t gone well. The 18th chapter of Acts records what was going on in the city of Corinth and as I said, it wasn’t good. There was a hostile reaction to the gospel. Chapter 18, verse 6 tells us the Jews resisted and blasphemed and he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads, I’m clean. From now on I go to the Gentiles.” He hit a stone wall there, not like Thessalonica, not like Galatia. And so he is in…in the context of that resistance as he writes. I believe that he wrote this letter some time after that initial resistance and he wants the gospel to break through, to really break through, and so he says, “Will you please pray that it will spread rapidly and be accepted?”

There’s a second thing he asks in verse 2.  “And that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men for not all have faith.” What is this?

First he asks for the success of the message.  Secondly: The safety of the messengers.  “That we may be delivered,” rhuomai, rescued, saved.  “Not for self-preservation alone, not for personal comfort or safety alone, but because if we’re not protected then the message won’t be heard.  Pray that the message will go forth successfully and the messengers will be unhindered.  Paul was always facing hostility.  We’ve already read about it in the book of Acts.  I can remind you at the end of Romans 15, he says, “Pray for me that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient,” disobedient to God. Pray for me that I’ll be able to carry on my ministry.

In Corinth, as I said, there was tremendous resistance. And perhaps after he wrote this letter it really blew sky-high because in Acts 18 verse 12 it says, “Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.” The whole Jewish population were united in hostility against the gospel and they made an issue out of it. They even took, in verse 17, Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, began beating him in front of the judgment seat. A riot really ensued. Paul is in the context of this resistance and he’s pleading with them to pray for the success of the message and the safety of the messenger.

Now would you note also that he identifies who is dangerous: Perverse and evil men. “Perverse” literally is the word “out of place.” This is the only time in the New Testament it’s used of a person. It’s always used of some object that got lost, something that’s out of its proper place, something improper. Here it means some person who is out of his proper place, who is perverse, unrighteous; one writer says “morally insane.” And then he adds evil, malignant aggressive wickedness. Pray for us that we will be rescued from the threats and the power of morally insane, perverse, aggressively wicked people who want to shut our mouths so the message can’t be preached. Pray for us.

I would echo that. Pray for the success of the message as I preach and pray for safety and security for the messenger. Maybe the persecution isn’t the same today as it was then, but it’s still out there.

And then he adds a note of explanation, “For not all have faith.” The Thessalonians probably assumed that because they responded in such a wonderful way, because the Jews and the Gentiles together responded to the gospel, that this might be the norm. Now remember, Paul had just been with them a matter of really just a few months, weeks. And they probably thought their response would kind of be the pattern and he says to them, “Pray regarding this hostility because not all have faith.” It is possible to interpret that two ways. Some might say, “Not all have the faith,” the definite article being there, talking about the content of Christian faith. But I would take it that what he’s saying here is not all believe. Either way, it comes out the same. Not all are Christians and unbelievers are the ones who are hostile. No, everyone isn’t going to respond the way you did, so the beloved apostle calls for the intercession of the church so that the Word may move rapidly and triumphantly and the messengers will not be hindered by hostile unbelievers. That’s his prayer.

Henry has a practical application of the verse for us:

(2.) For the safety of gospel ministers. He asks their prayers, nor for preferment, but for preservation: That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, v. 2. Note, Those who are enemies to the preaching of the gospel, and persecutors of the faithful preachers of it, are unreasonable and wicked men. They act against all the rules and laws of reason and religion, and are guilty of the greatest absurdity and impiety. Not only in the principles of atheism and infidelity, but also in the practice of the vice and immorality, and especially in persecution, there is the greatest absurdity in the world, as well as impiety. There is need of the spiritual protection, as well as the assistance, of godly and faithful ministers, for these are as the standard-bearers, who are most struck at; and therefore all who wish well to the interest of Christ in the world should pray for them. For all men have not faith; that is, many do not believe the gospel; they will not embrace it themselves, and no wonder if such are restless and malicious in their endeavours to oppose the gospel, decry the ministry, and disgrace the ministers of the word; and too many have not common faith or honesty; there is no confidence that we can safely put in them, and we should pray to be delivered from those who have no conscience nor honour, who never regard what they say or do. We may sometimes be in as much or more danger from false and pretended friends as from open and avowed enemies.

Then Paul segues to the Thessalonians by saying, ‘But the Lord is faithful’, meaning to him and to them; the Lord will establish them (keep them steady) and guard them against the evil one, Satan (verse 3).

Henry explains:

1. What the good is which we may expect from the grace of God-establishment, and preservation from evil; and the best Christians stand in need of these benefits. (1.) That God would establish them. This the apostle had prayed for on their behalf ( ch. 2:17), and now he encourages them to expect this favour. We stand no longer than God holds us up; unless he hold up our goings in his paths, our feet will slide, and we shall fall. (2.) That God will keep them from evil. We have as much need of the grace of God for our perseverance to the end as for the beginning of the good work. The evil of sin is the greatest evil, but there are other evils which God will also preserve his saints from—the evil that is in the world, yea, from all evil, to his heavenly kingdom.

2. What encouragement we have to depend upon the grace of God: The Lord is faithful. He is faithful to his promises, and is the Lord who cannot lie, who will not alter the thing that has gone out of his mouth. When once the promise therefore is made, performance is sure and certain. He is faithful to his relation, a faithful God and a faithful friend; we may depend upon his filling up all the relations he stands in to his people. Let it be our care to be true and faithful in our promises, and to the relations we stand in to this faithful God.

MacArthur sees the verse as Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians to keep trusting God, regardless of what happens, e.g. persecution:

… he says, “This is what I want to happen in your life.” There’s a certain sense in which he feels at arm’s length, “and I can’t be there to insure it, but this is my desire for you.”  Verse 3: “But the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

What he’s saying to them is, look, no matter what happens, no matter how hostile they are, no matter how severe the persecution and trials and trouble, no matter what might happen, you know this, your Lord is faithful. Keep trusting.

Any pastor who is away from his people would want from the depths of heart that his people remain faithful to the God who is faithful to them.  In contrast to faithless men in verse 2 is a faithful Lord in verse 3.  And no matter what may come in trials and no matter what may come in persecutions, the Lord’s plan for you will come to pass, He is faithful.  Why Paul sure gave testimony to that at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one supported me, all deserted me but the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.”  Everybody else was gone, but He was there, He’s faithful.  I wish we had time to go through the Old Testament and the New to see how many times the Bible tells us the Lord is faithful. The Lord is faithful …

He will strengthen you, he says, he will strengthen you, stērizō. There’s that word from which we get steroids, make you strong, make you firm, establish youThat’s talking about the inside, strengthening your inner man, giving you an inner security.  He’ll build you up on the inside and protect you from the evil one on the outside.  He will fill you with internal strength and He will shield you from the evil one, most likely a reference to Satan.  It could be translated, “From the evil,” but it is better to see it as “The evil one, Satan.”

In the inside He’ll strengthen you.  On the outside He’ll shield you so that you’re never hit with satanic arrows that are going to destroy you and you have the internal strength to maintain your faith.  There is your great security, beloved.  No matter what comes or goes, a faithful Lord will strengthen you on the inside and guard you from attacks by the enemy on the outside.

I suppose Jude had it all when he said this, “He is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”  He will strengthen you so you don’t fall.  He will protect you so Satan cannot destroy you.

Paul says that he has confidence in the Lord about the Thessalonians, that they are doing well and will do what he commands (verse 4), i.e. obey the Gospel message.

MacArthur reminds us that the Gospel is a command to obey God through obedience to Jesus Christ:

The pastor has spent his time teaching the Word of God, in a sense, commanding. Remember Paul said to Timothy, “Command and teach.” Teaching has the note of authority because we give you the Word of God. And Paul has the desire for his people that they maintain a pattern of obedience. Verse 4, “We have confidence,” and it’s a very positive approach to this exhortation, “we have confidence in the Lord,” not in your flesh, “but in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command”

Were these personal commands by Paul? No, he was simply passing them on. They came from God. He’s essentially saying to them what he noted about them back in chapter 4 of his first letter. He said, “You ought to walk and please God just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more.” You’re already doing it. I want you to do it more. I want you to do it better. Here he says it again. You’re already doing it. I want you to continue to do it in the future.

Do what? Obey my commands. Scripture is command. Did you know that? It is command. Scripture in Psalm 19 is called, “the commandments of the Lord.” Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Do you know that even the gospel is a command to repent and believe? All injunctions are commands. And so he says I want to see your continued, sustained, ongoing obedience and I’m confident in the Lord that you will continue by His strength to obey as you have been obeying.

Paul concludes this section of his letter by praying that the Lord direct their hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ (verse 5).

Certainly, the Thessalonians were already experiencing that, but Paul wanted it to be enduring and ever-expanding.

Henry explains the beauty of the verse, which is one of blessing:

It is a prayer for spiritual blessings. Two things of the greatest importance the apostle prays for:—1. That their hearts may be brought into the love of God, to be in love with God as the most excellent and amiable Being, the best of all beings; and this is not only most reasonable and necessary in order to our happiness, but is our happiness itself; it is a great part of the happiness of heaven itself, where this love shall be made perfect. We can never attain to this unless God by his grace direct our hearts aright, for our love is apt to go astray after other things. Note, We sustain a great deal of damage by misplacing our affections; it is our sin and our misery that we place our affections upon wrong objects. If God directs our love aright upon himself, the rest of the affections will thereby be rectified. 2. That a patient waiting for Christ may be joined with this love of God. There is no true love of God without faith in Jesus Christ. We must wait for Christ, which supposes our faith in him, that we believe he came once in flesh and will come again in glory: and we must expect this second coming of Christ, and be careful to get ready for it; there must be a patient waiting, enduring with courage and constancy all that we may meet with in the mean time: and we have need of patience, and need of divine grace to exercise Christian patience, the patience of Christ (as some read the word), patience for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example.

MacArthur says:

Paul’s expectation, because of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people, because they had an obedient inner man delighting in God’s command, was that they were going to be all right.  But he wanted them to continue spiritual growth.  And in a sense, that’s really what he’s saying in this verse.  “May the Lord direct your hearts.”  The word “direct” here means to make straight, “heart,” your inner person.

The word “direct” is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 of removing all the obstacles and hindrances out of the way and opening up a path.  May the Lord open up a path for you so that your inner man can move down that path.  He doesn’t want any static here, nothing stationary.  You aren’t there yet.  I want the Lord to open the path to clear the trail and to move your inner man down that path. To what?  Into the love of God.

Is that objective or subjective?  Are we talking about into God’s love for you, or your love for God?  And the answer is probably both.  I love that ambiguity in the epistles.  The Greek language provided the original writers a certain ambiguity that resulted in the fullness of the truth.  Down the path into God’s love for you and your love for Him … For you technicians that’s the objective and subjective genitive. And when you look at it, you can’t tell the difference in the original language and we feel that that’s because they’re both there. 

Go down the path deeper and deeper into God’s love for you which is going to cause you to love Him more and more. And secondly, he says, I want the Lord to lay out the path and push your inner being down the path into, notice it, the steadfastness or the patience of Christ. That can be either one; his patience with us or our patience in His strength through endurance. I want you to go down the path learning more and more how patient, how enduring Christ is over your sins and your problems and your struggles and even how greater you can understand His own endurance in His own struggles, and then consequently have a greater endurance of your own.

I want you to know more about God’s love so you can love Him more. I want you to know more about Christ’s endurance so you can endure more. I want you to grow spiritually in your love and in your endurance. That’s his point. You’re not there. I want you to advance in love and advance in patience under persecution as Christ did.

In other words, Paul wants them to pursue the lifelong process of sanctification, which they had already begun. He wants them to continue on that Christian journey, which should never be static.

MacArthur summarises the duty of congregations to their clergy:

What is the duty then of the people to the pastor? The sheep to their shepherd? To be prayerful on his behalf, that his message may succeed and that he may be safe in the proclamation of it. Their duty to him is to continue in their faithful trust in a faithful Lord who will never allow them to be weak on the inside and who will never allow them to be assaulted beyond what they are capable on the outside but will always be there to strengthen and protect them; and the duty to be obedient, to continue in the presence or absence of the shepherd to follow obediently the commands which he gave them from God …

So, with a growing love and a growing endurance of the difficulties of life, the pastor wants his congregation to obey, trusting in the faithfulness of the Lord and praying always for the shepherd. No pastor could ask more than that from his people, that they be prayerful, trusting, obedient and spiritually growing. That’s my desire for you, that God may be glorified in His church.

Next week’s verses conclude 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s description of the Second Coming, which, whilst brief, it is the starkest outside of the Book of Revelation.

He ended by discussing the saints who would marvel at the glory of the Lord on that day.

In the concluding verses of 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul says that he prays — or he, Timothy and Silas (Silvanus) pray — for the congregation to be upheld in their faith (emphases mine below):

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 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.

Paul has more about the Second Coming in 2 Thessalonians 2, which begins as follows:

The Man of Lawlessness

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,[a] not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness[b] is revealed, the son of destruction,[c] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

Verse 2 indicates that someone other than Paul spoke to or wrote to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming. In fact, it seems someone claiming to be Paul sent them a letter. The content must have alarmed them, because Paul felt the need to write this short second letter to the congregation.

It is strange how wrapped up people have been throughout history with regard to this event. Yet, they give little thought to the state of their souls with regard to death, likely to be the more immediate event. Some obsess over the end of the world yet neglect to prepare themselves for their leaving this mortal coil.

The man of lawlessness is the Antichrist, the real one to come in a time of apostasy.

Matthew Henry’s commentary sagely reminds us that there has always been a period of apostasy after a rise in piety, including in Old Testament times:

By this apostasy we are not to understand a defection in the state, or from civil government, but in spiritual or religious matters, from sound doctrine, instituted worship and church government, and a holy life. The apostle speaks of some very great apostasy, not only of some converted Jews or Gentiles, but such as should be very general, though gradual, and should give occasion to the revelation of rise of antichrist, that man of sin. This, he says (v. 5), he had told them of when he was with them, with design, no doubt, that they should not take offence nor be stumbled at it. And let us observe that no sooner was Christianity planted and rooted in the world than there began to be a defection in the Christian church. It was so in the Old-Testament church; presently after any considerable advance made in religion there followed a defection: soon after the promise there was revolting; for example, soon after men began to call upon the name of the Lord all flesh corrupted their way,—soon after the covenant with Noah the Babel-builders bade defiance to heaven,—soon after the covenant with Abraham his seed degenerated in Egypt,—soon after the Israelites were planted in Canaan, when the first generation was worn off, they forsook God and served Baal,—soon after God’s covenant with David his seed revolted, and served other gods,—soon after the return out of captivity there was a general decay of piety, as appears by the story of Ezra and Nehemiah; and therefore it was no strange thing that after the planting of Christianity there should come a falling away.

Paul, reviewing what he had told the Thessalonians when he was with them, says that they know what is restraining the Antichrist until the appropriate time (verse 6).

John MacArthur says:

Paul had told them. When he was with them he told them. We can only had wished that he had repeated it here. But he didn’t, he just says, “You know,” and so we’re all saying, “Right, they know but are we sure?” How did they know? He taught them when he was with them. It was information well known to them, if not to us. That which is restraining, notice it there, literally the verb means to hold down, or to hold back. And so he says you know what the restraining force is. It is in the neuter here. So here you’re talking about a force

Human forces deal with human issues, not supernatural issues. Human forces, human power, human ingenuity, human society, human institutions do not cope well with supernatural forces.

So the power that holds back Satan from bringing the Antichrist and the final apostasy must be supernatural. Now let me give you a little insight here. Satan doesn’t want to wait for God’s timetable. You understand that? He is in a hurry. If he had his way the Antichrist would be here now. If he had his way the Antichrist would have already been here. But that’s not God’s plan. God has a timetable and God is operating that timetable. And Satan wants it to happen now. He wants the final rebellion now. He wants the false Messiah now. He wants the blasphemy now. He wants to set himself up as the controller of the universe and his Antichrist, as it were, as Christ now. But God says no and he is being restrained by God through a supernatural means. The man of sin cannot come until God removes this restraining force.

So there is a power in operation and it has to be a supernatural power. It has to be dealing on another level, not just an earthly one. And it is retarding Satan from pulling off his plan with a final Antichrist. Now remember, this will be a human being. 

I think the Second Coming will be a long way away, because certain criteria must be fulfilled before the Antichrist comes to power.

MacArthur tells us:

You say, “What is the season?” Listen very carefully, you’ll understand it. God is redeeming His church. Before the foundation of the world, God ordained who would be redeemed. Their names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. If Satan were not restrained, he would come, he would send the Antichrist, he would bring the holocaust of final blasphemy and disaster and then God would step in and judge the whole thing and the Day of the Lord would come and the end would come but the problem would be there would still be people who had been planned by God to live and believe and populate His eternal kingdom who would not yet have been born. You understand that? So God must wait until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, to borrow Paul’s term in Romans 11, until the whole plan is consummated, until all those from before the foundation of the world set for eternal redemption are born and believe, and only then can it come, otherwise Satan has successfully thwarted the plan of God. So, only in his time will he be revealed. Not Satan, not demons, not any human enterprise or human force of fallen men, no devilish plan, no purpose from hell can operate until God allows it. His plan, His power control everything including Satan and Antichrist. As one commentator put it, “Evil will not pass beyond its limits.” God would never allow that …

In God’s perfect time the Messiah came, and in God’s perfect time the false Messiah comes. In God’s perfect plan, Christ came. In God’s perfect plan, Antichrist comes on time on the schedule God has eternally ordained. He controls all of it. And He has ordained a specific time for the appearing, the manifestation, the apocalypse, the revelation, the unveiling of Antichrist just as He did for the appearing of Jesus Christ the first time and the appearing of Jesus Christ the second time. God the Father knows exactly when Christ will appear. You remember, Jesus said, “No man knows the day nor the hour except the Father,” He does know the day, He does know the hour, He knows the split second and He operates the plan that way.

Paul goes on to say that the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ — sin — is already at work then adds, ‘Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way’ (verse 7).

Henry relates the first part of this verse to the Church from its earliest days:

The apostle justly calls it a mystery of iniquity, because wicked designs and actions were concealed under false shows and pretences, at least they were concealed from the common view and observation. By pretended devotion, superstition and idolatry were advanced; and, by a pretended zeal for God and his glory, bigotry and persecution were promoted. And he tells us that this mystery of iniquity did even then begin, or did already work. While the apostles were yet living, the enemy came, and sowed tares; there were then the deeds of the Nicolaitans, persons who pretended zeal for Christ, but really opposed him. Pride, ambition, and worldly interest of church-pastors and church-rulers, as in Diotrephes and others, were the early working of the mystery of iniquity

MacArthur relates it more generally to Western society:

The true character of lawlessness, follow this, the true character of lawlessness is already at work. It’s already at work.  But you haven’t yet seen the final picture of it.  That’s the idea.  It’s already working.  Evil men are growing worse and worse, 2 Timothy 3:13. It already is visible.  We’re watching a dying culture.  We see iniquity prevailing and escalating.  And so the mystery is gradually unfolding.  It is already at work, but we have not yet seen in this world what lawlessness is really like. It is still somewhat of a secret.  And the world will not know how wretched sin is, how wicked Satan is, how evil the kingdom of darkness is until the mystery is fully revealed.  That happens when the apostasy takes place and the Antichrist sets himself as God

But even now, he says, the mystery is already at work. It’s already working powerfully and effectively.  In our world we have evil and wretchedness and vileness and wickedness and lies and hypocrisies and false teachers and false religions and they get worse and worse and worse and it’s almost as if the mystery is capped, but it’s in a jar maybe but it leaks and finally someday the whole thing is going to blow.  The final satanic plan to overthrow God and bring the false Christ is the ultimate form of the mystery of lawlessness and it’s not yet revealed.  But the spirit of this is in action.  First John 2:18 says, “There’s coming an Antichrist in the future but even now there are many Antichrists.”  That’s the same concept.  We can see the spirit of Antichrist.

MacArthur says that the second half of verse 7 explains verse 6, the force keeping the Antichrist at bay:

“Only He who now restrains will do so until He’s taken out of the way.” The mystery will not be fully revealed until He who restrains is taken out of the way. Now here’s a very important change. In verse 6, what restrains was neuter. Now we have “He” who restrains. We’ve moved from a neuter, a force, to a masculine, a person. And I believe this is a good indication that there is a person here, that there is a supernatural person who is exerting the force in verse 6. There is a force that restrains but there is a “He” who exercises that force.

Who is it? I believe the best understanding would lead us to believe it is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the person who exerts the force that holds back Satan

So we have a number of passages in which the Holy Spirit is seen dealing with sin, wrestling with sin, confronting sin, convicting of sin, restraining sin.  No doubt He could be assisted by Michael, but Michael is not omnipresent.  And Michael is limited because he is a created angel.  I wouldn’t argue that He may use someone like Michael, an angel like Michael or other holy angels, but I believe it is the Holy Spirit who is the restrainer.

Now please note.  The Holy Spirit’s restraint will go on until half way through the time called the tribulation.  The period called the great tribulation is the second half of the seven years.  The Holy Spirit restrains until the mid point and then He allows the Antichrist to go into the temple, do the abomination, bring the apostasy, and then the horrors described in the book of Revelation take place, which lead to the Day of the Lord.  So that restraint will go on until the man of sin is revealed in God’s perfect time.  The Holy Spirit then, I believe, is most likely the restrainer because it must be a supernatural being. The Holy Spirit is the one most frequently associated with dealing with sin, restraining, convicting.  And we could see it as a neuter because there is a force that He exerts and as a masculine because He is a person.

By the way as a footnote for you that are interested, in the Upper Room discourse, Jesus spoke about the Holy Spirit.  And in that discourse as He spoke about the Holy Spirit interestingly enough, He fluctuated between the neuter and the masculine gendersIf you study the Greek text of the Upper Room discourse, John 13 to 17, you will see Him fluctuate between the neuter and the masculine referring to the Holy Spirit, depending on whether He was using a gender to agree with a grammatical term or whether He was using a gender to emphasize personality.  So the Holy Spirit can be spoken of in the neuter. After all, pneuma the Greek word for Spirit, is neuter. He can be spoken of in the masculine when He’s identified as a person.  So that’s not an unfamiliar thing in Scripture.  So I would take it that the Holy Spirit is preventing Satan from the full, final lawlessness under Antichrist until God’s perfect time.  And it has to be in God’s time because He has to redeem the church that is ordained from before the foundation of the world, He has to accomplish all that that involves.

The Holy Spirit will always be present, even during the tribulation period:

Listen, in the first place, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, right? So He has to be everywhere. In the second place, people are going to be saved during this time and nobody is saved who isn’t begotten again by the Spirit. So the idea that the Holy Spirit leaves is not true. What happens is the Holy Spirit is taken out of the way in terms of blocking Satan, in terms of His restraining ministry. So the Holy Spirit is simply taken out of the way as a restrainer, removed as a roadblock, not removed from the world or no one could be saved and God wouldn’t be effecting His purposes and His plans. So we don’t want to make too much out of that. It is the Holy Spirit, He is not removed from the world, or there could be no evangelization by the 144 thousand, there could be no comprehension of the gospel because the Spirit has to quicken the mind, there could be no conversion because He alone is the one who gives eternal life, so He has to be here doing His work. He just stops the restraining part of it.

Once unrestrained, Paul says, the Antichrist is revealed and, at the Second Coming, Christ will kill him with the breath of His mouth and bring him to nothing (verse 8).

Henry posits that Paul wishes to comfort the Thessalonians:

The apostle assures the Thessalonians that the Lord would consume and destroy him; the consuming of him precedes his final destruction, and that is by the Spirit of his mouth, by his word of command; the pure word of God, accompanied with the Spirit of God, will discover this mystery of iniquity, and make the power of antichrist to consume and waste away; and in due time it will be totally and finally destroyed, and this will be by the brightness of Christ’s coming. Note, The coming of Christ to destroy the wicked will be with peculiar glory and eminent lustre and brightness.

MacArthur says that Paul is using an Old Testament expression in that verse:

This is very interesting: “By the breath of His mouth.”  He will be slain by the breath of His mouth.  In other words, the Lord doesn’t even have to do anything to destroy him, as formidable as he is, as powerful as he is, as monumental as he is in human history, the greatest world ruler the world has ever known. He has surpassing control over the whole of the earth. This massive Satanic empowered man is so powerful and yet Christ doesn’t have to do anything, He doesn’t have to call an army, He doesn’t have to speak a word, all He has to do is breathe and he will be destroyed.  That phrase, by the way, is an Old Testament one used in 11 of Isaiah, chapter 11 verse 4, “With righteousness He will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth, He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth. With the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”  That’s obviously where Paul got it, with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked, in this case the wicked one, even the Antichrist.

Again in Isaiah 30 verse 33, that phrase is used again.  “The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets afire.”  God, as it were, lets the breath out of His mouth and it comes like fire and brimstone to consume and destroy.  Psalm 33:6 has a similar expression.

Notice again back there in verse 8, a second statement, “He will slay him with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end,” and bring to an end. Literally abolish, render inoperative, immobilize. Both verbs side by side give you the full annihilation of this man and his enterprise. Satan’s false Christ, he’s a counterfeit-like Jesus Christ.

Paul says that Satan will direct the Antichrist ‘with all power and false signs and wonders’ (verse 9).

Henry explains that these will seem to be supernatural signs but are not:

A divine power is pretended for the support of this kingdom, but it is only after the working of Satan. Signs and wonders, visions and miracles, are pretended … and lying wonders, or only pretended miracles that have served their cause, things false in fact, or fraudulently managed, to impose upon the people: and the diabolical deceits with which the antichristian state has been supported are notorious. 

MacArthur says that the Antichrist will make sure that what he does looks as much as what Christ did:

He has a parousia, he has a revelation just like Jesus Christ.  He has a message which is a lie.  He has a day just like Jesus Christ has a day.  He has power to do signs and wonders.  He even has a kind of resurrection, Revelation 13:12 and 13 indicates.  He has a supernatural person behind him.  In all of those ways he’s like Christ.  Christ has a coming, a revelation.  Christ has a message.  Christ has a day. Christ has the power to do signs and wonders.  Christ had a resurrection.  Christ has behind him the supernatural God.  But this one comes to a quick end and he’s destroyed with the breath of God’s mouth.  His whole enterprise is brought to an end.  Please note when it happens: By the appearance of His coming, that’s the Second Coming of Christ

And what happens to him? Revelation 20 verse 10 says he’s thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and tormented there forever and ever, along with the devil and his angels and the false prophet. So we see the revelation of this man. He will be revealed in God’s time. And we see the destruction of the man. 

This will be a very difficult time for believers, I think, because unbelievers will persecute them for not believing in the Antichrist. We know how hysteria builds on social media. This will carry out into real life. Anyone who doesn’t believe in this satanic fraud will be considered a heretic.

MacArthur says the Antichrist’s works will all be very convincing:

So powerful is he, verse 10, that with all the deception of wickedness he works.  Now here he tells us about his power.  Paul says he comes in accord with the activity, the energeia, the energy of Satan.  By the way, that word energeia is used in Scripture for power in action.  You see it in Ephesians 1:19 and 20, you see it in Ephesians 3:7, Ephesians 4:16, Paul uses it a lot in that letter and it means power in action.  He comes with real power, okay?  This is not just deception.  This is not just tricks, magic.  He comes in real satanic power.  Satan’s power is limited, but it is real.  It is limited but it is real.  And so he comes in the actual energy of Satan.  It is limited in terms of comparison to God’s unlimited power, but whatever it is able to do he will be the manifestation point.

Then note again, “With all power and signs and false wonders.”  Power, signs, wonders, or you could translate it, miracles, signs and wonders. Dunamis is the word for power, also translated miracles.  What about that strikes you?  The same strikes me. Those are the same three things that are used to describe the works of whom?  Christ, miracles, signs, wonders, Acts 2:22.  Those are the same things that are used to describe the apostles, Hebrews 2:4, miracles, signs, wonders.  He’s a counterfeit. He’s a counterfeit. He mimics the true Christ.  And while it is not just magic, it is real supernatural power, it does have its limitations but it is convincing.

Note that Paul says the Antichrist will operate ‘with all wicked deception’ for those perishing — those condemned to Hell — because they refused to love the truth and, thereby, be saved (verse 10).

Again, this will be a terrible time for Christians who are alive to experience it.

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 10 says it is convincing enough to deceive people with all the deception that wickedness can muster. Would you please note it says with all power, or all miracles, signs and false wonders, literally miracles, signs and wonders that are false and deceptive; false not in the sense that they’re fakery, but that they lead to false conclusions about who he is. Power, what is that? Mighty displays of supernatural acts. Signs: Pointing to him as the one who does them, pointing to his supernatural power. Wonders: Getting the astonishing results. He will do powerful miracles which will point to him as a supernatural being and create wonder and shock and astonishment, so much so that people will conclude that he is divine, the Jews will conclude that he is the Messiah, people will conclude that he is God, he will set himself up as God, the world will fall at his feet and worship him. He will consume all other religion, the whole world will bow down to him and anybody who doesn’t will be destroyed by him. He will do mighty acts, pointing to himself as a supernaturally energized person, exciting and eliciting astonishment and wonder from the world.

The word “false” should be taken with all three. It’s pseudos, from which we get “pseudo.”  It shows the effect of the miracles, not the nature of them. They’re not false miracles in the sense that it’s fakery.  They are supernatural, satanic things, not like the miracles of God, but enough to be convincing.  The effect of them is to make people believe a lie.

And then verse 10, “With all the deception of wickedness.”  That is, all that wickedness can do to deceive, all the deceit that wickedness has at its disposal, all the deception that wickedness at its worst can produce.  The whole operation is a lie, it is false. It lures people to believe that Antichrist is the world’s savior, the world’s Messiah.  Even non-religious people are going to see him as the one who will solve the world’s problems, who will fix the world.  You can see how our world today would bow at the feet of a man like that, can’t you?  Especially if he could do supernatural things.  They’re going to believe that this is the man to deliver the world from all its troubles.  Religious people are going to believe this is God’s man; this is the world’s deliverer.  And every hellish, supernatural ploy Satan has will be used to achieve this deception. And he’ll do it and he’ll be successful because the Holy Spirit will step out of the way and not restrain itAll of evil’s undiluted, unrestrained power to deceive will act.

MacArthur explains the second half of verse 10:

In verse 10, he comes with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  The extent of his influence: On all who perish.  Literally those who are perishing, those who reject the truth, those who do not love the truth, the truth written, the truth incarnate.  If you don’t love the Word of God and love the Lord Jesus Christ so as to be saved, you will be caught up in the deception. The unregenerate will believe the lie.  Listen, they always believe a lie.  And you remember back in John 8 Jesus said to the Jews, “You’re not of God, you’re of your father the devil, and he’s a liar from the start.”  If you don’t believe the truth of God, you’ll believe the lie of the devil.  This is the class of people who will succumb to Satan’s deception.

In Matthew 24:24 we have a very important statement being made there.  There will be people being converted at this time and believing the truth and it says that this guy will be so formidable and so deceptive and so many signs and so many wonders will come so as to mislead if possible even the what? The elect, but it isn’t what? Possible.  The unregenerate, yes.  Their blindness is self-imposed because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be savedIt’s the only time in the New Testament that phrase is used.  It doesn’t say they didn’t receive the truth, he adds that compelling thought they didn’t receive the love of the truth to show you that true salvation is a love relationship with truth written and truth incarnateThe love of the truth, the gospel, they gave it no welcome, they didn’t want it, they didn’t love it.

Back in chapter 1 verse 8 it says that the unsaved do not know God and do not obey the gospel.  They don’t know God, they don’t obey the gospel and they don’t love the truth.  John 3 says men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.  They reject Christ’s words, they reject Christ’s person.  He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” He is the truth incarnate, embodied.  Ephesians 4:21, “If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him just as truth is in Jesus.”

They don’t love Jesus, they don’t love truth.  Their unbelief is not a matter of mind, it is not a matter of intellect. It is a matter of heart. It is a matter of affection.  They may have heard, they may have understood, they may have even thought it was true, but they had no love for the truth.  I think we have a lot of people today who if you asked them – do you believe Jesus is God, died and rose again for salvation – would say yes but they don’t love Him or His truth.  This is the test of destiny.  If they had loved the truth, if they had loved Christ, they would have been saved and delivered from Satan’s lies and deception and destruction. So the guilt is theirs.  All unredeemed people are under some damning level of satanic deception.  Did you get that?  All unredeemed people on the face of the earth are under some damning level of satanic deception. They are all believing a lie.  And we’re not surprised to find these folks sucked up in the lie of Antichrist because it’s the most powerful embodiment of satanic deception in the history of the world.

Ultimately, this is Paul’s message to the Thessalonians:

… So Paul says, look, don’t be deceived, don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorantYou are not in the day of the Lord, it hasn’t come. It won’t come until the apostasy pulled off by this man of lawlessness. 

Paul’s final two verses discuss unbelievers.

Because they refused to love the truth (of Christ), God sends them a strong delusion so that they can believe what is false (verse 11).

Henry says that this is God’s judgement. God withdraws divine grace from them:

God shall send them strong delusions, to believe a lie. Thus he will punish men for their unbelief, and for their dislike of the truth and love to sin and wickedness; not that God is the author of sin, but in righteousness he sometimes withdraws his grace from such sinners as are here mentioned; he gives them over to Satan, or leaves them to be deluded by his instruments; he gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts, and leaves them to themselves, and then sin will follow of course, yea, the worst of wickedness, that shall end at last in eternal damnation. God is just when he inflicts spiritual judgments here, and eternal punishments hereafter, upon those who have no love to the truths of the gospel, who will not believe them, nor live suitably to them, but indulge false doctrines in their minds, and wicked practices in their lives and conversations.

MacArthur posits that unbelief is a moral decision and a conscious one at that:

Scripture is absolutely crystal clear on this issue. Going back, for example, to the words of our Lord Himself in John chapter 5 and verse 39, Jesus speaking, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life.  And it is these that bear witness of Me.”  Then verse 40, “And you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.”  Your problem is not a lack of information.  You search the Scriptures and they tell about Me, but you won’t come to Me that you might have life.  Their antipathy, listen, their antipathy to truth is not intellectual.  Their antipathy to truth is moral.  Did you get that?  Their resistance to the gospel is not intellectual. Their resistance to the gospel is moral.  In John 8 verse 24, Jesus said this, “I said therefore to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins.”

Why do people go to hell?  Because they die in their sins.  That is, their sins have never been forgiven, atoned for, or covered, and so hell is where they will pay for them forever.  Why do they die in their sins?  Because they believe not on Me.  Why do they not believe?  Because they are unwilling to believe; it is a question of human volition.  And again I say, their antipathy is not intellectual. It is moral.  It is moral.  If you go to someone and say, “There is a God who loves you.  There is a God who loves you so much that He came into the world in the form of a man to die on a cross to pay the penalty for your sins.  And He wants to forgive you all your sins.  And He wants you to be free from any guilt or any condemnation or any judgment and He wants you to spend eternity in glory and bliss and joy and happiness and peace.”  I daresay to you that anybody is going to say, “I like that.” I like that.  I like a God who is willing to forgive any of my sins.  I am very excited about a God who paid the penalty for my sins so that I will never be punished for any of them.  I like a God who wants to remove all my guilt, I like that.  I like a God who wants to give me peace and joy and love and satisfaction.  I like that.”

But the kicker in the whole story is this. Are you willing to abandon your sin, repent of it, and turn toward the path of righteousness, and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord?  You see, the decision is a moral one, not an intellectual one.  You give someone the intellectual data of the gospel. But now you confront them and you say, will you love the truth or will you love your sin?  And you have faced them with a moral dilemma.  And, in fact, according to John 3:19, it is simply resolved in these words, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”

Coming to Christ is not an intellectual decision, it is a moral one.  It is a decision that says I will no longer love my sin, I will love Christ.  Would you please notice verse 10?  They perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  If they had received the love of the truth, they would be saved.  Note this, please. It doesn’t say they did not receive the truth, but they did not receive what? The love of it.  This marvelous, enlightening phrase, used only here, tells us what is really involved in accepting Christ and the gospel.  They had no desire to be saved.  They loved their sin, not the truth.

Now what is the truth?  Well certainly it’s the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the truth that saves, the love of the truth so as to be saved.  So it would have to be saving truth and saving truth is the gospel.  But I think it could even be a capital “T” and refer to Christ Himself.  First Corinthians 16:22 says, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, he is accursed.”  So it is the truth of the gospel as embodied in the Truth who is the gospel, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He’s saying to them, “You refuse to love Christ and His saving truth.  That’s your problem.  You love your sin

They love their sin, they love what they believe, and what they believe is in themselves. They love the lie of Satan and they hate the gospel and Christ. That is a human choice. That is a willful choice and they bear completely the guilt for that refusal. As I said, one can actually receive the truth but not love it. One can make an intellectual apprehension of the truth and not love it.

Somehow, and for whatever reason, unbelievers think:

that sin is beneficial.

God’s judgement in leaving unbelievers to their own devices results in their condemnation because they took pleasure in unrighteousness rather than the truth (verse 12).

MacArthur says:

Verse 11, “God will send upon them…” Folks, that’s divine judgment. That is divine judgment. God will send upon them. What a thought. The sovereign power of God is going to act on unbelievers to seal their fate, to seal their fate.

We have scriptural evidence for it:

In the case of Matthew chapter 13 Jesus speaks in parables.  Why?  Why does He speak in parables?  Why doesn’t He just speak clearly?  And He says, “I speak in parables,” Matthew 13:13, “because while seeing they do not see, while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” and I am fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, “you will keep on hearing but will not understand, you will keep on seeing but will not perceive, for the heart of this people has become dull and their ears they scarcely hear and they have closed their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and return and I should heal them.”  In other words, they’ve done it on their own and now I’m doing it to them.  That is repeated in Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40, Acts 28:26 and 27, that same Isaiah passage.  If you will not hear and will not hear and will not see and will not see, the day will come when you cannot hear and cannot see.  If you reject the truth the day will come when all you can believe is a lie as God hardens you in the path which you have chosen

What does that mean? That means they passed the point of grace. That means God let go. God turned them over to the consequence of their own choice … Evangelists through the centuries have said, “Don’t you continue to sin past the period of grace.” You will wake up in the period of judgment and you will have no capacity to believe anything but the lie …

It’s a set condition that man brings upon himself by willful unbelief that ultimately becomes a judicial consequence of his own chosen course of action, sealing him in the chains of his own iniquity. He refuses light and chooses darkness, then he’ll have darkness and he’ll never recognize light. He hardens his heart? Then hardened it shall be. He refuses the love of the Truth? Then let him receive a lying spirit and embrace the ultimate lie of idolatry and worship the man of lawlessness. He spurned eternal life? Then let him have eternal death. So they reap the reward of their unbelief and God even uses Satan and Antichrist to punish him. In all ages, not just the time of the Antichrist, in all ages those who persist in sin may find that eventually they won’t be able to change the pattern.

Paul’s message here is:

if you want to look joyfully at the return of Christ, if you want to be eager about His coming, if you want to love His appearing, then don’t be deceived and don’t be forgetful and don’t be ignorant, and please, most of all, don’t be unbelieving. Any of those should produce anxiety.

Paul ends the chapter with another uplifting message for the Thessalonians, reminding them of their election, their faith and the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. Note ‘stand firm’:

Stand Firm

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits[d] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

With this, Paul finishes writing to the Thessalonians about the Second Coming.

Next week begins the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as specified below).

2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

The Judgement at Christ’s Coming

This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[a] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.


Last week’s post concluded my study of 1 Thessalonians; in Chapter 5, Paul gave closing guidelines on behaviour towards other Christians.

Today’s post begins a study of 2 Thessalonians, which Paul wrote a few months after his first letter.

Matthew Henry’s introduction, finished posthumously in this instance by Daniel Mayo, who also completed the commentary on 1 Thessalonians, states (emphases mine):

This Second Epistle was written soon after the former, and seems to have been designed to prevent a mistake, which might arise from some passages in the former epistle, concerning the second coming of Christ, as if it were near at hand. The apostle in this epistle is careful to prevent any wrong use which some among them might make of those expressions of his that were agreeable to the dialect of the prophets of the Old Testament, and informs them that there were many intermediate counsels yet to be fulfilled before that day of the Lord should come, though, because it is sure, he had spoken of it as near. There are other things that he writes about for their consolation under sufferings, and exhortation and direction in duty.

From 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, Paul took exception to those in the congregation who did not work. He did not specify why, but it is possible that those who were idle were waiting for the Second Coming and thought it was imminent, therefore, there was no need for them to work. Therefore, he needed to write to the congregation to get them out of the mindset that the Second Coming was imminent, just that it will definitely happen one day and, for that, they must prepare their hearts and minds in order to avoid judgement.

Even with people like that, the Thessalonians were known throughout the churches in Macedonia as being loving, faithful Christians who set the best example for converts. This held true even as they were persecuted for their faith.

These are the first four verses in 2 Thessalonians 1:


Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers,[a] as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

John MacArthur points out a few things with regard to those verses:

… suffice it to say for this moment that Paul is the author and he has two fellow missionaries along with him, Silas, or Silvanus — Silas being his Jewish name, Silvanus his Roman nameand Timothy.  They are with Paul and so he includes them in the opening greeting though Paul himself is alone the author.  They are in the city of Corinth.  They have been there for some time now. In fact, they were together when he wrote 1 Thessalonians some months before the writing of the second letter. They were together also for the founding of the church in Thessalonica.  If you go back to Acts 16 and 17 you will see that Paul, Silas, and Timothy were there when the church began.  They were there later on when the first letter was written and they were together again in Corinth for the writing of the second letter.

You will also notice that uncommonly Paul adds nothing to his name.  He doesn’t say, “Paul, an apostle; Paul, called of God; Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.”  All of those familiar things by which he designates himself are omitted here.  It’s almost as if he is intending to say that my apostleship and my call and my role and my title and my leadership and my office are not in question among you, so I need make no reference to it And he doesn’t.  Although in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 he does defend himself against what would be attacks from the outside of the church against his integrity.  There apparently were no questions inside the church so he makes no reference to his apostleship.

Furthermore there is a loving, intimate kind of tone in this letter and it is a letter written on that level so its purpose is not apostolic authority, but loving intimacy and encouragement.  And therefore the absence of title makes it a more endearing introduction.

He includes Silvanus, or Silas, who was a faithful partner of Paul He was senior in years to Timothy, probably closer to the age of Paul.  In Acts 15:22 he is called “a chief among the brethren, a leader.”  He is called in Acts 15:32, “a prophet.”  It is noted in Acts 16 that he was a Jew and like Paul, also a Roman citizen He is a familiar friend of Paul, was with him in some very dire circumstances, including being jailed with him in the city of Philippi.

Then you will note Timothy, the young man Paul had met in Acts 16, moving along with him, Paul’s companion, Paul’s son in the faith whom he was training to take the mantle when he passed on.

So here the three were together.  As I said, they were together when the church was founded.  They were together when the first letter was written.  And they’re together again this time.  And probably this is the last time the three of them were together in the life of Paul

You’ll also remember that that is the same thing identically to what he said in chapter 1 of the first letter.  Only one word differs.  Notice in verse 1 the word “our God,” “our Father.”  That is the only word that differs from the opening of the first letter.  The first letter says, “God, the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  And here in the intimacy of this letter he chooses to use that personal possessive pronoun “our” to emphasize that God is the Father of believers.  May I add that is an unusual emphasis?  Usually in the epistles of Paul God is seen as the Father generally, or God is seen as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rarely is He seen as the Father of believers.  That is true but that is not the main feature or emphasis of his fatherhood in the epistles or for that matter in the gospels.

But here is an appropriate emphasis for a little church being approached intimately in a time of severe persecution.  They are the subject and the object of a loving Father’s tender care.  And he notes, of course, the key word there, the word “in.” We are in God our Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ.  And here he’s simply reiterating their vital union with God and with Christ. 

MacArthur gives us more on the timing of this second letter, which Henry’s commentary says was written in AD 52:

Sometime around the spring he wrote that first letter that we have studied called 1 Thessalonians.  He then stayed in Corinth where he wrote that letter for about eighteen to twenty-two months, so he had a long visit there.  But after having written that first letter early in his stay at Corinth, he writes the second letter.  And it’s only months later.  In other words, maybe some time from November through February is when he wrote this second letter This means a few months have passed and he’s gotten another report.  We don’t know where the report came from.  We don’t know the source and we don’t know the specifics of it.  But obviously he has heard further word and the further word about the Thessalonian church prompts him to write a second rich and wonderful letter to them.

The first thing you note if you read 2 Thessalonians is that he talks about persecution and endurance.  So we can assume the persecution had continued.  The persecution maybe escalated.  The heat perhaps had been turned up.

The second thing you’ll note as you read this letter is that there still remained confusion over the Second Coming of Christ.  ... And there may have been a false letter, that is a letter said to be from Paul that was not from Paul that had been given to the church at Thessalonica with some error in it. They, thinking it came from Paul, bought into it and it created some of the confusion.  So there is the possibility that they had a false Pauline letter that had created some of their problems.

Furthermore there were other false teachers who said that suffering means the end is present with you.  You’re living in the end.  And so that confusion continued about the Second Coming and that is apparent in the second letter.

The third thing that must have come to him in the report was that some of the people were believing that Jesus was coming in any split second.  And as a result of that, because they were already living in the end, and Jesus would be there in any moment, they were not working They had ceased to work and were becoming leeches on the Christian community and so the issue of indolence and laziness and a failure to work becomes a very important part of this letter.

Paul says that ‘this’ — the Thessalonians’ steadfastness in the face of persecution and affliction — is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, for which they are also suffering (verse 5).

I am not sure that 21st century audiences would appreciate the import of that or find it of much comfort, so here is Henry’s explanation, which, although he does not use the word, says that suffering for the Christian faith is a form of sanctification:

Their faith being thus tried, and patience exercised, they were improved by their sufferings, insomuch that they were counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Their sufferings were a manifest token of this, that they were worthy or meet to be accounted Christians indeed, seeing they could suffer for Christianity. And the truth is, Religion, if it is worth any thing, is worth every thing; and those either have no religion at all, or none that is worth having, or know not how to value it, that cannot find in their hearts to suffer for it. Besides, from their patient suffering, it appeared that, according to the righteous judgment of God, they should be counted worthy of the heavenly glory: not by worthiness of condignity, but of congruity only; not that they could merit heaven, but they were made meet for heaven. We cannot by all our sufferings, any more than by our services, merit heaven as a debt; but by our patience under our sufferings we are qualified for the joy that is promised to patient sufferers in the cause of God.

MacArthur points out that persecution will never destroy true faith — but it will destroy false faith:

Let me give you a principle.  Persecution destroys false faith.  Persecution destroys false faith.  Persecution never destroys true faith.  Persecution destroys false faith.  You remember Matthew 13 verses 20 and 21 Jesus talked about seed that fell into the ground, the ground was rocky, the plant came up for a little while.  As soon as persecution came, it died.  Persecution destroys false faith.  It never destroys true faith.  And somebody says why?  And the answer is, because true faith is indestructible, true faith is indestructible Luke 22:32, Peter looked at Jesus in the moment of his failure, Jesus looked back at Peter and said, “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not.”  Why is it indestructible?  Because Jesus Christ will never let it be destroyed It is indestructible.  No matter how stressing, no matter how hard, no matter how troubled the times and events, no matter how deep, deep the pain, no matter how severe the persecution, the only thing that gets destroyed by persecution is false faith.  That’s why we always say that persecution produces a pure church.

So, what happened to the Thessalonians?  They were real. They were in God and in Christ, the genuine recipients of grace and peace.  And therefore when the persecution came and the heat was turned up, all it did was increase their trust.  Why?  Because persecution drives the true believer to whom?  To GodRemember 2 Corinthians 12 Paul says, “I had this thorn in the flesh.”  Where did he go?  “Three times I went to the Lord.”  Trouble, persecution, distress, affliction, pain drives the true believer to the Lord and when you’re driven to the Lord you learn to know Him more deeply and the more you know Him the more you trust Him and that’s how trust grows.  I would go so far as to say it is hard for faith to grow without difficulty, without persecution or affliction or trouble or trials or stress because God has no opportunity to draw you to Himself and display His love and mercy and power So, the true believer accepts all of this and finds his trust in God is growing.

The Apostle says that God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict the Thessalonians (verse 6), and indeed, any other believer, then and now, to the end of time.

Henry says:

A punishment inflicted on persecutors: God will recompense tribulation to those that trouble you, v. 6. And there is nothing that more infallibly marks a man for eternal ruin than a spirit of persecution, and enmity to the name and people of God: as the faith, patience, and constancy of the saints are to them an earnest of everlasting rest and joy, so the pride, malice, and wickedness of their persecutors are to them an earnest of everlasting misery; for every man carries about with him, and carries out of the world with him, either his heaven or his hell. God will render a recompence, and will trouble those that trouble his people. This he has done sometimes in this world, witness the dreadful end of many persecutors; but especially this he will do in the other world, where the portion of the wicked must be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

MacArthur looks at the word ‘just’ in that verse:

Verse 6: “It is only just.” It is only just to give relief to those who are afflicted and to the other believers. It is only just.

Think about that. That is a startling statement. It is only just to repay, antapodidōmi – very, very strong word. It is only just. It is essential to God’s nature as holy, to God’s nature as righteous, to God’s nature as just. It is essential that He give relief, it is right to do that. This is an amazing thing to think about. We can understand that it is right, that it is just, and therefore it is necessary for God to punish and repay with vengeance those who rejected Him. We can understand that kind of divine justice.

MacArthur also explains ‘affliction’ used in verse 6:

How is that vengeance, that retribution and that punishment to be meted out?  First of all, in verse 6 it says, “God will repay with affliction.”  That means with pain.  It will be a painful execution of judgment, of justice.  Furthermore in verse 9, this penalty to be paid will be eternal.  It will be an eternal pain, eternal destruction, he calls it.  The word means ruination.  In other words, man as to any value or any purpose or any worthiness will be ruined.  It will be the ruination of that individual, eternally ruined and eternally to bear pain.  Further, that is defined as being away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of His power.  No evidence of the presence of God.  He will not be there.  No manifestation of the glory of His power.  To be in that place called hell prepared for the devil and his angels is to be utterly apart from any representation of God or any display of His power whatsoever, left only to the underworld of fallen angels in their unmitigated, wickedness and punishment and unrelieved and eternal pain.  That’s retribution.  That’s what happens when Jesus comes.

Yet, while God will justly punish persecutors and others among the wicked, the persecuted and His other faithful servants will find relief when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels (verse 7).

The world has not seen Jesus Christ in His full glory and power having been at the right hand of the Father since the Ascension, but at the Second Coming — at some point in future — those alive at the time will experience it. It will be a longed-for relief for those who belong to Him and a terrifying reality to those who are not His. Those who have already died will experience their final judgement. Those whose souls have been at rest with Him will receive their glorified bodies and join Him forever in heaven. Those who have been in hell will receive their final condemnation, sometimes referred to as the second death. All decisions will be final. There will be no second chances.

MacArthur discusses ‘revealed’:

The key statement in this text is in verse 7, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed.” The Lord Jesus shall be revealed. Verse 10 says it in a briefer way, “When He comes.” The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is then the theme here. Ever and always the Christian reads the Scripture and it points to the climax of history being the return of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus, as He is called there in verse 7, is now at the right hand of God. He has been exalted as the sovereign Lord of the church, as the faithful High Priest unto God for His people. But the day is coming when He shall be revealed.

Currently He is hidden. He is so much hidden now that the majority of the world probably believes that He is not even alive. But He shall be revealed. Presently we love Him though we have not seen Him. Some day we will see Him and love Him fully.


The word “revealed” means disclosed, unveiled, it is the apokalupsis, the apocalypse, the unveiling, the revealing.  As we have been noting in our study of the book of Revelation, Jesus came the first time veiled, He came the first time hidden in human flesh so that His full glory was not seen.  The second time He is unveiled, He is revealed, and He comes in full glory

Continuing that thought, Paul says that Jesus will reveal Himself in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey His Gospel (verse 8).

MacArthur reminds us of His own words in Matthew’s Gospel:

Paul is not inventing this, nor is it the first time that the Scriptures have talked about this two-fold coming. Jesus Himself made it abundantly clear that the nature of His coming would be two-fold. In Matthew chapter 13 Jesus says in verse 40, “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness and will cast them into the furnace of fire, and in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That’s the retribution. When He comes the angels will collect the ungodly and cast them into hell.

Later on in Matthew chapter 24 He says, verse 30, “The Son of Man comes, He comes on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory and He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.”

In Matthew 13 the angels gather the ungodly for burning. In Matthew 24 the angels gather the elect, the godly, to take them into the kingdom and then they will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, as it said also in Matthew chapter 13. 

MacArthur says:

So, Jesus promised this, not only in the passages that I read, but in numerous other passages that at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ there would be a two-fold work. And all humanity falls into one of those two categories. The whole world will experience the return of Christ. Every eye will see Him. Every human being alive or dead who has ever lived or is living at the time will experience the effect of the Second Coming either for relief or for retribution. All of destiny ultimately falls into those two categories.

Paul here, as I noted, is echoing what Jesus promised, that he would come and that there would be a gathering together of the ungodly and that they would be cast into hell, which is vengeance, wrath and punishment. Jesus promised that was the purpose of His coming and Paul reiterates that at this particular point in this text. Actually there isn’t any text that I know of — and I have scoured them all obviously in the New Testament — there isn’t any text in the New Testament outside the book of Revelation that is as poignant and potent in portraying the fierceness of the Lord Jesus as the executioner of the ungodly as this one. It is a very strong statement that the Spirit of God makes through the pen of Paul.


The Lord appears in the Old Testament with His angels. Christ appears in His second coming with the same angels because they are the same angels. There were only the angels that were created at the same time, they don’t reproduce. The same angels that surrounded God in the Old Testament will surround Christ in His return, which is to say that Jesus is God or He carries the same angels with Him as the ministers of His authority.

And then … What do we mean, “He comes in flaming fire”? This is not the kind of fire that you get from lighting something with a match or a torch. This is not a wood fire. This is not a gasoline fire, this is not any kind of temporal, earthly, physical fire. It is the fire of His glory. And you see it all the way back in the third chapter of Exodus where Moses comes to the burning bush, “And the angel of the Lord appears to him in the blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” What kind of fire is that that is burning but doesn’t consume anything? It’s the glory fire of the presence of the Lord. Moses on Sinai referred to it.

But let’s look at chapter 19 of Exodus. “It came about on the third day when it was morning. There were thunder and lightening flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain” – Mount Sinai – “a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

“Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai. And when the Lord came down there was an earthquake and there was thunder and there was fire.” Again, this is not physical fire, this is the fire of God’s glory, the blazing shekinah glory of God manifest. It is a fire, however, that consumes sinners in the spiritual sense.

Continuing from verse 8, Paul says that those who do not know God and those who have not obeyed the Gospel of our Lord Jesus will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of His might (verse 9).

We must remember how much God hates sin. In fact, He required blood sacrifices as expiation for sin, culminating with Christ’s one perfect oblation on the Cross. However, those who do not know about that or have rejected it will not receive its benefits.

MacArthur explains:

Sin deserves death and sin deserves hell and sin deserves judgment and sin brings vengeance.  Man is not helpless.  Man is not some kind of careless victim.  He chooses his sin.  He chooses rebellion.  He chooses unbelief.  And the threat of God’s vengeance and Christ’s judgment is God’s way of making the path of the transgressor hard.  It’s a deterrent; it’s a roadblock on the way to hell.  When people fail to heed God’s call and continue in their sin, God is just in meting out a right punishment.  That’s why Romans 1:18 says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men because God is just.  All sin must be punished.  It is just, verse 6, for God to repay. It is just.  This is the reason why.  It’s an old principle.  It’s not a new one.  God has always operated on this principle

First of all, the retribution will be dealt to those who do not know God, who do not know God.  That means to say they have no personal relationship with God.  They may imagine that they know Him, they may know about Him, but they do not in the truest and purest sense know God.  And therein lies the problem.  Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”  Knowing God is the key.  But people who do not know God are going to feel the retribution.

You say, “Well now wait a minute.  How is it that they are responsible for knowing God?  How can everyone be responsible?”  Back to Romans 1 again.  “The wrath of God is revealed” verse 18 “from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

What do you mean they suppress it?  That which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them.  God has planted the knowledge of Himself within every person.

I think that’s what John had in mind when he said, “Christ is the light that lights every man that comes into the world.”  There is the knowledge of God that is there.  And then not only is it on the inside but on the outside. Creation makes His invisible attributes visible.

So they do know God on some level, “But because they do not honor Him as God or give thanks, but became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened, professing to be wise they became fools.  They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and crawling things.  Therefore God gave them over.”

When man had the knowledge that could lead him to the true knowing, he rejected it.  And so we can say that hell is for people who don’t know God … 

There’s a second definition of these people who will feel the retribution. Not only are they the ones who persecute Christians but they belong to a larger group of people who do not know God. And then he adds, “Those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”

Here are some whose guilt is even intensified. It is one thing to have the knowledge of God innately, to have the knowledge of God from creation on the outside and be responsible for that and turn from that basic knowledge, that perceivable intellectual knowledge and to turn away from God. It is something else then to reject the gospel of our Lord Jesus. That even brings a greater guilt. The hottest hell, the severest punishment is reserved for those who rejected the gospel. All those people who perished in Old Testament times, all those people who refused the knowledge of God which was available to them, who refused to know God truly will suffer forever in hell. But their punishment will not exceed the punishment of those who trampled the gospel. Since Jesus came and died and rose again, there is a greater responsibility, and for rejection of the gospel, there is intensified guilt.

Some people don’t know God because they reject that basic knowledge that God has given them and they never have any more knowledge. And so their rejection is at that level. Some people reject God even though they have heard more about Him, they’ve read about Him, they’re exposed to Christianity, they still reject God. There are all kinds of levels of information in which people can still not know God. But the pinnacle is when you have heard the gospel and you have listened to the story of the cross and the resurrection and reject that, that is the most intense guilt that brings about the severest punishment, the hottest hell, the greatest vengeance.

In Hebrews 10 that is clearly stated. “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” If you reject the truth in Christ, that sacrifice, “There’s nothing else for you but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment.” All you’ve got to look forward to is a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries, hell. If you reject Christ, all you can expect is judgment and hell. And then in verse 28 he says, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If you reject the Old Testament, if you reject the Law of Moses, you’re going to suffer. “But how much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

If you reject the gospel, a severer punishment comes. And then verse 30, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” and then verse 31, “It’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” You see, when you don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, you bring upon yourself the severest retribution, the severest vengeance.

Acts chapter 17 and verse 30 and 31 reiterate this. It says in verse 31…30, there was a time when God overlooked things “but now declares all men everywhere to repent because…” actually “He now commands all men everywhere to repent because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom He has appointed, the man whom He raised from the dead, even Christ.” There was a time when God was more tolerant but now He commands everyone to repent because He sees the judgment coming at the return of Christ …

This gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is a command. That is why God will come in vengeance because you who disobey the command have flaunted yourself against His authority. It’s a command to be obeyed. That’s why Paul talks about the obedience of faith in the book of Romans. So when the gospel is preached, it is a command. When is the last time you said to somebody, “I command you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, God commands you”? John the Baptist didn’t come along and say, “It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent,” he said, “Repent, or else.”

On that fateful day, Paul says, Jesus will be glorified in His saints and will be marvelled at among all who have believed, because they believed in Paul’s testimony (verse 10).

Henry says:

And then the apostle’s testimony concerning this day will be confirmed and believed (v. 10); in that bright and blessed day, 1. Christ Jesus will be glorified and admired by his saints. They will behold his glory, and admire it with pleasure; they will glorify his grace, and admire the wonders of his power and goodness towards them, and sing hallelujahs to him in that day of his triumph, for their complete victory and happiness. 2. Christ will be glorified and admired in them. His grace and power will then be manifested and magnified, when it shall appear what he has purchased for, and wrought in, and bestowed upon, all those who believe in him. As his wrath and power will be made known in and by the destruction of his enemies, so his grace and power will be magnified in the salvation of his saints. Note, Christ’s dealings with those who believe will be what the world one day shall wonder at. Now, they are a wonder to many; but how will they be wondered at in this great and glorious day; or, rather, how will Christ, whose name is Wonderful, be admired, when the mystery of God shall be finished! Christ will not be so much admired in the glorious esteem of angels that he will bring from heaven with him as in the many saints, the many sons, that he will bring to glory.

These are Paul’s closing verses in 2 Thessalonians 1:

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 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.

MacArthur gives us something to consider when comparing Christianity with other world religions:

We are in God our Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ ... No religion of the world talks like this.  It is not said that you are in Confucius, or you are in Buddha.  That is not the way the world speaks religiously.  No one in the Muslim religion is in Mohammed, or in Allah.  Such terminology is unique to Christianity because we know that the Bible teaches that when one puts faith in Christ there is then an intimate union of life, shared life in which we are indivisibly united with the living God and the Lord Jesus Christ We have a common life. This is the mystery that Paul unfolds in Ephesians 3:9 and Colossians 3 where he talks about the union that we have. This is what he had in mind in Galatians 2:20, that mystical life union that we have with Jesus Christ. And so that marks our identity as a truly genuine believer.  We are in God, in Christ, sharing a common union of life with them both.

It is also essential to note and certainly Paul had it in mind, verse 1, he combines God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; verse 2, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  And by putting those two together on an equal footing — the Son is placed alongside the Father you can see the emphasis on the deity of Jesus Christ.  It is always interesting to me that this is done without any comment, without any need to sort of explain this.  If indeed Jesus were not God, if He were not equal to God, then there would need to be some explanation here for putting God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ together as the ones in whom the believer is deeply united in eternal, spiritual life.  And furthermore in verse 2, there would need to be some explanation as to how God and the Lord Jesus Christ both can be the source of grace and the source of peace if Christ is not in fact God.

But the New Testament makes no effort to try to explain such equality because such equality is in fact the obvious truth of the New Testament So he is saying, you are not only gathered into a place called Thessalonica, but you are enfolded into God and you are enfolded into Jesus Christ And as such, you are the recipients of ongoing grace and the recipients of ongoing peace grace simply being God’s favor to the sinner; peace being the result of that favor And you have it not once in the past, but ever and always in the present.

That sums up the benefits of Christianity perfectly. Who could ask for more? It is so sad that so many settle for less.

Paul has more on the Second Coming.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

Bible read me 4The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Final Instructions and Benediction

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,[a] encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.


Happy New Year to all my readers! May 2023 turn out to be a time of fulfilled personal hopes and dreams, despite our present economic and socio-political malaise.

Last week’s post looked at Paul’s verses on brotherly love in light of sanctification.

Today’s verses address relationships within the church.

I have no idea why these are not in the Lectionary, because every congregation needs to hear them.

As John MacArthur says of the first two verses (emphases mine):

Those two verses speak of the issue of the relationship between pastors and people, shepherds and sheep.  And, beloved, I say to you this is where health in the church begins Nothing is more devastating to the spiritual progress of a church than an unwholesome relationship between the shepherds and the sheep.  You can’t have a healthy flock with that kind of problem.  If shepherds are not fulfilling their proper spiritual responsibility to the sheep, and sheep are not fulfilling their proper spiritual responsibility to the shepherd, the church can never be what God intends it to be.  It cannot break down at that very, very significant level.  The relationship that we have with you and you have with us as leaders is crucial in the church.  And, frankly, devastation of a massive proportion occurs in churches where there is a breakdown of confidence, trust, love, affection between shepherds and sheep.  When integrity goes, and credibility goes, and confidence goes, and trust goes, and love goes, and affection goes, at the point of that relationship, you have devastated the life of that church.  And even though there are only two verses committed to this, the truths herein are replete throughout the New Testament, and we could literally spend months just tracking out the things that you’re going to see in these two verses

Paul begins by saying that the Thessalonians are to respect those who labour among them — the church leaders — who are over them in authority in the Lord and there to admonish them (verse 12).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the duties of those who are called to ordained ministry:

Their work is very weighty, and very honourable and useful. (1.) Ministers must labour among their people, labour with diligence, and unto weariness (so the word in the original imports); they must labour in the word and doctrine, 1 Tim 5 17. They are called labourers, and should not be loiterers. They must labour with their people, to instruct, comfort, and edify them. And, (2.) Ministers are to rule their people also, so the word is rendered, 1 Tim 5 17. They must rule, not with rigour, but with love. They must not exercise dominion as temporal lords; but rule as spiritual guides, by setting a good example to the flock. They are over the people in the Lord, to distinguish them from civil magistrates, and to denote also that they are but ministers under Christ, appointed by him, and must rule the people by Christ’s laws, and not by laws of their own. This may also intimate the end of their office and all their labour; namely, the service and honour of the Lord. (3.) They must also admonish the people, and that not only publicly, but privately, as there may be occasion. They must instruct them to do well, and should reprove when they do ill. It is their duty not only to give good counsel, but also to give admonition, to give warning to the flock of the dangers they are liable to, and reprove for negligence or what else may be amiss.

MacArthur takes us through the Greek words used in the New Testament to define church leaders:

As the New Testament unfolds, it becomes clear who the leaders of the church are.  The leaders of the church are identified under four basic titles, four basic New Testament descriptions, or words, terms.  And you’re familiar with them.  Number one: the very familiar term “elder,” presbuteros Now, that identifies a church leader as one characterized by – mark this – spiritual maturity and wisdom – spiritual maturity and wisdom.  The leaders are those who are spiritually mature, spiritually wise.  That term, elder, is used over and over and over again in the New Testament.  Very early on, as the church is being established in the book of Acts, it is a high priority to make sure that those churches have elders; that is, men who are characterized by spiritual maturity and spiritual wisdom, who can lead the church.  And you find very clear characteristics required of such men given in 1 Timothy chapter 3, Titus chapter 1.  Their duties are outlined without any lack of clarity throughout the New Testament.  We understand very clearly what an elder is: a spiritually mature, spiritually wise man given responsibility to lead the church.

There’s another word that is used to describe this man, this leader; that is the word overseer, sometimes translated by the Old English word bishop.  It is the word episkopos in the Greek; it means to look over, to oversee.  This indicates that the church leader is not only characterized by spiritual maturity and spiritual wisdom, but by spiritual oversight and spiritual authority In this word, you have oversight and authority.  They go together.  And you find, for example, that word used in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus chapter 1 as the word to describe church leaders.  They are overseers.  It is also used in Philippians 1:1 and Acts 20:28.

Then you have a third word that we’re all familiar with, and that’s the word pastor.  It means shepherd, it comes from poimn.  This indicates that the leader in the church is characterized by spiritual feeding and spiritual protection Here you’re looking at the duty that he has to feed the flock and protect them from the wolves So the leader in the church is characterized by spiritual maturity, spiritual wisdom, spiritual oversight, spiritual authority, spiritual feeding, and spiritual protection.

And there’s a fourth term that is used.  It is the word hgoumenois, which literally means “those who led you.”  And we’ll just use the word leader, or chief.  This indicates that the one who is responsible as an overseer, elder, or pastor should be characterized by spiritual discernment and spiritual guidance.  In other words, he is effective as a leader because he can assess the condition, and move people to a better condition, guide them in a right path.

What then is the leader of the church?  He is a man with spiritual maturity, spiritual wisdom, spiritual oversight, spiritual authority, who spiritually feeds, spiritually protects people, who provide spiritual discernment of their condition, and spiritual guidance to a better place.  That’s the leader.

The Thessalonians needed that guidance because they were such a young congregation. They converted together during Paul’s all too brief time with them. Paul wanted to avoid any conflicts between the congregation and the men he appointed to be leaders before he left.

MacArthur explains:

while there is in this letter no mention of elders, no mention of overseers, no mention of pastors, and no mention of leaders, there is definitely in verse 12 the mention of people who have charge over you So Paul, with apostolic authority, led by the Holy Spirit, had identified certain men, and given them the leadership, and they were really sort of like elders in process.  They don’t bear the title but they were certainly given responsibility and were moving in that direction, and someday, no doubt, would be called elder, overseer, pastor, leaders.  Not yet bearing the title, they were learning the roles of leadership And that wouldn’t have been easy, and I’ll tell you why.  They were all young Christians. They were all sort of equally old in the Lord, which makes it difficult for someone to take the leadership role, when others know that he is no more a mature in terms of time than they are.  It would also be difficult because very likely this church came, for the most part, from the common people, and many of them may have been slaves.  And then when they were selected for spiritual giftedness, and by the apostles, identified through the working of the Holy Spirit, as those gifted by God to be leaders in the church, they would come out of a kind of a lifestyle where they weren’t used to leadership They wouldn’t have come out of the culture as leaders.  They would not have had positions of authority in their society.  So they were learning all about leadership, and all about spiritual wisdom, and all about spiritual maturity, all in one process of development.  So it was not an easy thing.

And it could have been that there was a point of conflict in the Thessalonian church, and some were wondering why these others had charge over them, and they were a little bit nonsubmissive.  And it was that somewhat conflicting situation that promotes these couple of verses, encouraging people to live in peace with each other.  Verse 14 says there were some unruly people, there were some fainthearted, there were some weak, and there were some who demanded patience.  Verse 15 indicates that some people were rendering evil, and you weren’t to give evil back, so there was some conflict in the church.  As I said, it wasn’t fatal and life threatening, but it was there And that kind of conflict in the church could be remedied if the shepherds and the sheep did their proper duties.

MacArthur analyses the verse and includes more from the Greek manuscript. This, too, relates to sanctification. They are doing well, but they can do even better:

Look at verse 12, “But we request of you, brethren” – very amiable.  This is a gentle kind of approach from the Apostle.  It lacks that apostolic dictum that sometimes he can give.  It’s more the request from a friend.  He used the same phrase, by the way, in chapter 4, verse 1, again not threatening them, because they were doing so well.  Here he is saying the same thing: “You’re doing well in your relationship shepherds to sheep and sheep to shepherds.  You’re doing well.  I just want to encourage you to do better.”  And so there’s a gentle request here, rather than a threat.

… You’ll look down in verse 12, and you’ll notice this phrase, “Those who labor among you.”  There is the first identifying mark of their pastors, their elders, their leaders, their would-be in-process overseers.  “They diligently labor among you.” The phrase is self-evident.  You don’t need much of an explanation, just a few technical details.  There’s that word kopia again that Paul loves to use that means to work to the point of sweat and exhaustion, to exhibit great exertion and great effort, to work until you’re weary And he characterizes the pastor as one who works diligently, who labors to the point of sweat and exhaustion among his people That is the sphere of his ministry.  His responsibility is not outside the church, it’s not long distance; it’s intimately involved with the church.  Like a shepherd would be intimately involved with the sheep, like a father would be intimately involved with a family, he is to be involved with his people, among the people, in the midst of the people, alongside of them in spiritual labor.  What’s he doing?  Explaining the gospel, explaining the truth, applying the truth, warning them, admonishing them, counseling them, helping them.  Paul, you’ll remember, in Acts 20 went house to house, house to house, teaching the things of God with great dedication, and great effort, touching the personal lives of people, pouring his life into the flock that God had given him, even as any faithful shepherd would do …

This kind of principle is repeated many, many places, but no better is it stated than in Colossians 1:28, where Paul says, “We proclaim Christ, admonishing every man, teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.”  It’s an absolutely astounding goal

A faithful shepherd knows his sheep, and touches their lives, and pours his whole life into them.  That’s his calling.  That’s his duty.  That’s his responsibility.  And yet there are so many in the ministry who give so little to the church they’re in. They take a lot; spend their time in other places, and other enterprises.  First Timothy 4:10, he says, “It is this for which we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men.”  And again he used that word kopia and agnizomai We work to the point of sweat and exhaustion, and we agonize because we are dealing with eternal matters

Secondly, he not only has responsibility to labor among the sheep, but secondly, authority over the sheep; and that is very clearly indicated.  Look at that verse 12 again, “And have charge over you in the Lord – and have charge over you in the Lord.”  Charge over you, proistmi, means to stand before someone, or to preside, or to lead, or to direct.  It’s used in 1 Timothy chapter 3 three times, verse 4, 5 and 12, and 1 Timothy 5:17 in reference to elders, and pastors, and leaders in the church, and it means to be in charge, to have authority.  It is a delegated authority, admittedly; delegated by Christ. But we stand in the place of Christ – we are under-shepherds, under the great Shepherd, as Peter calls Him.  Notice it says, “We have charge over you”

Please notice the little phrase “in the Lord.”  We’re not self-appointed.  It’s not manmade.  You didn’t give us that authority.  We didn’t take it on our own.  It’s not from men.  We are called, equipped, appointed by God.  It is our duty to rule for His sake, the Lord’s sake, not for personal power, personal prestige, personal gain, personal career advancement, but for the Lord.  That little phrase “in the Lord” is the sphere in which our authority rests.  Our authority is in Him.  He delegated it to us.  We only have it as we’re obedient to His Word and His will.  We have a delegated authority.  It is not our own, and it does not go beyond the expression of His will, in His Word and through His Spirit.  And so, we are given authority, but only in the Lord, not beyond that

And then thirdly, and finally – and these are very simple and direct – the end of verse 12 says, “And give you instruction.”  The third responsibility of shepherds to the sheep is instruction for the sheep.  Labor among the sheep, authority over the sheep, instruction for the sheep – and give you instruction.  That’s from the verb nouthete, which is often translated in the New Testament “admonish.”  You’ve seen it many times, the word “admonish” in your Bible.  And basically, it is instruction, but instruction with a view toward correction It carries the idea of if you keep going this way you’re going to have problems; you’ve got to turn and go this way.  It is not pedantic, it is not academic, it is not just data, it is not just information, it is instruction with a view toward changing people, toward correcting them.  And I tell young men in teaching them to preach, you always preach for change, you always preach for verdict, for someone to say, “I’m here, I ought to be there, this is what I need to do” – always.  Every sermon, in principle, is to take people to the point where they see what they ought to be, where they see what they are not, and move them toward what they ought to be.  So it’s teaching with an element of warning, an element of correction, an element of channeling them toward holy living We could say it’s tender instruction toward holy living.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 4:14 of how a father instructs his beloved children.  Paul telling the Corinthians that “I taught you like a father teaching beloved children, I admonished you.”  You gently, tenderly instruct them, away from those things that hurt them, toward those things that bless them.  And, of course, the source of that is the Word of God, isn’t it? 

And shepherds then are to be skilled instructors – skilled instructors.  And by the way, that’s the only specific skill that they are said to have to have in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1.  The only skill out of all the character qualities, the only skill is they are to be apt to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2, skilled teachers.  First Timothy 4:6 and 1 Timothy 4:16 reiterate the importance of their teaching responsibility.  These leaders of the church, these shepherds are to be skilled teachers.  Why?  Well, you look at Titus 1 for a moment, verse 9, “So that they can hold fast the faithful Word which is in accordance with the doctrine.”  In other words, for the positive effort of holding fast the faithful Word according to sound doctrine.  In other words, so they can teach the truth.  Then, in order that they may be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and refute those who contradict, positive and negative You want to exhort those who believe the truth to do the truth, you want to exhort those who deny the truth to give up their error and accept the truth.  So it’s a positive and a negative.  You have to build your instruction then around the knowledge of the truth and skill in applying it. 

Having addressed the responsibilities of the leader, the shepherd, Paul turns his attention to the sheep, telling the Thessalonians to esteem their leaders very highly for the nature of their work and to be at peace among themselves (verse 13) — and with the church leader, the shepherd — to enable that work to take place unhindered.

MacArthur says that sheep are not the easiest animals to manage:

Now let’s go to the responsibility of the sheep to their shepherds.  And this is very, very basic.  I mean, the church has to know this This is the bottom line in our relationship together.  Sometimes sheep can be very hard on shepherds ... If you’ve ever worked with sheep, and I have been exposed to them just enough to know they are weak, helpless, unorganized, prone to wander, demanding, dirty, and have sharp hooves

Sheep can make life joyless for the shepherd if they don’t follow the path of their duty.  They can make life miserable if they’re not obedient.  So let’s look at the three characteristics or principles that we’re enjoined as sheep toward our shepherds … 

The first thing that the congregation is to give to the leaders, the elders, pastors, is respect that incorporates care in remuneration – to support them, to double honor them, being generous, not just a bare minimum so they have to scrape by, but showing great generosity, and respect, and admiration to them knowing they will be good stewards of what you give them.  What is the congregation’s responsibility?  Respect, admiration, honor, appreciation.

Secondly – and this builds right on that – esteem them.  He says down in verse 13, “and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”  Now, this is very much like the first one, not a lot of difference; to esteem, hgeomai, means to consider or to regard; to think.  It means to go a little deeper than the first duty, because it says you are to esteem them how – very highly You know what that is in the Greek?  Beyond all measure – beyond all measure.  And then the key word: “in love – in love, because of their work.”  Not because of their personality – this is not a personality contest – because of their work.  You are to regard them beyond all measure.  You are to regard a faithful pastor beyond all measure.  The point is there’s no limit.  There’s no limit to the regard you ought to have for that man, to the love you ought to have for that man.  You are to love that man.

What does love mean?  It means sacrificial service to him.  It means affection for him.  Not because of his personality, not because he’s done favors for you, but because of his work – because he ministers to you the Word of God, because he feeds your needy soul In Galatians you would notice, chapter 4 and verse 14, Paul says, “That which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you didn’t despise or loathe.”  Paul had some bodily condition that made him repulsive to be around, and he says, “You didn’t loathe that.”  There was nothing attractive about the man, nothing at all.  “You didn’t loathe it.  You received me as an angel of God.  You received me as Christ Jesus Himself” …

And finally, and thirdly, he says in verse 13, “Live in peace with one another.”  That’s the third thing: submit to your shepherds.  There is nothing more grieving, more distracting, more difficult, more painful than discord in the church.  That concept of living in peace with one another is a very familiar New Testament exhortation.  We know about it.  It’s all over the New Testament, and you can find it in Romans 14:19, in 2 Corinthians 13:11, in Ephesians 4:3, Colossians 3:15, James 3:18 – over and over again, the New Testament calls for peace.  But here it’s very specific.  Here it is in this context of the relation between the sheep and the shepherd, and it should be a peaceful one Submit to your shepherds, is the point.  Submit.  No strife.  Eliminate conflict.  Obviously, it presupposes a faithful shepherd And where a man is faithful in doing the best that he can in the strength of the Spirit of God, you are to submit to that.  That’s a command of Scripture …

So he says, “Obey.”  Stubborn, self-willed people will steal the joy of their pastors, and give them grief You want a miserable church?  Have a miserable pastor.  You want a miserable pastor?  Don’t submit, and you’ll take his joy away, and he’ll be a miserable man, and you’ll be a miserable people.  Stubborn, self-willed people steal the joy of their leaders, and give themselves nothing but pain.  “That’s unprofitable for you,” he says.  It isn’t going to help you.  That isn’t going to work for you, to have a grieving shepherd, to have a joyless shepherd.

Then Paul tells the Thessalonians how they are to deal with each other in a church context.

He urges them to admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak — and be patient with them all (verse 14).

That is a tough call.

MacArthur explains more about these troublesome groups, all of which can be found in any congregation:

Church growth, from the spiritual standpoint, which is the only standpoint God has any concern about, is in direct proportion to how well we deal with the failures in our midst.  Paul wants to help us to do that by giving us these two verses in our text which we’ll look at in a few moments, but if we were to sort of step back and take a look at the church and say, well, how could we categorize the problem people in the church?

We might come up with five categories, five categories of problem people that retard the growth and the power of the church.  Group number one, we’ll call the wayward, the wayward.  They’re never in step.  They’re always out of synch.  They’re always out of line.  They’re never with the program.  When everybody else is moving ahead, they’re going backwards.  When everybody else is filling up the ranks in proper order, they’re outside that somewhere failing to do their duty, not particularly interesting in serving, sometimes not at all interested in giving, idle, perhaps even loafing.  They’re in the way of the progress.  Disorderly, they might be.  Even AWOL, they might be.  Apathetic, they might be, sometimes contentious, sometimes rebellious, and I suppose they fill up the spectrum all the way from apathy to rebellion.

They’re the wayward.  They’re just never going the way everybody’s going in the proper line.  They’re at odds with everything. 

A second group we might identify that hinder the growth and the life and the power of the church, we’ll call the worried.  The worried.  This group is basically motivated by fear.  These are the people in the church who have no courage, who will articulate the famous words “We’ve never done it that way before,” who can give you ten reasons why you can’t do anything you propose to do.

They have no sense of adventure.  They hate change.  They love tradition.  They fear the unknown.  They want no risk.  They worry about everything.  All the issues of life are far more than they can bear.  They’re usually sad, always worried, sometimes in despair, often depressed, discouraged and defeated.  They carry none of the zeal, the joy, the thrill, the exuberance that adventure brings. 

We could probably identify a third group We could call them the weak.  The weak.  They’re just spiritually and morally weak.  Christians who, because of their weak faith, because of the weak disciplines of their life, are susceptible to sin, and they fall into the same sins over and over, and you barely get them up and dust them off and they’re back in the same hole again.  They find it very hard to do God’s Will consistently.  They embarrass themselves.  They embarrass the church.  They embarrass the Lord.  They take an awful lot of attention.  They test how good a church is at church discipline and usually run you all the way to at least step two.

If we were to identify a fourth group, we could call them the wearisome.  The wearisome.  Another word for that would be frustrating, but it doesn’t start with W.  These are the wearisome, the foot draggers.  They’re inline, but they’re just going at the wrong speed.  They never catch up.  You keep teaching them, and you keep training them, and you keep discipling them.  And you pour all of this energy into them, and every time you look around to see how close they might be, they look like they’re farther away.  Everything distracts them.  They have a great difficulty concentrating, great difficulty focusing.  They’re just very exasperating because you make the maximum effort and you get the minimum return.  They don’t move and grow at the pace that would be considered normal. 

Finally, group five would be the outright wicked.  The wicked.  They do evil.  Christians who do evil.  They commit sins against other Christians right in the church.  They break up marriages.  They defile daughters.  They steal.  They gossip.  They slander.  They falsely accuse.  They’re just wicked. 

Now you understand that, as the church endeavors to grow, it’s got to deal with these five groups, the wayward, the worried, the weak, the wearisome and the wicked, and no wonder growing a healthy flock is such a challenging enterprise because all these folks need healing spiritually

MacArthur rightly criticises today’s popular view of church growth, a conceptual programme in nearly every denomination:

Now, with all that’s being said and all that’s being written about church growth, all the sophisticated data, all the homogeneity principles, all the cultural demographics, all the subtle strategies, all the entertainment methods, all the advertising technique that are supposed to be the keys to building the church and growing the church, precious little is being said about how to grow a healthy flock spiritually into Christ likeness by eliminating these problems. 

The Bible never says anything about homogeneity.  The Bible never says anything about cultural demographics.  The Bible never says anything about subtle strategies.  The Bible never says anything about entertainment methodology.  The Bible never says anything about advertising technique, but it does say, if you want to grow a church, you need to get the impediments out of the way You need to deal with whatever’s retarding that church’s growth, and then when it gets pure and it gets holy, it’ll get moving and it’ll know the Power of God, and it’ll make a massive impact on its culture.

He gives us Paul’s vision for the Thessalonian church — and the Church:

… if you turn to the apostle Paul to learn the principles of church growth, first of all, what you want to find out is what is his goal, what’s he after, what does he want the church to become.  Bigger, wealthier, more popular, more accepted in the community.  Let’s find out what he wanted for the church.

Go back to chapter 1 of 1 Thessalonians.  “This church will a model and an example of what He would have desired for any church.  We give thanks to God always for you all,” he says.  “Making mention of you in our prayers.”  He was very thankful for this church, very thankful. 

Now what was it that caused him to be thankful?  Down at the end of chapter 2, he says, “You are our glory and our joy.”  Over at the end of chapter 5, “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss,” verse 26.  He’s got a strong affection for this group.  Well, that’s because they were on the way to the right goal.  They were shooting at the right target

Now Paul was very clear about the goal of ministry.  Chapter 2, look at verse 10.  Let’s begin to get a feel about what he was looking at in terms of church development, church growth.  “You are witnesses,” 2 10, “And so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behave toward you believers, just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father with his own children.”

All right.  You’re really working at it.  But what are you trying to do?  So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.  My goal for you is that you walk worthy of the God who called you … 

You see, what he wanted was a strong, mature faithThat was the goal of his prayers and his efforts.  That’s what he was after.  He says now, in this great benediction, “May our God and Father Himself and Jesus, our Lord, direct our way to You.  May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another.”  We want you to love each other more “And for all men, just as we also do for you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father” …

Boy, pretty clear in his mind what church growth meant to him He was after deepening, strengthening of the lives of believers knowing full well that, as you eliminate the impediment presented by the folks that are retarding the church, the church begins to move in power.  So Paul put his major energy, his resources, his prayer and his passion into growing a healthy spiritual flock by transforming the wayward, the worried, the weak, the wearisome and the wicked into the righteous and powerful and effective.

And when the effort was successful, as it was in Thessalonica, he rejoiced. 

MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s advice to the congregation on dealing with troublesome people:

Group one, the wayward, verse 14, Paul writes, “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly.”  Now that little phrase, admonish the unruly, introduces us to the wayward.  The word, ataktos was often used in a military sense.  When used in the military sense, it had the idea of a soldier who was out of line, a soldier who was out of rank, a soldier who was guilty of disorderly conduct, who was insubordinate, non-submissive, disobeying orders, not following through on his duty.  He was out of step.  It eventually came to mean anybody who does do his duty, anybody who doesn’t follow through on his responsibility.  Moffatt translates it loafers.  Some have suggested quitters, idle, lazy, invalid, apathetic, but it doesn’t have to mean just that. 

It can mean someone who doesn’t do his duty not only out of apathy but someone who doesn’t do his duty out of a rebellion.  In 2 Thessalonians were some cognate forms of this word are used.  This word is used only here in the New Testament – but where some other forms of it are used in 2 Thessalonians 3 versus 6, 7 and, I think, 11. 

In that particular text, it is used to refer to some lazy busybodies who don’t work and expect everyone else to do all the work and take care of them.  For us, it refers to the wayward.  They’re out of line.  They’re out of step.  Everybody’s going one direction.  They’re not.  Everybody else understands spiritual duty, is willing to do it, do whatever God’s gifted them to do, get involved in the service whether it means that I’m serving the Lord with my gifts, I’m giving as God as prospered me, I’m behind the leadership of the church, I’m supporting the direction we’re going, I’m onboard, I’m on the team, I’m participating, I’m a part, I’m involved.  That’s the kind of person that makes the church move and grow

A.T. Robertson said the verb nouthete means to put sense into it, to come alongside and put some sense into their head One writer says, “Is the idea of coming to someone, who is following a path that ultimately ends in serious consequences, and instructing him about the inevitability of those consequences.”  In other words, the word can be translated to warn someone.  It doesn’t have the idea of distant judgmentalism. 

It doesn’t have the idea of criticism from a vantage point of superiority.  It has the sense of coming along closely and intimately and showing someone the consequences of their conduct.  It’s as simple as saying, “I’ve been watching you, and I see your indifference.  You come now and then, not faithfully, to the church.  You’re not involved in a ministry.  You’re negative about certain things, or you’re critical about certain things.”  And saying to the person, “You realize, don’t you, that, if you continue in that path, these are the consequences, and I don’t think you want those consequences nor do I want you to experience those consequences.”

It’s that gentle kind of warning that come alongside and says you’re going in a direction, the end of which will be a major disappointment to you.  It’s a warning that Paul gave to the Ephesian elders with tears, according to Act 21:31.  There’s a passion in it.  There’s a hurt in it that says I don’t want you to keep doing that because the end of that road is major consequences.  For God will chasten such apathies, such rebellion, insubordination, such disorderly conduct.

When you truly love somebody, you don’t hesitate to warn them ... I want you to know the fullness of God’s blessing, the fullness of God’s provision, and I want to see the church all it can be

Group two is the worried.  They’re not on the edge.  They’re huddled in the middle.  They don’t want to get near the edge.  They’re huddled in the middle, and he says about them, “Encourage the fainthearted.”  That’s a very interesting term, also used only here.  It’s the term oligopsuchos from two Greek words soul and small.  The small souled

And, surely, the little group of them in Thessalonica, that everybody was trying to get moving, had suffered the most from the two big problems Problem number one was persecution.  They were getting persecuted, and Paul says, “You should have expected it.  I read that to you.”  In chapter 2, “You should have expected it.  I mean, I told you.”

The other problems afflicting the worried is that they thought they had missed our Lord’s Second Coming and they were sorrowful about the death of their church friends:

So he has to write and say, “No, no, no.  The dead in Christ will rise first.  They’ll be there.  In fact, they’ll get there before the rest of you do.  So go get those people and comfort them with these words.”

Therefore, Paul tells the Thessalonians to comfort those people and set them right in a pleasing way:

Sheep-to-sheep, folks, you know somebody that’s fearful and worried and under despair all the time and sad, can’t get above the problems of life, you’ve got to come alongside and speak to them, develop a friendly relationship with them, has the idea of coming alongside to console, to comfort to strengthen, to reassure, to cheer up, to refresh, to soothe, but there’s no other way than in a relationship.

Then there are those who are weak, as in weaker brethren who are not yet capable of being stronger brethren:

This is category group number three.  The weak.  So what do you mean the weak?  Well, weak in faith certainly could be an element of it.  We have identified, by the apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and in Romans 14 and 15, a concept that is called the weaker brother.  Remember that? 

All that means is that his faith is weak.  He doesn’t have a strong enough faith to experience all of the liberty and freedom that belongs to him or her in Christ.  The faith is weak.  A weak faith creates a problem.  What is that problem?  A weak faith  means that that person is very susceptible to temptation and sin.  It’s a hypersensitivity to sin.  In fact, they’re so hypersensitive to it that they see things as sin that aren’t really sin at all and so they tend to pull back

The church is full of these kinds of people.  Believe me, they are impediments and stumbling blocks.  They retard the development of the church, the growth and the power of the church.  What are we to do with them?  Help them.  Help is such a simplistic word for such a magnificent concept in Greek.  The Greek word means to hold firmly to, to hold tightly to, to cling to, to support, to hold them up.  Galatians 6:1 says, if a brother’s overtaken in a fall, you that are spiritual what?  Pick him up.  And then it says bear one another’s burden.  That’s the second step.  Hold him up.  Hold him up.  Hold him up.  Support. 

How do you do that?  Again, it’s intimacy.  You come alongside.  This is how the church grows when the sheep start to take care of the sheep, when they start to care enough to go to the wayward and admonish them, when they care enough to go to the worried and encourage them, when they care enough to go to the weak and hold them up.  That means involvement. 

Then there are the wearisome. They need patience — and a lot of it:

Then there’s group four, the wearisomeHe says, “Be patient with all men.”  Well, you have to qualify all men.  The all has to refer to the people with whom we would easily become impatient.  “Be patient with all men.  Be patient with all the men who try your patience.” 

It’s easy to get frustrated.  It’s easy to get angry, easy to get disappointed, discouraged, exasperated with some people.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You give so much.  You get so little

That’s very, very difficult.  You can hear it in the voice of Jesus says – he says, in exasperation to some extent short of sin, “Oh, you of little faith.”  I mean when are you blockheads going to get this?  And what does he say we’re to do with those people?  Be patient.  You say, “How patient?”  More patient than you’ve been.  You say, “How patient?”  As patient as God is with you.  Oh, that patient?  Hmm.  That’s pretty patient. 

As for the wicked, Paul says that no one must repay evil for evil but should seek to do good to fellow church members and to everyone else (verse 15).

MacArthur explains:

Don’t you step into the wrath and take your own revenge.  You leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, and here, he’s quoting out of the Old Testament, “’Vengeance is Mine.  I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  “Vengeance is mine.  I will repay.  I’ll take care of that not you.  On the other hand, if your enemy is hungry, you feed him, and if he is thirsty, you give him drink, and in so doing, you will heap burning coals of guilt upon his head.  Don’t be overcome by the evil he does to you but overcome that evil with the good you do to him.’”  See that? 

Now you can go back to 1 Thessalonians.  The only one who has a right to retaliate is God.  You say, “What about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life?”  That was a governmental mandate that the government had the right to punish equally the criminal.  The government had the right to exact a life for a life, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  That was never instruction for personal vengeance.  That’s what Jesus intended the disciples to understand and the Jews to hear in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Yeah, you think you’re supposed to hate your enemy.  You’ve perverted the Law of God to that degree.  I’m here to tell you you are to love your enemy, and you are to do good to those that do evil to you.

So how do we treat those who do evil to us?  We always, always, always seek after, pursue, purse eagerly, pursue zealously that which is good, beautiful, noble, excellent.  In other words, you say, “Well, in spite of what they’ve done to me, I’m going to do everything I can to do what is good to them, to do what is noble and excellent to them.  In an act of love, I am going to return their hostility with goodness and not just for them but for everybody, for everybody, for all men especially the household of faith,” Paul said elsewhere but to everyone.

In conclusion, MacArthur says:

A growing flock is characterized by movement in faith, love, purity toward the fullness of the stature of Christ.  That’s a growing church.  That growth is impeded by the wayward and the worried and the weak and the wearisome and the wicked, and if the church is going to grow, it isn’t going to grow because somebody figures out some strategy to go around the problem.  It’s going to grow because the shepherds and the sheep come together in intimate relationships in which they admonish the wayward, encourage the worried, hold up the weak, are long suffering with the wearisome and render loving goodness to the wicked.

And as a church takes that shape and that form, it will be a growing and a powerful church We need to commit ourselves to being what the church really is, and this is it. 

Henry concludes similarly, advising us to take care of our fellow Christians first, then everyone else:

In general, we must study to do what is our duty, and pleasing to God, in all circumstances, whether men do us good turns or ill turns; whatever men do to us, we must do good to others. We must always endeavour to be beneficent and instrumental to promote the welfare of others, both among ourselves (in the first place to those that are of the household of faith), and then, as we have opportunity, unto all men, Gal 6 10.

These are the closing verses of 1 Thessalonians:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

Next week’s entry will be from 2 Thessalonians 1, in which Paul discusses the Lord’s revenge on the wicked.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s exhortations to be morally and sexually pure as part of sanctification.

Nearly every New Testament letter has such exhortations against sexual sin, as does the Old Testament, therefore, these must be serious sins that God finds particularly abhorrent. Note that there are diseases specifically connected with these types of sin, which one could read as a divine judgement of sorts. If we consider sin to have a stench about it, these must be among the most malodorous!

In today’s verses, Paul moves on to discuss brotherly love and everyday behaviour in general terms.

We know that the Thessalonians were the most loving and doctrinally pure of the churches that Paul founded. Paul and the other Apostles cautioned in their letters to be ready for Christ’s Second Coming. The message is that a believer should always be ready for that day. A more practical application in our times, it would seem, is that we should treat every day as if it were our last. We should be prepared and ready to depart this mortal coil. That entails, in today’s parlance, ‘getting right with God’.

It seems as if some Thessalonians were overly preoccupied with our Lord’s return. As such, they eschewed their daily responsibilities and made a nuisance of themselves.

This reading also pertains to sanctification, a lifelong process — the Christian journey to become better and better in all ways of life.

To tie last week’s and this week’s verses together, John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

To remind ourselves what we’re supposed to be all about until Jesus gets here, number one, love each other more. Love each other more.  It would be safe to say, I think, that this exhortation to love, it’s in verses 9 and 10 by the way, it would be safe to say that this exhortation to love is beautifully connected with what Paul had just written because he’s just written about lust, even used the word in verse 5. And he said lust is forbidden but love is required, very much like Ephesians 5:1 and 2, where it says we’re to love in verse 2 and then immediately in verse 3 it says but we’re not to lust.  Some people get those confused, lust and love.

So, Paul says the first principle of sanctification, don’t lust.  The second one, do love, love.  And if anything is to characterize the church it is purity on the one hand and love on the other hand.  Pure moral conduct and love go together.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that, as far as brotherly love is concerned, they need no advice because they have been taught by God to love one another (verse 9).

In the Greek, the word is philadelphia. We know the great, historic city in the state of Pennsylvania is called ‘the city of brotherly love’, and ‘brotherly love’ is the literal translation of the word. Philos means love, and adelphos means brother.

MacArthur says that the original meaning of philadelphia implied a familial relationship, as it:

originally meant affection for someone from the same womb. 

God’s grace and the Holy Spirit were working through the Thessalonians to the extent that they positively exuded brotherly love for each other.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s great compliment to them:

He says, “You have no need for anyone to write to you.”  That’s interesting.  He says it would be superfluous, unnecessary for me to write to you.  He says that same thing, by the way, in chapter 5 verse 1.  He says my purpose is not to write to you to tell you to love each other. That’s superfluous.  Why?  “For you yourselves,” that means without me, emphatic, “you yourselves apart from me,” I love this, “are God-taught.” That’s one word in the Greek, theodidaktos. You are God-taught to love one another.  Boy, what a statement! What a statement that is!

He says, “Look, I don’t need to write you and tell you to love one another, you’re God-taught.”  By the way, that’s the only time in the New Testament that word is ever used. A similar phrase to that is used in John 6:45. But only here is that word used.  He’s saying you don’t need external instruction, you don’t need external motivation, external exhortation, you have an internal teaching, you’re God-taught.

You say, “You mean if I’m a Christian nobody needs to teach me to love my brother because God will do that?”  Yes.  “How?”  I’ll show you how, Romans 5:5, it tells you exactly how God does that.  Romans 5:5 says: “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Did you hear that?  The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  So how are we God-taught?  By the Holy Spirit.  God the Holy Spirit comes to live in us when we’re saved and He teaches us to love.

Paul goes on to say that the Thessalonians were known throughout Macedonia for their brotherly love, and he encourages them to display more and more of that love (verse 10) as part of sanctification.

MacArthur explains:

There’s no question about it.  It’s fact.  It’s reality.  You’re saved, you love.  “You practice it and you practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.”  It isn’t just for people in your town. It isn’t…it isn’t just some local affection.  You practice it toward all of the believers.  Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia.  And there were, remember this, other churches being founded in Macedonia.  Paul, according to Acts 16:9 to 12, was in other parts of Macedonia.  Silas and Timothy, who had been in Thessalonica, were in other parts of Macedonia.  Other churches were being founded and Christians were coming to the trade center which was Thessalonica meeting the Thessalonian church and finding them full of love and taking the message back.  And everybody in Macedonia knew the Thessalonians loved Everybody knows that and it’s not even selective. You’re just loving all the Christians.

Matthew Henry says that it is important for believers to keep striving in love and other virtues. Sanctification drives us towards perfection:

There are none on this side heaven who love in perfection. Those who are eminent in this or any other grace have need of increase therein as well as of perseverance unto the end.

The next two verses stand out because they are antithetical to our modern life. They were probably antithetical back in Greco-Roman times, too.

Paul exhorts — encourages — the Thessalonians to aspire to a quiet life, minding their own business and working with their hands as he — ‘we’ — instructed them (verse 11). Work keeps us out of trouble.

How many people, particularly online, spend time picking meddlesome and potentially dangerous verbal conflicts out of self-righteousness? Such conflicts are an everyday occurrence on social media.

Henry’s commentary says that these disputes are the work of Satan, who likes nothing better than a disquieted mind:

It is the most desirable thing to have a calm and quiet temper, and to be of a peaceable and quiet behaviour. This tends much to our own and others’ happiness; and Christians should study how to be quiet. We should be ambitious and industrious how to be calm and quiet in our minds, in patience to possess our own souls, and to be quiet towards others; or of a meek and mild, a gentle and peaceable disposition, not given to strife, contention, or division. Satan is very busy to disquiet us; and we have that in our own hearts that disposes us to be disquiet; therefore let us study to be quiet. It follows, Do your own business. When we go beyond this, we expose ourselves to a great deal of inquietude. Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbours; at least they seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to work with their own hands; and yet this was what the apostle commanded them, and what is required of us also. Christianity does not discharge us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but teaches us to be diligent therein.

MacArthur puts this verse in the context of the Thessalonians awaiting the Second Coming. No doubt this caused some of them to poke their noses in others’ business and contend with each other on that issue:

Don’t ignore this world because Jesus is coming, take a greater look at the people around you and love them more.

Hmm, love them more?  I mean, why don’t we just ignore this world and wait to go to glory?  No, he says, love them more.

Second injunction, lead a quiet life. Lead a quiet life.  You say, “Now wait a minute, Jesus is coming, shouldn’t we lead a loud life?  Shouldn’t we be all over the place screaming and yelling and hollering and marching and protesting and doing whatever we need to do to wake up the whole world?”

No, just lead a quiet life.  This is a very interesting statement because it says in verse 11, “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  Those two verb forms are tied in to “excel still more.”  How?  By making it your ambition to lead a quiet life.  That is a… That is an almost contradictory usage of two verbs.  The first one means to be zealous and to strive eagerly. Be zealous and strive eagerly to be quiet.  A little bit difficult.  Make a major effort to do nothing.  Make a major effort to rest, relax, remain silent.

That word there is used in the New Testament of a number of things: Keeping your mouth closed and not saying anything; quieting down when you’ve been speaking.  It’s used of resting.  But it has the idea in all those usages of a tranquility, calm tranquil, peaceful.  The root has that idea, quiet, peaceable.  One noun form literally means to keep your seat, sit down, relax.  Christians are to live quiet, relaxed, restful, peaceful lives in face of persecution, in face of anticipation of the Lord’s return.

We don’t know what these Christians were doing they shouldn’t have been doing. We don’t know where they were going and what they were involved in.  We don’t know how they were manifesting this lack of composure and upheaval.  But he says back off, sit down, relax, settle down, calm down, be quiet, be tranquil, be peaceful.  Very much like Paul’s instruction to Timothy to give the church at Ephesus, tell them to lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  Don’t make trouble for the king, don’t make trouble for the governors, don’t up…overturn the culture.  Hmm. Interesting commands, aren’t they?

First one, even though Jesus is coming very soon, make sure that you do loving things to meet the needs of other people, physical needs, earthly needs.  Second one, lead a very quiet life, stay out of the public eye, get back, settle down, be quiet.

There’s a third one, mind your own business.  That communicates, doesn’t it?  Mind your own business.  That’s been quoted a lot by folks, “Attend to your own business.”  But this is the only time this word is used in the Greek in the New Testament It’s common in secular Greek, but it’s only used here.  We don’t really know what he was speaking to because we don’t know what the issues were if there were any.  It may have been a general exhortation.  He is saying don’t get into somebody else’s affairs, either the affairs of other Christians, the church leaders, your society, whatever. Stay out of that stuff.  Just take care of your own business.  Concentrate on your own life.  Concentrate on how you live.  Stay out of other people’s matters, stay out of other issues.

Over in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “Don’t be a busybody.”  What’s a busybody?  Well that’s exactly what it says, a body that’s busy, somebody who is peripatetic, from the Greek verb [???] peripateo, to walk around, who is all over the place all the time Don’t do that.  People who are undisciplined, who don’t work, but who act like busybodies, just running around sticking their nose into everybody’s affairs.  Keep doing what’s necessary for your livelihood.  Don’t be running off trying to solve everybody’s problems in the world and straighten out everybody’s issues.  Mind your own business, no place for gossip.  Take care of you and just keep doing what you’ve always done.

Work, he says in Colossians 3:22 to 24, to please your master whether he’s good or not.  Do whatever you do for your master, the guy who has employed you, heartily as unto the Lord.  Just keep doing what is necessary to your life and stay out of other people’s affairs.  Keep to yourself.  Keep to your own life, your own business, the matters that concern you.  Lead a quiet, unobtrusive, gentle, peaceful life and make sure you give yourself in sacrificial love to one another in the matter of meeting worldly needs.

Paul ends this section of verses saying that living quietly, minding one’s own business and working with one’s hands will enable us to walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (verse 12).

Think about that in line with today’s welfare state. So many on welfare, often multi-generational, profess a belief in God. Yet, they shirk work and ask for more from the state, meaning taxpayers.

Henry points out:

People often by their slothfulness bring themselves into narrow circumstances, and reduce themselves to great straits, and are liable to many wants, when such as are diligent in their own business live comfortably and have lack of nothing. They are not burdensome to their friends, nor scandalous to strangers. They earn their own bread, and have the greatest pleasure in so doing.

MacArthur puts verse 12 into context for us and gives us another verse from 2 Thessalonians on the same subject. There was no welfare state then, but some in the congregation were probably taking a bit too much in church charity rather than contributing to it:

By the way, would you turn to 2 Thessalonians 3 for a moment, I’ll show you something interesting.  A little while later he wrote them another letter, 2 Thessalonians.  Guess what he says to them in this letter, very interesting.  Go down to verse 10 “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order, if anyone will not work, neither let him (what?) eat.  For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all but acting like busybodies.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.  That’s pretty straightforward.  That’s basically what he said in our text.  And here he even says, “I used to tell you this.” I wrote you this. And now I hear word that I have to write you again about this.  You’re lazy, you’re not working, you’re busybodies, you’re not quiet, you’re eating someone else’s bread.

MacArthur explains why some Thessalonians thought they no longer needed to work:

The free Greeks believed that manual labor belonged only to slaves.  So they had the slaves do all of it.  Free men should never stoop to do manual labor.  It was degrading, said the free Greeks. And consequently it led them to idleness, indulgence.  But the Christian community dignified work as an honorable effort and no doubt most of the Christians were workers In fact, most of the Christians were slaves, probably.  So they’re exhorted to keep at it.

And you say, “Well what may have happened?”  Well something like this, these slaves, or these employed people would say, “Now we’ve come to know Jesus Christ, we’re free in Christ. That catapults us over our masters.  We don’t need to work, especially in the coming of Jesus Christ.  We’re not going to do their work anymore, we’re not going to ply their trade while they rake in all the profit, we’re just going to back out and wait for Jesus to come.”

And that’s exactly what he wrote in 2 Thessalonians.  “I heard some of you were living undisciplined lives instead of quiet, peaceable lives where you mind your own business. And some of you are working not at all.”  And he says in 2 Thessalonians, “And if you don’t work you shouldn’t (what?) …because what had happened was Christians waiting for the Second Coming were unconcerned about the needs of the people around them, first of all.  They were troublesome busybodies who were not leading quiet and peaceful lives and they had become deadbeats.  And they were depending on Christians with resources to sustain them instead of working with their own hands So anxious for the Second Coming they couldn’t be bothered to take care of this life.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul and Jesus were both manual workers:

Paul made his living by making tents with his hands.  Jesus made His living by making things out of wood with His hands, and probably laying bricks.  Christianity has always dignified labor. Since most of them were workers who worked with their hands, he says work with your hands, don’t flip out into some spiritual dimension where all you want to do is sit and discuss theology. Work.

MacArthur explores the second half of verse 12 about walking properly and not being dependent on anyone. This ties in with proper evangelism:

Work with your hands.

You say, “But, John, that seems so mundane when the work is so vital, the work of evangelism and if you believe that Jesus is coming soon.”  That’s just his point.  Go to verse 12.  “So that…” Here’s the purpose: “So that you may behave properly toward outsiders.”  Stop there.

Now wait a minute, he’s talking about evangelism here.  The key to evangelism is not a…is not a strategy that folds…that unfolds in a pamphlet, or a tract, or an evangelistic technique or a programmed service.  The key to evangelism is the integrity of the lives of Christians who manifest to a troubled, agitated, messed-up world a behavior that is filled with love and peace and tranquility and privacy and diligent work.  And when Christians live that kind of a life in the world, people say you’re different.  Everything is stirred up and troubled and agitated and you’re perfectly calm.  There’s anger and hostility and bitterness and hatred and you just love all these people.  You’re generous.  While everybody is running around trying to get the scoop on everybody else.  And if you don’t believe that, just read the newspapers and the tabloids and all of that.  Some people in our culture just literally thrive in feeding themselves on somebody else’s affairs.  And all you people want to do is take care of your own business.  My, everybody else is looking for the quickest way out and you want to work hard.  What makes you tick?

See that’s the platform of integrity that makes the message believable And so if we’re going to behave properly — “behave” means walk, daily conduct, “properly: means in good form toward outsiders, not Christians — this is the way to live.  He doesn’t say shirk your job, shirk your responsibility, get noisy, go out and do this.  No, just keep living your life and unbelievers will see it It’s how you live, shoe-leather faith toward outsiders.

And then he adds this in verse 12.  “And not be in any need.”  And furthermore, he says, I want you to behave that way toward outsiders and I want you to behave that way toward insiders, so they’re not always having to meet your need.  Non-Christians, first of all, should have no basis for thinking Christians are unloving, troublesome, nosy deadbeats.  But I’m not sure that’s always the case.  I think there are a lot of apparently unloving troublesome, nosy, deadbeat Christians around.  But we will com…commend Christianity to the outsiders by the diligence and the beauty of our lifestyle.  And then he says, “And you’ll not be in need,” which means you’ll also conduct yourselves properly toward those on the inside.  You make your living, you work with your hands, you live your life. You don’t shirk responsibility so that you have to depend on some more industrious Christian to provide your livelihood.

Anticipation of the Lord’s return, beloved, was no excuse for irresponsible living

MacArthur says that our lifestyle is an important part of evangelism:

All the future analysts say the church is in trouble … because it isn’t relevant.  It’s got to be relevant.

How does the church get relevant?  By using contemporary music?  By using contemporary theater, drama, whatever?  By using contemporary Madison Avenue marketing technique?  How does the church get relevant?  By giving people what they want?

No.  The most relevant thing the church can do is live the life of a Christian in every dimension of daily life, right?  So that we close any existing gap between our faith and our feet, right?  That’s what will make us relevant. 

In the closing verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, which are in the Lectionary, Paul describes the Second Coming. Those who are already dead will rise first. Those who rise after them are believers who are still alive at the time. These are particularly relevant to Evangelical churches which believe in the Rapture:

The Coming of the Lord

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The theme continues in the first part of 1 Thessalonians 5:

The Day of the Lord

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[a] you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security”, then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children[b] of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Paul then gives general words of advice to the Thessalonians. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

A Life Pleasing to God

Finally, then, brothers,[a] we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[b] that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s overwhelming joy at Timothy’s report about the Thessalonians abounding in faith and love.

In today’s reading, Paul encourages them to pursue sanctification: building on that holy spirituality by striving for — and achieving — more of it.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

This is a new section in the epistle. That’s why he says, “Finally then, brethren.” It isn’t the last thing he’s going to say, it’s just the last subject he’s going to speak about.  The first three chapters looked at the quality of the church in Thessalonica and the integrity of Paul’s life and ministry.  He defended the integrity of the church and his own life.  Now he gets to the message he wants to give them.  Now he comes to the specific exhortations to spiritual excellence that concern him.  The unknown is, how they link up with that, or whether there’s any link at all, depending on if they have a heart longing after God.  This is a call to excellence.  This is a call to sanctification.  And it has to hook up with a desire for that.

Last Sunday — the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday 2022 — our vicar preached briefly on the stench of sin. He related an anecdote he read whereby a stranger in dire need of a bath showed up in a church for the first time. The man sitting next to him was overpowered by the stranger’s smell. Finally, he got up and moved, apologising to the sidesman (usher), who said, ‘Now we know what our sins smell like to God’.

I don’t remember what the rest of the sermon was about. The only thing that sticks in my head one week later is ‘the stench of sin’ and how much that offends God.

I won’t be going into a rant about sexual immorality but consider that all of it stinks mightily to the Lord God and His Son, our Saviour.

Furthermore, consider that sexual immorality is probably the only sin that can make us ill through one of the venereal diseases, all of which require medical attention and a prescription of some sort.

That’s how much God hates sexual sin.

Paul begins by saying that he — ‘we’ — asks and urges in the name of the Lord Jesus that, as the Thessalonians received from him the manner in which they are to walk and please God, they are to do so more and more (verse 1).

Paul is talking about sanctification, which is a life-long journey.

Before going into the interpretations of the verse, notice the variations in the versions of the Bible used in this post and the ones from Matthew Henry and MacArthur.

This is verse 1 in the ESVUK:

Finally, then, brothers,[a] we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

This is the verse in Henry’s version:

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

This is the verse in MacArthur’s version:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God, just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more. 

Reading those three versions gives us a fuller meaning of what Paul intends to say. ‘Beseech’ in Henry’s version means to politely or humbly request; traditional prayers often use the word in requesting something of God (‘we beseech Thee’). ‘Exhort’ means ‘encourage’. ‘Abound’ and ‘excel’ drive the point home, as one might say to an athlete. It’s a constant striving for spiritual greatness.

MacArthur says:

It is a call to do better.  It is a call for spiritual excellence, that’s what excelling means.  It is a call for spiritual growth, progress.

The word “excel,” perisseu, means to overflow, it means to abound, to be over and above and around, to exist in full quantity, to be advanced, to be abundantly supplied The word in a modified form can mean extraordinary, surpassing.  It is even used in a comparative way in 1 Corinthians 8:8, translated by the word “better.”  I want you to be extraordinary. I want you to excel still more. That is a comparative, intensive, I want you to excel to a higher degree, I want you to excel to a greater extent.

Henry says that Paul was writing in an affectionate rather than critical manner, yet with great earnestness:

The manner in which the exhortation is given—very affectionately. The apostle entreats them as brethren; he calls them so, and loved them as such. Because his love to them was very great, he exhorts them very earnestly: We beseech and exhort you. The apostle was unwilling to take any denial, and therefore repeats his exhortation again and again.

MacArthur would agree with that assessment:

The word “exhort,” to come along side and encourage, again is a sort of a partnership word While it does carry the potential of an authoritative use, it also has the idea of coming alongside to sustain someone in a process which you desire them to fulfill It is a helping word, an encouraging word.

So we find a certain humility of heart here, a certain pastoral warmth within him.  He doesn’t want to club these people, they’re already doing very well.  They need to excel more but they’re excelling.  They need to walk more pleasing to God but they’re already walking, he says, in that way.  So his attitude is gentle and gracious and kind, while at the same time being urgent and establishing his priority, the priority of excelling still more.

Paul says that the Thessalonians know what instructions he (‘we’) gave them through the Lord Jesus (verse 2), instructions being commandments.

We so often hear these days of being able to ‘walk the walk’, yet here we have it in the New Testament.

Henry offers this exposition, recalling that the Thessalonians were, despite Paul’s short time with them, star pupils of his:

2. The matter of his exhortationthat they would abound more and more in holy walking, or excel in those things that are good, in good works. Their faith was justly famed abroad, and they were already examples to other churches: yet the apostle would have them yet further to excel others, and to make further progress in holiness. Note, (1.) Those who most excel others fall short of perfection. The very best of us should forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before. (2.) It is not enough that we abide in the faith of the gospel, but we must abound in the work of faith. We must not only persevere to the end, but we should grow better, and walk more evenly and closely with God.

3. The arguments with which the apostle enforces his exhortation. (1.) They had been informed of their duty. They knew their Master’s will, and could not plead ignorance as an excuse. Now as faith, so knowledge, is dead without practice. They had received of those who had converted them to Christianity, or been taught of them, how they ought to walk. Observe, The design of the gospel is to teach men not only what they should believe, but also how they ought to live; not so much to fill men’s minds with notions as to regulate their temper and behaviour. The apostle taught them how to walk, not how to talk. To talk well without living well will never bring us to heaven: for the character of those who are in Christ Jesus is this: They walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (2.) Another argument is that the apostle taught and exhorted them in the name, or by the authority, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was Christ’s minister and ambassador, declaring to them what was the will and command of the Lord Jesus. (3.) Another argument is this. Herein they would please God. Holy walking is most pleasing to the holy God, who is glorious in holiness. This ought to be the aim and ambition of every Christian, to please God and to be accepted of him. We should not be men-pleasers, nor flesh-pleasers, but should walk so as to please God. (4.) The rule according to which they ought to walk and act—the commandments they had given them by the Lord Jesus Christ, which were the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, because given by authority and direction from him and such as were agreeable to his will. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ were only commissioned by him to teach men to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them, Matt 28 20. Though they had great authority from Christ, yet that was to teach men what Christ had commanded, not to give forth commandments of their own. They did not act as lords over God’s heritage (1 Pet 5 3), nor should any do so that pretend to be their successors. The apostle could appeal to the Thessalonians, who knew what commandments he gave them, that they were no other than what he had received from the Lord Jesus.

As a pattern of sanctification and longing for God, MacArthur cites Jonathan Edwards who, with George Whitefield, started the Great Awakening of 1739 to 1740 in colonial America:

What was it in that man that made him progress so far?  What was it that made him excel still more?  What was it that lifted him head and shoulders above his people, his peers?  What was the key to his powerful life and ministry?

And what he says in there, basically, as you go through his life and his writings is that the key was strong religious affections In fact, he wrote a treatise on religious affections in 1746 which really articulated what was in his heart in this matter.  And what marked him out from the very time of his conversion on was this tremendous longing to know God He had these strong religious affections — he calls them — for God and for the things that concern God, purity, holiness, virtue, truth.

Listen to what he said at his conversion “I felt great satisfaction but that did not content me.  I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ and after more holiness wherewith my heart seemed to be full and ready to break, which often brought to my mind the words of the psalmist, ‘My soul breaks for the longing it has.’  I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace,” end quote.  An insatiable thirst for God.  By the way, when he wrote that he was 17, 17 years old.  Also at 17 he wrote this, “My mind was greatly fixed on divine things.  Almost perpetually in the contemplation of them I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, often walking alone in the woods and solitary places for meditation, soliloquy and prayer and converse with God And it was always my manner at such times to sing forth my contemplations.  I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer wherever I was.  Prayer seemed to be natural to me as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.  The delights which I now felt in those things of religion were of an exceeding different kind from those before.”  Seventeen years old, those kinds of longings after God.

Now this puts us in touch with a very important element.  Paul can exhort all of us to excel still more, but that exhortation has to link up with a willing heart, with a certain level of desire to cause a response Obviously such exhortation can be rejected, pushed aside, discounted, ignored.  But when such exhortation is coupled with a strong longing for God, then you get the spiritual progress that Paul was after.

So, I have to say to you that the one unknown commodity in this exhortation this morning is…is how you hook up with it, at what level of spiritual desire you exist

Paul goes on to say that God’s will for the Thessalonians — and us — is sanctification, including — perhaps especially — that we refrain from sexual immorality (verse 3). The word in Greek is porneia.

MacArthur says that it was rampant in the Greco-Roman world and gives us the various categories of relationships prevalent in Paul’s era. Among them was the eteri, what we would call the FWB — the friend with benefits:

Hugh Hefner could have sold his same philosophy in Thessalonica.  Hugh Hefner could have sold his same philosophy in Corinth.  He could have sold it to Greek culture in the Roman world.  And somebody with another name did, or somebodies with a lot of other names did, because in the Roman world at the time that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians they…there was a sexual revolution which if anything surpasses the one we are now living through They had experienced a sexual revolution which included homosexuality, which included pedophilia — sex with little boys, homosexual sex with little boys — which included effeminate transvestitism, men dressing up like women, which included every form of fornication and sexual perversion It was true in the Roman world. And unlike today there wasn’t any preliminary Christian culture to act as a sort of a small barrier along the way.  Consequently they had their venereal epidemics as we do and all the rest of the things that are attendant upon a fornicating society.

Now the Greek language has an immense capacity to articulate because of the vastness of its vocabulary and the specificity of its words.  So I pulled out a few of the Greek words that would help you get a feeling for the kind of culture to which Paul writes here.  The Greek language is amply capable of cataloging all kinds of deviant sexual sins and there are varying words that make that very clear.

For example, this quick survey will help. And I’m only dealing with the heterosexual sins at this point The first word to look at is porn. Porn literally means the purchasable one, the purchasable one, the one you buy, the harlot, the whore, the prostitute.  They had that word because they had that.  In the society in which Paul lived and to which he penned this letter and in which he founded churches under the power of the Holy Spirit, there was prostitution.  It was apparently legal, rampant

A second word to keep in mind in the Greek language is a form of the first word, pernmi, and it sums up the filthy business of making a living by prostitution It encompasses the prostitution, the pimping, the whole thing that goes on with that entire business So they not only had the individual woman who could be bought, who sold herself, but they had the big business, the stable, if you will, of prostitutes.

Then there’s the Greek word puloke. Puloke means a concubine.  A concubine was a slave whose primary function was to fulfill sexual desire.  Literally you purchased the concubine, you added her to your fold of concubines and you used her for sexual pleasure.  That too was legal, that too was rampant in the Roman world. So there was the one-time woman you purchased and the whole business of prostitution and then there was the long- term purchased woman, the concubine, the slave for sexual pleasure.

And then there was another word, eteri. This was different than the concubine, you didn’t buy this woman. This was a friend.  Typically men and women had these kinds of friends outside their marriage. By the way, your wife was primarily to take care of the house, cook the meals, keep the clothes clean, and watch the children.  The wife was not primarily the sexual partner. Sexual fulfillment was found in the one-time enterprise of a prostitute, the long-term responsibility of a concubine, or the now-and-then relationship to this friend who was both an intellectual friend as well as a sexual partner.

And then there was moichos, another word.  And moichos refers to the adulterer or the adulteress You could have a sexual relationship with a prostitute on an occasional situation which you purchased, you could own a concubine or more concubines for sexual pleasure, you could have mistresses, or reversing the situation, mistresses would have men. For every man who commits sexual sin there is a partner obviously.  And this was a friend you didn’t buy. This was sort of a mutual agreement, sort of casual sex with someone you knew very well.  And then there was moichos. That was adulterer or adulteress. That was having sex with somebody else’s spouse.  And it was all going on, all of it, filling up the Thessalonian as well as the Corinthian as well as the whole Roman culture.

Unmarried young men were also allowed to have intercourse with mistresses. They were encouraged to have intercourse with mistresses, but those mistresses could not be daughters of families that had full citizenship in the Roman Empire. Those were considered significant families and these young men were not to touch those girls.  But they could engage themselves with prostitutes and they could engage themselves with mistresses whose parents were not full citizens of the Roman Empire.

Now you could go one step beyond that and add temple prostitutes.  The Babylonian, cultic, mystery religions that filtered all the way down into the time of the apostle Paul and were the mythological religions of that time advocated prostitution.  Why?  Because they taught that if you have relationships with a priestess, prostitute, you are communing with the deity she represents. The way to get in touch with the deity is by a sexual liaison with a priestess. The temple in Corinth, for example, had 3,000 temple prostitutes to get people in contact with the deity, by the way, a very popular and convenient form of religion.  But you can see by that that it was not only not illegal, it was condoned.  Today, at least in America, religious prostitution is still a crime.

But they had it all.  Now you add to that homosexuality, pedophilia, whatever other kinds of deviant things were going on, and that was the culture in which Paul lived and to which he wrote.  If you think it’s bad today, you probably would have found it worse then

Paul says that, with regard to sexual urges, sanctification means that the true believer can control his body in holiness and honour (verse 4).

This is another verse to examine in its various versions, beginning with mine:

that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honour,

Here is Henry’s and MacArthur’s:

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

MacArthur explains that believers are called to be apart from the world and not to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage:

Very simple, total abstinence.  God has designed it for the marriage bed alone.  In Ephesians 5:3 it says, Paul wrote, “Do not let immorality or any impurity even be named among you as is proper among saints.  No kind of immorality, porneia again, sexual sin, no kind of impurity should ever be named among you because you are saints,” hagios, same word, you are set apart, you’re holy, you’re in process of becoming like God No kind of sexual sin should ever be so much as named among you. It is utterly inconsistent with sanctification.

MacArthur has more on the verse:

Now what is he saying there?  He’s saying that this is something that you must do.  It would be nice to think that I could have some kind of accountability relationship to somebody who could control my body for me.  It can’t be done.  That each one of you must know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.  The verb “know” here, eidenai, is often used to mean “to know how” and that’s its meaning here.  The knowledge or the skill necessary to accomplish a desired goal is the idea.  So every individual Christian is to know how — now note this little verb “to possess” — it means to gain mastery over Every individual Christian is to know how to gain mastery over what? His own, something very personal, vessel; the word is skeuos. It means utensil, implement, vessel.

Now some say the word vessel means “wife.”  In fact I read probably twenty commentaries this week to see what they said about this and the majority of them said it means “wife.”  I don’t know how they can conclude that, to be honest with you. Why would he say that in the middle of a context about sexual immorality?  Each one of you know how to gain mastery over your wife.  What is he saying? That she is a tool for your sexual gratification and what you’ve got to do is get mastery over her so she succumbs?  Is she a tool?  Is she an instrument or an implement?  Those who hold that view will endeavor to make a parallel between this and 1 Peter 3:7 where it says, “The woman is the weaker vessel.” But that is an inadequate parallel because in 1 Peter 3:7 the woman is called skeuos. She is the weaker skeuos. But the man therefore by comparative is a weak skeuos So, both of them are vessels there.  The Bible does not see the man as the power and the sovereignty and the woman as a tool in his hand for his own gratification No, no comparison with 1 Peter 3:7 works because there the woman is a weaker vessel, the man by comparative is a weak vessel She is not the vessel of the man; they are both the vessels of God.

Furthermore, the context here is not about marriage and wife, it’s about body

The term skeuos is used metaphorically for utensils, for tools, sometimes for people like in Acts 9:15, 2 Timothy 2:21, 2 Corinthians 4:7And in some Jewish literature in rabbinical sources it is even used of the body. And that is its meaning here.  It’s not about controlling your wife. Your wife isn’t your problem. It’s about controlling you. Your body is your problem.  It’s your unredeemed human flesh that…that is the beachhead to sin. That’s why Paul says in Romans 8, “We wait for the redemption (of what?) of the body.”  It’s our body that gets us into trouble.  That’s why Scripture says you’ve got to renew your what? Your mind; you’ve got to renew your mind Repeatedly does Paul say that in a number of his epistles.  Don’t let your body control you

The key then to controlling your body is walking in the Spirit. The key to walking in the Spirit is being filled by the Spirit.  The key to being filled by the Spirit, Colossians 3:16, is letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly As the Word saturates your life the Spirit then controls you and you walk in that control.  The key to letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly is hiding the Word in your heart that you might not what? Sin. Not a superficial reading of your daily devotion, but a serious apprehension of, comprehension of, application of, the Word of God in my life allows the Word to dwell in me richly, which yields control to the Spirit of God so that He fills me and I walk in Him That’s the only way you will not fulfill the lust of your body.

Don’t ever let your body control you.  Don’t ever play with sexual emotion.  You see, once you begin to feel the impulses of sexual emotion, you are beginning to turn control over to your body. Your mind has yielded it up.  God has designed those things to culminate in intercourse and you are out of control.

You say, “All right, I’m not supposed to let my body control me. What does that mean?”  That means not only you’re not supposed to jump in bed with someone, but long before that you better make sure that you’re very careful about what your body sees, what your body hears, what your body touches, what your body feels long before the consummation so that you aren’t so far in that control is gone.

Paul tells the Thessalonians not to conduct themselves in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God (verse 5).

Henry says that the believer must be dead to sin, not dead in sin:

It is not so much to be wondered at, therefore, if the Gentiles indulge their fleshly appetites and lusts; but Christians should not walk as unconverted Gentiles, in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, etc. (1 Pet 4 3), because those who are in Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.

MacArthur has more:

By the way, lustful passion is kind of a strong term. Either one of those words might have worked; both of them together make it very strong.  The word “passion,” pathos, means excited emotion, means uncontrollable desire, means compelling feelings, overpowering urges It is used here in a bad sense as in Romans 1:26 and Colossians 3:5, though there could be legitimate passion for the right thing, a passion for God And then he adds the word epithumia, that word which means lustful, lusting, craving.  It’s kind of an out-of-control craving. And again there are a few occasions where that can mean a…a craving for the right thing but usually a bad thing and here it’s bad for sure.

So here’s a characterization of the unregenerate, right?  They don’t know God. Consequently they are driven by lustful out-of-control cravings, compelling urges, overpowering desires of the body.  That’s it.  Christians can’t live like that, that’s how the godless people live. 

Paul also says that no one should transgress and wrong another in this matter — sexual immorality — because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, reminding the Thessalonians that he had warned them solemnly about that early on when he was with them (verse 6).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s versions, ‘defraud’ is used instead of ‘wrong’.

MacArthur explains the word:

What is he talking about?  “And defraud his brother.”  What does that word defraud mean?  Very interesting word, it means to selfishly, greedily take something at someone else’s expense It means to take advantage of someone for personal gain, personal pleasure. And “the matter.” See that little statement, “the matter,” that’s sexual sin So the simple statement is this, don’t go beyond the line that God has drawn and take advantage of another believer in the matter of sexual sin.  Don’t do that.  Don’t take advantage of someone else.  And that’s exactly what you’re doing. When you want your sexual pleasure, your physical pleasure and you take advantage of someone else to get it, you violated this.

I tell young people all the time, if a guy comes to you and maybe you’re dating and he says to you, “You know I really love you, I really care about you,” and he wants to take your purity and he wants to take your virginity, guess again, he doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t love you, he lusts for you If he loved you, love would seek your highest good, love would seek the noblest treatment of your purity Guess again what you’ve got. Don’t marry that guy because if all he had going for you was lust, somebody else will attract that same thing in him in the future.

And if you’re married and somebody comes along and says, “You know, I really want to have a relationship with you,” and you fall into that and you violate your marriage and you fall prey to that, you have been defrauded, you have been robbed, you have been plundered, you have been raped.  That’s not love, that’s lust.  When a married person steals another married person for personal gratification, that’s defrauding a brother or sister

By the way, that is so serious that in Matthew 18 verse 6 it says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me,” that’s a Christian. Little ones, what little ones?  The little ones who believe in Me, not little babies but Christians “Causes them to stumble into sin, better if a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”  And what Jesus is saying there is, before you cause another Christian to sin you’d be better off dead You’d be better off drowned.  Don’t you defraud someone else.  You’d be better off dead, that’s how serious it is to God …

The command then, totally abstain from sexual sin.  That’s, what?  How?  Don’t let your body control you, don’t act like godless pagans and don’t take advantage of others.  Last question, why?  That’s what the kids always say, why?  Why?  Why keep the command?  Three reasons, very rapidly, very important.  Reason number one: Because of God’s vengeance, because of God’s vengeance.  The middle of verse 6, “Because the Lord is the avenger in all these things just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.”  Because of God’s vengeance, He is the avenger.  What does that mean?  The one who exacts judgment. That’s a strong reminder of Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine and retribution, I will repay.”  Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

How will He judge?  How will He wreak vengeance if we violate this?  Could be in an unfulfilling sexual life and marriage, could be in a miserable marriage, could be in a divorce, could be in temporal chastening, could be through venereal disease, could be any other disease, could be negative circumstances, the absence of blessing, trials, trouble, even death, it certainly will be the loss of eternal reward in some measure.  God can do anything He wants to avenge it but He will.  So if you need to reason not to do it, God is the avenger, because of God’s vengeance in all these things.  None of them escape Him.  In all sexual sins God is the avenger.  And he reminds them that this isn’t something new, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  He had told them when he was there about this which is a good indication that he gave them not only the full understanding of the gospel, but he taught them to observe all things whatsoever Jesus had commanded too while he was there.  He had done a full orbed job of evangelizing.

Paul says that God has called us not to impurity but to holiness (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

You see, the effectual call of salvation was a call to holiness, not unholiness.  God has not called us for the purpose of impurity.  It isn’t grace so that sin may abound.  Paul’s point is that the very nature of God’s calling and justification is a calling to sanctification.  He called us to Himself for the purpose of sanctifying us, making us holy, making us pure, making us sinless You have a holy, pure, and sinless God who brings salvation through His holy, pure, and sinless Son, who then applies that salvation through His holy, pure, and sinless Spirit in order to produce a people who are holy, sinless, and pure.  Thus the heart of the Apostle is to present the church without blemish and without spot, holy before God.

There’s no place in that for impurity.  The purpose of God was to make a holy people, a people who would walk in a manner worthy of the God who called them into His kingdom and glory as he said back in chapter 2, verse 12. That little phrase “in sanctification” indicates the state resulting from the calling.  The whole of the Christian life is in separation from sin, in holiness, in sanctification.  The call to salvation then can never be separated from holy living.  It can never be separated from the result, which is sanctification.  Sexual sin is utterly inconsistent.

Paul ends on a sharp, no-nonsense note, saying that whoever disregards him on this instruction disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to us (verse 8).

MacArthur says that this is Paul’s third reason for obeying God’s will for abstinence:

Why obey?  Because of God’s vengeance, because of God’s calling or purpose.  Thirdly, because of God’s Spirit.  Verse 8, “Consequently,” that introduces a conclusion, “he who rejects this,” he who nullifies this makes it void, cancels it, disregards it, despises it, “is not rejecting man.”  This isn’t Paul you’re rejecting, this isn’t some church group you’re rejecting, this isn’t the elders, this isn’t John MacArthur, “But the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”  You’re rejecting God.  This is God’s standard and God, who gave you His Holy Spirit to make you pure and to enable you to be pure.  By the way, that verb there, “the God who gives His Holy Spirit,” marvelous.  It’s a timeless Greek idea, characterizes God as the unceasing giver of the timeless gift of the Holy Spirit.  And here in the Greek, the Spirit is “the Spirit of Him, the Holy One.”  How can you enter into sexual sin without knowing you’re rejecting the God who gave you the Spirit of Himself who is the Holy One?

Not only did He call believers to salvation but He called them to sanctification and continually breathes His Spirit into them for the purpose of producing holiness And then to sin is to grieve the Spirit and quench the Spirit. That’s why Paul says, “What?” First Corinthians 6, talking about sexual immorality in Corinth, “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which you have of God, you’re not your own, you’re bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.”

To live in sexual sin is to literally reject God, who gave His Spirit, to reject Christ, who gave us justification to sanctification, and to reject God, who is the avenger.  Sexual sin violates the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the work of each. So may God help us to be faithful to the command through the means that God has given us with the fear of His recourse should we fail. 

There is much to ponder in today’s verses.

In next week’s verses, Paul gives the Thessalonians guidance on how to further brotherly love. One of the ways is by working, interestingly enough.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Timothy’s Encouraging Report

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers,[a] in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.


Last week’s post looked at Paul’s explanation as to why he sent back Timothy to Thessalonica; the Apostle was deeply concerned about the congregation’s spiritual health.

In his sermon on those verses, John MacArthur showed us four aspects of ministry on display: affection, unselfishness, compassion, protectiveness.

In today’s verses, we see the fifth: delight in the people.

Paul writes that Timothy has just come back with ‘good news’ of the Thessalonians’ faith and love, reporting that they long to see Paul just as much as he longs to see them; Paul is heartened that they have good memories of his brief time there (verse 6).

MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The true pastor finds his delight in his people.  This is another feature of the shepherd’s heart Get the picture.  Verse 6 marks Timothy’s return.  By now Paul is no longer in Athens, he’s gone on to Corinth.  Silas comes back from Macedonia where he’s been visiting Philippi and Timothy comes back from Thessalonica.  And, boy, is Paul thrilled for Timothy to come back.  And verse 6 says, “But just now,” Greek word arti means “just now that Timothy has come to us from you.  So what we can conclude is that this letter was written immediately upon Timothy’s arrival When Paul sent Timothy he didn’t know the condition.  But now that he writes this letter back, he has just gotten the word.  Timothy came back and now we get an up-to-the-minute response.  Look at verse 6, “But now that Timothy has come to us from you,” and what did he say?  “And has brought us good news.”  Stop right there.

MacArthur says that the use of the Greek for ‘good news’ here is the same word for ‘gospel’, therefore, Paul is truly delighted:

… the news from Timothy was, I love this, “Good news.”  Rather than using a simple word, he doesn’t just say, “And Timothy gave a good report,” or “Timothy came back and told us so-and-so.”  He said, “Timothy brought good news.”  You know what word he uses?  The word “gospel,” euaggeliz, it’s only used in the New Testament everywhere else to refer to the gospel.  He brought us such good news I have to use a word that is usually referring to the news of salvation to even express how good it is.  He takes the term reserved usually for the message of salvation by grace through faith, and says it was that kind of good news, thrilling news.  And it really is amazing.  He had such a heart for those people that he gets this report from Timothy and he calls it “gospel,” good news, the best news.

This is more proof that being a true Christian revolves around faith and love:

… it was sort of a four-point report.  Point one, your faith, good news about your faith.  Your faith was real.  You were good ground, weren’t rocky soil, weren’t weedy ground, didn’t get choked out, didn’t get burned off, you were good ground, good news about your faith, you’re real.  And he says, second point, good news about your love You love God, you love Christ, you love each other, you love the lost.

Could I say this to you?  And I believe it’s so very true.  Those two things — faith and love — say it all.  John Calvin said, “Those two words are the sum of godliness.”  It’s the sum of godliness.  If I have faith in God and love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor as myself, I’ve fulfilled what? The whole law; it’s the sum of godliness.  To believe, to love says it all.  So Paul says, “I got the word, your faith is real, your love is real.  That’s the sum of the believer’s duty to God and man and it was the simplest way to say the Thessalonians were real Christians …

There’s a third part of the report.  Point three of Timothy’s little report.  Good news about your faith, good news about your love, and good news that you always think kindly of us Good news about your loyalty, your personal love for me.  What a delight.  He was thrilled that they cherished happy memories of him.  He had been in Athens and in Corinth and probably saying to himself, “Well, they’re going to hate me because those detractors and those people who think they have to vilify me, those people who oppose me, they’re going to tell them all kind of lies about me and they’re going to spread all kinds of rumors about me and they’re going to look back and they’re going to think, ‘Well, yeah, maybe he was like that,’ and they’re going to resent me and hate me and that means I’m not going to have a ministry to them anymore.  And then they would reject what I taught them.

He was worried, fearing that the tempter would have tempted them in that way and it was good news, it was gospel. It was the best news that they “always think kindly of us.’ 

By contrast, remember Paul’s disappointment with the Corinthians and with the churches in Asia Minor:

The Corinthian church had turned on them when he wrote 2 Corinthians.  Chapter 12 verses 19 to 21 he says, “I don’t even want to come to you because I know when I come to you you’re not going to be what I want and I’m not going to be what you want and we’re going to have conflict.”  On one occasion he said, “All in Asia have turned away from me.”  He had all kinds of people on his case. 

However, the Thessalonians were not swayed, and they longed to see him:

… what a delight was Timothy’s message.  No, Paul, they always, always think kindly of you.

And he had a fourth point in “little good news” outline; point number four, longing to see us just as we long to see you Good news about their faith, good news about their love, good news about their loyalty, good news about their longing to see Paul.  What a vindication.  After all, he said, “I nursed you like a nursing mother,” chapter 2 verse 8, “I encouraged and exhorted you like a father.  You are my joy, you are my glory, you are my crown of exaltation.  You’re the most precious thing in my world. Therefore you can cause me the greatest pain or bring me the greatest delight.”  And oh what good news!  Your faith is intact, your love is intact, your loyalty is intact and you long for fellowship with me.

For this reason, Paul says, in all his distress and affliction, he has been comforted about them through their faith (verse 7).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The apostle thought this good news of them was sufficient to balance all the troubles he met with. It was easy to him to bear affliction, or persecution, or fightings from without, when he found the good success of his ministry and the constancy of the converts he had made to Christianity; and his distress of mind on account of his fears within, lest he had laboured in vain, was now in a good measure over, when he understood their faith and the perseverance of it.

MacArthur’s analysis agrees with Henry’s:

Look at verse 7.  “For this reason, brethren, for this reason, this good news, brethren, in all our distress and affliction, we were comforted about you through your faith.”  Because of the report of Timothy, for that very reason, in all our choking pressure, all the crushing trouble that had come on him read the eighteenth chapter of Acts and find out about it, bad news from Galatia, having to care for all the churches, having to do the work of making tents to support his living — in all the troubles and trials and pains of his heart, it all of a sudden disappeared and we were comforted about you when we heard about the reality of your faith.  We were strengthened for the work. The genuineness of their faith, the fact that he had received evidence that it was real saving faith was the most basic cause of his delight.  And then he delighted in their love and their loyalty and their longing to be with him.

These are the relevant passages from Acts 18:

Acts 18:5-11: Paul, Corinth, Silas, Timothy, election, predestination

Acts 18:12-17 – St Paul, Corinth, Gallio, Sosthenes, tribunal

Paul says that he feels alive once more if the Thessalonians are standing fast, or standing firm, in the Lord (verse 8).

Henry explains:

This put new life and spirit into the apostle and made him vigorous and active in the work of the Lord. Thus he was not only comforted, but greatly rejoiced also: Now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord, v. 8. It would have been a killing thing to the apostles if the professors of religion had been unsteady, or proved apostates; whereas nothing was more encouraging than their constancy.

MacArthur has more:

The pastor’s delight is not the size of the building, the looks of the facility, his reputation, his success, his degrees, the level of the fame of his congregation, the salary he gets, his prestige in the community.  That’s not the delight of a true pastor.  The pastor’s delight is found in his people.  They can break his heart and they can make his heart rejoice.

And look how he sums it up in verse 8.  “This is the pastor’s heart, for now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord.”  That’s it.  Where is your delight?  We really live, he says.  You know what?  It’s as if he says we live once more here, because he had been experiencing the death of lonely ignorance.  He was in a dead time not knowing. There was a deadness, there was a pall of death over him and when the news came and it was all good, he says, “Now we really live if you stand firm in the Lord.”  That’s our delight.  That’s our joy.  That stimulates me to new ministry just to know that.  That is the pastor’s heart.  That is his joy if his heart is right, to know that his people believe and stand fast in the Lord.

Students of Paul’s letters identify the words ‘stand firm’ or ‘stand fast’ with him:

If you have a strong faith, if you have a strong commitment… That word “stand fast” is a military term, stk.  It refers to a refusal to retreat against an attack.  Stand your ground under attack.  When I see you stand your ground under attack, I really live, I really live.  I know you’ve got your armor on, you’re holding up the shield of faith.  I really live.  To the Corinthians he wrote, chapter 16 verse 13, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”  To the Galatians he wrote, chapter 5, verse 1, “Keep standing firm.”  To the Philippians he wrote, chapter 1 verse 27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ that I may hear of you that you are standing firm.”  Chapter 4 verse 1, the Philippians again, he said, “Therefore my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”  And in that second letter to the Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”  Always wanted them to stand firm, stand firm.  And always the idea was standing against an attack and showing your faith is real, your commitment is strong.  That’s the delight of the pastor’s heart.

The rest of the chapter is in the Lectionary, however, I will just point out two more of MacArthur’s characteristics of ministry in verses 9 and 10:

Number six, just briefly, gratitude for his people

The last is in verse 10 … intercession for his people … prayer for his people.

In summary, we have affection, selflessness, compassion, protectiveness, delight, gratitude and prayer. Those are the hallmarks of the ministry of a true shepherd of his flock.

Here is the rest of the chapter:

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul elaborates on the conduct of a true Christian. What he says will be familiar, however, as he wrote similarly in all his letters, the verses are worth heeding, regardless of what today’s experts and celebrities say. No doubt, it was the same in Paul’s era!

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s co-worker[a] in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labour would be in vain.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s yearning to see the Thessalonians again to check on their spiritual health; he said that Satan — through the persecuting Jews — prevented him from doing so.

The first verse of this chapter picks up where 1 Thessalonians 2 left off:

20 For you are our glory and joy.

Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone …

Paul was so consumed with love and concern for the new congregation in Thessalonica that he was willing to be left alone in Athens (verse 1).

John MacArthur gives us the chronological background. Recall that the three had been driven out of Thessalonica and, shortly afterwards, Paul from Berea (emphases mine):

Paul and Silas and Timothy had come to Thessalonica in Acts 17. They had preached there in the synagogue for three Sabbaths and then done some work among the Gentiles and established a churchPaul, Silas, Timothy then left Thessalonica. They left.  Paul then left Silas and Timothy at Berea, left them there to carry on a work. And in Acts 17 it says he went to Athens by himself.  So Paul went to Athens all alone.  Later it is obvious that Silas and Timothy came back and rejoined Paul at Athens because Paul here says he was left at Athens alone because he sent Timothy away.  And as I noted for you, Silas also was sent to MacedoniaSo they were left in Berea for a time.  Paul was alone in Athens for a while. Then they came and joined him in Athens.  Not long after that — we don’t have any time frame on this — according to verse 2, Timothy was then sent to Thessalonica, according to Acts 18:5, Silas was sent to Philippi, and Paul was again alone in Athens.

Now when he’s writing this he’s in Corinth He stayed in Athens for a while. Then he went to Corinth.  When he got to Corinth, Timothy came back to him and Silas came back to him.  So they were all rejoined in Corinth and it was after Timothy had come back there that he wrote this letter because now he had the information he wanted and he could write back and say how thankful he was about the good report from Timothy and he could also record some of these things about the integrity of his life, what he did, what he said, what he was, and what he felt, for the record.  But as he writes in chapter 3, he reminds them of the time when he was in Athens and sent Timothy to them and was left alone.

Coming to the second verse, note the different wording in the ESVUK above and those versions of our two commentators.

This is what Matthew Henry’s Bible version says:

2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:

This is John MacArthur’s:

2 And we sent Timothy, our brother, and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith

Paul is referring to himself once again in the first person plural. He did this in his other letters. It seems he viewed using the first person singular — ‘I’ — as being vulgar. He did not want to make his letters all about himself. Today, we would view what we call the ‘Royal we’ as being pompous, but it was not so centuries ago.

Timothy, as students of Paul’s letters know, was much younger than Paul. Yet, the Apostle viewed him as being spiritually one with him. In some letters, he refers to Timothy as ‘a son’. Here he refers to him as ‘our brother’. In all cases, he normally attributes a description, as he does here as ‘minister of God’ or ‘God’s fellow worker’ or ‘God’s co-worker’. Paul was willing to dispense with his help in order to go check in on the Thessalonians’ spiritual development, to establish — confirm — and exhort — encourage and comfort — them in their faith (verse 2).

Henry’s commentary explains Paul’s selflessness in sending Timothy:

We sent Timotheus, our brother. Elsewhere he calls him his son; here he calls him brother. Timothy was Paul’s junior in age, his inferior in gifts and graces, and of a lower rank in the ministry: for Paul was an apostle, and Timothy but an evangelist; yet Paul calls him brother. This was an instance of the apostle’s humility, and showed his desire to put honour upon Timothy and to recommend him to the esteem of the churches. He calls him also a minister of God. Note, Ministers of the gospel of Christ are ministers of God, to promote the kingdom of God among men. He calls him also his fellow-labourer in the gospel of Christ. Note, Ministers of the gospel must look upon themselves as labourers in the Lord’s vineyard; they have an honourable office and hard work, yet a good work. This is a true saying, If any man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work, 1 Tim 3 1. And ministers should look upon one another, and strengthen one another’s hands, not strive and contend one with another (which will hinder their work), but strive together to carry on the great work they are engaged in, namely, to preach and publish the gospel of Christ, and to persuade people to embrace and entertain it and live suitably thereto.

The end and design why Paul sent Timothy: To establish you and to comfort you concerning your faith, v. 2. Paul had converted them to the Christian faith, and now he was desirous that they might be confirmed and comforted, that they might confirmed in the choice they had made of the Christian religion, and comforted in the profession and practice of it. Note, The more we are comforted, the more we shall be confirmed, because, when we find pleasure in the ways of God, we shall thereby be engaged to continue and persevere therein. The apostle’s design was to establish and comfort the Thessalonians concerning their faith,—concerning the object of their faith, namely, the truths of the gospel, and particularly that Jesus Christ was the Saviour of the world, and so wise and good, so powerful and faithful, that they might rely upon him,—concerning the recompence of faith, which was more than sufficient to balance all their losses and reward all their labours.

MacArthur recaps the times Paul sent Timothy to other churches:

It wasn’t easy for him to be dispossessed of his precious friends. But that kind of sacrifice marks the pastor’s heart. For the sake of someone else, he would gladly give up the best that he has. In this case it was Timothy. First Corinthians chapter 4, he was so concerned about the Corinthian church he said, “I’m going to send you Timothy. I’m going to send him to you.” To the Philippian church, chapter 2 he says in verse 19, “I hope to send Timothy to you.” In verse 20 he says, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” He dispatched Timothy a lot of places. It wasn’t easy to let him go, but it was necessary, and Timothy was his best and he gave his best. That’s what sacrifice is all about, it’s all about giving your best.

Paul didn’t have any worthy goods. He didn’t have anything worth value in terms of economics, monetary value. What he did have and what was so precious to him were his friends. I can understand that life would be extremely lonely and threatening for him. And the presence of friends was the best that he had. And when he gave it, he showed you the unselfishness of his heart.

MacArthur looks at the wording of the verse, explaining some of the Greek manuscript:

he calls him “God’s fellow worker.” Many manuscripts say, “God’s servant.”  It’s almost a toss-up, very hard to make a decision.  God’s servant, diakonos, would mean God’s servant, God’s minister, and surely he was that.  The word here in some manuscripts is sunergon, God’s fellow worker, God’s fellow doer.  He was both God’s minister or God’s servant and God’s fellow worker.  And so he commends Timothy not only for his relationship to himself as his brother but for his relationship to God as God’s fellow worker, God’s servant, if you will, either one.  During their 20-year relationship the apostle had discipled Timothy and all during that 20-year relationship, that young man, Timothy, was the man to whom Paul would give his mantle.  And from the very beginning Paul trusted him. This, by the way, was Paul’s missionary trip, still in progress, the first trip Timothy ever took with himHe’s brand new.  He joined Paul in Acts 16. In Acts 17 they’re in Thessalonica.  So Timothy is pretty new.  Yet the deep trust had developed, a deep confidence, a settled confidence.  Paul really believed in this young man and he sent him to the very difficult places.

MacArthur summarises Paul’s deep friendship with Timothy:

During those years of relationship he never lost that trust.  And as Timothy was floundering a little bit at the end, he had to write 1 and 2 Timothy to really strengthen him just before his own death so Timothy would carry on the work. But from the start he trusted him and he respected him.  And he said, “He’s our brother and God’s fellow worker,” I love this, “in the gospel of Christ.”  He’s involved in extending the gospel.  He’s involved in the salvation message.  Three times in chapter 2 the gospel is called the gospel of God; now it’s called the gospel of Christ, same gospel.  God is source, Christ is subject, right?  God is source, Christ is subject, same gospel, the good news of salvation provided by God in Christ.

So he sent Timothy, the best, the very best, gave his best gift, his dearest friend, his companion, though it meant hardship, personal loneliness, and exposure for him Truly a good reminder, good lesson for me.  You spend your time discipling men and some day you think maybe you’ll pass the mantle onto them, but God begins to move and all of a sudden you have to let them go. Somewhere else calls and you have to send your best.  We’ve been doing that for many years.  It’s hard to do that, to let some of the best men go.  It’s wonderful that God lets you keep some but you have to send some where they’re needed and you can’t be selfish. You have to be unselfish.

MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s deep desire to see the Thessalonians strengthened, encouraged and comforted in their faith:

Compassion for the people, compassion for his people. This flows out of that affection and that unselfishness. And when I say compassion I’m not using that word in a very general sense but in a rather specific sense. It means to suffer with. And that’s exactly the sense in which I mean it.

The pastor’s heart feels the heart of his people. We find that in verse 2. Let’s look at it. Timothy was sent, and here’s the reason, “To strengthen and encourage you as to your faith,” to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith. Now the Thessalonian Christians were good. In fact, chapter 1 outlines how really noble they were. We went through that in great detail. They had heard the Word, and applied it. They had become imitators of the apostle and his companions and the Lord. They had endured some persecution. They had turned to God from idols. They were waiting for the Second Coming. They were really a noble bunch. But they were still a baby church. They were still young in the faith. They still needed nurturing and growth. And he says, “I’m sending Timothy for the express purpose of strengthening and encouraging you as to your faith …

This was Timothy’s task. And certainly he had seen it modeled by Paul. You notice those two words “strengthen and encourage.” Very simply let me tell you what they mean. The word “strengthen” means to support or establish, it’s the idea of buttressing something, to support it. In other words, I want your faith in God to be strong, to be established, to be firm, to be solid, to be unwavering. And then I want to encourage you to apply what you know. I want to strengthen the foundation of your faith and I want to encourage you to apply it.

Now he’s not saying, “I want to strengthen and encourage you in any other specific” than in your faith. You say, “Well why does he sort of reduce it to that?” Because listen, folks, it’s very simple. If you are strong in your faith in God and Christ, then you have a foundation by which you can live your life. If you are weak in that, it’s hard to apply it. But once that foundation is strong and you’re firm, you can be encouraged to apply what you know.

Let me say it another way. What you believe about God and what you believe about Christ are the key to how you live. The stronger my knowledge of God and Christ, the stronger my trust in them, right? The more I know about God through His revelation, the more I know about Christ, the more that is deeply imbedded in my heart, the stronger, more resolute and unwavering my confidence in Him will be. And then I can be encouraged to make application of those things I know. But if I don’t know too much about God, then I don’t know enough to trust Him in every issue. If I don’t know that much about Christ, then I can get knocked all over the place when somebody attacks me because I…I don’t know that much, my faith is vacillating.

Paul is saying, “I want Timothy to come and increase your capacity for trusting God and therefore encouraging you to apply God’s truth.” If I don’t trust God, I’m going to worry about everything. And if I don’t know all I need to know about God and about Christ, I don’t have enough information to make application. So he says I’m going to have Timothy come.

Paul says he is sending Timothy so that none of them will be ‘moved’ — discouraged — by their afflictions, because believers are destined for ‘this’, meaning a challenge to one’s faith by false teachers, who were already in Thessalonica, as well as persecution (verse 3).

Henry says:

There was danger, [1.] By reason of affliction and persecution for the sake of the gospel, v. 3. These Thessalonians could not but perceive what afflictions the apostles and preachers of the gospel met with, and this might possibly stumble them; and also those who made profession of the gospel were persecuted, and without doubt these Thessalonians themselves were afflicted.

MacArthur says that Paul was worried about the Thessalonians, so new to the faith, being lured away from it or vaccilating in it because of false teachers and/or persecution:

That is a very interesting verb, sainō. It means to wag and it was used of a dog wagging his tail.  I don’t want any of you going through this, being…going back and forth, back and forth.  In fact, it had a kind of an interesting possible meaning as well, it came to mean to allure, to fascinate, flatter or beguile.  You say, “How does that connect with a dog wagging his tail?”   Well, because when a dog comes up and wags his tail it is usually trying to draw attention to itself because it wants something.  And the word sort of went through an etymology and finally meant to allure, to fascinate, to flatter, to beguile.  I don’t want anybody either to knock you around and I don’t want anybody to fascinate, beguile, or allure you away from the truth.  So either meaning could have been in Paul’s mind. It’s difficult to know which.

Now what’s going to cause that? What’s going to cause them to waver or to be [lured] away from truth? He says, “These afflictions,” these pressures, these tests of faith. They can do that. I don’t want that to happen. So I’ve got to get Timothy there to get you strong. And he says, “I…I know they’re coming, for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.” How did they know? “For indeed when we were with you we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction and so it came to pass, as you know.” It was inevitable that it was going to come, we told you it was going to come, but when it comes I don’t want you to start moving around and being beguiled. I want you to stay strong and firm and true so I’m sending Timothy to do that. And he was already feeling their pain and their pressure and their tribulation and identifying with it.

It is important for true believers not to sugar-coat the Gospel, because our Lord Himself said that there would be trouble for new believers before there is inner peace:

That phrase, “You yourselves know that we have been destined for this,” boy, we ought to really camp on that today. You can say to someone when you’re leading them to Christ, “By the way, you’re not only destined for eternal glory, you’re destined for temporal trouble.” That’s right. There is no health, wealth, prosperity gospel being preached here. Paul is not saying Jesus is the answer to all of your problems. He is saying Jesus is the path to some new ones. When you give your life to Jesus Christ, you are promised eternal peace and temporal trouble. It’s guaranteed, it’s built in. “All that will live godly in this present age will suffer persecution.” Expect it, that’s how it is. We’re called to this. Peter says, “After you’ve suffered a while the Lord will make you perfect.” James says, “Count it all joy when you fall into these trials” because God is using them to perfect you. Paul says, “All these things that happen to you work together for good.” And he says, “No matter what comes against you, life, death, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, nothing is going to ultimately move you from the love of God.” But the other side of it is, get ready cause it’s all going to come. It’s all going to come. You are destined for trouble. Jesus said, “That they treated Me this way, do you think they’ll treat you any different?” “In this world you shall have (what?) tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” In other words, you’re going to have temporal trouble, look ahead to eternal glory

Preaching a prosperity ‘gospel’ or telling a convert that Christianity means a trouble-free life are causing that person to stumble:

You preach that stuff to people that Jesus will make you trouble free and then they have trouble and they’re going to question whether Jesus can do anything. They’re going to question His power. They’re going to question their conversion. Confusion is endless, because whether they preach a prosperity gospel or not, people are going to have trouble. They can preach it all they want, it won’t change anything, it isn’t reality. People are going to have trouble. Now you might as well be told, folks, you come to Christ, you’re going to have trouble, lots of trouble, because you’re living in a fallen world and you’re a fallen person. And not only that, you have enough trouble just being fallen in a fallen world, now you’re going to have trouble from the other fallen people in the fallen world who don’t like what you claim in Christ. So you’re going to have a different kind of trouble, a new kind of trouble.

But be of good cheer because what you have that they don’t have is you know it’s temporary. 

Paul tells the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he said they would suffer affliction, which it had and they knew it (verse 4).

MacArthur says:

“When we were with you we kept telling you in advance.” We were predicting it, that you were going to suffer affliction, you were going to be put under pressure. You knew it, we told you. But even though we told you, I also know you’ve got to be strong to deal with it.

MacArthur looks at Paul’s words and, universally, what should be a good pastor’s heart in leading a congregation:

Sometimes I wonder what people think a pastor is supposed to do. Some people think he’s supposed to entertain them. What a pastor is supposed to do is help you to get your faith so strong that when you go through trouble you can be encouraged to apply your faith. That’s a pastor’s responsibility. That’s a pastor’s heart. And in order to do that, you have to care about that. And Paul had compassion. He felt their pain, he hurt when they hurt, he was weak when they were weak. When they sinned he felt the pain.

Trouble, that’s inevitable. That’s the way it is in this world. Jesus said it, didn’t He? Let’s go a step above Paul and look at an even better model, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when all men revile you, persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.” Jesus said in Matthew chapter 10, you can expect that the pupil will be like his teacher, the servant will be like his master. Implication, if they treat the master one way, they’ll treat the servant the same way. Expect it. Jesus gave us that pattern and He was so compassionate because He understood the trouble. Give me a pastor who expects that the Christian life is going to have pain and sorrow and difficulty and trouble, because then I’ll have the compassion that the pastor is supposed to have. Deliver me, Lord, from ever being under somebody who thinks life ought to be without trouble.

What is a pastor’s heart? The pastor’s heart is a heart that has affection for his people, the heart that is unselfish toward his people, a heart that has compassion for the trouble of his people. All that moved Paul to do what he did.

Paul then repeats some of the words he used in the first verse to impress upon the Thessalonians that, when he could bear his inner pain for them no longer, he sent Timothy to see how they were progressing in the faith; Paul did not want ‘the tempter’ — Satan — to cause them to vacillate in their faith, rendering his efforts useless (verse 5).

Paul faced trouble in Athens, but he sent Timothy to the Thessalonians anyway.

MacArthur reminds us:

… the work at Athens where he was when he sent Timothy was difficult.  He was facing cynical philosophers and speculators.  He was in a very anti-God, anti-Christ situation.  It would have been easy for him to say, “I wish I could send Timothy but I need him so much here, we’re trying to reach a whole city full of philosophers. We’re trying to reach a city on its way to hell.  I need his help.  I don’t want to be alone in trying to confront this cynical culture.”  But he said, “I couldn’t endure the separation, I couldn’t endure not knowing about you.  I couldn’t stand the lonely ignorance and so I thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone and sent Timothy.”  This is unselfishness.

MacArthur describes what the Thessalonians were experiencing:

They were being persecuted.  They were being attacked.  Satan was after them.  Demons were after them. Godless men and women were after them.  And again I submit to you that Jesus is the perfect model of compassion again, for it is He who is the sympathetic high priest who is touched the feelings of our infirmities, who is the perfect Shepherd, the true Shepherd, the great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who feels the pain of His wounded people.  Jesus, the true Shepherd, Paul the under-shepherd had a pastor’s heart marked by affection, unselfishness and compassion …

MacArthur explains the fifth verse:

For this reason, he says, when I could endure it no longer, so I sent to find out about your faith.  What’s the reason?  The fear that the tempter had tempted you and all our effort was for nothing.  I wanted to protect you from the tempter.  This is the real care of the pastor.  Paul had a great sense of watchfulness, a sense of protectiveness.  He was deeply concerned.  To be real honest with you, when he sent Timothy… Now remember, he was in Athens when he sent Timothy. Later on in Corinth, Timothy returned back and told him everything was well at Thessalonica, and that’s when he wrote this letter back.  So the commendation of this church in chapter 1 is based on Timothy going and bringing back the report But at the time when he sent Timothy, he had no such report.  He didn’t know if their faith would stand the test.  Consequently he didn’t know if it was real faith.

There is a kind of response to the gospel that springs up for a little while.  Remember the rocky ground in Matthew 13?  And when the tribulation comes and the pressure and the persecution, it dies.  There is a kind of response that springs up for a little while, but it’s the weedy ground, and the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the allurements of the flesh choke it out and it dies, and only time will tell.  And when Paul sent Timothy, he didn’t have any word yet about their labor of love and their patience of hope He didn’t have any word about the fact that they were imitators of Paul and the others.  He didn’t have any word yet that the Word was sounding out from them.  He didn’t have any word yet that they had truly turned from idols to serve the living God and that they were waiting for Jesus Christ.  That’s what he wanted to know.  Was their faith real?  You can’t tell at the moment.  You may not be able to tell in the first few weeks.  But when the trials come and the testing comes, then you can tell

What does Satan want to do when the seed is sown?  Well if he can’t come along and pick it right off, he wants to destroy it with the heat of persecution.  He wants to choke it out with the enticing lusts of the flesh and the eyes and the pride of life that are lured by the world and riches.

Henry says that Satan takes advantage of believers’ suffering and lures them away from faith:

The devil is a subtle and unwearied tempter, who seeks an opportunity to beguile and destroy us, and takes all advantages against us, both in a time of prosperity and adversity; and he has often been successful in his attacks upon persons under afflictions. He has often prejudiced the minds of men against religion on account of the sufferings its professors are exposed to. We have reason therefore to be jealous [protective] over ourselves and others, lest we be ensnared by him …

Note, It is the devil’s design to hinder the good fruit and effect of the preaching of the gospel. If he cannot hinder ministers from labouring in the word and doctrine, he will, if he be able, hinder them of the success of their labours. Note also, Faithful ministers are much concerned about the success of their labours. No one would willingly labour in vain; and ministers are loth to spend their strength, and pains, and time, for nought.

MacArthur explains Paul’s concern that his work in planting the Thessalonian church might have been in vain:

“Our fear would be that the tempter would come and tempt you and our labor should be in vain.”  What a statement.  That Satan would come and snatch the seed away.  Satan would come and bring the pressure and the plant would die, choke off, and it would all be for nothing.  Our labor, that word kopos, sweat, toil, would be for nothing, useless, empty, void, wasted, pointless.

And so he was a protector.  He didn’t want to work for nothing.  He didn’t want to come to the end of his life and realize that all the effort he made was absolutely empty and void.  And if their faith did fail, then it would have been for nothing.  If their faith failed then they weren’t real Christians at all.  Or if their faith failed, they had those initial longings toward believing but they were choked out, and even if their faith was real and they were true Christians and they fell into gross sin at some point, temptation, victims of those attacking them, it would have broken his heart and he would have felt like he failed.  So there’s a…there’s a protectiveness.

Jesus thought and prayed similarly:

As He prayed to His Father, the 17th chapter of John’s gospel, verse 15, He says, “I don’t ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”  He prayed a protective prayer, too.  He told Peter, “I’m going to protect you.  Satan’s going to sift you, he’s going to throw you in the air, turmoil, trouble, but I’m going to protect you.”

Today we learned more about the characteristics of a true pastor, a shepherd of the flock:

What marks the true shepherd’s heart?  Affection, unselfishness, compassion, protectiveness.  Let me give you a fifth, delight in his people

We’ll find out more about the fifth characteristic next week.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

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