3:16 – The Rest of the Story – Our Response 20: 2 Thessalonians

A Bible Study exploring all the 3:16s in the Bible as they illuminate

  • the Human Condition
  • God’s Revelation of His Plan
  • God’s Fulfillment of His Plan
  • Our Response (Current location of study)

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:16

The ease and simplicity of sending texts and emails as forms of communication have made some of us (speaking of myself here) complacent about formality in our writing. It’s so easy to just fire off a quick remark without going through the effort of a proper salutation or greeting, the politeness of personal inquiry as to one’s well-being (e.g. how are you doing?), and the use of a proper signoff such as “sincerely” or “best wishes”, etc.

Even while writing according to the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul was very good at using proper etiquette in his epistles, including not only theological instruction but also giving personal salutations, greetings and signoffs. I’ve often remembered the following Peanuts comic strip. It was first published on November 6, 1964 and I had it in a Peanuts collection book when I was a kid.

Linus remarks that reading Paul’s letters makes him feel like he’s reading someone else’s mail. But that’s exactly what we’re doing. Paul wrote to the specific churches (and sometimes to specific individuals) with the knowledge and intent that his letters would be distributed and read beyond the original recipient. He even said so in Colossians 4:16: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

This week’s 3:16 verse is part of the signoff of a short 3-chapter letter to the church in Thessalonica – the second letter to that church in the New Testament. Rather than dismissing the verse as simply a “sincerely” type closing, let’s take a look at the context of the whole letter of which it is a part. The following comments come from the introductory notes to 2 Thessalonians in the online ESV Study Bible. “Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians (1) to reassure those terrified that the day of the Lord had already come (2:1–3:5); (2) to strengthen the Thessalonians in the face of continuing persecution (1:3–12); and (3) to deal with the problem of some of the church members refusing to earn their own living (3:6–15). Paul assumes that the Thessalonian church knew that the second coming of Jesus Christ would occur at the same time as the coming of the “day of the Lord.” Yet the Thessalonians may simply have fallen victim to a belief that the day of the Lord had already come. The persecution they were undergoing may have fueled their confusion about the end times. Some of the Thessalonians may have stopped working to await and proclaim the second coming. More likely, lazy Christians may have been exploiting the generosity of wealthier Christians in order to avoid work. In contrast to the warm emotional tone of 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians includes some blunt commands as Paul addresses bad behavior and bad thinking. Further, this letter is noteworthy for Paul’s tough-mindedness in predicting judgment on the ungodly and in rebuking church members who behave and think incorrectly. Still, there is a regular swing back and forth between reproof and warm encouragement.”

For the purposes of this study, I’m going to focus on all of Chapter 3. Paul writes:

Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.

Paul begins his closing remarks with a prayer request. This serves as a reminder to all of us that we should be praying for each other. Paul, an apostle called by God as a missionary to the Gentile world, asks for prayer for continued success in that ministry. Prayer is somewhat of a paradox. As Tim Thorburn says in “The Paradox of Prayer” article on The Gospel Coalition – Australia edition, “Praying is a paradox in the life of most Christians. When we reflect about the experience of praying, we find it is the easiest thing in the world, yet we are inevitably bad at doing it. And we find it is the point of feeling closest in our relationship with the God of the universe, but often it is also the point when we feel most distant from God. And when we try to outline a theology of prayer, we find another paradox. On the one hand it seems so simple—I talk to God and he hears me. But when I start thinking a little harder, prayer becomes one of the most mysterious of activities. Do I change God’s mind by my prayers? But presumably he is in a much better position to make good decisions in his governance of the universe than me, so changing his mind would be detrimental. And he knows what I need before I ask, so why do I need to ask? And what if you and I pray for opposite things at the same time—how does God sort that out?”

Jesus himself prayed and we are encouraged time and again in Scripture to pray. We don’t need to understand the how or why of it. We just need to do it!

Paul continues with words of encouragement:

For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 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.

Paul’s words “May the Lord…” is in essence his prayer for the Thessalonians, that God would direct their hearts toward recognition of His love and steadfastness. Then he continues with a word of admonition:

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 labor 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. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 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. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

This whole paragraph is about the church body and how people live and work together. It is not about any overt sinfulness but rather is about basic work ethics and lifestyle choices. Paul begins and ends the section talking about how people who don’t contribute to the general well-being of the local community should be avoided. He doesn’t get into a discussion of the pros and cons of various vocations. He is simply making the point that people need to be living constructive, contributing lives in the community, specifically in the Christian community.

Now Paul concludes his remarks with his closing, including our 3:16 verse.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 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. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

He prays for peace among the Christians in Thessalonica. The two main themes of this letter have been regarding disputes among the people about whether or not they have “missed” the second coming of Jesus (they hadn’t) and disputes over people carrying “their fair share”. Both of these disputes could have generated quite a bit of discord in the church. So, Paul prays for peace among the brothers. He then encourages the believers to examine the physical letter that he sent and see his own writing on it. Apparently, part of the dispute over Jesus’ second coming stemmed from a letter purported to be from Paul but wasn’t (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2): “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 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.”

The encouragement we receive from this letter is this: to persevere in faithful living and work, still anticipating the promised second coming of our savior Jesus. Paul concludes with, and I will also – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all!”

This concludes my study of the rest of the 3:16s in the Bible. I don’t know yet what my next study topic will be. You might be interested to read a post I wrote in April, 2019 regarding “Why I blog” to better understand my motivation for writing these Bible Study posts.

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