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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

2 Thessalonians 3

Verses 1-2

A MINISTERIAL REQUEST

‘Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.’

2 Thessalonians 3:1-Exodus :

As at the close of the First Epistle, so now, as St. Paul hastens to the close of the Second, he thinks of himself and his companions in labour and tribulation.

I. Yet he is thinking most of others’ spiritual welfare.—In the petition which he entreats his converts to present on behalf of himself and associates, his desire is that the Word of God may have free course, and be glorified. The language was possibly suggested by Psalms 147:15, ‘His word runneth very swiftly’; for ‘run’ is a more literal rendering than ‘have free course.’ Its course was beset by many hindrances. He desires his friends, therefore, to pray that whatever these obstacles may be, however numerous and formidable, the gospel might have no slow and uncertain course, but might bear down all opposition, and be glorified into proving itself to be ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.’

II. The Word of the Lord is glorified when it grows and multiplies, and mightily prevails. It grows, for there is life in it. It is the good seed of the Word. It multiplies, for it becomes a new seed in all who receive it into their hearts—each believer becoming himself a new ‘word of the Lord.’ It mightily prevails, for it exerts an ever-growing power, an ever-extending influence over the hearts and lives of men.

III. Another object of prayer was that they might be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men. There is more of the personal element in this than in that which precedes it; and yet here, too, his desire is not for self-preservation so much as for the prosperity and success of his ministry.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

THE MAN AND HIS MESSAGE

Prayer is the first thing with any one who believes in a personal God. What are we to pray for: ‘That the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified.

I. What is the underlying thought?—Thinking of the message the man has to deliver, asking only the power that he may minister rightly in the sight of God. What a deal of trouble, what a deal of misconception, what a deal of loss to ourselves it would save if we could only look upon the clergy in that light, as mere channels and mouthpieces, as mere organs by which God chooses to work, and then we shall see that the clergy and the laity would drop so much better into their respective positions. ‘Brethren, pray for us.’ Why? Simply because we are your brethren.

II. Prayer before criticism.—Pray for us—do not criticise us so much; not that we are on any pedestal, nor that there is any reason why we should not be subject, just as any other is, to comment in regard to the performance of duty; but criticism in itself puts you in a wrong attitude towards us, and when we hear it given behind our backs it puts us in a wrong attitude towards you. We clergy have this much to ask—do not criticise us until you pray for us. If you want something improved, altered—if you see some way in which the clergy are wrong, or if you see something they do which may be done better—if you have not courage to come and speak of it, at least tell God. Criticise your clergy to God, and ask God to help them to do better. We rejoice when the criticisms come straight from a friendly heart to help us. ‘Brethren, pray for us!’ You do see when we are wrong—of course, a man can see where his brother is wrong—God give us grace to see when we are wrong ourselves.

III. Reflex benefit of prayer.—There is just one other reason why you should pray for us: your self-interest. The more you pray for us the more good we shall be to you. Perhaps some of you do not know quite how hard it is to preach a sermon: we all know how easy it is to pick it to pieces. Just kneel down and lift up your hearts to God and say, ‘Help that poor shrinking man to do his best.’

—Rev. Canon J. Hasloch Potter.

Illustration

‘I remember one day in the University Church, a man preaching was so painfully nervous. We were pretty near, and we could see his pitiful state of nervousness. A student seated next to me said, “Pray for that man!” Very much the same thing happened in a suburban church one Easter Day. A stranger was taking the service. He seemed to be very weak and overcome—he was in a very low state of health at the time. Several of the men there (they were working-men, there were a great many of them in the congregation) were afraid he would not be able to get through the service, and they went out to the back of the church and knelt down on the grass in the sunlight, and each prayed in his own heart, heartily and fervently, that that poor man might be able to get through the service. Was not that far better in God’s sight than going out and saying, “What a poor broken reed we have had to-day!” And the prayer of those working-men helped to uphold the reed, and helped it to stand upright.’

Verse 5

PATIENT WAITING

‘And the Lord direct your hearts … into the patient waiting for Christ.’

2 Thessalonians 3:5

There is no precipitance with God. St. Paul prays for the Thessalonians, ‘The Lord direct your heart into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.’ And, perhaps, it will hereafter be found that the present season of the Church’s vigil and warfare is the grandest example of the patience of Christ.

I. Only as our hearts beat truly with His, only as our most real desires are in unison with His, can we live that spiritual life, which to live is Christ. Our Lord’s earthly life was lived, and His ministry fulfilled, in the light of His return to judgment. In His Sermon on the Mount, in His charge to His Apostles, in His private discourses, in His most impressive parables, in His farewell converse, in His good confession before the Sanhedrin,—he pointed to that day. After His Ascension, the promise of His return was the consolation which angels poured into the bereaved hearts of the Apostles. Thus it runs as a golden thread through all the Epistles. St. Paul never wearies of it; St. James urges patience in contemplating it; St. Peter reminds the elders of the Advent of the chief Shepherd; St. John comforts by the assurance—‘When He shall appear, we shall be like Him’; St. Jude re-echoes Enoch’s warning—‘The Lord cometh.’ And the last book of the inspired canon bears on its forefront, ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds,’ and closes with the threefold watchword, ‘I come quickly.’

II. As we drink in the spirit of these Scriptures, we are tempted to exclaim, ‘Surely there will not be one laggard heart: all will watch and wait and long for the return of their absent Lord!’ But has it been so? Looking broadly over the history of the Church of God, have the servants of the Householder been watching for His return? Has not the parable of the Ten Virgins been continually repeated—‘While the Bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept’? Passing from congregation to congregation, listening to the converse of professing Christians, how seldom you catch the echo of the Master’s watchword, ‘Surely, I come quickly’! And why? One reason has doubtless been the silent reflex influence of those students of natural phenomena who claim for law a power superior to that of the Lawgiver who enacts it. They argue, ‘All things continue as they were from the foundation of the world,’ and that what has been shall be. The Advent would so subvert a thousand favourite theories, that it is no wonder that learned men, who have not learned Christ, put the thought from them.

III. From one cause or another, the Church has relaxed her vigil.—There are, indeed, those who watch for the faintest sound of the footfall of their returning Lord. But they are few and far between. Perhaps of all hindrances to spiritual life none is more insidious than the answer to the ringing Advent call, ‘Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.’ But if slothfulness hinders His return, watchfulness helps the spiritual life (in the exercise of faith and patience) more than words can say. This lifts the heart to that which is imperishable and eternal. This cheers us on in our patient work for Him at home, for we hear his voice—‘Occupy till I come.’

—Bishop E. H. Bickersteth.

Verse 5

PATIENT WAITING

‘And the Lord direct your hearts … into the patient waiting for Christ.’

2 Thessalonians 3:5

There is no precipitance with God. St. Paul prays for the Thessalonians, ‘The Lord direct your heart into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.’ And, perhaps, it will hereafter be found that the present season of the Church’s vigil and warfare is the grandest example of the patience of Christ.

I. Only as our hearts beat truly with His, only as our most real desires are in unison with His, can we live that spiritual life, which to live is Christ. Our Lord’s earthly life was lived, and His ministry fulfilled, in the light of His return to judgment. In His Sermon on the Mount, in His charge to His Apostles, in His private discourses, in His most impressive parables, in His farewell converse, in His good confession before the Sanhedrin,—he pointed to that day. After His Ascension, the promise of His return was the consolation which angels poured into the bereaved hearts of the Apostles. Thus it runs as a golden thread through all the Epistles. St. Paul never wearies of it; St. James urges patience in contemplating it; St. Peter reminds the elders of the Advent of the chief Shepherd; St. John comforts by the assurance—‘When He shall appear, we shall be like Him’; St. Jude re-echoes Enoch’s warning—‘The Lord cometh.’ And the last book of the inspired canon bears on its forefront, ‘Behold, He cometh with clouds,’ and closes with the threefold watchword, ‘I come quickly.’

II. As we drink in the spirit of these Scriptures, we are tempted to exclaim, ‘Surely there will not be one laggard heart: all will watch and wait and long for the return of their absent Lord!’ But has it been so? Looking broadly over the history of the Church of God, have the servants of the Householder been watching for His return? Has not the parable of the Ten Virgins been continually repeated—‘While the Bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept’? Passing from congregation to congregation, listening to the converse of professing Christians, how seldom you catch the echo of the Master’s watchword, ‘Surely, I come quickly’! And why? One reason has doubtless been the silent reflex influence of those students of natural phenomena who claim for law a power superior to that of the Lawgiver who enacts it. They argue, ‘All things continue as they were from the foundation of the world,’ and that what has been shall be. The Advent would so subvert a thousand favourite theories, that it is no wonder that learned men, who have not learned Christ, put the thought from them.

III. From one cause or another, the Church has relaxed her vigil.—There are, indeed, those who watch for the faintest sound of the footfall of their returning Lord. But they are few and far between. Perhaps of all hindrances to spiritual life none is more insidious than the answer to the ringing Advent call, ‘Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.’ But if slothfulness hinders His return, watchfulness helps the spiritual life (in the exercise of faith and patience) more than words can say. This lifts the heart to that which is imperishable and eternal. This cheers us on in our patient work for Him at home, for we hear his voice—‘Occupy till I come.’

—Bishop E. H. Bickersteth.

Verse 10

GAMBLING

‘If any would not work, neither should be eat.’

2 Thessalonians 3:10

The moral way of acquiring wealth and property is to labour for it. So far as property comes to us, it either must be given us or we must inherit it; but it is immoral to strive to obtain it without working for it.

I. This, accordingly, is the evil of gambling, that men play for money because they are mean-spirited enough to want it without honestly earning it. In every form of gambling the gain of one man is another’s loss. The gamester can get nothing from God by his play: nor anything out of nature: he can only get out of his neighbour. And as no one consents with his whole will to lose, the gain is robbery.

II. The domestic and public evils which flow from this vice are at once widespread and stupendous. What homes it has desolated! What lives it has destroyed! What children it has orphaned! What hearts it has broken!

III. True manliness requires that we have an inner life: an inner intellectual life, through the due education of our powers; and an inner spiritual life through the indwelling within us of the Holy Spirit of God. It needs that the fear of God lay hold of our people before the demon of gambling will be cast out of the social life of the land. But the demon must be cast out if the Kingdom of Heaven is to come.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

A RIGHTEOUS CONDITION*

In harvest-home God is reminding you not only that it is He Who supports you, but He teaches you how, and on what conditions, He supports you. God gave us our lives as a free gift. He continues our lives only on certain conditions. Harvest-home is the time when God intends us to notice this. It is a time of rest from labour. For though God gives the harvest, man has had to till the land, and sow the seed, and reap the crop.

I. If God gives, man also has had to work.—Teaching us this, that when God created man with all his powers and capacities, God meant those powers to be exercised, otherwise the man should not continue to live. It is God’s great protest against idleness. If any man will not work, neither let him eat. There is no harvest without labour.

II. The idle man is breaking God’s first law.—I hardly know which is worst, the man who works so hard as to shut out the thought of God Who gives him the reward of his work, or the man who is idle and will not work at all. Certainly they are both very far from God, but perhaps the idle man is the furthest off in the end, for Satan is sure to fill his soul with evil.

III. God gave us our active powers to be used.—He gives us our harvest, but He gives no harvest except we sow as well as reap. The fact that God’s way of supporting the lives which He has given us is by way of work, is God’s proclamation against all idleness. It is God’s warning to all who are not actually forced to work for their bread that God expects them to do something with the powers and faculties which He has given them—something useful to their neighbour, something for God’s honour and man’s welfare. God Himself rests not—‘My Father worketh hitherto’ is the word of Christ, and if man needs rest it is because of the weakness of his nature. It is only while actively engaged in useful labour that man truly lives.

Illustration

‘God gives us our spiritual life. But He only supports it on condition of our exerting the powers of our spiritual lives. We must be active, living, working Christians; our spiritual life, our religion, must be an active one, our religious energies must be exercised, or else God ceases to sustain our religion, and then in the world to come all good dies out of us; our spiritual life—i.e. our goodness, all that in us is like unto God, dies finally. This is the Second Death, the death of goodness. From it may God deliver us!’

Verse 13

WITHOUT WEARINESS

‘But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.’

2 Thessalonians 3:13

Who is there that has ever done work for Christ who has not felt the importance of this precept?

I. Causes of weariness.—They are not a few.

( a) Weariness from anxiety.

( b) Weariness from over-work.

( c) Weariness from apparent failure.

II. Remedies for weariness.—Granting these causes, what are the remedies?

( a) A deeper trust. It is God Who has called you to work for Him, and He will enable. ‘Cast thy [anxiety] upon the Lord and He will sustain thee.’

( b) Make time for meditation. In the midst of the bustle hear the Master calling, ‘Come ye apart and rest awhile.’ The work will not suffer; and you will be strengthened.

( c) Realise your calling. The work is the Master’s, and in His good time He will grant you success.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/2-thessalonians-3.html. 1876.