2 Thessalonians 3Observe here, 1. A courteous and loving compellation, brethren. There is a three-fold brotherhood, which the scripture takes notice of betwixt Christ and believers, betwixt believers themselves, and betwixt the ministers of Christ and their beloved people.
Observe, 2. St. Paul's passionate request and supplication, Brethren, pray for us.
Learn hence, That an interest in the prayers of all those that have an interest in God, is the passionate desire and earnest request of all the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ; there is nothing that the ministers of Christ do more want or need, nothing, nothing that they so much desire and crave, as the spiritual alms of their people's prayers; their work is a work of the greatest weight, of the greatest labour, of the greatest difficulty and opposition; and alas, their shoulders are no stronger than other men's, to stand under the weight of this burden; wonder not then they cry out so importunely for the help and benefit of their people's prayers.
Observe, 3. The subject matter which he desires them to pray for, That the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified: in the original, that the word may run and be glorified; a metaphor taken from a water-course, where the current flows freely, without interruption or obstruction.
Quest. When may the word be said to have free course?
Ans. When it is freely preached, and accompanied with the Spirit's internal operation.
Learn hence, That it is the standing duty of the people of God to wrestle with God at the throne of grace, for the free course of the word in the labours of his ministers; Pray that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified.
But when may the word be said to be glorified?
When God is glorified in and by the word, by the conversion of sinners, by the examplary conversation of believers; then is God glorified, when his word is entertained.
Observe, 4. The argument to excite the Thessalonians to pray for the success of the word amongst others, namely, the great and good success which God had given it amongst them: That it may be glorified, as it is with you.
Thence learn, That such as have felt the power of the gospel themselves, to their conversion and salvation, should pray that others may partake of the same benefits, by it and from it, together with themselves: herein they show their love to God, and charity to the souls of men.
In the former verse, St. Paul desired the Thessalonians' prayers with reference to the word; here he requests it with relation to himself, that his person might be preserved, as well as his preaching prosper; that so long as God had any work for him to do, he might be preserved from the rage and fury of the unbelieving Jews, and persecuting Gentiles, who followed him from place to place, to give him trouble: That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men.
Where note, The odious character with which the apostle brands the enemies of his ministry; he calls them unreasonable men, whom no reason or argument could convince and satisfy; and wicked men, of vicious lives and debauched practices: they are usually the vilest and worst of men, the very dregs of mankind, who set themselves to persecute the preachers, and oppose the preaching of the gospel.
Next, he subjoins a reason why he did so earnestly desire their prayers for deliverance from dangers: because all men have not faith, neither fidelity, nor faithfulness, much less sincere faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; for then they would not oppose his gospel, nor persecute us from place to place, for the plain and persuasive preaching of it.
Where note, That what profession soever a person makes of godliness and religion, and how high soever his pretences are of external devotion, yet if he opposes the gospel, in the power, purity, and progress of it, he is and may be deservedly styled, an unreasonable and wicked man, who wants fidelity, moral honesty, and real virtue; and acts only for his own interest, and to please a party.
Our apostle had prayed for the Thessalonians' establishment before, 2Thess 2:17.
He assures them of it now; God will stablish you and keep you from evil, from all evil, and particularly from the evil of apostasy; and the argument for assurance is drawn from the fidelity of God, and his faithfulness in all his promises: The Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you.
Learn hence, That the Christian's establishment in grace, his perseverance in holiness, and preservation from sin, depends upon the power and faithfulness of God, in concurrence with their own united endeavours to establish and preserve themselves from falling; The Lord is faithful, &c.
As if the apostle had said, "Although I gave you the assurance of God's faithful readiness, according to his promise, to do every thing that is requisite on his part, in order to your establishment in holiness, and preservation from sin; yet you must not, you cannot, expect the assistance of God, except you also add your own endeavours, as I have commanded; and accordingly, I have good confidence, that what I command you in the Lord, or by the authority of the Lord, both now and hereafter, at all times, shall be performed by you."
Where note, The character of that obedience which the gospel directs; it must be universal and perpetual: Ye do all things that I command you, and I have confidence that ye will do.
As if he had said, "That we may not be mistaken in this our confidence, we pray that the Lord will direct your hearts into the love of God, which will constrain you to this obedience."
Where note, That to direct man's heart right into the love of God, is the work of God; The Lord directs your heart into the love of God.
Note farther, That these Thessalonians did love God already for the apostle had before commended their work of faith, their labour of love, and yet here he prays, that their hearts may be directed into the love of God, &c.
Learn hence, That the hearts of the holiest and best of saints do stand in need of a more perfect and constant direction into the love of God; as ships that are best rigged need a pilot, so they that love God must need to have their love ordered and directed to the best advantage of his glory.
Observe farther, From the phrase here used, (direct,) that God works upon us as rational creatures; he changeth the heart indeed, but he doth it by direction, not by violence and compulsion: the Spirit's conduct is sweet, yet powerful; it changes the will, but without offering violence to the freedom and liberty of the will; we are not forced but directed; The Lord direct your hearts.--
Again, the Lord direct your hearts; it implies, there are many things that would wreath and bend, crook and turn, our hearts another way, and direct our love to a contrary object, to the world and the flesh; therefore we had need pray with earnestness, The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God; it follows,--and into the patient waiting for Christ.
Note here, 1. The true character of a sincere Christian; he waits for the coming of Christ: such as love Christ fervently, long for his coming greatly.
Note, 2. How patience qualifies those holy ardours, and longing desires, which the saints have to be with Christ: though love sets us upon the wing to be gone, yet patience commands us to wait Christ's own time for going; vehement love needs the allay of patience; most need much patience to die, but some need as much patience to live: therefore says the apostle, The Lord direct your hearts into a patient waiting for Christ; intimating, that the saints of God have great need of patience to enable them to endure that state of distance and separation from Christ so long as they must endure it in this world: well then might the apostles pray on behalf of the Thessalonians, The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and patient waiting for Christ.
Our apostle here enters upon a new subject, namely, that of such discipline; not only exhorting, but commanding and requiring them to excommunicate from their society every brother or Christian professor walking disorderly, and not after the tradition or doctrine delivered by him against such persons.
Note here, 1. That though the apostle did oftentimes entreat and beseech, yet he had authority to enjoin and command; We command you, brethern.
Note, 2. That this authority to command he had not of himself, but from Christ; We command you in the name of the Lord Jesus. A minister must look that his commands be grounded upon the authority of Christ, or else they will lie with small weight upon the consciences of his people.
Note, 3. The special duty he commanded them to the practice and performance of, namely, to excomminicate scandalous and disorderly persons from their communion and familiar society; That ye withdraw yourselves. A man that is guilty of a notorious, scandalous sin, ought to be suspended from familiar converse and society with the saints, to shame him into repentance, before a public declarative excommunication casts him out of the church; We command you to withdraw yourself from every brother.
Note, 4. The offended described, a brother: that is, a professor of Christianity, be he who he will, and let his rank and station be what it will, if he walks disorderly, like a soldier that keeps not rank and file, as the word signifies; if he walks not after the tradition which he has received of us, that is, plainly according to the rule and direction of the gospel, let him be avoided.
Hence learn, That there is no church member, whose rank and station, whose quality and condition, doth exempt his disorderly, scandalous walking from ecclesiastical censure: Withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly.
In these verses the apostle plainly intimates, whom he meant by the disorderly brother mentioned in the foregoing verse; it is the idle person, called disorderly for this reason; because Almighty God having fitted man for, and ordained him to, labour, he that will not do so, deserts the order in which God has placed him, and thus renders himself disorderly.
To condemn which practice, St. Paul propounds his own example to their consideration and imitation; declaring, that he did not eat any man's bread before he earned it, but wrought with his own hands in the day-time, and sometimes part of the night, at his trade of tent-making, that he might not be chargeable to any of them: not but that he had power to demand maintenance for his ministry; but he chose rather to depart from his right, and to labour in his calling, to excite others to do the like.
Note here, 1. That had not St. Paul laboured in his calling of tent- making, he had not been a disorderly person; but lest any should think so, he takes away and cuts off all occasion of suspicion, by working with his hands; his ministerial office would have freed him from the charge and imputation of idleness, and made maintenance from the church his due; but idleness, the apostle observed, was a growing sin, which needeth an example as well as doctrine to subdue it; and accordingly the apostle sets one, I behaved myself not disorderly or idle amongst you, but wrought with labour and travail night and day.
Note, 2. It is commendable to follow good examples, but much more to set a good example: as ministers ought to be patterns, so people ought to be followers; and their will be much the greater, and their punishment much the sorer, who do not follow their ministers' doctrine, when they have seen it exemplified in their conversation.
Note, 3. There have all along been some persons in the world who have looked upon the work of the ministry as a very easy calling, yea, as an idle calling, that a little time, a little pains and labour, is enough for it: whereas, the labour of the ministry in the exercise of the mind, may justly be esteemed the greatest of labours; yet we see people all along have not judged it so, but the ministers of Christ find it so.
From the poverty of St. Paul's condition, that he had nothing before- hand, but was forced to earn his bread before he eat it;
Learn, that it pleases God sometimes to measure out a very hard lot to his own children, and to give but little of earth to those who glorify him most upon earth; and those upon whom he intends to bestow extraordinary measures of glory in heaven, are cut short, very short of these outward comforts.
Here behold St. Paul, a chosen vessel, one of the holiest men, and the most serviceable man that lived in the world in his time, yet without a penny in his purse, but what he wrought for with his hands, nay, working night and day for bread! Lord! how endearing are thy children's obligations to thy goodness, for their easy and plentiful circumstances in the world! what a favour it is to have fulness upon earth whilst we live, and the assurance of thy everlasting fruitation when we die!
Observe here, 1. The solemn charge given by the apostle for every man to follow some lawful calling, and be found in the way of an industrious diligence; if any (being able) will not work, let him not eat (any part of the church's charity). So that the sin of idleness was directly contrary to the apostle's command, and to the apostle's example.
Mark, It is not those that cannot work, but those that will not, whom the apostle excludes from the church's charity: poor men that will not work when they can, do forfeit the bread of charity from men; the rich men that live idly, do by that sin forfeit their food to God, yea, even their lives and their souls too; if any man would not work, neither should he eat.
Observe, 2. The apostle exhorts every man to eat his own bread: implying, that the bread of idleness is stolen bread; idle persons shall be judged as thieves, though they eat that which was freely given them; drones deserve no honey, what they eat is stolen from the industrious bee; that is truly our bread which we labour for ourselves, or recompense those who get it for us by their labour. God has sent no man into the world to be idle; but as the providence of God disposes of every man, though he has never so much worldly wealth, yet he must be some way useful and serviceable in his generation.
Observe, 3. One of the bad effects of idleness pointed at by our apostle; namely, an intermeddling (as busy-bodies) in other men's matters: an idle person that doeth nothing to any good purpose, yet has a deal of business to answer for, done to very bad purpose; not for labouring, but busy trifling, the busy-body's business is very unprofitable business; the mind of man cannot be wholly idle, but must be employed in something, if not in doing good, of necessity in contriving evil; usually none are so busy in other men's matters as they that neglect their own; those disorderly persons, who did not work at all, yet were busy-bodies, and as such censured by our apostle: I hear there are some among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busy-bodies.
Observe here, 1. How far St. Paul was from the censoriousness and uncharitableness of those men who condemn a whole society, a communion, a church in general, for the miscarriages of some particular persons in it. I hear, says he, there are some that walk disorderly, but ye, brethern, are free from these misdemeanors; you are painful in your employments, diligent in your callings, charitable in your distributions: be not weary in these instances of your duty, but persevere in well-doing. When the ministers of Christ reprove the stubborn and disobedient for the neglect of their duty, they forget not to encourage and exhort the faithful and obedient to a persevering diligence in their known duty.
Observe, 2. He directs them how to manage refractory persons, such as remained contumacious and disobedient to the admonitions given by this epistle; continuing disorderly, and refusing to labour; his advice is twofold, he tells them what he would have them not do, and what he would have them do, to such.
1. Negatively, What they should not do; namely, not to cut them off from the church by excommunication, despairing of their repentance and reformation: extreme rigour is offensive to God, and injurious to the church, as well as too much lenity and forbearance.
2. Postively, He exhorts that they consider them as lapsed brethern, and treat them accordingly, as those that desire and endeavour to reduce and reform them, in order to which he directs,
first, to note or mark the disorderly persons; that is, set a note of shame upon them.
Next, to avoid all intimacy and familiarity with them.
Lastly, to admonish them of their duty, that they may be brought, if possible, to repentance.
Our apostle being now to take his leave of the Thessalonians, closes his epistle with prayer.
Where note, 1. The mercy prayed for, peace; peace with God, peace with conscience, peace and unity among themselves as Christians, peace with the men of the world, strangers, yea, enemies to Christianity.
Note, 2. The person prayed to, The Lord of peace; understand Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, the purchaser of peace, the procurer of peace, the preserver of peace.
Note, 3. The perpetuity of the mercy prayed for, The Lord give you peace, not for a short time, but for continuance, always, that is, at all times, and in all places, and with all persons.
Note, 4. The way and manner of obtaining this and all other blessings, it must be in the use of means: The Lord give you peace by all means, that is, in the use of all lawful and laudable means.
Learn hence, 1. That the Lord himself is the author, procurer, and preserver of all that peace which his people enjoy; and therefore his people may boldly trust him for peace and safety, who is, and will be styled, The Lord of peace.
Learn, 2. That such as will obtain this blessing of peace, must pray for it, and endeavour after it in a diligent use of all lawful means, which is the usual way and method in which God dispenses it.
Learn, 3. That it is a lasting peace. a peace always, amongst all persons, and at all times, that a Christian should pray for and endeavour after, that it may be enjoyed without cessation, and without interruption; The Lord of peace himself give you peace always, by all means.
Observe here, 1. That in the former part of the verse he had prayed for peace on behalf of these Thessalonians, and this prayer was put up to Jesus Christ: the Lord of peace, give you peace; which, by the way, is a strong argument for the divinity of Christ, for none but God is to be prayed to, none but God can give peace, I create the fruit of the lips, peace, peace. Isa 57:19
Our apostle now having prayed for peace, next prays for the presence of God: The Lord give you peace, the Lord be with you all.
Learn hence, That God's gracious presence with his people in any plentiful measure, is annexed to their peacable frame of spirit, and to their serious endeavours after peace and love, after unity and concord, among themselves: and the contrary spirit and temper grieves the good spirit of God, and provokes him to withdraw his quickening and comforting presence from his people; for these two petitions seem to have mutual dependency upon each other. The Lord give you peace, and the Lord be with you all.
Observe here, 1. That the salutation written with his own hand respects his own writing, which did serve as a token or certain mark whereby his own epistles were distinguished from all counterfeits. The sending of salutations, either by word or writing, that we may thereby testify our sincere affection to absent friends, is not a matter of decency only, but of duty; not of compliment barely, but of conscience. The salutation of Paul with mine own hand.
Observe, 2. His usual valediction and farewell wish, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all, Amen. As if he had said, "May the gracious and undeserved favour of God in Christ, with all the fruits and effects, the benefits and advantages of it, be conveyed to you all, without exception, and be the portion and privilege of every soul of you; and in testimony both of my affectionate desire and assured confidence, I say, Amen, so be it, so let it be.
Learn hence, that there is an inexhaustible fountain of rich grace in Christ, and so copious are the streams of spiritual blessings which flow from it, that wish we never so much to others, yet there still remaineth enough for ourselves. St. Paul, who wisheth all grace to the Thessalonians, knew very well there was enough both for himself and them: and that how large a measure soever was bestowed upon them, there would not be the less remaining for himself; therefore doth he thus close and conclude his epistle, saying, The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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