Living in Apostate Times: 2 Thessalonians 3
We are living in a day characterized by apostasy. It is hard to say exactly when it began, but it came to the United States as a result of European “free-thinking liberalism.” The ideas spawned there have pervaded every phase of American society.
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines apostasy as “renunciation of a religious faith; abandonment of a previous loyalty; defection.”
Many churches and individuals who once made a profession of faith have turned from the cardinal doctrines of the faith and are thus “apostate.” Our society is basically apostate because, as a nation, we have turned far from the basic principles upon which our country was founded. Those of us who stand true to the scriptural teachings concerning godliness, the home, society, etc. are now looked upon by a growing number of Americans as the cause of many of the nation’s problems.
Even some Bible-believing churches are making changes that border on apostasy. There appears to be a growing coldness to the Word of God and an unfaithfulness to the Lord, His church, and His direct commands concerning the lifestyle of believers. The Lord’s day has been turned by many into a day for family, sports, and recreation. Other interests take the place of faithful church attendance. Rather than standing true to scriptural principles, many are carried about by every new wind of doctrine. People have become followers of men rather than followers of God. This often leads to emotionalism rather than the provision of a strong foundation in the Word, which is necessary to weather the storms of life.
The Call for Prayer (vv. 1–2)
In another day of confusion, Paul dealt with questions from the church at Thessalonica, which was living in the midst of a wicked pagan society. The church members had some misunderstandings about the return of the Lord, the Day of the Lord, the man of sin, and the fate of Christians after death. Paul answered these questions brilliantly in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The truths in his replies to that ancient church can be applied to the apostate age in which we live.
First, Paul requested prayer for himself and those who worked with him. They were hated by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, and apparently some in the church did not feel that their message was pertinent to them. They caused great difficulty for Paul and his companions.
Second, Paul requested prayer for the Word of God to have free course in the lives of the believers. Great spiritual achievements had been brought about because the Lord had blessed His Word as it was preached. If the Word of God is bound, it is difficult for the Lord to deal with people’s hearts.
Third, Paul requested prayer for deliverance from wicked people. The believers in the church at Thessalonica were well aware of this problem. When Paul and Silas began their ministry among them, they faced severe opposition from some radical Jewish opponents, who “took unto them certain vile fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people” (Acts 17:5). They wanted to kill God’s messengers, but Paul and Silas were taken to Jason’s home and sent away under cover of darkness. The Thessalonians had learned the great effect of the gospel on people. Paul asked them to pray that they would be delivered from such violent situations in the future.
Today, in the midst of the apostasy surrounding us, God’s people must heed Paul’s command to pray for deliverance from wicked people. Full-time servants of the Lord, along with Christians in local churches, are beginning to be attacked by wicked men—if not physically, surely through verbal abuse. These attacks often cause weaker Christians to become ineffective in their lives and witness because of fear. We must constantly bring this matter before the Lord.
In this apostate age, we must pray for godly leaders to rise up and stand for the truth of the Word. We also must pray that the Lord will keep the doors open for the Word to be taught. Otherwise, the darkness will deepen as we approach the return of the Lord.
Paul’s Confidence that the Lord Was Working in His People (vv. 3–5)
The situation at Thessalonica could have discouraged and dismayed Paul, but rather than dwell on his problems, he turned to the Lord and placed his confidence in His working in the lives of His people. Although many of the Thessalonian believers were Paul’s spiritual children, it was God alone who could meet their needs.
First, Paul’s confidence was based on the faithfulness of God. As he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” He was confident that the Lord would establish the believers in their faith and keep them from the evil one. Although times were difficult, Paul knew that their conversion was genuine and that the Lord, by His Spirit, would keep them in His care.
Second, Paul was confident that the Lord had worked in their lives: “And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you” (v. 4). The Lord had done a major work in their lives—they had heard the Word of God, the Holy Spirit had convicted them and convinced them of the truth of the gospel, and they had come to know Christ as their Savior.
Paul was convinced that the Thessalonians would do the will of the Lord and that they would follow the commands he had given them when he was with them as well as the further commands he was giving in this pastoral letter. He believed that in spite of the events happening around them, they would remain obedient to the Lord. Paul’s responsibility was to continue giving them the truth and the proper direction for their lives.
Third, Paul was confident that the Lord could direct the Thessalonian believers through the difficulties they faced. In verse 5, the word direct means to guide or to clear away obstacles. The apostle offered prayer for the believers, petitioning the Lord to work in their lives—to guide them and clear away any obstacles that would hinder them from fully loving the Lord who had purchased them with His blood. He also asked God to enable them to wait patiently for Christ’s return, rather than be idle or upset. He wanted them to be rational in their walk with the Lord and sensible as they waited for His return.
Even today, some believers take their eyes off of the Lord and try to set the day for His return. Paul exhorted the Thessalonian believers, on the basis of their relationship with Christ, to mature in their love for Him and trust Him, by faith, to return in the Father’s perfect timing. Patient faith in the Lord, with genuine biblical expectancy of His return, will carry believers through any difficulties, even in an apostate age.
One of the most stabilizing factors named by believers today is reading the Bible, not only as hearers, but also as doers of the Word. Much of the instability and lack of direction in the lives of Christians could be resolved if more of God’s people spent time studying the Word of God. They would discover true direction for their lives, rather than listening to the many false teachers on the scene today.
The Command Regarding the Disorderly (vv. 6–15)
From the beginning of the church to this day, one thing has not changed. Whenever believers gather together, problems ultimately develop. While the great majority of God’s people do their best to live in accordance with the Word of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and direct them, there are always some who cause problems that bring reproach on an entire local church.
Today little discipline is meted out in local assemblies. Perhaps it is because of family ties, the desire to keep the church from splitting over “little things,” the fear of losing income, or a host of other reasons. Often when a church takes disciplinary action against a member or members, those members simply leave that church and go to another one down the street, where they are accepted in good standing. Such situations are proof that we are living in a time of disobedience that can produce apostasy.
In his first Thessalonian epistle, Paul told the believers to warn the disorderly (1 Th. 5:14). Addressing that issue a second time, he gave a direct apostolic command to “withdraw” from those who were causing the trouble (v. 6). Later he said, “if any man obey not our word … have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (v. 14). The problem had existed far too long. The leaders had to take action so that the believers would not socialize with the troublemakers, shaming them into getting right with the Lord, and thus resolving the situation.
Paul defined the disorderliness in the church by illustration. He went to great lengths to remind the believers of the time he and his companions had spent with them. “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing, but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (v. 8).
Rather than take anything from the people, Paul and his companions worked with their hands so they would not be accountable to those listening to their message or become a burden to those to whom they ministered. Although they rightfully could have accepted remuneration from them, Paul chose not to do so for the sake of their testimony.
The first type of disorderliness Paul addressed concerned those who were lazy, unwilling to work, and had become burdens to the church. Perhaps they used the argument often-heard today: “The Lord is coming soon, so there is no need to do anything.”
In verse 11 the apostle described a second type of disorderliness: Some of those who would not work were also busybodies. They couldn’t find time to work, but they had plenty of time to gossip about others, which also caused problems within the church.
Paul commanded the believers to deal with this disorderliness. The solution was simple. They were to disassociate themselves socially from the guilty parties, but they were not to consider them enemies. Rather, they were to admonish them as brothers (v. 15), with the hope that their actions would cause the busybodies to get right with the Lord.
Lessons for Living in Apostate Times
There are lessons to be learned from this passage concerning how believers should live and act in an apostate age.
We should pray for our church leaders, that the Lord will give them free course to preach His Word without hindrance. We should also pray that our leaders will be delivered from the attacks of wicked people and from the power of that “wicked one” (1 Jn. 2:13–14), Satan.
We should walk with the Lord daily and carefully. Since He has begun a good work in our lives, we must stay close to Him at all times and continually obey His commands. If this practice had been followed when liberalism first began to gain a foothold in our society, we might have been able to stop it from becoming the great spiritual turning away that is sweeping our nation today.
In these apostate times, there must be an ecclesiastical and personal separation from ungodly people and even churches. We must fellowship where the Word of God is preached, and we must maintain personal separation from the worldly influences around us that can damage our testimony for the Savior.
May the Lord grant us the courage to live fully for Him in these difficult times.