Paul’s Emphasis on Prayer
2 Thessalonians 3:1–5
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, often called the prince of preachers, had much to say about his prayer life, including, “Prayer has become as essential to me as the heaving of my lungs, and the beating of my pulse.”1
He couldn’t live without continual prayer—a characteristic he shared with the apostle Paul.
Paul considered it his duty to emphasize the importance of prayer as he established churches wherever he traveled. The Thessalonian epistles reveal how he prayed, and they urge his followers to do likewise.
Paul’s prayers overflow with thanksgiving and praise for the Thessalonian church and emphasize how believers should live out their faith in total commitment to God through prayer.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5, Paul focused on how he and his missionary team approached prayer.
Paul’s prayers were specific and often brief, infused with a sense of urgency and a heartfelt burden. Surprisingly, Paul never prayed that God would save the world. He did say Christians have a duty to pray for all men, kings, and people in authority, so believers might lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and reverence (1 Tim. 2:1–2). He knew if his ministry were to be spiritually effective, prayer was the key.
Why? Because without it, the apostle would have been depending on his own intellect and skill. He would have lacked the Holy Spirit’s power to direct him and would not have been delivered from the godless men out to destroy him.
The apostle hoped the church would wholeheartedly intercede in prayer for him and his team and expected the believers reading this second epistle to the Thessalonians to emulate his pattern of prayer in their own lives.
Paul asked the church to uphold him, Silvanus, Timothy, and their ministry in prayer: “Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith” (2 Th. 3:1–2).
The word finally means “moreover” or “furthermore.” It does not imply the letter was finished, as Paul continued to instruct.
Knowing the “brethren” were praying for him, Paul commanded them to pray more specifically. His use of the present tense implied they should pray continually for three things:
1. The preachers of the gospel (Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy). That God would keep them healthy and safe as they traveled, open doors for them to preach, and provide great responses to their messages.
2. The preaching of the gospel. “That the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified” (v. 1) and spread quickly throughout the regions where the team ministered. God’s Word is glorified when it is acknowledged as true, received as the Word of God, and leads a person to salvation in Christ. “Just as it is with you” (v. 1) reminded the Thessalonians how the gospel worked when Paul brought it to them.
3. The preservation of Paul and his team. “That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men” (v. 2). The word delivered means to “rescue” from actual peril. The Thessalonian Christians were extremely familiar with deadly opposition (Acts 17:5–10).
Paul often experienced beatings; imprisonment; sorcerers; demonic activity; and groups of people who dogged his travels, trying to destroy his ministry (cf. 2 Cor. 4:8–12). Described as “unreasonable and wicked men” (2 Th. 3:2), these enemies were vicious, perverse, aggressive, and destructive. They were evil and godless and acted contrary to divine and human law. They also were committed to destroying Paul, the gospel, and the Christian faith.
Paul attributed their brutality to the fact that “not all have faith” (v. 2). Simply put, the wicked lacked the faith to believe the gospel and be saved.
Nevertheless, Paul was confident the Thessalonian church would triumph: “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one” (v. 3).
Though surrounded by evil, Paul tabled his own brief request for prayer and encouraged the young church. The word but indicates an abrupt shift in topic from those who lack saving faith (v. 2) to the faithfulness of God. This contrast is a great word of encouragement to all Christians, especially those undergoing extreme persecution, like the Thessalonian church. Satanic opposition, no matter what form it takes, will never defeat God. God’s purposes and plans for His church will ultimately triumph over every evil that is focused on destroying them.
Remember, believers are not exempt from disasters, debilitating illnesses, discrimination, dangerous opposition, or death. Through all our trials and heartaches, we must look to God, for He is loyal, trustworthy, and faithful to keep His Word and promises (Dt. 7:8–9; 1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:17, Paul had prayed the Lord would comfort and establish the Thessalonians in every good work in their service for Him. In chapter 3, he reemphasized God’s faithfulness to “establish . . . and guard [them] from the evil one” (v. 3). Both establish and guard are in the future tense in Greek, indicating Paul expected this work to be ongoing. Thus, Paul was assuring the church the Lord had granted his desire.
The word establish means to “make stable” or “strengthen,” something God does in believers’ lives when we mature in the faith and depend on Him. The word guard speaks of protection from enemies. The idea is that God would place an ongoing garrison around the Thessalonians, guaranteeing them ultimate victory. The enemy is “the evil one,” meaning Satan. The phrase can also refer to all that is evil. Here it refers to Satan, who is behind all the evil perpetrated against Christians.
Paul knew the Lord would fulfill His purposes for the Thessalonian church because the Thessalonians already were practicing what he had commanded: “And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you” (v. 4).
The word and means “moreover” or “now,” indicating a transition from the previous discussion. The Lord’s faithfulness to the Thessalonians in the past persuaded Paul that God would faithfully complete the same work within their lives in the future (cf. 1 Th. 1:6–8; 2:13–14). Paul’s confidence did not lie with the Thessalonians but, rather, with God.
Although Paul had no occasion to question the Thessalonians’ faithfulness, he still reminded them of their commitment, “both that you do and will do the things we command you” (2 Th. 3:4). Paul was referring to what he had taught them concerning salvation and the Christian life when his team had planted the church, as well as the instruction contained in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. This teaching wasn’t personal advice but, rather, commandments given by apostolic authority from the Lord.
Again, the apostle prayed for believers in the church: “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (2 Th. 3:5).
This prayer, offered directly to Jesus Christ instead of to the Father through the name of Christ, petitions the Lord to do two things for the Thessalonians:
1. To remove all barriers that might hamper their hearts from loving God (v. 5). Upon experiencing God’s love in its fullness, Paul wanted them to be stimulated to obey God’s commandments.
2. To direct their hearts “into the patience of Christ” (v. 5). The word patience also refers to abiding “steadfast” and denotes a person’s loyalty to the faith. Here the word can refer to one of two things or both. First, it reflects Christ, who was patient and steadfast and who endured a life of severe opposition and persecution, eventually dying for us. Second, it can also mean that Christ’s suffering inspired His followers to stand steadfast in their faith, despite persecution.
Most likely, Paul meant to imply both truths in his prayer. He wanted to inspire the Thessalonians to embrace the endurance Christ displayed as they faced persecution.
Does your life pulsate with the same desire to pray that the apostle Paul and Charles Spurgeon expressed? If it doesn’t, hopefully you will make some adjustments in your prayer life. You can begin right now. God tells us, “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jer. 33:3).
- Charles H. Spurgeon, Exploring the Mind and Heart of the Prince of Preachers, ed. Kerry James Allen (Oswego, IL: Fox River Press, 2005), 362.