This week our Sunday evening studies in 1&2 Thessalonians came to an end with a look at the last verses of 2 Thessalonians 3. Looking back I believe we have been blessed as we have grappled with some issues that Paul covers in what are perhaps the earliest of his recorded letters.
The reading is very short, only three verses and we will address then in order. In verse 16 Paul writes about peace, in verse 17 he underlines his letters authenticity and in verse 18 he concludes as was his custom with a blessing of grace.
Peace defined. Whatever images come to mind when we think of peace, it is more than an absence of noise or even the absence of war although freedom from strife can be part of it. Peace in scripture means wholeness and wellbeing, when Elisha asks the widow if she, her husband and son are all right (2 Kings 4:26), the word used is shalom, the word usually translated as peace. Peace is available in difficult circumstances. In Psalm 4, David is at a low ebb, his life is in danger and the outlook is decidedly bleak, yet he is able to say “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” Peace stems from a relationship with God
Peace with God. Isaiah describes peace as the fruit of righteousness (Isaiah 32:17); this leaves the human race with a problem as none of us are righteous (Isaiah 64:6). Peace with God is an unattainable goal from a human perspective. However the prophets foretold of one who would come and be the Prince of Peace and whose reign would be one of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7, Ezekiel 34:24-25). In Isaiah 53:5, we have “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him”, it is no wonder then that the prophets searched intently to find out more (1 Peter 1:10-11)
In the New Testament we see this very clearly “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The Lord Jesus taught the disciples on the subject “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Peace was God then is only possible through Christ, he is the one who wins it for us and he is in fact peace personified (Ephesians 2:14).
The Peace of God. If believers are at peace with God, then it follows they must be at peace with each other. Paul is speaking to a church with ‘issues’, in the preceding verses he challenges them in the area of work. Yet he prays that the Lord will be with them all. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes how the death of Jesus has destroyed the wall of hostility between Jews and gentiles. This wall of hostility was part of the temple complex and it contained many stern warnings to gentiles that any attempt to pass the wall would result in death! The teaching is clear; the death of Jesus has broken down the barriers of race, ethnicity and social standing. Our challenge is to live in this peace, to let it rule in our relationships for this is our calling (Colossians 3:15)
Paul’s letters were dictated, in Romans Tertius, who did the writing sends a greeting (Romans 16:22). Paul made a habit of ‘signing’ many of his letters (1 Corinthians 16:21, Philemon 19, Galatians 6:11, Colossians 4:18). This ‘signing’ was especially important here as there seems to have been some confusion as to what Paul had said or written (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Paul’s purpose is to make it known to the Thessalonians that this letter is authentic, that it comes from him.
The authenticity of the New Testament or that it is what it claims to be is for Evangelicals crucial. We know that the canon of scripture (what is included) was established early on with many documents failing to make it. The books contained in scripture have been constantly reassessed and all have a strong case for their inclusion. There is a tremendous harmony and consistency within the New Testament and all of the documents excluded are seen to be later fabrications. The question for us is where is our foundation? Some would follow the trends of society. The problem with this is that the standards are constantly being eroded and practices that were unacceptable a few years ago are now commonplace. The standards that have been set in some societies are obviously evil and Christians in Nazi Germany and elsewhere have had to stand against the prevailing madness. Some would say that church traditions have an important part to play. The problem here is that sadly many evil people have clothed themselves with the church and carried on living desperately sinful lives. Many Christians are ashamed of the way that the church has behaved in the past.
Our foundation must be the Word of God, the bible, as the Psalmist puts it; “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble”.
The New Testament cannot be understood without some understanding of grace. Many of the epistles begin and end with it, the word changed the way believers wrote to one another replacing the traditional ‘hail’. Grace in the epistles means love or favour that is undeserved (Ephesians 2:4-5), It is a gift of God (Romans 5:15-17) and it changes everything. It tells us about ourselves, that we are unable to earn God’s love and favour and that our only hope is to rely on his love and grace. It also tells us about God and his love for us, a love we in no way deserve but that he gives to us anyway. Grace is a way of life, there can be no pretence since I do not deserve it. God did not see something good in me, he saw my need. There is nothing that I can bring, no bargain that I can make with God. He loved me before I knew him, He dealt with my sin before I was born, and I have been set free through Jesus’ death for me. The believer walks in grace, knowing that he is loved by the God who made the universe.
When comparing 1&2 Thessalonians, I was struck by the closing verse of both letters, they are almost identical. There only one small word that separates them, in 1 Thessalonians Paul closes with; “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” In 2 Thessalonians Paul closes with; “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” He wants the church in Thessalonica to walk in grace, all of them not just the leadership team, the elders or the deacons, all of them.
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace
More Godlike and unrivaled shine,
More Godlike and unrivaled shine.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?