2 Thessalonians 3:3-5, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
There is a well-worn and pessimistic saying that the only things that are sure in life are death and taxes. And it certainly is true that life is full of uncertainties. Health can deteriorate in an instant. Even the most promising of careers can meet with disappointment. The best of plans can fall apart. And even after a lifetime of faithfulness, one temptation can catch us by surprise.
None of this is new. Death, taxes, injury, job loss, interruptions, and temptations have been around for a long time. Yet, in spite of life’s uncertainties, Paul speaks here with great confidence. Why? How? Because Paul knows what we often forget. That more ancient and longer-lasting than uncertainty is the faithfulness of God.
“The Lord is faithful.” Death may rob us of loved ones, but the Lord is faithful. An accident may cripple us unexpectedly, but the Lord is faithful. We may lose our job and our home, but the Lord is faithful. And even when we fail and falter, giving into temptation, the Lord is still faithful.
Confidence in the Lord
Interestingly, Paul is not writing here—as he does in many of his letters—to encourage weary believers amid their challenges. He is actually requesting prayer for himself, and those who are with him, as they seek to faithfully serve the Lord in very adverse conditions. Paul is telling the saints to be praying that the Word of God will have free course. What a wonderful prayer! Things will not be the same when this prayer comes true. Implied in this prayer is that people will be converted in our midst by the truth of God’s Word; that the Word of the Lord will speed to the ends of the earth and reach yet-unreached peoples.
Yet, the reason Paul requests prayer for these gospel labors is that such great endeavors do not happen easily or automatically. There are many obstacles and opponents to this effort. In fact, most of the government leaders and influential persons of Paul’s day were vehemently against the progress of the gospel. In addition, Christians in Paul’s day—just like in our day—were susceptible to peer pressure and temptation and personal weakness.
Paul’s confidence in the advancement of Christ’s kingdom, in the face of so many uncertainties and challenges, is all the more remarkable for being so seemingly out of place. There were countless factors that were utterly out of Paul’s control and beyond his abilities.
“But the Lord is faithful.” Paul knew that it was ultimately Christ, not him, who would keep the gospel from being undermined or overwhelmed. It was Christ who had begun this work in the first place and who had promised to continue it until His return. And so Paul was able to continue laboring in the firm realization that his work, in the name of Jesus Christ, would not be in vain.
Confidence Concerning You
Perhaps we can understand, though, how Paul was confident in the Lord. After all, the Lord truly is faithful, and Jesus had proven himself already to be victorious over death, and persecution. But how could Paul be so sure that the Christians themselves would not flub it all up?
Yet Paul explains it himself: “We have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command” (2 Thessalonians 3:4). Paul is certain that the believers in Thessalonica will continue to faithfully labor, not because he has so much confidence in them individually, but because he has so much confidence in the Lord who is working in and through them. Paul knows that the same gracious God who begins the work of salvation through faith in Christ, will continue to work and to save and to strengthen until the end. God does not start salvation by grace and then leave believers to their own strength or wisdom to finish it.
This is why Paul draws this implication from the faithfulness of the Lord in 2 Thessalonians 3:3: “The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” Our Savior is not a partial Savior; he is not a fair-weather Savior; he is not a short-term Savior. The work begun by grace through faith in Christ will continue in every believer. Our faithful Lord will establish his people, and will guard them from spiritual harm. So even though every believer experiences defeat and discouragement, God will continue to work in them, to establish them in the faith, to keep them from being overcome by sin.
This truth is, of course, not uniquely expressed by Paul. Jesus himself prayed with this expectation of God’s sanctifying work in the life of his people: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
Peter speaks with confidence concerning the Christian believers, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). And Peter goes on to affirm the abundant sufficiency of God to perform this work effectively in the life of every believer, “The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” (2 Peter 2:9). And Jude echoes this refrain, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).
Paul is confident concerning the Christian believers at Thessalonica because he is confident in the Christ in whom their faith is grounded. This Lord is faithful; this Savior saves to the end. Every believer in Christ will falter and fail, yet every believer in Christ can rest in the wonderful promise that God will not leave them to themselves but will continue to sanctify them. Because the Lord will establish them and keep them from evil, and Paul is confident that the Christian believers are doing, and will continue to do, the things God is commanding them to do.
Confidence For the Future
It is easy to feel good when things are going well, and even to be optimistic about the future. But when challenges come, it is also easy to begin doubting what pains or difficulties the future may hold. Yet Paul’s confidence not only covers the present circumstances of the Christian believers to whom he is writing, but embraces their unfolding labors in the future as well.
So Paul prays, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5). The same Jesus who died, was buried, rose again, and ascended into heaven — this same Jesus will one day return and take his people to live with him forever. This reality is meant to color every action, every decision, every priority, every affection we have right here and now. One day soon, Christ is coming back! And Paul says this should direct our heart to love God with all we are now, and to persevere faithfully until Christ returns.
This confidence concerning the future of every believer colored everything Paul wrote. In his epistle to the church at Corinth, for example, Paul exhorted them, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
After dedicating an entire chapter to the subject of the resurrection, Paul concludes with this word: “Therefore.” Apparently, this lengthy discussion of the resurrection has very practical implications for our day-to-day service as Christians.
Based on the abundant proofs for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and based on the truth that Christ is the firstfruits of what all believers will experience through him, and based on the fact that we shall all be changed from perishable to imperishable – therefore, beloved, be steadfast! Do not settle into this world, do not settle for material and temporary pursuits, but do be settled in your Christian labors!
Be immovable in your convictions, immovable in your determination, immovable in your confidence in what Christ has done, and so what must therefore also certainly come to pass as a result. Be always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. In fact, the opposite!
Perishable pursuits will never fit into heaven, but your labor in the work of the Lord will never lose its reward. So whether you are changing diapers and laboring to the point of exhaustion to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord consider the following points:
- Or whether you are working two jobs to fulfill your biblical obligation to provide for your family and support the work of the church…
- Or whether you are a young person struggling to make Christ-centered decisions in the face of an uncertain future.
- Or whether you are a sin-battered believer, seeking yet again to gain the victory over some besetting sin in your life.
- Or whether you are feeling the call of God to sign up to risk your life in order to take the gospel to new places where Christ is not yet known.
- Or whether, after a lifetime of service to Jesus Christ, you are feeling the effects of old age and being tempted to despair as death approaches.
Beloved, be steadfast. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave guarantees that everyone who believes in him will one day also be raised from the dead — which in turn guarantees that your labor for the Lord now is not in vain. Live this day, then, in the reality that Christ will one day return. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient, and waiting sovereign hands of Christ.