Paul’s Early Prayers – Part 2

In the previous article we identified four devout wishes of Paul in his Epistles to the Thessalonians, which for convenience we described as prayers. We noted that each prayer began with the Greek expression “Autos de”, followed by a divine name/ divine names, and we drew conclusions for the doctrine of our Lord’s deity. Let us now consider what these prayers teach concerning the bankruptcy of all human effort apart from the grace and help of God and the Lord Jesus. We will look at each prayer in turn.

1. Prayer for a Successful Journey, 1 Thess. 3. 11. Paul had long desired to visit the Thessalonians, 2. 17-18; 3. 6, 10, but Satan had “hindered” (enkopto) him to date, 2. 18. The apostle does not specify how Satan had achieved this. It may be that he “is thinking of an illness, or a prohibition on the part of the Thessalonian authorities, in which Paul might well see a cunning stratagem of Satan”, Stahlin, Kittel’s TDNT. Compare koluo, v.16, and, in connection with the suggestion about an illness, 2 Cor. 12. 7. Enkopto is used in secular writings with the meaning “to impede, to arrest, from the military practice of making slits in the street to hold up a pursuing enemy. Hence the basic meaning is ‘to block the way’. By derivation only a temporary hold-up is suggested, in contrast to proskomma”, Stahlin. In the face of the devil’s having “broken up the road” in his path, Paul desires that God and the Lord will “direct” (kateuthuno) his way (i.e. make his path straight that he might pass; see the use of kateuthund in Luke 1. 79) to them. This request provides an example of the kind of prayer mentioned in verse 10. In the light of his previous abortive attempts to reach Thessalonica, it is, then, to God and the Lord alone that the apostle looks to grant him a successful journey. Possibly with his mind on Psalm 37. 23 lxx, “The steps of a man are directed (kateuthund) by the Lord” (cf. Prov. 16. 9), Paul realizes that God alone can fulfil his desire. “Only when the kateuthunein is undertaken by God and Christ is its success assured, for then the hindrances of the devil are without power”, G. Lunemann. The apostle feared that Satan’s purpose was to “tempt” the believers in his absence, and so to render his labour vain, 1 Thess. 3. 5. It should be observed that, on this occasion, Satan had overreached himself. His success occasioned Paul’s enforced absence from the Thessalonians, and thereby caused the apostle to write his two Epistles, “which have enriched the churches and comforted the saints ever since,” W. E. Vine. Take heart, Satan is neither omniscient (hence his bad tactical error) nor omnipotent (hence Paul’s confident prayer).

2. Prayer for Practical Sanctification, 1 Thess. 5. 23. Paul’s desire that God will “sanctify” the believers wholly must be read in the light of the preceding section. The apostle has given detailed guidance and commands on the subject of holiness, see 4. 1, 3, 7; 5. 7, 8, etc. He recognizes, however, that all the Thessalonians’ efforts and strivings after spirituality will prove entirely fruitless unless God Himself affords His aid and sanctifying grace. Paul therefore prays that God will strengthen them for the duties, and work in them the virtues, which he has set before them. His desire is that they should be sanctified “wholly” (holoteles), which signifies “complete in reference to amount, that in which nothing is wanting essential to aim or end”, J. Eadie. It stands parallel to his demand, “abstain from every form of evil”, v.22 R.V. Paul is confident that he does not pray in vain, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it”, v.24.

3. Prayer for Comfort and Stability, 2 Thess. 2. 16-17. Paul is writing to put the saints’ minds at rest on certain prophetic matters, 2. 1-3, errors about which he fears may cause them to be “shaken” (saleud, agitated, used of the tossing and roaring of the sea, Luke 21. 25). However, Paul acknowledges that, in the final analysis, only God Himself can truly comfort (paraklesis) and confirm (sterizo). Both these words figure much in Paul’s correspondence with the Thessalonians. Paraklesis occurs 1 Thess. 2. 11; 3. 2, 7; 4. 1, 10, 18; 5. 11, 14; 2 Thess. 2. 17; 3. 12. In the majority of these cases it means “to exhort”, but here, as in 1 Thess. 3. 7; 4. 18; 5. 11, it means “to comfort, console, encourage”. It is employed largely in the lxx as a rendering for the Hebrew naham, which mainly signifies comfort for grief, e.g. in the case of bereavement, Gen. 37. 35. Sterizo occurs 1 Thess. 3. 2, 13; 2 Thess. 2. 17; 3. 3, being found elsewhere in Paul’s writings only in Rom. 1. 11; 16. 25. Derived from sterix, a prop, it means to set fast, to make firm and stable; note the translations “fixed”, Luke 16. 26, and “strengthen”, Rev. 3. 2. By position “awtos” (Himself), 2 Thess. 2. 16, stands in direct contrast to “emon” (our), v. 15. That is, Paul is fully aware that all his words of comfort and exhortations to “stand fast”, v.15, will have been in vain unless consolation and strength come from a higher and divine source. Chrysostom paraphrased Paul’s meaning well, “I indeed have spoken this; but the whole is of God, to strengthen, to confirm”.

4. Prayer for Peace, 2 Thess. 3. 16. Paul makes his last appeal to “the Lord of peace”; cf. “the peace of Christ”, Col. 3. 15, and John 14. 27. He “has done his best to tranquillize his readers’ minds, and bring them all to a sober and orderly condition. But he looks to ‘the Lord of peace Himself to shed on them His all-controlling and all-reconciling influence”, G.G. Findlay. In considering eirene (peace), “as used in the N.T., we observe the influence of the Hebrew shalom, which denotes a state of wellbeing, and only in the derivative manner ‘peace’ in contrast with strife”, H. Cremer. That is, in its widest and profoundest sense, eirene embraces the ideas of wholeness, salvation and blessedness. On occasions it signifies in particular, “that calm of heart which comes from faith in God and is independent of circumstances”, W. E. Vine. In the context here, however, it is probably to be understood as embracing the idea of peace with one another, of harmony and concord, representing the opposite of friction and division; ct. w. 14-15. Compare its use in Hebrews 12. 14 and 1 Corinthians 14. 33, where it stands opposed to confusion and disorder (akatastasia).

Taking the four prayers together, we learn that open doors for service, that progressive sanctification, that comfort and stability, and that true peace come from God and the Lord Jesus alone.

Little needs to be said about the implications of our study for the liberty of Christians to pray to the Lord Jesus. Of Paul’s four prayers, one was addressed to God, one to the Lord, and two to both God and the Lord (with the order varied). The evidence of these, Paul’s earliest Epistles extant, confirms the impression gained from elsewhere that Paul prayed often to the Lord Jesus. In spite of the claims of some brethren, such prayers were not always in response to a special and personal manifestation of the Lord, as in Acts 9. 4-6; 22. 17-21. Note 1 Timothy 1. 12; 2 Timothy 4. 18 and especially 2 Corinthians 12. 8-9, where the “Lord” of verse 8 is the “Christ” of verse 9 for “my power” is the “power of Christ”. It is clear that Paul turned to the Lord with the same freedom and naturalness as he did to the Father. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that he should characterize other believers as doing the same, 1 Cor. 1. 2 (the use of the identical expression in Zechariah 13. 9 LXX establishes that it involves actual prayer). Gladly we offer our praise, make our prayers, and give our thanks to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

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