Sunday, August 2, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 28: Hearts

Day 28: Hearts

"But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5

In the previous verses of this passage Paul had asked the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry of preaching the message of the Lord, that is would be fruitful, and that he and his disciples would be protected from those without faith who are intent on evil actions toward them. He now shifts his focus back to the Thessalonians and their obedience to the message of the Lord.

Paul now goes into showing the Thessalonians the "both/and" of sanctification - the on-going process  of becoming holy, of living out the salvation we have received from God.  I call it "both/and" because, as Paul will point out to us in this passage, becoming holy is a process that requires both the sovereign work of God and the human responsibility of obedience, will, and action.  Paul points to God's sovereignty in verse 3 saying, "The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one." God is at work both in us and around us to enable us by His power to become the holy people He desires. Paul then points out in verse 4 that he is confident that "they are doing and will continue to do the things we command". It is our responsibility to live out the commands of Scripture that show us to be God's holy people. We exercise free-will and must choose obedience and action.

There is another passage from Paul in his letter to the Philippians that shows us this same "both/and" principle:
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." Philippians 2:12-13

The 'therefore' at the beginning of the passage refers back to Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul has told us to have the same attitude as Christ and then went on to describe Christ's attitude of servant-hood, humility and obedience. As a result of Christ's example then we are to imitate Him and obey. How? By continuing to "work out" our salvation with reverence. We have received salvation from God as a free gift of His grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. So we don't have to work for that initial salvation. But our complete salvation is an on-going process of growing in holiness that is lived out by us in humility, obedience and reverence as we obey God's commands for holy living. Yet even in our obedience and action we are not left on our own to strive in our own power, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.". God is at work in us, enabling us to have the will for obedience and to respond with action. So, Paul then, can say in verse 4 above, that it is "in the Lord" that he has confidence that they will obey.

Paul's confidence in the faithfulness of God and the obedient response he has witnessed in the Thessalonians, and his faith that they will continue in obedience leads him into a brief and spontaneous prayer in verse 5. "May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." Let's walk through this verse to grasp its full meaning.

"May the Lord direct": The Greek word used here was a military term used of removing obstacles or clearing away the obstacles to make a direct route. It brings to mind Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight."

What is it Paul is praying for the Lord to direct? Their hearts. The heart in biblical terms is not simply our emotions, as we often consider it today. It encompasses the emotions, the intellect, the feelings, and the will. It speaks of our whole inner being. Leon Morris says, "The prayer is that Christ will open up the way for the whole of the inner life...". So when we read verses about trusting the Lord with all your heart or loving the Lord with all your heart, remember that it is a call to do so with your whole being, with all that you are. 

What is Paul praying that God will direct their hearts toward? "God's love and Christ's perseverance". Again we must think in terms of "both/and". Paul's prayer is that God's love and Christ's perseverance, or endurance, would be produced in us. AND that God's love and Christ's perseverance would inspire us to love and persevere as well. 

The Lord will remove obstacles creating a straight path for His work in our hearts that we may know know His love and Christ's perseverance, that these would be produced in us so that we can then live them out. Ironically, for the Thessalonians and for us, the obstacles God does not often remove are trials and suffering. Instead those trials and suffering help us depend even more on God's loving faithfulness, motivated by Christ's example of obedience and perseverance, and inspired by the hope of the glory that is to come when He returns. 

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