Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you and keep you from evil.”

II Thessalonians 3:1-3

By the word “finally” here, Paul indicates that he is drawing his letter to a close. He has finished his chief purpose for writing. There are still a few weighty matters that he wants to say. He has comforted them because of the persecution they were enduring. And he encouraged them because there was confusion about when and how the Lord Christ was to return.

Now Paul diverts their attention from their problems and difficulties to something else. He asks that they pray for the gospel’s furtherance.

The Idea of Praying For One Another

Paul has told the Thessalonians that he prays for them. Three times he said this (II Thess. 1:3, 11II Thess. 2:16). Now he asks them to pray for him. Not that he thought they were not already praying for him. He asks them to keep praying for him.

Praying for one another was obviously important to the apostle. In every one of his epistles he lets the saints know that he is praying for them. And almost as frequently he asks the churches to pray for him. He asked the saints at Rome (Romans 15:30-32), at Corinth (II Cor. 1:11), at Philippi (Philippians 1:19), at Ephesus (Ephesians 6:19), and at Colosse (Colossians 4:2). And he had already asked the Thessalonians in his first letter to them (I Thess. 5:25).

Although God gave Paul powerful support, and though Paul himself prayed, he still wanted the prayers of others. Prayer is one of the means God is pleased to use to bless His people. What a powerful example to us. We too should use this means, praying specifically for one another and urging our fellow-saints to pray for us in specific times of need.

Often Paul’s request for prayer was not for himself. When he tells the saints in the various churches that he prays for them, the apostle speaks of the specific needs of the saints which he brought before the Lord in prayer. But the apostle, when asking for the prayers of the saints, often did not ask for their prayers for himself and his personal needs. Usually the apostle’s concern was for the furtherance of the gospel. God had chosen him to be one of the messengers of the good news of salvation. Paul accepted this responsibility, but he felt its weight. He knew that even the calling to communicate the message of the gospel was beyond human capability. He was very, very conscious of his need for God’s blessing, that God had to enable, that God had to be pleased to use him.

The Petition Requested

Paul’s requests for the prayers of the Thessalonian believers is specific. He asks that they pray that “the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified.” He wants them to pray for “the word of the Lord.” This is the word which proceeds from the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the one who speaks it. And it is the word which is about the Lord Jesus Christ. The content of the word preached is Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, and what He accomplished. The “word” is that which proceeds from the Lord and which is about Him.

When the inspired apostle speaks of the “word,” the idea is a speech. It is a speech spoken by the King and then communicated through the heralds of the King. The Lord King sends out a speech (the preaching), which speech is about the Lord King.

The Thessalonians are asked to pray that this Word of the Lord may have “free course.” This means that the preaching of the gospel may be unhindered as it is delivered by the apostles as they travel from town to town. Many times the apostles experienced opposition from various groups. The devil is always attempting to thwart the spread of the truth. He used and continues to use various means to have the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ disparaged, criticized, or denied. Among the believers at Thessalonica the word about the Lord’s return had been misunderstood, so they were shaken in mind (II Thess. 2:2) by false teachings. Sometimes the preaching of the gospel is accompanied by persecution and other forms of interference.

Positively, the Word of the Lord has free course when permission is given for the preaching to take place and when the truth is spread from house to house and then from town to town.

Such a free course by the Word of the Lord results in the Word being glorified. When the Word is accepted by faith and begins to adorn the lives of those who believe, then the Word is glorified. When it is seen what the Word is able to accomplish unto faith, then it will be glorified. On Paul’s first missionary journey the Word of the Lord was glorified by the Gentile believers, because they realized that the Word of the Lord Jesus was for them as well as for the Jews (cf. Acts 13:48). Also the Word of the Lord is glorified when it effects a change in the lives of believers. Holiness in the lives of Christians is the glory of the gospel; the godly life of obedience adorns the gospel (Titus 2:5). And conversely, when those who profess the gospel with their mouths lead a wicked life, they bring the gospel into disrepute and occasion the blaspheming of that Word and of the Lord (Titus 2:10).

When Paul asks the Thessa-lonian believers to pray for the free course of the Word of the Lord, then he reminds them that such had been the case for themselves. Paul declares that, though his first stay in Thessalonica was brief, nonetheless God’s Word, preached by the apostle and his companions, received positive success. The Word was preached to them, not in word only, but in power and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. They became followers of the Lord, having received the Word with joy of the Spirit, even though it meant some persecution. In fact, the positive reception of the Word in Thessalonica was an example to many (I Thess. 1:5-8). As the Word of the Lord received positive success among them, so they may ask that it be blessed in other places. And as they suffered for believing the gospel preaching (II Thess. 1:4), so they knew what free course was by contrast.

Pray. Pray that the Word about the Lord and sent by the Lord through His preachers will run without hindrance and will result in many receiving it as the Word of God and not the word of men.

The Reason for This Petition

The Word of the Lord will have free course when those used by God to bring the Word are “delivered from unreasonable and evil men.” Paul has in mind a definite group (in the Greek he speaks of “the” unreasonable and evil men). In light of what the apostle wrote in his first epistle, it is likely that those he had in mind were Jews, both physically and religiously. Everywhere, but especially in Thessalonica and Corinth, Paul’s preaching was opposed by the Jews. They gave him the most trouble.

The Jewish opposition to the idea of a fulfilled Messiah was unreasonable and evil. They not only acted very improperly, but they also were actively evil, so Paul describes them as morally evil men.

From these men Paul wants to “be delivered.” The implication is that these Jewish detractors of the gospel of the fulfilled Messiah not only cast disparagements against the Word of the Lord Christ, but also specifically opposed the ambassadors bringing this gospel. Paul speaks of needing to be rescued. He saw the peril he was in to be very great. Paul knew bonds and afflictions (cf. Acts 20:23), but he asks that at this time the Thessalonian Christians pray that he be given the grace to emerge victorious. It could be that the apostle meant that he emerge victorious by dying, but it is more likely (because he wants the Word of the Lord to continue to have free course) that he would be delivered alive from these evil men.

Almost as an after-thought, he adds, “for all men have not faith.” An explanation for why there are evil men who oppose the propagation of the gospel is that not everyone is given the ability to believe it. Some are not given faith. You see, faith is a gift from God. And God is pleased (for the wisest of reasons) not to give every human being this wonderful gift. By the way, that means that if we have received the gift of faith, we have reason to be eternally thankful.

Note well that those to whom the gift of faith is not given are not neutral. They do not take a “whatever” perspective. Those who do not believe are opposed to the truth. It is the lack of faith which explains their hostile attitude to Christ, His gospel, and His ambassadors.So Paul asks that the Thessa-lonians pray. Pray that the Word of the Lord Christ will have free course. Pray that the ambassadors of the gospel will be delivered from those who oppose the truth. Pray that those who oppose the truth will be converted, thus ending their opposition and thus delivering the ambassadors of the gospel.

The Great Assurance

There are those who do not have faith. And then there is the faithful God. “But the Lord is faithful.”

The young, struggling Christian church in Thessalonica was in need of establishing and of keeping. Paul had found them shaken in mind and troubled about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. They need to be established in mind, not shaken. Their need to be established arose from the fact that they were up against “evil.” The “evil” can refer to evil in general or to the personal evil one, namely, the devil. In both his first epistle and this one, the apostle seemed to be conscious of the attacks of the devil himself (cf. I Thess. 2:9 and I Thess. 2:18I Thess. 3:5). He had warned the church at Ephesus that believers battle “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Thessalonians and we need some assurance that what is prayed for us will come to pass. You see, while in the previous verses (II Thess. 2:16, 17) Paul said that he prayed God to establish them in every good word and work, now he assures them that it will happen. They will be both strengthened and guarded. When God establishes us, then He is strengthening us, enabling us to go on, to proceed. And when He keeps us, then He guards us. God will not establish His people and then leave them. He will guard them continually. He will prevent them from falling into the traps of the evil one. By positively strengthening them in their faith, love, and every good word and work, God is guarding believers from the sin of giving themselves over to the evil one.

This is the way God manifests His faithfulness. The original text emphasizes faithful by putting it first. We must see God’s attitude and ability to keep us, especially over against those fighting against us.

That God is faithful means that His promise never fails. He always completes that which He begins (Phil. 1:6). In men there is never sufficient support. But in God there is a support of sufficient strength to keep us from falling. God is able! He is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). He is consistent to the very end in safeguarding His children. He always gives us help at the proper time. He never forsakes us in time of danger.