The prayers of Paul
This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.
The verses preceding the prayer are often used in several different theories of how and when Christ will come again. I’m not going very deep into that, this is a series on the prayers found in the writing attributed to Paul, but for context, if you want a theory that true believers will be taken into heaven you will need to look outside the letters to the Thessalonians, there is no whiff of that here. The church in Thessalonica is suffering, its members are being persecuted. This prayer and the proceeding verses about Christ’s return are to be taken in the context of a suffering church.
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
Persecution is not something in the past, it is still with us. Open Doors reports that 5,898 Christians are known to have been murdered for their faith in the world last year (2020). The picture I have used is from the 21st Century when the EC met on 19th January 2011 in Strasbourg to discuss the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and voted across the political divide to condemn this action. The persecution of Christians is real. Now.
The prayer of Paul above is to and for Christians who are being persecuted. It is for us, because we are part of a persecuted Church, no matter how easy it is for us to be Christians in the UK at the present time. Even our traditions give room for the Gospel to be preached. At the funeral service of Queen Elizabeth II a few days ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was able, in a very short address, to preach the Gospel, saying:
“Her Late Majesty’s broadcast during Covid lockdown ended with: “We will meet again”, words of hope from a song of Vera Lynn. Christian hope means certain expectation of something not yet seen, Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity.”
But my wife, Linda, and I missed it all. On Monday 5th September we flew out on holiday to Gran Canaria, the next day we had a new Prime Minister, two days after that we had a new King. So much changed. By the time we were on the plane home Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral had taken place, with silence held and the British National Anthem played whilst flights were stopped at Gran Canaria Airport.
On both outward and inward flights, we were told on take-off and landing to put on our seat belts. We needed them on the first landing, the port wheel touched down first, then the starboard wheel, with the port wheel back in the air due to strong side winds, after that both of them were on the ground, then the nose wheel. I am thankful for the pilots, landing a wide-bodied jet safely is a skilled job.
Paul is telling the Thessalonian Christians to fasten their seat belts, to be as safe as possible in a dangerous time. We did not have to brace ourselves for landing, but that is equivalent to what Paul is saying here. Yet in the prayer that follows he gives thanks to God for them. Have you ever thought about giving thanks for the persecuted church, thankful that their faith stands firm through all they are going through? They are going to receive the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s prayer is a word of comfort to those facing death. It is a prayer for dark times but also an optimistic prayer. Persecution comes because of the judgement of God. The persecutors are already being judged by God, shown up by the lives of those who are saved and so they lash out.
I give thanks for the faith of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who spoke openly of her personal faith in recent Christmas messages to the Commonwealth. May she rest in peace and rise in glory. Thank you, ma’am.
But I also give thanks to God for so many people who have recently died, who have given their lives in faith and service to their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.