Lesson 3: A Simple Lesson on Service (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)Related Media
February 5, 2017
Do you pray the Lord’s Prayer? I don’t mean, “Do you recite the Lord’s Prayer verbatim?” Instead, I mean, “Do you use the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern for your praying?” I think that when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and He responded with what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4), He was not giving us a prayer to recite mindlessly, such as, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Rather, He gave us an outline to follow when we pray.
It is divided into two sections: Pray to the Father about His glory and purpose; then, pray to the Father about our needs. “Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come” (Luke 11:2) asks for God to be reverenced and glorified; and, for His rule to be extended through evangelism and discipleship. The second half (Luke 11:3-4), “Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation,” focuses on our physical, relational, and spiritual needs.
But I have a hunch that we often reverse the order of the Lord’s Prayer and pray first for our own needs and then, sometimes, we get around to praying for God’s glory and kingdom. But Jesus tells us to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, not the stuff for which the unbelieving world seeks (Matt. 6:25-33). He wants us to bring our needs before Him, but our main focus should be on God’s glory and kingdom.
That was Paul’s focus when he prayed for the new converts in Thessalonica, who were going through severe persecution. His prayer in our text gives us not only a pattern for our prayers, but also a simple lesson in how to serve the Lord so that His kingdom and glory are our priority:
Serve the Lord prayerfully, out of godly character, joyfully in His power, and for His glory.
Paul assumes what many modern Christians seem to have forgotten, namely, that every Christian is to be serving the Lord in some way. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, He has gifted you for some ministry. Just as every member of your physical body has a purpose, as a member of Christ’s body, the church, you have an important function to fulfill. But, as I’ve mentioned before, every pastor is painfully aware of the “80-20 rule”: Eighty percent of the work in the local church is done by twenty percent of the people. Typically, eighty percent attend church, but never get involved in serving. I’m optimistically going to join Paul in assuming that you’re all serving the Lord and want to know how to serve more effectively. His prayer teaches four simple lessons:
1. Serve the Lord prayerfully.
2 Thess. 1:11: “To this end also we pray for you always ….” Prayer must permeate all service for the Lord. Paul, Silas, and Timothy (“we”) prayed always (repeatedly and often), because they knew that the Thessalonians always needed the Lord’s help. Note the emphasis on prayer in 1 & 2 Thessalonians:
1 Thess. 1:2: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.”
1 Thess. 2:13: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
1 Thess. 3:9-13: “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”
1 Thess. 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thess. 5:23: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Thess. 5:25: “Brethren, pray for us.”
2 Thess. 1:3: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.”
2 Thess. 1:11-12: “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Thess. 2:13: “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”
2 Thess. 2:16-17: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.”
2 Thess. 3:1-2: “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.”
2 Thess. 3:5: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thess. 3:16: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!”
Those are a lot of references to prayer in these two short letters! It is significant that in writing to new believers who were going through persecution, Paul never writes, “I pray that your persecution will end soon.” Rather, his prayers are focused on their growth in godliness and on the furtherance of God’s kingdom and glory through their perseverance in persecution.
In our text, Paul prays that God will do what it is certain that He will do, namely, that He will be glorified in these believers when Jesus returns. In Philippians 1:6, Paul wrote, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” So, if Paul was confident that God would perfect those whom He called to salvation, why did he pray for that very thing?
This is the mystery of interaction between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Why pray, if God has predestined everything? Why witness, if God has already chosen who will believe? It’s really no different, though, than the request in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come.” God has predestined that Christ’s kingdom will come. But He tells us to pray that it will happen. Hasn’t the Lord promised that He will build His church? Yes, but when we serve Him, we should pray that He will use our efforts to build His church. Frequent prayer should undergird and permeate all that we do for the Lord (Ps. 90:17).
2. Serve the Lord out of godly character.
2 Thess. 1:11: “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling ….” “To this end” may refer back to verse 5, where Paul has said that the persecution which the Thessalonians were enduring was so that God would consider them worthy of the kingdom. Or, it may refer to verse 10, to the goal that the Lord would be glorified in them at His coming. But either way, as Leon Morris says (The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians [Eerdmans], p. 210), the meaning is, “that they may so live between this moment and the judgment that God will then be able to pronounce them worthy of the calling wherewith He called them.” Or, Paul is praying that at the judgment Jesus may say of them (Matt. 25:21, 23), “Well done, good and faithful slave.”
It’s important to keep in mind that being counted (or, “made,” ESV) worthy is a result of God’s effectual call to salvation, not the cause of it. The point is, we don’t walk worthily to obtain or merit salvation, but rather because God has graciously saved us.
Living worthily of our calling is a concept that Paul used often. In Philippians 1:27, he wrote, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Ephesians 4:1-3 commands, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prayed, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” And, Paul had reminded the Thessalonians that he had encouraged and exhorted them as a loving father (1 Thess. 2:12), “so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
You don’t need to be perfect to serve the Lord. If that were the requirement, no one could do it! But you do need to be living in obedience to Him, seeking to glorify Him. If you’re living a double life, where you’re engaging in secret sin but putting up a front as a good Christian, then don’t get involved in serving the Lord. The enemy will exploit your hypocrisy to bring disgrace to the name of Christ. We’ve seen that repeatedly when some Christian leader is exposed for engaging in the very sins that he has denounced from the pulpit. Christian service should flow out of a walk that is worthy of the Lord.
3. Serve the Lord joyfully in His power.
A. Serve the Lord joyfully.
Paul prays (2 Thess. 1:11) that God will “fulfill every desire for goodness.” The ESV has, “every resolve for good.” But such resolve stems from inner desire. The Greek scholar, J. B. Lightfoot (Notes on Epistles of St. Paul [Baker], p. 106) translated it, “delight in well-doing.” In other words, serving the Lord (“desire for goodness”) should not be a duty that you do grudgingly out of guilt, while you’d really rather be doing other things. Rather, it should be a delight: You serve Him joyfully from the heart. Psalm 100:2 puts it, “Serve the Lord with gladness.”
When God saves you, He puts desires for godly character and good works in your heart (Eph. 2:8-10). Psalm 37:4 commands, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” He will put His desires into your heart, so that your desires and His desires are one and the same. Sometimes new believers wonder, “Where should I serve God?” Part of the answer to that question is, “What do you enjoy doing? What kind of service for the Lord brings you satisfaction? When you do it, does God seem to bless it?” God doesn’t say, “Oh, do you like doing that? No, I want you to do something you hate!” Of course, even when you’re doing what you enjoy, it may be difficult. You will get weary. People will unfairly criticize you. Some parts of your service may not be your favorite thing. But, generally God wants you to serve Him joyfully in accord with your desires for goodness.
B. Serve the Lord in His power.
Paul prays (2 Thess. 1:11) that God will fulfill “the work of faith with power.” Genuine faith results in good works (Eph. 2:8-10; James 2:18-20). The fact that the works come from faith shows that we must rely on God for His power in everything we do to serve Him. Work hard, but at the same time, rely on God to work in and through you.
We see this interplay between our labors and God’s power in several of Paul’s letters: Philippians 2:12-13: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Colossians 1:29: “For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” So, labor and strive in serving the Lord, but do it according to His power working in and through you.
Sometimes people are reluctant to serve the Lord because they feel inadequate to serve. Depending on what the service entails, it may well be that you need further training before you step into the role. If you’re going to teach God’s word, you need some training in how to study, interpret, and apply the Bible, along with some instruction in how to communicate that truth well. If you’re going to engage in evangelism, it’s helpful to have some basic training in how to do it. But no matter how much training you get, you’re still inadequate to serve the Lord in your own strength or wisdom. Regarding preaching the gospel, even the apostle Paul asked for prayer for boldness and clarity (Eph. 6:19-20; Col. 4:3-4)! He exclaimed (2 Cor. 2:16), “And who is adequate for these things?” A few verses later he explained (2 Cor. 3:5), “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
It was forty years ago this month that I began to serve as a pastor, just shy of my 30th birthday. To say that I felt inadequate is a gross understatement! I had never taught the Bible verse by verse beyond a few short Sunday school lessons. I thought that I’d probably run out of gas after a short while. So I told the Lord that I’d try it for three years and see where I was at. By His grace alone, He has sustained me now for four decades and His people graciously have put up with me! But there is not a week that goes by when I do not feel overwhelmed with inadequacy as a pastor. I feel like I’m walking on water all the time. If I look at the waves, I’ll go under! So, don’t wait until you feel adequate to serve. Get some training if you need it. But then, serve the Lord prayerfully, out of godly character, and joyfully in His power. Finally,
4. Serve the Lord for His glory and according to His grace.
A. Serve the Lord for His glory.
2 Thess. 1:12: “so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him ….” This looks at our motive for serving the Lord. The aim of knowing and serving the Lord is to glorify the name of the Lord Jesus. To “glorify” the Lord means to make Him look as good as He really is. “Name” refers to all of the Lord’s attributes and character. Regarding our service for the Lord, Peter writes (1 Pet. 4:10-11): “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
So the aim of Paul’s prayer is that, as Leon Morris (p. 211) puts it, “The Thessalonians will be such a bright and shining testimony to the reality of their salvation that the Savior will be seen to be the wonderful Being He is.”
But my years of serving as a pastor have shown me that there are many other reasons why people serve. Some serve out of the desire for public affirmation. Some serve out of guilt or to try to earn acceptance with God. Once when I was in California, a couple that I had taken through premarital counseling wanted me to conduct their wedding, but they didn’t want to get married at our church in the mountains because it was winter and they feared that it might snow. So they picked a church down the mountain from us, where it rarely snows.
But the church they picked required that their pastor participate in the ceremony. So, before the wedding, I went into his office to get acquainted and talk about the ceremony. He lit up a cigarette and I noticed an ashtray on his desk overflowing with cigarette butts. And I noticed that although he was in midlife, his seminary diploma on the wall was fairly recent. So I asked, “Is the ministry a second career for you?” When he said, “Yes,” I asked, “What led you into the ministry?” With a clenched jaw, he replied, “Because I had to live with myself!” Apparently, guilt had driven him into the ministry to atone for his sins! But he didn’t seem happy about it!
I’ll never forget the ceremony, because as I was giving a short wedding message, a girl in the congregation snapped a flash photo. This pastor, who was standing on the platform with me, interrupted, “Just a minute!” He pointed his finger at her, and sternly said, “This is worship! No pictures are allowed during worship!” I think it’s safe to say that he was serving the Lord for the wrong reasons!
We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels (that’s us!) so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves (2 Cor. 4:7). But, even so, when we serve to glorify the Lord, He graciously shares His glory with us. He uses us as testimonies of His grace, so that others see Christ in us. Although our glory will not be complete until Christ returns, He does allow us to share in His glory in a limited way even now (2 Thess. 2:14; John 17:22; Eph. 3:21; Col. 3:4; 1 Sam. 2:30; John 12:26).
B. Serve the Lord according to His grace.
Paul wants us to serve the Lord prayerfully, out of godly character, joyfully in His power and for His glory (2 Thess. 1:12), “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Note, again, how Paul without explanation couples God and the Lord Jesus Christ, showing that Jesus is equal to God. Experiencing the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ is the main motive for serving Him. We don’t serve to earn acceptance with Him. We serve because He graciously accepted us when we trusted the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. None of us is worthy in ourselves to serve Him. Rather, we serve Him because He graciously made us worthy through Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
It is my desire and prayer that every person who attends this church would be serving the Lord in some capacity, according to how He has gifted you. It’s a mindset that results in action. If you’ve tasted God’s grace in Christ, you’re His blood-bought slave. Don’t come to church with the mindset, “What can I get out of it today?” Come and go with the mindset, “As Your grateful slave Lord, how can I serve You?”
- Why do so many Christians not get involved in serving the Lord? How can this be overcome?
- Since godly character takes time to develop, how godly must one be to serve the Lord? Should a new believer serve Him?
- How can a believer discover his or her spiritual gifts? How important is it to know what your gifts are?
- What are some wrong motives for serving the Lord? How does serving for the wrong motives lead to big trouble?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2017, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
Related Topics: Christian Life