Pray For Us

March 14, 2021 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Dear Thessalonians

Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1–5

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

It’s your birthday and you have received several birthday cards from extended family members. As you open them up, do you really appreciate the card, or are you truly only interested in the money they’ve tucked inside?

Someone is listening to a need you have, and after listening to you share about your situation, they offer to pray for you. Do you really appreciate the prayer, or are you really hoping they will do something more, perhaps something more practical? Do you think that the prayer is nice—do you appreciate the “thought” but believe that the “real money” is found elsewhere?

My aim this morning is to help us change that perspective. The best thing we can do for one another is to pray for one another. Prayer provides Christians with the strength they need to remain faithful to God. We can see this as we consider the reasons to pray, the confidence to pray, and the effects of praying found in these verses.

The Reasons to Pray

As the Apostle brings this letter to a close, he requests prayer for himself and his missionary colleagues. Finally, brothers, pray for us (v. 1). Why does he ask them to pray for him? Why should we pray for others?

Prayer Is Helping

One reason is because praying for one another is not a nice gesture; it is a substantive way of helping and serving and loving one another.

Paul solicits the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 1:11, to “help us by prayer.” He believed that having people pray for him was having real help and support in his work. In Romans 15:30, Paul asks the believers “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.” Praying for someone is a way to work with and on behalf of someone. It is how we can help them.

So if we choose not to pray for others this might be an indication, if not of our utter unbelief in the power and goodness of the God to whom we pray, then of our carelessness about the needs and burdens and trials that our brothers and sisters are facing. We should help them. We can help them. We can help them by prayer.

We might also observe the sense of mutuality that existed between Paul and the believers in Thessalonica. We expect Paul, the Apostle, missionary, and founder of the church in Thessalonica, to pray for these believers, to help them. But the church is a family, and there is a need for mutual care for all members. Praying for one another is one of the greatest ways a healthy interdependence can thrive in the body of Christ.

Prayer Is Clarifying

Another reason we should pray for others is because prayer brings clarity about what it is we really want. If you’re going to pray for someone, what are you going to pray for? What is the prayer request? Now in some places, Paul solicits prayer but doesn’t give any specific purpose for why he wants others to pray for him (see 1 Thess 5:17, 25). But usually the request for prayer is followed with the expressed request, as it is here.

First, Paul requests prayer “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” The “word of the Lord” refers to the gospel message, and the request is that it will run, that it will speed ahead.[1] This is the central aim of any missionary movement, that the message will get out, that it will spread far and wide.

But Paul wants more than that. He wants the gospel message to speed ahead and be honored. To speak of the gospel “running” and “being honored” is to use the familiar terms of the athletic contest in which a person runs well enough to win and receive the honor of being the victor.[2] When Paul first set out on his missionary journeys, we are told that “the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (Acts 13:49). But Paul did not merely want the gospel message to be widely heard; he wanted the gospel message to be honored, to be accepted and believed. This is what had happened in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4). Paul wants the Thessalonians to pray that the same thing will happen in the other places to where these missionaries were going.

Now think about this for a moment. Shouldn’t Paul’s prayer request be ours as well? Shouldn’t the greatest concern of our lives be the advancement of the gospel in our own families and workplaces and neighborhoods? Shouldn’t we be seeking first the kingdom of God above all other concerns? What we pray for clarifies what we care most about.

This desire was central to Paul’s life and he wanted it to be central to the life of all believers. Not all could (or even should) be a “Goer” who takes the gospel message into unevangelized places. But all Christians could (and definitely should) be a part of the missionary movement, first and foremost by prayer.

Prayer Is Warfare

Paul goes on in verse 2, asking for prayer “that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.” From the very beginning, Christian missionaries have been subject to persecution for their work. While Paul saw the gospel message have great success, he also found himself time and time again being persecuted by those who had rejected the message. It’s not always one or the other. Sometimes the abundant fruit comes only with much pain.

So a third reason to pray is because prayer is the primary means by which we engage in spiritual warfare. “Not all have faith,” Paul reminds his audience. Those who reject the gospel are not always merely indifferent to it but openly hostile. They do not see the gospel as good news, but as evil news. To them, the gospel is not a welcomed relief but a suspicious threat.

But we are not to fight against the faithlessness of the world with the same weapons wielded against us. “The weapons of our warfare,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:4, “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” The whole armor of God is to be always donned with prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).

The Confidence to Pray

Now in verse 3, Paul contrasts the faithlessness of those who reject the gospel with the faithfulness of God. “Not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” It is the faithfulness of God that gives Christians the confidence to pray.

Faithful Sovereignty

Paul wants us to be certain that the faithlessness of men will in no way stop God from being faithful. Though God’s purposes in the world are opposed, God’s promises can never be thwarted. He will fulfill everything he has promised. He has the power to do it, as the sovereign Lord of all. But he also has the character to stand behind his promises. He is faithful!

So when we pray according to the promises of God, we can pray with the confidence that our prayers will be answered, because God is faithful. Regardless of how discouraged we may become, prayer can replenish our confidence, because God is faithful. Prayer empowers us to persevere, to remain faithful, regardless of our circumstances, because prayer points us to the only hope for enduring confidence, the faithfulness of God to the promises of God.

Personal Promises

Now notice how personal this is meant to be, how practical it is for our ordinary lives. When Paul puts forward the faithfulness of God, he could be reminding us all that despite all efforts to suppress the gospel, God is not going to be stopped in his mission. The good news of the kingdom will go into all the world (Matt 24:14). The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab 2:14).

But what Paul says next is concentrated on the Thessalonians, what God will do for them. There is a shift in focus away from Paul and his team: “pray for us” in verse 1 becomes “the Lord will establish you and guard you.” As they help Paul in prayer, they have joined in the same spiritual battle he is in. And that means they will also become targets of Satanic attack. Prayer is dangerous; it implicates the pray-er as an agent in God’s mission. So they need to know what God will do to protect them so they will not stop engaging in prayer.

Protection Against the Enemy

The faithfulness of God promises that God “will establish” us. Many English versions, like the NIV, rightly say, “he will strengthen you.” See how personal this is? As we pray, we are promised not only that God will be strong for us; we are promised that he will make us stronger and stronger. To be sure, this strength does not come independently of God; we are strengthened by his strength, as Ephesians 6:10 says. But, united to him by faith, we ourselves are made strong. Stronger and stronger, in fact, the more the enemy goes out against us.[3]

Similarly, the faithfulness of God promises that God will “guard” or protect us against the evil one. Now this cannot mean that Christian missionaries will be kept from all sorts of persecutions and physical sufferings. Our Bibles—and Christian history—tell us otherwise. So what does verse 3 mean?

It means not that God will always prevent us from the experience of suffering but that he will make us strong enough to endure it. Of course God could prevent the suffering, but if he doesn’t it must mean that he is faithfully achieving a good purpose in it. This is the same “theology of suffering” that we saw back in chapter 1 (2 Thess 1:5-12), and Christians need to understand this important point.

Peter urges us Christians to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” but instead to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet 4:12-13). Note the connection between sharing in Christ’s sufferings and the ability to be glad and rejoice when the glory of Christ is revealed. So the theology of suffering begins with the recognition that the suffering we face as Christians is not punishment from God but sharing in the sufferings that he himself experienced in his Son. And these sufferings are connected to the ability to escape the suffering that will come on the day of the Lord, when Christ returns, when Jesus will not be seen as a Savior by those who have rejected his gospel but as a destroyer and judge.

The Apostle Paul understood how this worked. In his final letter, he wrote about the pain of being deserted by others and the experience of loneliness (2 Tim 4:10-11). Isolated in a cold dungeon, he asks Timothy to bring him his cloak (2 Tim 4:13). He warns of a certain “Alexander the coppersmith” who had done him “great harm” (2 Tim 4:14). He wrote about how no one came to his defense at his first trial (2 Tim 4:16).

In spite of all this, he knew God had been faithful. He wrote, “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Tim 4:17). In this way, Paul says, he “was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Even though Paul knows he will soon be executed, he can say this: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18). This is what it means for God to guard us from the evil one. It means that God will see to it that his people persevere in their faith and will not be disqualified from resurrection into the consummated kingdom of God on the last day.

The Effects of Praying

This is the confidence the believer ought to have in God. And this is the confidence that would make us more prayerful, not less prayerful. And the more prayerful we are, the more we will come to expect results from our praying. Prayer has many other effects, many of which begin to show up in our own lives.

Confidence About You

In verse 4, Paul told the Thessalonians, “And we have confidence in the Lord about you.” That’s an interesting way to speak. Paul tells the Thessalonians he is confident about them, but he says this confidence is rooted not in them but in the Lord.

The more confident you and I are in God, the more we trust in his faithfulness to his promises, the more we will trust him, and the more we will remain faithful to God.

If we can help each other trust in the faithfulness of God, then we can be confident we will see each other remaining faithful to God as well. This is not confidence in people, not even in God’s people. It is confidence in God about his people.

Surprising Faithfulness

Now of course we can expect that not all will remain faithful. Paul has already warned of “the rebellion” that is coming (2 Thess 2:3). There will be apostates. And it will continue to shock us when some we respect in the faith fall away from the faith.

But what ought to be even more shocking is the countless number of ordinary Christians whom the devil just can’t seem to touch. Millions of brothers and sisters just like you who endure much tribulation and continue to cling to Christ.

What can explain that? It is because of the Lord. It is because of the faithfulness of God. But it is the faithfulness of God at work through the encouragement and ministry of pointing one another to the faithfulness of God. Paul’s confidence in God’s faithfulness in verse 4 is no doubt intended to have the effect of motivating the ordinary believers in Thessalonica to continue in their Christian obedience.[4]

Concentrated Prayer

The same effect is expected, as we discussed last week, in the prayer of a benediction, which is what we see in verse 5. Paul’s prayer for the believers is that “the Lord” will “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” If we can find ourselves in moments of meditation on God’s love for us, if we can find ourselves pondering what Christ has endured, the effect will be similar in our own lives. It is by meditating and reflecting on how God has loved us and how Christ endured for us that those same virtues are developed and exemplified in us.[5] And the ministry of prayer for one another points us toward these evidences of God’s faithfulness to us.

The money you might receive in a birthday card will soon be spent. But the words of encouragement that seem so insignificant in the moment, may in fact have a far greater effect on us as we read them again years later. And so it is with prayer. It’s the greatest thing we can do for one another.


[1] The verb τρέχω is found 20x in the NT. It is the Greek verb “to run.”

[2] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 335.

[3] The verbs στηρίζω and φυλάσσω are probably meant to convey a “progressive future” sense, emphasizing what God in his faithfulness will continue to do for his people. See Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 276.

[4] Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 338, writes, “The indicative of Paul’s confidence in God, is at the same time, an imperative to the church.”

[5] Wanamaker, Epistles to the Thessalonians, 278.

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