Conclusion

This morning we come to the end of our studies in 2 Thessalonians, with the last few verses of chapter 3, verses 14-18. Paul is writing to the Thessalonians who he had been evangelizing. Let's just think about them for a moment. Only a few months earlier they were pagans - knowing nothing of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ. They were now living in the middle of a pagan population, closely watched, under pressure to drift back to their old pagan ways. So what you have in this epistle (and 1 Thessalonians that we looked at this time last year, if you were here) is a picture of the primitive apostolic preaching and of the primitive Christian church. And this preaching created an entirely new society and a new order of life. Paul and his friends had told the Thessalonians of Jesus, who had died and risen again, and who was to return to judge the living and dead. And they told of the coming wrath of God - a wrath that was already seen against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. And it was going to be seen in all its terrors when the Lord returned. Paul didn't pussy-foot for fear of being too harsh or politically incorrect. Some would have thought him mad. But this was God's message. It was against this background and only against this background that the gospel about Jesus that they preached was 'good news'. It is only good news against the background of the reality of God's judgment. They preached Jesus as the rescuer or deliverer. So Paul could write in his first letter, (1 Thess. 1.9-10):

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, {10} and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Now, of course, to a mere onlooker this would have seemed of little importance. But it was the greatest and most original thing that had ever been seen in the history of the world. This little band of men and women were an entirely new force in world history. The world, so to speak, had been shunted onto a different track. There was a new force for good around. The spiritual and moral life of the world could and would now change. And these early believers undoubtedly saw that. They had a new centre of gravity. But - so heady were these things, some of the Christians in Thessalonica got unbalanced. The unseen world became so real to them, which was a good thing, that they forgot to bother with this present world, which was a bad thing. And that is a temptation that can come to new converts even today. If there is anyone here this morning that is a new convert, don't neglect your normal and necessary responsibilities in the world. We learnt last time about this when Ian Garrett was preaching (and you can get the transcript, or tape or video from the tape desk, or down load it from the website https://www.church.org.uk). We heard that some had stopped working. Not only that, but as happens too often with people who have not enough to do, they became busybodies. Look back to verse 11 of chapter 3:

We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.

And Paul seeks to put things right and tell them that this is not the way to live. Well, with that introduction, let's now look more carefully at these verses. And you'll see that my headings are, first, PEACE, secondly, PAUL, and thirdly, GRACE. First, PEACE Verse 16:

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

This is a prayer for peace and an important prayer. Of cource, this is part of a conventional signing off. Paul has formalized his greetings and final good wishes because they presented him with a wonderful teaching aid. So Paul took the Hebrew word that is translated 'peace' and the Greek word that is translated 'grace' and put them together and defined them in relationship to God's saving work in Jesus Christ. And peace in this work is so fundamental. The Old Testament had prophesied that the Messiah would be the 'Prince of Peace' and he would bring in a 'kingdom of Peace' (Is 9.6-7). When Christ came he promoted peace, he said, 'blessed are the peacemakers' (Mat 5.9) and he gave his disciples peace, John 14.27:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Who needs that message this morning? You may be at the end of the road in some way or other. Jesus says, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.' Why? Because he still gives his peace. But Jesus' peace was not peace at any price. It was peace through the blood of the Cross:

he himself is our peace ... by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations (Eph 2.14-15).

That means that Jesus died to bear your sin and mine in our place. That is how he 'abolished the law with its commandments and regulations' - they no longer have power over you to condemn once by faith you are united with Christ and receive his forgiveness. And that is the ultimate peace you need - peace with God. Today we talk about 'peace with our selves' and that is important. But it pales into nothing compared with the importance of peace with God. That wrath of God is real, as the Thessalonians knew. Who needs to pray for that peace with God this morning because you have never yet trusted Christ? And the peace of Christ is important because it is the only lasting way to real peace with one another. And Paul was concerned with that aspect of peace. No doubt Paul was concerned that his firm treatment of the 'idlers' may have stirred up some 'aggro' in the church. Some may have taken sides - as sadly happens when, someone has to be firm. You get the 'victim' syndrome - the 'victim' always receives sympathy no matter what he has done. So Paul prays for peace in the individual heart, with God and in the fellowship. And what he wants is 'peace at all times and in every way'. That is a wonderful thought. It is not 'sometimes' but 'at all times', and it is not 'in some way' but 'in every way.' Christian peace is to be all embracing all the time. You say, 'how is that possible?' Well, peace is not only the sort of feeling you get when you are listening to slushy music on a moon-lit night. It is also, and more importantly, a deep consciousness that God is in control, even when life is hard. On the surface, things may be very 'un-peaceful'. But underneath you know that there are those everlasting arms. And it is possible because you can not only have the peace of Christ, you can also have the presence of Christ who gives that peace. So he prayers, 'The Lord be with all of you.' Secondly, let's think about PAUL himself. There are two things we need to think about in connection with Paul in this passage. First, let's go back to verses 14-15:

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. {15} Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

We are here back to Paul's problem of the 'idlers' the people who would not work and get on with their jobs, but became 'busybodies'. And what we have here is really very important - and it is something many churches in the West ignore. What is that? Answer: discipline. When I visited Alan Brown - he and Ritva, I understand are to be with us next Sunday and they are missionaries we support at this church - when I visited them a few years ago on their island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, something happened in church that I had not come across before. I was there for the celebration of the first part of the Kovai Bible being published. Alan had decoded the language, put it into writing and started translation as the Wycliffe missionaries do. But at the Good Friday service in church - a packed church with not much by way of walls or windows - there was 'the restoration of the penitents'. It was a formal act. People who had been excommunicated the year before came to the front of the church and formally said they were sorry for whatever they had done wrong. Someone said they had been a thief, some one said they had committed adultery, someone said they had done something else and so on. And they were then formally re-admitted to communion. Now whether that was the best way of doing things, I don't know. But it is better to do something than nothing. Paul here is teaching these Thessalonians that discipline is necessary. When someone in the church is guilty of serious misbehaviour, discipline is required. What are the principles here? There are surely at least four. First, there has to be a real cause for discipline. This is a situation of serious defiance of Paul. It is when there is a refusal, verse 14, to 'obey our instruction'. This is not a trivial offence. You should deal with that sort of thing privately. But Paul has given such clear teaching on this matter of not working (it is not when people can't work, but when they won't work that Paul is talking about) - his teaching was so clear, that there was no excuse for someone to go against it. Secondly, note the form of this discipline. It is social ostracism. Some think this may be the ringleader of the group of 'idlers' that is in mind. But whoever is being referred to they have to be specially noted and then Paul says (verse 14):

Do not associate with him.

Now Paul is going to use that word when he writes to the Corinthians. There is says in 1 Cor 5.9:

I have written you in my letter [a previous letter] not to associate with sexually immoral people.

But he had to correct them, in 1 Cor 5.11:

But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

They were withdrawing from such people who were not Christians. Paul says of course you must socialize with them. You won't convert them otherwise. But if you study 1 Corinthians, which we haven't time to do now, you will see that it is there much tougher than here in Thessalonians. It is as though there are different degrees of discipline. Those sins in Corinth needed tougher treatment than those you have here in Thessalonica. Then also note that the offender is to be 'warned'. There has to be a verbal declaration. The person has to be told. Sometimes people just get ostracized without anyone confronting them. That is wrong. The third principle is over the spirit in which all this is done. Verse 15:

do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

It is to be done in as friendly a way as possible. There is to be no hostile judgmentalism. It is so easy to be aggressively hostile in such a situation. And the fourth principle relates to the goal of discipline. The goal is 'reclamation' not 'annihilation' as someone has put it. The purpose is constructive. Verse 14:

Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed [and presumably come to his senses].

So first, under our heading of Paul, we must note he is concerned with discipline in the church. Secondly, he is concerned to establish his apostolic authority. Look now at verse 17:

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

Now ancient letters were often written by an amanuensis - a scribe - and the author might or might not put a word at the end in his own hand. Paul did this. It might just have been to personalize the letter. Sometimes today people write by hand, 'Dear Joe,' and write, also by hand, 'Yours sincerely, Josephine' - that personalizes a typed letter. That may have been Paul's desire. Or it may have been to authenticate the letter. In chapter 2 verse 2 he told the Thessalonians not to be disturbed by forged letters, 'supposed to have come from us.' There were forgers around. And Paul's apostolic authority was vital. Other people did not have that authority. So you can't have forgers claiming to be Paul. You see, Paul claims Jesus' authority. Look at verse 6 of this chapter 3:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

Verse 12:

Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down.

Paul is, in fact, canonizing his own words. Is he mad? Is he going over the top because he can't have his own way? Is he piqued? No! of course not. His writings are so careful and balanced. They not erratic. They are cool and dispassionate. It is simply that after his conversion when he met the risen Jesus he was commissionerd as an Apostle of Christ to speak in Christ's name; and he knew it. In 2 Corinthians 13.3 he can talk about 'Christ speaking through me.' But no one since, and certainly not today, has that authority the Apostles had. The Pope claims 'infallibility', but with respect you must reject that. Some charismatic House Church leaders who have gone in for heavy 'shepherding' authoritatively directing other people's lives while calling themselves Apostles have also to be rejected. The New Testament Apostles were unique. They had met the risen Jesus. He had given them and them alone authority. And the early Church recognized that. Ignatius of Antioch was an autocratic church leader if ever. He was martyred for his faith in AD107. But he wrote at the beginning of the 2nd century in one of his letters,

'I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles.'

So Popes, Bishops, House Church leaders and others are not like the apostles. They alone were eyewitnesses of the Resurrection and commissioned as Apostles and their apostolate was confirmed in their spiritual effectiveness. How, then, do you submit to that apostolic authority today? Answer: in the bible. That is the apostolic book. That is why it is authoritative - not because it is magical. But because it is the teaching of the Apostles who give us Jesus' teaching. Thirdly, GRACE. Verse 18:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Grace sums up the gospel - you know the line taught in Sunday School, but no worse for that:

God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

It is the unmerited favour of God that freely secures and grants our salvation. And Paul's prayer is that this should be 'with you all'. And that would include praying for assurance and a consciousness of that grace. It is sad that some Christians are not assured of their standing and acceptance with God when they are secure all the time. Is anyone like that here this morning? Who watched the funeral of Basil Hume (whose father was a sidesman at Jesmond Parish Church)? We should thank God for his life. But gently and firmly we have to say that the Roman Catholic teaching over assurance is in error. You do not have to pray for the Cardinal's salvation. If he trusted in Christ, as he surely did, he is secure. We simply have to thank God for his life and faith. The 'sacrifice of the mass' as it was called, seemed to put all that in doubt. Christ's work was finished at Calvary and his faith in Christ meant acceptance and salvation for all eternity. Our Anglican forefathers at the Reformation were so clear on this point. That is why the Thirty-nine articles are so strongly worded. I must conclude The modern world and the modern church needs the peace and grace of Christ. But that can only be received if Christ's word is accepted; and that means listening to and studying the bible and obeying it. That is where you get his and his Apostle's teaching How we need to do that in the modern world. Oh! some don't like it. For you then have to take on board some awkward teaching for the modern world over envy, greed, the relations between the sexes, divorce and remarriage and so on. We need to follow the example of the great evangelical leader at the beginning of the 19th century, Charles Simeon of Cambridge. He said that he went to the bible to listen to what the apostles had to say, rather than to teach them what they should have said.

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