"The Lord of peace Himself give you peace always by all means." -- 2 THESS. iii.16.
It is striking to note the number of prayers in these two short Epistles to Thessalonica. They are probably the earliest of the Apostle's writings, and the frequency of his prayers is a significant testimony to his thought for his converts and their needs.
Hardly less striking is the variety of the prayers, of which we have already had several proofs. There are still two prayers to be considered in the second Epistle, very terse petitions, yet full of suggestiveness and importance. It will be convenient to consider these two together, not only because of their brevity, but also because of the spiritual connection between them.
1. THE GOAL.
The context of the prayer is noteworthy. The Apostle had been asking for their prayers, more particularly for deliverance from evil men. Then comes the strong assurance that God in His faithfulness would keep them from evil, together with the expression of his own personal confidence concerning them that they would be faithful to his counsels and commands. And then follows the prayer of our text in which he asks that their hearts may be directed to that Divine goal which is, and ever must be, the true home of the soul.
"Your hearts." Once again does the Apostle lay stress on this central reality of their spiritual and moral being. The heart is the citadel of the life, and the usage of the term in the Word of God must ever be kept clearly before us. It includes, as we have already seen, intellectual, emotional, and volitional elements. There is no such contrast in the New Testament between "the head" and "the heart" as we are now often accustomed to make, for intellect, feelings, and will are all comprised in the Biblical meaning. If, therefore, the heart is right, all else will be right. It was for this reason that Solomon gave the counsel to keep the heart "above all keeping," since "out of it are the issues of life."
"Into the love of God." The phrase seems to suggest the direction of the heart towards a goal -- "Into the love." This must mean first and foremost the love of God to us, for this is the true goal and home of the soul. Home is at once a protection, a fellowship, and a joy. "There's no place like home;" and there is no place like the love of God as a home for the soul. In that love we find constant protection, for all the refuge and safety of a true home are experienced there. In that love we find the fullest, truest fellowship, for "truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ"; and we know also "the fellowship of the Holy Ghost." Not least of all, in this home of the soul, is perfect and permanent satisfaction. Just as when the door closes upon us and we know that we are within the privacy, comfort, cheer, and fellowship of home, we find blessed restfulness and satisfaction, so when the soul enters the home of God's love it soon realises the fulness of satisfaction, for it is "satisfied with favour, full with the blessing of the Lord." Love that is deep, unfathomable, constant, pure, unchanging, Divine, is our everlasting home. It is recorded that Spurgeon once saw a weathercock with the words on it, "God is love." On remarking to the owner that it was very inappropriate, since God's love did not change like a weathercock, he received the reply that the real meaning was, "God is love whichever way the wind blows." This is the experience of the believer. Whatever comes, wherever he is, he knows that "God is love."
It is possible, perhaps probable, that this phrase, "the love of God," may also include our love to God. At any rate, in several passages it is almost impossible to make a rigid distinction between the two ideas (cf. Rom. v.5). The one is the source of the other, and "we love Him because He first loved us." Love from God begets love to God, and when once the soul has entered into God's love as its goal and home, love at once begins to be the spring, the strength, the sustenance, and the satisfaction of its life.
"Into the patience of Christ." The Authorised Version has somewhat misread this verse by translating it "into the patient waiting for Christ," which would need another expression in the Greek. It really refers to active, persistent, steady endurance rather than to patient waiting. It refers to present patience, not to a future prospect. The patience of Christ must mean the active endurance which is like His, the endurance of which He is the pattern. How marvellously He "endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself"! How striking is the statement that "He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem"! Whether in suffering or in service, our Lord "endured as seeing Him who is invisible"; and having endured to the end, He became our Saviour.
But "the patience of Christ" is also the endurance which comes from Him. He is not only our pattern, but also our power, since He enables us to endure with a like endurance to His own. As the Apostle says elsewhere: "I have power for all things in Him who is empowering me." To have a pattern without the power to realise it, to have our Lord's example without His efficacy and energy, would be of little practical use except to discourage and to mock us; but He who sets the standard supplies the strength, and our hearts are thus enabled to enter into and abide in the endurance of Christ.
The need of patient endurance is obvious. Those early Christians of Thessalonica were soon put to the test. A few days and their new-born experiences were severely proved. Persecution, ostracism, suffering, and, it may be, death put a real strain upon their Christian profession; yet they endured, and the Apostle's prayer was answered; for we know with what joy he received tidings of their endurance and continuance (ch. i.4). The same endurance is needed to-day, though the circumstances are very different. Sin is still powerful, and trials, suffering, sorrow and death are found on every hand. Many things would tempt us from our allegiance and continuance. Like the Psalmist, we see the wicked prospering, and we are ready to burst out with the faithless cry: "I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." Or we have been toiling in the vineyard for long without seeing any fruit, and like the prophet, we are tempted to cry: "I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought." Then we hear the voice of the Apostle reminding us of "the love of God" and "the patience of Christ."
The secret of patience is love. If only we live in the love of God we shall thereby find the grace of patience. The union of love and patience was exemplified in our Lord's earthly life. He kept His Father's commandments and abode in His love, and if only we will continue in His love we shall thereby be enabled to keep His commandments, and endure as He endured.
2. THE GUIDE.
"The Lord direct your hearts." We need direction. Sin has blinded us, and kept us from knowing the way home into the love of God, and into the endurance of Christ. Still more, sin has biassed our hearts, and kept us from going along the way. Thus we need nothing short of a Divine direction. If the Lord does not make straight our way home we never shall arrive there.
How does our Lord direct our hearts? First, by constant and ever-increasing experience of His love. "God is love," and as it is of the essence of love to communicate itself, God is ever revealing to our hearts and bestowing upon them His own Divine love. Along the straight pathway He guides the soul into deeper and fuller experience of His unchanging, unerring, and unending love.
He also guides by bestowing upon us an ever-fuller experience of the power of Christ. Patient endurance is not learned all at once, and the Lord leads us as we are able to bear His disclosures and His discipline. Every lesson of testing brings with it a fresh experience of grace, and every call to endure carries with it the assurance of sufficient strength and power.
The means used for our direction, as we have already seen, are three in number, but the truth is so important that it needs renewed emphasis. The Lord directs us by His Word. Its examples, its counsels, its promises, its warnings, it anticipations, its incentives all come with force and blessing upon the heart, impelling it to go the right way home. He also directs us by His Holy Spirit dwelling within us. The Divine Spirit possesses and purifies our thoughts, cleanses and clarifies our motives, freshens and fertilises our soul, sanctifies and sensitises our conscience, guides and guards our will; and thus "every virtue we possess, and every victory won, and every thought of holiness" are the work of the Holy Spirit of God in guiding and directing our hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
The Lord also guides by His Providence. He uses the circumstances of our daily life to indicate His will. The discipline, the thousand and one little events and episodes, the ordinary experience of daily duty, the shadows and the sunshine, are all part of His providential guidance as He leads us along the pathway home into the love of God. All things are continually working together for good to them that love God.
Now we pass to consider the second and complementary prayer.
3. THE GIFT.
In this concluding prayer of the Epistle the Apostle sums up by speaking of that which is in some respects the greatest gift of God in Christ, the gift of perfect and perpetual peace.
Our first need is peace of conscience. The burden of sin weighs heavily upon the awakened soul, and the condemnation of the law consciously weighs upon it. As we look back over the past, and realise what it has been, we long for rest in the removal of condemnation and the bestowal of forgiveness. Our hearts cry out for peace with God.
Our second need is peace of heart. The soul set free from the burden of condemnation and guilt soon finds the need of a new strength, new interests, new hopes. The past has been obliterated by mercy, but the present looms large with difficulty. Temptations to fear and discouragement arise, and the soul longs for peace. Peace with God by reconciliation must therefore be followed by the peace of God through restfulness of heart day by day.
Our third need is peace of fellowship. The true Christian life is never solitary, but is lived in association with others. Our relationship to Christ necessarily carries with it a relationship to those who are in Christ with us, and as a consequence the peace which is ours in Christ is expressed in peace and fellowship with our fellow-believers. The context of this prayer shows that the Apostle had this aspect of peace in mind, and no true peace can be enjoyed with God that is not shared with our fellow-Christians. Our Lord has broken down the wall of partition between us; He has made us all one in Himself, for He is our peace.
4. THE GIVER.
The source of this threefold peace is "The Lord of peace Himself." By His death He brings us peace of conscience, by His Resurrection life peace of heart, by His Holy Spirit peace of fellowship. "Peace I leave with you" is the legacy of His Death. "My peace I give unto you" is the gift of His Spirit. On the Resurrection evening He came with this twofold peace. First, He said, "Peace be unto you," and "showed them His hands and His side," thus assuring them of peace of conscience through His Death. Then He said unto them again, "Peace be unto you," and bestowed upon them His Holy Spirit, thus guaranteeing to them peace of heart. His own peace, which had been so marked a feature of His own life and ministry, was now to be theirs. He, the possessor of peace, was now to be the provider of peace to them.
The title, "The Lord of peace," in this passage is very noteworthy. It is only found here, though the title "God of peace" occurs several times. What are we to understand by it? Surely it is a hint to us that only in His Lordship, acknowledged and experienced by us, can we find peace. In very significant words we read in the prophet of "His government and peace." First government and then peace, since peace is only possible as a result of government. In like manner we read in the psalm of "righteousness and peace," for it is only as He is "the Lord our righteousness" that He becomes the Lord our peace. When the government is upon His shoulder, and He is the Lord of our life, the inevitable and blessed result is "peace, perfect peace."
The continuity of this peace is very noteworthy -- "Give you peace always." It is a constant peace. It is independent of circumstances, and does not change with changing experiences, since it is independent of our variableness, and depends entirely upon the Lord of peace and His Divine gift. Peace is associated with our permanent relationship to God in Christ, and a relationship of this kind is unalterable by any experiences or circumstances. The Lord gives peace always.
The channels of this peace are also significant -- "Peace always by all means." "In every manner," by all conceivable channels and methods this peace comes. No circumstance or condition of life can be ours which does not give some opportunity for the bestowal, experience, and enjoyment of peace. Not only does peace come "always," but "all ways."
Love, Patience, Peace -- how beautiful and suggestive the combination and association! Patience is the fruit of love, and peace is the fruit of patience. When the soul is dwelling in the love of God patience and peace flow naturally into the life, and are as naturally exemplified in it. And so the heart rejoices in the love, reproduces the patience, and reposes in the peace of the Lord of peace, because it is ever at rest in the presence and grace of "the God of love and peace."