“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. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
In 2 Thessalonians 3:5, Paul prays: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” In the face of suffering, when we’re surrounded by faithlessness, when we’re worn out, when we’re facing all kinds of uncertainty, we ask the Lord to direct our hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Jesus Christ. When our hearts are turned to God’s love we are assured of God’s favor, in spite of our immediate circumstances. We are established on the rock of God’s faithfulness. And from this position of sturdy assurance we live for God with freedom. We can love with abandon because we have been loved so fully. As 1 John 4:19 puts it, “We love because he first loved us.”
In addition to God’s love, Paul prays that our hearts will be directed to the steadfastness of Christ. Remember Christ in the garden of Gethsemane, as he prayed to the Father, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will.” Jesus’s circumstances were horrific. He was facing the cross, with all of its physical, emotional and spiritual torment, and he was sweating drops of blood out of anxiety. But he was steadfast in his obedience. Hebrews 12:2 argues that Christ Jesus looked “to the joy that was set before him,” and endured the cross, and is now “seated at the right hand of God.” He is the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” That steadfastness—even unto death—that focus on the eternal joy that we have in the gospel is critical for living well, especially in the face of suffering.
When we are looking at our circumstances with the eternal horizon in view, we are freed to love well and truly. We are given hope even while suffering. Our own place in the world is not up for grabs. We do not need to justify ourselves by works. We do not need to be self-protective when it comes to our actions and words. We can generously give out of what has been given to us. We can offer every good work and word because our destiny is secured in God’s love and Christ’s work. Our hearts, by turning again and again to God’s love and Christ’s steadfastness, are steadied and strengthened for love and steadfastness in imitation of God. The Lord is faithful, so we have hope and no need for fear.
While our calling in the gospel leads to salvation—to holiness, truth, comfort, good works, and glory—there are others who oppose these things out of hand. Not all have faith. It is tempting, in the face of such opposition, to back away from the assurances of the gospel, to fear what the world fears, to worry about the things the world worries about, to toil and labor to secure ourselves, in other words, to try to justify ourselves by works.
But here Paul calls us to good works because we are justified by faith. We do not need to imitate the world, with its agendas and commitments. We live out of the gospel of God’s love and Christ’s steadfastness, participating in those realities. To do this, our hearts must abide in God’s action on our behalf.
Notice here that Paul is not advocating for passivity or opposing works to faith. In the next verses Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to avoid those who are idle. Nor is Paul supporting a generic secular work ethic. “Just work more” is not the solution Paul is offering. Hearing Paul’s message is a challenge in our context because some see works as the opposite of faith and others see works as the means of grace. Neither of these is right. Paul is calling us to persist in good works. In other words, he is asking us to live by faith, to live in the truth of the gospel, to live in the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ Jesus. To use the words of Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God at work in us to will and to work according to his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).
This means we should work and speak in keeping with the gospel because God is faithful and we can trust that the way of life he has laid out for us is the way of life in which true flourishing is found. We can trust that the way of life we enjoy in the gospel is in keeping with our eternal comfort and hope. We can trust God even when we are suffering and facing a multitude of uncertainties. In Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we are set apart, we have been given the truth, we are made holy. Therefore, we can follow the commands of Christ. Abiding in Christ, we resist conformation to the world and we embrace the imitation of Christ Jesus, who loved us and gave himself up for us (Eph 5:2). Let’s participate in this radically self-giving, eternity-focused love. Let’s participate in the proclamation and honoring of the word of the Lord.
Friends, “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”