sermon: Praying That God Would Exercise His Sovereignty 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Praying That God Would Exercise His Sovereignty

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Truth Taught- Paul prays that God would grant His people what He has promised.

 Introduction

Paul closes the first half of this epistle with a benediction. A benediction is a prayer of praise and blessing to God for what He has done and what He will do in the future. These public blessings were often used in worship to encourage God’s people to continue in the faith because God cares for them and will continue to care for them in the future. Here, in our passage for today, God’s spokesman issues a divine benediction to the Church. This prayer of praise is for all who believe, including us.

The benediction concept comes from the Book of Numbers where God commanded Moses to speak to Aaron and his sons so they would bless the people and put God’s name upon them.

Numbers 6:22–27 (ESV)

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24    The Lord bless you and keep you;

25    the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

26    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

There have been some interesting studies done on this form of prayer and in the early church it appears to have been a rather common practice to close a public sermon with a prayer in this form.  Very often at the conclusion of sermons in the early church, the preacher might say, May God grant you such and such and such and such and such and such.[1]

This is what the Apostle does here as he closes this section of the letter.

He does this because he is completely convinced their faith is genuine, especially after hearing Timothy’s report of their faith, hope and love increasing. So, now his prayer is no longer an anxious prayer that their salvation be genuine but a worshipful benediction type prayer thanking God and asking God to bless them and cause them to keep growing in their faith and love.

Prayer

1 Thessalonians 3:11–13 (ESV)

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

  1. May God Direct Our Way

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,

In verse 11, I want us to see Paul’s strong view of God’s sovereignty. He is attributing sovereignty to the Triune God. If he is going to ever be able to go back to the Thessalonians, it has to be God who paves the way. He strongly desires to go but he realizes that his life and path are in the hands of God. He is very comforted and happy with that truth.

Are you pleased that God is sovereign over your life? Are you at peace with the truth that God is in charge and you are not?

To believe in a god who is not sovereign over all this is to be an idolater. I want to take you back to the Land of Israel in the Book of Isaiah. I want to read to you God’s own assessment of Israel’s idol worship and then God’s self assessment.

Isaiah 46:1–11 (ESV)

46 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;

their idols are on beasts and livestock;

       these things you carry are borne

as burdens on weary beasts.

   They stoop; they bow down together;

they cannot save the burden,

but themselves go into captivity.

   “Listen to me, O house of Jacob,

all the remnant of the house of Israel,

       who have been borne by me from before your birth,

carried from the womb;

   even to your old age I am he,

and to gray hairs I will carry you.

       I have made, and I will bear;

I will carry and will save.

   “To whom will you liken me and make me equal,

and compare me, that we may be alike?

   Those who lavish gold from the purse,

and weigh out silver in the scales,

       hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;

then they fall down and worship!

   They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,

they set it in its place, and it stands there;

it cannot move from its place.

       If one cries to it, it does not answer

or save him from his trouble.

   “Remember this and stand firm,

recall it to mind, you transgressors,

       remember the former things of old;

       for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

10    declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

       saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

11    calling a bird of prey from the east,

the man of my counsel from a far country.

       I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;

I have purposed, and I will do it.

Our challenge today is with all the voices around us saying things about God that are not true, that we gain our knowledge of God from the Bible. When the Bible tells us things about God that go against our current thoughts and beliefs we must adjust to align with the Bible. Here is one of those areas. God commands all events in the universe and when something happens it is because God is at work and even things we don’t care for, God is over them. He alone is good and His counsel stands. What is even more amazing is that God controls all things and He announces them before they come to pass.

       remember the former things of old;

       for I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me,

10    declaring the end from the beginning

and from ancient times things not yet done,

       saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,

and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

We also see that fact that Paul’s praying is to the Trinity. He has a high view of the deity of Jesus Christ, doesn’t he?

What we should notice is how incidental this is. He’s not making a big deal of this fact. He’s not presenting a theological treatise on the deity of Jesus Christ. He is simply stating the fact as if everyone should already be acknowledging this. In his mind, this doctrine of the deity of Christ is assumed to be true.

I love what B. B. Warfield said concerning the doctrine of the Trinity,

It is not in a text here and there that the New Testament bears its testimony to the doctrine of the Trinity. The whole book is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy and confident.

I pray we see this truth and believe it. Many groups today deny the doctrine of the Trinity and deny the deity of our Lord. They are dead wrong.

The biblical evidence for the deity of the Son includes, OT predictions of divine Messiah, Jesus’ self testimony in words and deeds, the resurrection of Jesus, the NT writers united witness, and there are specifically nine NT passages that use the title Theos specifically for Jesus. [2]

  1. May God Cause Our Love to Increase

12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,

He has taught us before that there are three manifestations of genuine faith. We looked briefly last week from verses 1:2-3 their faith was a working faith, a loving faith and a faith that did these things with an eye toward the return of Christ.

The principle is that as one’s faith is growing their love for others will also be growing. So, the prayer for their love to increase is also a prayer for their faith to increase.

Notice that the Recipient of this prayer is, the Lord Jesus. His point is that he realizes that it is the Lord Jesus who owns these new converts and He will instill love on an increasing basis within them.

We are commanded to love one another and as with about everything this love begins within the Church.

What is very interesting in this way of praying is that Paul prays that God will do this in the hearts of the believers as they seek to obey the command of Jesus to love one another. In a very real sense, he is praying the will of God in the New Covenant.

The first point is that the central requirement of love in the new covenant community is both a gift and a command. Notice in 3:12 Paul prays (in the form of a benediction), “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all men.” Our life together originates in the covenant love of God and so one essential mark of our covenant relationships in the church is love. And this love is the work of God. “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love.”

This is exactly the way we expect Paul to pray for new covenant blessings because the new covenant says, “I will write my law on their hearts . . . and I will circumcise their hearts to love me . . . and I will put my Spirit within them and cause them to walk in my statutes” (Jeremiah 31:33; Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 36:27). So here Paul says: God, You promised to do this in the new covenant; so I pray that You will now do it: “Cause them to increase and abound in love.” So the covenant requirement of love is first and foremost a gift in the new covenant.[3]

Here, Paul is relying on the trustworthiness of God to accomplish what He has purposed in giving us the New Covenant. God will do it and I must do it. God will accomplish it and I must submit to His authority and commands. He does it and I must obey the commands to love others within the local church. God will do it and I must do it…

1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 (ESV)

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,

As you are growing in your faith your love will also increase. Faith and love always go hand in hand. If your love for your church family is waning so is your faith. If your faith is increasing so is your love.

  1. May God Establish Us in Holiness

13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Here again Paul focuses on God’s work and our work and especially in light of the return of Christ. Why should we be focused on our holiness?

Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

There is the side of the coin where we strive for holiness (being like Christ). That’s our part.

Then there is the second side of the coin; we should desire holiness for the sake of Jesus’ glory. God makes us holy and it is very proper to pray to God to make you holy. Here again we are praying that God would accomplish something in us that He commands and requires from us.

Here is God’s work, to make a people for His Son holy and blameless. Paul prays that these Christians would truly be found holy and blameless when Christ returns.

Here again, is Paul’s prayer for God to do what God already said He would do. He prays that the Christians would be holy and blameless when Christ returns. Of course Paul didn’t know when Jesus would return but he prays just the same. Why does he pray that this would be the case? The emphasis is really not so much on the Christian’s holiness for the Christian but for the Lord. Jesus will be greatly praised at His return when His death and resurrection and power are shown to have accomplished new life in those whom He has died for and saved.

Professor John Murray:

There is a final end or goal that is more ultimate than the glorification of the people of God. It is the pre-eminence of Christ, vindicated and exemplified [on that day]. The glory of God is always supreme and ultimate. (Collected Writings, Vol. 2, p.316)

Application

In summary, Paul prays that God would…

Direct our path

Cause our brotherly love to increase

Establish us in holiness

There is a connection between Faith-Works-Hope-Love-Holiness

These are the things that prove one’s salvation is genuine and the things we should be praying for that they would be increasing in our lives. When one increases it brings the others along with it.

Is your faith increasing? If it is your love and holiness will follow.

1 Peter 1:15–16 (ESV)

15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

How can I seek the good of others in this fellowship?

 

 

Numbers 6:22–27 (ESV)

22 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

24    The Lord bless you and keep you;

25    the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

26    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

 

 

*Resources Used:

John Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Robert Cara

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G K Beale

1 and 2 Thessalonians by Leon Morris

1 and 2 Thessalonians by FF Bruce

1 and 2 Thessalonians by G L Green

 

[1] John MacArthur

[2] Systematic Theology by Robert Reymond, 211

[3] John Piper

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