If Paul is the ideal human model of one Christian interceding for another Christian, than this is a passage we must study. Jesus, of course, was the ultimate example of intercessory prayer for others. He was the ultimate example of affection for His sheep (John 10:11-16, 27-28), unselfishness for His disciples (John 13:3-17), compassion for His people (John 11:33-44; Matt. 23:37-39), protectiveness toward His lambs (John 10:2-5), delight for His church (Matt. 16:18-19), gratitude for His followers (Matt. 11:25-30), and intercession for His beloved children (John 17:6-26). That model of the shepherd's heart is the divine standard for all pastors today.
In this passage before us, we see the Apostle Paul emulating Jesus, when he prays for the Christians at Thessalonica.
I. THE FORM OF PAUL'S PRAYER*
"Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord ... " (3:11a)
- Paul's prayer took a distinctive form
- Paul's petition utilized the Greek optative mood, indicated in English by may, which expresses a wish
- this is not Paul's normal approach to prayer
- use of the optative here allowed him to reiterate to the Thessalonians the sincere heart wishes he had concerning them
- it reveals a heart full of sincerity and love for these fellow saints
- Paul also directed this prayer to God the Father and Jesus the Lord, expressing the desire that both the Father and Son might act to answer his longings
- such linkage of the Father and the Son are frequent in the Apostle Paul=s epistles and emphasize equality in divine nature between God the Father and Jesus the Son
- the form of his prayer gives an interesting twist to the way in which we normally pray
- by calling God OurYfather, the Apostle emphasizes a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe
- by calling Jesus our Lord, the Apostle emphasizes personal rulership
- what's the big deal?
- Paul switched the usual popular ideas about God being the ruler and Christ being the one with whom believers have a relationship
- it's a not-so-subtle way of equating God the Son as equal with God the Father
- Jesus is not a son of God, but the incarnate Eternal Son of the Eternal Creator-God
- God came down to be intimate with them as their gracious, loving, and forgiving Father, and Jesus ascended to heaven's throne to be their sovereign Lord
A. THE LESSON
- does the form of our prayer really matter?
- after all, if Jesus is as equally divine as the Father, why not pray to Jesus?
- if the Spirit is as equally divine as Jesus, why not pray to the Spirit?
- first, I will tell you that it is always a little awkward to criticize how someone else prays
- prayer is a very personal activity, and so telling someone that they are "doing it wrong" can make for hard feelings to say the least
- if you want to address your prayers to Jesus, there is nothing necessarily wrong with that
- second, I will tell you that the Scriptures do give us a form for our praying
- we pray to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit
- the Bible teaches that we are to pray to the FatherHe is the Object of our prayer
- this guideline is found in The Model Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13
- the Bible teaches that Jesus is our Mediator in our prayers
- it is by His Merits and through His Work that we can even approach the Father
- "Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (Jn 14:13, ESV)
- "In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." (Jn 16:23-24, ESV)
- ILLUS. J. Vernon McGee insightfully observed, "Someone may ask whether we can't pray to Jesus. I think you can if you wish to, but why do you rob yourself of an intercessor? Jesus is up there at God's right hand for you, praying for you. That is the reason that we should pray to the Father in the name of Jesus."
- "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." (Ro 8:26-27, ESV)
- it is the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and the desire to pray
II. THE PURPOSE OF PAUL'S PRAYER
"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 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."
- Paul's prayer here is a definitive model of conscientious intercession
- he had a threefold purpose in offering it:
- that God would grant the Thessalonians a perfecting faith,
- a prospering love, and a
- purifying hope
- do those Christian virtues sound familiar?
- Paul was genuinely concerned that his people grow in each of those spiritual realities
A. A PERFECTING FAITH
- the foremost motive for Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians was that their faith would grow
- the apostle did not explicitly say that within his prayer but identified it as the goal of his prayer
- "as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith" (v. 10)
- rather, he wanted to expand their knowledge of God through His revealed truth, which in turn would enlarge their trust in Him and enable them to walk in greater obedience to His will
- the precepts, principles, and promises of Scripture are the windows through which believers look to see God and understand His glory and will for their lives
B. A PROSPERING LOVE
- the apostle Paul knew that genuine believers would always exhibit love
- John 13:34-35)
- therefore he prayed that the Thessalonians' growing faith would be accompanied by a prospering love
C. A PURIFYING HOPE
- the final objective of Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians was that they might look to their glorification, which produces a purifying hope
- all the good qualities of a strong faith and a vibrant love are incomplete unless they point one toward genuine hope
- Paul reminded the Romans, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1B2)
- the nature of that hope is best stated in 1 John 3:2, "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is"