Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may spread quickly and be held in honor, just as it was with you.
I. MINISTERS NEED THE PRAYERS OF THEIR PEOPLE. "Finally, brethren, pray for us."
1. Because their work is a great work.
2. Because it is weighted down with opposition and hinderance.
3. Because ministers feel their need, not only of human sympathy, but of Divine grace, wisdom, and strength.
4. Because such prayers knit the hearts of pastor and people more closely together.
II. THE DOUBLE PURPORT OF THE PRAYER FOR THE APOSTLE. It was for no mere personal or selfish object, but had exclusive reference to the furtherance of the gospel. To pray for ministers is to pray for the gospel.
1. It was a prayer for the rapid spread of the gospel. "That the Word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as it is also with you."
(1) There were grave hindrances in its way presented by Jewish prejudice, Gentile fanaticism, and the jealousy of the Roman power. He is anxious that the gospel should not go halting and picking its steps, but "like a strong man rejoicing to run a race," overleaping all barriers of space and prejudice and hatred, Ministers have their "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." It is God only who can remove all impediments and make the mountains a plain before Zerubbabel.
(2) The apostle was anxious that the gospel should be glorified - as "the power of God unto salvation" - by the conversion of large numbers of people, by their cheerful obedience to the truth, and by their orderly walk in the gospel. He quotes the example of the Thessalonians themselves - "even as it is with you" - as worthy of imitation in spite of some exceptional defects. The courteous reference would lead his converts to pray for him with deeper interest and. fervour.
2. It was a prayer for deliverance from obstructive enemies. "And that we may be delivered kern unreasonable and wicked men." The impediments to the free progress of the gospel were evil men. They were his Jewish enemies at Corinth who rose against the apostle and brought him to the judgment seat of Gallio (Acts 18:12).
(1) It was a prayer that his career might not he cut short by their malignity. The apostle's life was, perhaps, the most valuable in all the world in that generation, but it seemed to be at the mercy of men without scruple or mercy. He was, indeed, "in deaths oft." His enemies either lay in wait for him to destroy him, or roused the fanaticism of mobs against him.
(2) It was an enmity directed by men without any check from' reason or principle. His most persevering enemies through life were the Jews. No reason or argument could satisfy them or mollify their hatred. Their conduct was easily explained by the fact that "all men have not faith." As if nothing better could be expected from godless and blaspheming Jews. - T.C.
Finally, brethren, pray for us
I. And first, AN APOSTLE ASKING HELP OF PRIVATE CHRISTIANS. God alone is really independent. Only God can say, "I am that I am." All the creatures of God within the range of our knowledge are mutually dependent, including man, the divinest of all terrestrial beings. The highest officers which the Church of Christ has known were apostles, and those were extraordinary functionaries; yet one of these, and that the greatest, pens the words of our text, saying to the young men and to the little children in the Church of Thessalonica, "Brethren, pray for us." The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Now, ye are the body of Christ and members in particular, and it is just this mutual dependence which is recognized in the request of Paul as embodied in the text. There are four things which are likely to make us forget our dependence upon others — gifts or endowments, office, position or standing, and past successful service. These four things — gifts, office, position, successful service — are very likely to make us forget our dependence upon others unless we be on the watch against the mischievous influences which occasionally proceed from them. And there are four things in others which tend to make us overlook the assistance they can afford us — low temporal estate (especially in these days when wealth is becoming in our churches a false god), the possession of a single or but few talents, a retiring disposition, and the not holding any office in the Church of Christ.
II. Let us look at PRAYER COOPERATING WITH PREACHING AND SECURING ITS SUCCESS. Who can tell what is being wrought, and what has been effected, by the ordinance represented by this Little word "pray"? In asking his friends in Thessalonica for assistance the apostle said to them "Pray." Prayer is very different from preaching, and yet a moment's reflection will show how they work together. Prayer speaks to God for man; preaching speaks to man for God. Prayer seeks to bring God to man; preaching aims to bring man to God. Prayer moves God towards man; preaching persuades man to seek after God. Prayer makes known unto God man's request; preaching reveals to man God's mind and will. Preaching casts in the seed; prayer brings the rain and the sunshine. Preaching deposits the leaven; prayer secures the hand which adds its working. Preaching utters the good tidings; prayer carries the sound to the ear and makes that all sensitive. Preaching is doing the practical work which man can do; prayer asks for what God only can do, and for that which is necessary to the success of that which the man can do. But although prayer occupies this lofty position, we are all more or less in danger of being diverted from it. Those who reason much upon religious matters are diverted by a secret scepticism. Those who are carnal and walk as men are diverted by their fondness for a quick and visible return for all their efforts. Those who think of themselves more highly than they ought to think are diverted by self-sufficiency. Those whose estimate of human nature is too valuable are diverted by their too strong expectation of what may be done by the simple presentation of the truth; for there are men so excessively simple that even now, after eighteen centuries of trial, they will tell you that if you only put God's truth as well as you can before men they will take it in.
III. Thirdly, at A CHURCH IN A MACEDONIAN CITY BEING REQUESTED TO SYMPATHIZE WITH A CHURCH IN A CITY OF ACHAIA. This request recognizes the common relations of man and the supreme relations of Christ. Thessalonica, as the school boy knows, was a chief city of Macedonia, a then northern and Roman division of Greece, as Corinth of Achaia was the southern division of the same country. The Macedonian city had become, under the Romans, great, populous, and wealthy, and contained a large number of Jews. It has been called, very justly I think, the Liverpool of Northern Greece, on account of its commerce, ships sailing from its harbours to all parts of the then commercial world. Corinth was also a magnificent mercantile city, extremely rich and densely populated; the population consisting of Jews, Greeks, and Romans, with a smaller proportion of Jews than were found in Thessalonica. Where Thessalonica has been compared to Liverpool, Corinth has been likened to modern Paris. Now considering that the two cities were but some four or five hundred miles apart — that they were chief cities in two provinces of the same country — and that they had several national and civic features in common, the existence of sympathy, it may be said, must be taken for granted, and as scarcely worthy of remark. But would such a saying be reasonable and true? Men in great cities are generally inclined to become isolated, and exclusive, and self-absorbed. Moreover great cities are proverbially envious, and jealous, and contemptuous of each other — compare, for instance, Glasgow and Edinburgh — so that it is no small thing to have the men of one city greatly concerned for the men of another. Now Paul would have the Gentile in Thessalonica lovingly interested in the Jew of Corinth, and the Jew of Thessalonica in the Gentile of Corinth. The disposition which looks upon all men now as a family, and all Christians as a household, is preeminently the spirit of Jesus Christ, and to this Paul appeals when he writes: "Brethren, pray for us that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified, even as with you."
IV. The latter part of the text expresses THE ONE THING TO BE DESIRED WHEREVER THE GOSPEL IS PREACHED. This is the fourth object at which we said we would look. The language here employed is evidently derived from the public races. The word here rendered "have free course" is elsewhere translated "run." Paul in passing from Athens to Corinth would go along the isthmus where the Grecian games were celebrated. He would see the stadia and theatre; he would look upon the busts and statues of successful competitors, and would see the very trees which yielded the corruptible crown. Accustomed, like the Great Teacher, to draw his illustrations from near sources, he would naturally use an institution which increased the fame of the renowned city. Hence he speaks of the Word of the Lord running as a racer without impediment, or as a chariot without a drag on the wheel, and being honoured and applauded at the end of the course. In plain language Paul requests the Thessalonians to pray that the Word of the Lord may speedily be communicated to man, may be cordially received, may appear to be not the word of man but the Word of God, and may produce all promised results, being universally acknowledged as worthy of all acceptation. Now these words imply that there were hindrances to the spread of the Gospel in Corinth. Some of these were peculiar to Corinth and others were common to all places. Our Lord Jesus Christ had forewarned his apostles of these obstacles when he spoke to them of the hatred and persecution which they would encounter for the Gospel's sake, also in some of the similitudes by which he represented the kingdom of heaven, especially in the parable of the sower. Therein Christ teaches that the counteracting work of sense, the want of comprehension and appreciation in the hearers, the lack of depth of feeling, the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lust of other things, the wealth and pleasures of this life impede the Word. All this every hearer has more or less experienced, and every preacher more or less observed, ever since Christ spake the parable whose lessons we are quoting. Now from the commencement of his apostleship Paul saw this. Paul was not a man to look on the most pleasant side of an object. Invariably, as we. all know, he turned a thing round and round, and looked at it on all sides. Heathenism and Judaism had opposed the spread of that Word in Thessalonica, especially Judaism. The Jews envied the apostles their miraculous powers and their influence over the Gentiles, and raising a fierce tumult against them, drove them from the city; but they could not banish the word of the Lord, and now in Corinth it found embodiment again. The luxury of the city, the vain show, the expensive habits of the people, the attractive immorality, the self-indulgent habits of the citizens, presented peculiar obstacles in Corinth, but the chief of them are common to all places, all races, and all ages of the world. Men do not care for any word of the Lord. They do not feel their need of this peculiar Word of the Lord that we call the Gospel. Men have their ears filled with the words of man. But, it here occurs to me that we have scarcely noticed recently WHAT IS MEANT BY THE WORD OF THE LORD. According to the text the Word of the Lord is something definite and positive. That of which Paul speaks, is not any or every word of the Lord, but some word which, on account of its importance and blessedness, he calls "The Word." It is the Gospel of our salvation, which is sufficiently definite to enable one to detect "another Gospel." Now some men seem to say that the Gospel of our salvation is not definite at all. As the God revealed in the Bible is a personal God, so the Word of the Lord is a peculiar and positive revelation that Paul here actually personifies, so distinct and well defined does it appear to his eye. Then this Word of the Lord has a special mission to mankind. It needs to have free course. Its free course is like the going forth of the sun from horizon to meridian, spreading on its way light and heat, fruitfulness and life. Or, returning to the allusion of the text, its free course is like the successful running of a racer, or the driving of the charioteer, upon whose supremacy is staked, not the laurel, but liberty and life — not crowns, but the very existence of peoples and of kingdoms. Hence the prayer that the Word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified. Brethren, you who know the Word of the Lord publish it. Keep it not as a sacred trust in the treasury of your spirit. As you, then, publish the Word of the Lord, lay your account to the existence and to the manifestation of impediments. Expect to see it proceeding, sometimes, slowly as a chariot whose wheels are locked — slowly as a racer encumbered by reason of long and heavy train. Yet imagine the reverse of this — the Word of the Lord having free course. Think of this; nay, more expect this. Remove impediments by your own hands if possible; but in every instance ask the Lord who spake the Word to give His Word free course. Give others who are publishing the Word of the Lord your interest. Pray for all mothers and fathers of the land.
I. THE NATURE OF PRAYER GENERALLY.
1. Sincere desire.
2. Believing expectation of the blessings supplicated. The prayer of the man who doubts, of the heart which wavers, refuses to give glory to God by confiding in the promises He has made. But there must be some ground on which the believing expectation rests, viz., the testimony of God concerning His Son, and not mere sincerity, good character, attendance or the ordinances of religion.
3. The influence of God's Spirit. Without the Spirit's regenerating power, we can have no spiritual vision or believing confidence. We cannot call God "Father" but by the Spirit of adoption, and therefore cannot offer the prayer of children.
4. Petitions in accordance with the revealed will of God. It is possible to seek what God has never promised, and even what He has forbidden. It is important, therefore, not to trust our own feelings, but to rely upon God's Word.
II. THE DUTY OF PRAYER FOR MINISTERS IN PARTICULAR. Such prayer —
1. Connects devotion with public instruction. Mere critical hearing or indifferent hearing destroys the chances of edification. We should remember that we are not only in the presence of the preacher, but of the preacher's God. When we link the pulpit to the throne, there will be a blessing in the feeblest ministrations.
2. Associates ministerial success with its true cause. There is a great danger of attributing this to the talent of the preacher, and giving the glory to man which is due to God alone. Prayer will help us to recognize the agency of God in the instrumentality of man.
3. Creates a right state of mind in regard to ministerial failure. The blame may be not his but yours. Success may be withheld not because of any failure in his powers, but in the failure of your prayers.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF A PRAYING PEOPLE ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD AND THE CHURCH WITH REGARD TO THE DIFFUSION OF THE GOSPEL. Prayer exercises an important influence in this direction because it —
1. Increases and maintains love to God. Prayer leads to acquaintance with God, and the more we are acquainted with God the more we shall love Him.
2. Love to man. Prayer for conversion is at once an evidence and a means of growth of that love.
3. Zeal. Without zeal there will be no success; but what promotes love to God and man will inflame zeal; and inflamed zeal gives energy to philanthropy.
4. Practical activity, which is inseparable from love and zeal.
5. Patience. Without prayer, difficulty assumes unreal proportions and begets despondency; but by prayer the believer knows that they are not unsurmountable, and works hopefully for their removal.
6. Devotedness. Prayer is the secret of entire consecration, without which there can be no success.
(C. G. Finney, D. D.)
"The monk was preaching: strong his earnest word,
From the abundance of his heart he spoke,
And the flame spread, — in every soul that heard
Sorrow and love and good resolve awoke;
The poor lay brother, ignorant and old,
Thanked God that he had heard such words of gold.
'Still let the glory, Lord, be thine alone,'
So prayed the monk, his breast absorbed in praise;
'O Lord, I thank Thee that my feeble strength
Has been so blessed; that sinful hearts and cold
Were melted at my pleading, — knew at length
How sweet Thy service and how safe Thy fold;
While souls that love, Thee saw before them rise
Still holier heights of loving sacrifice.'
So prayed the monk, when suddenly he heard
An angel speaking thus: 'Know, O my son,
Thy words had all been vain, but hearts were stirred,
And saints were edified, and sinners won
By his, the poor lay brother's, humble aid
Who sat upon the pulpit stair and prayed,'"God give us in all our churches the lay brother who prays. He is the best prayer book.
(George S. Mort, D. D.)
Scottish Christian Herald.Upon one occasion of great difficulty, Melancthon and Luther had met together to consult about the best means to be adopted. After having spent some time in prayer, Melancthon was suddenly called out of the room, from which he retired under great distress of mind. During his absence, he saw some of the elders of the reformed church, with their parishioners and families. Several children were also brought hanging at the breast; while others a little older were engaged in prayer. This reminded him of that passage, "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings has thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and avenger." Encouraged by this pleasing scene, he returned to his friends with a mind set at liberty, and a cheerful countenance. Luther, astonished at this sudden change, said, "What now! what has happened to you, Philip, that you are become so cheerful?" "O Sirs," replied Melancthon, "let us not be discouraged, for I have seen our noble protectors, and such as, I will venture to say, will prove invincible against every foe!" "And pray," returned Luther, filled with surprise and pleasure, "who, and where are these powerful heroes?" "Oh!" said Melancthon, "they are the wives of our parishioners, and their little children, whose prayers I have just witnessed — prayers which I am sure our Godwill hear: for as our heavenly Father, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has never despised nor rejected our supplications, we have reason to trust that He will not in the present alarming danger."
(Scottish Christian Herald.)
That the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified
I. THE WORD OF THE LORD. What this was we may gather from the record of another missionary (Acts 10:36-43). It included the heavenly mission, miracles, life, death, resurrection and future coming of Christ, and the certainty of pardon through trust in Him.
1. How inestimable this privilege.
2. How universal.
II. ITS FREE COURSE. Marg. "run," indicating progress overcoming whatever obstructions. The psalmist prayed that God's saving health might be "known among all nations:" how much more should we, the professed servants of Him who said "Go ye into all the world," etc. We should pray that the gospel may have free course —
1. In ourselves.
2. In our families, including servants.
3. In our neighbourhoods.
4. Among our countrymen in overgrown towns and neglected villages.
5. Among our emigrants, so many of whom go forth, no man caring for their souls, to found our colonies.
6. Among the heathen.
III. ITS GLORIFICATION, i.e., its eminent success. What kind of success the Apostle explains, "as it is with you." How was that? The word of the Lord came to them —
1. In power (1 Thessalonians), as a fire burning in the conscience; as a hammer breaking their wills; as a two-edged sword, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. This glorious power was given to the Word by the Holy Ghost.
2. Bringing assured peace and joy. They were not merely startled by it at first, but the more they heard the more they were edified.
3. Resulting in continued obedience.
4. Ministering to the increase of holiness.
IV. THE CONNECTION OF PRAYER WITH ALL THIS. The gospel will not run and succeed as a mere matter of course. But prayer lays hold of the power of God which alone can —
1. Overcome difficulties. "Is anything too hard for the Lord."
2. Make the gospel effectual in salvation.
(D. Fenn.)I. THE GREAT OBJECT OF CHRISTIAN DEVOTION.
1. The free and unimpeded circulation of the gospel.(1) There are impediments — the spirit of persecution, the prevalence of idolatry, superstition, and infidelity, the inconsistency and corruptions of the Church — all of which are resolved into the opposition of the human heart.(2) The allusion is to the stadium or racecourse — in which it was necessary that every obstacle should be removed, crooked places made straight, etc. The Son of God is riding forth in the chariot of His gospel, and the prayer is that nothing may be allowed to stop His progress.
2. The removal of hindrances was only a means to the end of the glorification of the gospel.(1) It would not be enough if in every part the most unrestricted freedom were enjoyed, that all obstacles to evangelism were removed, that spacious churches were everywhere raised, and that all rank and authority were made subservient to the progress of truth.(2) The word of God is glorified only when it is the medium of spiritual renovation, when its supreme authority is acknowledged by its professors, when its discoveries are cordially received, its injunctions practised, its holy influences exemplified.
II. THE DUTY OF FERVENT PRAYER IN ORDER TO ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. The connection between prayer and the success of the gospel involves many important principles.
1. Prayer honours the agency of God. If we have the ear of God we are sure of His hand. If the spirit of supplication be poured out upon us, that itself is a pledge of success. And God honours prayer because prayer acknowledges that "it is not by might, nor by power," etc.
2. Prayer is expressly enjoined. "Ask, and it shall be given you." "For all these things I will be inquired of," etc.
3. All history demonstrates that the spirit of prayer is invariably connected with success. No one ever prayed for himself that did not succeed. Let this encourage the anxious inquirer. Can you refer to any praying church that was not a successful church?
4. Those engaged in promoting this object have especial claims on you. "Pray for us." It is the prayer of the Christian minister. Like Moses of old, he is upheld in the hands of prayer.
5. In proportion to the spirit of prayer shall we cherish the spirit of activity, liberality, and zeal.
III. KNOWN INSTANCES OF SUCCESS ARE GROUNDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT. "As it is with you." Not that we are to be satisfied with success; on the contrary, notwithstanding it, we have much cause for humiliation. Still humiliation is not incompatible with thanksgiving for what has been done in and by us. The apostle quotes the case of the Thessalonians as an illustration of what God can do and a pledge of what He will do. Look upon the history of your own conversion. What God can do for you He can do for every one. Conclusion: The subject —
1. Demands inquiry.
2. Encourages hope.
3. Enjoins activity.
(J. Fletcher, D. D.)I. THE OBJECT PROPOSED. That the Word of the Lord may have free course, etc.
1. By the Word of the Lord we understand that revelation of God's will contained in the Holy Book, a revelation of every doctrine necessary to be believed, and of every duty to be practised. This is the Word of the Lord —(1) For it bears the stamp of Divinity upon it, being authenticated by miracle and fulfilled prophecy.(2) Because the subject matter is what God alone could reveal. Creation, man's nature, the way of salvation through redemption by Christ, and regeneration by the Spirit.
2. This gospel is the great instrument which is intended for human salvation. It is God's instrument for enlightening the mind; His tender of pardon; His directory of the way to heaven. The age prior to the gospel abounded with great men; but the world by wisdom knew not God. The gospel, however, is the power of God unto salvation.
3. The object proposed is that this Word of God may have free course. Some see here a reference to the Greek races. Here is a course to be run, and the glory relates to the crown and the plaudits of the spectators. But the more natural view is that of a river. The gospel is the river of the water of life. Wherever it comes the wilderness and solitary place are made glad. Trees of righteousness laden with fruits of peace overhang its margin.(1) The gospel in its course has met with opposition from high and low, rich and poor, etc. Heathens and infidels have entered the lists against it. Its progress has been impeded by subtle errors. But the greatest obstacle has been the inconsistencies of its professors.(2) The text contemplates this gospel as rising and bearing down every opposing barrier, and rolling the majestic tide of truth to the utmost regions.
4. "And be glorified." It is glorious in itself, but it is the manifestation of this glory that the text has in view. The Word of the Lord is glorified —(1) In its rapid and extensive progress. This was the case when three thousand were converted under the ministry of Peter, when Luther arose, and Wesley, and in modern missions.(2) In its effects on the character of its converts, e.g., Saul of Tarsus.(3) In the happy deaths of Christians.
II. THE MEANS INDICATED. Pray for your ministers because —
1. They are instruments of God for the dissemination of the gospel. The gospel is an offer of peace and they are ambassadors of God; it is good news and they are the messengers; it is a mystery for man's benefit and they are the stewards; the world is a field and they are the cultivators; the Church is an edifice and they are the builders. Other powers are auxiliary, e.g., Sunday schools, tract and Bible societies; but preaching leads the way and has the special sanction of Christ. In view of all this, "pray for us."
2. They meet with many discouragements, arising from their weakness, their responsibility, and their failures.
3. The efficacy of their preaching depends upon the unction of the Spirit, and this can be secured only by prayer.
4. It is your duty. It is enjoined by God. They pray, study, preach for you; the least that can be asked is that you should pray for them.
5. It will be beneficial to yourselves. Without prayer you cannot expect to profit by their ministrations.Conclusion:
1. Great is the efficacy of prayer.
2. You cannot be neutral in this work. You are either for the gospel or against it, and prayer or the neglect of it will determine which.
(J. Ossian Davies.)
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
(Dr. Wayland.)i.e., all who are not Pagans, Mohammedans, or Jews. At the present rate of progress, it is supposed that there wilt be 1,200,000,000 of nominal Christians in the world in the year 2,000.
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