Also available as MP3: 2 Thessalonians 3:4-5 – A Confident Apostle
To put “confidence” in someone (3:4) means to put your trust in them (Psalm 118:8). Since the Lord was trustworthy, Paul had “confidence in the Lord” (3:4) concerning many things. He was “confident” he was saved (II Corinthians 5:6-8), because he was “confident” that the Lord would keep him saved (Phil.1:6).
But how could Paul tell the Thessalonians that he had “con-fidence in the Lord touching you” (3:4). Well, the Thessa-lonians were an exemplary church (ITh.1:7), they had done what he’d commanded in the past, so he was confident they’d continue to do what he commanded. But how could he “have confidence” in the Corinthians “in all things” (IICor.7:16) even “great confidence” (8:22). Well, you’ll notice these references were from Paul’s second letter to them. Evidently they’d done some of the things he com-manded in his first letter to them
But the past good performance of the Thessalonians was no guarantee they would continue to do what he commanded, so how could Paul say he had confidence in them—and the Galatians (Gal. 5:10)? Their past performance had left him “in doubt” of them (Gal.4:20), not with confidence in them.
True, Paul had “confidence in the Lord” in them, but the Lord wouldn’t make them obey the apostle’s commands.
Well, when the Lord first told Paul He was going to save people by grace and just expect they’d do what He com-manded because they were grateful to be saved, I think Paul had his doubts because he had no confidence in men. But he had confidence in the Lord concerning them, and this confidence reflected God’s own confidence in us.
We see this confidence illustrated when Paul reminded Philemon he should do what he asked him to do since he had led him to the Lord (Phile.1:19), a picture of how we should do what God asks just because we are grateful He saved us. When Paul went on to express confidence that Philemon would obey him (v.21), it expresses God’s confidence we’ll do what He says. Religion says that you can’t tell someone they can’t be lost or they’ll refuse to obey God, but God says He is confident we’ll do “more” than He says under law (Phile.1:21b). Religion says you can’t tell believers they don’t have to tithe or they won’t give at all, but God is confident that those who can afford to will give more than ten percent.
Paul was confident they were already doing what he commanded even though he was gone (3:4). Compare this to how Moses predicted after he left they’d cease to obey (Deut.31:217-29), and that was the pattern under the Law (Judges 2:18,19). Under grace, God’s people do “much more” in the absence of a spiritual authority (Phil.2:12).
There are commands under grace, Pauline commands (ICor.14:37). Paul makes over 600 imperative command statements, some of which sound like the ten commandments (ITh.4:2,3), of which he repeats 9 of the 10
In Paul’s benediction he expresses a desire that the Lord would “direct” the Thessalonians. Proverbs 16:9 makes it sound like men devise a way and God overpowers their will to direct them in another way.Verses like that make Calvin-ists believe God causes our every move, but that would make Him responsible for our sin. God directs men with His Word (Isa.40:13). There is no evidence He directed Cyrus (Isa.45:13) audibly. Rather, when he learned that God had surnamed him centuries before his birth (Isa.45:1-4), he figured he’d better do what His Word said to do! Of course, you have to be willing to let God’s Word direct you, as Cyrus was. That’s the meaning of Proverbs 3:5,6. If you’ll let the Word direct you, you’ll find life as easy as cutting wood with a sharp tool (Eccl.10:10). There’s a reason God says the way of the sinner is hard (Pr.13:15)
God’s love for us (3:5) isn’t something their hearts needed to be directed into, for His love was shed abroad in their hearts (Rom.5:5,6). Paul was hoping their hearts would be directed into loving God, which always means keeping His commandments (Ex.20:6; Deut. 10:12; John 14:21; IJohn 5:3). In context, of course, he meant Pauline command-ments, including “the patient waiting for Christ” (3:5).