By Lasserre Bradley, Jr.
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:1).
The apostle’s burden was that the gospel would move forward rapidly and successfully. His commitment in life was to serve God and honor his Savior by faithfully preaching the gospel wherever and whenever he had opportunity. He suffered much and faced numerous obstacles as he went preaching Christ and him crucified.
When we read of his sufferings we know it was only by the grace of God that he could have survived. “…in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (II Corinthians 11:23-27).
You would think that receiving thirty-nine stripes on five different occasions would have killed him. The straps used in those beatings had pieces of metal embedded in them. The pain had to be excruciating. The discouragement had to be significant. But Paul didn’t give up. He was willing to spend and be spent. Even when he was in prison and could not travel as he desired, he was confident God was at work and the gospel was still being circulated. “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all others places” (Philippians 1:12-13).
While in prison he was chained to a soldier; he no doubt presented the gospel to him. On the next shift another soldier was guarding him and he preached to that soldier. On it went until the gospel message was being spoken of throughout the palace. How else could the gospel have been circulated there? By providence, God arranged for the gospel to have free course even while the great evangelist was unable to stand before a crowd to preach.
Now the beloved Apostle asks the Church at Thessalonica to pray for him. Here was a man with a unique experience, a special gift and a high calling; but he still felt his need of prayer. He knew something of his own weakness and of the strength of his enemies. He knew that success in his labors could only be enjoyed if God poured out his blessings on those efforts, and so he requests the payers of the humble saints of God. He had asked for their prayers in his first letter and now he repeats the request, revealing a truly humble spirit. He was well qualified as a strong leader and faithful servant, but he wanted the prayers even of those recently converted.
His desire was that the word of the Lord may spread at a rapid pace and that it would be honored. He personified the word as being a runner. He was familiar with the Isthmian games and perhaps had in mind the athletes who participated in those races. As they would run at great speed, he envisioned the gospel would be moving on, unobstructed, and that many would receive it and therefore honor it.
This burden for the success of the gospel was always on his heart. In the epistle to the church at Colosse he wrote, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest as I ought to speak” (Colossians 4:2-4).
If Paul was so burdened for the spread of the gospel that he devoted his whole life to it and regularly asked others to pray for the advancement of the message, should not we always be praying that doors may be opened where the gospel can be proclaimed? It is easy to become complacent. We are thankful for the truth of the gospel and for the joy it has brought to our heart, but we often neglect our responsibility to be a witness to others and to pray for those who are laboring in the ministry.
We can become discouraged when we consider how rapidly things are changing in our country. The moral fiber, which helped to hold things together for decades, is falling apart. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded bigots. Disparaging remarks are made about the Bible and those who embrace its teachings. Many declare they want nothing to do with “organized religion,” which is another way of saying, “I am not interested in the Church or its message.”
We need to remember that the fields in which the apostles labored in the days of the early church were not where it would be expected that the gospel would have good success. They labored among Jews who resented the mention of Jesus’ name. They labored among Gentiles who were pagans worshipping false gods and living in a culture known for its rampant immorality. But on the day of Pentecost three thousand souls were converted. And in Acts 4:4 we read, “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” Sometimes the gospel was presented to large numbers and sometimes just to one. Paul and Silas brought the message to the Philippian jailor. Philip brought it to the Ethiopian eunuch. The beautiful story of the Book of Acts reveals God preparing hearts to receive the gospel and while he sent others to proclaim it.
Paul writes about what makes this work a success. “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:22-24). Here is our source of encouragement. No matter what our background may be, religious with a lot of mistaken ideas, or educated in the philosophies of men considering the truth of God to be foolishness; in either case, when the Spirit calls us effectually, the gospel makes sense. Paul said he recognized those to whom he preached at Thessalonica as being the elect of God because, “our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance…ye turned to God from idols to serving the living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:5 & 9).
We can know today that when we present the gospel to someone or when it is preached to a congregation, some will reject it. But we can also be assured that some will find it to be a “savor of life unto life.” The Lord opened Lydia’s heart so that she attended unto the things spoken by Paul and the Lord is still opening the hearts of his elect to receive the gospel and to embrace Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. That’s what it means for the word to be glorified. When it is preached, believed and acted upon, it is honored and glorified.
May we be diligent in praying that the word of the Lord will have free course, may run swiftly, without interference. Let us pray that the word will be glorified as multitudes around the world turn to Jesus Christ, recognizing him as the only Savior of sinners.
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