Monday, March 24, 2014

Interceding for Others' Needs

“Brothers, pray for us,” said Paul to the Thessalonian believers. We might assume that we can easily understand Paul's sentiments here. After all, who doesn't ask others for prayers? It would benefit us, however, to dig a little deeper into the life of the Thessalonian church, and the apostle's ministry to them.

A Loving Church

One of the notable characteristics of the believers at Thessalonica was their love for one another. It was one of the things that Timothy reported to Paul upon returning from his visit to Thessalonica (3:6). Paul knew their character from the short time he spent with them (which we can read about in the seventeenth chapter of Acts) and having Timothy's report as confirmation he then wrote, “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” (4:9). This was certainly a high commendation from such a godly leader of the church!
They also had a special relationship with Paul, since he had been God's instrument in founding the church. They always remembered Paul and longed to see him again (3:6). When Paul asked them to pray for him and his companions (“us”), therefore, he knew that he was appealing to a people who were loving in general, and particularly concerned for him. May we be so towards our own pastors and leaders!

An Engaged Church

Where the Holy Spirit moves in power, love abounds not only for brethren, but also for the lost. This was demonstrated in the life of the Thessalonian church, since Paul wrote of them, “[N]ot only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you... but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1:8). The phrase “we need not say anything” – which Paul repeated in a slightly different way in 4:9 and 5:1 – should not be taken in an absolute sense, because then Paul would be saying that the Thessalonians were already perfect and doing perfect work! Nevertheless, it shows just how much the Thessalonians desired for God to be worshiped among the nations.
While the Thessalonian believers' love for one another strengthened themselves, their love for the gospel and the lost strengthened others. Thus, Paul commended them for being “an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1:7).

By the grace of God, the Thessalonians were a big-hearted bunch. Their love, like that of their Lord's, was broad in scope and deep in depth. Moreover, it was no idle sentiment but a gritty, sweaty, bleeding, agonizing commitment (1:3, Gk. kopos) to God's work of saving souls. (This is the kind of love indicated in 1:3, by the use of the Greek word kopos, which connotes beating, wailing and lamentation.) If this is how the Thessalonian church was, it is no wonder that Paul coveted their intercession for his missionary team! Certainly, this is the kind of encouragement we want to provide for one another.

Paul's desire for the Thessalonians' prayers was born out of the need for God's strength, guidance, and power for effective ministry. But while this seems to be Paul's primary motive, I believe he had a secondary motive. He wanted the Thessalonians to pray for their own benefit. I think this is implied in Paul's description of his ministry to them in chapter two.

An Affectionate Mother

In 2:6-8, Paul compared his love for the Thessalonians to that of a mother for her children, saying, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves”. It is one thing to give something we possess, and it is something else to give our own selves. This indicates Paul's almost total commitment to their good.

Is it therefore too far a stretch of the imagination to see in Paul's request for prayer a selfless desire to nurture the faith and love of his spiritual children? Just like the Lord Jesus taught the disciples to pray because He wanted them to grow spiritually (certainly not because He needed their prayers!), the apostle urged the Thessalonians to pray for his team because he knew it would further nurture their selfless love and zeal for the gospel.
Brethren, are we moved by the same selflessness when we ask others to intercede for us?

A Challenging Father

Paul also described himself as a strong and disciplined father who led his children in the path of holiness. He said in verses 11 and 12 of chapter two, “For you know how like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

This was not a condescending paternalism, since Paul realized that ultimately God was Father and the One who calls each believer to salvation (including Paul). Rather, Paul's “fatherhood” was a stewardship that he gladly accepted from the Lord and was determined to carry out until either his death or the Lord's return (cf. 1Co 4:1).

Like a good father, Paul rejoiced in the Thessalonians' growth, but wanted to stretch them further. He could not be satisfied until the Lord's work was complete in them (cf. Col 1:28), just as he continued to strive for his own growth in holiness (cf. Php 3:12-14). And so, he urged them, “that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (4:1).

One of the practical ways to stretch them was to have them pray. How so? Praying for another requires knowledge of his/her needs. In order to do this, one must get to know the other, to stay connected, to maintain concern. Doing it takes effort. Trying to do it “unceasingly” (5:17) will stretch anyone's capacity for disciplined love. This, I believe, is exactly what Paul had in mind.


Praying for others is a labor of love. We should do it because we want God to bless them and their ministries. We ask others to do it on our behalf not only so that we would be blessed, but that they would grow as well. And ultimately, we should do it all for the glory of God.

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