Copyright 2009 (c)
American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
2 Thessalonians 1:1-2. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
You are driving on the interstate with your cruise-control set at 64 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour speed limit zone while people are continually passing you in the lanes to the left. You look back in your rear view mirror and see a State Trooper directly behind you. What comes into your mind at this time? How do you react?
Most adults, even those not breaking the law, become nervous in this situation. How should law-abiding adults respond at the sight of a trooper?
I once had a question to ask of the State Police, and coincidentally two were parked in a lot outside a restaurant that my wife, Ann, and I were leaving. So, I walked up to the police cruiser, signed to roll the window down, and proceeded to ask my question. Ann was thinking, "What are you doing!" Often we think of the police in terms of their authority, and fear them on that basis alone. Police officers choose this career so that they can serve and protect the community. When we find ourselves in the proximity of an officer of the law, we should feel safe and protected, not threatened.
1. AN ENDURING FAITH (1:2-4)
Many respond to Jesus' return in judgment with fear. I am reminded of a song published by the group, “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” named “And When I Die.” After almost 40 years I still remember the line, “I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell.” That chorus served to remind me of the fear that people live with concerning their eternal state, a fear that many suppress with weak arguments and rationalizations that serve to put such thoughts on the back burner of their mind. People have doubts about the veracity of their anti-faith beliefs. Even Christians who are not well-grounded in their faith experience similar doubts. Was their decision real? Is salvation really salvation, or can I lose it because of my continuing sin?
The Thessalonian Christians were responding to the expectation of the coming of Christ in a similar manner. We may recall from a previous study of 1 Thessalonians that Paul and Silas had started the church fellowship in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey, traveling about 1200 land miles to Thessalonica and about 900 ocean miles back. He had heard good reports of the church growth, and sent Timothy back to check it out. Upon Timothy's return, Paul wrote the first epistle. This epistle was written to address a misunderstanding among the Thessalonians regarding the coming of Christ for His own and the events surrounding the Day of the Lord. Because these believers were being persecuted severely, they erroneously concluded that the Day of the Lord had already arrived (2:2). Paul writes to correct this misconception and encourage them concerning their security in the faith.
The letter opens similar to all of his writings. He mentions himself as the author and in league with Silas and Timothy, whom they know well.
2 Thessalonians 1:3. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
Paul compliments the church after his greeting by expressing thanks for them. The word for “bound” is not so much referring to as an obligation, as it is to an irresistible desire. Paul treats the churches that he started as though they are his own children, celebrating their birth and nurture just as a parent would celebrate the birth and nurture of their own beloved children. Paul notes that he is motivated by the news that he hears concerning their faith that is growing. I have heard it said by some church leaders that there is no difference in Christian maturity between individuals: to say that one is not spiritually mature, or another is spiritually mature is inappropriate. I disagree with this philosophy and see it only as an excuse to cover up lack of Christian growth. Paul is thanking God for their continued growth in the faith, for their maturing in faith and love. Likewise there is an expectation that when one is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, one is sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as one grows from a babe in Christ at the point of faith to full Christian maturation. During this time of growth the individual is strengthened and guided by their relationship with God and His Word.
If Paul were to see us today, would he thank God for our growth? Or, are we stagnant? What can we do to ensure that our faith is continuing to grow?
Paul also notes that the love that the Thessalonians have for one another is continually growing. The word for love that Paul uses here is the word, agape, that refers to that unconditional love that comes only from God through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is easy for us to share phileo love, that love that we choose to give to those whom we choose to give it. Phileo is conditional and worldly. Consequently, it is instructive to know that Paul is speaking of agape love. What can we do to ensure that our love for each other continues to grow?
2 Thessalonians 1:4. So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
Paul further encourages the Thessalonians by stating that he has shared news of their growth in faith and perseverance with other churches. The word for perseverance, hupomone, hoop-o-mon-ay'; refers to a hopeful or cheerful endurance, demonstrating consistent patience, as one waits for a coming reward. This implies that there is some stressor against which they are demonstrating this endurance. The stressors they faced came from every direction. They found conflict outside the church in the Jews who saw them as a threat, the Gentiles who saw them as unenlightened and ignorant, and the Romans who saw them as traitors against Rome. They did not find too many supporters outside the church walls. They also found conflict inside the church when the gospel was under attack by false doctrine and self-centered leadership. We might state with some degree of speculation that they found the bulk of their persecution coming from outside of the church fellowship and the bulk of their tribulations coming from within the body of believers.
How much of these persecutions and tribulations do we experience today? There are places in the world today where persecution against the fellowship of Christians is real and significant. However, the church no longer stands out in great contrast to the culture, quietly accepting or tolerant of the sinful nature of society rather than speaking loudly against it. The church has even accepted sinful behaviors as normative, supporting such controversial acts as abortion as birth control and homosexuality as a righteous lifestyle.
By failing to stand out, the church is becoming more and more immune to persecution as it becomes more and more like this world, exchanging obedience to the kingdom of God for a world where satan is its prince.
Rather than succumb to its pagan culture, the Thessalonian church is faithfully maintaining its stand, and by doing so, has been enduring persecution
2. A JUST JUDGMENT (1:5-10).
2 Thessalonians 1:5. Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
We may tend, when experiencing persecution for our faith, to turn inward and focus on the pain and frustration we are feeling, placing blame on others for our state, and questioning the value of our stand against sin. Certainly the Thessalonians may have done the same. Paul encourages us by looking outward. The very fact we are being persecuted stands as a very positive testimony for us, a clear indicator that, though we may be bowed to the stresses of persecution, we will stand tall in God's judgment. God will count us worthy of the Kingdom of God, because it is for the kingdom of God we suffer, and not for ourselves.
The Revelation of John describes an illustration of the throne of God, with Jesus Christ located at the “right hand” of God. He also describes the community of the faithful dressed in white robes surrounding it. Further inspection of John’s illustration reveals that those who received persecution are those who are closest to the throne. This indicates that there is a tangible reward for those who remained faithful when doing so brought persecution and tribulation.
Revelation 6:9 describes those who died for their faith as literally under, or at the foot of, the throne. Clearly, God esteems most those who separate themselves from the world and are willing to endure the rejection of it in the process. What is going to happen to those who persecute us? Is it our place to seek retribution or vindication? Paul answers these questions in the next verses.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-7. Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
Here Paul describes the judgment and the effect of that judgment on the lost and the saved. Though it may not take place until the final judgment, a final judgment is sure. God will provide a recompense of tribulation upon those who were the persecutors, no so much because of their acts of persecution, but because of their rejection of God, a rejection that led to the acts of persecution. The battle is not between us and the persecutors, but rather between the persecutors and God. When one is treated wrongfully for their faith, it is God who is being insulted.
Consequently, God is promising vindication for those who wonder if this is worth it all. The wicked rich seem to prosper and the persecutors seem to continue without any hint of punishment. However, there is no payback that we can muster that will compare with what God has planned. His promise is that, not only will the wicked be judged firmly for their wickedness, the faithful will find rest.
Furthermore, Paul reminds us that we do not need to be looking for the acts of vindication now. Though it is quite possible that the wicked will suffer worldly consequences of their own sinful choices, their judgment is in the hands of God, and the final judgment will take place when Jesus returns. This should serve as an encouragement to the Thessalonians who are experiencing stress, and redirect any of those who are seeking retribution or payback. Any acts of retribution that we take against the persecutors serves only our own pride, and fails to demonstrate the love of enemies that true agape produces. God leaves us free to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us while He is perfectly capable of fully defending Himself against the folly of sinners.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
The eternal punishment that God promises to the persecutors is that same as that for satan and his demons, described as an eternity of “flaming fire.” One might think that Paul had an opportunity to read the 20th chapter of the Revelation of John prior to his indictment against the wicked. Paul
Has the suffering of the Thessalonians had a part in earning their salvation? Salvation is by faith alone. Suffering comes as a consequence of uncompromised obedience while living in a wicked world. Nothing, including suffering can earn or accomplish salvation. It is when we suffer under the hands of the lost that God counts that suffering of eternal value.
Not all suffering produces eternal value. Powerless suffering is found when we experience the consequences of our own sin or the sins of others that impact us in ways other than the gospel. Sin produces suffering, regardless of its source, and its power touches all within its reach.
Some people ask, "Why do Christians suffer?" Should our faith exempt us from suffering? When we observe the experience of the early church, we find no justification for any doctrine that faith exempts one from suffering. Christ suffered first on the cross for sin, taking on the punishment for it. Then the apostles suffered at the hands of this evil world for their uncompromised faith. The faithful in the church found persecution and tribulation. Of course, we know of much of the sufferings of Paul as he traveled as an itinerant evangelist.
In light of all of the evidence, it is a truth that suffering for the faith is a part of God’s great plan, a part that should not be avoided by compromise. There are only two ways for a Christian to avoid suffering: (1) to live like the world, or (2) to leave it. If this is true, and we understand this, we find agreement and encouragement in the writing of James:
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing..
When encountering persecution, James suggests that we respond with joy, understanding God’s purpose for it, the reward for it, and the vindication that He will provide at the final judgment. James also states that the suffering must complete its work in us. That is, we should not avoid it, or try alleviate it so that the work that God is doing through it can be completed.
3. A WORTHY CALLING (1:11-12).
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: 12That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he would constantly pray a multiple of benefits for them. First, he will pray they would be worthy of His calling. We are found worthy when we develop a love relationship with God. This should follow with living a life that is sensitive and obedient to the Spirit, resulting in a distinct separation from the world, a distinction that may bring persecution.
Paul also prayed that God would be able to fulfill His good purposes in them through every act prompted by their faith. Since the call of Christians today is identical to the call on first-century Christians, God has a purpose for every one of us. Each one of us has been called by God and gifted by Him to enable us to act in faith.
An interesting study is to look within yourself and see if you can determine your gifts and how God can use them for His kingdom work. Without making a big deal, or analytical study out of the subject, there is an easy way to see what God wants you to do. Simply answer one simple question, “What do you enjoy doing?” Do it for Him. Dedicate your gifts to Him and use them for that purpose. What is your strength? Exercise that strength for Him.
Biblical principles of spiritual growth teach us as Christians to persevere in the midst of difficulties. We can, and will, hold fast because we are constantly growing in the faith. We also can trust God in the midst of suffering because we know He is good and will act to deliver us. While God even uses suffering to accomplish His will in our world, in due season He will relieve us from every difficulty. Further, our trust in God in the midst of difficulties is in conjunction with the knowledge that God's judgment is coming. God's judgment is like two sides of the same coin. For believers His justice is an act of love; for unbelievers His judgment is an act of justice.
We as Christians can pray with confidence for God to give us the strength we need in the midst of our difficulties. We can pray for ourselves and others with assurance that Jesus, in whose image we are being conformed, will empower and sustain us through all persecution.Consider the following imperative: "Live life like Jesus died yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow." That's the way the early church saw Jesus. It's a good lesson for us.