Maintaining An Attitude of Thankfulness and Prayer
[2nd Thessalonians chapter 1]
Today we will begin our study of 2nd Thessalonians in our ongoing study of the writings of the apostle Paul. Since chapter one is fairly short by Paul’s standards, we will be able to cover this quickly and with relative ease before moving on to chapters 2 and 3, where Paul gets into some heavy prophecy regarding the end times in which we are currently living. So with that in mind, let’s begin today’s study starting at verse 1.
“Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be found worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to those who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed with blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord, and from the majesty of his power, on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at by all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1, verses 1-12, NIV)
“We ought always to thank God for you, … because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” OK, let’s use the Thessalonian church as a measuring tape for our own faith and love. Is your faith growing most, if not all, of the time? You know, like going to the gym or going jogging, you keep at it and get a little better and stronger each day. Another example is from my own life when I was recovering from a stroke back in 2006. That stroke hit me like a ton of bricks, catching me and all my friends and business associates completely by surprise. But it was the 2 weeks of intensive physical therapy for me in 2 different hospitals that got me on the road to recovery. Had I not done so I’m certain I would be permanently disabled by now, or maybe worse. So, since we exercise our bodies to build them up, or our minds to stay mentally sharp, the same goes for our faith in the salvation of Christ. Or, how about our love for one another, do we exercise that? Do we make our hearts and minds open to compassion and empathy? Do we show love to everyone equally and unconditionally? Although I have no doubt that Paul was referring to the ministry of Jesus Christ, he was very likely thinking about his first letter to the Corinthian church that we studied a few months back, specifically to 1st Corinthians 13, the “love chapter” that was written so eloquently by the apostle Paul. You may want to go back and re-read that to gain some additional perspective about this.
“Among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring… and as a result you will be found worthy of the Kingdom of God… “. This is a clear reference to the persecution of Christians in the first century AD. During this time the notorious Roman emperor Nero was in power, and his hatred of all things Christian knew no bounds. But those who were martyred will be found worthy of eternal life because they suffered and died at the hands of the Roman Empire, with the full complicity of the Hebrew religious establishment. The very same people who crucified Jesus were the ones who were actively participating in the slaughter of the early Church. That same murderous spirit is alive and well today, and he inhabits the halls of power all over the world like a predator looking for its next meal. Still in all, to me at least, I would gladly die for my faith since Christ died for me, knowing that it would catapult me to one of the higher places in heaven.
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to those who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed with blazing fire with his powerful angels.” Here is where the apostle Paul makes a transition in this 2nd letter to Thessalonica, going from writing of present-day persecution to warning about payback for those who persecute the church. It doesn’t matter how much punishment we endure for our faith, up to and including death itself. God will cut short the lifetimes of those who have cut short the lifetimes of those who believe most fervently, and those who persecute the church will themselves be made miserable by spending the rest of their lives in danger, fear, and wracked with remorse. Revenge is not the business of mankind, that is God’s domain and we should let him handle it, knowing that he will address our grievances and right our wrongs, and without any help from ourselves (as if he needed it). The final act of vengeance for Christ and his church will be the overpowering return of Jesus at his second coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed with blazing fire”. This is a clear reference to what we now call the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the prophesies of Daniel and Zechariah in the Old Testament, as well as prophetic declarations of the Book of Revelation which had not yet been written when Paul wrote this.
In the very next sentence, Paul prophecies again regarding those who refuse to believe in Jesus and walk away from their chance at knowing the Son of God personally, even intimately as I do, when he wrote, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” Those who choose to forget about God, or who scoff at the cross, will find themselves forgotten about and scoffed at for all eternity by Almighty God. Worse yet, the blood that Jesus shed at the cross for all of us will be – and is – made null and void in their case by their refusal to believe in Jesus, and who back away from a personal relationship with Christ out of pride or vanity, mistakenly thinking that there is no power beyond or higher than themselves. They will be left out in the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” Indeed – may God count all of us who believe worthy of his calling, and he surely will. Even if you don’t think you’re strong enough or lack the resources for whatever reason to fulfill “every act prompted by your faith”, God can enable you to succeed, for “God is able to make you stand”, as the apostle Paul wrote elsewhere. That’s the whole point of believing in Jesus, that none of us can do this on our own, and that God’s help is essential. But more than that, by making Jesus the Lord of our lives and the ruler and measurement of our faith, we voluntarily step aside and let Jesus assume the controls of our lives as he inhabits our hearts. That, after all, is where real church takes place. Although brick-and-mortar houses of worship are an integral part of Christianity and should not be overlooked, the biggest changes we can make will always be within us because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God’s purposes are fulfilled best when left up to Jesus Christ and his consummate leadership. “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in Him.” Just as Paul prayed over the church 2,000 years ago, so it is with myself and all those who read this today. May our dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, be glorified in you and you in him so that we may become mirrors for our faith as we reflect Christ to others in our daily living. Until next time, keep that tucked away inside your heart as your ultimate Spiritual defensive weapon to use against Satan and his demons. God always protects us, and he never fails.