Read 2 Thessalonians 1 with your family
For the next few weeks, we will be going through 2 Thessalonians. In today’s post, we will be looking at 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.
Faith and Love
Like many of his other letters, Paul begins 2 Thessalonians by offering thanksgivings to God: “We ought to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (v.3).
A couple things are noteworthy about what Paul says. First, we see that growing in faith and love go together. Do you ever wonder if you are growing in your trust in God? Then see whether you are growing in your love for others. It’s been said that faith doesn’t just stay in your head, it also comes out through your “fingertips.”
Second, Paul emphasizes that each member of the church is growing in their love for others in the church (v.3). Love is acted out on particular people. It isn’t vague or generic. To say that one loves “people” or “humanity” in general is easy. To actually love your flesh-and-blood neighbor – that sibling who always gets on your nerves, that classmate who likes all the things you dislike, that church member who seems to have nothing in common with you – that is difficult.
Thus, one sign that we are growing in our faith is that our love for particular people is increasing, especially our love for the people within our own churches. Do you love that person who is awkward or difficult? Or, perhaps you are the one putting unreasonable demands on others; are you willing to humble yourself and put the interests of others before your own (Phil. 2:4)?
The Justice of God
The Thessalonians Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen (see 1 Thess. 2:14). You could imagine them asking, “If God is just, then why are we suffering at the hands of evil men?” In verse 5-10, Paul reassures the Thessalonians that God is just. Rather than being evidence of God’s injustice, their suffering will be the occasion for God to demonstrate his justice. In the last day, God will repay those who afflict the Thessalonians, while giving the Thessalonians relief. Thus, God’s righteousness is demonstrated when he vindicates those who trust him while punishing those who afflict his people.
This is one of the places in Scripture where the doctrine of eternal judgment is clearly taught. Those who persist in their rejection of the Good News of Jesus will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (v.9).
In our day, the idea of eternal punishment for evildoers may seem unfashionable. How could a loving God really punish people? But it is not God’s sense of justice that is out of proportion. Instead, it is the sinner who is out of proportion. Our sense of right and wrong, good and evil, has been distorted by our sinful rejection of God. In Romans 1:18, Paul says that God has clearly revealed himself in creation, but men, in their unrighteousness, suppress the truth about God. This is willful ignorance, a refusal to acknowledge God as God. It is like saying to God as to an enemy, “Who are you? You’re nothing to me.” When we reject the knowledge of God and refuse to receive the Gospel of Jesus (v.8), that is what we are saying.
This is one of the things that makes Hell so terrifying. Hell is where God eternally gives the sinner exactly what they’ve been asking for. The sinner spends his whole life walking away from God, calling evil good and good evil, making things crooked. The slide towards destruction may be steep, but, more often, it is a gradual slope – disobeying parents while young, indulging lusts here and there, holding small grudges, secretly building up pride and self-righteousness.
All of this is saying “No” to God. Hell is where all those little “No’s” become an eternal “No.” Having spent his whole life running away from God, the unrepentant sinner is eternally excluded from God’s presence – excluded from his glory, his joy, his light, his life. If we didn’t want God in this life, why would we want to be where he is for eternity?
In this sense, we see that those who were persecuting the Thessalonian Christians were really rejecting God himself. What do your actions (what you do) say about your desires (what you want)? Are you becoming a person who says “Yes” to God, or a person who says “Yes” to Self?
Glorying in Christ
This doctrine of eternal judgment should not cause us to gloat over unbelievers or have a vengeful attitude towards those who wrong us. We should want everyone to repent and be saved through Christ.
Consider that Paul himself was once one of the great persecutors of the Church. He put men and women in prison for their faith in Jesus (Acts 8:3). He used to breathe “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). What the persecutors were doing to the Thessalonians, Paul once did to the churches in Jerusalem and Judea.
So, as Paul writes these words about God’s justice, he is not writing as the self-righteous Pharisee he used to be. Paul knows that he once stood under the very same judgment of God that he is writing about. He knows how his sin – his hatred and enmity towards Jesus – was pushing him towards the eternal destruction of Hell. And he realizes that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that he has been redeemed.
May that be our realization as well. Our sins may not be Paul’s sins, but we’ve been saved from the very same sentence of condemnation. And like Paul, we were not saved by our own doing; it is all gift, all the grace of God. Jesus died for us, so that in him, our old sinful selves would be put to death and be raised again.
We haven’t only been saved from something; we’ve also been saved for something. Look again at verse 11. The NIV puts it this way: “…we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” God is transforming our desires into desires for good things. He is making us a people whose actions flow from our trust in him. In other words, by God’s grace, we are becoming a people who say “Yes” to him in all things.
This is what it means to glory in Christ. We no longer live for our own glory, but for his. Instead of saying “Yes” to self, we say “Yes” to God through Christ. Now, Paul says that when this happens, Jesus is “glorified in you, and you in him” (v.12). As we live for the glory of Jesus, we are also glorified in him. We get to share in his glory. This is where we find true glory – in knowing Jesus and making him known.