2 Thessalonians 1
As we work with God today in His mission of bringing His saving gospel to people in His world He gives us opportunities in which we may also face opposition as Paul did in Thessalonike.
In our introduction to 1 Thessalonians we noticed that, like Paul, our first-century brothers and sisters in Thessalonike also had opportunities and opposition as they learned to to walk to please God (https://gospelherald.org/how-to-walk-and-to-please-god/).
The opposition they faced caused some Thessalonians to give up on their opportunities, stop working, pack up and wait for the Lord’s immanent return (which some were told had already happened).
From God’s perspective, Jesus’ return and the intimidation of opposition are not reasons to stop working but inspirations to keep on working with God in His saving mission. Our God is always working. Work is a fundamental dimension of His nature. He made us in His image to serve through the work we all do together with Him by faith.
The opening verses of 2 Thessalonians give us evidence the Thessalonians had made progress in the work of faith and love in the midst of their persecutions and afflictions:
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is only fitting, because your faith is increasing abundantly, and the love of each and every one of you toward one another grows ever greater. 4 As a result, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
The Thessalonians were eye witnesses of the opposition Paul experienced. Some who obeyed the gospel crossed the line from opposition to faith. When we look at the gospel work of Jesus, Paul, Peter and others, we notice they generally received three responses: 1. obedient acceptance, 2. rejection and 3. further study and examination, “We shall hear from you again concerning this” (Acts 17:32). We experience the same today. The important lesson we take away from Paul, and his admonitions to the Thessalonians, is: don’t give up, keep going, keep working.
In the centre of chapter 1, God addresses the big picture question of what will happen to their opponents who are afflicting them with suffering:
5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed are suffering. 6 For after all it is only right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us, when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified among His holy ones on that day, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed—because our testimony to you was believed.
God is just. For now, until Jesus return, He extends His offer of amazing grace to everyone through the gospel the Thessalonians live by and proclaim. But there must be a positive obedient response to the gospel of our Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to be forgiven and enter the kingdom of God’s glory. Until the day of Jesus’ return, the Thessalonians needed to keep working. So do we.
In these powerful apocalyptic verses Paul affirms the same encouraging truth God communicates through John in Revelation. God will vindicate His holy ones who suffer for Him and His gospel. None of their labours are in vain. God’s knows all their works and ours. He will use them and reward them.
So Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to carry on in spite of opposition focusing on the vision of Jesus’ return and God’s glory as inspirations:
11 To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will consider you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, in accordance with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s prayer articulates what, rather Who, will empower the Thessalonians and us to keep on. God is the One infinitely able to fulfill our desire for goodness and give us power for the work of faith. It is God’s work. He equips us to engage with Him to accomplish the work of faith with His power.