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TEXT: II Thessalonians 1:1-12
SUBJECT: Thessalonians #11: Greeting, Thanks, Boast, Prayer
I feel sorry for young Christians. They love the Bible and they want to know what's in it, but they don't know where to start-and nobody tells them. They start with Genesis-and that's exciting, but it's not long till they get to Levitcus! They start with Matthew, but its first chapters is mostly a long list of names. They start with Romans, but they're not half way through it before they're lost. And then there's the poor people who start with Revelation!
If you feel intimidated by the Bible, let me give you some good advice: start with Thessalonians! Very few parts of the Bible are shorter and easier to read than I and II Thessalonians. The reason they're so easy to get into is because they're personal letters! Like the letters you read (and write), they are informal and loosely reasoned. Paul doesn't develop any major theme in the letters, but he chats about this, that, and the other.
Small talk is often a waste of time--but not always. And never when it's in the Bible. The off-hand comments in the Bible are as much God's Word as the most soaring doctrines. We need to remember that when we're reading the Bible. This is holy ground; this is God's Word.
THE BACKGROUNDScholars say II Thessalonians was written just a few weeks after the first letter. This puts it in the early `50's AD. Thessalonica was a port city in Macedonia, not far from Greece. Paul himself founded the church in the customary way: by preaching first in the synagogue and winning a few converts there. When the rabbis turned him out, he went to the Gentiles and they too turned to the Lord. His time in this town was short and very fruitful. I don't think any church made Paul happier than this one.
The first chapter is like the church it was sent to-short and very fruitful! Only twelve verses in all, but what verses they are-bursting with love and wisdom!
Let's get to them, and may God open our hearts to His Word!
THE GREETING, VV.1-2First we have the greeting, vv.1-2,
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The authors are Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and the others are partners in ministry. (Silvanus is the Roman version of Silas).
The readers are the church in Thessalonica, who are also in God and Christ. This is a major doctrine of the Bible, but Paul doesn't work it out here. He assumes they-and we-know what it is. But do we? Most people don't-and some of them are Christians!
What is the church? Is it a building? A group of nice people? A bunch of hypocrites? No it isn't. A church is people in fellowship with God and Christ! With all our faults, we share the life of God! With all our sins, we're still the Body of Christ!
This means, it is a high privilege to have a place in the church-even a church as unimpressive as this one. It also means we need to be careful about despising the church and tearing it down with our words and attitudes. To hate the church is to hate God and Christ.
Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to Me.
Paul and his friends wish the church grace and peace. 'Grace' is God's favor and 'peace' is the power to enjoy it. The twin blessings come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This form of greeting is so common in the Bible that we're likely to miss its theology and power. Paul was a devout Jew, and if he knew anything at all, he knew there was One God only and that He would not share His glory. Yet, he sees no contradiction between this lifelong belief and wishing his friends every blessing from both God and Christ.
Note the word and. He doesn't say, 'Grace and peace to you from God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ'. There's nothing wrong with saying this, but what Paul says is better.
You could say 'God gave victory to Israel through David'. In this way, you would recognize David's wisdom or courage, while giving all the glory for it to God. But Paul doesn't say that. He sees 'Grace and peace' coming to us from both God and Christ. As though God and Christ are equal. Which they are.
Look what devotion to Christ does for a man! It fills even his hellos with theology and worship. There's a phony way to lace every conversation with Bible words, but there's also an authentic way to do it. If you want the Gospel oozing out of you, do what David did, and meditate on [God's Law] day and night.
THE THANKSGIVING, V.3
After greeting his friends and wishing them the best, Paul tells them how thankful he is for them,
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other.
Paul often thanks the Lord for his friends, for their love, their faith, the concern for him, and so on. But this is the only place he feels bound to thank God. He sees it as an obligation, a debt he owes them. If he doesn't thank the Lord for them, he'll be sinning against God and against them too!
Do we feel this way? Do we thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we feel duty bound to do it? Do we feel guilty when we don't? We ought to.
What is he thankful for? For their faith and love, both of which are growing fast. Their love-in particular-stands out because every one of them is overflowing with it! Not one or two people in the church, but the whole church is abounding in love for each other.
This means there are no cliques in the church. Is it wrong to like some people better than others? No. Is it sinful to spend more time with some than others? Not at all. But when our love for some makes us despise or ignore the rest, something is seriously wrong. In I Corinthians, Paul says it is childish to act this way, and to do it is to walk as mere men-that is, like other men, unsaved men!
Not every personality meshes with every other. But this is not about liking others, it's about loving them. And love is still that attitude that makes you patient, kind, humble, courteous, forgiving, and unselfish.
Is your love abounding? Is it abounding for all? Is it abounding in such a way that a man hundreds of miles away would sit up and take notice? That's what the Thessalonians had. No wonder Paul felt bound to thank God for them.
THE BOAST, V.4
Paul cannot say enough about these dear brethren. Some of it, he says to God. But not all of it, v.4:
So that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God.
If you had good parents, you were taught to not boast, brag, or talk about yourself too much. Some of us need to re-learn this lesson. It's both boring and sinful to crow about yourself. If you don't think so, listen to someone else do it!
But boasting about other people is not wrong. In fact, it's a good thing to do. Paul was a well-traveled man, and every church he went to, he bragged on the Thessalonians.
Why did he do this? Because they deserved it. What made Paul so proud of them? Two things:
Your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.
The Thessalonians were not perfect, but they were patient under pressure and kept their faith when it would have been far easier to let go of it.
What was going on? They were being persecuted. What's hinted at in I Thessalonians is underlined here. The enemies of Christ are heating things up for the church. They've gone past laughing at the church to attacking it. People were going to jail, being whipped and exiled, and it before long, they'd be sent to the stake, to the lions, to the gladiators.
As the persecution rose, so did they patience and faith! They were suffering more and better; instead of shaking their faith, the enemies were fortifying it. Paul knew what it was to suffer for Christ's sake. And he respected the ones who were willing to do it.
Wherever he went, he pointed to their example. He felt proud to know such people.
THE MEANING, VV.5-11
What does standing up to persecution mean? The surface meaning is obvious: it means you're brave and patient, that your faith is strong and your hope is sure. Paul knows all this, of course.
But he sees a deeper meaning in their grace under fire. This, he says,
Is a manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are in trouble rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His aints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.
What does their faith and patience prove to Paul? That God is a righteous Judge.
Huh? How does one follow from the other? Well, think about it: What would you expect a Righteous Judge to do? You'd expect Him to rule in favor of the innocent and rule against the guilty.
This is just what the Lord is doing.
Not everyone suffers patiently. Many become bitter, feel sorry for themselves and even speak evil of God because of it. Not everyone suffers with faith. They say they believe in Christ, but as soon as it become to keep their faith, they drop it like a hot potato.
The Thessalonians, however, are suffering with faith and patience. And this means God approves of them, and is making his approval to known to all. In a word, He's ruling in their favor; He's telling the world, these people belong to Me and they're worthy of My Kingdom.
For now, that's the only judgment they're getting, but some day, they'll get all that coming to them-they'll receive rest (v.7), and they'll share in the Divine Glory (v.10). In short, If we suffer with Him, we will reign with Him. This light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working in us an eternal weight of glory.
That's the judgment they're hoping for, and the one they will get.
But this is only half the story. A Righteous Judge not only rules for the innocent, He also rules against the guilty. God is doing this too.
At the moment, He is punishing the wicked.by letting them sin. We often think that sin and punishment are two different things. In fact, sin is a punishment! Read Romans 1 and you'll find that the unnatural vices of the wicked are not bringing down the punishments of God, but are the punishments of God!
But this is not their final judgment. Some day, He will take final vengeance on them. The wicked will get what they deserve-
Destruction from the Presence of the Lord.
This will occur at the Second Coming of Christ.
THE PRAYER, VV.11-12
The chapter closes with a prayer,
Therefore, 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, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you were suffering persecution for Christ's sake, you would pray-you'd pray hard and long and with many tears and groans. But what would you pray for?
I'd pray for relief. But that isn't what Paul prayed for. He prayed they would live up to their high calling to suffer for Christ's sake. If they did that, Jesus Christ would be glorified in them, and they would start looking like Him, to some degree.
That's what Paul prayed for. Not relief, not escape, not a rapture, but the faith and patience to suffer as a Christian.
Suffering for Christ is not a bad thing. The Lord commands us to rejoice if we're lucky enough to do that. The Apostles did. After being flogged and threatened by the Jewish Council, what did they do? They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for His Name's sake.
If you read Foxe's Book of Martyrs, you'll find Christians singing in the fire, thanking God that they could die this way and publicly own Jesus Christ!
I've talked to people who suffered for Christ's sake. And not one of them resents it. It was painful and humiliating; they're not courting it, but they didn't see it as a bad thing. They saw it as a high calling, a privilege to follow their Lord.
Should we seek persecution? No, that's folly and pride. But neither should we flee it by a guilty silence and pretending that we are not what we are. We should accept it, and when we do, we'll find the patience and faith to endure it. And then we'll find glory.
When the Lord comes again, nobody will be proud of skirting persecution, and nobody will be ashamed of accepting it. God calls us to live in that Light.
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.
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