Paul had preached the message that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior in the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17). While there he faced persecution, soon leaving for the nearby city Berea. He left a very small community of Christians behind. After traveling to Athens and then Corinth, he wrote a letter to this tiny church (the letter we have just studied most of the summer). He stayed in Corinth for about 18 months (Acts 18). It was shortly after sending the letter to Thessalonica that he received a disturbing report.
Apparently, in addition to his letter the church in Thessalonica received another “prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thess. 2:2). This caused Paul to fire off a second letter to the Thessalonian church. Only three chapters, it answers some confusion they had about the second coming of Jesus (2 Thess. 2) and takes on the issue of lazy people in the church (2 Thess. 3). But first it offers encouragement for them as they face persecution (chapter 1):
3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
11 With this in mind, 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. 12 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.
Paul thanks God that the Thessalonians are growing in faith and love as they go through persecution (1:3-4). This echoes the beginning of the first letter: “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:3). Likewise, the reality of persecution was also a theme of the first letter (1 Thess. 2:14-16; 3:2-4).
Growing in faith and love and enduring persecution demonstrates that the Thessalonian Christians will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God (1:5). This takes us back to the relation of faith and works. We are saved by grace, it is nothing we can do, it is a trust in the work Jesus has already done on the cross. Evidence of our salvation comes as the Holy Spirit works in us, producing good works (think fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5, or in the case of the Thessalonians here, enduring suffering).
Furthermore, God is just in his judgment on those who rebel against him (1:6-10). This is a difficult passage and I actually plan to write a separate post on it early next week. The basic point is that a day will come when Jesus is revealed, the curtain is drawn back and the presence of God floods creation. All those who yearn for that day will welcome it and glorify God; those who rebel against and hate God will be shut out from God’s presence.
Finally, Paul prays for them (1:11-12). As I read this passage and think about 2 Thessalonians as a whole, I keep coming back to one thing: it is so cool that Paul took the time to write an additional letter. This shows he was constantly praying for these people, that he loved and cared for them deeply as friends, brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was invested in their lives for the long haul (he may have visited him a couple more times on his travels in Acts 19:21; 20:1-6). My prayer is that we would be invested in each other’s lives in the same way, constantly praying and caring for people, not giving up on anyone and always willing to offer a kind word, a listening ear or help when needed.