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It does not take long as we enter Paul's second letter to the Thessalonian Christians that we are challenged. This letter can challenge, in some ways, what we understand about following Jesus. In Chapter 2, we may be challenged in our understanding of the end times and who the man of "lawlessness" is. In our text today (2 Thess. 1:5-12), we are challenged through the words of the apostle Paul to consider our understanding of justice as it relates to following Christ. This letter, although short, provides many challenges for us today.
However, as we wade through this text, I want to remind us of Paul's purpose for writing this short letter. Paul's purpose, at least in part, is to comfort and reassure this young church amid their trials. As we experience the challenges of this letter, keep in mind Paul's purpose; he is writing to comfort and reassure them in their faith.
As we mentioned last week, this letter can be outlined in three main movements:
Each of these movements is marked by a prayer that comes at the end of the movement:
As we consider our text, I would like to start with Paul's Prayer at the end of this movement. His prayer can help us see the point Paul drives in this movement.
Paul's prayer for the church is that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is glorified in them.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 (NIV)
“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. 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's desire is for them to be "worthy" of the calling of Christ. He desires the church to strive for goodness prompted by faith in Christ. Paul desires this so that our Lord Jesus may be honored and held in the highest of praise through the church.
What you are experiencing, what you are suffering, the trials you are facing, Paul's prayer is that Christ is glorified through us, and we walk worthy of His calling. This is a high calling and challenge from a man who knew what glorifying Christ through suffering and trials meant.
God Is Just
Backing up for a moment, let's unpack Paul's desire for Christ to be glorified in the context of what the Thessalonian Christians were experiencing.
2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 (NIV)
“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. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 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. 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 glory of his might 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.”
Notice that the church is suffering because they have committed to following Christ. Some of their neighbors are troubling them because they are following the teachings of Jesus. Paul instructs them, even in the abuse and persecution they are suffering, to follow in the way of Christ. This is a high calling.
Paul is not encouraging violence, revenge, or retribution. Quite the opposite, he is encouraging them to walk in the manner of Christ and to follow the instruction of Jesus.
Today, in our culture, it's easy to get incited to emotional anger or even outbursts. We have so much division politically and socially that we cannot discuss things openly as a society. Before we can seek to understand others, battle lines are drawn, and we are ready to defend our position at all costs. What would it mean for us to glorify Christ?
The words of Jesus transform lives. Within Matthew's gospel is a section of teaching we often refer to as The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). These teachings have challenged and changed lives for generations. From people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and countless others, who have been inspired, challenged, and deeply changed by the teaching of Jesus found in (Matt. 5-7). Contained within the words of Jesus is a different way of living, another way of understanding ourselves and the world we live in. It is, what I believe in part, of Jesus' understanding of God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 5:38–42 (NIV)
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
What would it mean in our lives to dwell on the words of Jesus?
In challenging the Thessalonian Christians, Paul instructs them to rely on the Lord's justice.
2 Thessalonians 1:6–7 (NIV)
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 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.”
We all have a desire for justice. When we see evil, abuse, and injustice, I think within each of us is a desire for things to be made right. Paul is teaching this young church to rely on the Lord's justice. Judgment and
justice will ultimately be in the Lord Jesus, and all things will be made right in Him. To follow Jesus is not allowing revenge, retribution, or, as in the words of the apostle Peter, repaying evil with evil (1 Peter 3:9), the opportunity to overtake us. Following Jesus is to ultimately rely on His justice and not take matters into our own hands.
2 Thessalonians 1:8–10 (NIV)
“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 glory of his might 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.”
Paul reminds the church that the persecution and injustice they are experiencing will not be forever. Jesus will return, and He will bring with Him justice. Even more, those who have rejected the gospel of Jesus will be shut out from the presence of the Lord. This seems to be, for Paul, the ultimate tragedy.
"Paul doesn't speculate on the fate of those who reject Jesus except to say that, throughout their lives, they had wanted nothing to do with Jesus, and in the end they get what they want—relational distance from their Creator and King. For Paul, this is the ultimate tragedy. To choose separation from Jesus, who is the source of all love and life, is to embrace one's own undoing."(1)
Crossing The Context
As we consider what I find to be a very challenging passage, how does this relate to us today? We come back to Paul's prayer:
"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 Thess. 1:12 (NIV)
Paul desires for the Lord to be glorified in our lives and that we walk worthy of the calling of Christ as we strive for goodness prompted by faith. Following the lifestyle of Jesus will be different than what we often see patterned in our world. The teaching of Jesus has the power to transform lives. His words will challenge us to envision a different way of living and understanding ourselves and our world.
Following Jesus means He will be glorified
1. BibleProject Guides, Book of 2 Thessalonians, https://bibleproject.com/guides/book-of-2-thessalonians
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).