article: 2 Thess. Intro
handout: 2 Thess. Intro
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In his second letter to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul encourages this young church to remain faithful. Paul established this church among trials and difficulties (see Acts 17:1-15).
"Not long after Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians, he got another report about the Christians in Thessalonica. The problems he had addressed in his first letter had not only continued but had gotten worse. The persecutions had intensified, and the Thessalonian Christians were confused and scared about the return of Jesus." (1)
Paul sent the letter of 2 Thessalonians to comfort the Thessalonian Christians, reassure them about Christ's return, and challenge those who had become idle. Like many of Paul's letters, 2 Thessalonians contains a clear literary structure and can be outlined into three major sections.
As we consider this letter and its application to our lives today, Paul begins with thanksgiving.
2 Thessalonians 1:1–4 (NIV)
"Paul, Silas, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Therefore, among God's churches, we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring."
Paul, Silas, and Timothy begin this letter with thanksgiving because of the faith of this young church. Their love for one another increases despite intensified persecution from their Greek and Roman neighbors. Their faith and love are growing. This increase is a model to other Christians, and Paul praises them for their example.
Like any mother or father, Paul takes joy in seeing this young church develop and grow in maturity. Their maturity and love are signs of development, maturity, and growth.
Faith, although it has many themes throughout the Bible, could be summarized as an active trust and belief demonstrated through obedience.
Looking back to the Old Testament, faithfulness was demonstrated through covenant obedience. Israel demonstrated their trust (or faith) in God when they followed the instructions of His words in the covenant.
Trust or faithfulness in the New Testament develops its meaning from the themes found in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). Faithfulness, trust, and reliability in the New Covenant are in Jesus. Faith is developed, or we grow in faithfulness as we follow the instructions of the New Covenant.
James 2:14–17 (NIV)
"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."
James is describing how faith is demonstrated in our lives. Faith is not just a mental ascent. Faith is trust in Jesus demonstrated in how we live our lives.
Even though the Thessalonian Christians are experiencing intense persecution, their faith is growing. Their trust and confidence are in Christ and the gospel they have received.
As their faith grows, their love for one another increases as well.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
"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.”
I don't mean to bore us with terms and definitions. However, to the best of our ability, it is important that we understand what the biblical authors are communicating.
In our modern context, love is typically associated with emotions and feelings. We tend to have a limited understanding of love. Paul is not simply saying their "feelings" for each other are increasing. However, that could be true as well.
Again, as we look back to the Old Testament, the word most often used in the Hebrew Scriptures is (חֶסֶד, chesed), which can mean Loyal Love. It describes an attitude of loyalty that is dependent on action.
God demonstrates His loyal love through covenantal promises. God is a God of loyal love even when people fail to uphold loyalty to His covenant. God restores, redeems, and keeps His loyalty even when people fail.
As we come to Paul's use of the word "love" in the New Testament, like the word faith, it is complex. Paul uses the word love in terms of self-sacrificing, patient, and kind (1 Cor. 13:4-7). He urges people to put the good of others ahead of themselves as he points to the example of Christ (Phil. 2:6-9). A community that loves one another is encouraging, self-giving, and one who builds each other up in the Lord.
Considering Paul's prayer and boast of the Thessalonian Christians, we see that they are devoted to the gospel of Christ as they follow and are loyal to Christ's words. They are a community of self-giving sacrifice as they demonstrate their love for one another through actions. Although they are a young church, their example is one for us today. Their faith and love should be emulated in our lives today.
Crossing The Context
Like every proud mother or father, Paul thanks God for the maturity and growth of the Thessalonian Christians. Despite suffering and persecution, they are becoming like Christ as their faith and love increase.
In today's world, it's easy to allow the pressure of our culture to shape us. It's easy for us to allow the attitudes and emotions of others to influence our thoughts and emotions.
Considering the faith and love expressed through the Thessalonian church, how could their example encourage us?
a. Despite the opinions and even the objections of others, we need to strive for faithfulness. Faithfulness is demonstrated as we trust in Jesus and His words. It's more than just a mental ascent; faith is confidence in Christ and His words. Trust is demonstrated through the actions of our lives.
b. Loyal love for Christ is to be shown in and through us. Our loyal love is demonstrated as we strive to honor Jesus and His words.
Before His departure, when Jesus was seeking to comfort His disciples, He gave them this instruction:
"If you love me, keep my commands" (Jn. 14:15)
Jesus teaches us what it means to keep loyal love. Loyal love is demonstrated as we follow His words. Loyal love is more than a confession or emotions; although it may include these, loyal love is demonstrated through action. As our actions align with His words, our faith is growing.
Paul begins his second letter to the Thessalonian Christians much like he did in his first letter, with thanksgiving for them. He expresses joy and a heart of gratitude because this young church is growing and maturing. Their example is one for others to follow.
As we begin our journey through this letter, I hope we will discover the hope, confidence, and trust we can have in Jesus for our lives today.
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).