2 Thessalonians 1 (ESV) Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 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.
“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” goes the old saying. We can all relate! Albert King and Loretta Lynn even recorded songs by that title, from different angles. I think King’s song better captures the delusions, hypocrisy, and shallowness of our age: “Everybody wants to laugh, but nobody wants to cry… Everybody wants to hear the truth, but everybody wants to tell a lie… Everybody wants to know the reason, without even askin’ why.” If we can have a tear-free shampoo, why not a tear-free world? I can have my own truth, but you can’t have yours! And why bother devoting lifelong study to 4000 years of accumulated wisdom in the Western literary canon when we have Wikipedia?
In a world seemingly gone mad, the Holy Scriptures always provide an oasis of sanity—and salvation!—for those who are willing to listen. As I have become increasingly disheartened by contemporary events, I have been driven back into God’s Word, and each trip has been filled with timely messages and wonderful insights.
It had been a while since I had read 2 Thessalonians 1, and a re-reading didn’t disappoint! St. Paul was not concerned with accommodating to the culture of his day, but he was at pains to help Christians endure the hostility of the world to the Truth and to followers of the Way. How is that for timely?
As was Paul’s custom, he began his letter with greetings of grace and peace from God the Father and Jesus Christ. Dr. Luther observed, “Grace and peace—these two words embrace the whole of Christianity. Grace forgives sin, and peace stills the conscience.” If we keep God’s grace and the peace of Christ at the front of our minds each day, we know we have nothing to fear, not even sin, death, and societal decay.
Paul goes on to give thanks to God for the abundant growth of the Thessalonians’ faith. When was the last time you prayed for, or gave thanks for, the growth of another person’s faith? Today would be as good a time as any!
Growth in faith presupposes the regular use of the Means of Grace by the Thessalonians—gathering to hear the Word and receive the Sacraments. And what had this growth in faith enabled? Perseverance under persecution and afflictions! And these trials are because of—not in spite of—the Christian faith of the Thessalonians. As St. Paul says elsewhere, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12-13).
Christ suffered first, and now we follow Him. Luther once quipped that Christians should be called “Crosstians.” While Christ’s death was for our forgiveness and justification, the trials and persecutions we face are for our chastening and sanctification. Since we know that afflictions are made useful in the hands of God, there is no need for us to flee or grumble about them. Instead, we can give thanks for everything our Lord sends our way!
There is a Day coming, however, when we will be granted complete relief and even by grace receive rewards for our faithful labors here. On that day, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” those who have resisted and persecuted Christ’s Church will get their just deserts. On Judgment Day, we will see and experience God’s Justice, no longer having to live by faith alone.
In the meantime, if He delays, it is so that more people will come to their senses and repent: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). If you’re like me, you are thankful to the Lord that He has exercised tremendous patience with me over the years! And I would not want to begrudge that same patience to others who have not yet been blessed with repentance and faith in Christ, lest I hear the rebuke of our Lord: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15). God forbid it!
Prayer: Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Grant that we remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will. Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action. Grant that we, who came from many nations with many different languages, may become a united people. Support us in defending our liberties, and give those to whom we have entrusted the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there may be justice and peace in our land. When times are prosperous, may our hearts be thankful, and in troubled times do not let our trust in You fail; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.