The Second letter of Paul to the Thessalonians continues the theme of holiness and hope. This lesson,is taken from the first chapter. We will join the first five verses with the last last two verses and find seven great goals which we can truly achieve, but only by the grace of God.
1 To Enlarge Our Faith
2Thessalonians 1:3 Paul sees much to be thankful for in the church of the Thessalonians. He says, ¶ "We are bound to always give thanks to God for you, brothers, just as it's appropriate to do, because your faith grows exceedingly..."(2Thessalonians 1:3). Faith does not remain just as it was when one first believed and obeyed the gospel. Faith grows. Our faith should be much bigger now than it used to be. Its effect on our own lives, and its influence on others, should be much stronger than it was when it was new.
Greater faith doesn't mean we get more and more gullible, more and more willing to believe myths. A larger faith is one in which we have made more sure the things we may once have believed, even though we then did not understand all the evidence.
One of the main ideas in the New Testament is the need for more and greater faith. For example...
"The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' The Lord said, 'If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree, "Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea," and it would obey you'"(Luke 17:5-6).
A man whose child was sick came to Jesus for help. "Jesus said to him, 'If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.' Immediately the father of the child cried out with tears, 'I believe. Help my unbelief!'"(Mark 9:23-24).
Paul exhorts the Romans, "It is already time for you to awaken out of sleep, for salvation is now nearer to us than when we first believed. The night is far gone, and the day is near. Let’s therefore throw off the works of darkness, and let’s put on the armor of light"(Romans 13:11-12).
Likewise, Paul's message to the Thessalonians is about "salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth"(2Thessalonians 2:13). That is an ongoing and developing process.
in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul said that he was ¶ "praying very hard, night and day, that we may see your face; and may perfect what is lacking in your faith"(1Thessalonians 3:10). He did not mean to suggest that their faith was weak or poorly. He meant that their faith was ready to grow and this growth was necessary. There is always the potential for more growth in faith. So our first goal is to discover what is lacking in our faith and then to bring our faith to maturity and perfection.
2 To Grow in Love
2Thessalonians 1:2-3 Paul adds to faith a second and equally important principle, "...and the love of each and every one of you towards one another abounds"(2Thessalonians 1:2). In an ideal world, love grows ever greater.
Jesus shows the extent to which love can go when he says, "Love your enemies"(Matthew 5:43-44).
Paul understands that true love is a love of God, and he gives this benediction near the end of his second letter to the Thessalonians, "May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God"(2Thessalonians 3:5).
Paul also knows that true love is a love of the truth. He says that many people are deceived and lost "because they didn’t receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved"(2Thessalonians 2:10).
Paul understands also that Jesus himself showed us how far love can go. ¶ "Now on your behalf I'm going to ask something of Jesus Christ himself and God our Father. They loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace; so I ask that they comfort your hearts and establish you in every good work that you do and in every good word that you speak."(2Thessalonians 2:16-17). Christ's death for us was an Acts of great love. So our second goal is to deepen our love for God; for truth; and for the Lord Jesus; and to let that love abound toward others.
3 To Steadfastly Endure
2Thessalonians 1:4 Paul adds a third principle to faith and love, namely the hope that encourages us to endure. He says, "We ourselves boast about you in the assemblies of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you endure"(2Thessalonians 1:4).
James says, "Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."(James 1:4).
An Australian prime minister became famous for his saying, "Life wasn't meant to be easy". What he meant was that there is often great value in a struggle. It can strengthen and improve us. This is certainly true of the Christian life.
The Thessalonians were being afflicted by persecution (2Thessalonians 1:6). This may not be what troubles us, but most Christians have something difficult to endure. God encourages us to endure and establish our hearts in his love and "eternal comfort and good hope by grace"(2Thessalonians 2:17).
4 To Be Counted Worthy of the Kingdom
2Thessalonians 1:5,11 One of these principle goals is to be "counted worthy of the kingdom of God"(2Thessalonians 1:5). Paul comes back to this idea toward the end of chapter 1. "To this end we also pray always for you, that our God may count you worthy of your calling..."(2Thessalonians 1:11).
This idea of worthiness is connected to "the righteous judgment of God". The full statement is, "...the righteous judgment of God, to the end that you may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God..."(2Thessalonians 1:5). Whilst God exercises grace and mercy, he is at all times just. So when one is "counted worthy" this is no corrupt judgment that shows partiality toward someone whom God chooses to favour and let off the hook. We are counted worthy by a proper and perfect process by which God is able to straighten out all our crookedness and make us truly blameless through Christ.
The benediction to the first letter states this powerfully... ¶ "May the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will make it happen."(1Thessalonians 5:23-24). The assurance tacked on to that benediction anticipates the protest of our hearts. How can God honestly and righteously count us worthy and blameless when we are not? Well God is faithful. He is true and just. He can do it righteously and he will; even if we cannot really understand it.
5 To Desire All Goodness
2Thessalonians 1:11 Another great goal of the Christian, is "that our God may...fulfill every desire of goodness"(2Thessalonians 1:12).
I don't think Paul means merely that God fulfills his own desires for goodness. I think Paul believes that God fulfills our desire for goodness. We nurture in our own hearts God's desire for all goodness. We make it our own desire. God, in his grace and providence then "causes all things to work together for good to those who love God"(Romans 8:28). Do you want the world to be as God intended? Then desire all goodness. Desire it with all your heart. Bring your desire to God. You cannot imagine the power of your heart's desire, when it harmonises with the will of God.
All sin starts as an evil desire (James 1:13-17). The Bible calls such desires "lusts of the flesh"(Ephesians 2:3). If we desire all goodness and no evil, God will fulfill our desires and we will replace the deeds of darkness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-24).
The goal of the Christian is to "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires"(Galatians 5:24). This is a metaphor obviously referring to the cross of Christ. Christ's death made it possible for us to kill every evil desire and fulfill every good desire. I can't think of anything more wonderful than that, can you?
6 To Do the Work of Faith With Power
2Thessalonians 1:11 Paul ends verse 11 with an amazing phrase. He speaks of "the work of faith with power"(2Thessalonians 1:11). This is the sixth spiritual goal for our lesson. We want to do the work of faith with power. The good news is that we can!
Now here we must take great care to understand what we are talking about. It might be someone's goal to do good works such that they can merit God's approval in their own power. That's a foolish goal. It's an idea that many have conceived and believed, but never achieved. You cannot truthfully say that you can go to God on the basis of your own righteousness, and that you don't need Jesus to be justified before God.
On the other hand, faith must be accompanied by works otherwise it is useless. A belief in Jesus that does not express itself in obedience to Jesus, is a dead faith (James 2:20-26). So whilst works without faith cannot justify us before God, neither can faith without works. God's requirement is "the work of faith"(1Thessalonians 1:3, 2Thessalonians 1:11) which is the same thing as "the obedience of faith"(Romans 1:5, 16:26). God joined faith and obedience together and we should not separate them.
Paul adds the words "with power" showing that when we combine faith with works by practicing the obedience of faith, then we, by God's grace, receive power. We must have faith, and our faith must have works; but it is God who empowers us. I believe that this "power" of which Paul speaks is the gift or indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). On our own we would fail; but with the power God gives us, we can be victorious.
7 To Glorify the Name of Jesus
2Thessalonians 1:12 For some Christians the main game is to get saved, stay saved, and escape hell. Well that isn't the main game.
The question, "What must I do to be saved?"(Acts 16:30) is an excellent question. And the exclamation, "Praise God I'm saved!" is excellent too. However, that's only the beginnning.
Our ultimate goal and great mission is "that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him"(2Thessalonians 1:12). Just as the death of Christ was the beginning and not the end, so is our salvation through his. God exalted Christ and "bestowed on him the name which is above every name"(Philippians 2:9). We have the marvelous privelege and duty of serving this King of kings and Lord of lords so as to give him glory and to live in his light. That is God's eternal purpose for us.