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Second Thessalonians

God Is Just

2 Thessalonians 1

Lesson AudioA question that puzzles the new Christian is this: If God is righteous (and omnipotent) then why is their such injustice in the world? In particular, why is there such injustice towards Christians in this world? As we shall see, there are answers to such questions – at least one of which is unknown to most Christians. In this letter, Paul corrects some misimpressions and also some of the heresy that came from the use of his first letter by those who thought themselves wise.

Paul and 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 the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed--for our testimony to you was believed. To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2Th 1:1-12 NASB)

The Humility of Paul

One of the temptations to those educated in the Scripture is simply this: it’s all too easy to set yourself up as an oracle. Just because you believe what God says does not mean that what you believe is what God says. The cure for this is to conduct oneself in humility – of which Paul gives us good example. He is not shy about correcting the various errors – but at all times he makes it clear that this is not his invention, but God’s command.

Blessing

Note that in the introductory verses Paul pronounces a blessing upon them – but not from himself, but from God. The point may seem trivial; an example might clear things up.

My wife’s father is a man rich in the things of this world. It is his good pleasure to give what he calls “full ride” scholarships – as long as the recipient stays in school and maintains good grades, all expenses will be covered. It happened once that one of the high school students in our church was selected (by his high school) for such a scholarship. His mother, believing that no doubt we had pulled strings to make this happen for a friend, thanked us effusively. We had to make it plain that, though my wife was his daughter, we had no influence on the decision. Indeed, the first we heard of it was from the family; we had no involvement at all. It is a great privilege to be one who is so close to God as an apostle must be; it is not great power. Power is accompanied by authority in the kingdom of God; authority is accompanied by responsibility. No more, no less.

Thanksgiving

Did you notice that Paul gives thanks to God for the Thessalonians? He even goes so far as to say that this is fitting to do; in other words, he thanks God for the blessing they are to him! He is the one who brought them to Christ; he thanks God for them.

I suspect this is something like having grandchildren. Those blessed with such (at this writing we are not) take joy in watching the little ones grow. Paul is joyous over two things:

  • First, that their faith is growing. They are becoming more solidly grounded in the faith; this is key.
  • They show that growth in faith by their actions – as they love one another. This is the visible key to faith.
Speaking proudly

Indeed, Paul is only human in this. Like grandchildren, his disciples are the best, so he brags about them. In mind’s eye, see him pulling out his collection of pictures. We do the same thing; how do we react when someone tells us of the courage of the Chinese house churches? We may blush to think of how little we suffer for the cause; but we are proud indeed of their faith.

Faith and perseverance are the pictures Paul produces. Faith, because we are saved by faith. Perseverance, so that we show ourselves to be the seed that fell among good soil. In the midst of affliction and persecution we are to be a light to the world. What joy it brings to see that light shine!

Discouragement

These Christians, like us today, went through times of discouragement. The world seems so unfair to us. Let’s examine that thought a little more closely.

Our expectations

One reason discouragement sets in is simply this: Our expectations don’t match the reality we find. What expectations?

  • We’re the good guys – so why doesn’t the rest of the world love us? Why do they continually sneer at us, inventing slander?
  • Just tell me – what is it that I have done wrong? You keep talking about the Salem witch trials as if I were there. Specifics, please.
  • Why is it that I am so often falsely accused – especially when learning the truth is so simple and easy?

We expect that the world should be composed of righteous people, condemning us in our lawlessness – not just for our existence. We expect the world to seek out the truth; we did. But the world is none of these things. We are not to judge them[1]; simply to speak the truth in love.

Plain indication

Paul makes an interesting argument here about the wickedness of the world and God’s justice. He recognizes all that we have to say about injustice as being fact. Indeed, Paul now tells us that this points out the justice of God. If they would persecute and afflict us good guys, then what have they deserved? In their actions God is showing us what they think of Him. (The servant is not above the master). Therefore, says Paul, they are going to get what they deserve – in God’s good time.

Let sin abound – for now. We are concerned for eternity. He promises us that justice will be eternal, for He is just. At His return, we shall see justice for those who defied God. When He returns, he will deliver it.

In the meanwhile, what about us?

  • We are to be worthy of the kingdom, accepting persecution and affliction as if they were merit badges to earn.
  • We do this by sharing the suffering of Christ. Contemplate his wounds, taken for us! If we share the suffering, we shall share the glory.
The justice of God

Do you see the sense of it? You complain of what the world does to us; is this not then the justification of God’s wrath? Because it is a plain indication, they are convicted by their own actions.

Paul next includes two groups of people in this wrath: those who do not know God, and those who do not obey the Gospel. The latter we understand; if you’ve been given the glorious message of Christ and choose to have it make no difference you should get what a hypocrite deserves. The former causes more trouble.

Why, we might ask, will God punish them who do not know Him? If you know and don’t obey, that’s one thing. But suppose you don’t know?

The answer is found in the original language. The word translated “know” means “to listen attentively.” In the Greek, it is used in situations where a servant must listen attentively to know what his master wants. In short, these are the people who choose to “sit on the fence.” They are not those who listen and rebel; they are those who won’t listen. “How could God condemn me for sitting on the fence?” The answer is in the question; you knew God was speaking to you, and you didn’t want to listen.

Interestingly, Paul says nothing about those afflicting us – rather, the key is in the relationship with God. Vengeance belongs to God; but we are the ambassadors of reconciliation.

The Coming Glory

There is a curious phrasing here, that Christ will be glorified in his saints at his return. We learn from this that Christ is the example for Paul in this. Paul took pride in these saints whom he had brought to salvation; how much more, then, will Christ glory in his saints? He will be revealed from heaven (note: revealed, not come). His saints will come with him; the angels will accompany him, and all of us who are saved will look at him and marvel at him. The day is so awesome and so different that we have but tiny glimpses of it in the Bible – and those glimpses show a dazzling change – and a Day of Wrath.

The Day of Wrath

Perhaps no subject in the Bible is as vigorously argued as the Second Coming. It is sufficient for us to point out two facts concerning his return:

  • Those who are afflicting his children will themselves be grievously afflicted.
  • Those who are afflicted will see his sweet relief.

This smacks of hellfire and brimstone, doesn’t it? We often neglect the profit of fear. We put warning lights and gates at railroad crossings; people drive around them and are killed by (what else?) a train. Fear is neither pleasant nor convenient – but it serves a purpose. Fear God, dread naught.

In the meanwhile…

While we’re waiting for all this to happen (and Paul has much more to say about that in chapter 2) what should we do? Paul gives us an example:

  • Pray for each other, that we will be counted as worthy of the kingdom.
  • Pray that God will grant us power to fulfill every good purpose in our hearts.
  • Pray that God will grant every good thing we come to desire.
  • Pray that God grant us power to accompany our faith.

We are not so much to pray for relief from affliction, nor even triumph over it – but rather that we will do the work we are commissioned to do in all goodness, faith and power. If we do, then our acts will be for the glory of God – and all will be in accord with the grace of God, by which we have salvation.



[1] 1 Corinthians 5:12

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