Introduction. Read 2Thes1

The Thessalonians needed encouragement. They were suffering persecution. During such times it is easy to feel that God is displeased with you or that he doesn't care. They had also been confused by a letter that purported to come from Paul but was actually a forgery. The letter informed the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, had already come. See chapter 2.

Paul gives three kinds of encouragement: the encouragements of recognition, recompense and reassurance.

(1) The encouragement of recognition. See verses 1 to 4.

It is very encouraging to receive recognition from someone whose opinion matters. Even Jesus was encouraged when a Roman centurion whose servant was ill recognised his authority and said, "Just say the word and my servant will be healed." Mt8v8.

I suppose one of the things I have lacked throughout my life as a teacher, preacher and writer is recognition. As I sit here I can think of very few "whose opinion mattered" who have recognised such abilities as I possess. I rather feel that important and influential people are so used to receiving recognition that they forget their obligation to extend it to others.

The Duke of Wellington, the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was not an easy man to serve under. He was brilliant, demanding, and not one to shower his subordinates with compliments. Yet even Wellington realized that his methods left something to be desired. In his old age a young lady asked him what, if anything, he would do differently if he had his life to live over again. Wellington thought for a moment, then replied. "I'd give more praise." (With thanks to Christian Globe.)

The apostle Paul could never be accused of failing to recognise the virtues displayed by both churches and individual Christians. See Romans16v17to27. See exposition on Romans 16v17to27.

In this passage Paul thanks God for three great virtues evident among the Thessalonians:

(a) A growing faith.

The faith of the infant church in Thessalonica was growing incredibly well. It was like one of those plants that thrive in adverse conditions. On the shingle storm beaches of my native Suffolk, where you would not expect anything to grow, the yellow horned poppy, sea kale and sea pea make a fine display.

I went to see a physiotherapist yesterday and he gave me some exercises to build up the muscles in my lower back. The exercises were painful! Without pain there will be no gain! So it is with faith. It cannot develop unless it is tested - and this will prove uncomfortable!

A strong faith will keep Christians steady under fire. We will be able to stand firm in the storms of life and take setbacks in our stride.

          O for a faith that will not shrink,
          Though pressed by many a foe;
          That will not tremble on the brink
          Of poverty or woe.

          That will not murmur or complain
          Beneath the chastening rod;
          But in the hour of grief or pain
          Can lean upon its God.

(b) Increasing love.

Adversity can make us very self-centred. Chronic invalids can be very self-obsessed and totally disinterested in the problems of others. However, this is not always the case. Some years ago I knew a seamstress called Ann. Her speciality was wedding dresses but she was prepared to shorten my trouser legs. Eventually Ann was diagnosed with cancer. She was riddled with it. Ann spent the time remaining to her preparing her husband for living without her. She also wrote me a note to say how sorry she was I needed to find someone else to take up my trousers.

Dear old Henry was afflicted by osteoporosis and Parkinson's disease. When I visited him his devoted wife would tell me all about his difficulties. It wasn't long before Henry would say, "It's time to change the subject. I've a lot to be thankful for." He didn't want us to dwell on his suffering - he was more interested in others.

There were three things particularly praiseworthy about the Thessalonian's love. It was increasing; it wasn't displayed by the few but by everyone; all the fellowship were loved. No one was overlooked or cold-shouldered. The Thessalonian church did not consist of several cliques the members of which loved each other but nobody else.

The truly diagnostic symptom of a healthy church is a unifying spirit of love.

            How good a thing it is,
            How pleasant to behold -
            When brethren learn to live at one,
            The law of love uphold.

(c) The endurance of trials and persecution.

The Thessalonians like so many before and since rose to the challenge of persecution. They neither caved in or wimped out. Indeed, their fortitude was an inspiration to others. Paul was able to commend their example to all the churches. It gave them heart.

During China's Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad. (Taken from Today in the Word, February, 1989, p. 17.)

(2) The encouragement of recompense.

There is much injustice in this life. People do not get their just deserts. Modern artists like Tracey Emin sell their trashy work for thousands of pounds whereas a true genius like Van Goth sold only one picture in his life time. It is not always true that you reap what you sow. Many farmers settled the Great Plains of America and sowed their crops in hope - only for them to be devastated by drought, disease or locusts. Farmers went bankrupt, the land was abandoned and the wind blew the soil away. There was no reward for the hard work put in.

It does appear that good people suffer and bad people prosper. This was an observation that greatly puzzled Job.

Paul teaches:

(a) Christians will be recompensed for suffering on behalf of Christ.

The apostle suggests God has three ways of recompensing Christians who suffer loss in this life:

  • They will be adjudged valued subjects of God's kingdom. Paul tells the Thessalonians: You will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God.

  • God is just and he will give relief to you who are troubled. v7. Paul considered this would happen at the Second Coming of Christ which he may have thought was fairly imminent.

    I believe that God often brings relief to his persecuted people during their lifetime. This seems to be the point of Jesus' Parable about the Importunate Widow. He concludes his parable with these words: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice and quickly." Lk13v7and8. This observation of Jesus does need careful treatment. See exposition on Luke18v1to8. However, periods of intense persecution are relatively brief. The situation for the church in several countries is much better now than it was 50 years ago, for example, China, Burma, Cuba, Russia and many of the old Soviet Republics.

    We must keep praying for a change of heart and a greater spirit of tolerance in militant Muslim States that suppress preaching of the gospel.

  • Christians will be recompensed in full - not at death - but at Christ's Second Coming.

    When Jesus returns to this earth he will do so in glory: in blazing fire with his powerful angels. v7. Believers will share this glory. John writes in his first epistle: But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1Jn3v2. The glory of the Saviour will be seen in all those he has redeemed. We shall both marvel at his matchless glory and marvel that we share it.

    Paul assures the Thessalonians: This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. v10. We receive eternal life, the ultimate reward, not for anything we have done but through faith in what Christ has done. We are saved BY grace and THROUGH faith.

(b) The godless will be recompensed for their unbelief.

Everyone who denies God's existance, rejects his gospel and persecutes his church will suffer eternal destruction.

Eternal destruction is the ULTIMATE destruction. That is a much better word for eternal than everlasting. If something is destroyed it ceases to be - as a Sodom and Gomorrah ceased to be, as a flawed pot smashed by its creator ceases to be and as the rubbish burning on the Jerusalem dump (Gehenna) ceased to be. Peter leaves us in no doubt about the nature of God's destruction: By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2Pet3v7. The unrepentant wicked will be banished from the presence of the Lord. The only effective way this can happen is if they are unmade and cease to be. God will erase the ungodly from his memory. He wipes his memory bank clean of them and no trace of them is left. See Article on Heaven and Hell.

I do not agree with Warren Wiersbe on what the destruction of godless men signifies. I cannot believe that God would leave anywhere in his creation a multitude of living creatures suffering everlasting torments. If God truly hates sin he will want to put an absolute end to it - not leave some festering corner of his mansion of many rooms filled with the searing curses of tortured souls. But I do like this illustration of Wiersbe:

It is a story of two farmers, one a believer and the other an atheist. When harvest season came, the atheist taunted his believing neighbour because apparently God had not blessed him too much. The atheist's family had not been sick, his fields were rich with harvest, and he was sure to make a lot of money.

"I thought you said it paid to believe in God and be a Christian," said the atheist.

"It does pay," replied the Christian. But God doesn't always pay His people in September."

(3) The encouragement of reassurance.

Paul reassures the Thessalonians of his commitment to them. He promises to pray for them CONSTANTLY. He prays:

(a) That God will count the Thessalonians worthy of his calling. Paul prays that their lives will justify God's decision to save them by grace and through faith.

The England Cricket Selectors will keenly desire that the men they call up for the Ashes Series against Australia will justify their selection.

The governors who select a man to be the new head of their school will fervently hope that their decision is justified by results.

In the Old Testament God called some for a special purpose. They nearly all justified his choice. This could be said of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Nehemiah and Esther. However a few started better than they finished as, for instance, Gideon and Saul.

God has called all Christians to a life of service. We need to finish as strongly as we started! Only then will we be worthy of God's calling.

(b) That God's power represented by the indwelling Holy Spirit would enable the Thessalonians to accomplish every good intention and carry out every good work prompted by their faith.

There are some Christians who are very good at thinking up initiatives and starting them but lack staying power. Perseverance is usually a necessary condition of real achievement. William Wilberforce only got the slave trade abolished through persistence. William Tyndale had to learn Greek and Hebrew before he could start translating the Bible into English. William and Catherine Booth had to withstand much opposition and overcome many obstacles to establish the Salvation Army.

(c) That the lives of the Christians in Thessalonica would bring glory - credit and renown - to Jesus.

Every year Songs of Praise on BBC television features school choirs competing to become, 'Choir of the Year.' There is no doubt that the school music teachers impart something of themselves to their choirs: enthusiasm, feeling for the words sung, love of singing and pride in taking part. Insofar as the choirs display these qualities they bring glory to their teachers. The magnificent singing of the children is a credit to their choir-masters.

When Christians serving Jesus exhibit something of the expertise, zest, togetherness and joyfulness of these school choirs they honour and exalt their Master.

If Jesus lights up our lives we should shine for him and light up the lives of others. This is not possible in and of ourselves. It is a consequence of the grace of God the Father, God the Son and the indwelling Spirit.

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