Don’t Grow Weary

11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-17 ESV

Because of his authorship of the book of Romans, Paul is sometimes pigeon-holed for his theological acumen, but as this letter clearly shows, he could be highly practical as well. In these closing verses of 2 Thessalonians, he addresses what, to some, may appear to be a rather pedestrian problem: Laziness or idleness within the church. Paul had received news that there were those in the congregation in Thessalonica who were living undisciplined lives. This small contingent of individuals were refusing to work and expecting the rest of the church body to provide them with food. At first glance, it may seem that Paul is guilty of making a mountain out of a molehill. He is giving far too much attention to something that is essentially a non-issue.

But Paul saw the danger lying beneath the surface. He knew that, while the actions of these individuals may appear somewhat innocent and innocuous, they were actually quite dangerous. In the letter that bears his name, Jude warned of false teachers who had infiltrated the church and whose presence and teaching were posing a threat to the well-being of the fellowship. His description of them provides some insight into how Paul viewed those who were “walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV).

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.  – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

Those within the body of Christ who chose to live undisciplined lives, whether through the teaching of false doctrine or by refusing to work, were doing irreparable harm through their self-centered actions. They cared only for themselves. They appeared to be active members of the congregation, but there was no benefit to their presence. They were like clouds that promised much-needed rain but never delivered. They were like fruit trees that failed to provide any harvest because they were dead. Like the waves of the sea, their presence within the body of Christ produced nothing of value, simply stirring up the foam of their shameful deeds. And like “wandering stars” or planets that move across the night sky, they proved to be unreliable sources for navigation. In other words, they provided nothing of value for the faith community.

And it wasn’t just that they refused to work. It was that their idleness would lead to a lifestyle of undisciplined behavior that would become like cancer in the body of Christ. Paul describes how their idle lives, characterized by a refusal to work, left them with too much time on their hands, which they used to meddle in other people’s business. Rather than being busy about work, they became busybodies, stirring up contention and strife among the fellowship.

Paul was a firm believer in the concept of the body of Christ and was adamant that each and every member of the body should be a contributor to its corporate well-being. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, everyone had something to give back to the body of Christ. And it didn’t matter how bad your pre-conversion state may have been. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, encouraging its members to put aside their past and live new lives of usefulness and godliness.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. – Ephesians 4:28 NLT

There was no reason for any member of the body of Christ to be fruitless or to fail to be a contributor to the corporate needs of the community. That’s why Paul warned the Ephesians: “do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT). Someone who willingly chose to live an undisciplined or idle life grieved the Spirit of God because it evidenced their refusal to live in keeping with His will. Rather than using the gifts given to them by the Spirit of God for the benefit of the body of Christ, they were living self-centered lives with no regard for anyone else.

And, for the first time in his letter, Paul addresses these individuals directly, commanding and encouraging them “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV). They knew who they were and they knew what they needed to do. No more freeloading. No more living off the generosity of others. They were to get busy and do their part, contributing to the needs of the body of Christ and displaying the transforming nature of the gospel through the way they lived their lives.

To the rest of the congregation, Paul provides a simple, yet profound piece of pastoral counsel: “do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). He knew that living the Christian life was not easy and there would be times when the Thessalonian believers would be tempted to throw in the towel. Not only were they having to deal with persecution from without, but they were also having to battle the presence of false teachers and lazy fellow parishioners. But Paul called them to a life of perseverance. He wanted them to keep their eye on the objective, what he elsewhere referred to as “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). This life would be filled with difficult people and trying day, but the end of the race would come with a reward that would make all the effort they expended more than worth it.

In the meantime, they were to distance themselves from the disobedient and undisciplined among them. Paul makes it clear that they were not to treat these people as enemies but they were to “admonish them as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15 ESV). James encouraged the same kind of brotherly love toward those who had wandered from the faith.

…if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. – James 5:19-20 NLT

Restoration and reconciliation were to be the ultimate objectives. Maintaining unity within the body of Christ had to be of the highest priority. Calling out the unruly and undisciplined was non-optional. It wouldn’t fun but it had to be done or, like yeast, the sin of the few would spread throughout the body, destroying its vitality and diminishing its influence in the world.

And with that thought in mind, Paul closes his letter with a prayer for the presence and peace of God to be evident among the Thessalonian Christians.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all. – 2 Thessalonians 3:16 NLT

As Paul had told the believers in Philippi, God’s peace, “exceeds anything we can understand.” Not only that, “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NLT). Even in the midst of turmoil, trials, and difficulties of all sorts, God’s peace would always be available and viable. They could count on it.

And the Thessalonians could count on the fact that this letter was actually from Paul because he had personally signed it. While there may have been those who claimed to have letters from Paul that contained false teaching, this one was legitimate. He had included his own signature as proof.

Paul closes out his letter with his favorite benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 ESV). He wanted them to remember that the grace of God – His unmerited, undeserved favor – was the key to their salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Grace was the God-given power to live the lives they had been called to live. They had been saved by grace. They could experience the peace of God because of His grace. And they would be preserved and protected according to abundant, never-ending grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Disorderly Conduct

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ESV

After making a personal request for their prayers on his behalf and expressing his desire that their hearts be directed “to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV), Paul shifts into apostle mode. He has one last issue he must address with the church in Thessalonica and it involves disorderly conduct. The Greek word Paul used is ataktōs and it could be used to refer to a soldier who was marching “out of ranks,” or out of step with his fellow soldiers and therefore, violating established military protocol.

But the word was also used to describe anyone who deviated from the prescribed order or rule of society. This could include immoral behavior, but it could also refer to any actions that were out of step with the societal norms of a community or group. In this case, Paul feels compelled to address a particular ataktōs taking place within the Thessalonian church, and it involves a “brother who is walking in idleness” (2 Thessalonians 3: 6 ESV). It seems likely that Paul is not referring to a particular individual, but to the spirit of idleness that must have become prevalent in the church. And rather than addressing the guilty offenders, Paul focuses his attention on the rest of the members of the church. He commands them, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to avoid anyone who lives an undisciplined or disorderly life. Paul saw these people as a serious threat to the spiritual health of the body of Christ.

But why? What was it that these idle or undisciplined people were doing that was so dangerous that it required the rest of the church to avoid them like the plague? Part of the problem was that the actions of these people were “out of step” with the teachings of Paul and his companions. Paul accuses them of living their lives “not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV). The word “tradition” is paradosis in the Greek and means “to give up” or “give over.” Paul and his fellow missionaries had “given over” clear instructions regarding the gospel and the Christian life, by word of mouth and in writing. They had taught the Thessalonians how to conduct their lives as followers of Christ, and these idle individuals were out of step with that instruction. They had heard it but were refusing to conduct to their lives according to it.

And Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had not only taught them what to do, he had also modeled it in front of them.

For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NLT

With this statement, Paul seems to get to the heart of the matter. These idle members of the fellowship were freeloading off of the rest of the congregation, refusing to work, and expecting others to provide them with food to eat. They had become social parasites, depending upon the goodwill of their fellow church members, rather than using their God-given abilities to do their part. They were lazy. And Paul was not alone in his condemnation of such behavior. He was a student of the Hebrew Scriptures and knew what God’s Word had to say about the dangers of such a lifestyle.

Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin. – Ecclesiastes 4:5 NLT

The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. – Proverbs 12:24 ESV

Lazy people sleep soundly, but idleness leaves them hungry.– Proverbs 19:15 NLT

Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.– Proverbs 20:4 NLT

Paul understood that laziness was not just a personal problem. It was a drain on the community. But Paul was not suggesting that the church avoid the needs of the less fortunate or destitute. This was all about able-bodied individuals who were refusing to work with their hands and putting an unnecessary burden on the rest of the members of the faith community. As far as Paul was concerned, the idleness of these people was nothing less than godlessness, and according to the Scriptures, God has no intention of meeting the needs of the wicked.

The Lord will not let the godly go hungry, but he refuses to satisfy the craving of the wicked. Lazy people are soon poor – Proverbs 10:3-4 NLT

Even as a minister of the gospel, Paul had every right to expect and even demand payment for his services. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul had defended his right to compensation as a minister of the gospel.

Don’t we have the right to live in your homes and share your meals?Or is it only Barnabas and I who have to work to support ourselves? What soldier has to pay his own expenses? What farmer plants a vineyard and doesn’t have the right to eat some of its fruit? What shepherd cares for a flock of sheep and isn’t allowed to drink some of the milk? – 1 Corinthians 9:4, 6-7 NLT

Paul went on to accuse the Corinthians of having a double standard because they were caring for the needs of some ministers, but not those of he and Barnabas.

If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? But we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the Good News about Christ. – 1 Corinthians 9:12 NLT

For Paul, it was always about the integrity of the gospel message. He was not going to let anything stand in the way of spreading the good news concerning Jesus Christ. And he would rather pay his own way rather than run the risk of being accused of being in the ministry for personal gain.

And, he reminds the Thessalonians that when he was among them, he never accepted a meal without paying for it.

We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. – 2 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT

He certainly had a right to demand payment for services rendered, but he had refused to do so. And his example was meant to be followed. So, there was no excuse for the church to tolerate the damaging influence of the willingly idle and disorderly. In fact, when Paul had been in Thessalonica, he had warned them not to provide food for those who refused to work.

…we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT

The body of Christ is meant to be an organism, a living community of like-minded individuals who each contribute to the well-being of the whole. There is no place for laziness or self-centeredness. And Paul wrote often about this communal aspect of the body of Christ, encouraging believers to do their God-given part to contribute to the spiritual and physical well-being of the whole faith community.

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:4-5 NLT

And Paul made it clear that God placed every member in the body with a particular gift designed to minister to the rest of the members.

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. – Romans 12:6-8 NLT

As Paul told the believers in Corinth, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). So, there was no place for idleness or laziness in the body of Christ. These lazy, self-absorbed individuals were living out of step with God’s plans for the church. Rather than acting as Spirit-empowered contributors to the flock, they were acting as self-centered drains on the limited resources and patience of their fellow members. And Paul would not allow it to continue.

This was not new information for the Thessalonians. They were not hearing this teaching for the first time. Paul had addressed the issue of diligence and hard work in his first letter to them.

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. – 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NLT

There is no place for disorderly conduct within the body of Christ. And those who are guilty of it should be treated as social pariahs. Because the danger they pose to the faith community is real and the discredit their actions bring to the cause of Christ is undeniable. The church has no place for the lazy and disorderly. While the needy and lost are always welcome, those who come to faith in Christ but who refuse to live in keeping with the teachings of Christ are to be avoided at all costs. Because not to do so could cause irreparable damage to the body of Christ and the integrity of the gospel.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord Is Faithful

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

Paul was a powerful proponent of prayer and was not shy in requesting others to pray on his behalf. He knew he was engaged in a spiritual battle that required spiritual weapons. He told the Corinthians believers:

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

And as he told Timothy, one of the primary weapons in our warfare with evil is prayer.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NLT

His belief in the power and efficacy of prayer was supported by James, who wrote, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16 NLT). And, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had challenged them to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 ESV). And, as Paul told Timothy, this was his desire for every congregation to which he had ministered.

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy. – 1 Timothy 2:8 NLT

Paul didn’t view prayer as an optional. It was not some kind of spiritual accessory you put on when it was convenient or when you determined it was necessary. It was to be a permanent and vital part of the believer’s life, a sentiment Paul expressed to the church in Ephesus.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. – Ephesians 6:18 NLT

And this call to persistent and perpetual prayer was because of the very real nature of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged. Just a few verses earlier, Paul had warned the Ephesian believers of the epic spiritual war taking place around them and their role in it.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Paul was a man of prayer and he coveted the prayers of others. But notice that Paul’s prayer request, while personal in nature, was not focused on himself. He was asking them to pray that his ministry would continue to be successful – “that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 NLT). He didn’t provide the Thessalonians with a long list of personal prayer requests that focused on his health, finances, or relational concerns. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t have problems or personal issues, but that his focus was always on the bigger cause of spreading the gospel.

Paul didn’t need better clothes, a bigger house, improved health, or a trouble-free life. And while he appreciated any concern that others had for his well-being, he wanted them to know that he really had no needs, except the strength and determination to continue doing what he had been called to do.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:10-12 NLT

And Paul made it clear that all he really needed was provided for him by Christ.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

As Paul’s letter has made clear, there were those who opposed his teaching and were always trying to add to or alter the gospel message. Not only that, but he also faced physical threats to his life because of his work on behalf of Christ. Paul provides a detailed list of his physical sufferings in his second letter to the church in Corinth. He describes how he had “been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (2 Corinthians 11:23 NLT). Then he gave them specific instances of his abuse. “Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25 NLT).

So, Paul asked the Thessalonians for prayer in light of the very real nature of his opposition and their relentless desire to put him out of commission.

…pray for us…that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1, 2 NLT

As the Thessalonians knew from their own firsthand experience, not everyone accepted the message of the gospel. Many of their own friends and family members had denied God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Not all have faith, Paul states. Not everyone is part of the body of Christ. And wherever believers exist, they will find themselves surrounded by those who despise their message and their very existence. Jesus had warned His disciples: “You will be hated by everyone because of My name” (Matthew 10:22 BSB). And He broadened the scope of this hatred by declaring that the whole world would stand opposed to His followers.

If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. – John 15:19 BSB

But Paul assures his fellow believers in Thessalonica that, while the world was filled with hostile people who did not share their faith, “the Lord is faithful” and “He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). No matter how bleak things appeared to be or how intense the persecution may become, the Lord stood ready to strengthen and protect them. With true pastoral conviction and a loving shepherd’s heart, Paul encouraged his flock to remain faithful to the Lord. He had not and would not abandon them. And Paul complimented the Thessalonians for their past faithfulness and assured them of his confidence that they would remain committed to Christ, no matter what happened.

we are confident about you in the Lord that you are both doing—and will do—what we are commanding. – 2 Thessalonians 3:4 NLT

Finally, Paul offers up a prayer on their behalf, asking that God give them a greater understanding of His love for them and a deeper appreciation for the endurance Christ modeled with His own life. They need to keep the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ on their minds constantly. As Paul told the believers in Ephesus, an understanding of God’s love as expressed through Christ’s sacrifice is the key to experiencing fulness of life and power.

…may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. – Ephesians 3:18-19 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, a constant focus on the faithfulness of Christ will go a long way in providing world-weary Christians with the strength they need to not only survive but thrive in this life.

…let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

Because of the unwavering love of God and the faithfulness of Christ, they had everything they needed to say as Paul did, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Future Glory Versus Present Suffering

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV

The Thessalonians had been distracted. They had taken their eye off the prize and were focusing on their present circumstances, wondering if, as the false prophets had claimed, that the day of the Lord had begun. Their trials and tribulations seemed to support the idea that the end had begun. So, they began to believe they were living in the last days. But this thought was creating confusion and causing them to doubt the teachings of Paul and his companions.

Paul describes the last days as being filled with apostasy, rebellion, and the judgment of God upon all those who reject the truth concerning His Son. As bad as things may have been for the Thessalonian believers, their conditions were nothing like those that will accompany the final days. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer was not to be confused with the future day of Tribulation. In fact, Paul and the other New Testament authors encouraged believers to welcome trials as a vital part of God’s plan for their ongoing sanctification.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

Suffering and sanctification are inseparable in the life of the believer. Just as Jesus suffered in this life and then experienced the joy of glorification, so will we one day. And Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their status as children of God, made possible through their faith in Christ, also made them co-heirs with Christ. And part of their inheritance was the glory to come. But, as with Jesus, their suffering must precede their glorification.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

But as Paul states, their present suffering was nothing when compared with their future glorification. And in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul stressed the example provided by the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they had been chosen by God “to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). Their experiences of suffering were proof of their salvation and sanctification. They had been given the privilege of suffering on behalf of Christ and Paul reminds them that their suffering has a purpose. It is a God-ordained process for increasing their dependence upon His indwelling Spirit so that their lives might display His power in their weakness.

And Paul had learned this truth from firsthand experience. Three different times he had asked God to remove “the thorn” in his flesh. But each time God had answered: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this eye-opening lesson from God had radically altered Paul’s perspective on the role of suffering and weakness in the life of the believer.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Paul stressed to the Thessalonians believers that God’s ultimate goal behind their salvation was not their present happiness, but their future glorification.

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their ultimate glorification would not come in this life, but in the life to come. In the meantime, God was using the presence of suffering and trials to expose their weakness and to encourage increasing dependence upon the Spirit’s presence and power within them. And Paul challenged them to stay the course. Not only were they destined to experience additional suffering in this life, but they would also find themselves bombarded by false teaching that contradicted the words of Jesus and His apostles.

So, Paul called them to “stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). As he told the believers in Ephesus, his job was “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And he was committed to doing just that.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

His commitment was fueled by his belief in the transformative nature of the gospel message. Salvation was to result in sanctification. Faith in Christ was meant to produce those who bore the image of Christ. Spiritual infancy was to give way to spiritual maturity. And the spiritually mature are far less likely to be deceived and distracted by false teaching.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

Paul closes out this part of his letter with a prayer that takes the form of a blessing. He asks God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son to provide the Thessalonians with comfort and strength in the midst of all their trials. Notice that he does not ask for the removal of their trials. His emphasis is on hope. This is a clear reference to their future salvation and glorification. God and His Son, Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV). He stresses eternity and hope. His point is that the Thessalonians needed to quit being distracted by their current circumstances and the misguided teaching of the false prophets and refocus their attention on the finish line. 

If they kept their eyes on the prize, they would realize that “their present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18 BSB). And this future hope would provide the comfort and strength necessary to live transformed lives in the present.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Dark Days Indeed

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 ESV

Helping Christ-followers understand the events surrounding the end times was important to Paul because he knew that knowledge would dramatically influence the way they lived their lives in the present. Without a firm grasp on the divine timeline of the last days, believers in every age would find themselves easy prey to every false doctrine and spurious opinion that came along. Even Jesus warned that there would be those who showed up claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the Messiah.

“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.” – Matthew 24:4 NLT

Without a well-developed understanding of God’s plans for those final days, people will be susceptible to the claims of false teachers and self-proclaimed prophets. Jesus warned His disciples.

“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.” – Matthew 24:11-12 NLT

So, when Paul heard that false teachers were causing angst and anxiety among the Thessalonians by declaring the day of the Lord had already begun, he felt strongly compelled to correct their error. As discussed in yesterday’s lesson, “the day of the Lord” refers to that future period of time which includes the Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Great White Throne Judgment. According to Paul, the Rapture of the church will be the event that sets all of these things in motion. With the removal of all believers from the earth, the restraining influence of the church will create a moral and spiritual vacuum that will allow wickedness to spread like wildfire.

In verse 7, Paul refers to an individual who acts as a restraining influence on evil and prevents the coming of “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV).

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. – 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV

This “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit, who inhabits the church and every single believer. With the rapture of the church, all believers living at that time will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. Then they will receive their glorified bodies and return to heaven with Christ. With their departure, the primary means by which the Holy Spirit restrains wickedness in the world will be gone. Whether we realize it or not, the presence of Spirit-filled Christians on this planet plays a powerful role in holding back the forces of darkness. Jesus stated, “You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14 ESV), but with the church’s rapture, the light will be removed, allowing the darkness to envelop the world as never before.

That is why this period of time is called the Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year span of time that begins the day of the Lord and will feature cataclysmic events and divine judgments that will be unprecedented in their intensity. Jesus described it in rather stark terms.

“…there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT

There is no doubt that evil was running rampant in Paul’s day. In fact, he said, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “this lawlessness is already at work secretly.” The apostle John describes much of the false teaching that was infiltrating the church as “the spirit of the Antichrist.”

…if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

The evil influence of this “man of lawlessness” was already alive and well in the 1st-Century because he will be nothing more than a tool of Satan. In the book of Revelation, John provides details concerning his vision of the Antichrist, describing him as “the beast” who receives his power and authority from “the dragon” (Satan).

…to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.…and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” – Revelation 13:2, 3-4 ESV

While there will be a literal, real-life Antichrist who rules and reigns during the Tribulation, the spirit or attitude of the Antichrist has been alive in every generation. Paul warned Timothy that the last days would be filled with apostasy and a level of rebellion like nothing the world has ever witnessed before.

…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT

And, even though Paul is describing the last days, he warns Timothy to “Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT). Why? Because those kinds of people can be found in every generation. But in the last days, they will represent the majority of people on earth and they will eagerly take part in what Paul describes as the “rebellion” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The Greek word is apostasia, from which we get our English word, “apostasy.” It means, “a falling away” or “a defection from the truth.” Remember what Paul told Timothy. The people living in the last days “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT).

Paul describes Antichrist’s powerful influence over the world during the last days.

This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 NLT

John adds his own description of Antichrist’s reign of terror.

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT

Notice John’s mention of worship. And remember what Paul told Timothy: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” Those living in the last days will worship Antichrist, who slanders the name of God and sets himself up as a replacement for God. Paul describes him as one “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV).

The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of this future world leader.

…a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. – Daniel 8:23-25 NLT

In the book of Revelation, John describes the creation of an idol, made to represent the Antichrist, which is set up in the temple of God. And the false prophet, the second-lieutenant of the Antichrist, “was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Revelation 13:15 ESV).

These will not be ordinary, run-of-the-mill days. As Jesus said, “there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began” (Matthew 24:21 NLT). And Paul indicates that those days will be marked by a level of deception and spiritual delusion like nothing the world has ever seen before. People will “refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 NLT). And, as a result, “God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies” (2 Thessalonians 2:11 NLT).

During the Tribulation, God will bring a wave of unprecedented judgments on the world. He will reveal Himself through a series of cataclysmic plagues and meteorological catastrophes. And while those who endure these judgments will recognize His hand behind them, they will still refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Him.

But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT

And as Paul sadly states, “they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).

The end times will be marked by rampant rebellion and level of spiritual blindness like nothing we have ever seen before. Even while recognizing the hand of God behind their suffering, mankind will shake its fist in His face, choosing to endure His divine punishment rather than admit to the truth of their own sin and their need for a Savior.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Has a Plan

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-7 ESV

The Thessalonian believers to whom Paul wrote were undergoing persecution for their faith. But they were also experiencing unnecessary suffering as a result of errant end-times teaching that had made its way into their fellowship. In his previous letter, Paul had taught that the Great Tribulation would not begin until the Rapture of the church had taken place (1 Thessalonians 5). The Rapture would usher in “the day of the Lord” which would include the seven-year period of tribulation and end with the Second Coming of Christ. But others were teaching that the presence of persecution and trials was evidence that the day of the Lord had already begun. In essence, they were teaching the Thessalonian believers that they were already living in the great period of end-times tribulation.

Paul believed in and taught a pretribulation Rapture, which was based on Jesus Christ returning for His bride, the church, and removing all His followers from the earth. They would be “caught up” to meet Him in the air and return to heaven to live with Him there. And this removal of His bride would protect them from the judgment of God that would come on the earth during the Great Tribulation.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ… – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV

Paul had taught the Thessalonians to find encouragement in the knowledge that Jesus would one day return for the church. It may not happen in their lifetimes, but it would happen before the final period of tribulation began. The order of the end times events was the Rapture of the church, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming, the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, the Great White Throne Judgment, and then the eternal state.

Even today, there are those who do not believe in the Rapture of the church. They understand and teach that there will only be Christ’s second advent. Based on this view, many conclude that we are already living in the period of tribulation and can expect the Second Coming to take place at any time.

But Paul was very specific regarding his views on the matter. In reference to the Second Coming, he stated that Jesus would come from heaven and descend to the earth in order to mete out God’s judgment on unbelieving mankind.

…when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

After seven years of intense judgment on the earth and all its inhabitants, God will send His Son a second time, but not in the form of an innocent baby. He will return to earth as the Warrior-King, accompanied by the host of heaven and charged with the task of dispending “the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

But there was confusion among the Thessalonians. On the one hand, they were eagerly expecting the return of Jesus for the church. But then, others were telling them that the tribulation had already begun. Their understanding of the end-times sequence of events was muddled and confused. And Paul makes it clear that the real heart of the matter was the Rapture of the church. He opens this chapter with the phrase: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV).

Regardless of what others were teaching, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to rest in the knowledge that Jesus was going to return for the church. In spite of what the false teachers were claiming, the day of the Lord had not yet arrived. And, according to Paul, there were certain events that had to take place before it did.

…that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT

Paul refers to “the man of lawlessness,” an individual who will play a significant role in the end times scenario. The prophet, Daniel, refers to him as “the ruler” (Daniel 9:27). And this ruler will stand in direct opposition to God Almighty.

He shall speak words against the Most High,
    and shall wear out the saints of the Most High,
    and shall think to change the times and the law;
and they shall be given into his hand
    for a time, times, and half a time. – Daniel 7:25 NLT

This individual will appear on the scene after the Rapture of the church. He will arise to power out of relative obscurity and become a global leader with great power. And as Daniel predicts, this individual will make a treaty with the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. But halfway through the seven-year period of tribulation, he will break that treaty and launch a program of intense persecution of the Jews.

The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.” – Daniel 9:27 NLT

When Daniel refers to “a time, times, and a half time,” he is speaking of the first three-and-a-half years of the tribulation.

A time – 1 + times – 2 + a half time – 1/2 = 3 1/2

Paul is revealing details concerning the end times that are meant to assuage any worries the Thessalonians may have had. The presence of trials and persecution was not a sign that the tribulation had begun. Even Jesus had warned that all kinds of ominous and seemingly portentous events would take place, but they would simply be the precursors of something far worse to come.

And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. – Matthew 24:6-8 NLT

The ruler to whom Daniel referred and the man of lawlessness are one and the same person. He is the Antichrist, the Satan-appointed and empowered world leader who will dominate the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Paul describes him as “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John refers to this same individual as “the beast” and describes his open rebellion against God and His holy people.

Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. They are the ones whose names were not written in the Book of Life that belongs to the Lamb who was slaughtered before the world was made. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT

Again, notice that his ability to inflict persecution on God’s chosen people, Israel, is restricted to a period of 42 months or 3-1/2 years. Then God will inflict judgment on him and all those who bear the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). This will be the period of Great Tribulation, the second half of the seven years of tribulation.

Paul is describing a future period of time that has no similarity whatsoever to the circumstances in which the Thessalonians are living. They had no need to worry about whether they were living in the day of the Lord because none of the events associated with that day had taken place. Yes, Paul concedes that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). In other words, the world showed signs of the coming apostasy, but it was nothing when compared to the tribulation to come. Jesus described it this way:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. – Matthew 24:21 ESV

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that the only thing preventing that fateful day from occurring was the presence of “he who now restrains” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). This is a reference to the Holy Spirit who indwells each and every believer (John 14:17), as well as the entire body of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:16). Due to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence, the body of Christ acts as a restraining influence on the earth. When the church is raptured, this restraining influence will be removed, allowing unbridled apostasy to run rampant on the earth.

And with the church removed, God will be free to bring His full wrath to bear on the unbelieving world, for their sin and for their rejection of His gracious offer of salvation through His Son’s sacrificial death.

Things were difficult in Thessalonica, but Paul wanted the believers there to know that the real days of tribulation were yet to come. And the good news was that they would be preserved and protected from experiencing the suffering of those days because of their faith in Christ and God’s promise to save them from the wrath to come.

For God has not appointed us to suffer wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9 BSB

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Confusion Over Christ’s Coming

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV

At his point in his letter, Paul jumps into the deep end of the pool. No more paddling around in the shallow waters of easy believe-ism. The Thessalonians have had their faith shaken by some fairly significant doctrinal error brought to them courtesy of false teachers. These individuals had been propagating the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus had already begun and, it seems, they were using the intense persecution of the Thessalonians as their proof. And they could back up their belief with the teachings of Jesus.

While sitting on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Their question had been prompted by a statement by Jesus concerning the temple in Jerusalem.

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2 ESV

They were wanting to know when this fateful day would take place. And, in an attempt to calm their concerns, Jesus told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6 ESV).

In other words, a be a great many things would take place long before “the end” occurred. In fact, Jesus included additional seemingly catastrophic events that would precede the end times and His Second Coming:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” – Matthew 24: 7-8 ESV

Jesus was attempting to prepare His disciples to expect a great deal of suffering, civil unrest, wars, and even natural disasters. But those were simply the precursors of the end, not proof of its arrival. Things were going to get worse before they got better. And Jesus proves it by adding:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:9-14 ESV

But it seems that the false teachers who were negatively influencing the believers in Thessalonica were guilty of cherry-picking the teachings of Jesus. They were proof-texting, pulling out certain phrases that supported their view that the end had come and as a result, the Second Coming of Jesus was just around the corner. But this errant view flew in the face of Paul’s teachings concerning the end times.

In chapter one, Paul had assured the Thessalonians that, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” He would inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). That had clearly not taken place yet. And it would not take place until the Rapture of the church occurred (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul and the other apostles clearly taught in the imminence of Christ’s coming. They wanted believers to know that Jesus could come at any time, but that did not mean that He would. Followers of Christ were to live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, conducting their lives in a manner that reflected their belief in His return and the reality of eternity. This world was not their home. They were to set their minds and hearts on heaven and the promise of their eternal state. And, in his first letter, Paul assured them that God would protect and preserve them for that future day.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT

What rankled Paul was the fear and doubt being fostered among the Thessalonians because of the shoddy doctrine of the false teachers. The motivation of these men was probably sincere and well-meaning, but they were doing serious damage to the cause of Christ by speaking about things they didn’t fully understand. And it was causing unnecessary anxiety among the Thessalonians concerning “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV) – a direct reference to the Rapture of the church.

And Paul warns his confused and fearful friends not to let this false teaching deceive and disquiet them.

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT

And notice that Paul did not give these false teachers the courtesy of treating their teaching as an alternate view or perfectly acceptable option to consider. They were wrong. Their teaching was false. And it didn’t matter if they claimed that it came with God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

For Paul, the Gospel was far more than just the faithful presentation of God’s offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. His concept of the Gospel was all-inclusive, encompassing the full spectrum of God’s gracious plan for man’s redemption. Salvation was just the beginning, with the sanctification of the believer being just as much an integral part of God’s divine plan. And it would all culminate with the believer’s glorification when they received their new bodies, designed to last for eternity. Paul discussed this miraculous final phase of our Gospel transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

Salvation – sanctification – glorification. For Paul, that was the Gospel and anyone who deviated from and added to that three-fold plan was to be treated with contempt.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

According to Paul, the good news regarding faith in Christ had to include all three phases of God’s redemptive plan, and he succinctly articulates it in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation [salvation] to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures [sanctification]. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed [glorificatio]. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

The believer’s glorification, the final phase in God’s plan, will take place when Christ returned for His bride, the church. Paul knew that the human body was not equipped for eternal life. It was, as he described it, a temporary tent in which we dwell until Christ returns.

“…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT

But Paul firmly believed that God had a plan that included new bodies, divinely prepared for eternity.

“We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT 

And as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, the Rapture of the church will result in the gathering of all God’s saints, complete with their newly glorified bodies, so they can return with Him to heaven. And that great day will usher in the beginning of the end. With the removal of the church, God’s final plan of judgment for the unbelieving world will be poised to begin. And Paul will expound on that future aspect of the end times in the following verses.

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding these matters. The Thessalonians were not to worry or fret over the claims of the false teachers. They had not missed out. The Great Tribulation had not begun. There was much that had to happen before “the end” began. And all that they were experiencing was nothing more than the labor pains that naturally precede the delivery of God’s judgment on the world.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Future Glory Trumps Present Suffering

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, 10 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. 11 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, 12 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. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 ESV

Paul has informed the Thessalonians that he uses them as an example for the other congregations to whom he ministers.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

But he knows this does not make their suffering any easier. He understands that they are confused by the difficult conditions they face and are questioning how their trials could be within God’s will for them. It all seemed to make no sense. Hadn’t Jesus said that He came so “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV)? Didn’t He promise fulness of joy to those who kept His commandments (John 15:11)?

The presence of suffering in the life of Christ’s followers has always caused doubt and confusion, in spite of the fact that Jesus promised it would happen.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” – John 16:33 NLT

Placing one’s faith in Christ is not a vaccine against suffering. It does not provide immunity from effects of living in a fallen world where the presence of sin permeates everything and impacts everyone. And Jesus was informing His disciples that following Him was going to set them at odds with the world around them.

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

Attempting to live as lights in a sin-darkened world was not going to be easy. Exposing the deeds done in darkness was not going to win them any friends. Even Paul had warned the believers in Ephesus:

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:11-14 ESV

But Jesus had made it clear to His disciples that the majority of those living in darkness would prefer to remain right where they were, refusing His offer of salvation from sin and death.

…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

Yes, Jesus promised many trials and sorrows in this life, but He also provided His followers with the following assurance: “But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT). And Paul is attempting to explain to the Thessalonians that the presence of suffering and persecution in their lives should not come as a surprise. As followers of Christ, they were destined to suffer just as He had. But their present suffering had an upside.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Roman 8:17-18 NLT

There was a method to God’s seeming madness. While to them, their suffering seemed nothing but painful and pointless, Paul wanted them to know that God had a purpose behind it all. There was an as-yet invisible part to God’s divine plan to which they were currently unaware. And while their trials might tempt them to question God’s goodness and justice, Paul wanted them to know that it was all part of God’s righteous and fully sovereign plan for them.

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 – 2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV

And rather than complaining about their lot in life, they were to trust their all-knowing, all-wise God. He knew what He was doing. There was a divine purpose to their suffering that had both short-term and long-term ramifications. Which is what led James to write:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:1-4 NLT

God uses our suffering to transform us. The presence of trials is meant to make us God-dependent rather than self-sufficient. That’s exactly what Peter meant when he wrote: “humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NLT). Trials require trust. When we are incapable of solving our own problems, it forces us to turn to the one who holds us in the palm of His hands. And that is exactly what David suggests that we do.

Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. – Psalm 55:22 NLT

God loves His children and, oftentimes, that love shows up in the form of troubles and trials that test our faith in Him. But when, through faith, we turn our cares over to Him, we experience an increasing level of perseverance that results in the further development of our spiritual maturity. We grow stronger and even more faith-filled, needing nothing. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

And another major factor behind Paul’s contentment with any and all circumstances in this life was his strong belief in God’s plans for the future. He understood that this life was not all there was. There was a life to come. For Paul, this life was a temporary environment in which he lived as an alien or stranger in an earth-bound body, but with the full assurance that there was more to come.

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. – 2 Corinthians 5:1 1 NLT

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to find hope and encouragement in the reality of their future glorification, but also in God’s future judgment of the wicked.

God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted and also for us when the Lord Jesus appears from heaven. He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NLT

God was not blind or oblivious to what was going on the Thessalonica. He was fully aware of their suffering and knew the names of those who were responsible for it. And He had a plan in place to bring about the just and righteous judgment of those people for their acts of wickedness. And just as the future glorification of the persecuted believers in Thessalonica will be far beyond anything they could ever imagine, the future judgment of the wicked will be far worse than anyone could ever dream.

They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:9 NLT

At His second coming, Jesus will right all wrongs and restore order and justice to the world. He will punish the wicked, but He “will receive glory from his holy people—praise from all who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). And Paul includes the Thessalonians in that group. Yes, they might suffer in this life, but in the life to come they will enjoy an eternity with God the Son and God the Father, free from the effects of sin and completely separated from any form of suffering, sorrow, or shame.

The apostle John was given a vision of this future reality, which he penned in his Revelation. 

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:3-5 NLT

And with that amazing image in mind, Paul tells the Thessalonian believers, “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” (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NLT). Paul was asking God to show up in the midst of their suffering, providing them with the power they needed to live up to their calling as His children. And when they endured suffering well and walked worthy of their calling, the name of Jesus would be glorified because it would be evidence of God’s saving work in their lives.

Living the godly life was never intended to be easy. Jesus didn’t die so that we might live our best life now, but that we might one day experience eternal life in all its glory. But in the meantime, God has provided us with everything we need for living in obedience to His will and for displaying His divine nature through our lives.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Grace and Peace

1 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. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 ESV

As is obvious from the book’s title, this is a second letter written by Paul to the congregation of the church in Thessalonica. There may have been other letters written as well, but they were not included in the Canon of Scripture. There is no indication as to how much time had passed since Paul had written his first letter, but it is clear that he had received new information regarding the spiritual state of affairs in Thessalonica and he felt compelled to pen his response.

Paul was still in Corinth, some 358 miles away, when he heard the latest report concerning affairs in Thessalonica. Driven by his pastor’s heart, but hindered by the distance between them, Paul immediately put pen to paper in an effort to clarify the confusion that had entered the church through false teachers. This was a constant problem for Paul and the other apostles. As soon as they proclaimed the good news regarding salvation alone through Christ alone, others would appear on the scene, declare themselves to be teachers, and begin offering what Paul elsewhere refers to as “different gospel.”

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV

These “false” teachers were propagating their own version of the truth, adding to or taking away from the message concerning Jesus that Paul and the rest of the apostles had been divinely commissioned to preach. But as Paul told the churches in Galatia, these individuals were to be treated as enemies of God and as threats to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:8 ESV

But before broaching the subject of the doctrinal controversy going on in Thessalonica, Paul addressed his audience in his usual gracious manner, expressing his strong affection for them and complimenting them for their “steadfastness and faith” in the face of all the persecutions and afflictions they were having to endure. The members of the Thessalonian church were still relatively new converts to Christianity and they were living in a predominantly pagan culture heavily influenced by both Greek and Roman culture. Located on a major trade route, Thessalonica was a cultural melting pot and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. As the capital of the Roman province of Macedon, it also benefited from the protection provided by Caesar’s powerful legions.

But all of these factors made Thessalonica a particularly hostile environment for those who had chosen to place their faith in Christ. While considered a rather pluralistic society, there was strong resistance to Christianity from the Greeks as well as the small contingent of Jews who called Thessalonica home. The small but growing band of Christ-followers were feeling intense pressure from all sides as they attempted to live out their new faith under less-than-ideal conditions.

But Paul, writing on behalf of his ministry companions, Silvanus and Timothy, compliments the Thessalonians for their steadfastness and perseverance under fire.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

While the circumstances around them were difficult, these faithful few were not giving in or choosing to give up. In fact, Paul emphasizes that they were handling the pressure with remarkable poise and persistence.

…your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

Paul opens his letter with his usual salutation, declaring his desire that they enjoy the ongoing benefit of God’s grace and peace. While Paul used this same phrasing in many of his letters, it should not be seen as some rote and therefore, meaningless line. He meant what he said. His desire that they experience God’s grace or unmerited favor was real. For Paul, the grace of God played an indispensable role in every believer’s salvation, but also in their ongoing sanctification. Without the benefit of God’s grace, no one could come to faith in Christ.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:24 NLT

And God’s grace continues to play a vital role in the believer’s transformation into the likeness of Christ. He graciously provides each and every believer with His indwelling Holy Spirit, who provides the power required to live the Christian life. And Paul warned the believers in Galatia just how futile and foolish it is to try achieve spiritual maturity without God’s grace, as demonstrated by the Spirit’s enabling power.

After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? – Galatians 3:3 NLT

Paul knew that without the ongoing benefit of God’s unmerited favor, the Thessalonian believers would never experience the fulness of joy and the abundant life Christ promised to give them.

But he also knew that the peace of God was another essential resource in their ongoing spiritual transformation. In his letter to the churches in Philippi, Paul described this peace as that which “exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7 NLT). And he assured them that God’s “peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

When Paul commended the Thessalonians for their faith and love, and complimented them for their steadfastness and faith, he knew that it was all attributable to the grace and peace of God. He was at work in their midst. He had saved them and He was also sustaining and supporting them as their spiritual journey continued. Paul was fully convinced in the reality of God’s ongoing participation in the life of every believer, a belief he expressed boldly and often.

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 NLT

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

The Thessalonians were in good hands. They had everything they needed for living the godly life because of the grace of God the Father. And as Peter reveals, Paul was not alone in this confident assertion.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Never Give Up On Growing Up

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 ESV

Like Peter and the other apostles, Paul had a strong expectation that the believers to whom he wrote would grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual immaturity or stagnancy in their faith was unacceptable. He told the believers in Colossae that his preaching of Christ was intended to bring about salvation and sanctification.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he told them that his responsibility as an apostle was to “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And then he added that this work of building up the body of Christ had a lofty end goal or objective:

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

The work would never be done. Full spiritual maturity would never be achieved – at least, not in this lifetime. And Paul expressed to the Galatians his intention to keep pouring into them until they bore the likeness of Christ.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. – Galatians 4:19 NLT

You might say that Paul was a man possessed. He could not bear the thought of any believer failing to experience the fulness of salvation offered to them in Jesus Christ. And this included their sanctification, the divine process by which believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

So, as he begins to wrap up his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul let’s them know of his desire for their holiness. It was his life’s passion and his constant prayer to God on their behalf.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy… – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NET

Paul knew that spiritual maturity was the work of God, not men. That does not mean we do not play a part, but that the work of sanctification is impossible without divine assistance. Paul has already told the Thessalonians that their sanctification was God’s will for them (1 Thessalonians 4:3), but now he reminds them that it is also God’s work. Only God can transform sinners into saints. Only He can replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  Only He can radically alter their old natures, transforming them into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).

That is why Paul was constantly asking God to do what only He could do to bring about the spiritual maturity of His children.

I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:16-18 NLT

Only God has the power to save and sanctify. And only God is capable of securing the spirits, souls, and bodies of His saints, so that they might remain “blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT). By his use of the word “blameless,” Paul is not suggesting the possibility of achieving a state of sinless perfection in this life. He is simply reiterating a point he had made earlier in his letter. Their ability to one day stand before God “without fault” or “free from blame” would be the work of God.

May he…make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. – 1 Thessalonians 3:13 NLT

The ability to maintain a life marked by righteousness and holiness is a gift from God, just as salvation is. No one can save themselves and no one can preserve their saved state through self-effort. It is the work of God. And Paul assures the Thessalonians that God can be trusted to do what only He can do.

God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:24 NLT

God could be counted on to do His part. But they had a role to play as well. Paul has made that point perfectly clear throughout his letter. They would need to maintain their commitment to “serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They must continue to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). He expected to hear that they were “standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 ESV). And they could not afford to let up on their commitment to “live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans” (1 Thessalonians 4:4 ESV).

Their sanctification was a joint effort, powered by God, but requiring their willing and eager participation. If God’s will was their sanctification, they were going to have to adopt His will as their very own. It was essential that they make Christlikeness their primary passion and lifelong objective. And there was to be no goal less than full maturity in Christ. This meant that their sanctification would not be complete until they died and went to be with the Lord, or they lived long enough to see Him return at the Rapture for His church. Either way, the commitment to spiritual maturity and their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ was to remain their highest priority.

The apostle Peter reminds us that, because of our faith in Christ, we have been given all that we need to live godly lives. We lack nothing.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with further assurance of our completed transformation into the likeness of Christ.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

Paul closes his letter with a request. He asks the Thessalonians for their prayers of intercession on the behalf of himself and the rest of his ministry partners. The work of sharing the Gospel required divine assistance. Paul coveted their prayer because he knew that he was in the midst of a spiritual battle “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Finally, Paul asks that they express his love to all the members of the congregation and to make sure that his letter is read to everyone. And then he closes with a final blessing, asking that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be upon them. For Paul, the unmerited favor of God was a truly remarkable gift that never ceased to amaze and delight him. It was the key to salvation, sanctification and, ultimately, the glorification of all believers.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson