Many years ago, when I was in my 30th birthday, I was still a single man who worked in the advertising industry, my life was occupied at work in making award-winning digital ads and getting high pay for it. At that time, I was already a seasoned Christian of more than ten years. Day-in and day-out I have never missed church almost every week for many years. Although I have joined my weekly bible study groups, helping out the church to do the leg works in its Christmas events or attending every church camp. I read the Bible and prayed regularly. But still, I felt in my heart that something in my spiritual life is missing. Even as a regular member and one of the founding members of a young church, I questioned myself from time to time, what am I doing in the church as a Christian? Why did God saves me and bring me here? What is God calling me to do, as a regular church member?
These questions had preoccupied my heart for years to understand what is God’s calling in Christian life. And in today’s passage in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1, Apostle Paul has given us the answer to these questions. You might have been in this church for many years, having similar questions and searching for answers and guidance. I hope that you can also find out what God calls you to do in this life from the Scripture.
1) The church exists only in God of grace and peace
In this letter, Apostle Paul first addressed the senders as himself, Silas and Timothy. They had shared in the evangelisation of Thessalonica. According to Acts 15:22 and 16:37, we learnt that Silas was a member of the Jerusalem community and a Roman citizen like Paul. In Acts 16:1-3, we knew that Timothy came from Lystra, and he had a Jewish mother and a Greek Father. Both of them were Paul’s colleagues in the gospel ministry. He addressed God as our Father, indicating that all Christians are born of the Holy Spirit. We are one family of God, adopted by Him as His children. God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ, who are essentially one in nature and redemption, is our grace and peace source.
Grace speaks of the undeserved divine love and mercy for humankind, manifested in Jesus Christ. It is the source of all spiritual blessings. Grace means any action or gift freely given; it cannot be earned or retained by personal effort. And when we speak of God’s grace, we receive everything we receive in this life, including salvation and Jesus Christ who died for our sins on the cross. It does not depend upon us, but we can hinder it through sin, ingratitude, and refusal.
And Peace, which is “Shalom” in Hebrew, is the expression of God’s grace in salvation and wholeness. Peace can be achieved only through Jesus Christ. Peace deals with our legal standing in the court of God’s justice. No person could ever survive the divine judgment without divine intervention. The cross and resurrection give us access to God through faith in Christ; we are admitted into his presence. Peace from God also brings wholeness, restoring the fragmented condition of humankind. Through Jesus Christ, we are able to grow and develop into a complete self and personality as God designed. We also join other redeemed persons to form a unified community as he purposed.
Both grace and peace can only come from God alone, but no other source.
2) Thanksgiving for the believers of their faith and love
Then Paul wrote, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing” (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
When Paul heard the spiritual life and development in the Thessalonians Church, he knew that God’s faithfulness undergirded their progress. Consequently, he gave an ongoing offering of thanks to God. The Thessalonians were the occasion of Paul’s thanksgiving. Still, God was the source, for it was God working in partnership with them “to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13), which had caused their faith and love to increase. The two things that Paul gave thanks for is the believers’ faith and love.
First, faith refers to the outworking of Christian belief. It is not just doctrinal dogma, but the reason of belief and action.
The keys to surviving persecution and trials and hardships are endurance and faithfulness. When we face crushing troubles, we can have faith that God uses our trials for our good and his glory—knowing that God is fair and just will give us patience in our suffering because we know that he has not forgotten us. In God’s perfect timing, he will relieve our suffering and punish those who persecute us. We can only grow stronger in our faith when we have endured hardship or persecution in life. The genuine nature of the faith of the believer produces perseverance by the strength from God; it is resulting from an abiding trust in God’s goodness and sovereignty. Paul points out that while waiting for God’s Kingdom, we, the believers, should grow in our endurance and faithfulness through the hardships we are sufferings.
Secondly, love is the action to meet others’ needs. This overflowing love for people was demonstrated by the Christians in Thessalonica. We often find it easy to select certain people we will love or befriend with, maybe those close to our age who share similar interests. But Paul praised these Thessalonians because they expressed love indiscriminately toward all the brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, Christian love is a choice, not a feeling. You can choose to love people like the way Jesus loves you. Not just some people you find easy to get along with, but to everyone who believes in Christ, everyone around you. Love them with the action of service, or encouraging words, or spending quality time with them to show your love toward them. Let our church be a church that fills the love of Christ in this harsh world.
3) Christ’s coming and full justice from God in his judgment
Then Paul declared in verse 5 to 10, “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.”
On the surface of all the persecution and afflictions would not seem to be a very comforting word. But Apostle Paul has instructed his churches that persecution would be expected a lot of those who willingly follow Jesus, the crucified Messiah who the Romans saw as a state criminal.
Paul wants the Thessalonians and all Christians suffering for Christ to know two things: First, the nature and purpose of their suffering. And secondly, the role their suffering plays in anticipating God’s righteous judgments on their enemies.
Persecutions are evidence of God’s righteous judgment. Like the Thessalonians church, the Christians’ ability and power to persevere and stand in the midst of unjust hardship is the evidence pointing to God’s judgment. The truth of the gospel of Christ, who died for our sins so that we can have eternal life; and the transformation of the Christian’s lives, changing from our old selves and old habits into a new spiritual person, and the certainty of the future justice of God, when Jesus Christ returns, these things are proved by the believers who can withstand the various trials in God’s grace and God’s will. The new Christian lives of believers prove God’s indwelling power. Like the Thessalonians’ endurance came from something besides human capacity. By their lives, they validated God’s work and strength, and the transforming energy of his Spirit.
Our suffering with strength not only proves the power of God; it also demonstrates the saving faith held by these Christians: as a result, you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God. Christians do not attain their salvation through suffering; not like the medieval monks who inflict self-injuries to work their way to salvation. No. But Christians in suffering demonstrated the power of salvation of Christ in their lives, so they can establish their worthiness to inherit the joys and benefits of God’s favour when Christ establishes his kingdom in the Judgement Day. When the time comes, God will bring judgement and payback to every nation which had inflicted persecution and hardship upon his people.
As prophet Isaiah had prophesized a long time ago, “4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” 5 Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word: “Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of my name, have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!’ Yet they will be put to shame. 6 Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying his enemies all they deserve.” (Isaiah 66:4-6)
Similarly, Paul reminds us of what will be the result of the believers’ present endurance. God’s righteous judgment on their behalf will be that “you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God”. This is the ultimate goal of our suffering in this life. The kingdom of God is now, but it also points to our future when Christ returns and establishes his kingdom in completion. Therefore, Christians’ present suffering has a role to play concerning their presence in the final kingdom. In simple terms, suffering is our identities as disciples of a suffering servant Messiah. We suffer, for the sake of the coming kingdom, where God’s gracious rule is absolute, and justice is his nature as God Almighty.
In God’s timing, his justice will take a twofold form: those who are experiencing affliction now in the current age, we will have a true rest in God’s eternal rest, while those who have been afflicting God’s people, in turn, will receive affliction from God in his righteous, eternal judgment. God’s kingdom and God’s rule has already begun, but not yet in its completion when God’s rule is totally restored. Life for the Christians in the present is altogether affirmed in Christ’s resurrection, which guarantees our own certain future as God’s people. While to the unbelievers who against Christ and his followers, they refuse to acknowledge God’s general revelation. Paul wrote in verse 8, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) Those who do not obey the gospel may refer to people who have been exposed to the truth of Jesus Christ, yet have refused it. Having turned their backs, they have not obeyed. They have denied God’s sovereign right as Lord. Jesus would judge them. As Paul stated the nature of Christ’s judgment, there will be no deliberations, no appeals, no lessening of the sentence, no possibilities for parole. Judgment will be final and permanent. The punishment from God will be everlasting destruction. This is not annihilation or extinction. These people are sentenced to eternal punishment in hell and separation from God, the source of life.
This is why sharing the gospel to your family and friends, and outreaches are so important to those around us. We don’t want to see our siblings, parents, grandparents, relatives, spouse or best friends in life to be separated from God forever in eternal punishment. Therefore, use our time wisely, treasure our moments with everyone else outside our Christian community to be gospel opportunities. You never know if God will use you to bring people you know to come to know Christ. As the famous quote of John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Most Christians would memorise this verse, but do you remember what the next lines are? “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)
Those who rejected the gospel of truth will be condemned because they have not believed in the name of God’s Son – Jesus Christ. But to those who believe, when Jesus comes, he will be glorified in his holy people. Christ will not only display his glory, but this glory will be shown in those who belong to him in some way.
This future includes all of us who believe the testimony of Christ and the Scriptures. When Christ returns, the redemption from this sinful world which Christ had accomplished, and the transformation which awaits us at the completion of salvation, belong to the work of Christ. Through Christ, we have received the grace of the Spirit and God’s power against sin. So let Christ be glorified in our lives.
4) Christ be glorified in our lives
And Paul finished this chapter with a prayer, he wrote, “11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this 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 1:11-12)
Our constant prayer is the most effective way to encourage fellow believers and to build up the church. Paul’s prayer was that God might count you worthy of his calling. No one deserves to be called by God to salvation. No one is worthy. Not you, or me, or anyone else on earth. We are not worthy. But we are all called by the grace of God. Yet, God extended his love and call to the Thessalonians and us to enter into the kingdom of his son through faith.
After accepting this call, we, as the believers who follow Jesus, are compelled to live in a way that is fitting, or worthy, of such an honour. We are to demonstrate God’s transforming grace through our behaviour. We can be counted worthy if God’s power is working within us. The good purposes and acts prompted by faith come from the regenerated believer. These are consistent desires and actions that issue from faith—the wholeness of mind, body, and spirit—founded in harmonious belief and life. But these will be useless if we attempt them on our own. Effectiveness is totally dependent upon the power of God. As Christians, our calling from God is to become like Christ. This is a gradual, lifelong process that will be completed when we see Christ face to face. To be worthy of this calling means to want to do what is right and good as Christ would. And what are the ways that are worthy? Paul told us in Ephesians 4:2-3, “2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
We aren’t perfect yet, but we move in that direction as God works in us and through us.
Furthermore, Paul prayed that the name of our Lord Jesus might be glorified in you, in each of you, and you in him. The sole purpose and driving energy in history and God’s salvation plan is the glory of God in Christ Jesus. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:10, “To bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Our lives in the present world prepare us for the future. In the future, the glory of God will be proclaimed through the redemption and worthiness of his people. We will be his glory. Because we are God’s children with Christ, we will also receive glory, sharing in the honour of our Lord. And what is glorification? God is glorified when enemies of God are made children of God, that people of disobedience become the servants of Christ, that those dead in sin are made alive in Jesus, that suffering turns to joy, that poverty inherits God’s riches. It can only be done by the grace of God. Both mystery and glory of Christ that we can only receive with awe and thanksgiving. This is our blessing from God, to Him be the glory and honour praise, forever and ever.
Paul encouraged the Thessalonians, and us in this passage, to devote ourselves to godly living. This is not an option for Christians, but it should be our consuming passion so that “God may count us worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every act prompted by our faith. God is guaranteed the ultimate victory, but we are not guaranteed the reward unless we do our part under the guidance and calling of the Spirit, persevering in faith, holiness, and love.
So, what have we learnt today? In summary:
- Faith and love must continually increase in our Christian life.
- Persevering through life’s difficulties and hardships validates our faith and trust in Christ.
- Even this world is full of injustice; a day will come when the ungodly will suffer punishment, and those obedient to the gospel will enjoy God’s eternal peace.
And our responses should be:
- Praying and encouraging one another in church in hard times.
- The realities of hell and heaven should motivate us to tell the gospel to others, praying for their salvation.