2 Thessalonians 1:1-5 - Gratitude for Spiritual Progress
Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5
Paul's first letter to this church was written only a short time after he had left Thessalonica. In this letter he had shown his concern for the believers there and had instructed them in various matters. That letter had been delivered. When he heard of the situation at Thessalonica from those who had delivered that letter he must have sat down to write this second letter almost immediately. Many think that the second followed the first in a matter of weeks.
In this second letter he reveals how thankful he is that the conditions in Thessalonica are much better than he feared. He had written about several matters in the first letter which need not be repeated because they had taken his instruction to heart. No longer does he have to defend his Apostleship. But, there are several items which must be clarified for these people, and especially the matter concerning the return of Christ. He will go into these things more broadly in this epistle.
First of all, he gives the usual greeting. The greeting he uses at the beginning of this epistle is almost the same as the one he employed in the previous one. This is not a personal greeting but a greeting of God Who is bringing His word to these people. Paul and his helpers are not able to give grace and peace to them — these are the gifts of God! It is the church at worship which is to receive this greeting. Grace and peace are declared to them and it is not a wish of the Apostle that they may receive it. The church at worship is not interested in a greeting of a man! By Paul's declaring this grace and peace to them it becomes evident that they are indeed gathered together in the name of God. Rich is the content of the terms he uses. It is also noteworthy that "God our Father" and "the Lord Jesus Christ" are placed on one plane so early in the history of the church. The deity of Christ was confessed since the earliest days. This was not a doctrine "discovered" by the church of a later day. The gospel is rooted in the confession that Jesus is divine.
Although this second epistle will deal with the wrong views the people at Thessalonica had in regard to the return of Christ, the Apostle speaks of his great joy in the first part of this letter. We have to give thanks for you, he says. One would be remiss in his duty if he did not give thanks for what has happened in Thessalonica. The wrong view of eschatology which is present here does not blind Paul to all the blessings which are found here. He has a very balanced view of the life of the churches to which he writes. The fact that there are problems and misinterpretations does not obscure the work of God which is going on in the lives and hearts of these people. He is witness to the work of God's grace as it comes to expression in the hearts of these people. Their difficulties do not characterize these people — but the fact that they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ!
This also becomes evident in the fact that he doesn't only speak of the church here in general, but that he emphasizes the fact that he gives thanks for every individual in this church. This, therefore, includes those who have difficulty in understanding his teaching concerning the Lord's return. It includes those who have adopted the wrong manner of life as a result of their faulty conception of the second coming. He will express his gratitude to God for them all — even for those who must still be corrected. Although perfection has not come to this church, as it also has not to any other, they, even those who err, have come a long way. He knows that his work of teaching and preaching have not come to an end when he has made known to them the way of salvation. He will gladly continue to instruct to the end that they may all come to the knowledge of the truth. The imperfections found in the church will not silence his thanks to God for them. He would be an ingrate if he could only see the problems in the church and not the beautiful work of the Spirit of God!
For what is he thankful? For the answer to his prayers as they are recorded in the first epistle. He had there commended them on the faith and love and hope they possessed. Yet, he admonished them to increase in these things. Now he comments on the growth of their faith. It grows exceedingly! That's what he wanted to see! Now he has received the information that the faith of these people is outstanding. That faith is growing stronger all the time. If that faith would not grow it would be dead. Faith never stays the same — it either grows or dies. Their love for each other "aboundeth." He had also prayed for this to happen. The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought them closer together than anything else could. These are people of varied background and social and economic status. There is no power on earth which can bind such diverse individuals together except the common faith in one Lord. This reveals the spiritual life of the church. Apparently their different views concerning some very important matters had not diminished their love for each other. Then there is good hope for the future and for the correction of errors. The Apostle does not mention hope in this connection although he had done so in the previous epistle. This has led some to believe that their hope was not too strong and is therefore not mentioned here. That, however, is not true. He indeed mentions their strong hope later in this letter. This Thessalonian church puts many others to shame and the Apostle is simply elated to hear of their progress.
Encouragement by Example
Because there is such a healthy spirituality in this church the Apostle glories in them to all the other churches. In his writings to the various churches he often makes mention of the other churches. Each was interested to hear of the others and the others were often mentioned to instruct and comfort the church to which he was writing. In his contacts with the other churches he is now able to "boast" about the church at Thessalonica. Their faith had indeed become well-known to all the churches in the vicinity (1 Thessalonians 1). Theirs was not only an enthusiasm for the moment of the reception of the gospel, it is still growing. Surely the Apostle needed this kind of encouragement in all the difficult labors in which he was engaged. And that this church should be such an example to others! He had come here out of the prison at Philippi and had been forced to leave here after a very brief stay. To think that those few weeks produced such returns! Often the labors of a far longer period of time produce far less fruit. No wonder he glories in them!
Specifically, he glories in them for their patience and faith in all their persecutions. People who have very recently come out of paganism now have the patience and faith to endure persecutions! This is a marvel of grace. Here their hope is evident. Their faith is not shaken and they have endured patiently. These people have experienced the same things which befell the Apostle when he had been in their city. He had been forced to leave because of the activity of those who opposed the gospel. These people, who live here and have to make their living here, are now experiencing the same things. Persecution will come to those who acknowledge Another King than Caesar. Especially if theirs is a vibrant faith. Paul, no doubt, had warned them that these things could be expected. But, when they actually come it is far different than when one hears of it in the abstract. The fact that they were patient and kept the faith under these circumstances was evidence that the faith was genuine. How soon this persecution came! The Lord asked much of these "new" Christians but He also gave them much! The patience and faith which they manifest is not their own doing but it is His gift — His work within them.
Paul not only speaks of the persecutions which have come to them but that they also have been enabled to endure "afflictions." Though closely associated with the persecutions, the two terms do not mean the same thing. The afflictions are rather the result of the persecutions. Often those who no longer worshiped the gods of the pagans were not able to do business. Persecutions may come in various forms but they usually afflicted the people first of all in their ability to make a living. Then they become a severe test. Yet, the Apostle is able to "boast" of these believers in all the churches, that their patience and faith has not been broken. These people are ready to die for their faith. That salvation which has been made known to them is worth far more than material goods. When such a faith is present, the difficulties which still remain in this church can be overcome. When that faith is absent, difficulties are magnified and will not come to solution. He indeed has reason to "boast" of these people to the other churches and use them as an example for others.
The Problem of Christian Suffering
The matter of the suffering of believers is often mentioned in the Pauline epistles. Suffering is often spiritually dangerous. Men often have the idea that if suffering comes it is an indication that God has forsaken them or that He is no longer in control. Others, in our day, often say that if this is the way God deals with them, they will have nothing to do with Him. God is love, and the suffering of men does not demonstrate love. It might be expected that these new Christians would have difficulty understanding the God Who had been proclaimed to them now that they were being persecuted for His name's sake. The teaching which Paul now gives them is therefore very significant.
The people in Thessalonica must not only see the afflictions which they have to endure, they must also see the patience and faith which has been given them so that they will be able to stand. That, to Paul, "is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God." These are their rewards as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. God not only sends the persecutions but also the means whereby these persecutions may be borne. Therein He shows Himself as righteous Judge. If He shows His righteous judgment to them now they will also have the assurance that His judgment will be righteous on the last day! No one may ever accuse Him of unrighteousness. These persecutions and afflictions are not pleasant in this day but they can be assured of this that God is not unrighteous, is not going contrary to His being, when He sends these things. They are not able to judge the value of these experiences, but God is. Paul is speaking of those things which belong to his own experiences. He was able to rejoice in tribulation. That might seem too much to expect of these new Christians, but their faith is holding strong and they maintain their patience. Their eyes must now be opened to see the righteousness of God displayed.
The view of suffering and its purpose must be directed beyond the present. This is not done in order to minimize the importance of the present life and proclaim a "pie in the sky by and by" of which Christianity has often been accused. No, they ought to see the manifestation of His righteous judgment already in the present that He has given them what they needed in all their suffering, but they must also look beyond the present time. They will, because of their faith and patience be counted worthy to enter into the kingdom of God. That is the reason for their suffering in the present time. God looks beyond the present. He sees the end from the beginning. It is difficult for the believers to have the proper perspective when it seems as though the suffering which they have to endure in this life is not according to justice. They must remember that God has great things in store for them. When they see the whole picture, they will also be able to see the righteous judgment of God already revealed at the present time. To see this their faith must be strong and their patience must endure. In this, too, they must become imitators of the Apostle himself (1 Thessalonians 1).
No church is without problems, because there are many problems in the life of believers in this world. However, Paul is exceedingly grateful for the progress this infant church has made. His work has not been in vain for they demonstrate in all things that God has begun a good work in them.
Questions for Discussion
What is the significance of the salutation in a worship service? Is it proper for him who leads the service to give his greeting too or does this detract from the salutation of God?
Is there a tendency to magnify the problems in a church and neglect to give thanks for all the good that is found in it?
Why do persecutions come? Why is there so little persecution today in our countries?
Is persecution ever harmful to the faith? Discuss. What is persecution and affliction supposed to accomplish in the believer?
Why is God's righteousness so often called into question when adversity comes? How can one be patient in adversity?
Is the kingdom of God a present reality or is it future? Or is it both?