October 17, 2011

Tuesday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 20, 23, 1 Kings 12:12-20, 2 Thessalonians 1
Evening - Ps 11, 12, Job 4:12, Mt. 12:14-30

Commentary
2 Thessalonians 1

Like 1 Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians was written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth in or around the year 52 A.D. Timothy had been sent by Paul to Thessalonica and had probably spent a couple of months there completing the task of organising the church and instructing the clergy and congregation in the doctrines of the faith (1 Thess. 3:2). Because Paul was anxious to hear back from him about the safety and progress of the Thessalonians, Timothy went to Corinth, where Paul was teaching at that time, and gave the Apostle the good news that the Thessalonians were persevering well in the faith (3:6). He was sent back to Thessalonica almost immediately, bearing a letter from Paul, which we know as the book of 1 Thessalonians. One of the purposes of the letter was to inform the Church that Christians who die before Christ returns to bring the Day of the Lord to complete fulness, will not miss out. They will have a prominent role in the events of Christ's Return, and are now with Him in Heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17, see also 2. Cor. 5:8). Timothy, returning to Thessalonica with this letter, probably spent several more weeks in that city, teaching the Church to know and follow the Saviour, Christ. At length he returned to Corinth to work with Paul and report back on the situation in Thessalonica. Continuing questions and issues in Thessalonica caused Paul to send Timothy back to it, this time carrying another letter from Paul, which we know as 2 Thessalonians.

Apparently the persecution in Thessalonica continued, even months after Paul left the city, for 2 Thessalonians opens by addressing it. The Christians are commended for their patience and faith in their persecutions and tribulations (1:4), and, especially that their faith and love "groweth exceedingly" in spite of their sufferings, (1:3).

Verses 5-11 refer specifically to the fate of the persecutors, and the result of enduring persecution in the lives of the Thessalonians. For the Christians it is a sign of God's favour, for they have been counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, and worthy to suffer for it. Had they been unworthy, had their faith been simply an emotional response to the manipulations of the many false teachers of the era, they would not have withstood persecution. Standing firm shows the reality and depth of their faith. Theirs is a worthy faith.

It is always easy to go over to the other side; to abandon the true faith for the easy believism offered by those who preach a different gospel and a different Christ. Today many call themselves Christians, whose faith is really about emotional experiences, self-esteem, or getting worldly goods and miracles from God. These people leave their faith as soon as the church "services" fail keep them entertained, which is why so many churches feel the need to constantly be on the cutting edge of music and cultural trends. Or, finding that the promised health and wealth miracles do not come, they leave their faith, and the real one, behind. In short, when their faith requires anything from them, they find they have nothing to give because they have received nothing. The Thessalonians had received the Gospel of Christ. They had received life through His atoning sacrifice. They had received the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the means of grace. They did not expect God to make life easy for them. Their church was born in persecution, and they expected following Christ to be costly. Thus they were able to persevere.

Yet they did not expect their persecutors to get away with their evil, and Paul makes it clear that their tormentors will suffer terrible consequences for their actions. Paul remembers that persecuting Christ's Church is persecuting Him (Acts 9:4), as every sin against the Church is a sin against God, and he shows that God will repay the persecutors with tribulation (1:6), just as He will repay the faithful with "rest" (1:7). When He comes with His angels to bring in the fullness of His Day, the tormentors will be cast into the fire and punished with everlasting destruction, banned forever from the presence and glory of God (1:8-10). This fate awaits all "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8). Notice again that it is "that day," the Day of the Lord that Paul refers to. This is the Second Coming of our Lord, in glory and power to put all things right (1:10).

Paul ends the first chapter with a prayer. There is no asking for deliverance from suffering in it. There is no asking that the persecution will end. Instead he prays that the Thessalonians will continue to prove themselves worthy of their calling in Christ as they persevere through their suffering (1:11). This prayer is a terrible blow to those who teach or believe that having enough faith guarantees that God will deliver them from circumstances and situations they don't like, or will give them health and wealth and miracles anytime they ask for them. Paul prays for God to fulfill the pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power. He is praying that, as the Thessalonians show themselves worthy through their endurance and faithfulness in all situations in this life, God will continue to work faith and Godliness (the pleasure of His goodness) in them. This faith will continue to show itself in the increasing and continuing "work of faith with power." In other words, faithfulness under trial leads to increased faith, and increased faith leads to more faithfulness.

The result is that the name of our Lord is glorified (1:12). This verse is yet another reminder that the center and meaning of all things is God, not us. We err greatly when we think God created all things, suffered on the cross, and endures the constant sin and frustrations of humanity just for us. It was for His own glory and pleasure that we were created (Rev. 4:11). He has a purpose for His creation, and He is daily at work bringing it towards His goal, which is to establish a Kingdom and people for Himself. The goal of God is to bring all things together in one in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It is Christ, not we, who is the central figure. It is for His glory that we are saved, and live, and die, and live with Him forever.