The Peace and Presence of God

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 3:13-18 ESV

There is no place for spiritual laziness or apathy within the body of Christ. Each member is expected to do his or her part, ministering through the gift(s) given to them by the indwelling Spirit of God. Both Paul and his fellow apostle, Peter, wrote about these things. 

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

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. – 1 Peter 4:10-11 NLT

Yet, the Thessalonian church had within it a contingent of individuals who were refusing to do their part. Rather than working, they were living off of the generosity of their fellow church members. And because they had so much time on their hands, they were tending to become busybodies, sticking their noses into everybody else’s business and causing dissension in the church.

Paul has already addressed how he expected the rest of the church to do deal with these individuals, commanding them to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV). And in the closing verses of his letter, Paul gives the church further instructions regarding the treatment of the lazy, idle, and disobedient among them.

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14 NLT

Notice what Paul is doing here. He is calling for the members of the church in Thessalonica to maintain a mutual awareness of one another’s spiritual condition. He tells them to “take note” of all those who refuse to obey what Paul has written about in this letter – specifically in regards to “walking in idleness.” The Greek word Paul used is sēmeioō, and it means “to mark for avoidance.” It comes from another Greek word, sēmeion, which refers to a sign or mark. Or as the Outline of Biblical Usage describes it: “that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and is known.”

These people were to be recognized for what they were in order for the church to deal with them appropriately. There is no call for tolerance or political correctness on Paul’s part. He saw these individuals as detrimental to the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ and, therefore, he called for them to be shunned. No, they were not to be treated with hatred or animosity, like an enemy. They were to be warned about their behavior so that they might be ashamed (entrepō). The Greek word carries the idea of shame, but with a positive purpose behind it. The motivation was to see them turn around or invert their behavior. In a sense, it speaks of the kind of sorrow or regret that Paul wrote about to the believers in Corinth.

For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.– 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT

Paul is not recommending public humiliation or ostracization, he is calling on the body of Christ to heal itself. This is less about individual correction, then communal care. And, knowing that this kind of effort within the body of Christ could be difficult and emotionally draining, Paul encourages the church in Thessalonica to not throw in the towel. “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV).

This is the very same message Paul gave to the believers in Galatia:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:9 ESV

The walk of faith is not an easy one. It can be difficult at times and strewn with all kinds of obstacles, distractions, and seeming detours. But Paul encourages his readers to not grow faint or weary along the way. For in due season, they will reap. There is a reward. And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to live with their eye on the prize. It was the way he lived his own life, as he made clear in his letter to the church in Philippi.

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:13-14 ESV

He communicated the very same idea to the believers in Corinth, encouraging them to focus on the goal.

So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 NLT

As Paul brings his letter to a close, he offers up an interesting prayer. He calls on God, “the Lord of peace,” to give them “peace at all times in every way.” It seems a bit odd that Paul would ask God the Father to provide peace to His own children. But I think this prayer is meant to remind the Thessalonians that God is the author of peace and it is only through their relationship with Him that they will experience peace in the midst of the troubles of life. Jesus told His disciples:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 NLT

Paul seems to be communicating the very same promise. The Thessalonians can enjoy peace in the midst of turmoil. But the peace they need will only come from the Lord of peace. They will not find it anywhere else. Which is why Paul told the Philippians believers to take their cares and concerns to God.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 NLT

The kind of peace Paul is talking about is not just a lack of chaos. The Greek word is rich in meaning, carrying the ideas of tranquility, security, safety, prosperity, and harmony between individuals. Even with all that was going on within their local fellowship, and the presence of brothers and sisters walking in idleness, the church could know and experience the peace of God – a remarkable lack of fear, anxiety, discord, and dissension.

And when Paul states, “The Lord be with you all,” he is not suggesting that God was absent from their midst and needed to show up again. He is reminding them of the undeniable reality of God’s persistent presence among them. As Moses had told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV). God was with them, and He would remain with them all along their journey this side of heaven. Just as God went before and lived among the Israelites as they journeyed from their captivity in Egypt to the land flowing with milk and honey, God will go before His children as they make their way from slavery to sin to their future glorification in eternity.

And as Paul signs off his letter, he gives them one more word of encouragement: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 ESV). Once again, this is to be seen more as a reminder to the Thessalonians than a request to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a fleeting or fickle commodity. It is not something we have to seek or earn. It is a gift given to us by God Himself and as a result of Jesus giving His life on our behalf. And notice that Paul states that the grace of Jesus Christ will be with them all. It is not reserved for the spiritual elite or the religious superstars. His grace is available to all – all the time. But we must constantly acknowledge our need for it and place our hope in it.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9 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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

No Free Meal

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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 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. 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. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 ESV

The body of Christ is an organism, not just an organization. While it’s made up of individuals, they are expected to exist together in a state of mutual love and submission, displaying selfless acts of compassion and a shared concern for the well-being of one another. Paul used the metaphor of the human body as a way of describing the symbiotic relationship between believers.

We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. – Romans 12:5 NLT

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT

So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. – 1 Corinthians 12:24-27 NLT

Paul viewed the body of Christ as a living organism in which the interdependence between its various members was essential to the overall spiritual health of the whole. And he expressed his desire that they act as a cohesive, mutually caring community in his first letter.

Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians  5:13-14 ESV

Paul was well aware of the fact that, inevitably, the body of Christ would be made up of all kinds of people who exhibited every conceivable level of spiritual maturity. In the verses above, he mentions the idle, the fainthearted, and the weak. And he spoke of the weak on more than one occasion, revealing his awareness that the spiritual immature would always be a part of any local body of believers.

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. – Romans 14:1 ESV

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. – Romans 15:1-2 ESV

But in this second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is addressing something quite different than spiritual immaturity. He specifically calls out those who are “walking in idleness.” Paul uses two Greek words to describe these individuals. The first is peripateō, and it can be translated “to walk,” but can also mean “to conduct one’s self” or “to pass one’s life.” These people were conducting their daily lives in a way that Paul deemed unacceptable. That’s where the second Greek word comes in: ataktōs. It describes a soldier marching out of step with his peers. They were “deviating from the prescribed order or rule” (Outline of Biblical Usage). These individuals weren’t just marching to the beat of their own drum, they were stubbornly refusing to line up with the teaching of Paul and the other apostles. Their actions were blatantly disorderly and disruptive to the local body of Christ. These were not weak or immature believers in need of instruction and encouragement. They were men and women whose undisciplined conduct and stubborn resistance to discipline were damaging the entire faith community. They were like rogue cancer cells in the body of Christ and Paul recommended radical steps to prevent their further contamination.

Based on Paul’s admonitions, we can piece together a picture of what these people were guilty of doing. Their disorderly conduct included a refusal to work. We’re not told why they held this view, but it could be that they had been impacted by false teaching that had led them to believe that Jesus was coming back any day. In light of that expectation, it’s likely that they viewed work as unnecessary and a waste of time. But their undisciplined lifestyles were wreaking havoc on the local body of Christ. Rather than work, they expected the church to support them. And Paul reminds the faithful that he and the apostles didn’t model that kind of lifestyle.

…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. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 ESV

These people were out of line, having broken ranks with the faith community and having placed an undue burden on the church. So, Paul gives a bold and unapologetic opinion regarding these people.

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. – 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV

And this was not the first time Paul had addressed this problem in the church. He had warned Timothy:

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. – 1 Timothy 5:8 ESV

And he had expressed similar advice to Titus.

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. – Titus 3:14 ESV

Paul and his ministry partners had demonstrated through their own lives what he was demanding of the Thessalonians. There was no place for disorderly conduct within the body of Christ. Laziness and idleness have no place in the church. The faith community, while an interdependent organism, is not intended to be a place where non-contributors thrive. Each believer has been gifted by the Spirit and is expected to play their God-ordained part in contributing to the overall well-being of the body. Yet, Paul states, “we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business” (2 Thessalonians 3:11 NLT). This was unacceptable, and Paul addresses these individuals directly and bluntly:

Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. – 2 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV

Paul labels these people as busybodies (periergazomai), a term used to describe those who occupy themselves with trivial and useless matters that don’t concern themselves. Rather than working, they had all kinds of time to worry about the affairs of others. So, Paul tells them to work quietly, a “description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others” (Outline of Biblical Usage).

It was well into the 12th-Century that Chaucer labeled “idle hands the devil's tools.” But Paul knew that to be true as early as the 1st-Century. And he warned the believers in Thessalonica to be wary of the idleness in their midst. It was dangerous and potentially deadly, because it emanated from an attitude of disobedience and disorderliness. So, it was sin. And, like cancer, sin spreads. Left untreated, in time it infects and impacts the entire body. That’s why Paul is so emphatic, providing the Thessalonians not just with advice, but with a command.

…we command you…that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness. – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV

In a sense, Paul is telling them to avoid these people like the plague. They weren’t the spiritually weak in need of strengthening. They were the rebellious in need of spiritual discipline. They were members of the body of Christ who were refusing to play their part in contributing to the overall health of the church. Like unwanted parasites, they were sucking the life out of the faith community by taking but never giving. They had given love of self precedence over Christ’s command to love others. And Paul, knowing the danger behind that mindset, warned that it was not to be tolerated.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV

To Paul, the Christian life was anything but independent. He constantly stressed the vital interrelationship between believers within a local fellowship, and between different congregations that found themselves separated by distance and cultural differences. A good example of this is the fund Paul raised from the Gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia to minister to the needs of the financially strapped and predominantly Jewish congregation in Jerusalem.

…the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. – Romans 15:26-27 NLT

This cooperative concern for one another was encouraged continuously by Paul. He knew the strength of the body of Christ was founded on God’s grace-filled love for each believer and demonstrated through selfless, sacrificial love for one another. Even the believer’s ability to love comes from God, as the apostle John makes clear.

We love each other because he loved us first. – 1 John 4:19 NLT

And one of the highest expressions of the mutual love believers are to share with one another comes in the form of prayer. Paul prayed faithfully for each of the churches he had helped to found, and he coveted their prayers for him. He fully believed in and relied upon the power of prayer, and took to heart the words of James.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. – James 5:16 NLT

And Paul was not embarrassed to ask the Thessalonians to pray for him. But notice the nature of his request. It’s not personal or self-focused. He doesn’t ask them to pray for his healing from a sickness or for deliverance from a difficult situation.  No, Paul is very specific, asking for prayer “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 ESV). You might conclude that this is a personal prayer because Paul seems to be asking that God bless his work, but his real focus is on the spread of the gospel. Paul wasn’t in it for the glory. He wasn’t interested in how many converts he had made or whether he was getting all the credit. 

At one point, while in prison in Rome, Paul had received news that there were others preaching the gospel out of jealousy and rivalry.  They were taking advantage of his situation and stepping into the gap his absence had created. And Paul was fully aware that some of these preachers had impure motives, stating, “They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me” (Philippians 1:17 NLT). Yet Paul was able to respond, “But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice” (Philippians 1:18 NLT). 

Paul didn’t care who got the credit. But he did care that the gospel message was preached. And he wanted the Thessalonians to join him in prayer with that goal in mind. And knowing that the gospel was going to encounter opposition, Paul asked that they prayer for their protection.

Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. – 2 Thessalonians 3:2 NLT

Again, this request has a personal element to it, but Paul’s primary concern is about the spread of the gospel and the spiritual battle that raged against it. As the Thessalonians well knew, the good news of Jesus Christ was not always met with open arms. They had experienced first-hand the kind of animosity the gospel could engender.

But almost as if saying, “enough about me,” Paul suddenly turns his attention to the Thessalonians, declaring to them, “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). This statement exudes Paul’s confidence in God, and it reflects his understanding that the believer’s dependence must ultimately be in God. He is the faithful one. He is the one who strengthens, guards, guides, and protects. Paul is not diminishing the need for or power of their prayers. He is emphasizing the undeniable nature of God’s role in the believer’s spiritual well-being.

And don’t miss what Paul says next: “we have confidence in the Lord about you” (2 Thessalonians 3:4 ESV). Notice that he doesn’t say, “We have confidence in you.” He wasn’t telling them, “You’ve got this!” He wasn’t inferring that they had their spiritual act together and were handling their walk of faith well. No, Paul’s confidence was in the faithfulness of God. And he knew that God was the one who behind the past, present, and future obedience of the Thessalonians. Any spiritual success they had enjoyed had been God’s doing, not their own.

Which brings us back to the topic of dependence. The Thessalonian church and every individual who belonged to it was totally reliant upon God for their salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Their placement within the body of Christ had been the work of God. And it would be God who kept them there, all the way to the end. Which is exactly what Paul had written to the believers in Philippi.

He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 BSB

And Paul shared the same comforting words with the believers in Corinth.

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. – 1 Corinthians 1:8 NLT

Their future was in God’s fully capable hands. He had called them, and He would sustain them. He had chosen them, and He would keep them – all the way to the end. And knowing that to be true, Paul prays on their behalf: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV). This isn’t a request for God to do something He doesn’t want or intend to do. Paul is praying that God’s will be done on behalf of the Thessalonians. Paul’s inclusion of this prayer in his letter to them was intended to remind them that their hearts remain focused on God’s remarkable love for them. He was not going to abandon them. As Paul had told the believers in Rome, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Romans 8:38 NLT).

They needed to keep their hearts and minds firmly focused on God’s unwavering and unstoppable love for them. And, they needed to use the endurance of Jesus as motivation to remain faithful to the end. Jesus was loved by God, but He had to suffer to fulfill the will of God. God had chosen Him to serve as a ransom for many. The Father sent His Son to die on behalf of sinful mankind. And the suffering Jesus endured in His earthly life was not a sign that God had fallen out of love with Him. It was actually evidence of their love for one another, and proof of God’s love for us.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

And Paul challenges the Thessalonians to focus on the steadfastness, the endurance that Jesus modeled in His earthly life. He remained dedicated and determined to fulfill the will of God – all the way to the end.

…he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:7 NLT

So, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to use Jesus as their model for endurance. Which is exactly what the author of Hebrews would have them do.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 BSB

And God makes it all possible. He provides us with the strength we need to model the perseverance and faithfulness of Jesus. And it is His incredible love for us that should motivate us to do as Jesus did.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Saved by God

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

There’s a lot packed into these five short verses, and it’s easy to miss the significance of their content. In them, Paul addresses everything from the doctrines of election, sanctification, and glorification to the roles of the Spirit and the individual in the process of spiritual maturity. This is not light reading. And the reason Paul drops this theologically rich content on his readers is, so they will recognize that despite rumors to the contrary, the day of the Lord has not come and gone. In fact, he wants them to know that God has ordained great things for them to do before that end times event.

As Paul told the believers in Ephesus, “For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT). And Paul informed the Ephesian church that their status as God’s chosen people had been planned by God long before they were even born.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. – Ephesians 1:4 NLT

This appears to be the very same message Paul is trying to convey to the Thessalonians, when he writes, “God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). The believers to whom he wrote had been among the first converts to Christianity In Thessalonica, and Paul wants them to understand that their salvation had been God’s doing, not their own. Paul expresses his recognition of God’s undeniable role in their salvation by thanking Him. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had played no part in their own salvation. Neither had the believers in Ephesus, and neither had he.

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

Why is this important and why does Paul bring it up at this point in his letter? Because the Thessalonians were confused over news that the day of the Lord had come and the Rapture of the church had not yet taken place. They thought they were living in the period of Tribulation and were anxiously hoping for the second coming of Jesus. But Paul wanted them to understand that the entire process of salvation was the work of God. From their initial choosing and calling by God to their sanctification and ultimate glorification, it was all God’s doing. There was no excuse for fear or doubt. They had no reason to question what God was doing or whether they had somehow missed out on God’s plan.

And Paul reminds them that their salvation had been “through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). They had been set apart or consecrated by God through the indwelling presence of His Spirit. 

…he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. – Titus 3:5 ESV

According to Paul, it was the Spirit of God who gave them the ability to hear the truth concerning Jesus Christ and believe. This regenerating power of the Spirit is what makes it possible for those whose eyes have been blinded by Satan to see the glorious light of the good news.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

Even their ability to believe the the truth of the gospel came from God. All Paul had done was communicate that gospel message to them, but it was God who gave them the capacity to believe it. And God’s call of them was so that they might “obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 4:14 ESV). This glory not only refers to their future glorification, when God will complete the process of their sanctification and provide them with new, glorified bodies; it includes their current condition as common, everyday vessels in which the glory of God resides.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT

They already had the glory of God resident within them, and it was to increase in intensity with each passing day. 

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His image with intensifying glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 BSB

All of this was meant to be a wake-up call, intended to stir the Thessalonians out of their debilitating fear and confusion and to get them back to living their lives with intentionality. Which is why Paul told them, “With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, 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).

These verses didn’t contain new information but were a reiteration of the teaching Paul had already passed on to them – in person and by letter. This was a well-timed reminder to hold their ground and to keep believing in the truth regarding their salvation. It was the work of God, and He was far from finished. The persecution they suffered was proof of their calling, not evidence against it.

Jesus had warned His disciples that things were going to get worse before they got better.

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

But notice what Jesus told the, “don’t panic.” God has a plan. And His people do not need to fear His coming wrath. They no longer have to fear His judgment. In fact, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had told them “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV). And he went on to remind them that, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV). They had no reason to fear. They had no cause to faint or grow weary. God held them in His highly capable hands. And Paul closes this section by praying that God would help them focus on the eternal comfort and good hope He had in store for them.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NLT

They had work to do, prepared for them by God Himself. And God had given them His Spirit to provide them with the strength they needed to live in keeping with their calling. They had been chosen, called, set apart, and filled with the glory of God. Now, they needed to live like it.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

God’s Got This

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 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. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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 2:1-12 ESV

In this chapter, Paul begins to address the primary issue for which he wrote his letter. There was confusion among the Thessalonian believers regarding the end times, and it was leading to some false and dangerous conclusions. It didn’t help that there were others, claiming to be speaking prophetically, who were throwing fuel on the flames of fear spreading among the flock.

Paul had already written to them regarding the pretribulation Rapture of the church in his first letter.

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 ESV

The return of Christ for His church would begin the day of the Lord and would be followed immediately by the seven years of Tribulation. There is a chronology or God-ordained timeline to all of the events associated with the coming day of the Lord and Paul wants to assuage their fears by clarifying the sequence of events.

Evidently, there was a great deal of anxiety present in the church because people were beginning to question whether the day of the Lord had already begun. A major contributor to this mindset was the persecution they were having to endure. If, as some were teaching, the day of the Lord had begun, then Paul must have been wrong about the Rapture. He had indicated that Christ’s return for the church would happen first. But the conditions under which the Thessalonians were having to live seemed to indicate that the last days had already begun and Jesus had not shown up yet. They were still on earth and not in heaven with Jesus.

Paul understands their fear and immediately addresses the true source of their confusion: A faulty understanding regarding Christ’s return for the church. He opens this section of his letter with the words, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV). In this one sentence, Paul addresses to separate events. The first, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” has to do with His Second Coming. The second, “our being gathered together to him,” has to do with the Rapture of the church. A major risk the Thessalonians faced was to blend these two events into one. A second risk was to assume that Rapture had already occurred. That appears to be what the Thessalonians were wrestling with and what was causing their fear and confusion. They were alarmed that the day of the Lord had come and they had not been gathered together with him. Had Paul been wrong? Were they living in the last days? Had they missed something?

The Thessalonians had an incomplete and, therefore, incorrect understanding of the end times chain of events. While Paul had taught them about the Rapture of the church, they were being told by others that it had already happened. Which meant that they were living in the period of the Tribulation. And their circumstances seemed to point to that reality. They were suffering persecution and affliction. So, if they had missed the Rapture, it only made sense for them to begin looking for the second coming of the Lord. In essence, they were jumbling together a range of end times events and creating a false timeline that had resulted in confusion, not comfort.

But Paul tells them, “that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV). What day? The day of the Lord. The second coming of Christ will not take place until certain other events happen first. God has a timeline, and every event on that timeline has to happen in order and according to His divine plan. The first will be the removal of the church at the Rapture, which is what Paul taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. And here, Paul tells them what will happen as a result of the Rapture of the church.

The presence of the church on the earth acts as a restraining influence on evil. That is because of the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? – 1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV

For we are the temple of the living God… – 2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV

The church’s removal from the earth will leave a spiritual vacuum. And Paul points out that the restraining influence of the Spirit of God, who indwells the people of God, will be removed.

…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 2:6-7 ESV

Paul is not inferring that the Holy Spirit vacates the premises. He is a divine being and is omnipresent. But with the removal of all believers from the earth, the primary role of the Spirit of God is removed as well.

“The Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry of restraining lawlessness in the world mainly through the influence of Christians whom He indwells, specifically through their gospel preaching.” – Bibliotheca Sacra 154:615 (July-September 1997):329.

The Rapture of the church and the removal of the restrainer will usher in “the rebellion” and reveal “the lawlessness one.” These are references to the Tribulation and the Antichrist. The Rapture will be followed by the seven years of Tribulation, when the unbelieving world will rebel against God, even in the face of successive waves of divine judgment against them. And the Antichrist will rise to power and prominence during those days, seeking to destroy the people of Israel and all who come to faith during those difficult days. God, in His mercy and grace, will redeem a remnant of Jews and Gentiles during the days of the Tribulation, and Antichrist will pour out His wrath on them, resulting in the martyrdom of thousands of these Tribulation saints.

And this self-proclaimed world leader, operating under the power and influence of Satan, will go so far as to set himself up as God, erecting an idol of himself in the rebuilt temple of God in Jerusalem. We know from the book of Revelation that this egotistical and arrogant autocrat will require that all people worship him and him alone. The residents of the earth will be forced to receive a mark on their foreheads that designate them as belonging to the Antichrist. Without that mark, they will not be able to buy, sell or trade.

Paul is trying to let the Thessalonians know that the day of the Lord is going to look dramatically different than what they were experiencing. The persecution they were going through would pale in comparison. Jesus warned, “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. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV).

And Paul informs them that the day of the Lord will culminate with the return of the Lord. Jesus Christ will come back to earth and deal with Antichrist once and for all. Again, the book of Revelation tells us that Antichrist will be cast into hell where he will undergo eternal torment. And all those who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” will join him there. The day of the Lord will end with the Great White Throne judgment, where all the unrighteous who have ever lived will receive the punishment they deserve for having rejected the gracious offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.

And Paul provides the Thessalonians with a strong word of warning, reminding them that they don’t want to reject the truth of God. They don’t want to negate or alter in any way what God has revealed about His redemptive plan. Those who reject His offer of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone will find themselves beyond help and devoid of any hope of redemption.

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV

The Thessalonians had not missed the Rapture. And their suffering was not a sign that the end times had arrived. They needed to trust that God had a plan and He was working that plan to perfection. There was no reason for them to fear. Their current circumstances were not sufficient cause to doubt. They were “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV).

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Glorified in You

5 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— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 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 8 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. 9 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 just commended the Thessalonian believers for their steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution, which was evidenced by their ability to endure the suffering well. Their faith under fire was something Paul admired because he knew first-hand what it was like to live for Christ in a fallen world. He too had suffered persecution and been forced to endure all kinds of affliction and pain for the cause of Christ.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT

And Paul wants them to know that their suffering for Christ, while far from enjoyable, did have a purpose. He tells them that it is “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). Now, it’s important that we keep this statement within the context of Paul’s entire thought. He is not suggesting that their suffering is the result of God’s judgment of them. He is trying to get them to view their current suffering in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. With the phrase, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” Paul is directing their attention to the second coming of Christ. While the suffering they had to endure made little sense to them now, it would be on that day. Paul pointed the believers in Rome to this future event as well.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Romans 8:18 ESV

It is when the Lord returns that He will rectify the injustices that have taken place in the world. He will make all things right. And Paul assures them that Jesus will “repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). The day is coming when the tables will be turned, and the victims will become the victors. With His return to earth at the end of the period of Tribulation, Jesus will judge the nations of the earth, including Babylon, the kingdom of the Antichrist. In his book of Revelation, John records God’s pronouncement of judgment against this end-times capital of wickedness.

…for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. – Revelation 18:5-6 ESV

The very fact that Christians suffer in this life is proof or evidence of the injustice caused by the presence of sin. The wicked attack the righteous.

The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming. – Psalm 37:12-13 ESV

But Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that their present suffering is not in vain. The day is coming when God will reward the righteous and repay the wicked.

When the wicked see this, they will worry;
they will grind their teeth in frustration and melt away;
the desire of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 112:10 NLT

And Paul assures them that God will “grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us” (2 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The reality of their future glorification was what they were to focus on. Present suffering pales in comparison to future glory. And the apostle Peter points out that suffering brings us into communion with Christ. He suffered in His earthly life, and so do His followers. And because He was raised to new life, every one of His followers will be as well.

Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. – 1 Peter 3:17-18 NLT

The key to understanding suffering is perspective. This life is not all there is. Present pain is a poor indicator of God’s mercy and grace. Persecution that results in affliction can cause us to question God’s goodness or to doubt His power. But Paul would have us focus on the future “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” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). It is easy to wonder whether God is just when immersed in seemingly unjust circumstances. But God operates on a different timeline than we do. And any delay in His judgment or unwelcome pause in the meting out of His vengeance is not to be viewed as inability on His part. He will act.

The point Paul is trying to make is that the suffering of the Thessalonian believers is temporal. But the suffering of the wicked will be eternal. They may appear to be on the winning side at the moment, but the day is coming when they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They will find themselves enduring an eternity of separation from God’s glory, goodness, mercy, and grace. But when Jesus returns, He will “be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT). Their future reward far outweighs their present suffering.

So, in the meantime, while they were having to endure suffering and enduring in this life, Paul encourages them to keep on keeping on. He wants them to remain committed to their faith in Christ. And that was his constant prayer concerning them, that God would make them worthy of His calling of them. In other words, that their present lives would reflect the reality of their future hope in Christ. Rather than sitting around waiting for the Lord to return, they were to make it their goal to live for Him in this life, that His name might be glorified through them.

They had the ability to glorify Jesus Christ because they had the Spirit of Christ living within them. The very same power that raised Jesus from the dead was present in them and able to empower them to not only survive but thrive in this life.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-10 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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Perservance in the Face of Persecution

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 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. 4 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

Most scholars believe that Paul wrote this second letter to the Thessalonian church while he was in Corinth. As indicated by Acts 18:5, it was while in Corinth that Paul was joined by Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, the two he mentions in the opening lines of his letter. All three men shared a common concern for the believers in Thessalonica and had probably discussed among themselves the most recent reports they had received regarding the spiritual state of the church there.

Paul, an avid evangelist, was also a consummate shepherd. He was never content to simply share the gospel and then walk away. Even though his ministry required him to travel from place to place, rarely allowing him to spend any extended periods of time with the new churches he helped to plant, he remained in constant communication with them. He maintained a network of individuals who acted as his “boots on the ground,” providing him with first-hand knowledge and timely reports about the state of the various congregations he had helped to start.

Evidently, Paul had received news regarding the Thessalonian church that prompted him to write this second letter to them. While he commends them for their growing faith and ever-increasing love for one another, Paul’s real purpose in writing seems to be driven by their confusion over the doctrine concerning Christ’s return. He will spend a good portion of his letter dealing with that issue. Paul knew that false or faulty doctrine could wreak havoc on the local church. Even right doctrine, wrongly interpreted or misunderstood can do irreparable damage to a local congregation.

The churches Paul had helped to start were all comprised of relatively new believers. Their spiritual immaturity made them especially susceptible to false teaching and could lead them to draw faulty conclusions about spiritual matters. They lacked a sophisticated understanding of doctrine. In fact, there was little in the way of well-documented and clearly articulated doctrine available to them. One of the reasons Paul Paul spent so much time putting his thoughts in writing and disseminating them in the form of letters was to provide clear teaching and instruction on key doctrinal issues, such as the Second Coming of Christ and the sanctification of the believer.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, Paul addressed a wide variety of doctrinal topics, helping to establish a comprehensive dogma for the church. His letters, while typically written to local congregations, were commonly circulated among other nearby churches. Eventually, Paul’s letters became part of a growing collection of writings that were later canonized as the New Testament Scriptures. These divinely inspired texts provide the church with an official system of principles or tenets concerning the Christian faith.

But, before Paul launches into the main thesis of his letter, he greets the believers in Thessalonica, reminding them that they belong to “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV). They are children of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They are part of the family of God and comprise the body of Christ. This seems to be Paul’s way of reminding them that they have been set apart by God for His use. To be in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of both ownership and relationship. There is an intimacy and accountability involved. As Paul had told the believers in Corinth: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

And it is from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that the Thessalonian believers can expect to receive grace and peace. Grace or charis in the Greek refers to God’s unmerited favor. It is something He gives that is undeserved and unearned. It finds its greatest expression in the gift of Jesus Christ as the payment for mankind’s sin. But God’s grace is continuous and ever-present, constantly flowing into the life of the believer providing divine enablement through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

And it is through their relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son that the Thessalonians can expect to receive peace or eirēnē – which refers as much to a tranquil state of the soul as it does to a lack of interpersonal conflict. It is because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, serving as the payment for the sins of mankind, that believers are justified or made right with God. And this status with God results in peace or a cessation of all fear or worry of condemnation (Romans 8:1). And, as Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).

As Paul considered his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, he was prompted to express his gratitude to God because of their faith was growing, not stagnating. Their love for one another was increasing, not diminishing. For Paul, this was all evidence of the work of God. He who had begun a good work in them was obviously completing it (Philippians 1:6). And news of their perseverance and steadfastness of faith, even amid persecution and affliction, had led Paul to brag about them to other congregations. They had become teaching tools for Paul, providing him with tangible proof of what it means “to live in a way that pleases God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT).

The truth is, most of the churches Paul helped to start were suffering persecution in some form or fashion. It came with the territory. Following Christ was not normal or, in most cases, acceptable behavior. It came with a price. Paul refers to persecutions and afflictions. The first word refers to the hostile actions taken against the believers in Thessalonica. These could take the form of actual verbal and physical assaults or social ostracization. New believers could lose their jobs or social standings, but it was not uncommon for some to lose their lives. Affliction seems to refer to the results of this kind of persecution. The Greek word communicates the idea of being pressed down on or burdened by a heavy weight. The constant persecution taking place around them and to them was having an impact on them. The pressure was beginning to take a toll on them. But Paul commended them for their steadfastness. The Outline of Biblical Usage refers to this kind of persevering patience as “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

They may have been young in their faith and lacking in adequate doctrinal instruction, but they were persevering under extremely difficult conditions. Their commitment to Christ had cost them. Their walk of faith was anything but easy. But they were dedicated and determined to stay the course and, as Paul put it, run the race to win.

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

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

No One Said It Would Be Easy.

2 Chronicles 7-8, 2 Thessalonians 3

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. – 2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV

God had chosen to dwell among His people. That is the significance of the events recorded in chapter seven as Solomon and the people dedicated the newly completed temple. God even told Solomon, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice” (2 Chronicles 7:12 ESV). The temple was going to be a place in which the people of God could come to find forgiveness for their sins and receive cleansing from God so that they might continue to enjoy His presence among them. The people recognized the incredible fact that God had chosen to bless them and grant them the unique privilege of having Him dwell among them. But God's presence was not guaranteed. There were conditions involved. His continued presence among them was going to require certain attitudes and actions on their part. Solomon would enjoy the blessings of God as long as he remained faithful to God. The people would experience the power and presence of God as long as they made Him their sole object of worship and adoration. But it wasn't going to be easy. In the words God spoke to Solomon, He made it perfectly clear what His expectations would be regarding the king and his subjects. He knew there would be times of sin and unfaithfulness. He knew there would be periods of time when He would be forced to punish His people – “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people” (2 Chronicles 7:13 ESV). And then those times came, God told Solomon exactly what the people were supposed to do. “…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God didn't say, “IF my people sin.” He said “WHEN my people sin.” The existence of the temple and the reality of the sacrificial system was ample evidence that God knew His people would sin. He had provided the means by which they could seek and find forgiveness and restoration. But there was more to the sacrificial system than mere ritual and religious rule keeping. God gave them four requirements for experiencing His forgiveness and healing: First, he required that they humble themselves. They must come to Him with an attitude of humility, not pride. Coming to God requires that we admit our weakness and acknowledge His power. God hates pride. James reminds us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 ESV). An attitude of humility expresses our understanding of who we are in comparison to God. When we come before Him humbly, we are letting Him know that He is God and we are not. Secondly, God said that if they want to experience His forgiveness and healing, they must come before Him prayerfully. Prayer is an act that expresses dependence. When we pray, we are telling God that we love Him, but also that we need Him. When we pray to God, we are coming to Him with our hands out, having let go of all else we had been clinging to and asking Him to meet our needs. Prayer is a way of expressing our dependence upon and need for God. But then, God told Solomon that they must also seek His face. This expression conveys the idea of seeking to please God. To seek God's face is to desire His favor. When we sin, it is as if we force God to turn His face from us, because God is holy and cannot abide by or tolerate sin in His presence. But when we humbly admit our sins and prayerfully bring them before God in confession, seeking to do what is right in His eyes, He turns His face toward us. We must desperately desire God's favor more than anything else in the world. We must seek to please Him, not just seek His forgiveness. Finally, God told Solomon that there must be change. The people must turn from their wicked ways.” In other words, they must repent. Seeking God's forgiveness for sin must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that our sin was wrong. Repentance is not just a remorse of regret for having gotten got with our hands in the cookie jar. We must admit that what we have done was wrong and turn from it.

What does this passage reveal about man?

IF the people of Israel will do these things, God says, “then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). Humility, prayer, seeking to do what pleases God and turning away from displeases Him brings forgiveness and healing. But God knew that man was predisposed to pride, independence, seeking to please himself and an unwillingness to turn back to God. So He gave them the consequences associated with disobedience and a refusal to humbly, prayerfully repent. “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples” (2 Chronicles 7:19-20 ESV). Their refusal to come to Him in humility, prayer, seeking His face, and turning from their wickedness, would result in a removal of His favor, the destruction of His temple and their removal from the land He had so graciously given them. And when that day comes and the nations marvel at why this has happened, God gives the reason: “Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them” (2 Chronicles 7:22 ESV). 

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I enjoy forgiveness for my sins – past, present and future. Because of my relationship with Christ, I stand before God as righteous. But I must never take that relationship for granted. John tells me, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). There is still a need for me to come to God, humbly seeking His face in prayer, confessing my sins, admitting my need for Him, and willingly turning away from my open rebellion to Him. I cannot arrogantly expect God to bring me healing and forgiveness when I am living in sin and openly disobeying His will for my life. As Paul told the Thessalonian believers, I must not grow weary in doing good. As the New International Version translates that verse, I must “never tire of doing what is right” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 NIV). Living the Christian life is not easy. God never said it would be. Sin will always be a constant reality in my life. Pride will be a constant companion. Seeking independence from God will always be a temptation. Turning from sin will prove difficult to do. But I must not grow weary in doing good. To do good is to seek God's face and desire His favor. I don't do it to earn brownie points and work my way into His good graces. Jesus Christ has already restored me to a right relationship with God once and for all. But as a child of God, I should desire to live for Him and to conduct my life in such a way that it expresses my love and appreciation for Him. Humility, prayer, seeking God, and turning from sin are expressions of my love for Him. Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians is an encouraging reminder to me. “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:5 ESV). I must never forget God's love and Christ's example of faithful, unwavering obedience to His Father. I must not grow weary in doing good.

Father, help me to never lose sight of Your incredible love or Your Son's marvelous example of humility, prayerfulness, obedience and righteousness. He lived His life to please You. May I continually learn to do the same thing. Not to earn Your favor, but to express my gratitude and love. Amen

A Timely Reminder.

2 Chronicles 5-6, 2 Thessalonians 2

O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart. – 2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV

Most scholars believe the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are post-exhilic in nature. In other words, they were written some time after the people of Judah had returned from captivity in Babylon and after Jerusalem had been restored and the temple rebuilt. In spite of their rebellion against God, He had miraculously arranged for them to be restored to the land. He had made it possible for them to rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and reconstruct the temple, both of which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. But things were not like they had been. The city of Jerusalem was a shadow of its former self. The temple was smaller and much less grand than the one Solomon had built. The people were poor, defenseless, with no standing army and no king to lead them. So in recounting this story to his readers, the chronicler is reminding them of their heritage, their nation's former glory, and their unique relationship with God. Solomon's prayer of dedication contains a series of if…then statements, asking God to intervene in certain cases involving the sins of the people and their ultimate repentance.

This entire section would have been a sobering reminder of just how wonderful things had been for the people of God before their sins had led to God's discipline and their deportation. But it would have also reminded them of what was required of them to enjoy God's forgiveness and restoration.

What does this passage reveal about God?

One particular part of Solomon's prayer would have struck a chord with those reading this book in their post-exhilic environment. Solomon had pleaded with God, saying, “If your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and they turn again and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to them and to their fathers” (2 Chronicles 6:24-25 ESV). There is no indication that the people of Israel, while in exile in Babylon, had ever really repented of their sins and turned back to God. Yet God had been faithful and returned them to the land – in spite of them. Earlier in his prayer, Solomon had stated, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (2 Chronicles 6:14 ESV). But those who were reading this historical narrative after having been returned from exile in Babylon, this was a sobering reminder that God had been faithful even though they had never really repented. God was keeping His promises made to Abraham and David. He would continue to make of Israel a great nation. He would keep His promise to place a descendant of David on the throne of Israel – forever. The real emphasis of this passage seems to be on God's faithfulness and man's inherent unfaithfulness. It recounts God's decision to dwell among the people of Israel, displaying His shekinah glory, in the form of a pillar of cloud, within the Holy of Holies – “the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (2 Chronicles 5:14 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

The temple and the Ark of the Covenant were symbols of God's abiding presence, but also of His holiness and willingness to forgive the sins of those who rebel against His righteous commands. The temple without the Ark would have been just another building. The Ark without the Mercy Seat, would have been nothing more than a constant reminder of God's Law and man's inability to live up to it. The Ark contained the two tablets of stone on which were written the ten commandments, provided to Moses by God Himself. These tablets represented God's righteous, unwavering expectations regarding man's conduct. But because of man's sin nature, living up to God's righteous requirements was impossible. Which is why God had provided the sacrificial system and the Mercy Seat, which covered the Ark of the Covenant. It was on this Mercy Seat that blood was sprinkled once a year on the Day of Atonement, in order to provide forgiveness for the sins the people had committed that previous year. Solomon knew that he and the people of Israel were nothing without God's presence. But he also knew that they were nothing without God's forgiveness. “…listen to the pleas of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen from heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (2 Chronicles 6:21 ESV). Solomon fully understood that forgiveness was going to be non-negotiable necessity in order for the people of God to retain a right standing before God. Even though Solomon repeatedly said, “If a man sins…”, “If your people are defeated…because they have sinned”, and “when heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned…”, he knew that these were not potential scenarios, but inevitable ones. They were going to sin and they were going to need God's forgiveness. But forgiveness required repentance. And while the original readers of this book found themselves restored to the land and worshiping once again in the temple, they were going to need to repent if they wanted to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It's interesting to note that while the temple had been restored and the sacrificial system had been reinstated, the Ark of the Covenant was missing. It had likely been destroyed during the fall of Jerusalem. The audience reading this passage in a post-exhilic Jerusalem would have recognized that the Ark of the Covenant was no longer sitting within the Holy of Holies. And without the Ark, there was no Mercy Seat. Without the Mercy Seat, there was not place to atone for the sins of the people. And yet, I am reminded that God has provided mercifully, graciously provided a means of atonement through His own Son, Jesus Christ. Christ was offered as the perfect, once-for-all-time sacrifice for the sins of mankind. “… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11 ESV). Paul goes on to remind us, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV). In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul warned them of the “coming of the lawless one” – the Antichrist – who in the time of the tribulation, will deceive “those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). There will be those who believe his lies and suffer condemnation, because they “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). But God had made known to me the truth regarding His Son. He has made it clear to me that my salvation is based solely on His Son's work on the cross, not any good works on my part. The Israelites were the undeserving recipients of God's grace and mercy. So am I. God has chosen me, along with all other believers, “as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV). We are to live in the wonder of His grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Father, nothing we receive from You is deserved, except perhaps, Your loving discipline. But Your grace is always a free gift, provided out of Your abundant love and mercy. Thank You for making it possible for me to be restored to a right relationship with You through the death of Your Son. Thank You for providing mercy and grace, when what I deserved was death. I am reminded that I owe to You a great debt, which I could never repay. But I can give You my worship, praise, love and life. May I live in such a way that the world around me knows I belong to You. Amen

Something Missing.

2 Chronciles 3-4, 2 Thessalonians 1

Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. – 2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV

Four years into his reign as king, Solomon finally began the building of the long-awaited house of the Lord – the temple. Construction commenced on top of Mount Moriah, at the site of the former threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, purchased by David for this very purpose. Chapters three and four give us details concerning the construction of various aspects of the temple and its contents. We are given specifics concerning the two massive cherubim that occupied the Most Holy Place. We have descriptions of the altar of bronze, the sea of cast metal, the wash basins, tables golden lampstands and the court of the priests. But there is one thing missing, and it's absence is significant. In spite of all the painstaking planning and meticulous care that went into the construction of the temple, there was one item that would ensure that this structure would be the dwelling place of God and not just another beautiful man-made building. The missing element was the Ark of the Covenant. Solomon had not forgotten about it. He had every intention of bringing the Ark into the temple upon completion of the construction process, and that significant event is covered in chapter five. But it is important to notice that the building alone, adorned with all its gold, silver, bronze, and cypress; filled with all its handcrafted basins, lampstands and tables; would be nothing without Ark. The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God's presence. It contained the stone tablets given to Moses and on which were written the Law of God. It was into the Most Holy Place that the High Priest would enter one time per year on the Day of Atonement, “and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people” (Hebrews 9:7 ESV). It was there that the high priest offered sacrificial blood to atone for (cover) the sins of the Israelites as a nation. This offering made propitiation (satisfaction) for their sins for one year. But each year, this same process had to be repeated. It was a sacrifice that had limitations and could never completely satisfy the just demands of a holy God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The Ark of the Covenant was central to the worship of Yahweh. Without it, the people could not have their sins atoned for. A temple without the ark would be just another building, no matter how beautiful it was. A temple without the presence of God would be nothing more than an expensive warehouse, devoid of power and worthless as a place of worship. The Ark of the Covenant was to be a reminder of God's holiness as revealed in His Law. It was to provide atonement for sin and a means by which to enjoy God's mercy and forgiveness, so that men might experience His ongoing presence. The temple, while built by the hands of ordinary men, could never provide atonement. It could never forgive sin. The Ark was essential to the ongoing health and well-being of the people of God. Men could construct buildings, but only God can forgive sins. Men can build a temple intended as a dwelling place for God, but only God can provide a means by which sinful men can dwell in His holy presence. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the things that is easy to overlook in reading about the beautiful trappings of the temple is that its existence would reveal two aspects regarding God. First, it was a visible reminder of God's presence and power. It would be a constant physical symbol of God's relationship with the people of Israel. But there is a second, sometimes overlooked aspect of the temple that the Israelites would sometimes forget. It was a symbol of God's judgment. Inside the Ark were the tablets of stone on which were written the Law of God – His holy commands outlining the non-negotiable code of conduct for His people. Those laws were to be obeyed. Not to do so would carry dire consequences. To break God's laws would bring God's judgment. Which is why God provided the Mercy Seat. He knew that men would sin. He was fully aware that His people could not keep His holy laws. So He provided a means by which they could have their sins atoned for and His righteous judgment satisfied. The judgment lies at the heart of it all. If there was no pending judgment, there would be no need for mercy or atonement. If there were no sins, there would be no need for forgiveness. The judgment of God is a reality. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV) and “ the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV). Man stands condemned. He is under the judgment of a holy God and is deserving of His sentence of death. 

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV). God, in His mercy, provides salvation. But it does not negate His judgment. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonian believers that God's judgment was still a reality. While they were suffering for their faith and enduring abuse at the hands of their non-believing peers, Paul made it clear that their suffering was “evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). They were suffering for the present time, but they were not to lose sight of the fact that a day was coming when God would right all wrongs and set straight all injustices. “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” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-8 ESV). Paul went on to tell them, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The temple without the Ark was worthless. The people of Israel, without a means of receiving the mercy and forgiveness of God, would find themselves standing under the judgment of God. My life without the atoning work of Jesus Christ would be just as worthless and my fate, just as hopeless. Had the Ark only contained the copies of the Law, but no mercy seat, the people of God would have been under judgment and worthy of death. But God provided a means of atonement. He made possible forgiveness for sins that was undeserved and unmerited. He has done the same thing for me. And when I find myself suffering in this life and enduring difficulties and trials as a follower of Jesus Christ, I must remind myself that my reward is out ahead of me. There is a day coming when Jesus Christ will return and the righteous judgment of God will be fully enacted once and for all, “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV). How grateful I should be that I will not have to undergo that judgment. How thankful I should be that I will be spared God's wrath and be able to enjoy His grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. May I never take for granted the incredible gift I have received. May I never neglect the reality of God's judgment and the unbelievable gift of His mercy made possible through Jesus Christ.

Father, Your judgment is real and just. Your anger against man is justified. And I know that I was fully deserving of your condemnation and punishment. But You extended to me mercy. You made possible my forgiveness. You did for me what I could have never done for myself. Help me to never forget the reality of Your judgment, so that I never take for granted the wonder of Your grace. Amen

Choose Your Friends Wisely.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister. – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NLT

Not every fellow believer in Christ is someone you necessarily want to associate with. Some are more serious about their faith than others. Some refuse make the pursuit of Christ-likeness a high priority in their lives. There are those who, while professing faith in Christ, live much more like the world. In the city of Thessalonica, living among the believers there, were a group of individuals who were living undisciplined lives. They refused to work. They were mooching off of others and ignoring the clear command given by Paul when he was with them: "Those unwilling to work will not get to eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10b NLT). Rather than pull their weight, they were becoming a burden and a nuisance to others in the fellowship. Even Paul used himself as an example of someone who modeled a life of diligence when he was with them. Rather than allow them to take care of his daily needs, he worked. He did his part.

We don't know why these people weren't working. Paul doesn't tell us. Perhaps they were lazy. Or it could have been that they saw no reason to work, because they believed the Lord would be returning any day. They could have also spent more of their time pursuing "spiritual" things. But as the old saying goes, we can sometimes be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. Cloistering ourselves away in our room studying Scripture may sound pious and a worthy ambition to pursue, but in the body of Christ, each must do his or her part. That's why Paul was very clear when he wrote, "We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living" (2 Thessalonians 3:12 NLT). He told those who were doing their part and working hard to keep up the good work – to not grow weary of doing the right thing. Sometimes in the Christian life, it is the little things that end up making a big difference. A Christian employee who is lazy and unreliable ends up giving the cause of Christ a bad reputation. Those who earn for themselves a reputation for being undependable and lacking in diligence, do not leave a good impression about Christians among the unsaved. So how are we to react to these kinds of people? Paul pulls no punches. He simply says, "Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister" (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NLT). Stay away from them. Don't associate with them. Don't validate their behavior by spending time with them. Instead, warn them. Do as Paul did and point out their fault – in love. Don't overreact and treat them like they're unsaved or an enemy of the faith. But make sure they understand that you see their behavior and disapprove. They will be better off in the long run and the body of Christ will be stronger as a result.

Father, sometimes it is way too easy for us to tolerate the lack of discipline among ourselves. We compromise our convictions and give in far too easily to a spirit of laziness and apathy. Help us to take our faith seriously, both individually and corporately. Amen.

Two Simple Truths.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Now may the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and the endurance of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NET

The people to whom Paul was writing were still relatively young in their faith. Christianity itself was virtually unknown and misunderstood, viewed by many as some kind ofkind of strange religious sect. These new believers were living in a part of the world where tolerance for other religions was not the norm. They were under constant persecution and pressure. Their knowledge of God was minimal at best. Their understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures was negligible. They were struggling with how to make sense of their new-found faith in Christ. They were a minority living in a very hostile environment, with very few who could effectively teach and lead them. Which is why Paul was writing to them in the first place, because he knew exactly what they were going through. But in this section of his letter, Paul calls them to prayer. He encourages them to lift up Silas, Timothy and himself as they continued to spread the Gospel around the world. He asked them pray for their safety, because they were surrounded by "wicked and evil people" who opposed the message they were preaching. Paul reminds them that God is faithful. He encourages them to remember that God will strengthen and guard them from the enemy. But they needed to know that the enemy and the war he waged were both real. There lives were not going to be easy and their pursuit of spiritual maturity was not going to be unopposed.

But Paul gave them two simple things on which they needed to focus their hearts. In the midst of the spiritual warfare in which they found themselves, they needed to concentrate their hearts on these two unchanging realities: The love of God and the endurance of Christ. Paul knew that when difficulties came, the natural response would be to doubt the love of God. When facing trials, it is easy to conclude that God must be angry with us or that He has fallen out of love with us. In other words, we allow our circumstances to determine our view of God. But Paul says, that we need to direct our hearts toward the love of God. He loves us. He never stops loving us. His love is unchanging and unwavering. Paul would later write the believers in Rome, "And I am convinced that nothing can every separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). Our greatest weapon against the attacks of the enemy and the difficulties and trials of this world is the love of God. Nothing can change God's love for us. That should give us hope and strength, regardless of what we might have to face in this life.

The second thing we need to focus our hearts on is the endurance of Christ. As we go through difficulties in this life, we must constantly remind ourselves of all that He went through during His life on earth. The writer of the letter of Hebrews puts it this way: "and 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 perfect our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame" (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT). He goes on to write, "Think of the hostility he endured from sinful people, then you won't become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin" (Hebrews 12:3 NLT). When we face difficulties and trials, we need to focus our hearts on the endurance of Jesus. We need to remind ourselves of what He went through in order that we might have eternal life. Our suffering, as great as it may seem to be, is nothing when compared to that which Christ endured on our behalf. And His suffering was motivated by love for us. He endured it all out of love for you and me. So we need to focus our hearts and minds on two things: The love of God and the endurance of Christ. We need to remind ourselves and each other constantly of these two realities. We are loved. And we have the capacity to endure just as Christ did. We have His Spirit within us. Jesus knew that everything He went through had come through the loving hand of His heavenly Father. So He endured it willingly and gladly. We two need to understand that nothing reaches us that has not first passed through the all-powerful hands of our loving Father. He has a reason for it and a purpose behind it. He knows what He is doing. He loves us and has our best interests in mind. Jesus could endure because He knew He was loved. We can and should do the same.

Father, You love me, and I should never measure that love based on my circumstances. I need to continue to learn to accept Your love as what it is – unchanging, unwavering, and constant. Nothing can change it. And it is recognition of that love that should give me the ability to endure anything and everything that comes my way, because I know You love me and would never allow anything to happen to me that was not in Your divine will and for my eternal good. Help me to remember these two incredible realities. Amen.