Will you be counted as worthy of the Kingdom of God?
Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1 verse 5 that the Thessalonian Christians’ growing spiritual maturity in the midst of persecution is evidence that they will be counted as worthy of the Kingdom. That’s quite a statement. What if we are Christians who haven’t been persecuted? Can we be counted as worthy of the Kingdom? I ask that because many Christians who read this, such as my fellow American Christians, have likely never suffered for our faith. Or if we have, our suffering was probably minor. We have never had to make a choice to follow Jesus or deny him. We’ve never had to face jail time because we worshiped Jesus. We’ve had it easy. If being counted worthy of the Kingdom requires that we prove our faithfulness during persecution, then what about you and I who have not been persecuted?
I if American Christians will be counted worthy of the Kingdom based on how we handle affluence. I wonder if our wealth is our test of faith. What might Paul write to American Christians, and Christians in other wealthy nations? I can imagine Paul writing to American Christians, praying that we will not get caught up in consumerism. I can see him writing, “Just because you have the money to buy things, you don’t have to.”
That actually freaks me out a bit. What if our response to consumer opportunities is the thing by which we were counted as worthy of the Kingdom? Let me be clear, we are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Paul would go on to write that. Here in 2 Thessalonians though, he sounds a bit more like James, who famously wrote that faith without works is dead. How do these seemingly contradictory ideas work together?
I would recommend that you see Paul’s teaching as part 1 and James’ teaching as part 2 of the Gospel story. Part 1 teaches that there is nothing we could do to save ourselves. Jesus had to be born, live, died and rise again. Praise God that Jesus won the victory over sin, death and the devil! Apart from that victory, we don’t have forgiveness of our sins, and we are stuck apart from God. But Jesus did win the victory over sin, death and the devil, and we have hope.
That’s where Part 2 comes in, faith without works is dead. We show the quality of our faith, in other words, by the life we live. Our faith doesn’t save us. Instead James teaches that there is a false faith and a true faith. I’m concerned about Christians that have a false faith. That is a faith that is in the mind. A Belief. Anyone can say they believe in God, but their life choices show what is really important to them. That is James’ point precisely when he says, “even the demons believe.” Of course demons don’t have any hope of eternal life. So mere intellectual belief is not the kind of belief that shows we have truly received the gift of God’s grace. We need a different kind of faith, one that is living and active and clear for all to see. That living, active faith, Paul heard from Timothy, was vibrant and growing in the Thessalonian Christians, and he was elated. Now he tells them that this is evidence that they are counted worthy of God’s Kingdom.
Paul goes on to try to encourage the Christians in Thessalonica because of their difficult situation. In verse 6 he reminds them that God is just. He is aware of their struggle. But be encouraged, he tells them, because the people who are troubling them will be troubled. Then in verse 7, Paul writes that God will give the Thessalonians relief. He’ll also give Paul and his associates relief, Paul says, which is a reminder to the Thessalonian Christians that they are not alone in suffering. Paul has suffered a lot, probably more so, than they have. He would be longing for relief too.
Though you and I have not faced persecution, have you ever longed for relief? We don’t have to go through persecution to realize that life is hard. Through the history of the church, there are three things that wage war against all Christians. The world, the flesh and the devil. Let’s briefly talk about each of them.
There is a world system that is different from the Kingdom of God, sometimes making it very difficult to live as a disciple of Jesus. I referred to it already. In America, one manifestation of that world system is affluent consumerism.
The next thing that we fight is ourselves. Our flesh. We have desires, and those desires can impel us to do all sorts of things that are not good for ourselves or others. Often they masquerade as temporary pleasures that leave us feeling empty, wanting more, but in the end the satisfaction doesn’t last, leaving us even more frustrated at how temporary it is.
Finally the last thing that wages war against us is probably the one most commonly talked about. The devil. We can talk about the devil as if he and his minions are the cause of nearly all of our troubles, from the smallest thing like a flat tire to the most severe illness like a bout a with cancer. It’s a tough balance. The devil is not something to be trifled with, and yet it’s unlikely he is behind every bush, as the saying goes. But he is a real enemy.
Put together, the world, the flesh and the devil, are three formidable foes that we all deal with. Therefore many of us long for relief. You might have even been known to say or to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (That is the Aramaic word Maranatha.) Have you longed for Jesus to return, to alleviate the struggle you are going through?
That’s exactly what Paul says will happen. Look at verses 7b-10. Jesus is coming again! Therefore Paul essentially says to the Thessalonians, “Be encouraged, because you are part of the group that he will gather up to be with him.” Paul is not guaranteeing that Jesus would return in their lifetime. He is simply saying that Jesus will return, and if he returns in their lifetime, because the Thessalonians believed in Jesus and showed their belief to be true faith, they can have the confidence and the expectation that they would be received into Jesus’ arms. When Jesus returns they will be relieved from the troubles they have been experiencing. They have something amazing to look forward to and to keep the faith for. They same goes for us in the battle we have against those forces that tempt us.
Paul concludes with a wonderfully encouraging prayer in verses 11-12. He says that he constantly prays that God will count them as worthy of his calling, which is what he has been talking about all along. “Counted as worthy” is Paul’s way of saying, “Christians, live faithful lives.” That is not just a belief that resides in a person’s mind, but it is a belief that shows itself to be true through a person’s actions. To be ready for Jesus’ return, then, is to have a belief in him that is proven by how we live our lives.
To summarize it, Paul prays that God, by his power, would fulfill every good purpose of the Thessalonians and every act prompted by their faith, so that Jesus will be glorified in them, and them in him, all according to grace.
I love this prayer.
It’s a prayer to pray for people, and to ask people to pray for you. Paul is basically praying that God will empower the Thessalonian Christians to live faithfully, by the grace of God.
I also love how Paul finishes this section by once again mentioning the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and the subversive titles of Jesus are like bookends for this opening. We talked about his earlier use of these terms in an earlier post in this week’s five part series on 2 Thessalonians 1.
What we have seen in this series is that there has been an invasion into our world. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. God invaded humanity. It was an invasion of grace, that gives us the opportunity to have new life in him. The Thessalonian Christians experienced that life-changing grace, and they thrived even in the middle of persecution. Paul, to encourage them, points them to a glorious future when Jesus will invade again, when he will return. Let us be like the Thessalonian Christians, ready for the return of Jesus by growing a maturity of faith and love.