Happy Sunday, fellow Bible students! Typically, Sunday is reserved for devotionals or worship, but I am very excited to jump into 2 Thessalonians, so we’re pushing away from the dock to set sail today!
2 Thessalonians is the second letter Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica, and it was written about a year after the first. The brand new church was now just over a year old, and 5 times in 5 chapters of 1 Thessalonians, Paul had emphasized that Jesus would return for believers in the last days. (We know that as the rapture.)
However, an imposter had penned and sent a different letter to the Thessalonians, indicating the Lord had already come, that the tribulation was underway, and they had missed it. Indeed, persecution and affliction were rampant and Paul addressed a church who felt beaten down. They felt some degree of tribulation, persecution and affliction, but not THE tribulation. Perhaps you have been beaten down with a year of COVID, tough job situations, tough school situations, tough relationships, lack of a church family, etc. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are words of soothing encouragement to us as well!
2 Thessalonians 2:2 serves as a theme verse for this 3-chapter book:
We ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.
Indeed, Paul told them the day of Christ had not yet come, nor was the Antichrist here. Instead, he was about to teach them more about what to expect in the last days, but also how they could live courageously and victoriously, despite the trials they faced. I also want to live victoriously in today’s trying times…how about you?
Read 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5. In verses 1-2, Paul dives into the letter with immediate encouragement. He first reminds them of their identity. They are the church (“called out ones”), and they are “in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” They belong to Him! He also wished them grace and peace.
Move ahead to verses 3-4. These verses really tell the story.
- What was Paul’s attitude toward the brothers and sisters at Thessalonica?
- Why was he thankful for them?
- What was happening in their faith and love?
- According to verse 4, what indicates that Paul was proud of them?
- In what did he boast about them?
The young church at Thessalonica had already faced much persecution, tribulation and afflictions, yet they exhibited patience, perseverance and faith. They were living in difficult, tumultuous times. Paganism was rampant and they were persecuted for their newfound faith. It is in that truth that we glean a bit of perspective: flowers of faith grow in the soil of persecution and trials. Personalize that idea for a moment. In your Christian life, when have you grown the most…when things were smooth and everything was going your way, or when things were tough and you had to trust the Lord? If you are like me, the overwhelming answer is, “When things were tough.”
As this world marches quickly toward unprecedented tribulational times, the Bible indicates the church will shrink in size (the apostasy/falling away, which we will talk about in a few days), but it will grow more and more powerful as committed believers persevere through trials and tribulation and our faith grows exponentially.
Trials build our faith, and both Paul and Jesus clearly warned us. Consider these passages:
- Acts 14:22 – How did Paul strengthen the souls of the disciples? How will we enter the kingdom of God?
- John 15:17-19 (Jesus is speaking here) – How did the world treat Jesus? What was the ultimate show of hatred toward Him? How should we expect the world to treat us? Why?
- John 17:14 (this is Jesus’s prayer to His Father) – Why does the world hate us?
Paul praised the Thessalonians for their faith in the midst of trials and persecution. Their faith was active faith. It was played out in real life, not just a concept they talked about. True Christians are never content to just sit and exist. We want our faith to grow, and that requires perseverance through trials. Trials were abundant, and Paul knew that, without trials, faith grows no deeper. Thus, he was “bound” (put under obligation) to be thankful to God for them.
Would Paul praise us if he walked into our sphere?
The words “patience” and “perseverance” are pretty much the same, and the Bible talks about that in reference to suffering. Read James 5:10-11 and Philippians 3:7-11. What do those passages tell us about perseverance?
According to Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 4:17 and James 1:2-4, what does perseverance do for us? These were apparently principles the new believers built their lives upon. What about you and me? Are our lives built upon growing our faith through trials and tribulations, or do we complain when God engineers circumstances we don’t like? Are we mature enough to believe that our sovereign God orchestrates everything that happens in our lives? I’m not saying He causes us to sin, but He has been aware of our sin since before the foundation of the world! (See Ephesians 1) Thus, He engineers circumstances, despite our wrongdoing, to cause us to trust in Him!
When we stumble through tribulations, rather than grow in our faith, who cheers us on in defeat? You got it…Satan! In Job’s trials by Satan, how did he ultimately gain victory? He blessed the name of the Lord! Praise broke out and the attacks fell away! Do we do the same?
James 4:7-8 also provides great instruction for going through trials:
7 Submit therefore to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God and He will come close to you.
When we submit to God and resist and flee the devil, Satan flees, we come close and God comes close to us! That’s a recipe for perseverance! Persecution (attacks from the outside) might come, and tribulations (pressure that comes from persecution) may seem overwhelming, but God’s Word instructs us to submit, resist, flee and come close! We just need to practice those actions in the right direction!
So, how should we view hardships and trials?
We are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.~1 Peter 1:5-7
As we wait for His coming, we will no doubt face major trials, perhaps greater than we have ever faced before. But we rejoice through trials so our faith is tested and we may give praise, honor and glory to Jesus Christ when He is revealed to us in the clouds at our meeting!
Be encouraged today, dear friends! Our Lord is with us, and one day soon we will be taken up for that bright, beautiful, cloudy meeting! Maranatha!