Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
What makes a good story? If you look at any popular movies you get the idea. The most popular usually involves a hero overwhelmed by evil who struggles with himself and his circumstances, and against all odds wins the day—the hero rides in on a white steed, the bad guys are vanquished and the good guys ride off into the sunset. Why do we like stories like that? Because it’s not a story. Our world is in a struggle against an evil empire. As a Christian you are a member of the rebellion—called into service against all odds to fight the enemy in enemy territory. At times, it must seem like we are going to lose—that the culture and the enemy are winning. But the real hero of our story will come riding in on a white steed, swinging a sword and vanquishing all His enemies.
The Thessalonians needed to know the ending of the story amid their battles as much as we need to hold on to that hope. As they underwent persecution, the members of that fledgling church thought that the day of victory, known as the Day of the Lord, had already come and they’d missed it. So, the Apostle Paul writes them a second letter to assure them that when our hero arrives on the scene, no one will miss it.
1 – 2
Paul introduces his ministry team to them, as he did in his first letter. Paul, Silas and Timothy had founded the church but had to leave because of a controversy caused by jealous Jews. Paul had written his first letter from Corinth, and now pens a second shortly thereafter. Paul wants them to know two things in this introduction:
1) that they are “in” the Father and the Lord Jesus.
John 14:19 In a little while the world will see Me no longer, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live too. 20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, you are in Me, and I am in you.
There is great comfort in being “in” the Lord. His strong arms hold you and He will let nothing happen to you outside of His power, will, and sovereignty.
2) They have God’s grace and peace in the Lord Jesus. I can’t emphasize this enough. You didn’t earn that place in God but He gives it freely. That’s grace. And result of that grace is peace with God. As I mentioned last time—peace is both the cessation of conflict (we were enemies with God, Romans 5:10) but also the creation of a new oneness where His character becomes ours (Romans 12:1-2).
Next, Paul wants to encourage them that though they struggle, they are doing just what God wants them to do.,
3 – 4
Paul wants them to know that their faith is flourishing. This word in the Greek means to go beyond the ordinary. They are not just biding their time until heaven, they are making active use of the time to trust the Lord more and be transformed into His character more.
How does he know this?
- Their love is increasing.
This is agape love – that self-sacrificing, other-centered affection. That kind of love is “increasing” which means it is “super-excellent”. Have you ever considered perfecting agape love? What do you like to do well—play an instrument, paint, sing, shoot a bow-and-arrow, fix cars, perform surgery? Have you ever thought about focusing on how you can help others do better in their walk? How you can support the weak, lift the downtrodden, encourage the despairing—even if it means you don’t get credit? That’s what’s going on here.
- 2.They are cheerfully bearing up under pressure.
What did the Thessalonians face? Persecutions and afflictions. “Persecutions” means “to pursue”. So they literally felt chased. Do you ever experience that? Trouble seems to find you no matter where you hide. “Afflictions” is the Greek word “pressure.” We are all certainly familiar with the pressure we experience in hard times. You feel penned on all sides and like you can’t even breath.
Paul uses two words to describe their response that are both translated “endure” or “endurance” in English. “Endurance” in Greek means “cheerful constancy”, and “endure” means “to push against.” As opposed to gritting their teeth and giving way to grief or despair, they are pressing into the Lord with a joy that comes from knowing who is really in charge.
As he goes on we see one of the reasons they can have that cheerful constancy—because the good guys win and the bad guys get it in the end. This is a long section so let’s take it bit by bit.
5 – 7a
Paul says there is “clear evidence” that God will make everything right. What is that evidence? It’s coming in the future. When Jesus returns, He will take vengeance on those who were the afflicters, and provide rest for those afflicted. The Thessalonians are “counted worthy” not because they suffered but because Jesus is worthy. We are worthy through Him (Colossians 1:12). While our destination is sure (God’s kingdom), and the outcome is settled (rest), the journey will be bumpy (suffering). The “rest” we will experience is relaxation, relief, and liberty. We will no longer feel the pressure or sense the pursuit of trials. We will be set free from all that affliction and can really relax.
Not so those who do the afflicting:
7b – 8
This is pretty brutal stuff but it will happen. Turn to Zechariah 14 where the prophet describes this arrival of Jesus. It talks about the Lord doing battle against the nations and the results are stark!
Matthew 24:30-31 (HCSB)
30 “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the peoples of the earth will mourn; and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.
In the next chapter – Matthew 25, Jesus tells about what will happen after the battle. He will essentially gather the people still alive and break them into two groups. One group who knew Him and had accepted the gospel will be ushered into heaven, the other group will be cast out.
What does it turn on? Whether or not you knew Jesus.
Matthew 7:21-23 (HCSB)
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.
22 On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’
23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’
9 – 10
The penalty for rejecting the gospel is pretty severe. Paul calls it “eternal destruction” and that it occurs apart from the Lord’s presence and all that is good. One thing to keep in mind is that no one will be there because they made a mistake or said something wrong. To be cast out of God’s presence you must willfully reject the gospel. Jesus called it a place of “gnashing of teeth” which suggests great anger. In that place also called “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30) people will be eternally angry with God.
Compare this to the attitude of those who love Him: they will “glorified” and “admired” by the believers. As there will be eternal hatred of God, so too there will be eternal love and admiration of the Lord and how He was able to pass the gospel on from person to person.
11 – 12
Considering all that is going to occur—that the ultimate Good Guy, Jesus Christ, will come back to take vengeance on those who hate Him and reward those who love Him—Paul wants the Thessalonians to be ready. So his prayer is that:
- In the final analysis, the changes occurring in them through the presence of the Holy Spirit will show that God’s call was right.
- Secondly, His power will work with their desire for that godly character and
- In the end it will result in more praise and credit going to Jesus who did it all!
Is your faith flourishing? (verse 3-4)
Paul recognizes that the Thessalonians were doing great. They might not have thought so since their environment was anything but peaceful. How do we measure whether our faith is flourishing or languishing?
In verses 3 & 4 there are two things Paul mentions that we can use to look at our own lives.
- Love increasing. A sure sign of a maturing Christian is if you find yourself giving more; caring more about the welfare of others than of yourself. Love means you don’t care if you get credit as long as you are helping another to grow. Matthew 24:12 says: “Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.” It’s pretty easy to become jaded in this day and age. It’s easy to just hole up, withdraw, get hardened and just wait it out. Or we might find ourselves lashing out, getting angry easily, or upset with minor slights.
If you find yourself getting frustrated with other Christians, I would encourage you to do what the Lord encouraged the church at Ephesus to do (Revelation 2:1-7): Fall in love with Jesus again and see His love for others.
- Endurance and trust continuing. If in times of difficulty you find yourself embittered against the Lord and others, then maybe it’s time to gain a different perspective. The Thessalonians needed to know that the final outcome is good, no matter what the present circumstances look like. You can actually trust that the Lord is working despite what you see. You might also experience the temptation to shortcut God’s plan to use trials in order to create patience in you (James 1). Stay put.
1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time
My prayer is that we would all have flourishing faith. If you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t flourish when everything goes our way. In fact it is the opposite. When things seem to be going wrong, it is an opportunity to let God grow faith, love, and trust in you.