Trusting God in the Fire

Consumed by Holiness

Trusting God in the Fire

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
There is only one way to describe persecution and that is “tried by fire.”

The church in the Greek city of Thessalonica was a church in the fire. It was a persecuted church. From the day the apostle Paul left the city they were a hunted people because of their newfound faith in Christ. They experienced “afflictions” and tribulations of all kinds.

We live in a day when evil seems to be winning on every hand. How do you live above the chances, changes, and circumstances in life? What is your security when hunted down like an animal because of your love for Christ? The apostle Paul demonstrated in his life that the believer can experience peace in the middle of the fire. A day is coming when evil will receive its just reward. God who is Judge of all sees all. He will repay with affliction those who afflict His people. But this is no tit for tat. It involves the righteousness of God.

Paul’s letter is also a good example of a grace-oriented ministry to people who are hurting. The principles we learn from this passage give us the strength to face an everyday life filled with pressures. It also gives us resources to help people who are hurting.

“Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 1-2).

The source of grace and peace
It is “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” who gives grace and peace to the troubled believers at Thessalonica. These are members of God the Father’s personal family who have been adopted by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace came from trusting our heavenly Father who loves us. We have been born into God’s family by a spiritual birth that occurred when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our savior. We are now His children who were once alienated from Him because of our sin and depravity. Paul emphasizes this vital union and intimate relationship with God the Father. He is “our Father.”

It is here that we find strength and endurance in times of pressure. Our source of strength is from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The resource for Christians in every generation is in “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” No matter how sophisticated our society is that need for security in Christ never changes.

Paul spoke proudly of these believers living under pressure. It was Paul’s practice to always give praise and to commend spiritual growth among the believers. My wife has the motto in her classroom: “Catch them being good.” She is always on the outlook for good behavior among her students. She rewards them when they do outstanding work. It is our spiritual obligation to encourage other believers in their walk with Christ.

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (vv. 3-4).

This is Paul’s second letter to this church in Greece. It follows the first letter a month or so later. This second letter, like the first one, is full of affirmation and encouragement to the believers. Every one of us is encouraged to stay focused and our confidence in God is renewed with a good word from other believers. Honest words of praise have a positive effect on us, as it did this early church. Do you take every opportunity to build up other believers? You are sent from God as angels of mercy to the weary and broken-hearted.

A flourishing faith (v. 3)
Paul encouraged these persecuted believers by saying, “your faith is greatly enlarged.” These Thessalonian Christians were making spiritual progress in God’s purpose of bringing them to maturity in Christ. Their faith was “greatly enlarged.” The word is a compound meaning, increasing and grown over, above and beyond.  Their faith was growing abundantly above normal growth. Their faith in Christ was growing surer every day. They were secure in Christ and their faith was enlarged day by day.  This is the work of God in the heart of true believers. They were growing in faith and love like a well watered and fertilized garden or flowerbed. These believers have spiritual vitality in the midst of great pressures to conform to the world system of values. Their faith was growing and their love for one another was increasing. These are marks of a healthy church. Therefore, Paul could boast in them among the other churches. He commends them for being a good model for other believers.

Abounding love for one another (v. 3)
The “love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater.” Paul had prayed for their love to increase in his first letter to the church (1 Thess. 3:12). His prayer was “may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you.”

It is a sign of a healthy church when you see their love for one another growing while they are experiencing persecution and afflictions.

Perseverance in the midst of persecutions and afflictions (v. 4)
These new believers were steadfast in their commitment to Christ. This is seen in their handling of “afflictions” which can refer to any pressure in general. “Persecution” is more specifically referring to opposition to them because of their relationship to Christ. It means to pursue with hostile intent, to chase like a wild beast. The only reason for the ill-treatment is because they love Jesus Christ and serve Him.

Suffering is God’s tool. Phillips Brooks said, “O, do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.”

Sometimes God takes us through the furnace with Him as He did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo.

These believers “endured” the persecution and tribulations (v. 4). They had the attitude that masters the circumstances and transforms them into stepping stones for spiritual growth. The sufferings were a constant day in and day out and continued to increase, but these believers held out by the grace and power of God. They were living above the chances, changes, and circumstances in life.

What then should be our attitudes toward these insurmountable situations? James 1:2-6 reminds us that God uses these to bring about spiritual growth in our lives. God gives us His wisdom in times of trials. The apostle James writes:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.

God was at work among them (v. 5)
“This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering” (v. 5).

The persecutions were a clear evidence of a vindication of their God’s righteous judgments. A future payday is coming for those who persecute the believers. God was using their suffering to reveal His condemnation of the world. Paul wrote their suffering “is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgments.” God will one day even the score because He will repay with affliction those who afflict you. Paul will develop this idea in verse six.

F. F. Bruce said, “The fact that they are enduring persecution and affliction for Christ’s sake is a sure token of God’s righteous judgment, which will be vindicated in them and in their persecutors at the Advent of Christ.”

The evidence is their enduring faith and love in the midst of these severe trials and persecutions. The persevering faith is the work of God in the heart of the believers. The persecutors were unbelievers (v. 8) who were persecuting the believers because they did not know God. They were “those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Their endurance in the face of tremendous pressure was evidence that God was at work among them. You cannot endure unless God is at work through His Spirit in your heart. The Holy Spirit brings strength to the weary. He comes alongside and gives us strength when we are ready to quit and want to give up. He enables us to keep on going when the going gets tough. These Thessalonian believers were enduring and that was evidence that God was at work among them. The fact that they had endured patiently was proof of the new life in Christ. It was a guarantee that God would vindicate Himself.

God was revealing that they were worthy of the kingdom (v. 5)
Paul is not saying that the suffering is a means to make them worthy as a merit to earn God’s approval or as a means of salvation. No man can earn God’s righteousness by suffering persecution. They were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. They had to follow Acts 2:38  Their enduring faith demonstrates their worthiness to share in the rule of the kingdom of God when Christ returns. God was using their suffering to prepare them for the kingdom reign with Christ. They have been made worthy by faith in Christ. It is His righteousness that has been imputed to them and made them worthy of salvation. It is all of grace. The fact that they could stand up under pressure was the evidence that they had been made a part of the kingdom of God.

Their endurance was the evidence and proof of their relationship with Christ. It was the proof of God’s work in their lives. They were suffering for the cause of Christ and this is never in vain. Anytime we hold out against the pressures of the world it is evidence that God is at work in our lives.

The nature of the righteous judgment of God (vv. 6-10)
God will repay with retribution the wicked persecutors. “It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (v. 6).

God is holy and just and He cannot ignore sin. Moreover, He loves His people and watches over them. The holiness of God demands that He bring retribution upon all sinners. The wicked will earn their punishment from a just God.

Warren Wiersbe illustrates from the Bible how God repays the evil persecutors of His people.

The Christ-rejecting world will receive from God exactly what it gave to God’s people! When God recompenses, He pays in kind; for there is a law of compensation that operates in human history.

Pharaoh tried to drown all the male babies born to the Jews, and his own army was drowned in the Red Sea. Haman plotted to wipe out the Jews, and he and his own sons were wiped out. The advisors of King Darius forded him to arrest Daniel and throw him into the lion’s den, but later they themselves were thrown to the lions. The unbelieving Jewish leaders who sacrificed Christ in order to save the nation (John 11:49-53) in a few years saw their city destroyed and their nation scattered (Be Ready, pp. 129-30).

Those who are afflicting the afflicted are unbelievers (v. 8). Paul writes, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” The ultimate sin of those who afflict the afflicted is unbelief. They have refused obedience to Christ. There is coming a day when the roles will be reversed.

The unbeliever who rejects God and salvation in Jesus Christ face “eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power . . .” However, the righteous will eternally enjoy fellowship in the “presence of the Lord and . . . the glory of His power.”

This eternal punishment will be full and complete (v. 9). Again Paul writes, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  The original means “vengeance, punishment, retribution.” This is not like human vengeance or feelings of indignation, but of God’s righteous judgment against all sin. It is not a get even with your revenge. It is a punishment that comes from a holy and righteous God who has been offended and whose law has been broken.

Literally, Paul says, “Who shall pay a penalty, eternal destruction from the face of the Lord.” The penalty is just and right. It is “eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

W. E. Vine remarks, “This word (olethros) like its synonyms, are translated ‘destroy,’ ‘destruction,’ means, not the destruction of being but of well–being, not annihilation, the putting an end to the existence of a person or thing, but its ruin so far as the purpose of its existence is concerned” (Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 233).

The emphasis is on separation, not annihilation. He is being shut out from the face of the Lord. Paul does not say the wicked are annihilated. Paul teaches “the eternity of future punishment.” “Exclusion! Banishment! Separation! But not annihilation!… It speaks here of ‘eternal destruction.’ The word is ‘ruin,’ the loss of everything that makes life worthwhile; the trashing of life,” says Ray Stedman.

Thomas Constable correctly concluded: “The punishment of the wicked will be neither temporary nor will it be annihilation, but it will continue throughout eternity and those being punished will be conscious. It is eternal death as opposed to eternal life (Matt. 25:46).”

There is no appeal of the final judgment of God. “If we will not have Him asking, we will have Him as judge,” said Leon Morris.

Someone has written this vivid description of hell:

One writer calls it the bottomless pit. And that conjures up dreamlike feelings of falling away­––falling, falling, falling. You’ve all had dreams like that; where when you woke your heart was beating because you were falling. The picture in your mind hanging over a precipice, and God is hanging onto you, and you’re hanging onto Him. And you decide you don’t need Him anymore. So you let go. But the moment you let go you know you made a mistake. You’re falling and every moment you fall further and further away from the only source of help and truth and love, and you realize you made a mistake and you can’t get back up and you fall further and faster and further and faster into spiritual oblivion, and you know you’re going the wrong direction and you’d give anything to go back but you can’t and you fall and you fall and you fall and you fall. How long? Forever. And all the while you’re falling you’re saying, “I’m further now, I’m further. I’m further from the only source of hope, truth, and love.” In hell, there is never the bliss of annihilation. You’d give anything for annihilation, but it’s unavailable, only the conscious continuation of emotional anguish, physical anguish, relational anguish and spiritual anguish forever (Author unknown).

“Eternal destruction” is the alternative to God’s gift of “eternal life” to believers.

God will give relief and rest to the righteous (v. 7). This, too, is part of God’s righteous judgment. They will enjoy all the privileges of the kingdom of God. He will bring relief to His people. When Jesus returns there will be a relief, visible worldwide relief to all believers. No injustice, no humiliation, no act of terror, or torture against God’s anointed will be forgotten.

“For after all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire” (vv. 6-7).

Our relief and rest are eternal. God puts our minds at peace. We will have eternal relief from all the temporary afflictions and trials of this life. Keep in mind our suffering is temporary because we know Christ as our Savior.

The “rest” Paul now speaks of is kingdom rest for all believers in Christ down through the ages. It was the hope for the Thessalonian believers who were enduring intense persecution and it is hope for us today. Christ’s “glory” will be part of the believer’s rest when Christ comes. We will be on the winning team.

When is God going to do it? (v. 10)
No. Paul does not give us any dates. This will be the climax of the whole series of events the Bible calls the Parousia, the “presence” of Christ. In verse seven Paul writes, “when the Lord shall be revealed from heaven.” It is at the “unveiling” of the Lord Jesus from heaven that Christ will come to the earth from heaven and it will be payback time for those who afflict and rest for the ones who were afflicted. It is a time when the earth will be full of the glory of the Lord (Isa. 2:1-4; 11:1-2; 9:6-7; Matt. 25:31).

Paul says, “when He (Christ) comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all those who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed” (v. 10).

Angels will attend Christ when He returns to judge the earth (v. 7). He will come “from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” Angels were not mentioned at the coming of Christ for the saints in 1 Thess. 4:13-17. But angels are seen when He comes in glory to judge the earth. It is a “day” of punishment for the wicked and of the glory of the redeemed. It is the “Day of the Lord” (2:2), and the day the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven.

Leon Morris suggests, “the flaming fire is the role of the returning Lord (cf. Ex. 3:2; Isa. 66:15; Rev. 1:13ff), so awe–ful and so majestic will be His appearance” (p. 118). Then he adds, “In the Old Testament vengeance is the prerogative of Jehovah alone (see Deut. 32:35), and the fact that it is here ascribed to the Lord Jesus is unmistakable evidence that He was regarded as, in the fullest sense, divine” (ibid).

F. F. Bruce writes the “flaming fire” reminds us of the early Christian belief that “the theophany at the burning bush” when “it was Christ before His incarnation who appeared to Moses from the bush. Yahweh descended on Mount Sinai ‘in fire’ at the giving of the law (Ex. 19:18) . . .”

Paul says He comes with “flaming fire” probably referring to the Shekinah cloud of glory (Ex. 40:34-38; Ezek. 43:4f; Isa. 6:1; Rev. 15:8). The Old Testament theophanies were often marked by the presence of fire (Ex. 3:2; 19:18; 2 Chron. 7:1). But it could also refer to the instrument of judgment.

We can summarize by giving God thanksgiving because:

q       We re growing steadfast in faith

q       We are growing in greater love for one another

q       We are persevering in troubling times

q       We are secure in Christ’s coming day of judgment

q       We have a day of rejoicing and glorious future in the presence of Jesus.

In the last two verses, Paul turns to our present sanctification. “We are constantly praying for you” was an attitude of the apostle toward the churches in which he served. It helped to communicate to these persecuted believers that they were not suffering alone. Some scholars see this as a prayer report rather than an actual prayer. He could be reminding the Thessalonians of how he has been praying for them.

“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 11-12).

Paul prays that their walk will be worthy of the Lord (v. 11).
He prays, “that our God may count you worthy of your calling” (v. 11a). This is the work of the grace of God in a believer’s life. From the moment we put our faith in Christ to save us God imputed the righteousness of Christ. We have received a right relationship and standing before God by the imputed righteousness of Christ. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Now we can walk in a manner that is consistent with our calling as Christians. Keep in mind the context of this prayer report is persecution, suffering, and trials. It is God’s enabling that keeps us abiding in Christ. What a joy it will be for faithful servants to hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That will be worth all our trials, tribulations and afflictions.

They have already been acquitted, justified, declared righteous based upon the death of Jesus Christ. Paul’s prayer is that God will account them worthy, not make them worthy. God will reward them according to the riches of His grace.

Paul prays that God will “fulfill every desire for goodness” (v. 11b)
Literally, “fulfill every desire of goodness and work of faith with or by power.” God will “bring it to completion,” fulfill or complete it. The thing that He will complete to perfection is your “desire for goodness.” It is a prayer that God’s will be done in the believer’s current circumstances. God is at work. Can you stand back and say I saw God do it!

Do you have a heart that longs to do the will of God regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself?

Paul prays for “the work of faith with power” (v. 11c)
The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to walk by faith. It produces “every desire for goodness” in our hearts. Without the Holy Ghost enabling power we cannot do the work of faith.

Paul prays for a witness that will glorify the Lord in the believer and the believer in Christ (v. 12)
The “name” refers to all that Christ is in His person and work. It is what He is in His character and person. It is Himself. It is His whole personality. “To glorify the Name” was to exalt a person. He is “glorified” when we hold Him in great honor and high esteem because of who He is.

The apostle Paul’s mind quickly jumps back and forth between the present and the future as he contemplates the blessed hope of the believer. Our suffering is only temporary; our rest is eternal in the presence of our God.

Christ is glorified in our daily life if we are obedient to Him and abide in His presence. Our faith is centered in the person of Jesus Christ. The essence of our Christian faith is a new identification with Christ and an intimacy with Him. When Christ is “glorified in you” His lovely Name is honored and respected. It will never be despised and shamed by a vulgar vocabulary or sinful lifestyle. The mind, heart, volitions, and behavior will exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But that is not Paul’s complete thought. He continues, “that you may be glorified in Him.” When Paul mentions the glory of Christ his mind leaps forward into the future and the glory that awaits the believer when Christ comes.

Believers who die in Christ enter into rest with Christ, but will receive their glorified bodies endued with new life and new powers, “conformed to His glorious body” when Christ returns (Phil. 3:3; 1 Cor. 15:49; 1 Jn. 3:2). We will share in His glory in these changed bodies.

When Christ comes the “Lord Jesus will be glorified in you.” It will be consummated when we receive our glorified bodies. But Paul’s prayer is also about our intimate union with Christ now. That our “Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him according to the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ” speaks of our co-identification with Christ and vital union with Him.

Christ is “glorified in you” and you are glorified “in Him.” What a relationship! Intimacy, oneness, union, closeness, abiding


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