We begin a new study this morning in 2 Thessalonians. It is only fitting that we continue where we left off and finish the story of the church at Thessalonica.
The church is a young church planted by Paul at some point on his 2nd missionary journey around 49 or 50 A. D. Paul wrote the first letter to the Thessalonians around 51 A. D. encouraging them to walk the walk of the Gospel, the life changing, life transforming Gospel. Paul takes the time to write this second letter just a few months after the first. Paul is still in Corinth. As we go through this letter, you’re going to see three main themes.
You’ll need your Bible to read 2 Thes. 1:1-4.
Paul begins the same way he did in 1 Thessalonians almost word for word. The team is still Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Luke is not mentioned, but when you read the account of Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 16-18, it’s pretty clear that Luke is still with them. Let me point out a couple of things in Paul’s introduction. Paul is writing to the church at Thessalonica. Church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means an assembly. It is a group of people assembled together for the purpose of worshiping God. Since we are not part of the Thessalonian church, there may be a tendency to ignore its teaching. When you understand the term ekklesia or assembly, you must conclude that Paul’s letter is not just to those believers, but to us as well.
Paul says that the church is, “In God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul speaks of the churches in Judea being “in Christ” in 1 Thess. 2:14. Remember Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:12? He said, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Paul is speaking of an organic, living, breathing organization; one in which Christ’s DNA is all over us. In Colossians 3:3 Paul describes our new life as “hidden with Christ in God.” The church being in God indicates this is where the life of the church comes from. This is the heartbeat of the church; this is the lifeblood of the church, this is what the church is made of.
Paul says grace and peace, his customary greeting. He used it in both of his letters to the Corinthians. In his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. In both letters to the Thessalonians. In both letters to Timothy, and in his letters to Titus and Philemon. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So Paul provides a greeting and now look at Paul’s thankfulness. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul said, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.” Here he says, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren.” That might seem like a trivial distinction, but it’s not. Paul has more of an obligation to thank God for them. It’s more appropriate to thank God for them. In his first letter, Paul mentions the Thessalonians, “Work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Their faith was transforming their lives – present tense. It wasn’t something that just occurred in the past, it was happening now. Look at v. 3. It’s only fitting, it’s only right, it’s only proper to thank God for what He was doing in their lives.
Their faith is being “greatly enlarged.” Their faith is growing. Their love is growing. Remember in 1 Thes. 3:12 Paul prayed that, “The Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.” That’s what is happening. Paul’s prayers are being answered. He is compelled to thank God for them. Their faith is vibrant, their faith is real, their faith is changing them into what God wants them to be.
Not only was Paul thankful, but he was proud of these believers. It wasn’t just Paul; it was also his companions that spoke of the growing faith of the Thessalonian believers. When Paul left Thessalonica, he went to Berea, then to Athens, then to Corinth where he wrote this letter. Paul and Silas left Thessalonica with Paul to go to Berea. Paul left them in Berea and gave instructions for them to join him in Athens as soon as they could. They later joined Paul travelling from Macedonia and meeting him in Corinth. According to v. 4, they spoke proudly because of the work of faith and love that is occurring in their lives. Paul and the others share this incredible faith in the churches they go to. It is not boasting in the people necessarily, but in the God that can accomplish what He sets out to do.
These believers weren’t just hanging in there as life uneventfully passed them by. Paul boasted about them for what he says is their, “Perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” The persecution that was present in Paul’s first letter is still happening. Remember that Paul was chased away by the Jews because they were jealous of Paul and what God was doing. The Thessalonians turned from idols to serve a living God. Religion wasn’t changing them, God was. He was making a difference in their lives and the Jews didn’t like that so there is no reason to assume that much of this persecution was coming from the religious crowd in Thessalonica. Even though there was persecution and suffering, the faith and love of the Thessalonians grew.
They didn’t let the suffering control their lives. There is a really important point here. They were suffering because of where they stood for Christ. For us though, we want to make excuses and quit because of the suffering and pain in our lives, but most of that pain and suffering is our own fault. Some people are suffering for Christ, but most of us aren’t.
There is genuine suffering and persecution going on in the world. On 9/21/09, a pastor was beaten by radical Hindus in Andhra Pradesh, India as he was returning home following a morning service. On October 8, 2009, two Ethiopian evangelists successfully appealed their sentence of offering money for people to convert, but were kept in jail on new charges. On October 7, an Iranian judge charged two people with apostasy. If convicted, they face life in prison. I could go on and on, but I want you to recognize that there are people suffering for Christ.
We’re just getting started. We’re going to see lots of challenging things in the weeks to come. Chapter 1 is devoted to suffering and persecution. Next week we’re going to see what that really means.