PERFECT JUSTICE

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Week 1                      

 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Intro: Several months have gone by since Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In that letter, he comforted them, encouraged them, and expressed his thankfulness and prayerfulness for them. He gave them some instructions for moving forward in their walk of faith amid much opposition and persecution (1:6,18;3:5). 

Now Paul, most likely within a year or less, is writing them again. The letter gives evidence that He had recently received some news about the current conditions within the church. Some of the information was good: their faith in Christ and love for one another was growing. But some of the news was “not so good.” False teaching and perhaps a misapplication of Paul’s Instructions had entered the church. This false teaching regarding “the day of the Lord” was confusing, and some people were even quitting their jobs in expectation of the Lord’s return. 

So Paul writes them another epistle (letter). In it, we will observe his commendation of their progress-correcting the doctrinal error that is causing them problems-and some more exhortations for their future growth and progress in their walk of faith.

I hope that you have been paying attention to what Paul has written so far. The truth contained in the first letter and this one hold many vital lessons for us today. For example, in what we have witnessed so far: (insights of Bob Deffenbaugh)

  1. There is a lot Paul spoke of that teaches us what loving leadership looks like-he was tough but tender. (We are usually one or the other).
  2. His letter teaches us a good bit about missions. Not just Paul’s theology to learn and propagate elsewhere, but his means and methods in doing so. 
  3. Meditating on these two epistles will teach us and encourage us with the power of the gospel! Its power in saving sinners and its influence amid opposition and persecution.
  4. And one other thing, I think it will help us to grow in our understanding of what it means and what it looks like to “persevere “when we are facing persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel!

So, with that said, let’s begin our look into chapter one together. (Read chapter one).

FOCUS ONE: In verses 1-4, we observe Paul’s greeting and commendation for them in their spiritual growth. Paul begins this second epistle much as he had in the first one (1 Thessalonians 1:1). He reminds his readers that they have graciously received God’s grace and peace. Paul begins and ends both of these letters with those very words revealing to me that he desires for them to experience these two things in greater measure in their daily lives.

Grace is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense,” as some put it. It is God’s unearned favor which He freely bestows on all who look unto Him in repentant faith (Gospel). God gives you and Me the opposite of what we deserve: blessing instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of condemnation. Peace is the “cessation” or ending of hostility against us, which results from Christ’s completed work of atonement at the cross. Christians now have peace with God because of His substitutionary sacrifice for their sins!

Paul knew by experience that Christians could be at peace even amid persecution, which was his desire for them.

Paul then takes some time to mention the good things that he has been hearing about them. Their faith is growing, but not just in inches; it is, Paul says, “greatly enlarged” (v. 3). And so too is their love toward one another! Paul is saying that their faith is continuously growing, each and every day, so much so that from several months ago until the writing of this latest letter, it is still enlarging! This is not abnormal but what everyday faith should look like in the lives of Christ-followers. Faith is not a “static” thing. Since it is “faith” in a person, the Lord Jesus, as our relationship with Him grows, so too does our faith in Him whom we love!

And so it should be true of our love as well. As we learn more about His love for us and experience it on a day-to-day basis, our manifestation of love to others should be manifested to those around us in more profound and more significant ways.

No wonder Paul is proud of them (v. 4). No wonder he is thankful for them (v.3). But take notice that now, several months later, with more fruit of their faith blossoming, he is speaking proudly of them among the other “churches of God.” This is different than what we have read in his first letter to them (1 Thessalonians1: 7-9). There “he had no need to say anything.” Others were telling Paul and his associates about their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). . .

But Paul will say something now. Their growth is taking place amid significant opposition to the gospel and subsequent persecution that stems from it. If they were a positive example months ago, as new believers or babes in Christ, how much more so now after living out their faith consistently, boldly, and with great perseverance through months of persecution?

Paul and his friends, Silas and Timothy, have much to rejoice in. Their labor was “not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5), and God has been powerfully working in their hearts and lives through His Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5)!

5 “[This is] [a]a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed are suffering. [b]For after all it is only right [c]for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us, [d]when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with [e]His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified among His [f]saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—because our testimony to you was believed.”

FOCUS TWO: As Paul continues, he shares truths with them that should encourage them in their struggles and strengthen them in their hope of a future rest (relief) from persecution. Paul mentions two classes of people: the afflicted and those who afflict them. Two different outcomes for each: relief to the afflicted and retribution on those who are doing the afflicting. He states when the rest and retribution will ultimately happen and the fate of those who “do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (v. 8).

Let’s begin with those who are being afflicted. The Thessalonian’s trials were numerous and the persecution relentless, yet they stood firm and proved to be rock solid in their faith in Christ Jesus! By way of using their current circumstances as an illustration, Paul illustrated the righteous judgment of God in that, Their God, our God, is a JUST God! When God would judge the Thessalonian believers (2 Corinthians 5:9-11), they would be declared worthy of His Kingdom. NOT because they endured these trials, no one merits heaven by suffering (Ephesians 2:8-9), but because their endurance or perseverance in these trials demonstrated their worthiness or fitness for the eternal kingdom. 

“A Christian is made worthy by God’s grace, which he receives as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ. His trials simply expose what is there already.” (1) That character is God-given; it is the grace of God that makes it possible for a Christian to “withstand the fires of human experience.” (1) So, the purpose of their afflictions was to bring glory to God by manifesting His grace in the way they endured their current trials.

God will ultimately give His promised rest to His children, which includes relief from the tensions and trials that stem from unjust persecution. The Thessalonians, the Apostles, and Christians who have experienced such injustices can look forward to this rest that will come at the revelation of Jesus Christ!

FOCUS THREE: The next group of people mentioned is those that are causing the persecution. It consists of those who do not know God and those who are not obedient to the gospel (v.8). Paul, expanding on his illustration of God being righteous, now transitions into explaining how God will deal with the ungodly at His coming. We need an SOS (2)before we continue. What is Paul saying when he says that God is “just?” He is saying that God is perfectly righteous in all His ways regarding His treatment of His creation, especially those He created. He shows no partiality (Acts 10:34) and perfectly gives out His rewards or His punishments. Justice and righteousness, which always work hand in hand, are the foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14). Simply stated: God will give everyone what they deserve, nothing more, nothing less! And that is based on His righteous, immutable (unchanging) character.

Now, back to our text. In these words, we find great encouragement as-well-as a cause for some distress. You and I, along with the Thessalonians, can be confident that nothing escapes our God’s watchful eyes (Genesis 16:13)! He knows all things (1 John 3:20; Psalm 147:5) and will make everything right. While some people may escape justice in this life, they will not evade it in the next. Paul states that when the Lord returns, when “He is revealed from heaven,” He will at that time “deal out retribution” (v. 8). So, in one sense, this should be encouraging for us as Christians, but in another way, this is grievous to our souls because we read that these people will suffer the fate of “eternal destruction” (v.9). Rest, eternal life with God is perfect justice for those who trust in Christ; eternal destruction is perfect justice for those who reject Jesus Christ.

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

Because of what Paul has just written, he mentions how he, Silvanus, and Timothy pray for them. They pray that these believers would continue to live lives that are worthy of their Lord. That they would continue to remain steadfast in their faith as they faced ongoing persecution. But, what was the ultimate goal of his prayers? The glory of God! That God would be glorified in them during their trying circumstances and conclusively at His coming (v.10).

For further thought:

  1. 1. Should Christians expect to be persecuted for their faith? Look up these verses and meditate on what they teach us about persecution: 2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 5:10; John 15:18.
  2. 2. Perseverance amid persecution is one main reason Paul is thankful for these Christians. What do these other verses teach us about this topic? James 1:12; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:18).
  3. 3. How can you pray for other believers and yourself based on what you have learned in this study?
  4. Paul’s primary goal in this prayer and his own life was that God would be glorified. Is that your primary purpose, or does something have to change?