Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica is a much fierier encouragement. This is probably coming from a heartfelt sympathy toward the church and anger toward persecutors Paul felt due to a possible escalation in persecution and perhaps violence against the church. If you’re a parent, consider how you would react (or have reacted) toward another kid bullying your kid; the Thessalonian church was like Paul’s child. In the midst of his passionate empathy, Paul has some interesting things to say…
Your faith is enlarged and love grows greater! — 2 Thess. 1:3
Growth is an expected outcome of the Christian life. There is never a time, in this world, when the Christian can claim perfection. Even the apostle Paul said, (Philippians 3:12) “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” There were times when some of those that Paul had led to Christ had stopped growing, because they mistakenly thought that they had reached perfect maturity (e.g., the Corinthian church). So, Paul was clearly pleased to see their growth and progress in faith and love.
Would Paul (much more important still, Jesus) be pleased at your growth? Where were you this time last year? Where are you now? Would people, have people, noticed any spiritual difference?
Retribution to persecutors — 2 Thess. 1:6-10
There’s not too much in the New Testament about God’s vengeance on persecutors except here in 2 Thessalonians and later in Revelation, but that’s not to say that God isn’t all that interested in it. Throughout the New Testament we find commands to abstain from our own revenge against our enemies (including persecutors), and the reason we are given is that one day God will judge all men and settle all outstanding scores. Paul is reminding the Thessalonian church of God’s sure and certain intentions and comforting them (many might have suffered significant loss) against seeking their own revenge. But why doesn’t God do something now? Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s patience should be understood as His mercy that wishes to give every person a maximum chance to repent and be saved. But we mustn’t let His patience fool us or discourage us — when the Lord comes again, those who disbelieve and disobey will find no more mercy, only just retribution.
The man of lawlessness — 2 Thess. 2:2-10
The confusion about the second coming of the Lord continued to be an issue in this young church. False teachers, falsely implying that it was Paul’s teaching, had confused these young Christians into thinking that maybe the second coming had already occurred (just like Jesus had said would happen, Matthew 24:23-28). So, Paul, to make things a little clearer, reminds them that Jesus would not come before the coming of the apostasy and the man of lawlessness (vv.2,3). What this event is and what this man is remain a mysteries in the true biblical sense — something revealed only in broad outlines without details or specifics (in most cases they are only clear in hindsight). But there certainly seems to be a number of parallels to this idea in many New Testament passages: e.g., Luke 18:8; Matt. 24:15-31; and Rev. 11:1ff. The one that is most striking to me is Rev. 20 in which Satan is shown bound for “1000 years” (a long indeterminate period of time), but loosed toward the end of time to “deceive the nations” (implying persecution). All this was being said to help the Thessalonian Christians that they hadn’t missed the Lord’s coming somehow.
I can’t help but think about all the brouhaha about the end of the world in the popular media these days. Don’t be taken in by the smooth talkers and hype; Paul’s words remain true today that the end will not come until after the man of lawlessness does his thing. Jesus’ words likewise remain true: Matthew 24:36 “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
Deluding influence — 2 Thess. 2:11,12
Speaking of that time, when the man of lawlessness will be doing his thing, Paul talks of the man of lawlessness’ deluding influence which will have a powerful effect on those who didn’t receive the love of the truth so as to be saved, and they will happily, perhaps even blissfully believe what is false. Of course, such a happy embrace of lies — “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” (Paul Simon) — has been the practice of many in the world for years. But the key is the unprecedented level of those who will not receive the love of the truth. Which begs the question of each of us, do we love the truth?
Freeloading forbidden — 2 Thess. 3:6-15
Lastly, a substantial portion of the last chapter is devoted to the problem in the Thessalonian church of freeloading. Some were continuing to dodge work and expecting charity from the wealthier brethren. Paul points to his own example of work to feed himself, when he ministered the word of the Gospel among them. Things had apparently gotten so bad that he was having to resort to withdrawal of fellowship from the offender. The lesson for us is that we do need to eat our own bread, when at all possible. Being taken advantage of is discouraging for those who work hard and are generous with what they have; this is the reason for Paul’s encouragement, 2 Thessalonians 3:13 “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.