As I come to the end of Paul’s second small letter to the Thessalonians I am kind of wondering what this letter looked like on a scroll. How long was it? Were the lines straight? Were there any smudges? Did Paul add any emphasis by making the text bold or underlining? What member of the church in Thessalonica was responsible for preserving the letter? How often did they read the letter when the church gathered?
By the end of this letter, Paul is encouraging his “brothers” and me to not grow weary in doing good. Although there is a unique bond that I have with brothers in sisters in Christ there is a tendency in work to become exhausted, even to the point of fainting. I know that works has nothing to do with salvation, but Paul is suggesting that disciples of Christ can become tired, which means you must ask from what? From being engaged in serving Christ by serving the local church and his/her community. Contextually, reflecting on Paul’s previous thoughts, disciples of Jesus should not grow weary in normal work, otherwise you can resort to the busybody lifestyle. Fortunately Paul has a suggestion in dealing with disciples of Jesus who have poor work habits avoid them. Why? For shame. I’m not sure of anybody that will feel shame because I avoid them, but I may be surprised. Although as personally disturbing as it may seem, Paul does ask me to warn the weary workers not as an enemy but as a sibling, get involved doing good works.
Just as Paul concludes many of his letters discussing my Lord’s peace I should nightly go to bed reflecting and resting in the Lord’s peace. I love how Paul finishes the letter and in case some false teacher is handing you another letter you can tell this is mine by the handwriting (it’s terrible – LOL).
Just as Paul commands the Thessalonians to embrace his teaching so am I, today, to embrace Paul’s command. I believe it would be much easier to accept Paul’s commands knowing that he had walked in my shoes experiencing rejection and persecution yet delighting to follow after Christ. Paul’s first thoughts revolve around who your friends are and how are they influencing your thinking. False teachers were easily manipulating the Thessalonians with distorted doctrine on Christ’ return. Paul equipped the Thessalonians just as he has equipped me to identify and avoid these false teachers through their idleness. According to Thayer, they are out of order as military soldiers quitting their ranks. In the specific context they are out of order “with the tradition that you received from us (Paul).” It seems intolerant and personally disturbing to ignore and move away from disorderly people, but Paul says for Christ’s sake do it. I must recognize these aren’t people out of faith in Christ who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus. These idle individuals are intentionally using faith to lazily sit around the lunch and dinner table to deceive people. I’m amazed that not only did these idle individuals lead the Thessalonians astray they took advantage of their friends food. They had rejected work and given themselves to being a professional busybody. I am humbled by Paul’s mind-set “we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” Followers of Christ should be people to be imitated because of their disciplined work ethic. I should not be ashamed to avoid those who walk disorderly by avoiding work only to sit at the table and inaccurately discuss the return of Jesus Christ. I ought to be encouraged from this passage to be diligent at work taking enjoyment at what God has given my mind, hands, and feet to do. I ought also to be encouraged to refrain from the busybody role that is “officiously(eagerly) inquisitive about others affairs”. Part of the essence of living a fruitful life is to work quietly and earn a living.
How dreadful to wander from table to table as a busybody sinfully eager to be caught up on today’s Christian TMZ rather than finding pleasure in work as a creator made in the image of a creating God. Oh Lord may I find joy and exceeding pleasure quietly working controlling my tongue and glorifying you.
As God developed the Thessalonians in the first century or me in the 21st century I can be confident in His faithfulness. Undoubtedly an evil one, in addition to our carnal self seeking flesh, lurks attempting to destroy me through every means possible. It is real, but I must remain focused on the faithful one who will establish and protect. God’s “witness protection plan” is about preserving the life of His follower against the evil one. The Psalmists reflect on God’s active faithfulness 40+ times (“As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain your mercy from me; your steadfast love and your faithfulness will ever preserve me!”). I find it encouraging to know that my protection does not revolve around my faithfulness for I would flunk out rather quickly. Nor does my protection revolve around the faithfulness of other followers of Jesus. I may find rest and comfort that the God of faithfulness is seeking to establish and guard me. The modus operandi of the evil one is to provoke me to disobedience to commands of God found in Scripture. There is probably no more vulnerable time for neglecting His commands then in the midst of an attack, like the persecution the Thessalonians were experiencing, when everything inside says be afraid run for your life. In the crisis of persecution, ignorance, and fear I must yield to the Lord for his direction. My heart is prone to distraction and unfaithfulness so I must acknowledge my need of the Lord’s direction of my heart to Christ who practices “courageous active resistance to hostile attack” (TDNT). Though I may face volatility be encouraged by Christ’s active steadfastness.
I see Paul cry out for prayer as he travels from city to city along with companions sharing the good news of Jesus. He wouldn’t enter on soft red carpet distinguished from others, but would often be faced with evil people seeking to undermine the word of the Lord. I find it quite convicting to realize how rarely I ask for the word of the Lord to speed ahead of upcoming meetings, conversations, dining opportunities, etc expecting the gospel to be honored. I’m not sure why it’s so rare, the Thessalonians were a result of intentional advanced prayer where Paul & Co. were expecting to see some, not all, come to faith in Jesus. Imagine speaking to God about about advancing His word in a city prior to my arrival; and I arrive only to see the Holy Spirit through the teaching of the word radically transform people through faith (thinking about Mpholi). I look forward to praying on behalf of several missionary friends who long for God’s word to advance among them and to be protected from evil people.
In great contrast to the multitudes of people deceived into following the lawless one, the Thessalonians are God’s firstfruit of salvation. I’m not better than others, but I have been chosen to walk a different path because God chose me as a first fruit to be saved. A Jewish word used plentifully in the Old Testament where people were to bring their firstfruits to God. Here the Thessalonians are considered God’s firstfruits of salvation. God chose the Thessalonians and me “through” sanctification of the Spirit and belief in truth. Through the good news of Jesus I will obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I enjoy Paul’s amusing relationship with those he writes to as he calls the Thessalonians brothers. Paul and Silas were close to these brothers and sisters because they almost received the beat down from Thessalonica’s city council (Acts 17). They had to be whisked away secretly at night to a city called Berea, a city known for its eagerness to search the Scriptures daily. Encountering persecution draws unity and creates relationships as if they are siblings. Paul exhorts them to pay careful attention to what has been taught via their words and letters. God utilizes special men, apostles, whose letters and speech are authoritative. I believe the exhortation was meant for encouragment and comfort as they had been deceived into thinking Christ had returned. Take comfort Thessalonians, my letters and speech are ordained from God and you may know Jesus has not returned, yet.
Fortunately the lawless joker who prides himself against others is being restrained by God’s unlimited power until the appropriate time. The lawless one has deceived himself into thinking that control is his possession. One day in the near future, at Jesus’ return, the lawless man will be humbled through death along with his leaders. Though the lawless found power, false signs, and wonders through Satan he will be no match for the Law-giver. Unfortunately, the lawless man will not be led to destruction alone; while on earth he has and is using deception to distract people from truth and salvation in Christ. These followers of deception ignorantly seek happiness and satisfaction in unrighteousness.
Most people like a good antagonist in a movie. The rugged character who acts with flair in opposition to the protagonist, always throwing a curve ball in the middle of the story. Well not to humiliate Hollywood, but the lawless antagonist that Paul describes in Thessalonians will personify the great antagonist to God Himself. This son of destruction who has carved out his niche through rebellion will attempt to thwart all who oppose him. This lawless man will not view himself as a man but as a god worthy to be praised. Eventually his earthly authority will grant him access to sit on the throne inside the temple to receive praise from humanity. This ruthless antagonist will use every scheme possible to glorify himself. Honestly, I can identify with this lawless man’s character traits. I rebelled against God causing destruction simply in an attempt to worship myself. I have personally sought glorification. As a person I naturally pursue the worship of self. Fortunately God intervened displaying my warped unsatisfying view of myself and eternal need of Him. Unlike this lawless man very few follow me nor do I have a throne to sit in, but I sure do share some of the same self gratifying characteristics of the man of lawlessness. So thankful for the the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
So the first century disciples of Jesus were expecting His return; so much so that many in Thessalonica thought Jesus had already returned. They were only a few years removed from Jesus being offered as a sacrifice on a cross succumbing to death temporarily, yet overcoming it within three days. Post-resurrection Jesus had made many appearances reminding multitudes of disciples that He will return. The transmission of those words encouraged followers of Christ to live expectantly. However, Paul’s letter suggests some false teachers through spirit, word, and letter had convinced the Thessalonians that Jesus had already returned. Paul’s testimony earlier in this letter suggests to the Thessalonians that you want miss His coming. When Jesus returns it will be with mighty angels as flaming fire ready to disrupt self centered practices of the world. Prior to Jesus returning there will be a man of lawlessness to arise who will offer himself as a god to the world. No need to fret Thessalonians, you haven’t seen Jesus with His mighty angels nor the lawless man.
Paul envisions a day where believers in Thessalonica will marvel at the Lord as they glorify Him. There will be millions and possibly billions of children, women, and men who will stop and marvel at the majesty of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul’s prayer and my prayer should be in pursuit of allowing God to fulfill His calling in my life. As a disciple of Christ I should be resolved to do every good work of faith solely by His power. A disciple is not allowed to fulfill their calling partially, but in full. Why? Because it is about the Lord Jesus being glorified in me according to God’s grace and the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m just a very tiny piece in God’s grand plan to glorify Himself. For many in Thessalonica the ability to resolve to do good was in the midst of horrible mistreatment. Jason, a leader in Thessalonica, had his home attacked. Jason and other leadership were bitterly accused of turning the world upside down before the city council. There will be a day when with Jason and I will stand and marvel at the greatness of God who calls us according to grace. Until then, I hope the Holy Spirit does a marvelous movement so that people of this city will be stirred up to anger at God’s work among people. May I be resolved to do every good work for the glory of Christ regardless of circumstances.
Though the Thessalonians faced tireless persecution Jason, Aristarchus and others could be encouraged by Christ’s coming physical supremacy. Though suffering is part of the kingdom of God persecutors cannot permanently fine shelter in the shadows. The jealous mobsters who find joy inflicting harm and injury to those following Jesus will be identified and judged. God is just and will ultimately repay with appropriate affliction. I find the description of Jesus in Thessalonians staggering and intimidating. The Lord Jesus and his mighty angels will be revealed from heaven in an all consuming flaming fire. I’m intimidated by the fact they don’t just make a showing for people to give their oooo ahhhh they are inflicting vengeance and destruction on those with no knowledge of God and fail to obey the gospel of Jesus.
Throughout the Bible where God appeared with fire it was often in covenants or judgment. While judging Sodom and Gomorrah God used sulfur and fire, when preparing to lead the Jewish people from Egypt he used thunder, hail and fire to inflict judgment, when the priests needed to cleanse items the book of Leviticus indicates they used fire to destroy unclean items and purify utensils, Nadab and Abihu suffered fatal judgment by fire, the Jews endured judgment from God in numbers through fire, and on and on. I guess my list shouldn’t be exhaustive, but I get the point. God uses fire during encounters with people either to make a covenant or to destroy. In the case of the Thessalonians they can be encouraged that God is not a pushover for persecutors. He will heap eternal punishment on the lives ignoring His Kingdom.
The persecution hasn’t stopped with the followers of Christ in Thessalonica. It still persists and more can be found at Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Persecution Magazine, Persecution International Christian Concern.