Reading for Wednesday, Dec. 19: 2 Thess. 1
One of things that really stands out to me from our readings this year is just how much the NT addresses the issue of suffering and adversity. The NT seems to teach this at nearly every turn: to be a follower of Jesus is to voluntarily put oneself at odds with the way of the world.
As he begins this short letter, this sort of thought permeates Paul’s writing. He tells the Thessalonian church of the pride he feels for them, boasting of their faithfulness amid their many persecutions (v4). Once again, the NT reminds us of our pilgrim status. In the end, our faithfulness will be rewarded.
But Paul adds an interesting point to our discussion in v5. Speaking of their sufferings, he says: “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of god, for which you are also suffering.” There seems to be a difference in “righteous suffering” — suffering for the sake of Christ — and the kind of suffering that we all experience in life, such as grief, loss, and heartache. I think this is an important point to make. When we suffer for our faith, Paul encourages us to see this as “suffering for the cause”, a way of being found worthy of this tremendous gift we have in Christ (who also suffered in this manner, by the way). Think of Peter’s comments about this kind of suffering refining our faith like gold passing through fire (1 Peter 1). But we must be careful to differentiate between this kind of biblical persecution and the grief we feel as we bury a loved one, lest we make God out to be a cosmic chess player, moving and removing pieces from the board of life as in some sort of game. There is much more to be said here, but Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to hold the faith, to stand up under the barrage of ridicule and scorn they are presently enduring.
Paul closes this chapter by describing the future that awaits all of God’s adversaries, which we discussed at length during our study of Revelation. Ever the pastoral voice, Paul concludes with an exhortation:
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v11-12)