The Expository Files

Paul’s Thankfulness – In Three Specifics

2 Thessalonians 1:3

“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give
you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” - 2 Thess. 1:3-12

The apostle Paul was a busy man. There was little or no time for recreation, leisure, social entertainment or retirement. He was a man with a purpose that was not self-conceived, not just a career choice and not mere compulsion (as in ordinary forced labor). God called Paul “to reveal His Son” through him; to “preach Him among the Gentiles,” and to serve as an apostle (Gal. 1:15,16; Rom. 1:1-6). He traveled, preached, mentored young evangelists, defended himself against false charges, escaped the wrath of men, wrote epistles, preached sermons, withstood
false teachers and was always ready to preach the gospel to individuals, small groups, crowds or tribunals.

But he was never too busy to pray, and never too busy to thank God for good people. In this text, he takes the time to carefully state his love and gratitude for the disciples in Thessalonica. His gratitude has three specific components.

Paul is thankful for the growth of their faith: “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly…” The faith recommended in God’s Word is never static, merely academic, inactive or disobedient. It begins when a good heart receives God’s Word and acts on that truth. It continued through delighted obedience. Faith matures and grows through continued contact with God’s Word, and continued response to God through Jesus Christ. We are certain Paul was thankful to God when these people first obeyed
the gospel, but this gratitude points to their lives after baptism; lives of progress. They were not satisfied to simply be baptized, nor were they willing to rest on past attainments. They were learning more, pressing on, “stretching upward in spiritual maturity, and for this Paul gives thanks,” (D.A. Carson). If Paul were to be here today and write to us – would he say this to us? Would he commend you for your growth in faith? This doesn’t occur just as a function of time (clock and calendar). Like any kind of personal progress, this comes to pass through devotion and
discipline every day. And if your “fidelity” to the Lord is not moving, static or “parked,” it will soon decay. Activity keeps faith alive and growing.

Paul is thankful that their love was increasing. Their love for God caused their love for each other and their love for the lost, and this love was lively, vigorous and increasing. Jesus said love would be a distinguishing feature of His people (Jno. 13:34-35). D.A. Carson put this well: “It is worth probing this line of thought a little further. A close-knit society with shared ideals and goals frequently finds it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion. Whether we think of the local rock-climbing club, the regional football team, or a socially cohesive local
church, a certain amount of fraternal depth is common enough. Of course, such groups may run into terrible division over power politics or a disruptive member or a nasty bit of nepotism, but some measure of transparent love is not all that unusual in such groups. Ideally the church is different. It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, aristocratic and plebeian, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert - and everything in
between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them,” (Call to Spiritual Reformation, A: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers (D. A. Carson). So love must be embraced at the first, and then nurtured and increased. If you are not making progress and reaching greater heights in love, you stand admonished by Paul’s teaching here.

Paul was thankful for their endurance in trials: “…for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations which you endure.” Though persecution against Christians varies in form from generation to generation and culture to culture – the certainty of it is constant. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution,” (2 Tim. 3:12). Today, we may not face the form of persecution the apostles endured. But to whatever extent we live and speak faith in Christ, to that extent we will be opposed. There is no question. The question is, how will we endure it? What will our response be. Paul really appreciated people who endured trials patiently. Christians with devoted hearts will endure difficulty and persecution without giving up, with steady growth of faith. In fact, many will thrive when challenged; will dig deeper when opposed; will pray more, worship more and study more. This is commendable in the sight of God, if we are reproached for the name of Christ, and we are not ashamed; we endure it; grow through it and give God the glory (see 1 Pet. 4:12-19). It is always a compelling testimony to the grace of God, when people respond to Him with such determination – they can go through anything with God.

So, from this text, take a few moments to reflect on where you are, in terms of your growth of faith, your increase of love, and your endurance of trials. And, be regularly thankful for people you know who have what Paul was so thankful to see. Give God the glory.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 19.4; April 2012