2 Thessalonians

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfil 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.”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Paul saw the perseverance of the Thessalonian believers amidst persecution and sought to encourage them. He reminded them that our God is a just God who judges impartially and rightly. Those who oppose Him are rightfully repaid with affliction, while His people who have endured persecution from the unrighteous for His sake are rightfully counted worthy of His kingdom. Keeping the Final Judgement when Christ comes again in mind, Paul earnestly prays for the Thessalonian believers that God will preserve His people and “make them worthy of His calling”.

Paul prays and makes this petition to God because he knows that we as believers can never achieve worthiness before God by our own means. Our acceptability before God requires that God makes and considers us worthy of His kingdom. Bringing to fruition every resolve to do good and the resulting work of faith requires God’s power. Glorification of Jesus Christ in us and us in Him requires the grace offered to us through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

God is committed to the preservation of His people amidst persecution, and we can only live righteously and be considered worthy of His calling through His grace and power. With this in mind, let us be in constant prayer, that God will complete His gracious work of sanctification in us to count us worthy of His kingdom, and to empower us both to will and to act in faith to fulfil His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) by bringing glory to Jesus Christ. May we always hold on to the hope that as we grow in Christ-likeness by the grace given to us through our Lord Jesus, He is glorified in our righteous living, and we may increasingly reflect His glory.

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Paul described a church who was easily confused and scared by false doctrine (v. 2). The issue was the false teaching that Christ had already returned and they missed out on it. In love and patience Paul taught them again what he had spoken during his time with them and in his previous letter, but he also rebuked them saying “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”. The Thessalonians should have known the events that had to come to pass before Jesus Christ comes again, but they were not grounded in the truth of Paul’s teachings and were easily lead astray by false teachings.

Why is it so important for us to know the truth in our Lord Jesus so well? Paul speaks of a “man of destruction” who will be revealed at the proper time appoint by God. This “man” will come in a glorious manner with “all power and false signs and wonders”, and will “oppose and exalt himself above every so-called god or object of worship” and in his own arrogance seat in the temple of God proclaiming to be God Himself. Through the power of Satan he deceives those who refuse to love truth and continue in their unrighteousness. Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are not grounded in love with the unshakable truths of Jesus Christ, we will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14).

Jesus Christ has taught us to always be ready and be on our guard (Matt 25:1-13), for we will not know the appointed time for the revelation of the “man of destruction”. Even now let us not be complacent, because many antichrists have already come to deceive and lead God’s people astray (1 John 2:18, Mark 13:22).

In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul explains how we can set ourselves up for standing firm in the truth of Jesus Christ. God has given us pastors and teachers to equip us for God’s work - which is the building up of God’s church (vv. 11-12). Equipping us for ministry includes solid teaching of the truth in Scripture. As our spiritual leaders in the church equip us for ministry, we are to grow more in Christ-likeness by growing in maturity and unity in doctrine and faith (v. 13). This implies that growing in Christ-likeness includes being actively involved in the building up of the church through the exercising of the gifts that God has given us in His grace and the equipping from our pastor. The means through which God has appointed for us to grow into Christ-likeness is to “speak the truth in love” to each other (v. 15). But the only way we can speak truth is when we know and are convicted by the truth in the first place.

Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not allow ourselves to be counted among “those who are perishing” in their hatred for truth and love for unrighteousness. Let us learn to love truth so that we may build each other up in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and be able to stand firm against the deception of the devil, both now and when the appointed time comes.

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15

Last week’s passage (2 Thess 2:1-12) spoke about the coming of the “man of lawlessness” and we have discussed how we need to know the truth in order not to be taken in by the powerful deception that is already at work in the present.

The Christian identity and purpose are important elements to persisting in the truth. Culture speaks of self-discovery and “being the master of your destiny” to achieve lasting success in life, and these hint at the human need for life purpose and identity. However, these advice point to short-lived and ever-changing foundations that do not stand the test of adversity and doubt. Paul points us to the true identity and purpose/hope we have in our eternal and steadfast Lord Jesus Christ.

In Christ, we are loved by Christ because of God chose us to be “the firstfruits to be saved” (v. 13). The idea of the firstfruits comes from the Old Testament, where the best of the first part of a harvest is dedicated to God. What this means here is that God chose us as an act of grace to set us aside for Himself through salvation. The means through which God consecrates us is by sanctification by the Holy Spirit, together with our committing and entrusting ourselves to the Gospel of Christ (v. 13). This is our identity in Christ as Christians.

Why does God want to set us aside for Himself? When we respond to the gospel call for repentance and entrust ourselves fully to the truth of Christ’s gospel, we are blessed with being able to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14). This is in context of the Judgement of the End Times in the earlier part of Chapter 2. So our purpose for persisting in the truth is so that God can count us worthy to be part of His kingdom, not by any of our own works and efforts, but through the righteousness imputed to us through our faith in the truth of Christ.

So then, brothers and sisters in Christ, stand firm in the teachings of the apostles regarding Christ’s gospel and the hope that we have in Christ when He returns. Let us not fall away or waver, deceived by the allure of false teachers and prophets, who will try all ways and means to lead the elect away from God (Matthew 24:24). The end of those who fall away is eternal punishment (v. 12), but to those who put their faith in Christ, eternal glory (v. 14).

“And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ.”

2 Thessalonians 3:4-5

What drives a Christian heart and keeps it going? As we continue to study and understand Scripture and serve at church, what is our God-given motivation as Christians?

Amidst persecution, Paul’s primary concern wasn’t for his own safety and comfort as he carried out his ministry. He exhibited great love for the glory of Christ, and that was his only concern. He desired “that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured” (v. 1). To Paul, what mattered to him most was that Christ’s gospel will spread through the nations like wildfire, and that all peoples will respect, and some even glorify, this “Great Fire” of the gospel. When we study Scripture, do we seek to grow in the knowledge and conviction of Christ’s gospel, so that we can be effective witnesses for the power of the gospel? Is our heart’s desire when serving in church, or for that matter when living out our lives, to see the gospel of salvation reach out to the masses and be glorified by them?

Paul is not idealistic and ignorant to the fact that while investing his life and energies in God’s work, there will be strong opposition. Opposition and persecution is expected and is consistent with Paul’s earlier teachings to the Thessalonians, as well as the teachings of Christ. Paul prayed for deliverance from wicked and evil people. These people were not just gossipers and backstabbers, they people who were willing to break the law just to hinder the spread of the gospel. Paul was beaten up and jailed illegally without just cause while ministering in Philippi (Acts 16:20-24, 37-39). One Thessalonian believer, Jason, was punished just for providing for Paul and his co-workers’ needs (Acts 17:5-7). However, Paul was not concerned for his own personal safety and comfort when he prayed for deliverance. In this context, Paul was more concerned about how the actions of these evil men took away opportunities for Paul and his co-workers to spread the gospel.

What kept Paul going amidst all these persecutions? He is fully convicted of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, that He will complete the work He has started (Phil 1:6). Jesus promised that He will never let go of those who have responded to His call (John 10:27-30), and he will guard them against evil such that none will be lost, save one - Judas (John 17:12, 20). Thus Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers that Jesus Christ is faithful to protect them from evil (v. 3). Paul finds full confidence in God’s faithful work in the Thessalonian believers, because they willingly do all that was commanded them in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles (v. 4). Also, Paul emphasizes the importance of God’s work in directing the eyes of our hearts to the love God has for us and the perseverance of Christ through suffering (v. 5).

So what is our God-given motivation as Christians? As we go through difficulties and setbacks while purposefully living out the life that Christ demands of us, our motive should always be for the effective spread and glorification of Jesus Christ’s gospel of salvation. And what drives a Christian heart and keeps it going? We set our hearts on God’s mission, always praying for God to direct our eyes to His love for us through Christ’s life of perseverance - from His birth to the cross. God is faithful and will work in us to guard our hearts from being lead astray by the evil around us. May the Lord teach us to love each other more and more as an outflow of His abundant love, and to desire His glory and gospel to be honoured through the nations.

“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”

2 Thessalonians 3:13-15

Whenever we broach the subject on the application of church discipline, the tendency is to feel uncomfortable with the seeming harshness of it. “Isn’t that going a bit overboard?”, “Why don’t we give him/her some more time?”, “Isn’t there any gentler way to do it, since we are to love each other?” These are some of the questions that run through our minds as we read of discipline in the Bible, or even experience the application of church discipline first-hand.

In this instance, Paul was addressing those who were idle and disorderly/disruptive in the church. The word translated “idle” in this passage has the idea of going out of line and being in a state of chaos. So these people were not just passive members of the church sitting around doing nothing, they were people who actively leeched off the church and were even “busybodies” – unsettling the church and sowing discord among the members.

Why was this an issue? The implications behind their idleness is not explicitly mentioned, but it has been proposed that firstly, their dependence on the church for sustenance stretched the already limited resources available for mercy ministry in the church. This has implications on the maintenance and expansion of these ministries to reach out to those who will actually benefit from them. These idlers were not contributing to God’s work and were in fact taking away from it unnecessarily.

Secondly, these idlers were a disruptive influence to the church. As one commentator puts it, “Such persons likely would have found rationalizations for their behavior. The meddler would claim to help, the gossip would purport to share needed information, and the lazy always would consider ‘supervision’ their preferred form of participation. Such persons raise to an art form the ability to justify unchristian behavior and disguise obstructionism behind a mask of cooperation.” These idlers were creating more problems for the church than solving them.

Thirdly, such behaviour is contrary to the example of Paul, and the believers in Thessalonica were obligated to follow his example in Christ. This is why Paul writes “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us,...” (v. 7a) Obedience to Apostolic command given in the authority of Jesus Christ is a Christian obligation, and Paul commanded believers to follow his example of self-sustenance and self-control in order not to be a burden to the church (vv. 7-9). It is simple: if you’re not willing to work, you don’t eat (v. 10). Instead, these idlers were indulging their sinful sloth instead of submitting in obedience to Jesus Christ.

And fourthly, such disruptive behaviour was physically and emotionally draining to those who are serving in the church’s ministries out of godly obedience. This is why Paul had to encourage them by saying “As for you brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). It can be very discouraging to toil and labour for church ministry while seeing fellow brothers/sisters in Christ not contributing to God’s work, and on top of that putting a burden on the church through their behaviour. This way, those who were doing good works in obedience to Jesus Christ were being exploited by those who lived according to their own sinful desire of sloth. These idlers were then breaking down those who serve faithfully in church instead of assisting in building up the church.

Do you see how serious the implications of this sin of idleness are on the church? Ministry is hindered, obedience to Christ is not enforced, and all who partake in God’s work obediently are burdened to fatigue, maybe even to the point of stopping altogether! For believers who passionately love Jesus Christ, His people and the spread of His gospel, anything that burdens, hinders and sullies the honour of the church is totally unacceptable and thus needs to be dealt with harshly! Once we realise the severity of the sin, so much so that it requires church discipline, we can then appreciate the harshness required to correct that sin. We don’t gently ask a cancerous tumour to go away and try to convince it nicely, we cut it out and overwhelm whatever remains with chemotherapy! In the same way, any sin that cripples and kills the church and God’s work, whether individually or corporately, needs to be removed expediently!

Therefore it is important as a church who truly stands for Jesus Christ and His work, to stand together against such issues in the church. For a start, we are to ensure that the good works that come from ministry continue (v. 13). Next, we need to establish that church discipline is meant to be applied in love and unity as a church, out of the hope that the errant brother/sister realizes the severity of his/her error, repents, and returns to a Christ-like lifestyle before returning to the fellowship of believers (vv.14-15). Take note that church discipline does not apply to those outside of the church, and while ostracism is the negligence of the offending party, it must not result in hating that person like an enemy of the church (v.15). For the one who repents, such ostracism is punishment enough, and thus needs to be forgiven, loved and restored as he/she returns back to fellowship in the church, lest he/she is overcome by sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).

In conclusion, harsh church discipline is required in the event that the sin in question consistently pollutes the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ within the church, and hinders the work of God through the church’s ministries. However, the motives from which we exercise such discipline in unity should be out of love for the errant believer and concern for his/her accountability to God in the Final Judgement, in the hope that he/she repents and returns in obedience to the lifestyle that our Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to live.

Writer's Profile

David Ow is currently one of the board members at Bethany Evangelical Free Church.

David is currently a fully registered physiotherapist providing physiotherapy services at a private clinic. He specializes in assessing and treating joint and muscle conditions. David has been practicing as a physiotherapist since 2011 in various settings.

His other roles are as a husband, father and writer. David is deeply interested in shepherding his household according to Scripture. He also enjoys studying Scripture and its applications, which he expresses through writing.

He has a heart for digging deep into Scripture to mine its riches, and seeing how we all fit into God’s glorious Big Picture. His hope is that all who hear Scripture will come to faith in God, and those who have responded will continue to grow in the Lord.