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2 Thessalonians Intro

2 Thessalonians Intro

Sermon Transcript

Dive into 2 Thessalonians with us as we explore the shepherd's heart of the Apostle Paul and continue in our Thessalonians series, Hope Beyond Hardship.

John Maxwell’s book Becoming A Person of Influence describes the life of the Apostle Paul well without even mentioning him. Chapter two, titled A Person Of Influence Nurtures Other People, readily shows why we’re still talking about Paul 2,000 years later.  At the end of this chapter, Maxwell shares a letter written by John Wesley on February 26, 1791, to William Wilberforce, the Englishman who, after much opposition and persecution, was instrumental in abolishing the slavery trade in England.

Dear Sir:

Unless the divine power has raised you up  . . . I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise, in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless god has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But “if God before you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O “be not weary in well doing!” Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it . . . That He who has guided you from your youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of . . .

Your affectionate servant,


Wesley died four days later, but this letter of nurture put wind in Wilberforce’s life sails that carried him for the next sixteen years when slavery was finally abolished in 1807.  Whenever he felt like he couldn’t go on, that the opposition and hatred he endured was too much, he re-read this tattered letter and gained strength to press on in the task laid before him.

Such is the power and impact of a leader who nurtures his followers with precise praise.  Paul understood this leadership law long before Maxwell wrote about it, or Wesley used it to encourage a brave man to stand against the evil of his dark day.  As we turn our attention to the opening verses of Paul’s second letter to the church he founded in the thriving port city of Thessalonica, we encounter this important leadership law we’ve just talked about in bold relief:


Precise Praise Motivates Saints To Accomplish Much For The Lord (2 Thess. 1:1-4)

This letter opens with personal greetings mixed with a touch of good theology like so many of Paul’s writings to churches:

1 Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

According to Acts 18, verse 5, these three missionaries were together in Corinth. Since Paul’s first letter originated in this city, and coupled with the fact this is the last mention of these men being together, scholars theorize this second letter was written around either the late summer of 50-51 A.D. or the fall or early winter of 50-51 A.D.[1]

From a report the team had received from an unknown source, Paul wrote to highlight some positive things he saw in the church and to continue fine-tuning their thinking about eschatology, an area under attack by misguided teachers.  Even though this is the shortest of Paul’s nine letters to churches, this one contains his most detailed prophecy and discussion in chapter 2, verses 1-12.  No doubt, the Day of the Lord was a hot topic in this area, and for good reason, Paul had obviously made them privy to the Lord’s kingdom plans after he led them to the Savior.  As I said, teachers with an erroneous understanding of this critical doctrinal area caused alarm and anxiety in the church, so Paul wrote to quell their fears and prepare them for the rough road ahead. He did so by starting with precise nurturing words of praise. Yet before presenting these great concepts, he reminded the saints of a few foundational theological matters.

One, they needed to remember that their church had an intimate relationship with “God our Father.”  He wasn’t removed from them but was with them. They were “in God our Father” [emphasis mine], pointing to their unique standing as His children.  And as His children, He was well aware of the persecution and opposition they encountered from their hostile culture.  I'm sure this fatherly union with God served to comfort them, for since earthly fathers care for their children, how more so God?  This truth still rings true for us today as we, too, face covert and overt hostility for being His children who do not hold to the worldviews, philosophies, or intellectual fads of our world.

Two, they needed to remember that Jesus was the second member of the Holy Trinity, or fully divine.  Paul enforced this theological truth by placing Jesus on par with the Father when he said, “and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  That coordinating conjunction makes the one-to-one correlation.  Being a monotheist as a former Pharisee and rabbinically trained scholar, Paul would have never made this mysterious, seemingly logically incongruous statement if he did not believe in monotheism being defined as one God consisting of three divine persons.  Or as Norman Geisler once said in doctoral class: “God is one who and three what’s.” Short, succinct, and accurate.  Paul speaks elsewhere about the full deity of Jesus (“9 For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form,” Col. 2:9), and the Holy Spirit who dwells in saints at the moment of conversion (1 Cor. 6:19; Eph. 1:13; 4:30; Titus 3:5).  With the Holy Trinity at the disposal of each saint; they are well-equipped to not only live for Him but to push back evil they counter, while also bearing up courageously under the heat of hostility brought by non-Christians.  Next time you, like Wilberforce, don’t think you can push forward because of opposition; think again.  The Father, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit are with you, so why do you fear? Fear not and expect God to use you in a mighty fashion to bring light to the darkness.

Three, they needed to remember how they became Christians: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  What is grace? The time-tested acronym defines it well: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. When the Thessalonians, along with us, were born sinners because of Adam’s sin in the Garden (Rom. 5:12-21), when we were under God’s wrath (Rom. 2:1-5; 6:23) when we were spiritually dead and lovers of evil by nature (Rom. 3:1-10; Eph. 2:1-3) when we walked in spiritual darkness and not light (Acts 26:17-18) when we were alienated from an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity (Isa. 59:1-2; Eph. 4:18) when we were natural enemies of God (Rom. 5:8-9), the Father asked the Son to come to earth and lovingly and graciously become our sin substitute . . . and the Son agreed.  Again, can you say grace? Because Jesus did the hard thing by going to the cross for our sin, He destroyed sin and death and is now positioned to give His followers eternal forgiveness and life:

9 who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, (2 Tim. 1). 

His gracious action also gives us internal and eternal peace at the moment of belief in Him as the Savior. Paul says this much in Romans 5:

1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom. 5).

Have you experienced the Lord’s saving grace in your life? If so, thank Him for leaving the glory of heaven to defeat sin and death on the cross and to rise to eternal life on the third day to freely allow you to be at peace with Him, who is holy.  If not, consider bowing before Him in faith today; His grace and peace will wash over your soul like refreshing water.

Finally, realize the importance of understanding the cause/effect relationship between God’s extraordinary, loving grace and His perfect spiritual peace.  It’s essential for many reasons, and based on the nature of this letter, which was written to a persecuted church, it’s pivotal for suffering saints to remember that the Lord who paid a high price to redeem them will and not shall not ever forsake them . . . as He promised (“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” Heb. 13:5). So, when the heat is turned up against you for being His disciple, when you feel alone as you stand for truth and the gospel, when even members of your family oppose your conservative Christian stances, be not dismayed for the Lord, who laid His life down to give you life, has His eye on you and will go before you (Matt. 6:25-27).

With these foundational theological motifs in mind, Paul turns in verses 3 through 5 to nurture these saints in a tough, trying cultural environment by giving them precise praise.  I’m sure his words were well-received, for who doesn’t like to receive a good pat on the back for a job well done from someone you trust, love, and look up to on your spiritual journey?  Talk about a great way to motivate someone to keep on moving on . . . even in rough spiritual weather.


Praise Point #1: Small Faith Has Become Large Faith (2 Thess. 1:3a)

Watch how Paul, the master life coach, develops this first point:

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

The Greek for “ought” is ophelio, which denotes a deep, important obligation and responsibility. Per Danker’s Greek New Testament Lexicon:

ὀφείλω [cp. ὀφλήσω the fut. of ὀφλισκάνω ‘become a debtor’] – 1. ‘be under prescribed obligation,’ owe Mt 18:28; Lk 7:41; 16:5; Phlm 18; do one’s duty, as expected of a slave Lk 17:10; of consequence under a legal system J 19:7. Wordplay in Mt 23:18; Ro 13:8 forms a bridge to – 2. ‘be under interpersonal obligation’, owe Lk 11:4; Ro 15:1; one ought J 13:14; Ac 17:29; be obliged 1 Cor 5:10; 2 Cor 12:14; Eph 5:28; 2 Th 1:3; Hb 2:17; 1 J 2:6; 3 J 8.

The point is well-taken: Christian leaders are under a divine obligation to take the time to influence and impact their people by giving focused thanks to God for the spiritual maturation they witness. It’s easy to point out a person’s weaknesses and failures, but a wise leader will err on the side of positively pointing out the progress people under their care are making.  Again, if you want saints you seek to influence to accomplish more incredible things for God or to stay in the thick of the spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10ff), you must highlight the spiritual accomplishments and areas of growth you see in their lives.  Do you? Will you?

Here Paul highlights that the faith of the saints in Thessalonica had grown exponentially.  In Greek, the phrase “greatly enlarged” comes from the word huperauxano (ὑπεραυξάνω ). The wedding of the preposition huper, to the verb “to grow or increase,” viz., auxano, intensifies the meaning highly.  From what Paul could see, the faith of these saints had grown from small to enormous faith.  If you have ever grown zucchini, you know what phenomenal growth is.  Once you see the little yellow flower, followed by a short green nodule of zucchini, you had better not let it grow without strict observation. I know from experience.  When I didn’t check enough on my first zucchini plant, the next thing I knew, I had a baseball bat-sized zucchini.  That is phenomenal growth, and it is precisely what this word describes when applied to the faith of these ancient saints.

What does phenomenal growth in spiritual faith look like?  What do you think Paul saw? What do I, as your shepherd, see?

  • You ask God for big things, expecting divine results.
  • You lead others to a saving relationship with Jesus.
  • You don’t have to be challenged to be in worship. You can’t wait to get there.
  • You don’t have to be challenged to be in the Word. You can’t wait to get in and have a feast.
  • You talk with God a lot in an authentic, transparent fashion.
  • You see adversity as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Think of Paul chained to a Roman soldier, and you have a grasp on this concept (Eph. 4:1-2).
  • You have, through the Spirit’s assistance, gained freedom and mastery over a besetting sin (Rom. 6:19ff).
  • You stop making not-well-thought-out, illogical decisions that could cost you dearly and are known for making wise, logical ones that reflect the teaching of the Word.

I could list more, but we’ll stop there.

A spiritual leader has no greater joy than watching sheep under their care flourish in the faith.  Over the last fifteen years, I’ve watched many of you go from baby believers to stalwart, on-fire for Jesus saints.  I’ve watched some of you go from being lost to being saved and in love with Jesus Christ. The gains you’ve made in your faith shows your love for Him, just as He said it would (“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” John 14:15). An email I received the other day, which I cannot openly share with you, just made my pastoral day.  In it, the BCCer spoke of how this church has positively and powerfully impacted his spiritual life.  To that man, I say, “Well done.  Now, seek to accomplish even more for Christ.” If you are a leader among us, realize the importance of precise praise for the appreciable growth you see in others.  Your word will empower them to power through the dastardly things the Devil will throw at them in the days ahead.


Praise Point #2: Small Love Has Become Big Love (2 Thess. 1:3b)

Like a skilled coach, Paul touched upon another positive point in the spiritual lives of these believers:

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

The phrase “grows ever greater” (NAS) or “abounds” (NIV) is from the Greek word pleonazo (πλεονάζω ). Danker tells us the term was originally used in commercial settings for accumulating vast amounts of goods.  Think of a shipping dock in a port stacked with Cosco containers, and you know this word's ancient meaning.  From this use, it was a short walk to use it to speak of having beyond a standard of what is normal (so Danker’s Greek New Testament Lexicon). A fisherman I used to know in California before the Lord took him home had 127 fishing poles with multiple tackle boxes for fishing in different types of water (lakes, rivers, ponds, oceans, etc.).  I thought I was doing good with one pole and one tackle box.  My thinking changed when I met this man.

Applied to these saints, Paul said he saw love growing by leaps and bounds among them as a church.  What more excellent thing could you say about a church? He didn’t precisely praise them for their beautiful buildings, massive parking lot, fantastic gym, cutting-edge shuttle service (via donkeys and small wooden wagons).  No, he praised them for the one thing Christians should be known for agape, selfless love. I commend you for the same growth.  Again, for fifteen years, I’ve watched you love people here at this church.  The fact that you continue to give selflessly to our benevolent fund so we, as your pastors and elders, are equipped to meet needs magnanimously is a testimony of your love. Sure, we may be a mega-church, but our numerical size is no match for the size of our love for each other.  Granted, we’ve had tough, trying times internally. Every church does.  But at the end of the day, love has been woven through our actions individually and corporately.  For this, I commend you before the Lord.

I must also stop and ask, “How does agape love for others grow exponentially?” Here are a few ideas I’ve seen and experienced:

  • You truly forgive wrongs committed against you and still know and care for the person who wronged you.
  • You truly received counsel you needed to hear but didn’t want to hear, and you haven’t written off the counselor for sharing with you.
  • You truly accept other saints regardless of their social/ethnic/financial/personality/or educational standing.
  • You truly enjoy being with each other socially.
  • You defend other saints when someone assails or besmirches their sound character.
  • You stay true to other saints no matter what (“a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity . . . ” 17:17).
  • You love other saints regardless of their political leanings. The fact that they are progressive Democrats, conservative Republicans, or middle-of-the-road Independents doesn’t derail your relationship.
  • You find yourself praying for more and more people by name.
  • You hear of a real-life need and selflessly and sacrificially meet it without fanfare.

This little church turned wicked Thessalonica upside down (really right side up, spiritually speaking) by the love that emanated from them in the face of open hostility for their faith. May their tribe increase.  May the love I see in you every week in so many ways flourish even more as we seek to be Christ’s light in a spiritually dark and intolerant world.

Paul’s third praise point could be a six-part series:


Praise Point #3: Dogged Perseverance Leads To Divine Reward (2 Thess. 1:4)

At this juncture, Paul turns to dive into the topic at hand in this church: persecution and the need for perseverance before the King of Kings arrives. Here is how Paul opens up this precise point of praise:

 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure (2 Thess. 1).

You can relate to Paul here if you’ve ever been a coach.  How proud you are when tough times come against your team, and you live to see the players pull together instead of away from each other.  I’ve been on teams like this, so I know.  When adversity strikes, and the team digs in and plays harder, the coach beams with biblical pride.

Enter Paul, the spiritual life coach.  He wants to empower these players to play harder for God in hard, tumultuous times, so he precisely praises them for persevering.  The word in Greek is hupomone (ὑπομονή). Once again, we have a preposition wedded to a verb to intensify the meaning.  This is not just gingerly or lightly holding onto something.  No, this is a death grip that nothing or no one will break. This is being so passionately committed to something or someone that there is no way adversities, be what they may, can make you let go.

The night before Thanksgiving a year ago, James Grimes, a Christian man from Alabama, enjoyed a cruise on the Carnival Valor with 18 family members. At 11 p.m., he went to an outside walkway to the bathroom.  A whopping fifteen hours later, rescuers found him floating in the ocean. He doesn’t recall how he wound up in the water. Still, he does remember swimming through schools of jellyfish in the middle of the night, encountering a large fish that kept bumping his legs, fighting fatigue, confusion, and thirst, and watching the sunrise as he bobbed in the ocean. At 8:25 p.m. the following evening, the Coastguard finally spotted and saved the twenty-eight-year-old. The Lord had answered his many prayers, and he also gives us an apt description of what this Greek word refers to.  Hupomone means you will never stop, never give up, never surrender, and never lose hope despite the intensity you face from non-Christians who persecute you.  And persecute you they will because you are associated with Jesus Christ (John 15:18).

Paul uses two different words here for persecution. The first, diogmos (διωγμός), according to Danker’s Greek lexicon, points to “a program of systematic harassment.”  This is what they faced in Thessalonica.  Non-Christians opposed the Christians at work, at school, at sporting events, at family gatherings, and so on.  They formulated an organized program to silence the believers by attacking their character, doctrines, lifestyles, and threats to the peace of society. Despite the relentless opposition, these saints didn’t buckle but stood firm and true, speaking truth in love and living out the validity of the Word of God without compromise.

Marxism, which has infiltrated every sector of our sleeping society, learned long ago that it cannot defeat capitalism and the West without first destroying Judeo-Christian thinking. One of Marx’s disciples, Georg Lukacs, a Hungarian, once wrote, “A worldwide overturning of values cannot take place without the annihilation of the old values and the creation of new ones by the revolutionaries.” Patrick Buchanan’s The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperial Our Country and Civilization shows in painstaking detail how Marxists like Lukacs brought their destructive brand of communism to our country to obliterate Judeo-Christianity thinking, belief, and lifestyles.  David Horowitz’s Dark Agenda goes into greater detail about Marxist strategies to persecute and eventually silence saints in our country.  Erwin Lutzer’s No Reason To Hide and We Will Not Be Silenced traces how Marxist Critical Theory is being used to destroy Christianity so a new political, ideological utopia can be erected with man the master of his fate.  To read these books is to see how a systematic plan has been ruthlessly unleashed in our country to attack Christians to sideline and silence them.

What can we do? What should we do? What are we doing? We are following in the footsteps of the faithful saints in Thessalonica.

  • When we are called to speak lies, we talk about truth.
  • When we are intimidated by legal action for standing on biblical principles, we don’t flinch.
  • When we are told to go along to get along, we go with what Jesus has said.
  • When called names, we don’t revile in return but bless.
  • When lies are spread about us, we trust in the One who will deal with the father of lies, the Devil.
  • When they attempt to brainwash our children with godless, illogical thinking, we train them at home and church with godly, logical thinking.
  • When they attempt to wrap their vile activities in nice-sounding slogans, we pull the mask off the slogans so people can see the truth.
  • When they believe their wicked beliefs must triumph at all costs at the expense of reason, debate, and mutual respect, we highlight these three concepts in our lives and conversations.

Yes, we face a systematic assault on our faith daily, and it doesn’t look like it will let up anytime soon.  So, let us persevere in the affliction, knowing that the Lord will bless and vindicate us, as we see in our subsequent study.  These are challenging times in our country, but I’m honored to stand with a group of saints who aren’t afraid to stand up for Christ and speak out for Him.

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, An Introduction to the New Testament: Volume Two, The Pauline Epistles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), 60.