A COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALOIANS
2 Thess 1:3 " We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; 4So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure." (2 Thess 1:3-4)
The book of Second Thessalonians is generally understood to have been written shortly after First Thessalonians. It was written from either Athens or Corinth, and while Paul was still a free man. The occasion of the writing was to assure the Thessalonians they were still in the heart and mind of Paul, even though circumstances and the will of God had not allowed him to be with them. The very fact of this Epistle should serve to rid us of simplistic views of spiritual life. There are times when our heart's desire is withheld from us, even though we remain in the favor of God. Faith involves a profound trust in God. It also involves wisdom and patience. The child of God is not to be naive or simplistic in matters pertaining to life and godliness. This Epistle was written while the Thessalonians were under great persecution. It was also written when the Apostle was unable to come personally to them. This in no way suggested his faith, or that of the Thessalonians, was weak.
The first two verses of this Epistle are almost identical to those of First Thessalonians. Paul salutes the Thessalonians in behalf of himself, Silvanus (the Greek form of Silas), and Timothy. Three unique men, with three unique ministries, yet perfectly joined together in Christ Jesus. He also recognizes that the church is more than a mere institution. It is "IN God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (v 1). Salvation has united believers together with both the Father and the Son - a matter to be duly and regularly recognized. The provision of grace and peace from both the Father and the Son is a provision most wonderful. These are essential for living unto the Lord, surviving opposition, and laying hold of eternal life. Refer to my commentary on First Thessalonians for a more thorough review of verses 1-2.
THANKFUL FOR A GROWING FAITH
" 3a We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly . . . " Thanksgiving is a solemn necessity in the child of God. The entire Gentile world was cursed, among other things, because it was not "thankful" (Rom 1:21). Thankfulness, or thanksgiving, however, it not limited to personal benefits that are received, i.e., health, provision, etc. Neither, indeed, are the general benefits of sun and rain, given to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45), to be the limit or focus of our thanksgiving. On the matter of thanksgiving, there is a sort of simplicity in the Christian community that is not becoming of those who are under the gracious care and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is altogether too common for thanksgiving to be limited to personal or general temporal benefits. This by no means suggests there should be no thanksgiving in these areas. There are, however great works of God going on in the world for which thanksgivings should rise from the saints of God. We have a case-in-point before us.
INSIGHT. You will at once notice that spiritual insight is driving the thanksgiving of reference. This is no casual word about common benefits among the sons of men. Here is a continual stream of thanksgiving rising to the Father in heaven for conditions that are rarely perceived by the religious masses. Paul has seen the work of God in others, and enters into hearty thanksgiving because of it. Without belaboring the point, this unveils an aspect of spiritual life that is most refreshing. In Christ, we are permitted to see and understand what God is doing in other people, thus giving thanks to Him for it. We are relieved of the burden of self-centeredness, which is a harsh and unrewarding taskmaster.
BOUND. Other versions read, "ought," NASB or "must." NRSV This speaks of obligation, or responsibility. However, this is not the compulsion of Law, or the debt of empty routine. There is a higher form of obligation - a more lofty principle that compels men to give thanks to God. It is the "law of faith" (Rom 3:27). From another vantage point, it is the compulsion produced by the "love of Christ," which moves us away from self-centeredness (2 Cor 5:14). This binding occurs when our understanding is fruitful, and we see things as they are. It comes because God and the things of God are basically compelling - they move us into joyful and refreshing thanksgiving. Spiritual understanding ignites the human spirit, moving one to rise from the ashes of religious mediocrity and indifference.
ALWAYS. One version reads, "at all times." BBE The idea is not that of unending thanksgiving, but of thankfulness whenever the Thessalonians were brought to mind. The memory of these good brethren caused thanksgiving to "redound to the glory of God" (2 Cor 4:15). This verse should remind us that we can be a source of blessing to the people of God - and to God Himself. The recollection of our persons should not bring concern or "care" upon those who labor for the Lord. You will recall that "the care [concern or anxiety] of all the churches" was one of the burdens Paul carried (2 Cor 11:28). The remembrance of the Thessalonians helped to reduce that burden. May you also have such a ministry.
IT IS MEET. Other versions read, "as it is fitting," NKJV "and rightly so," NIV and "it is right." BBE Thanksgiving that is "meet," or "right," recognizes the work of the Lord has been done. If we can rise high enough, believers have a solemn responsibility to recognize the works of God, then to give thanks for them. This is one of the glorious provisions of salvation. It allows the great God of heaven to continually be praised from earth as He is praised in heaven - as a result of perceiving what He has done, as well as who He is.
FAITH THAT GROWS. Other versions read, "faith grows exceedingly," NKJV "is greatly enlarged," NASB "is growing more and more," NIV "is growing abundantly," NRSV "flourishes ever more." NAB This is a most rare phenomenon, making thanksgiving even more appropriate. This growth of faith is like a large and luxuriant tree, bearing all manner of fruit. Faith that is like a grain of mustard seed is not small, it is rich with potential for magnificent growth (Lk 17:5-6)! When faith "grows exceedingly," the soul becomes more persuaded of "things not seen." It becomes more convinced of the reality and surety of the things for which the person hopes (Heb 11:1). When faith "flourishes," it becomes better known that God is "for us," and that He that is in us is "greater than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
God and the things of God are seen more clearly when faith is "greatly enlarged." The truth of the Gospel is more firmly grasped, and a stronger anticipation of the Lord's return grips the soul. The world becomes smaller, and heaven becomes larger. The impact of suffering, in all of its varied forms, is reduced. The things God has prepared for those who love Him become more prominent. The Word of God is better understood, and the promises of God become "great and exceeding." Oh, that such would be said of our generation!
THANKFUL FOR ABOUNDING CHARITY
" 3b . . . and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." At once you begin to see the abounding nature of the Kingdom of God. "Pure religion" does not come by fits and starts. It is not marked by irregularity. Ponder these expressions: "always" giving thanks, "faith growing exceedingly," and now a "charity" that abounds. While these things may prove to be exceptional in the institutional church, they are actually the norm of the Kingdom. Those who live static spiritual lives are actually out of harmony with heaven.
CHARITY. We must not allow the linguists to rob us of the sense of the word "charity." While it is true that, technically, it means "love," it stands apart from every earthly concept of love. "Charity" cannot be strictly defined etymologically - even though it IS a contemporary word with the primary meaning, "benevolent good will toward, and love of humanity."Merriam-Webster 2001 In Scripture, love is defined by Divine expression, not that of the creature. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). In Christ, this very kind of love is found among the people of God. "Charity" is thus said to be "toward" each other. It is such a profound trait that it cannot come from the well of nature. Thus Paul acknowledged in his first letter to the Thessalonians, "for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (1 Thess 4:9). NKJV Of particular note is the fact that this "charity" is being exhibited during stressful times, when flesh more zealously seeks its own. How true it is, charity "seeketh not her own" (1 Cor 13:5).
EVERY ONE. The brethren in Thessalonica exhibited "the unity of the Spirit" (Eph 4:3). Unlike many of the churches of our day, they did have a few people among them who were noted for the love of the brethren, while the majority of people remained detached from, and indifferent toward, the people of God. That is not the manner of the Kingdom. The Thessalonians were displaying real spiritual life. "Every one" of them was involved, regardless of their station in life or ministry in the body. The NASB reads, "the love of each one of you toward one another," confirming the remarkable unity and concern faith produces.
TOWARD EACH OTHER. The truth of the matter is that each of us needs the other members of the body of Christ. None of us can survive when we are unnecessarily isolated from other saints. Thus we read, "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor 12:18-21).
Love toward one another is a confession that this truth is perceived. When a preference for the people of God is not possessed, the individual has not perceived the necessity of the other members of the body. Even members of the body "which seem to be weaker are necessary" NASB (1 Cor 12:22). That is because God has "tempered [or composed] the body together" so there is an interdependence among its members(1 Cor 12:24).
ABOUNDETH. The "love of the brethren" (1 Pet 1:22) is not like a regular electrical current, flowing at a steady and unvarying rate. I must acknowledge, even that would be refreshing to behold
in some circles. However, our text is a recognition of the real work of God, not the status-quo of the religious community. The Thessalonians' love for one another was growing "even greater." NASB It was not cooling, but rising into a gigantic blaze of glory.
The New Jerusalem Bible reads, "the mutual love that each one of you has for all never stops increasing." That is something of what Peter meant when he admonished the saints, "see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently" (1 Pet 1:22).
God causes. This is something that God can MAKE happen, and it is appropriate that we beseech Him to do so! Did not Paul say to these very people in his first Epistle, "And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another" (1 Thess 3:12). Now, he is quick to give thanks to God for evidence that desire was being realized among them.
Subject to one another. When saints "abound" in love toward one another, they are "subject to one another" (1 Pet 5:5). They receive from the other members of the body what God has given to them. They do not allow the ministries of their brethren to benefit everyone but themselves. This is not a matter of law, but an evidence of grace.
Ministering grace to each other. An abounding love is also devoted to ministering grace to the brethren. When our love is growing and increasing toward the brethren, the saying will be fulfilled, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph 4:29). It is good to ponder what the Apostle might observe of our assembly. Would it provoke a continual flow of thanksgiving, or a heavy heart and constant prayers of intercession?
PATIENCE AND FAITH UNDER TRIAL
" 4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure." The abounding nature of the Thessalonian's faith and love became a topic of conversation for Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They were an exhibit of what characterizes the new creation.
GLORY IN YOU. The idea found in the word "glorying" is that of boasting. Other versions read, "we ourselves boast of you," NKJV "speak proudly of you," NASB and "take special pride in you." NJB The very language sounds strange to many. There are those who imagine there is an equality among the saints that forbids any of them to be distinguished. However, it is the manner of the Kingdom to allow for some to actually outshine others. Thus we read of special favors being granted to Peter, James, and John (Matt 17:1; Mark 5:37; 13:3). John is referred to as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23). Andronicus and Junia were "of note among the Apostles" (Rom 16:7). The early church singled out a small group of men who were described as "of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom" (Acts 6:3). Paul boasted of the Corinthians to Titus, and was not ashamed (2 Cor 7:14). Persis was noted for laboring "much in the Lord" (Rom 16:12). In Christ, there is no need for mediocrity.
AMONG THE CHURCHES OF GOD. The meaning is that Paul boasted of the Thessalonians to the other churches, mentioning them often and with great commendation. Thus other versions read, "we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God," NKJV and "we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God." NIV
The term "churches of God," or "church of God," is the most common appellation assigned to local congregations (1 Cor 11:16; 1 Thess 2:14; 2 Thess 1:4; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:13; 1 Tim 3:5). It is tragic that sectarianism has so corrupted this term that many are afraid to use it, while others apply it only to their particular sect.
Emphasizes origin. The term "church of God" emphasizes the origin of the church. It was conceived by God, and purchased by Him (Acts 20:28). The church is comprised of people God Himself put into Christ (1 Cor 1:30). He has placed them in the body "where it has pleased Him" (1 Cor 12:18).
His dwelling place. This is where He dwells, for the people of God are built together for a "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph 2:22). When the life of God is exhibited through these people, even the unlearned will acknowledge, "God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor 14:25).
YOUR PATIENCE AND FAITH. And what was the cause for Paul's boasting about the Thessalonians? It was not their number! It was not their buildings! It was not their role in the community, or the impact they had upon the society around them. It was not even that they were "reaching the lost," or had distinguished leaders. There may be a small place for those things, but it is no cause for the type of boasting mentioned in our text!
Note, Paul, Silas, and Timothy thanked God for the increase of their faith and the growth of their love toward one another. But when he boasted of them among the churches, it was for their patience and faith. This would prove to an encouragement to the other churches, as well as a challenge to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Your patience. "Patience" is perseverance NASB or steadfastness. NIV This is being "steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor 15:58). It is the righteous holding on their way (Job 17:9). While some left their first love (Rev 2:4), the Thessalonians were "patient." While others made "shipwreck of the faith"(1 Tim 1:19), they persevered. Although the love of many "waxed cold" (Matt 24:12), they remained constant in running the race that was set before them (Heb 12:1-2).
Your faith. Their faith did not wax and wane, it did not rise and fall with the times. It was constant. They followed the example of Abraham, who "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Rom 4:20-21). They maintained their vision of spiritual realities. They were dominated by the consideration of the glory that would be revealed in them, rather than the sufferings of this present time (Rom 8:18).
IN YOUR PERSECUTIONS AND TRIBULATIONS. The patience and faith of the Thessalonians was not being maintained under the blanket of ease. Rather, it was in the very midst of persecutions and tribulations - of the opposition of both men and the forces of darkness. They continued to toil in rowing, even though they were in the storm of affliction (Mk 6:48). The fact that they were enduring opposition was a tribute to their faith. They refused to let go of the promises of God in order to live more peaceably in this world. They would not relinguish eternal life in order to gain the favor of men!