A Walk Worthy of the Kingdom

I. Paul’s greeting is similar to that of 1 Thessalonians. (1, 2). The church always exists in union with God the Father through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In particular, eternal grace, determined within a covenantal arrangement has brought about reconciliation of sinners. They know God the Father as their own Father is eternal love through the reconciling death of Christ.

II. Paul’s posture toward the church (3, 4)

A. Paul expressed gratitude. The Spirit of thanksgiving pervaded Paul’s life. He always had specific realities in mind for which he was grateful.

    1. “We ought.” (4) . First Paul stated that a report of the faithfulness of the Thessalonians is a reason for gratitude to God. When we observe goodness and graciousness in God’s actions toward us, thanks should overflow. God condescending to sinners ought to prompt exuberant praise. Paul reinforced his use of “ought” with the phrase “as is right” (axios). This is the word from which we derive “axiom” and “axiomatic,” something that is self-evident, its truthfulness is embedded within the proposition. Since these things he observes are true, neither complaint nor criticism, or even a neutral response would be commensurate with the observation; only gratitude. We are dull of spirit and cold of heart or hazy in brain if we cannot discern the duty to nurture and express gratitude to God for every evidence of his saving and sustaining grace to sinners.
    2. “To God” – We sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” We must not do it lightly, for the fact is abundantly true. Faith and love are gifts of God, the result of a gracious and effectual operation of the Holy Spirit. Someone said that it is an embarrassing moment for an atheist when he feels deeply dependent and thankful for some event but knows not to whom thanks is due. Christians know to whom thanks is due for all things—the triune God.
    3. “brothers” – Paul looks upon the faithful, loving, and suffering believers as equal family members with him in God’s adoptive grace. None of the redeemed are only partially accepted, but all are “graced in the Beloved”, have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin” (Ephesians 1:6, 7) and have received the Spirit of adoption whereby they cry “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:5-7).
    4. He saw that their faith (3) was “growing abundantly” (ESV), or was “greatly enlarged” (NASB-95), literally (super-augmented). This is an increase in the strength of faith, not its quality. All saving faith is of the same quality, but the depth and breadth of it can grow. Their faith grew in light of their deeper and more extended knowledge of the truth of God.
    5. Their mutual love for one another was increasing; it was becoming more full. Love increases in accord with extension of the faith. In both faith and love, the Spirit operates according to truth. The first part of the armor of God is “the belt of truth;” That weapon with which we engage the battles, both against external deceit an internal corruption is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:14, 17).

B. Paul boasted. On the basis of these observations, Paul gloried in their strength in the Lord. Marks of grace in the lives of other Christians and particularly in churches as a whole shows a body life—an extensive work of the Spirit in his granting gifts for individual ministries and for corporate faithfulness. This makes all Christians everywhere rejoice and is the most pure provocative to boasting present in a fallen world.

    1. “In the churches of God” – Paul wanted other churches to know that the Spirit was creating like affections, courage, faithfulness across the world. How wonderful it is to hear in our churches of stories of sacrificial zeal and faithfulness to Christ and his gospel in other places in the world. The love that sinners have for Christ arises from the same sources of grace, from the same gospel of truth, and cannot be hemmed in by bars or political border-lines.
    2. “Steadfastness and faith”
      • Steadfastness, perseverance are translations coming from a word that means to “remain under.” A load has been placed on them; they cannot escape the load without sacrifice of truth and faith, so they choose to remain under the load. They bear up under persecution rather than succumb to the intimidation that seeks their denial of the truth.
      • Faith – The body of belief and the attitude of trust in it can never be separated. Here the emphasis is on the strength of their trust in what they have heard and been taught in the gospel. Like Paul, their clear view of the truth of the gospel and its eternal consolation made them count all other things as rubbish, in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:7, 8).
    1. “in the persecutions and afflictions which you endure” (4b). They have been taught that there will be persecution; but they also have been taught that Christ will sustain them and will take just vengeance on those who have hated God’s truth and his holy character, and thus hate them. Because they believe this, they refuse temporal safety for the sake of eternal glory.

III. The Righteous judgment of God  (5-10)

A. Those who are afflicted will be considered “worthy” in light of their willingness to suffer (5). Here we have an intensification of the word for axiom, or a thing good and right in itself. By your actions and faithfulness under affliction, you show that those traits of the kingdom are in your will and affections. Though you do not have the personal merit of perfect obedience to God’s law, God has placed in you by his Spirit an earnest of heaven so that you are drawn to prefer it even to earthly safety. They are suffering for the kingdom, so they are judged as legitimate citizens of it. They yearn for the presence of Christ and his glory; for those who have a heart seeking holiness and Christ to be shut out from the glory of his presence in the nature of things is not fitting.

B. God himself will act justly in repaying with tribulation and affliction those who are afflicting the Thessalonian Christians (6). How absurd to persecute persons who confess their sin, desire forgiveness, and seek it in Christ who is seated in heaven. For what should they be persecuted? They are persecuted because their loyalties to God, their worship of him alone, offends the entire world view of the pagans around them. Those who hate Christians’ profession of love to Christ and worship of the triune God will go where there is no worship, and the glory of Christ is only a manifestation of his just wrath. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).

C. God will grant relief to those who are afflicted (7) and also to Paul, Sylvanus, Timothy, and all who have been afflicted for the sake of the gospel.

    1. In his first letter, Paul wrote of Christ’s return in terms of resurrection of the dead. That was to give assurance that their loved ones would not miss the glory of Christ’s return (4:13-18).
    2. Now he adds an element concerning Christ’s return. Not only will believers be raised to be with the Lord forever, but unbelievers will experience his glory as fiery wrath. Angelic beings will not seem welcoming in their attendance of Christ’s coming but fierce and frightening.
    3. He will immediately begin the process that will last for eternity of dealing out retribution. The time of judgment will be frightening, the sentence of guilt will involve hopelessness, and the execution of the sentence will be endless.
      • This will come to those who “do not know God.” Even in absence of the gospel, the knowledge of God all around them gave them knowledge, but they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Their foolish heart was darkened, and they substituted creatures and vain imaginations for worship of the one true God. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. … Those who practice such things deserve to die” (Romans 1:18, 19, 28, 32).
      • Even more severe retribution will come to those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” The call for repentance with the promise of forgiveness through trust in Christ, the one who put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, was heard and rejected. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” was not obeyed and so those hearers are yet in their sins. Paul reiterates this later (2:12). Instead of the truth, they “took pleasure in wickedness.”
    1. The verdict arising from their judgment is “guilty,” and the penalty is absolutely just.
      • They will be under the verdict of destruction for eternity. Destruction does not mean annihilation, but ever-increasing disorganization, confusion, and aggressive infliction of all things that destroy comfort. It will involve an increasing and ever-intensifying eternal display of wrath. God is infinitely, holy, righteous, lovely, benevolent, and to sin against him and refuse to worship him and also to disbelieve and oppose his gospel is infinitely unworthy. The punishment will be justly proportioned to the sin.
      • “Away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power,” means those comforting intentions and exhilarating visions of beauty will be absolutely absent in hell. The glory of his power refers to God’s power arising from the fullness of all his attributes, an infinitely pleasing and thoroughly transforming sensibility. Those in hell will be away from the glory of his power.
      • The presence enjoyed by believers of the undiluted joy and love flowing within and radiating from, as an overflow of infinity, the triune God will be the essence of heaven. He will be “glorified in his saints” (10) as they are transformed and their journey to holiness, freedom, true happiness, and fulfilling worship will be matured and without defect. God himself will be marveled at among all the believers (10b) and their marveling will never lag but will be ever-increasing for God’s perfections and excellencies can never be exhausted. It is unto this very thing that they have believed—to worship and find unbroken fellowship in the presence of God and the saints.

IV. How does Paul pray for them in light of these sober realities? (11, 12) He picks up the theology that he has just given by apostolic revelation and turns it to prayer-“to this end we pray for you always.”

A. Paul prays that their devotion and faithfulness will be such that it is evident that the gospel has captured their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Their calling has given rise to testing and approving the quality of their faith so that all of its effects indicate worthiness—fitness for the virtue and holiness of heaven. Their faith is not a cold recitation of doctrinal facts, it is not a devil’s faith, but a true desire for, a true pleasure in, “goodness.” They treasure goodness as a personal commitment praying that “goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their lives,” and look forward to its untarnished flooding of their soul in heaven. Also, they long to see the goodness of the Lord, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

B. The “work of faith” is a reference to 1 Thess 1:3, where Paul mentions their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope.” The work that they do is work that arises from their faith, as labor does from love, and patience (“remaining under”) does from hope. Faith precedes the work and produces it (Ephesians 2:10). Their faith as well as their work of faith comes from the operations of the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Apart from that, they would fall, their walk would be “unworthy.”

C. “So that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in you and you in him” – These mutual acts of glorification are interdependent. The “name” refers to the reality of his having completed the work of redemption. As Jesus, he saved his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). He has been given “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus…” (Philippians 2:9); “the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:4). When the final part of Christ’s redemptive work is made visible in our thorough transformation—inward and outward—we will have glorified bodies and sanctified souls. Our final glorification will redound to the glory of Christ as creator, redeemer, and the firstfruits from the dead. We are sown perishable, raised imperishable; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown as a natural body, raised with a body qualified for living in the presence of God who is spiritual. (1 Corinthians 15:20, 42-44). His glory redounds to our glorification; our glorification reveals his glory.

D. Paul uses language consistently that refers to the covenantal arrangement in which the Son descends from heaven to do the will of the Father in redemption. Verse 1 and 2 refer to “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse two lists grace and peace as the constituent blessings that bring us to final glorification. This verse (12) reiterates that one major intention of the entire covenantal transaction between Father and Son was the manifestation of the glory of the Son in his bringing sinners from deadness to eternal life, from darkness to light, and from corruption to glory.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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