2 Thessalonians Sermon Series:
Return of the King
“Glorifying God in Tribulation”
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“The Road Not Taken” has confused audiences literally from the beginning. In the spring of 1915, Frost sent an envelope to Edward Thomas that contained only one item: a draft of “The Road Not Taken,” under the title “Two Roads.” According to Lawrance Thompson, Frost had been inspired to write the poem by Thomas’s habit of regretting whatever path the pair took during their long walks in the countryside—an impulse that Frost equated with the romantic predisposition for “crying over what might have been.” Frost, Thompson writes, believed that his friend “would take the poem as a gentle joke and would protest, ‘Stop teasing me.’”
In today’s passage the church in Thessalonica have to make a choice, continue on the Christian faith despite hardship and persecution – are they going to regret making this choice to follow Christ, perhaps they are struggling with why God is allowing them to go through this.
Biblical scholars believe that the person who delivered 1 Thessalonians stayed long enough to see the effect the letter from Paul had upon the early church. Then this person returned back to Paul and gave a report. Paul then penned the second letter to the Thessalonians. It is also believed that the new church received an intentional forgery indicating that “the Day of the Lord” and its judgements was already occurring. This went against what Paul taught them in the first letter to the Thessalonians.
The report that Paul received told him that they church had “made progress in their faith and love (1:3). They had remained firm under repeated outbreaks of persecution (1:4). Also, their distress about the death of their loved ones had been relieved by the teachings of the First Epistle. But their excitement relative to the second coming had been intensified. They were agitated by the view “that the day of the Lord is already here (2 Thess. 2:2).” Some quit working, some become busy bodies, meddling in others business, so Paul responds to these conditions.
The Growing Church is Encouraged (vv. 1-4).
Paul, 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 our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
Paul is writing the church to address specific issues (not working, wrong ideas about the return of Christ), but he first recognizes that for the most part, there are a majority of people who are “growing abundantly.” And while that small minority might be causing enough of an issue that it requires a letter to be written, he focuses first on those whose “love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
In life it is sometimes so easy to focus on the one or two things that are wrong, and lose sight that there is a vast number of things that are right. The church is being persecuted, but they are being steadfast in their faith, they are enduring great afflictions, and yet Paul says, “your faith is growing abundantly.”
When a person puts their faith in Jesus, they believe in Christ’s deity, that He is capable of saving them from their sin, but it is also possible to learn by experience to trust the Lord in all things – this is a process that we grow in. As Christians go through life, they learn to trust God in different ways. Some even trust God for the eternal, but not the problem right in front of them.
Paul doesn’t start with the problems and what is wrong, he starts with what is right. He even says, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you” We ought to begin with thanksgiving for what God is doing. There will always be issues that the church must work through, we are people after all, but the things we tend to focus on, what holds a majority of our attention, determines our overall view of the situation.
Paul is taking a moment to celebrate what God is doing in this church in spite of all the difficulty that surrounded it. We also, before we focus on the negative, ought to take time to thank God for what He is doing, and all the positive things we see Him doing in others around us. Otherwise, you just focus on the negative all the time. It’s always easier to see the bad, it takes extra effort to see the good.
If Paul had started with the few trouble makers, then it would have been like pouring cold water all over the many who that were growing in their faith, being an example to surrounding cities, and were excited themselves about what God was doing.
Also, Paul is acknowledging that they were growing, “In 1 Thessalonians Paul prayed for growth in faith, love, and hope (1:3). Now he thanked God that the Thessalonians had achieved this.”
(v. 4) Paul praises them by saying, “your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.” He is boasting to other churches about how they were remaining steadfast, “As they kept on growing in faith and bearing abundant fruit in love, Paul kept on boasting about them in other churches of God.”
The word used for steadfastness means patience, or “remaining under.” Christians have burdens and cares they are under, or are carrying and want to get rid of them, yet remain under them. The steadfast person remains under the stress and burden and adjusts himself to the circumstances that he is called to live.
This church is being persecuted because of their work for the Lord, and they are growing in their ability stand up under this weight. Their situation was the same as when Paul left, but the church, the members were not the same – they were growing in their faith.
“persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” – the way Paul used the word enduring means that it is relentless, constant, there is no letting up. So in these opening verses Paul is commending them on their growth in love and faith. They are growing in how they are loving God, and how they are loving others, in spite of the circumstances around them. Whatever is going on in your life, there is no excuse for not growing in your relationship with the Lord.
God’s Promise to The Faithful (vv. 5-8a)
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, . . .
(v. 5) “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God” – Now, Paul jumps from the present when they are suffering, to the future when those who persecute and cause them harm will suffer. The word for evidence is used only here in the New Testament and it means “proof.”
God’s judgement is given in the context of history. That judgment of God “will be in keeping with the evidence (proof) as found in the individual’s life on earth and the subsequent results of that life in the lives of others.”
God’s people may be in affliction now, but at the final judgement the ones afflicting them on earth will be in affliction.
(v. 7) “and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” – Paul is also saying that this will not last forever. When Christ returns, all of His followers will be granted relief, rest. All the pain, suffering, persecution, hatred, . . . all of it will end.
In their suffering and pain, God has not left them to figure it out. Followers of God will experience God as his helper, and it has been this way since the beginning. “The patriarchs declared it, the prophets experienced it, the psalmists sang it, the disciples rejoiced in it, the martyrs evidenced it, and in the succeeding days men and women of every kindred and people and tongue have cried with those who have marched the rugged way before them: “‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear (Psalm 46:1-2).’”
Paul is saying that the fact that they have been able to stand up under the weight of persecution, and absorb this punishment with patience is evidence of God’s power working in their lives. Also, God is working in their lives “making them worthy of the kingdom of God,” And there is a coming judgement.
God’s Promise to the Faithless (vv. 8b-10)
. . . inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
I don’t think the intention of Paul is to say, “those who hurt you, will be hurt.” Instead it is a reminder that you once were one of those who hurt people, but now you are not destined toward that future, you are now going in a different direction – because of your belief in the gospel.
The difference between the two groups of people is those that know God, and those that do not know God (not the good and the bad). Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
How then does one come to know God? You know God and are known by God by “obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” What then is the gospel?
So why would God punish someone who does not receive the gospel? Because like the persecutors of the church they have caused harm to themselves and others. (see the Ten Commandments).
(v. 9) There is are two time-limits that a person has to respond to the invitation of the gospel, their own death and Christ’s return (if they are still alive). There is also a time restriction to the state of those that know him and those that do not know him. Those that do not know Him, “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
The second part of the sentence explains the first: What Paul means by “Eternal destruction” is being “Away from the presence of the Lord and “Away from the glory of his might.” Eternal Life and Eternal Destruction are exact opposites. Eternal life is to be in the presence of the Lord and to experience His majesty, Eternal Destruction is to be away from the presence of the Lord and His majesty. 
Glorifying God With Our Lives (vv. 11-12)
11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 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.
Paul is telling the church about the future, not to satisfy their curiosity, but for them (and us) to take action based on that information. “This is the point Paul makes here. He has reviewed their sufferings, and how God is able to take care of them. He has discussed how the wicked will be punished in due time. Then he makes a practical application. If this is our destiny, if there is glory ahead, if we are to be in the very presence of our glorious Savior, what an exhortation it constitutes to live for Christ right now.”
Our lives are to be lived in such a way as to bring glory to God. Paul says, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” – this is his prayer for the church, that God has given us so much, that we must grow in our walk with the Lord, and live in such a way as to “make you worthy of his calling.”
Psalm 19:1-2 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Creation declares the glory of God in intelligent design. The heavens show His wisdom, power, and purpose in designing all creation for an intelligent end. Nature reveals that God is and what He can do.
But they do not reveal the love of God, nor His righteousness. “That is where Christians come into the picture. We are designed to show “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ (Eph. 2:7).”
If we are to share that message with the world, then we must submit to the gospel message, and be an example to others of what the power of God and his grace can do in a person.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Have you made the choice to follow Christ, to put your faith in Him? Do you know Him and His gospel?
 D. Edmond Hiebert, An Introduction to the Pauline Epistles (Chicago, Illinois; Moody Press, 1954) 60.
 John F. Walvoord, The Thessalonian Epistles (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Dunham Publication, 1968) 101.
 Hiebert, 60.
 Walvoord, 105.
 Clifton Allen, Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Publishing, 1971) 286.
 Allen, 286.
 Walvoord, 106.
 Allen, 287. See also Buttrick, 319. This is the only use of the word for proof , rare in classical Greek.
 lex talionis – the law of retaliation, “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.”
 George Arthur Buttrick, Commentary Editor, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1955) 320.
 Michael Holmes, The NIV Application Commentary, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1998) 215.
 Nature fights on the side of the good (Rev 12). “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.” Longfellow, “Poetic Aphorisms: Retribution.” Sinngedichte of Frederich von Logau Buttrick, 323).
 Walvood, 111.
 Ontological argument for the existence of God.