“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 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 to the steadfastness of Christ.”
Paul begins this section in 2 Thessalonians with an account of salvation. God chose the Thessalonians, and us, to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth so that we may obtain the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are chosen, made holy, given the truth and led to glory in Christ. What an absolutely great and beautiful reality!
Living in this beautiful reality requires that we stand firm in the gospel that we have received. Our hope depends on standing firm in the one true gospel of God, and the one true God of the gospel because our hope is God. God’s faithful love and action on our behalf is the good news.
But notice that even in this task of standing firm in the gospel, we are not trying to keep our footing by ourselves. Paul prays, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” Here Paul emphasizes the Trinitarian nature of our life with God. The Spirit of holiness makes us holy, the Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father comfort our hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
The admonition to serve God in every good work and word, therefore, is not an admonition to establish our own salvation. Rather, because our lives have been set apart for God and established by God’s own action, we are comforted by God’s grace and power so that we can joyfully receive life in Christ and a way of life that is fitting for relationship with God. God has loved us and given us eternal comfort. The horizon of our considerations is lifted from our immediate circumstances to the eternal comfort we have received, and in view of this eternal reality we have direction for how to live.
Paul then asks that the Thessalonians pray that the word of the Lord would move forward in the world and be honored as it has been honored by the church in Thessalonica and that both he and the Thessalonians would be protected from evil men and the evil one. “For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.”
The fact that not all have faith means that some people do not see the higher, eternal, horizon that is established by God’s presence. Without that perspective, people will not see the relevance of Christian works and words. Christian action will not seem efficient by a non-Christian measure. It will not seem pragmatic. In the face of such criticism, Christians should always ask, efficient for what? And pragmatic to what end? Works and words that are spiritually efficient—if that’s even the right word for it, spiritually fruitful is a more biblical way to say it—will not align with worldly efficiency or pragmatism. The entire form of Christian life is given its shape by the love and faithfulness of God. Participation in that love and faithfulness is what makes a Christian life successful. Indeed, the whole law can be summed up in two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This participation in God’s self-giving love is at odds with the way of lawlessness Paul describes earlier in 2 Thessalonians.
It seems to be a fact in life that knowing the future would relieve a lot of stress. The amount of energy and time I have wasted worrying about the future is incredible. Sometimes that worry has led to me to pray, which was the best result. Sometimes that worry has led me to turn the same facts over and over in my mind trying to find a fool-proof answer to some dilemma or concern. That has not been as useful. If I had known the future in those cases, I could have relaxed and focused on the matter at hand. The danger in knowing the future, I suppose, is that it could lead to laziness. The reasoning could go something like this: Since I know what will happen, I can just kick back and wait for everything to come together. That would be a bad result. I would be functioning under the assumption that my participation is merely accidental or unimportant. But Paul’s argument pushes us in a different direction. Since our destiny is assured in Christ Jesus, we can joyfully work and speak in ways that are fitted to that coming future reality. Our lives can be ordered to that future reality even now. The stress of ultimate uncertainty lifted and replaced by focused, joyful determination. That’s what Paul’s talking about here. He wants the Thessalonians to know that Christ’s victory and their salvation is sure so that they can live in light of that reality even now as they suffer, as they are persecuted and as they face temporary insecurities. Knowing that our future belongs to a loving and faithful God frees us from the tyranny of the present. That way we can live in the present in ways that truly honor God by loving God and others rather than serving ourselves. Our lives can participate in God’s self-giving love.
Paul’s message in this passage is that the temporary challenges of living in a world of uncertainties are best understood within the horizon of God’s faithfulness and the assurance of our salvation in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.