II Thessalonians 1:3-4
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;
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:
I’ve started a new sermon series in II Thessalonians. Today I spent almost all of the sermon in these two verses, and thought I would write on a few of the thoughts from the sermon.
The Duty of Paul’s Thanks
In his letters, Paul frequently mentioned that he was giving thanks for the believers to whom he was writing. This was true even in the churches which had serious problems, such as the church in Corinth.
In verse three here, he says it a little differently, saying that he and his co-labourers were obligated, duty-bound, to thank God for them. This does not mean he didn’t want to give thanks, but rather that there is so much reason to give thanks that, even if he didn’t feel like it, he would find himself compelled to do so.
Paul then goes on to say it is “meet” (fitting, appropriate) that he should feel this obligation and fulfill it.
As C.H. Lenski wrote, “It is a worthy thing to feel an obligation to thank God and to meet this obligation.” Paul expressed this specifically in terms of his obligation to thank God for the believers in Thessalonica.
The Content of Paul’s Thanks
Paul directly mentions several things for which he was thanking God, but we spoke today first about something which is only implied by the text.
Thanks for the Fact that They Were Brethren
The account in Acts appears to indicate that Paul was in Thessalonica for a very short period, yet he and the Thessalonians were quickly drawn together by a shared crisis — persecution.
Unless our Lord intervenes in an exceptional way, persecution is coming for believers who are committed to the Scriptures. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord may be flawed, or do things that bother us, they may not live in every way as Christians should, or treat us as they should. But when you face real persecution, it is a blessed thing to have someone, flawed or not, who is actually on your side, who isn’t going to join with the persecutors, who will pray for you and encourage you to stand strong.
It is a blessed thing to be able to meet together for worship, and those who do so at great risk don’t take it for granted, as we often do. I fear many believers may come to look back on when they could have freely met with their brothers and sisters, and regret the times they neglected that opportunity and responsibility. If you knew the law would forbid you to go to church starting in January, how often would you miss in the next six months? Too often, we don’t value things until we lose them….
When persecution becomes strong and blatant, as it was in Thessalonica, and as it may be for us before too long, the divide between those who are in the Lord and those who aren’t becomes stark, and having others who are on your side of that divide, and meeting with them when you can, is a real cause for thanks.
Thanks for Their Growing Faith
Again, Paul is writing to a persecuted church. This would have placed great stress on their faith. Trials (including persecution) either break us or strengthen our faith. The believers in Thessalonica were growing in faith, and Paul was rejoicing and giving thanks for this.
Thanks for Their Abounding Agape
(Apologies for the alliteration 🙂 ). Paul mentions their abounding love / charity as a cause for thanks. This is agape, the love that seeks the highest good for the person who is loved. This is love that is not defined by how we feel, but by what we do (I Corinthians 13). Our translators sometimes use “love” and sometimes use “charity” for this word, which is not a bad usage, for it refers to a love which expresses itself in giving without self-interest.
Paul said that the church of the Thessalonians was abounding in this love. They were an example of what Jesus had said — “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.”
Thanks for Their Patience in Persecution
Not only was their faith growing, so also was their patience. They were not complaining, they were not embittered, they recognised that the persecution was something God was using in their lives, and they patiently endured it.
The Occasion of Paul’s Thanks
Paul said that he gave thanks “always” and that he talked about them with joy “in the churches.” This church was one that gave Paul reason to be speaking to the Lord about them in thanksgiving always — by implication, every single day. It was also a church about whom he could speak to other churches, as a means of encouraging and challenging others.
Some Questions for Us to Consider
- Are we giving others reason to feel obligated to be thankful for us? Are we loving, serving, helping our brothers and sisters in such a way that they can’t help being thankful for us?
- If those in spiritual authority over us really knew our hearts, knew our faith and our failures, would they be rejoicing and thanking God over our progress, as Paul was with the Thessalonians? If not, if we aren’t growing, what are we going to do about it?
- How often do we give thanks, by name, for our brothers and sisters who are walking along side us, who are on our side in the great spiritual battles of our day?
- Are we letting secondary things keep us from giving thanks and turn us into complainers?
- Are we using the strengths of our brothers and sisters to encourage others, or are we talking them down to other believers, focusing on their weaknesses, and thus dragging down those other believers as well?
- Are we using the world’s great gossip chamber (otherwise known as the Internet) the way Paul used other churches to speak of the Thessalonians, or are we using it as a place to tear down our own fellowship in the eyes of others?
Do we really believe we are “bound” to give thanks, and are we behaving in a way to motivate our brothers and sisters to be thankful? Or are we acting as if II Thessalonians 1:3-4 is an irrelevance to us?