Ready For Anything
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to a church that was suffering. They were experiencing some kind of persecution, probably from the city officials. And the picture we get is that they’re enduring this suffering miraculously well. Even though these people had just begun following Jesus, they were ready to endure suffering in a way where they still had joy and faith in God.
How could we as a church prepare now for suffering that may come in the future? As Paul writes to them, we see 5 ways that they were ready when suffering came:
Paul starts out in 2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing.” So Paul says that even though they’re suffering, he’s thankful for them. Now these are his kids in the faith, right, he’s like their daddy, and have you ever been around kids when they’re suffering? It usually doesn’t bring out the best in them. Heej and I just traveled around Europe with a 4 and 2 year old, and when they started suffering because they were cold on the streets of Vienna, they let us know about it! Not that we weren’t thankful for these kids, but Paul’s thankful for his kids here, because even in the midst of suffering, their faith was flourishing. And that’s the first thing we need when we’re enduring suffering together: a flourishing faith. Flourishing means that their faith was growing strong and healthy, and guys, remember, this group of people had only been following Jesus for a few months. These aren’t old, wise, storm-tested saints, they’re brand new, baby believers. Which means that from day one they must have gone all in learning what it meant to be disciples of Jesus together. Because just a few months in, they experience this suffering, and still their faith is flourishing. They were able to face it well because of their flourishing faith.
So what do you think happened those 2-3 months of following Jesus together that led to this flourishing faith? What do you think these people did together? Surely they met together, read God’s Word together, fought sin together, ate together, prayed together, took communion together, repented of sin together, forgave together. And in just a few months, they’d developed the kind of faith that could withstand suffering. Here’s a way to see your faith flourish: find a community of believers who love and follow Jesus, and go all in with them. Commit to that community; journey with them, submit to them, lovingly point out sin in their lives. You’ll experience God growing, deepening your faith as you journey with a group of Jesus followers.
God will grow in you the kind of faith that doesn’t just trust God to change your circumstances, but a faith that trusts that God will take care of you, even if your circumstances don’t change.
LOVE FOR EACH OTHER
And as you do that, look at what will happen in the rest of verse 3: since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing. Their love for each other is increasing. That’s the second thing we need to enduring suffering together: love for each other. And that’s just what’s gonna happen when you commit to following Jesus with a church. That’s one of the reasons why we have covenant membership at our church. I know not every church has membership, but we do and one of the reasons is because we want to know who has said yes to this right here. We think there’s value in making an actual commitment to having a flourishing faith and an increasing love with a specific group of people.
It’s like a marriage. If you’re married, you made a commitment, you said vows, that you would pursue your spouse in a loving relationship. Now, marriage can definitely be tough, and neither of you are perfect, but you’ve committed to each other to flourish together and love each other. That’s exactly what membership is about in our church. It’s a commitment to love each other, even when it’s tough. The beauty in that is, if you’re suffering, you have a community of people who’ve committed to love you through it. You have a community of people ready carry you to Jesus when you need it. So if you’re not a member of our church, or any church, I’d encourage you to dig in to a local church community. That’ll be a powerful weapon for your joy when suffering comes.
GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGEMENT
And your church family is really gonna help with the third thing. Check out verse 4: Therefore, we ourselves boast about you among God’s churches — about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring. It is clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us. This will take place at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his powerful angels, when he takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength on that day when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed. That was pretty long, but here’s the third thing we need to endure suffering well together: God’s righteous judgement. Paul said those words in verse 5. Let’s think about what that means. Paul says in verse 4 that their perseverance and faith even during suffering is verse 5 clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that they’ll be counted worthy of God’s kingdom. So their faith proves that God’s righteous judgement has happened for them. Here’s what happened: when Paul rolled into their city, he shared the gospel with them. The gospel is the good news about Jesus. The news is that they are hopeless, sinful, broken, enemies of God. And because of that it is right and just for God to punish them for their rebellion. But Jesus died in a way on the cross where God punished Jesus for all of their sin and rebellion. So that now, if they follow Jesus, they can be totally forgiven of every sin and wrong that they’ve ever done. That’s God’s Righteous Judgement for them. Because if you have Jesus, it is right and just for God to love you and save you, because you identify with Jesus.
That’s what baptism’s all about. After Jesus saves you, God commands that we get baptized. Baptism is a powerful way to show the world how we’re identifying with Jesus. When we go under the water, we’re saying that we identify with Jesus’ in his death. We’re saying that we trust in his death for us, and then when we come up at of the water we’re saying that we identify with Jesus in his resurrection, that he’s alive now for us! So it’s right for God to love and save us, because we’re identifying with Jesus! And guys that’s a super powerful moment when you get baptized, and it should be a powerful moment each week when we take communion because we’re remembering the death of Jesus together, but still it’s easy to forget that we have God’s righteous judgment on our lives. Being a part of a community of believers means that you have a whole group of people who are committing to remind you that this is true of you.
They’re gonna remind you that you’re worthy of God’s Kingdom because of Jesus (verse 5).
There’re gonna remind you that God is an Avenger so you don’t have to give people what they deserve and get revenge (verse 6).
They’re gonna remind you that Jesus is coming again (verse 7).
They’re gonna remind you that you won’t receive God’s wrath on sin because you believe the gospel (verse 8-9).
They’re gonna remind you that Jesus is worth everything because of how glorious he is (verse 10).
PEOPLE PRAYING FOR US
And they’re gonna do what verse 11 says: In view of this, we always pray for you that our God will make you worthy of his calling and by his power fulfill your every desire to do good and your work produced by faith. If we’re gonna endure suffering well, we’ll need people praying for us. Paul says he always prays for them. One of my favorite things is to see someone push out a message on GroupMe and see the response of our church praying for them. Just this last week, someone in our church was really suffering physically, probably gonna have to have surgery, but he was open and honest about what was going on and asked our church to pray for him. Many people messaged that they were praying and a few days later, he shared that God had done a miracle and brought healing in such a way that surgery wasn’t even required anymore. Him sharing that and our church praying for him resulted in him praising God, and the rest of us praising God, and hopefully gave all of us a deeper amazement of God’s goodness and grace!
And we specifically need them to pray what Paul’s praying right here. He prays that God, by his power, would fulfill their desire to do good. That’s…a bit…weird. Because, what would you expect him to pray for? Probably the same thing most of us prayed for for our brother who was suffering—that God would take away the suffering! And that’s a fine, good prayer. We should pray for that. But Paul, like, never prays that for other people. He just never prays that God would take away suffering. He always prays this: that they’d experience God’s power through suffering. Because guys Paul knows that God has a good intention for suffering. Suffering drives us to God and we’ll experience God’s power in ways that we couldn’t otherwise.
You know how often I think about God when I’m on a plane? Usually only during turbulence, right? When that turbulence comes, my prayers are incredible. I pray my best prayers in turbulence. That never happens during the smoothness of the flight. That’s why Paul doesn’t pray for the suffering to go away. He knows that they’re gonna experience God in the most powerful ways in their life exactly when they’re suffering, which will increase their faith more and more.
Because, when God pours out his power in our lives to enduring suffering well, look at what will happen in verse 12: so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified by you, and you by him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. So God’s power working in them will result in the name of Jesus being glorified through them. God’s glory is going to ring out from their community. People around them are gonna see that these people don’t suffer like everyone else. Yes they mourn, yes they really feel pain and loss, but there’s a deep contentment in the lives of Jesus’ followers that other people don’t have. So guys your suffering isn’t just about you. God has a cosmic plan for your suffering. As you endure suffering by trusting Jesus, your family, your friends, your neighbors, the angels and demons will see the glory of Jesus and be blown away.
Are you suffering right now? God could be using your suffering to save someone else. He used the suffering of Jesus to save us all. So number 5, if we’re gonna endure suffering well, we need a missional mindset. A mindset that displaying the glory of Jesus is more important that our own comfort. Because guys, people don’t need to see followers of Jesus who are radically blessed by God with easy lives, whose joy depends on their circumstances. They need to see followers of Jesus who are joyful, content, and worshipping God even if everything is taken away.
After Job lost all his possessions, and even his children, look at how he responded: Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything. He mourned, and then he worshipped and trusted God.
At this time of hear many of us are making resolutions right? So many people decide to exercise and diet. And I’m always amazed by people who change their whole lifestyle to get something they want. I read an article a few weeks ago about a guy who lost 197 pounds in 2018 because of resolutions he made. He said it was really, really hard each day but worth it in the end. We’re willing to radically change our lifestyle and endure hardship for physical goals. Or goals to get a new job, or a spouse, or to keep our house clean.
What if your goal is to glorify God no matter what comes into your life? Even through suffering? Are you willing to radically change your lifestyle right now so that when suffering is surrounding you, you can respond in a way where you have joy and God is glorified through you?
It’s my prayer that we are willing, and that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do it.