Second Thessalonians 1
One of the more difficult things for us to learn concerning our sanctification is the difference between repairs and growth. Both are involved in sanctification, but they are not at all the same thing. Imagine a potted flower that you have sitting on the window sill, flourishing there in the sunlight. Let us say that the cat knocks it over, shattering the clay pot. Now of course you repot it, and you hover over it carefully for a few days, and the plant seems to be doing okay. But then some weeks later, you are thrilled to see extra blossoms and more leaves, not to mention a couple of extra inches. This is all wonderful, but the thing to remember is that replacing pots is not the same thing as the growth. Unless you replaced the pot, there would have been no growth, but they are not at all the same thing.
“Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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; 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” (2 Thessalonians 1:1–4)
Summary of the Text
This letter obviously has Paul as the main author, but the salutation also includes Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy (v. 1). It is addressed to the church of the Thessalonians, a church which is in our Father God and in our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 1). The church is in the Father and the Son, and the apostle extends a blessing to that church—grace and peace from the Father and Son (v. 2). Remember that all the New Testament epistles begin this way, with only two persons of the Trinity mentioned explicitly, and with grace and peace proceeding from them. My understanding is that this is because the “grace and peace” refer to the Spirit. Paul then says that he is obligated (bound) to thank God for the Thessalonians, and to do so constantly (v. 3). This is fitting because their faith was growing “exceedingly,” and their love for one another was something that was “abounding.” Their faith and their love were both overflowing the banks. Paul says that he glories in them “in the churches of God.” What he means here is that he sets the Thessalonians in front of the other churches as a pattern or example for them to imitate. They were setting this pattern in the midst of persecution and tribulations that they were enduring (v. 4), doing so in “patience and faith.” We will see next week that the fact that they are so patient under fire is a token to them from God that He will in fact bring a fiery judgment on those who mistreat them (v. 5), but we touch on it now to help make sense of our passage. It is a sign, incidentally, to both the persecuted and the persecutors.
In the third verse, Paul says that their faith “groweth exceedingly (v. 3).” In the Greek, this is just one verb, not a verb and adverb, and to get the effect in English, we would have to say that their faith was hyper-growing. He then goes on to say that their love for one another was abundant (v. 3). It was full, complete, increasing. Not only so, but they were doing this over a long haul—they were enduring their tribulations and persecutions (v. 4). Not only was it an extended time, but it was an extended time of trouble and affliction.
Put all this together, and you have a genuinely antifragile congregation. That means that they were able to thrive under adverse conditions. The more they went through, the more they flourished. Their faith was super-charged. Their love was running a ridiculous surplus. Not only so, but they just kept on going. No wonder Paul would point to them as a remarkable congregation worthy of imitation. We should make a point of imitating them as well, even though it is over a great distance, both in years and miles.
The Role of Faith
But with your permission, I am going to mess with the metaphor just a little bit. This is because in Paul’s thinking faith is both the plant that grows and also the fertilizer that causes the growth.
Affliction, or tribulation, or trouble, or trial, whatever you want to call it, like everything else in this fallen world, is not an automatic blessing. Remember what Jesus taught us about what can kill a plant dead.
“And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16–17).
This plant dies because of affliction and persecution, which is the same thing the Thessalonians were going through. But the Thessalonians were thriving, and these people were not. What is the difference? Jesus said that those that are offended and fall away are those who “have no root in themselves.” The Thessalonians, on the other hand, are in the Father and the Son, and they have the Holy Spirit of God, grace and peace, from the Father and the Son. They are rooted.
Return to the Top
For too many Christians, getting their Christian life squared away always seems to consist of replacing the broken pot. It is necessary to confess our sins, true. It is necessary to put things right with your brother, that is also true. It is necessary to do such things as a precondition of growth. But we must never forget that God calls us, not only to growth, but with the example of the Thessalonians before us, to extraordinary growth.
Your sanctification is not simply a matter of less malice, but of more love. Your growth is not simply a matter of less unbelief, but of more faith. Not less impatience, but more patience. Not less complaining merely, but more endurance. You don’t want to be the gardener who gets so focused on pulling weeds that he forgets that he is doing so in order to grow something else. It is flower garden, not a no-weeds dirt patch.
And there is only one place where it is possible for this to occur. We must be rooted in the Father and the Son, and we must be watered by the Spirit of grace and peace. When that happens, and when we as the people of God blossom, it fills the room with the aroma of Christ.