2 Thessalonians 1: 3 -12
It’s never been easy to be a Christian, but in some parts of the world it is difficult indeed.
Kurdish convert Ziwar Mohamad Ismaeel was shot dead 17 February 2003, in a city in northern Iraq. When Ishmaeel became a Christian, his family asked the leader of the local mosque what to do since he had left Islam. The mullah declared him an apostate and recommended he be killed. Some of his relatives captured him and took him out to a remote place, where they gave him the choice of either renouncing his faith or being killed. His friends managed to rescue him and sent him into hiding. But Ishameel refused to stay there very long as he did not want to show fear. “With Jesus on my side, I have nothing to fear,” he declared. “I have to go back to my family to tell them that even when they kill me, I will never deny Christ.”
He made his living as a taxi driver. On the morning of 17 February, he was waiting in a line of taxis for his turn to load up passengers. About 8:30am a stranger approached the station and began talking with him. Fellow taxi drivers said that Ismaeel offered a cup of tea to the man, who then began to demand loudly that Ismaeel deny his faith in Christ and come back to Islam. When Ismaeel refused, saying he could not stop believing in Christ, the stranger asked him to step aside and talk privately with him. Just seconds later, eyewitnesses said, the man pulled out a machine gun and started shooting point-blank at Ismaeel. A total of 28 bullets were pumped into his head and chest before he fell to the ground, dying on the spot. When the police captured his killer, the man claimed be fulfilling the will of Allah and said, “I don’t feel guilty for doing it.” A friend who knew Ismaeel said, “He was always exhorting other Christians to be bold, to not be afraid.” He left behind a wife and five children.
God’s Judgment is Right
Paul said, “I boast everywhere I go about your faith and your perseverance.” Then he goes on to say something that sounds a bit strange, if you think about it. “This is evidence that God’s judgment is right.” What does he mean, God’s judgment is right? How can it be right for a woman to become a widow because her husband was a Christian? How does the death of a persecuted Christian prove that God’s judgment is right? By itself, it doesn’t prove anything. Persecution is a terrible reality for millions of believers around the world, but that’s not exactly what Paul has in mind. He’s not saying, “Everywhere I go I boast about your persecution,” as if that by itself was a good thing. To say that would be to turn morality upside down, to virtually say that evil has somehow become good. That can’t be right. Evil is always evil.
Paul’s boast was not in their persecution but in their perseverance and in their faith. Describes a person who will not be swayed from his loyalty to Christ even by the greatest trials and sufferings. Perseverance is not merely enduring trials with gritted teeth, but patiently waiting with radiant hope for the dawn of a better day.
Paul adds something else in v. 5. By your suffering God is making you “worthy” of the kingdom. Another way to say it is, “God is making you fit for heaven.” There are two things we can know when we go through hard times because of our faith: 1. Our sufferings are noticed by the Lord. The One who sees the sparrow when it falls keeps a watchful eye on his suffering children. Just as a parent has special care for a child who is ill, even so the Lord gives special attention to his children who suffer for his sake. 2. Our sufferings have an eternal purpose. They are not random acts of fate. When Mr. Ismaeel went to his taxi stand, the Lord went him. When his assailant pumped 28 bullets into his body, the Lord stood by his side. When he died, the Lord was there to welcome him home to heaven. Whatever else we can say about it, we must confess that our Lord makes no mistakes, even though many things in this life have no explanation.
God Never Says “Oops!”
The future is uncertain for all of us. But the Bible tells us to “Fear not” 366 times. That’s one for each day of the year and one more for Leap Year. God’s Word to us today is, “Fear not!” Remember 2 things: 1. The Lord is always with us no matter what happens. 2. The Lord makes no mistakes no matter how scary life may seem. There are no surprises with God. Even our trials somehow fit into his plan for us.
Paul’s prayer for these suffering believers comes in v. 11, 12. As he does in other places, he packs a great deal into just a few phrases. This is a wartime prayer. You could summarise it this way, “I am praying for you, that you will hang tough for Jesus no matter how hard it gets." This prayer is simple to outline. There are 2 requests in v. 11 and 2 results in v. 12.
1. 2 Requests v. 11
A. That you might be Living Proof. v. 11a
He’s already said in v. 5 that their steady faith under pressure was proof that God was making them worthy of the kingdom. Now he prays that God will do what he’s already started to do. Paul doesn’t say, “I pray that your trials might go away.” He doesn’t say, “I am praying that your persecution would soon come to an end.” Those are legitimate requests but that’s not how Paul prays. In the spiritual realm there are no shortcuts to maturity. No pain, no gain. Paul understood the evangelistic value of a steadfast faith. “Lord, make my brothers and sisters living proof so that the whole world will know what you can do through believers who can take the heat and not give up.”
B. That you might have Godly Goals. v. 11b
Translators have a hard time with this phrase because it’s not totally clear what Paul is saying. Let me give you 2 other versions of this request: We “pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something.” (The Message) "We pray for God’s power to help you do all the good things that you hope to do and that your faith makes you want to do.” (CEV)
We all have ideas but not every idea is a good idea. Not every dream is a good dream, not every goal is a worthy goal. But there are dreams and ideas that are good and worthy because they come from God. Paul is saying, “I’m praying that you won’t waste your life on things that don’t matter. I don’t want to see you come to the end and say, ‘I blew it.’ So I’m praying that you will work out what really matters in life, and then you will have the faith to go and do it.” Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it. So when you pray for others, pray that they will pursue godly goals instead of worldly goals, and that they will be given strength to fulfil all that God has for them to do. By the way, this is a powerful prayer for parents to pray for their children. Ask the Lord to give them good dreams and godly goals, and then pray that the Lord will make those dreams come true. Pray that your children will dream big dreams for God and then have the energetic faith to see them come to pass. When we pray this way, we should expect two results.
2. 2 Results v. 12
A. Christ is Glorified in Us. v. 12a
To glorify the name of Christ means to enhance his reputation in the world. For Ziwar Mohamad Ismaeel, glorifying Christ meant being faithful to the point of death. For all of us, it means living so that others know that we know Jesus and are not ashamed of him.
B. We are Glorified in Him. v. 12b
We’re on Jesus’ team. He chose us and he made us players. We can’t do much, and without him, we can’t do anything at all. The game is long and hard and sometimes it seems like we’re going to lose because the other team is mean and vicious and they cheat all the time. But in the end Team Jesus comes out on top because the Captain of our team is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s the greatest there ever was and he’s the greatest there ever will be. We’re joined with him by faith so that when he wins, we win. That’s what it means to be glorified in him. We’re not much but the glory that comes to him comes also to us because he looks at us and says with a smile, “Nice pass,” even though we know he could have done it without us. We share in his glory because we are on his team.
That’s the final reward for hanging tough for Jesus. When you stand strong under pressure, 4 things happen: You are living proof of God’s power, You accomplish God’s goals for your life, You glorify Christ by your life and You share in his ultimate victory.
What a wonderful way to live. What a powerful way to pray.
All by Grace, All the Time
As we wrap up this message, I wonder if some of you are experiencing hard times right now. Are you perplexed by some persecution you’re going through or wiped out with some worry? God’s word to you is clear: Stand firm. Stay the course. Don’t despair. Don’t give up. One day God will make everything right. Our responsibility is to hang tough for Jesus.
There is one final phrase I don’t want us to miss. It tells us how all this is possible: v. 12c. It’s all by grace, all the time. Everything in the Christian life is by grace. We are saved by grace, we live by grace, we hang tough by grace, we die by grace, and we go to heaven by grace.
Have you ever experienced the saving grace of God? Some of you have not yet answered the Saviour’s call for the first time. Listen. He’s calling your name. He’s knocking on the door of your heart. He’s waiting for you. Will you answer?
Run, run, run to the cross! Lay hold of Jesus by faith and don’t let go. When hard times come, hang on to Jesus! He’ll never leave you, he’ll be with you when you die, and he’ll take you home to heaven.
Salvation is all grace, all the time. Your life can be changed. Run to the Cross. Jesus is waiting to meet you there. Amen.