Have you been tempted recently to think that the world might have gone mad? How is it that things like Brexit and Trump have happened? Whether they prove to be good or bad, part of the craziness is that they came out of the blue, against most predictions. How is it that there can be such crazy things happening as schools believing they should let boys and girls use the same toilets and changing rooms? What on earth is happening?
I put a link in the newsletter this week to a talk by an Australian paediatrician. One of the things he said was that he had to fight hard to get ethics approval to ask parents at what age their children started eating solids. He is a paediatrician; he cares for children but apparently, in our PC world, it might be offensive to ask parents, in his research, at what age their children started eating solids. And yet, he said, doctors prescribe hormone treatment to children and do gender–reassignment surgery on children and it does not require ethic approval! How can that be? Is there any rational sense in that at all?
And in this crazy context, it is becoming much harder, I believe, to stand up as a Christian. Christian views are more frequently mocked and dismissed and sometimes the reaction is vitriolic and nasty. This is a confusing and frightening world.
The Thessalonian Christians also lived in a crazy world. They were persecuted; there were strange ideas being taught that were confusing them. It must have been very confusing. So, this letter that Paul wrote to them is relevant to us. How can we be Christians in a crazy world?
Last week we looked at 2 Thessalonians 1 and noted that Paul affirmed the Thessalonians for two things: their faith was growing and they were loving one another more and more. There is not much that is more fundamental to Christian living than faith in God and love for one another and so Paul is saying, “Get the fundamentals right”. In a mixed up world, Christians need to refocus on those things that are most basic and most important. Don’t worry about all sort of other things; be a person who gets those fundamentals right. Be a person who trusts God and who loves others. More than that, focus on growing in those things. Be more and more a person of faith and more and more a person of love.
There was actually a third thing as well: perseverance. In a crazy world, it is important that we keep on keeping on. The harder it is, the more important it is to stay on course.
We also saw that in a crazy world, we need to hold onto the fact of God’s judgement. God is going to sort it out, and that means that it is crucial that we remain faithful Christians and do not get caught up in the craziness. There will be a judgement.
Today, I want to focus on the last two verses of the chapter.
2 Thess 1:11-12 11With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have a question for you: what is the chief end of man?
You might recognise that as the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Before you answer it, I have another questions: what on earth does the question mean?
We might paraphrase it as “What is a person’s main purpose?” In other words, “Why do we exist?”
What is the answer the Westminster Catechism gives? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
What is our primary purpose in life? Why do we exist? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Both parts of that are important but today I want to focus on glorifying God because that is what Paul says to the Thessalonians. To glorify God means to cause people to say that God is great. God is glorified as more and more people honour Him and praise Him. In other words, we give God glory when we live in such a way and talk in such a way that people think, “This God is something special.”
Most people live to try to attract glory to themselves, but Christians exist to bring God glory. A Christian’s desire is that God is loved and honoured and worshipped. We want to make God look good.
Do you think that, when people look at you, or listen to you, they have reason conclude that God is something special? Does your life bring God glory… because that is why you exist?
How might that happen? Maybe, if people can see a change in you, they will conclude that God must be good? If people knew you before you were a Christian and can see the difference Jesus has made, might they say, “This person is religious but it sure has made a difference.” Or if they can simply see you growing in faith more and more and loving others more, they might say, “Something powerful, and something good, is at work in that person’s life.” If you tell a story about an answered prayer, they might think, “Really? I wonder if God is real and does answer prayer?” When they see your priorities, might they question why you make the choices you do? What is it about this God you worship that causes you to put Him first in your life?
If we work our way backwards through verses 11 and 12, we see in v.12 that Paul says that the reason he prays constantly for these Christians is “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”. The ultimate purpose in all of this is that God be glorified in them.
It does also say so that they might be glorified. We will come back to that. For the moment, just stay with the idea of God being glorified in us.
So, look at what Paul prays for, because that is how God will receive glory. He prays for three things:
- That God would make them worthy of His calling
- That, by His power, He would bring to fruition their every desire for goodness
- That, by His power, He would bring to fruition their every deed prompted by faith.
The first point, of course, is that Paul prays for them constantly. Christians in a crazy world need to be praying but, more specifically, older Christians need to be praying for younger Christians. Does it every worry you wondering how our young people are going to survive in this crazy world when there are so many temptations at their fingertips and so many pressure on them and so many strange and very unbiblical ideas bombarding them?
Of course, it is not the whole answer but it is an essential part of the answer, that we pray for them regularly. Yes, we can advise them; yes, we can try to guide them and help them be discerning but we are pretty powerless in the face of such huge forces. But, if God is at work in their lives, the effect will be greater. In each of these prayers it is God who makes the difference. May God make you worthy. May God, by His power, bring to fruition… It is all by the grace of God, as v.12 says. It is God who can really protect our young people from temptation and deliver them from evil. Regular prayer for them is crucial.
And, of course, it is not just young people chronologically but younger Christians who can be susceptible and need older Christians praying for them.
Might these be prayers that we could pray for ourselves and for other Christians in this crazy world?
“May God make you…” speaks of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. It is a process that happens over time as God moulds and shapes us. The goal of the transformation is that they/we become worthy of our calling – worthy of being chosen by God.
That doesn’t mean that God will save us if we are worthy. Christians have already been saved and have become children of God. We already have worth – chosen by God. It is an amazing thing that God loves us and that Jesus died for us. May we be worthy of that.
Suppose a dirty, sickly orphan was rescued from poverty by a benefactor. That child is already of huge worth but, over time, he/she will be transformed to look like a natural child of that family. He/she would be cleaned up, dressed differently, taught new patterns of behaviour, come to love and honour the new parents. When people see the change in the child, they honour the benefactor. Likewise, for us. As the Holy Spirit transforms us, our lives become more and more worthy of God’s adopted children, and that will cause others to glorify this amazing God who has rescued and changed us.
The Thessalonians desired goodness – they want to be good, and they want to do good. They wanted to be better people. They wanted to do great things for God. Their faith prompted them to action. Paul prayed that those longings might be fulfilled. It takes the power of God to make it happen.
What is God calling you to do? Your faith in God prompts you to do what? For some it might be to become missionaries or to volunteer their time in their church or for some good cause. Some have started welfare projects in their community or have written Christian songs. Or whatever. There is a vast range of deeds that people of faith dream of, prompted by a nudge from God. Faith always does prompt deeds. Faith is always expressed in action. Paul here prays that God will bring those dreams to reality.
I wonder how many really good, God-prompted, dreams have never got off the ground because other people were not praying in support of those who had the vision. Paul didn’t want that happening in Thessalonica, so he prayed for the power of God to be at work as these Christians put their faith into action. In a crazy world, people of faith doing good by the power of God, have an impact, and God receives the glory. Our faith-prompted, good works glorify God.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
1 Peter 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
This again is about being Christians in a crazy world. What could we do in our community that would bring glory to God? What could we do, by the power of God, that even hardened pagans would say, “I cannot deny that God is doing good things through those people”? And, are we willing to pray together that God would bring these things to fruition? Are we, as a church, willing to get together and pray?
Finally, let us return to that, perhaps surprising, comment in v.12. Paul prayed that God would be glorified in us, but also that we might be glorified in Him. If God transforms us and we become worthy of our calling; if God, by His power, brings to fruition the dreams we have of being good people and doing good things, we also will receive glory. Irrespective of what the world says, God will rejoice is us. In God’s eyes, we are something special. As that orphan is changed, that brings glory to his/her new parents. They are seen to be very fine people. They have made a sacrifice. They have made a difference. In the same way, the goodness of God is visible when sinners are forgiven and redeemed. What a great God!
But also, the orphan receives a glory he/she did not have before. People say, “What a fine young man/woman.” They would never have said that before.
In a crazy world, we exist to bring glory to God. We do that as God works in us to transform us and through us, as we do the works He has called us to do. This crazy world might dismiss us and mock us. We might have no glory as far as the world is concerned but as God works in us and through us, we have value and significance in Jesus. One day we will be elevated and receive great glory.
We will come back to this in the next chapter because look at 2:14: He called you… that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s plan is that you share in the glory of Jesus.
But that happens as God transforms us by the Holy Spirit and as God does good things through us. So let’s pray for those things.