2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 11 To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The essence of Christianity is faith. Faith however, if it is not accompanied by real genuine and tangible fruit is false faith and inconsistent Christianity. True saving faith always produces sanctified lives— always (cf. Jam. 2.14ff.). God gave us a metaphor for this easy enough for a child to understand. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15.5). But Isaiah goes further to show the blatant contradiction of Christians who will not grow when God has done all that we need- providing the conditions for our flourishing but receiving nothing in return as Israel often did:
Isaiah 5:1–2, 4 1 Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones… 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?
In one sense in this prayer Paul is praying for consistency in the lives of the Thessalonians. Paul wants to see those who have been called walking in their calling which is just another way of saying that we should live consistent with our salvation. As Paul calls attention to this in his prayer for them, Paul wants the church to focus on three things, a consistent faith, a godly ambition, and a mutual glory.
Paul’s Prayer For A Consistent Christianity
A pastor’s calling is not only to discern the signs of the times, to teach the church about the impending Day of the Lord, to speak about the realities of judgment and the hope of salvation; his calling is to not only internalize all of those things personally and thoughtfully but also to practically express the gravity of those things to God in prayer for the church. That is precisely what Paul does here. As we contemplate the coming wrath of God and even as we see the growing perils of our world, the encroaching danger of our world system, the moral decay of society, the social conflicts that plagues our culture and the complexities of health, medicine, and social, civil and economic unrest; the best outlet for our people is prayer that is specific, meaningful and in keeping with our calling. The over arching thrust of Paul’s concern here is a concern for the church to thrive spiritually under the grand reality of the eschaton. This cannot be overlooked because we are susceptible to going a different way.
When pastors see what is on the horizon politically, morally, and in our case today, technologically and globally; the temptation is to respond with political action or cultural paranoia, separation, isolation, and the cause of social justice or activism but for Paul, none of these were the right answer. In other words, constant prayer for the church in ‘Babylon’ did not consist of the quality of their external lives, but the growth and advancement of the church spiritually (cf. 2 Pet. 3.18). Even as the world itself has an eschatological trajectory, so should our lives be eternally minded and our desire should be that we only increase in the knowledge of God and in our capacity to know Him and glorify Him properly be conforming our lives to the gospel. This was Paul’s own desire and goal:
Philippians 3:7–8 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
This was the “end” for which Paul constantly prayed for the church, “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling” (εἰς ὃ καὶ προσευχόμεθα πάντοτε περὶ ὑμῶν, ἵνα ὑμᾶς ἀξιώσῃ τῆς κλήσεως ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν). Paul’s general prayer was for the church’s sanctification and growth. The specific manner in which he decided to speak of this sanctification was in terms already introduced in v.5 where their endurance under persecution was, “a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.” Here too, Paul prays that God would “count you worthy” (ὑμᾶς ἀξιώσῃ). This time Paul’s request is more general. He prays concerning their “calling” (τῆς κλήσεως) which simply points in the direction of God’s calling them in regeneration through the gospel. The parallel text in the next chapter also helps to point us in the direction of what Paul is getting at here:
2 Thessalonians 2:14–15 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
The beauty of eschatology is that is gives our lives purpose. It reminds us that our lives are not in vain and everything has eternal consequences and significance. This kind of eternal thinking can awaken us out of our spiritual slumber and cause us to put off apathy, lukewarmness, and indifference and put on zeal, compassion, and love for one another and for all men. When Hebrews tells us to stimulate one another for love and good works, it means that at times, there will be those among us that are more eternally minded than we are and will seek to stimulate the principle of eternal life in all of us. So it is here, Paul is seeking to fan into flame the calling of these Thessalonians so that they will have a life consistent with their calling. There is nothing more upside down and contradictory than a creature in this world who has been given eternal life and does not live like it. Paul is calling them to a consistent Christianity- a Christianity empowered and blessed by God. That is the next aspect of his prayer for the church.
Paul’s Prayer For A Godly Ambition
This next aspect of Paul’s prayer also shows us how the spiritual life of the believer works. There is also a perfect balance here between heart and hands or affections and actions. It is not enough to say that we have godly ‘desires’ (εὐδοκίαν) and yet they remain unfulfilled in us when they are design for us (cf. Eph. 2.10). Conversely, we also dare not slip into rote religion or the performance of spiritual tasks in the power of the flesh and not “faith” (πίστεως) (cf. Is. 29.13). A truly godly ambition consists of both the desire to perform what is right and the God-given power to carry it out. Fearing that anything would originate with us, that is our flesh (cf. Rom. 7.18), Paul’s prayers are directed in a Godward way acknowledging where the church’s true holiness and the power to obey comes from.
God Blesses The Desire For Good
Apostle Paul knows that these young believers have a whole life in Christ ahead of them. Above all, they will need grace for journey, the challenges, the warfare and the temptation to regress in their love for the Lord and their service for one another. Paul’s prayer is that God will complete and fulfill the work of their hands (cf. Ps. 90.17). He prays that God will, “fulfill every desire for goodness” (πληρώσῃ πᾶσαν εὐδοκίαν ἀγαθωσύνης). This phrase is meant to communicate an intensification of goodness as it were. The word, “desire” (εὐδοκίαν) implies a kind or good disposition arising from a good will (see, BDAG). This is what God loves to “fulfill” (πληρώσῃ) in us. For God to fulfill this godly ambition means that God provides the occasions and conditions by which our desires to do what is good in His sight might come to pass. In essence Paul is simply reinforcing what he teaches regarding the fruit of the Spirit which is manifested in all “goodness.”
God Empowers The Labor Of Faith
While “goodness” may reflect the heart of the believer, the motives of the believer; this next phrase emphasizes the practical outworking of that benevolence and desire. The “work of faith” has already been mentioned in the first epistle as something Paul remembers in his prayers for them, “bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope” (1 Th. 1.3). This “work” however is not relegated to one specific thing, but is meant more generally of the active faith of the church. Paul is prayer for their faith to produce fruit to be active and consistent with their confession. It is the opposite of dead faith, empty faith, and worse, insincere faith that betrays their profession of faith (cf. Jam. 2.14ff.).
Paul’s prayer here however, is not merely that their lives would be filled with good deeds and productive lives but that God would bless them with an accompaniment of His power, “the work of faith with power” (ἔργον πίστεως ἐν δυνάμει). This is not so much the power associated with miracles (cf. Gal. 3.), or extraordinary signs and wonders but a general empowerment to serve and glorify Christ through the church’s ongoing obedience and conformity to the gospel. This “power” was also the indispensible for the genuine worship of the church. This power is expressing our dependence on God’s ability and enablement so that our lives will be energized by the strength and power that God supplies not our strength and pride:
1 Corinthians 15:9–10 9 For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
Taken together, these two phrases are asserting that what God works in our hearts and affections by His Spirit, faith works out in tangible obedience to the gospel and that work is a manifestation of God’s power, the strength and power that God supplies for us to serve in His kingdom (cf. 1 Pet. 4.11).
Paul’s Prayer For A Mutual Glory
For the apostle Paul God’s glory is always the ultimate aim. Only here Paul seeks to highlight our interest in that glory by showing that God’s glory, Christ’s glory is our glory to gain, our glory to share. At stake for Paul was not just simply the honor of the church, the reputation of the church, the name of the church; but as is true of every church the real reputation on the line is God’s own name and glory and that is what motivates Paul’s prayers for the church ultimately, “so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you” (ὅπως ἐνδοξασθῇ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ ἐν ὑμῖν).
In a parallel text, Peter concludes with the same ultimate aim of our good works and service to the Lord, namely that God would be glorified through a church equipped and gifted by Him to serve Him in His strength resulting in His glory:
1 Peter 4:11 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Notice that Paul does not call for Christ to be glorified but His “name” (τὸ ὄνομα) to be glorified since in the strict sense of the word He is already glorified and exalted. Consequently this glory is mutual. Just as Jesus name will be glorified by our good works we have the accompanying assurance and hope that we too will be “glorified” (ἐνδοξασθῇ) only by virtue of our union with Him, “and you in Him” (καὶ ὑμεῖς ἐν αὐτῷ). The passive verb for “glorified” suggests that Jesus will be glorified in a particular way through our works and we too will be glorified in a particular way “in Him” (ἐν αὐτῷ). In one sense this sentence captures the whole panoramic of the work of redemption— as union with Christ passages often due (cf. Eph. 2.1-5). By virtue of our union with Him, God calls us, empowers us, and glorifies us according to His powerful grace.
The engine of consistent Christianity is rooted not in the power of human will, the genius of human ingenuity, the dynamic of talents and gifts; it is rooted in the grace of God, “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). “According” (κατὰ) to “grace” (χάριν) means that God’s grace, when it has in fact saved us, changes us and glorifies us for His sake so that He alone will receive all glory and honor and praise here now and forever:
1 Corinthians 1:30–31 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Finally, note of glorification was also the sound of hope. Bearing in mind the context, these believers were oppressed, persecuted, staring into an unknown future, and confused about the end times. Paul could not have said anything more comforting than to say that by God’s grace He who called them would also glorify them together with Christ so that they could rejoice in uncertain times knowing the truth about the future. “Will we go to jail again? Will they come for more of us this time? Will we be martyred? What about our jobs, our homes, and our families? If I go to prison for Christ what will happened to my children?” These could all have been real questions facing the Thessalonian believers and yet, Paul reminds them that “in Him” is the reality that changes everything!
Because of our union with Him we can engage in good deeds knowing our labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15.58), because of or our union with Him and unlike the wicked our hope transcends our trials and tribulations no matter how terrible (1 Pet. 1.3-4), because of our union with Christ we have a vindication that will triumph over all our fears, losses, and suffering. Peter speaks with much the same hope in his heart:
1 Peter 5:10–11 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.