2 Thessalonians 1:3–12
We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering—since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, 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.
A Word About the Word "Resolve"
I think it will be helpful for us to begin this morning with a comment on the word "resolve" in verse 2. The RSV says, "We pray for you that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power." If you have the NASB "good resolve" comes out as "desire for goodness," and if you have the NIV it appears as "good purpose." The King James goes against all these by inserting the word "his" (in italics!) to say that God is fulfilling "the good pleasure of his goodness."
I think the three modern versions are right in saying that what God fulfills is our good resolves, or desires or purposes. The reason is that "resolve of goodness" and "work of faith" seem to be a pair and we know that the faith and work spoken of is ours. So it would seem natural that the "resolve of goodness" would be ours as well.
But what about the difference between the translation "resolve" or "purpose" on the one hand and "desire" on the other? Well, the Greek word eudokia does seem to include both the idea of desire as well as considered judgment as to what is desirable.
So when I use the term "resolve" this morning, I want you to understand it in a sense broad enough to include all the acts of the mind that go out after goodness. For some that may be a resolute, considered, thought-through goal. For others it may be a more intuitive, less reflective pursuit. But in either case, what I mean to exclude is a jelly-fish approach to life that just floats with the currents of the times and the spirit of the age. All Christians should be dolphins in the sea of secularism whether your goals are felt intuitively as deep desires or whether they are weighed and considered and resolved.
The Duty of All Christians
Let's focus our thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12.
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power, 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.
The doctrine that I would like to develop from these verses is this: IT IS THE DUTY OF CHRISTIANS TO SEEK GOD'S POWER TO FULFILL GOOD RESOLVES. You can see that clearly in verse 11 at the end. Paul prays that God "may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power."
Why Is This the Duty of All Christians?
The first question to ask then is, "Why?" Paul himself must have been a real "why-asker" because he always answers that question. Here he answers it in three ways.
1. Becoming Worthy of God's Call
The first answer is given in verse 11. It is the duty of Christians to seek God's power to fulfill good resolves because in doing that we become worthy of God's call.
"To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his call, and may fulfill every good resolve and work of faith by his power." If you ask, What is the relationship between God's making us worthy of his call (in the first half of the verse), and God's fulfilling our good resolves (in the second half of the verse), the answer would surely be that his fulfilling our good resolves is the way he makes us worthy. They aren't two different things.
So the first reason we should seek God's power to fulfill our good resolves is that in doing this we become worthy of God's call. Notice 1 Thessalonians 2:12 where Paul uses the same language and helps us understand what God's call is. He exhorts and encourages you "to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." So his call is a call to glory. It is the granting of a destiny.
And you recall Romans 8:30—"Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." The call is a call to glory. And it will not abort. "He who called you is faithful, and he will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24). "He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called" (1 Corinthians 1:8–9).
Now what verse 11 says is that there is a way of life that is worthy of that call. "Worthy" doesn't mean deserving or meritorious. It means fitting, proper, appropriate. Suppose you redecorate a spare bedroom in your house because you want to honor a special guest who is coming to stay. You paint the dingy walls. You buy a new bedspread. You polish the woodwork. And then you stand back to see if the room is worthy of your guest's presence; and the old lamp shade sticks out like a sore thumb. It is dirty and torn and doesn't match the paint. It is out of place, unfitting, improper—and in that sense "unworthy" of the room and the guest.
So you resolve to get rid of it. Why? So that the room would be worthy of its destiny. The guest is coming. Well, that is the first motive for seeking God's power to fulfill the good resolves in our own lives, too. There is a sense of harmony and fitness that we enjoy when we resolve to get the dirty torn shades out of our lives. God had begun a redecorating project on you and there are things that are just plain unfitting, and unworthy of your new calling. So seek God's power to fulfill the resolves to get rid of these things, because until you do, there will be a gnawing sense of impropriety and unfitness and inappropriateness in your heart.
2. Glorifying the Name of Jesus
The second reason to seek God's power to fulfill good resolves is given in the first half of verse 12: " . . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you." This is true in two senses.
In the first place, when you labor to make a room fitting and proper for a guest, it shows the regard you have for your guest. You glorify him by wanting to have a room worthy of his presence.
But there is something deeper here than that. Verse 11 is a prayer that God would fulfill our good resolves BY HIS POWER! That's why the Lord Jesus will be glorified. The point is exactly the same as 1 Peter 4:11, "Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Here Paul says, "Let everyone fulfill his good resolves by the power of God so that the name of our Lord will be glorified." God gives the power; God gets the glory through Jesus Christ.
Do you see the difference between morality and Christianity? Do you see why I say so often that there is a godless immorality and a godless morality? Well, here it is right here. Paul says, don't make good resolves godlessly. And what makes a good resolve godless? Not depending on God's power for its fulfillment, and not giving God the glory for its fulfillment.
O that every one who comes to Bethlehem could explain the phrase "moral sin"! O that we could all give an account of "sinful morality"! Until we see this, we are so vulnerable to the substitution of morality for Christianity. "Sinful morality" is the performance of good resolves NOT by God's power, and NOT for God's glory.
But our great longing is to see the Lord Jesus glorified in the world, and therefore we will seek the power of GOD to fulfill our good resolves. That's the second reason. When you seek his power, he gets the glory.
3. Being Glorified Ourselves
The final reason Paul mentions why we should seek the power of God to fulfill good resolutions is that this will result in our being glorified too. Verse 12: " . . . so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him."
Now someone may ask, "Didn't you teach us from Romans 8:30 that those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he glorified? And are not, then, all the called guaranteed glorification?" And I would answer, "Yes, absolutely!" To which they may say, "Well then, why does Paul pray here that those who are called would meet certain conditions 'so that' they can be glorified with Christ? Is our glorification certain or is it dependent on things like the fulfillment of good resolves?"
The answer is, "Yes, our glorification is certain." And, "Yes, our glorification is dependent on living worthy of our call by fulfilling good resolves." And if you believe in the sovereignty of God, there is no problem here. But if you don't, there is a massive problem. If God is sovereign, he can guarantee your glorification AND he can guarantee whatever obedience he requires as a prerequisite for glorification.
It's no inconsistency for God to establish an infallible connection between being called and being glorified, and then to require as a prerequisite of glorification that those whom he called walk worthy of his call. And this text shows why there is no inconsistency—namely, because God is the one who by his power enables the fulfillment of good resolves which lead to glory. God calls. God promises glory to the called. God establishes prerequisites for glory. And he fulfills them by his power. If we are willing to let God really be God, "from whom and through whom and to whom are all things," then the necessity of obedience will not be a contradiction to our assurance of glorification.
On the contrary, it will be a strong incentive to seek the power of God to fulfill our good resolves. And so that is the third and final reason Paul gives why we should do this. We should seek God's power to fulfill our good resolves
- because in doing so we become worthy of his call;
- because in doing so Christ is glorified;
- because in doing so we too will share his glory.
How Do We Do It?
Now the question before us is, "How?" Practically speaking what does it mean to seek and have God's power to fulfill our good resolves? Here we could talk for hours just from the clues in 2 Thessalonians (read the book with that question in mind!). But I must limit myself to two points.
1. The Necessity of Our Resolves
The first point is that seeking the power of God to fulfill our good resolves does NOT mean that we don't really resolve or that we don't really use will-power. The engagement of God's power never takes the place of the engagement of our will! The power of God in sanctification never makes us passive! The power of God engages itself beneath or behind and within our will, not in place of our will. The evidence of God's power in our lives is not the absence of our willing but the strength of our willing.
Anyone who says, "Well I believe in the sovereignty of God and so I will just sit back and do nothing," does not really believe in the sovereignty of God. For why would someone who believes in God's sovereignty so blatantly disobey him? When you sit back to do nothing, you are not doing nothing. You are actively engaging your will in a decision to sit back. And if that is the way you handle sin or temptation in your life, it is blatant disobedience, because we are commanded to wage a good warfare (1 Timothy 1:18) and to resist the devil (James 4:7) and strive for holiness (Hebrews 12:14).
Verse 11 says that it is by the power of God that we will fulfill our good resolve and our work of faith. But this does not nullify the meaning of the word "resolve" and the word "work." Part of the whole process of walking worthy of God's call is the active engagement of our will in resolving to do righteousness. If you have lingering sin in your life, or if you keep neglecting some good deed, just because you have been waiting around to be saved without a fight, you are compounding your disobedience. God will never appear with power in your will in any other form than a good resolve that you make and keep.
So the first point is that people who believe in the sovereignty of God like we do must not fear to engage their wills in the struggle for holiness. "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). So when I say that it is the duty of Christians to seek the power of God to fulfill their good resolves, I am assuming that they give themselves energetically to know God's will and to resolve it with all the power that lies within them!
2. The Work of Faith
The other point is this: when a good resolve attains accomplishment by God's power, another name for it is "work of faith." In verse 11 when Paul refers to God's fulfilling good resolves and works of faith, I don't think he has two different things in mind, as if resolves could be accomplished without faith. The term "good resolve" focuses on the beneficent and loving aim of the act, and the term "work of faith" focuses on the means of its accomplishment. The human counterpart to God's power is faith.
So the point is that the fulfillment of any resolution by God's power is a "work of faith." In other words it is a work that is enabled by our trusting in the promises of God. Let me try to illustrate.
Bible Reading as a Work of Faith
Suppose that you resolve to read the Bible every day in 1986, say for 15 minutes. How does that become a work of faith? It becomes a work of faith when obstacles are successfully overcome by trusting the promises of God. For example, when you make this resolve, you arm yourself with promises like Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Then when you get up one morning and you think about the 100 things you have to do today, and the thought enters your mind that your prosperity depends on getting off to work right now and not taking time for the Word this morning, at that point faith says, "I believe Psalm 1, not this hellish thought that Satan just planted in my mind. The man who takes time to meditate on the Word of God 'is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers!'" And so faith defeats the temptation to abandon the resolution, and it becomes a work of faith.
Giving as a Work of Faith
Or suppose in 1986 you resolve to get closer to the wartime lifestyle and stop spending so much on yourself and laying up so much in fat interest accounts. So you resolve to give ten percent of your gross income to the ministry of the church and an additional five percent to other agencies that exalt Christ and bring salvation and hope to those in need.
To succeed in this you begin to arm yourself with the promises of God—like 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work."
And Acts 20:35, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
And Psalm 4:7, "Thou hast put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety."
Then when the temptations come that you could have more peace and safety and more joy and more blessedness if you would not give so much of your money away, faith believes the promises of God, overcomes the lies of the flesh, and your giving becomes a work of faith.
Witnessing as a Work of Faith
Or suppose that you join with the 200 20:20 Vision people in January and resolve to carry out eight steps toward evangelism. But then the usual obstacles arise. Someone says, "You won't know what to say if they ask you such and such." And faith believes the promise of Mark 13:11, "Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."
Another says, "They are going to ridicule you and your relationships could be a lot more difficult after witnessing for Christ."
And faith believes the Word of the Lord, "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven." And one by one, faith meets the obstacles to obedience and defeats them by trusting in the promises of God. And so your witness becomes a work of faith.
Strengthening Faith in God's Promises
So when Paul prays in 2 Thessalonians 1:11 that God would fulfill our good resolve and work of faith by his power, he is really praying that God would strengthen our faith in his promises. In other words, the power of God to fulfill our good resolves is simply his work to overcome our irrational disinclination to believe his Word.
I conclude, then, that it is the duty of Christians to seek God's power to fulfill good resolves. And that means, develop an arsenal of God's promises and pray that God would show his power by making you reasonable enough to believe his Word over the temptations of the evil one.