This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, and is intended to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering. For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marvelled at on that day among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith, 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.
These verses, together with verses 3 and 4, form a long thanksgiving section at the beginning of this second letter to the group of Christians in Thessalonica. Thanksgiving quickly turns to the subject of God’s judgment, a subject dealt with in the light of the expected second coming of Jesus.
Clearly for Christians in 1st-Century Thessalonica life was not easy. They suffered ‘persecution and affliction’ and we can easily imagine the complaints and questions about why those who make them suffer should not suffer themselves. Paul’s response is to reflect on what will happen when Jesus returns and God judges those who choose not to know or obey him. The punishment will be complete and eternal.
As 21st-Century Christians such words give us pause for thought. We do not find them easy to read and we want to ask ‘what about forgiveness?’. However, we cannot pick and choose which bits of the Bible we like and there are sufficient references to God’s judgment for us to need to take it seriously. Many of us would say that trying to live without God in our lives would be punishment enough.
And that is a thought answered by Paul when he indicates that, how they deal with the suffering which they are enduring, will also be judged. That suffering has the potential to make them worthy of the kingdom of God.
Paul’s promise is to pray for his Christian friends that God may indeed make them worthy according to his grace. And in those few words we have an important reminder that it is by grace that we are made worthy, forgiven and judged.
Gracious God, your judgment is reliable and trustworthy. Not in my own strength can I make myself worthy of your kingdom but only by your grace Not in my own strength can I make myself worthy of being forgiven but only by your grace. I pray – may your grace be with me day by day. Amen.