2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

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Daniel Wee
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2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Daniel Wee » Mon 28 May 28 2012 3:41 pm

In 2Thess, Paul was evidently writing to believers who were under persecution (2Th 1:4) and therefore suffering. In the epistle, Paul tries to help the believers make sense of their suffering and in the course of doing that, also provides us with a glimpse of how Paul viewed suffering. This came at a time (51-54 A.D.) where persecution of Christians had been increasing, leading to the eviction of Jews from Rome and later on the first great persecution under Nero.

Among the things that we note about Paul's attitude towards the Thessalonians' suffering are:-
1. he boasts of their faithfulness in their sufferings (2Th 1:4)
2. their faithfulness in suffering is evidence of their election (2Th 1:5)
3. God is going to repay their persecutors in the final reckoning (2Th 1:6,9)
4. they will receive their rest when Jesus is revealed (2Th 1:7)
5. to suffer for Christ was a kind of "worthy calling" or privilege (2Th 1:11)

Since Paul had now pointed to the "revelation of Jesus" (2Th 1:6) as the point during which their sufferings will be resolved, it is natural that the big question would be, "When is Jesus going to be revealed?". It is precisely this question that Paul now attends to in 2Th 2. In this regard, he makes some cautionary statements to prevent them from becoming discouraged, seeing as they are pinning their hope (for the end of their suffering) to the coming of Jesus:-

1. do not believe anyone who says that Christ had already come (2Th 2:2)
2. that day will come only after a great apostasy (falling away) (2Th 2:3)
3. there will be a major time of the anti-Christ preceding the second coming (2Th 2:4-10)
4. God will destroy this "lawless one" when Jesus comes
5. many will be deceived during this time of testing (2Th 2:11-12)

Paul's consolation to the Thessalonians comes in this way:-
1. you who are faithful, stay faithful and don't fall (2Th 2:15)
2. though we suffer now, we have everlasting consolation and hope by grace (2Th 2:16)
3. pray that you will be delivered (2Th 3:1-2)
4. God will guard you (2Th 3:3)
5. be patient in your suffering and waiting for Christ's return (2Th 3:5)

And some practical advice:-
1. stay away from "disorderly" people (2Th 3:6,14)
2. avoid those who seems to be asking for money or financial support (or scammers) (2Th 3:11-12)

It's worth mentioning that the word translated "disorderly" in 2Th 3:6,7 comes from the Greek work "ataktos" (ἀτάκτως) which is sometimes translated as "idle, lazy" (Louw Nida), or also as "being arbitrary in holding religious services" (BDAG).

References
http://mysite.verizon.net/rgjones3/Hist ... nindex.htm
http://www.rlhymersjr.com/Online_Sermon ... ution.html
Attachments
Toward a Theology of Suffering.pdf
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Daniel Wee
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Re: 2 Thessalonians

Post by Daniel Wee » Mon 28 May 28 2012 8:05 pm

It is interesting that in the whole address to the suffering Thessalonians, Paul did not say:-
1. God is always good and therefore your suffering needs to be rejected
2. something is wrong with your faith if you are suffering

On the contrary, Paul calls it "worthy of this calling". "Worth" here is a Greek word that means "to desire something on the basis of its evident worth or value." This means that Paul actually sees positive primary value in suffering, not just secondary value. Suffering is not just good because of what it teaches us or does for us - it has some intrinsic value and that value lies in the fact that it fulfills the will of God. Paul consistently holds this view elsewhere as well:-

1. Col 1:24 - I now rejoice in my sufferings for you ...
2. 2Cor 1:5 - For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also ...
3. 2Cor 1:7 - ... as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake in the consolation.
4. Phil 1:29 - For to you it has been granted .. not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake ...
5. Phil 3:10 - that I may know Him ... and the fellowship of His sufferings ...
6. 2Tim 1:8 - ... share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God ...
7. 2Tim 3:12 - ... all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

This sampling of verses outside of Thessalonians suggests that Paul understood human life and did not teach a kind of religious escapism.

It should also be said that these sufferings are specifically sufferings for the sake of the gospel and not sufferings in general (sickness, poverty, etc.) In at least this case, Paul's understanding was that not all suffering is bad. It's not to be pursued, of course, since Paul was no masochist, but at the same time if it cannot be avoided - it wasn't for the lack of faith or standing outside of God's will.

Rachel Lam
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Re: 2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Rachel Lam » Mon 28 May 28 2012 11:17 pm

Hi Ps Daniel,

Thanks for this biblical perspective of suffering.
I would like to ask a question based on your post, "Paul calls it "worthy of this calling". "Worth" here is a Greek word that means "to desire something on the basis of its evident worth or value." This means that Paul actually sees positive primary value in suffering."

I would like to ask, "What is the value of suffering that is inseparable for us having a desire for the primary worth of God?

Daniel Wee
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Re: 2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Daniel Wee » Mon 28 May 28 2012 11:42 pm

I think the intrinsic value of suffering for the gospel here, lies not in the actual suffering aspects. It lies in the fact that this was God's will for them.

To take an example - look at Jesus' suffering on the cross. The intrinsic value of that suffering is obvious - it was to fulfill the will of God in the redemption of mankind. In the same way, some (though not all) of our suffering can be well within God's will and if so, it will have that intrinsic value.

Does this answer your question?

Rachel Lam
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Re: 2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Rachel Lam » Mon 28 May 28 2012 11:56 pm

Hi Ps Daniel,

You answered it indirectly.
Just for me to tie your two statements together, "the intrinsic value of suffering for the gospel here, lies not in the actual suffering aspects. It lies in the fact that this was God's will for them." and "Worth" here is a Greek word that means "to desire something on the basis of its evident worth or value." This means that Paul actually sees positive primary value in suffering."

For us Christians, being "worthy of this calling" is really to desire God and his will above all else, even if his will includes great suffering and persecution, because He and His desire to bring forth His kingdom filled with people who love the truth of who He is - is worth it.

Daniel Wee
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Re: 2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Daniel Wee » Tue 29 May 29 2012 12:14 am

Ah.. I see where you're coming from. Actually the reason why I didn't think of this was because the usage of "worthy" in 2Th 1:5 and 2Th 1:11 are both of the form:-

... that God would count you worthy of ...

This isn't the usual a calling that we feel is valuable or worth-while, but in the sense of "privilege." In a sense, it doesn't matter what we think of the value of suffering but should count it a privilege that God considers us "worthy" to go through this passage and share in that suffering.

Hope this clarifies it better.

Daniel Wee
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Re: 2 Thessalonians: Paul's theology of suffering

Post by Daniel Wee » Tue 29 May 29 2012 10:29 am

BTW Rachel - here's an article that agrees with your question:-

http://believersjourney.blogspot.com/20 ... w-age.html

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