FAITH, LOVE, AND HOPE
In 1:3 Paul says, “We ought to thank God always concerning you, brothers, even as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all to one another is increasing.” We have emphasized the fact that the basic structure of the genuine Christian life is constituted of faith, love, and hope. Such a life does not originate from the ability of the believers’ natural being; it originates from the infusion of what God is into the believers. It is carried out by their sacrificial love toward their Lord, who loved them and gave Himself for them, and toward His members, whom He has redeemed through His death in love. This life lasts and stands unchanging by the sustaining power of the hope that looks for their beloved Lord, who promised that He would come to take them to Himself. Such a life is the content of 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
In 1:3 Paul mentions the Thessalonians’ faith and love. In the first Epistle faith and love are regarded as part of the structure of the believers’ life for the church. Here, in the second Epistle, faith and love are growing and increasing in their Christian life.
In verse 4 Paul continues, “So that we ourselves boast in you in the churches of God for your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions which you are bearing.” The endurance spoken of here issued from the hope of the Lord’s coming back and was supported by this hope. Such endurance of hope is always accompanied by faith. Hence, it says here “your endurance and faith.” Both are needed in persecutions and afflictions.
SUFFERING FOR THE KINGDOM
In verse 5 Paul goes on to say, “A plain indication of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which also you are suffering.” God’s judgment is righteous and just upon all men. It will be finalized in the future (Rom. 2:5-9; Rev. 20:11-15). How God deals in this age with different people is an indication, a token, a proof, of the future execution of His righteous judgment.
The believers have been called into the kingdom of God and glory (1 Thes. 2:12). To enter into this kingdom we need to pass through sufferings (Acts 14:22). Hence, the persecutions and afflictions are a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment that we may be accounted worthy of the kingdom.
THE GOAL OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
The kingdom is the goal of the Christian life. Today we are living in the church life with the goal that one day we shall enter into the kingdom of God. The New Testament emphasizes the cross, the church, and the kingdom. The cross produces the church, and the church ushers in the kingdom. As we are living in the church life, our goal is to enter into God’s kingdom.
This goal is neglected by many Christians. If you were to ask certain Christians what the goal of their Christian life is, they would probably say that their goal is to go to heaven. This kind of answer is very poor. The church life does not usher the believers into heaven; it ushers us into the kingdom. Actually, the church life is preliminary to the kingdom. It is a preliminary stage of the kingdom. This is the reason that, in a very real sense, the New Testament considers the church life to be the kingdom. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Because Romans 14 speaks concerning the church life, the kingdom of God in this verse signifies the church life. According to Paul’s understanding, the church life is the kingdom. Of course, the church life today is not the kingdom in full. Rather, it is the kingdom in a developmental stage, a preliminary stage. We are in this preliminary stage of the kingdom with the kingdom in full as our goal. We are proceeding from the preliminary stage to the stage of fullness. This is the correct understanding of the proper goal of the church life.
Many Christians, including us, are dull in understanding the genuine revelation of the New Testament. For this reason, though many read the Bible, they do not see anything. Their situation can be compared to that of the Israelites, who, in the words of Paul, have a veil upon them whenever they read the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14-15). Because they are veiled, they do not see anything when they read the Bible. Because many Christians are veiled, they do not understand what Paul means when he says that God has called us into His kingdom and glory. Some Christians interpret the kingdom to mean a heavenly mansion. According to their understanding, to enter into the kingdom is to go to heaven. They hold this concept of the kingdom because they are veiled. They read the Bible, but they do not see God’s revelation.
In His mercy, the Lord has removed at least a great part of the veil from our eyes. We surely have seen something of God’s revelation, and we shall not be cheated any longer. We know that to go to heaven is not our goal. There is not such a thing revealed in the Bible. God’s goal is that we live a church life that will usher us into the kingdom. This means that we should live a life in the preliminary stage of the kingdom that will lead us into the full manifestation of the kingdom.
In 1:5 Paul speaks of being “accounted worthy of the kingdom of God.” This implies that some believers may not be accounted worthy of the kingdom. In order to be accounted worthy of the kingdom, we need our faith to grow, our love to increase, and our endurance to be maintained. For the church life we need to have a life composed of the basic structure that includes a growing faith, an increasing love, and a lasting endurance. If we have such a life, we shall be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God.
In verse 5 Paul also tells the Thessalonians that they are suffering for the kingdom. This word corresponds to that in Acts 14:22, which says, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Paul admonished the saints to bear suffering because we need to suffer in order to enter into the kingdom of God.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 25, by Witness Lee)