2:13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
3:1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
I am sure you have had fights and arguments with family or friends. Perhaps after some shouting you turned and walked away, furious at the actions of the other person. Maybe this person was your friend or a brother or sister, but now that relationship appears broken.
Anytime this happens, someone has to make the first move. One person will have to choose to swallow their pride and go to the other person in order to begin rebuilding the relationship.
The story of humanity is similar. Each of us has run away from God, rebelling against our Creator. The difference is that with your friend you both had screwed up and were guilty, but with our relationship with God, only we are guilty. The guilt is on our side: God loved us 100% and we turned away. Amazingly, even though the guilt lay with us as we ran away from God, wanting no part of God, God refused to let us go. When we wanted nothing to do with God, God did not give up on us.
That is really what Paul is saying in 2:13-14 above – God makes the first move to us. This shows that God is a God of love. God did not have to do this, but as our Creator he loves us and desires relationship with us. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, dying on the cross and rising again. Through this death and resurrection our sins are forgiven and we are healed. Further, God lives in us as the Holy Spirit, daily changing us from the inside us, making us new every day.
What do we do in response to this? Repairing a broken relationship with a friend is a first step. There are additional steps as you live in relationship with that friend. In the same way, Paul commands the Thessalonians to “stand firm” and “hold fast” (2:15). As people saved by Christ and filled with the Spirit, we must make the choice each day to be open to continued salvation and healing.
Of course, we are fickle people. We more often then not choose to run away from God (again and again!). The sad fact is, we like sin. There is a famous story of a young man named Augustine who lived about 400 years after Christ. He had a fun afternoon stealing pears from a neighbor’s tree. They were not attractive pears or tasty pears. He and his friends did not even eat them, they threw them at houses! But the appeal was that they were stealing someone else’s pears. The appeal was the sin, the fact it was bad. We all are the same way. On a daily basis we turn to lust, greed, pride and the like simply because rebelling against God still looks like fun.
We cannot overcome these things on our own. This is why Paul prays that God the Father and Jesus Christ would strengthen the Thessalonian Christians (2:16-17). They are saved, they have a job to do which they are too weak to, so Paul prays that even here God would strengthen them.
That same Augustine went on to become the pastor of a church in North Africa that was dealing with all kinds of problems. He wrote some great works, widely considered one of the best theologians since in church history. But he was not perfect: he was not always fair to his enemies, some of the things he supported appear to us abhorrent. It is easy to look at his life, or any Christian from centuries ago, and point out where they screwed up. But God used screw ups. He has to, because that’s all there is to work with! Every character in the Bible, from Abraham and his wife Sarah to Moses, David and so on were messed up! Yet God used them.
Paul knew this. This is why he asked these screwed up Christians in Thessalonica to pray for him (3:1-2). Sometimes we talk about “prayer warriors” almost acting like God is more likely to listen to the prayers of holier people. I don’t see much basis for this. God will work with whomever approaches him, however much a mess they are. There were probably smarter, more attractive people in Thessalonica than these Christians, but these were the ones in the church, they are the ones opening themselves up to Jesus Christ, so Paul asks them to pray.
After all, Paul’s confidence is not in these Christians anyway. Paul knows that somehow, the Thessalonian Christians will be strengthened by God (3:3). Because his faith is in God, the Creator and Savior, Paul has confidence (3:4): the message will get out, people will overcome sins, be freed from bondage, learn and grow. In our weakness God is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).