The Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Thessalonians
1- The Lord’s second coming (2:1 – 12)
This part was published in SMOF Newsletter of Nov. 2015.
2- Believers’ position until the Lord’s coming (2:13 – 15)
People fall into two groups before Christ. The first group consists of those who were called elect believers since the beginning: “… and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” (Rev. 17:14) Also “… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, …” (Eph. 1:4), and “… elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ …” (1 Peter 1:2). The second group consists of those who rejected the Faith, and sold their souls to Satan; their fate is proclaimed in the Bible.
St. Paul thanks God for choosing the Thessalonians: “… because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, …”(2:13). Hence, that initiative was entirely God’s – it was the grace of God which sought us and searched for us; and was the driving force behind the faith in the hearts of those whom God foreknew, predestined, and called (Rom. 8:29,30). Finally, it is the grace of God which motivated acceptance of salvation and justification, believing the truth which is the word of God, and granting the soul’s deliverance to obedience; the grace of God crowns all this by glorification at the Lord’s coming. Man is only required to want and ask, then the power and grace of God follow-up by working, even in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9) Also: “… for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”(Phil. 2:13) And “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8 – 10)
Believers then have to persevere and remain faithful. Seeing believers’ faithfulness and steadfastness, God will bless their toil and struggle, and defend them unto the last breath – hence, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? [if] It is God who justifies.” (Rom. 8:33) Also, “… And if anyone sins [a sin not unto death], we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1,2) The word of God, given in the Gospel, is the means through which God calls us “… for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor.2:14) It is incumbent on the believer, who has been graced with salvation and a life of holiness, to remain unwavering and steadfast in the word of God, whether he learned it in church, or through reading the Bible.
3- Supplication (2:16 & 17)
St. Paul concludes by a prayer entreating “… our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, …” to comfort their hearts and establish them “in every good word and work.” These splendid words glorify our loving God who is our comfort and our hope, and implore Him to establish His word in our hearts, and to lead us through His grace in every good deed; they can thus appropriately conclude sermons delivered by a servant of the Gospel anytime, anywhere.
1- Final instructions (3:1 – 16)
Behold, the Gentiles’ evangelist, who brought the Gospel’s message of salvation to Europe, and through whose mouth flowed the New Testament’s scripture, asking the Thessalonian congregation to pray for him and his companions, the word’s servants, “… that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, …”, that the word of the Lord spreads everywhere through their evangelization, that it be glorified in their Church, and that the Lord intervenes with His power to save them, as they persevere in their evangelizing march, from the wicked opposition, and from evildoers who reject the Faith
+ Faith is not for everyone (3:2 – 4)
Here, St. Paul points out a fact that should be clarified and understood, “… not all have faith.” (3:2) God has made available to everyone “… the way of life and the way of death …” (Jeremiah 21:8) Naturally, while some will respond positively to this call and choose life, others will reject the Faith, willingly choose death, and persist in their slavery to Satan, yielding to a sinful life, and to freedom of the flesh. Analogously to gender grouping as male or female, humans are either believers or non-believers. That was the case since the beginning, hence: Abel and Cain, Jacob and Esau, and Christ’s disciples having included the one who betrayed him. God does not force anyone to follow Him; rather, He gave us the freedom of choice and will, as a Divine gift, thus differentiating man from the rest of God’s creation: “… He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Mat. 19:12)
In the parable of the two sons (Mat. 21:28-32), our Lord made it clear that while some simply pay lip-service to the Lord’s calling without following Him, others will follow Him, despite their initial resistance. This is accentuated further in Mat. 19:30, Mark 10:31 and Luke 13:30, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first,” as well as in Mat. 22:14, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” These passages also tell us that it is possible for sinners to repent and to beat others, who are outwardly pious, to the kingdom of heaven (Mat. 21:31). In reality, most of the scribes and Pharisees observed the law – yet they rejected Christ; on the other hand, there were many publicans and sinners among those who accepted Him.
The faithful who side with the truth win God’s support for their will, in order to remain steadfast in the direction of accepting the calling; furthermore, God will strengthen their faith through His grace and they will receive salvation.
No doubt, whoever accepts the Faith with all his free will and obedience, will hold to his life with God, regardless of challenges, loss, or suffering; all similarly-minded believers are sincere followers and will inherit eternal life. On the other hand, those who are lured by wealth or carnal inclinations to practice any religion, will stumble easily at the first obstacle, or when their initial motivating factor vanishes. Our jealous God will not accept anyone following Him resentfully; we must follow Him willingly, and those who desire life of their own free will are those who deserve life.
Even among believers, we find different levels of faith: despite their agreement on the nature of faith in the Person of Christ the Savior and His Gospel, their degrees differ. Hence, there are variations in talents, and in the types of service through which they express their faith. St. Paul, through the grace given to him, directs each believer to accept his God-given talents: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3) He shows that Church members’ talents differ “according to the grace that is given to us.” (Rom. 12:6). This is analogous to our body’s members: they are all important, they perform different functions and they complement each other within a single overall structure, hence: “But now indeed there are many members, yet one body … Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12:20,27) Our recompense on the Last Day will depend on the extent of our growth in the faith (2 Cor. 8:7, 10:15 and 2 Thess. 1:3), on our faithfulness and commitment, on our obedience to the commandments, and on our full reliance on the grace of God: “… for one star differs from another star in glory.” (1 Cor. 15:41)
Throughout their life of salvation, believers will rely on God’s grace and help until the completion of their life on earth, fulfilling their salvation in awe and trembling (Phil. 2:12). At this point, St. Paul petitions the Lord for the Thessalonian believers’ steadfastness, and for their protection against the enemy, trusting in the Lord’s faithfulness: “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” (3:3) St. Paul is also confident in the Lord’s support for them in obeying the commandments that they had received and in keeping their faithfulness all their days.
(To be contd.)
St Cyril the Great
on Fasting and the Temptation on the Mountain
In Him We Are Conquerors
Christ appeared superior to, and stronger than, every sin and worldly hindrance; and since He has conquered, He will also bestow the power to conquer upon such as are tempted for His sake. (…) The power of His acts will surely extend even unto us, since He who conquered was one of us, insomuch as He was Incarnate Man. And as we overcome sin that wholly died in Christ first, Christ, that is, being the purveyor to us of the blessing as His own kindred; so also we ought to be of good cheer, because we shall overcome the world; for Christ as Man overcame it for our sakes, being herein the Beginning and the Gate and the Way for the race of man. For we who once were fallen and vanquished have now overcome and are conquerors, through Him Who conquered as one of ourselves, and for our sakes. For if He conquered as God, then it profits us nothing; but if as Man, we are in Him conquerors.
On John 16:33; LFC 2, 476-47