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12. God’s Sovereignty, the Second Coming, and the Suffering of the Saints (2 Thessalonians 1:5-12)

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The manuscript version of this article is unavailable. This is a lightly edited transcript of Bob Deffinbaugh’s preached message (available in the related media). Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

II Thessalonians 1:5-12

Good morning. This is lesson 12 in our study. I forgot to prompt Hampton as to what I am going to do, but as soon as that thing fires up I have a couple of pictures for you that are not in your notes. [See Related Media—“Powerpoint Document” to view these pictures] We were talking about cruise ships last week and I thought you ought to know that not all cruises go as well as you might think. There is one example. Here is another one— I suspect that you would be hanging close to your seat on that. The third one is that scene that went on YouTube this week. You remember where they had the video of all the tables sliding back and forth across the room? Apparently, the cruise industry was not too excited about the video because it probably dampened some people’s enthusiasm.

To show you, in the next slide, that not all of life is a smooth cruise, I went out to the website for the Voice of the Martyrs. You will find that is just a snapshot in one screen of the kinds of things that are going on. We might call those rough seas, if you like, in terms of living the Christian life. I think we are very insulated from what is going on in other parts of the world and the degree to which other believers are suffering because of their faith in the Lord Jesus.

Jesus was always clear in His presentation of the gospel. He was always clear that following him was going to have a high price. Remember he said in Luke 9:23 if you are going to follow him, you must take up your cross daily and follow Him. Then, later in Luke 9 (remember there are these people who come and say I am going to follow you, but they all had kind of excuses) Jesus began by saying that birds have their nests and whatever. The Son of Man does not have anywhere to lay His head. If you are going to follow me, Jesus said, then it is going to be tough.

You know that many bailed out, so to speak, to use John’s analogy this morning. They bailed out before it even started. Would you look at the gospel of Mark 4 and particularly focus on that second soil. The soil that is rocky has no depth. You notice that our Lord Jesus says that those people quickly responded in a positive way to the message of the gospel until “affliction” and “persecution” came their way. Interestingly, those exact two words are used in our text (there are actually three words but...). The main two words that are found in our text are found there. It was on account of those things that those people said “this is not for me; it is not going my way.”

In John 6 in those verses, you see our Lord Jesus dealing with a group of people who want to forcibly make Him king. When he starts to speak about His suffering and death, it is a whole new picture. You remember the story with many of those who were following Him? They abandoned Jesus and never again, so far as we are told, followed Him.

That third set of verses in Luke 19 and Luke 23 is the contrast in reaction of those who are heralding Jesus at his triumphant entry (beings o excited they want to get onboard, so to speak, for the cruise). Yet, when they understand that Jesus is not there to overthrow Rome immediately and to set up an early kingdom that fit their description, then they are the ones who cry out, “forget it, crucify Him.”

In Matthew 24:9-10, when Jesus is talking about the last days, he said when the dark days come and difficulty and persecution comes your way, many will fall away from the faith because it is too much for them. So, all of that is saying to us if we are going to be serious about our walk with Jesus Christ, then we have to take suffering seriously.

It is not something where we can opt out and instead get on that wonderful cruise ship and have the prosperity gospel lived out in our lives. It is a life that is going to involve adversity and persecution— if indeed we are following our Lord Jesus.

The Thessalonian saints knew that well. They knew it well because Paul came to them battered and bruised from Philippi. They saw the marks of his faith borne on his body because of his faithfulness to the gospel. He warned the Thessalonians that if they embrace the gospel, they were embracing the suffering that came with it.

Yet they did embrace the gospel and Paul says in I Thessalonians they did, indeed, suffer for their faith and were joyful in the midst of all of that. So, they thrived in the midst of their adversity and that is described to us not only in I Thessalonians, but in those verses that lead the way for us into our text, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4. That is why I asked that those verses be read, as well, in our Scripture reading this morning.

The saints in Thessalonica were persevering in their faith and they were enduring much tribulation and adversity in their lives— but joyfully so. Paul realized that that brought with it other dangers. In Chapter 3, he says he was concerned because he could not be with them. He knew things were going in a difficult way for them and he wanted to be sure that his efforts had not been in vain. In other words, he wanted to be sure they were not bailing out of their faith. So, he sends Timothy. Timothy comes back with a glowing report and Paul says that overjoyed them to know.

When we come now to our primary text in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12. We are really looking at the issue of the sovereignty of God and how the second coming is a solace for those who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us look at His purpose for persecution and suffering in the lives of His saints.

A few observations to begin with. Three terms are used for suffering. One of those terms is very specific in terms of religious persecution, that is basically its exclusive use. The other terms are broader and they are talking about a broader range of suffering. I would say from a distance (I have not been there myself) but I would say that many people who are especially an unpopular minority might experience this. There are a number of ways in which they will face direct difficulty. They may get thrown in jail. There may be various things that happen, but it is just a general difficulty in life. For example, if you had a situation where somebody was going to burglarize your house or do you bodily harm, if you were in some countries where the police were dominated by a faith other than Christianity and you call the police. Don’t expect help. You will not get it. You are outside the system and, therefore, all of the benefits that come with being inside the cultural system are withdrawn from you and that is not just always in the form of open persecution.

Notice, too, (it may not be apparent, depending on the translation) but scholars will point out that the language that Paul uses in this text is often language that has been borrowed from the Old Testament in the Greek translation, the Septuagint. So, he will use particular words or phrases. In some instances, it looks like a quote. In other instances, it looks like a kind of strange coincidence. All I can say is this. Paul is like a sponge and when he spends time, as he obviously did, in the Old Testament scriptures, it got to the point where he just began to utilize the words that he was so familiar with that he used biblical words to describe the things that he was talking about because they were so familiar to him. All I am really saying is maybe there is a quote here or there, but lots of times Paul is just soaking (Isaiah 66, Isaiah 2, some of the Psalms). He is soaking there and it is just like he is wringing out the sponge a little bit. We should appreciate his general familiarity and love for the Old Testament.

When it speaks of righteous judgment in verse 5 “this is evidence of God’s righteous judgment.” There is a way in which we tend to read that meaning “punishment.” It may well mean that, but, actually, the sense of righteous judgment here, I think, is used in a more general way as it frequently is. The reason is, it is God’s righteous judgment that brings blessing to believers. It is God’s righteous judgment that brings eternal destruction to unbelievers. Both of those aspects are here in this text. So, what he is speaking of is God in His righteous judgment—which will appear at his second coming and will be executed in His second coming— that righteous judgment manifests itself in one way toward believers and in an other way toward unbelievers. Both of those are found in our text. So, it is the saints suffering that ends at the second coming. I want to just make sure that we are clear on that. He is saying we are not going to have this wonderful, glorious, trouble-free life the moment we trust in Jesus. He says the trials and troubles of this life will end when Jesus comes. I think, there again, we have got to get our minds wrapped around the fact that suffering is not the abnormal circumstance; it is the normal one. We have been living in an abnormal time in an abnormal world. But, trust me, you will find what normality means before long. He gives more attention to the fate of unbelievers here than he does believers. He describes the relief that will be given to believers, but at this moment in time, he is really spending more time describing what God is going to do to make things right with respect to unbelievers.

I should say this. As I read this text, it looks to me like unbelievers and persecutors are interchangeable or, to put it differently, I believe when difficult times come, and when one is living a life that is faithful to the gospel, I do not see a large group of people who are unbelievers and who are “live and let live” people. I see unbelievers as picking up those rocks. I guess I would say when you look at the cross of Jesus and you see those people who are hurling abuse at our Lord, do you not basically see everybody? I know the disciples may be standing off in a distance and they are not really into the game, but, virtually, you see everybody--the men hanging beside Jesus, the soldiers, everybody is after Jesus and, as it were, persecuting Him. I believe that is the way it will be. You will not see a large group of accepting people saying “well, that’s theirs opinion, they can have whatever belief they want.” There will not be pluralism, folks, when real persecution comes.

There are some more things which are interesting here. Just as you compare the second coming of our Lord in I Thessalonians with what we see in II Thessalonians so too there are other aspects of comparison and contrast. I Thessalonians has the trumpet call and the shout of the archangel. In II Thessalonians, you have this blazing fire. In I Thessalonians, you have our Lord Jesus coming, accompanied by his saints. In II Thessalonians, you have the Lord coming, accompanied by His fiery angels. You know, this is real clout. Then, you have in I Thessalonians the discussion about those believers—what will happen at the second coming for those who are dead in Christ— and then you have, of course, those who are the living in Christ. When you come to II Thessalonians, the focus now is on the outcome of His second coming. What happens to men as a result of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is where Paul is going as he has these verses for us.

So, let’s talk about the purposes for persecution and suffering as it relates to unbelievers. Look at the basis for their condemnation. I would call the first one unbelief. That says they do not know God. Secondly, disobedience to the gospel—unbelief and disobedience. I am just going to pause there for just a second because I am not sure in the way in which we market the gospel in a slick way, I am not so sure that we come across in ambassadorial terms. We have a message from the king to a people who need to accept or reject His rule.

I fear that in the slicking up of the gospel and making it look appealing— in fact, the misrepresentation of the gospel, where we present a God who is wringing His hands hoping for a few takers on His offer—and we sell it like soap. I do not get the feeling that we are making it clear to people. The gospel is God’s commands.

Now, I know you just cannot pound people over the head with it, but the gospel is not just an offer. It is a command. When we reject the gospel, we disobey. So, it is disobedience to the gospel and that is the way he describes it in this text.

The basis for their condemnation also involves the persecution of the saints. It is very interesting. Unbelievers are recognized and tagged on the basis of this persecution. As I said earlier, I believe that there is not going to be a neutral group of people as much as unbelievers are going to be of one mind and one heart when it comes to dealing with those who profess faith in our Lord Jesus. You can just see inklings of that, even in our day. You take the preacher down in Florida who is going to burn the Koran and whatever. Here are people shaking their heads, “yeah, that’s Christians.” We are all getting thrown in the same pot and, therefore, it is going to get, in my opinion, it is going to get hot for all of us. They manifest that by their rejection of us and that is a pretty scary thing.

Let me say this, in I Thessalonians 5, he says then they will be saying “peace and safety.” What is it that makes unbelievers feel so secure at the time when their judgment is at hand? I will make one suggestion for you. I believe that it is going to be a time of great persecution toward the church and it is going to appear that God does not do anything about it. So, think about that if you are an unbeliever. If you rejected the gospel, rejected Jesus Christ and now you are actively persecuting Christians, and nothing happens to you for doing it. You say to yourself like the Psalmist says in Psalm 37 or Psalm 73, “where is God? He is not doing anything.” II Peter 3, “Where is the promise of His coming.” Then you are not worried about anything. Everything is going the way it was. God is not doing anything about unbelief and rebellion (so it seems). That gives an added sense of confidence and belligerence that I see ballooning as the last days come upon us.

Their penalty is described as payback. It is literally that word, “to give back.” You need to understand that when God punishes the wicked, He gives them back what they have given. Now, you may react one way or the other to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but that kind of justice says the punishment is appropriate to the crime. So, our Lord gives back to men in terms of what they have given out toward Him and, in particular, toward those who are His people. It is eternal destruction away from God’s presence and from His glory. Interesting that while you have those flaming angels, the picture is not here given to us as a picture of flaming, fire and the pit. I am not denying the reality of that picture. I am saying that when you get the core of what God’s judgment looks like on the wicked, the core of that is away from God and away from His glory. Does that not perfectly fit what heaven is? Heaven is to be forever in God’s presence and participating in His glory. So you have those two sides. You are either into the glory of God and the presence of God or you are separated from it. That is the way Paul breaks it out in our text.

Now let’s talk about the second coming as it relates to believers in our Lord Jesus Christ. First of all the basis of salvation and blessing is His calling, verse 11, and their belief, verse 12. Two times in verse 12 it talks about “they believed.” Notice also in verse 10, “all who have believed” and “you did, in fact, believe our testimony.” So, it is belief in our Lord Jesus Christ. I emphasize that because this is a text that is talking about the conduct of Christians. In a context which says they will be proven worthy of the calling. Let us not be unclear about the fact that it is belief in Christ which saves not ones behavior that wins His approval.

The purpose of persecution is to prepare the saints and prove them worthy of the kingdom of God. God has a beneficial purpose in the suffering that His saints endure. Our suffering is not lost. It brings about change in the life of the believer. It brings about a deepening of faith, a deepening of trust. The example, I guess, would be Psalm 73. Here is the Psalmist who thinks he is on a cruise ship. All of a sudden, he starts looking around and he finds out other people, you know, they are on that boat. They are having a great time, but for him it is a storm. So, he says “what is the use; why do I serve God?” Then, he sees eternity and he understands that God is with him in the midst of His adversity. Not only is he with him, but he will be with him for all eternity— just as, conversely, those who are wicked will be apart from him. So now Asaph says “it is the presence of God, it is being with Him, the nearness of God, that is my good.” So, it is to prepare us. You see that, for instance, in I Peter 1. I think I will refer to that in a minute, too, and Romans 5 where it talks about tribulation works patience and so on.

The difficulties that God brings into our life are the difficulties to deepen our roots into the soil of faith so that we trust Him more and more. That is why God is allowing difficulties in our lives, as well as those unbelievers—who are actually demonstrated to be such and worthy of judgment because of their treatment of the righteous. The second coming is punishment for those who have persecuted the saints and that is very clear in our text. But, it has some very practical applications. I think the first thing I have to ask you is this. Do you feel guilty when you read a text like this and it looks like the punishment of the wicked is supposed to make you feel good? Do you find a little mental tension with that? Somehow, you know, there is a sense in which we think “well, the punishment of the wicked in hell ought to motive me to witness.” It certainly should. Is not there also a sense in which the punishment of the wicked, for those who love justice, gives you a good feeling?

I was driving down Central Expressway (it was probably in one of my old Pintos so I was not even in the competition) and here goes an old classic Lincoln Continental. Ah, it is beautiful! Then here comes this kid in a Chevy and he comes ripping onto the freeway. These guys floor it and take off. I sit back and all I can do is watch. These guys take off and all of a sudden, for whatever reason the guy in the Lincoln backs off and the guy in the Chevy goes bolting right over the top of this hill into a radar trap. Now, I have to tell you when I drove by that I felt good. Would you not?

You know, you say to yourself sometimes “where are the police when you need them?” Is there not a sense in which we are relieved that somehow something has been done? I think that there is a way in which we ought to feel good and I believe it is also the basis for us doing what Paul has already commanded. Remember in I Thessalonians 5:15 he says, “See to it that no one repays another with evil for evil but always seek that which is good.” In Romans 12, he talks a lot about not seeking revenge. How does the believer deal with that? I will tell you the answer. The reason why I do not have to have justice at my hand is because God’s justice is perfect. He knows attitude. He knows motivation. He knows all the things that go on and I trust that God is going to make things right.

Now, if you think about the holocaust, if you think about a 9-11, if you think about some of the atrocities that have gone on—if there is not some consequence beyond life, then justice has not been meted out. Hell is a moral necessity and I believe that ought to comfort the Christian to know that God is going to make things right when He returns. It will be the second coming of our Lord that gives us that rest and relief from the difficulties and adversities of life and brings us, of course, into the blessings of His kingdom.

Notice also the second coming is where God is glorified, both in His saints and by them, as I see it. So, He is glorified as He works and glorifies Himself in His church and then He is glorified as His church gives glory to Him—as you see in Revelation where the people of God are proclaiming the glory of God. That brings Him great glory.

All right, I see a little bit of a problem and I think this is probably as good a place as any to bring it up. Have you ever noticed when you come to the scriptures that there are certain texts which talk about people going to heaven or hell in terms of their works (i.e., the resurrection of Daniel 12 where there are those who do good and those you do not)? Similarly, in John 5, Jesus talks about that in terms of the works that people do. Jesus also says in Matthew 5:20, unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees, you are not going to make into the kingdom. So, there is some kind of focus on works.

In Romans 2 it talks again about those who are doing right or those who are not— in terms of whether you go to heaven or to hell. Revelation 20 and 21 again describes people in terms of their deeds. So, the question is, if salvation is by faith alone, then why is it that these texts talk about salvation in this context of doing good or not doing good? How do you deal with those?

Well, try this on for size. One— when we get to heaven there are going to be rewards. Rewards are related to works, are they not? Rewards are related to how we respond to the circumstances God brings our way. Now, we know ultimately that nothing that we do is good, that we do of ourselves. Anything good we do it as God works in us. We understand that, but there still is that element of choices that are made by believers. Godly works actually precipitate this persecution. In other words, in this text if He did not talk about the goodness that is manifested in the lives of his saints, then the persecution would not make sense. Indeed, it is the cruel treatment and persecution of good and godly people that shows these unbelievers to be worthy of God’s condemnation.

So, you see that, for instance in I Peter where Peter talks about living godly lives in a way so that when men stand before God and the judgment, God will judge them for the way they have dealt with His people and the way they have dealt unjustly with His people. I Peter 4, Peter is saying to Christians, you wonder why you are suffering? Well, you used to be like the world and you used to do all these things and now you have thrown them into a turmoil. They do not know what to do with you because you are no longer doing the bad stuff they do. That is why they persecute you. They do not like goodness. They reject it and so the good works of the believer are the instrument which causes the unbelievers to react.

I am going to come back to this in a minute, but it is the goodness of Jesus, the goodness of Jesus that terrified the men who rejected Hm. Remember when Jesus cast the demons into the swine and they plunge into the sea? What did the people say? Please leave. Can you imagine that? Please leave! Goodness is terrifying to the wicked. That is why you see the works of the godly are instrumental in provoking, as it were, the ungodly to what they do. That proves they are worthy of divine judgment.

Works are an evidence of faith. Works are an evidence of faith. They are not the basis of faith. They are the evidence of faith. John the Baptist sees all these people coming down for baptism and when he describes the Pharisees as, “oh, hold on their partner. Bring forth fruits that are worthy of repentance.” He recognized the hypocrisy of making a claim and yet not living a life that is consistent with it. So, He goes on and then describes some of the ways—you who have two outfits, then you ought to share one. If you are a soldier, you ought not to use your authority to extort money from people. So, it is expected that faith will manifest itself in a different kind of life.

Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, right? How does the author of Hebrews demonstrate the faith that is there in the believers? He does it by telling you what they did! So, he equates faith with how it worked itself out in this way for this individual. Faith manifests itself in works.

Here is my favorite part. If we have any concern at all that there is too much emphasis on works in this text, then we need to finish the chapter because look what Paul has to say in those two concluding verses, 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12. He the way, let me just go back and read verse 5 to you for a minute... “this is evidence of God’s righteous judgment to make you worthy of the kingdom of God.” Now in verse 11-12,

And in this regard we pray for you always, that our God will make you worthy of his calling and fulfill by his power your every desire for goodness and every work of faith, 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.

So, if He is talking about someone being shown worthy, the way Paul ends it is to pray that God will make us worthy. Where does he think worthiness comes from? It comes from God. That is why Paul prayed that he would demonstrate and make the saints worthy of that which he has promised for them. Paul prays that God will, with His power, enable the saints to do those things which are good, those things which they desire.

There is a little question about who desires, whether it is they or God, but if they are in sync with God, then what God desires in them and what they desire ought to be the same. He prays that God would bring to fruition what they desire. Then, he prays that God would take their faith and cause it to bring forth fruit and that all is the work of God, not the work of men. Then, notice where it goes. Where does the glory go? The glory goes to God. So that God may receive the glory as He works and has glorified Himself in the church as His church glorifies Him. Then, God receives the glory. That is where it rightly ought to be. That is the focus. This is a God-centered text, as all Bible texts are. It is a God-centered text because it is God who makes us worthy. But, He also calls us to live in a manner that is worthy of our call and it is all by God’s grace. That is the way He ends it. He says, “According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God is glorified through His grace. If there is any question about works versus faith or man’s part versus God’s part, it all falls over to God in the sense of the ultimate cause of salvation and of growth.

OK, let us talk about a few things.

Prosperity Preaching. I have never heard a prosperity preacher preach this text. If you are a prosperity preacher, you have a lot of thin texts to go on, but it will not be here. How would you possibly tell people that everything is just going to be ducky and peachy and smooth sailing through the Christian life? You will not get it from this passage. You will not get it from Paul’s life. You won’t get it from Jesus. You will not get it anywhere except from the prosperity preachers who pick and choose here and there a little text.

This is the reality, my friends. This is the reality of what being a Christian is like. Paul is trying to show that it is because God has purposed it that way. It achieves His ends. I think about the sovereignty of God and the suffering and I would say suffering is for our good and His glory. Then, I thought about it (I ran out of space on your notes). His glory is our good. Is that not right? His glory is our good. So, whatever it is that brings glory to God is what is good for us and we can bask in that. And, suffering is a part of that in our lives which brings glory to Him.

Prophecy and prayer. Is it not interesting that He knows what is going to take place? In a sense, verses 5-10 are a description of what is going to happen at the second coming. He knows that God is going to sanctify His church and glorify Himself in it, but then in verses 11 and 12, He turns around and prays for the things which He has already said are going to happen.

A lot of people would say “why waste your breath? God already knows. God has already purposed. Prophecy and the awareness of what God is set to do and will, undoubtedly and invariably, do without any difference between His plan and the outworking, is set in stone.” Yet, that becomes the basis for our prayers.

Now, the classic illustration in the Old Testament would be Daniel 9. Here is Daniel reading Jeremiah’s prophecy and he understands that the 70 years is going to be the time of the captivity. Daniel knows what the future holds. That prompts him to pray that God will do exactly that. Anybody who says God does not answer my prayers, maybe they should start praying for that which He has assured them is going to happen, rather than what they would like to happen. That is exactly what Paul is doing here and it is what we should be doing.

Payday someday - heaven or hell. When you shake the gospel down to the bare essentials of it, does this not kind of spell it out? One has a choice to make and it is either a choice of obeying God—obeying the gospel and believing in His provision of salvation in Jesus— or rejecting it. Those are the two choices. The two alternatives then are either being forever apart from His glory or forever basking in His glory.

I was thinking about this maybe put in a different way. This text says, “The suffering of the righteous is going to end up for the benefit of the righteous and it is going to end up for the condemnation of the wicked.” So I thought to myself, “where is that best personified?” In Jesus, in Jesus. He lived righteously, and people had a choice to make when He proclaimed that He was the way that God had provided for man’s salvation. They had to make a choice about whether they would accept God’s goodness in Jesus or whether they would reject it.

So, when you look at what God condemns men for, basically, He condemns them on the same principle and that is, “what have you done with My perfect Son?” Not “what have you done with imperfect Christians now.” Rather with My perfect Son who made a perfect sacrifice. You either accept the gift of His sacrifice and the atonement He has made or you reject it. You reject His goodness. That becomes the basis on which your eternal future is determined. Heaven or hell--those are the two choices.

Well, I already said this before. Hell is a moral necessity. Some people just do not like to talk about hell, but there are too many things that have gone unpunished in this life. A just God will always bring about that which is appropriate to the responses and the actions of men.

So, back to the cruise ship and the battleship. I thought of a few more analogies. This is thanks to Scotty who did not email me this week, so I had to do it on my own man. Alright, here are some things to just think about. Self-indulgence or personal sacrifice? Generally speaking, when you go on the cruise, folks, you know, it is the self-indulgence mode. People do not gain, on the average, seven pounds in a week because they have been sacrificing. Yeah, I know there is the workout place, folks. I saw the workout place. I walked right by it on the way to the cafeteria. Self-indulgence or personal sacrifice? A battleship calls for sacrifice. A cruise ship facilitates self-indulgence. I will tell you. I have been there, I am happy I did, but I am just telling you that is the way it is.

Mission. Is the mission to serve or be served? Well, I think we know when we go on a cruise ship it is to be served. They are standing there waiting for you in order to do everything for you. In a battleship you have a place to fulfill. You have something that you were to do. You were serving there. If you do not think that is true, just look at the living accommodations. Folks, when you find your bunk in the battleship, it is not going to be what you found on the top deck of the cruise ship. It will not be all nicely bedded out. There will not be mints on your pillows and all that stuff. So, anyway, to serve or be served?

The price we are willing to pay. Well, we are willing to pay a certain price to indulge ourselves, but we are not looking for self sacrifice in the process. That is why those little pictures I put up on the screen— you are not even willing to pay that price. Not a rough ride out there in the seas. Forget it!

The captain. I got to thinking about this. The captain. On the Love Boat, folks, for example...I never watched that, but I mean I saw it come and go...on the Love Boat, the captain is like the chief entertainment. He is the social director. That is the job that John Maurer always wanted. Where is John? [laughter] I am pulling his leg. I know. I know. Anyway, you know, he is the social director. He is there. He is always around schmoozing at various tables and whatever, he is there to make your life just really warm and fuzzy. Do not plan on that on a battleship, folks. Therefore, there are clear lines of authority. They are not there on a cruise ship. Yeah, I know the captain is supposed to be in charge, but, I mean, everybody is there taking care of you, making sure everything is going groovy for you. But, when you get on a battleship, you have a mission to fulfill. You have a task and you have a clear chain of authority as to what is going on. That is the way it is in the gospel, I believe.

By the way, our relationship to others onboard the ship. I have not seen...I have seen one cruise...but I have not heard of great lasting bonds of relationship from cruise ships. Now, I am sure that they have been made. You know our next door neighbor served in World War II in some of the bloodiest, most dangerous battles that ever existed. Every year of his life that he was physically able to do it, he met with the guys from his particular group that he had fought with all those battles. There are bonds that are developed in the midst of war that I do not think are possible in any other context. There is a tightness. That is why when you go to boot camp, it seems to me, and, again, I have not been there. (I really felt bad about that once— because I really did not try not to. Then, I went to visit my roommate from college, who was there on the base, and I saw those guys out in the desert in a 6x6 picking up tumbleweed in the desert. I decided maybe it was not such a terrible thing that I missed that after all). But, when you go to boot camp, as some of my relatives have, you are going to learn to develop a bond of brotherhood, of teamwork where you are in it full tilt with your brother in war.

The second point here in this analogy with relationships is that you understand authority and you do not ask why. You do what you are told. You follow your orders and you have this bond that is together. I think that is the way that it needs to be in the church. No wonder Paul says that they are to recognize their leaders. They are to exercise a certain leadership, and they are to receive one another with a kiss of love. Because there ought to be that kind of camaraderie in the church because we are in a war. We are in a war and we should be, if we are not, we should be feel the heat from the unbelieving world for believing in Jesus Christ. That is why we need to be together.

So, this is not a cruise ship, folks. It is a battleship. I pray that as we continue in our course, as it were, through Thessalonians, we will come to see that. It may be that you are onboard the cruise ship still. I would simply say to you, if you have never trusted in Jesus, it is far better to be on the battleship than the cruise ship. In the end, God is going to reward those who are faithful to Him. God is using the difficulties we face now to deepen the roots of our faith. He is also using the persecution that we endure to prove men worthy of His judgment— in the sense of eternal condemnation, should it be the case for them.

Let us pray. Father, we thank You for Your word. Thank you for the way in which we can see— as others have seen, who describe it in the scriptures for us— that Your sovereignty is a great solace for those in suffering. We think of Job who never really understood how or why. Yet he came to understand that the God that he serves is sovereign. He is worthy to be worshipped no matter what the outward circumstances. Give us that kind of faith and love and obedience. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Related Topics: Character of God, Eschatology (Things to Come), Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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