Mar 10

Session 2 Recap: Carson, “Living in a Difficult Time” – 2 Thessalonians 1

2012 | by Tom Brainerd | Category: Clarus 12

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Tom Brainerd, Senior Pastor at Trinity Reformed Church in Edgewood, NM. Tom is a member of the Albuquerque Chapter of The Gospel Coalition. This post is a summary of D.A. Carson’s message from Friday night, March 9, “Living in a Difficult Time” from 2 Thessalonians 1.


For the last 2-3 decades modern philosophers and preachers have developed ‘Defeater Beliefs;’ if these things are true, then other beliefs cannot be true. One of the common Defeaters in the west is that there cannot possibly be ‘one true religion,’ an inoculation against Christianity and Christ’s exclusivity. Once a question like “What about the good Hindus?” comes out, the discussion is over and they don’t have to listen anymore. Christianity is generally outside of the ‘implausibility structure’ of the current array of Defeater Beliefs, making it the religion of cranks and the naïve.

Of course, ours is not the first generation to face Defeaters. Indeed, the first century church was in much the same position. Carson indicates that it used to be in campus ministry the atheists were at least clear that the god they did not believe in was the ‘Christian God.’ It is no longer so clear. As we moan about the decline of Christendom, think about the pluralism faced by the Apostles. The New Testament authors are unflinching. The problem is the alienation of fallen man from the God Who Is There. Period. Man needs to be freed from Original Sin. Period. The eschatological vision of the wedding feast of the Lamb and the lake of fire will come to fruition. Period.

In the midst of this are the Thessalonians, under pressure within a culture that hates their Christ and from their immaturity as believers. Paul talks about their perseverance (vv. 3-4), though indirectly. Instead, of the Pauline ‘triad’ of faith, hope and love, he give thanks for faith that grows exceedingly and love that abounds toward each other, both in the teeth of opposition; from these he knows that they do, indeed, persevere. They are a community of faith standing against a world that does not believe and, ‘because you love each other more in hope and faith, THEREFORE we boast in you.’

Applied to our own circumstances…the essence of Christianity lies not in building, budget or size, or offerings…but in the multiplication of faith, hope, and love. We have churches that are doctrinally robust, but don’t love each other, that don’t really trust God, but trust in arguments and propositions. Living out truth, not merely holding it out, yields faith and love. Knowledge can puff us up and inoculate us against trust and confidence in God.

From that trust and confidence proceeds love among believers…and that infers perseverance. When Paul boasts about their virtues, he is boasting about the power of the Gospel and the Christ-like-ness it is bringing about in their lives. ‘Look at your faith…look at your love.’ All this is evidence.

All this…suffering and endurance testify that God’s judgment about these things is right. These things…that you will be at the wedding feast of the Lamb, and that those who persecute will be repaid by the Lord, everlasting destruction from His presence. Opposition was theirs…they were found worthy to suffer for the kingdom of God…along with Peter and the rest of the Apostles, who rejoiced that they had been found worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5). Perhaps they remembered what Jesus had told them, that if they suffered for His sake they would be blessed.

Imagine what the church in North America would be like if every time we were picked on for Christ’s sake we said “It’s wonderful to bear reproach for Christ’s sake,” instead of saying “This whole culture is going to Hell.” The Thessalonians, and the Apostles, are Christians who are rejoicing that they are suffering for Christ’s sake. And now we have evidence of God’s right judgment in the suffering of Christians in China and Iran. The truth prevails and there will be opposition. And they are being told that they are counted worthy of the kingdom of God.

When will this happen? When will they enter their rest? In that eschatological day when Jesus is revealed. They look to their certain hope. When we use the word “hope” in English, there is an inherent element of doubt. Christian hope knows no doubt. The certainness of Christian hope is the promises of God. That is the hope that faith and love are built upon, certainness of blessing…and cursing. Justice will be done, a hated thought in a world that loves pluralism.

In that end, the caricatures will fall away. Heaven will be a place of blessed and productive work, with Lord and Lamb at the center. Hell will be a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a place, markedly, of no repentance. Sin will be its own penalty.

When Christ returns, He will come glory in His people and they will marvel at Him. He does not us to marvel at Him…we need to marvel at Him. The sign of our redemption is that the one we hated, the one whose enemy we were, became the one we love, and that we marvel at.

And what does Paul end praying for? That our God might make us worthy of His calling, that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us. For us, in our prayer lives and our church lives, how often do we offer prayers like that? Yet at the center of the Apostollic prayer is this…sanctification. To live a life worthy of being a Christian, that by His power every desire for goodness and every deed might be prompted by faith, in love, founded on hope.

It is a prayer that embraces absolutely everything.