2 Thessalonians: 1:11-12 (Works of faith)

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2 Thess 1:11-12

(2 Thess. 1:11-12 ESV)  11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,  12 so 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.

“To this end” refers back to verses 9 and 10 to Paul’s statement that the believers would marvel at Jesus’ return. That is, “to this end” means “so that you will be ready for the return of Jesus.”

“God may make you worthy of his calling” sounds like works salvation, except the person doing the work is God. Paul has the work of the Spirit in mind, and is not here wrestling with the question of synergism, that is, to what extent do we/can we participate in our salvation? In this passage, Paul is emphasizing God’s ongoing work in the saved person through the Spirit.

“Calling” usually triggers a debate over Calvinism, but Paul had never heard of John Calvin. To Paul, “calling” is an allusion to God calling Abram and Israel into covenant relationship. When Gentiles believe in Jesus, they are added to Israel and so participate in God’s call.

To be worthy of God’s call is likely a reference to —

(Gen. 18:19 ESV)  19 “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

To my way of thinking, this is one of the key passages in the Bible, as it explains God’s purposes in entering into covenant with Abraham (and his descendants, naturally born and adopted). For God to keep his end of the covenant, his people must do “righteousness and justice.”

Therefore, to be worthy of the calling is to be just and righteous — not perfectly. Abraham was far from perfect. But that must be our life’s ambition. After all, these are adjectives almost always used of God himself in the OT. To be like God is to be just and righteous. Paul’s emphasis in on God in effect doing both sides of the covenant for us. In addition to our receiving the blessings promised Abraham, God fulfills our obligations by giving us his Spirit so that we become righteous and just people.

“God may … fulfill every resolve for good.” This is not the more transparent translation. The NET Bible has —

(2 Thess. 1:11 NET) 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,

Paul deals with this question in greater detail in Rom 7. There he points out how difficult it is to obey God’s will even we want to obey. We are fallen and broken people. Paul prays that when the Thessalonians wish to obey, that God will empower them to actually do so. It’s a good prayer that we should prayer for each other.

“Work of faith” is the sort of phrase that Paul sticks in his letters just to drive theologians nuts. I mean, if you follow Calvinist or Lutheran thought, faith is the very opposite of works — and we must deny the value of works in every paragraph we write or else we’ll be accused of Pelagianism. And yet Paul sticks “work of faith” right in there where we can’t miss it.

Now, it can be argued that “work of faith” is a circumlocution for “faith.” Faith is the “work” — used ironically for something that is not work at all — so that faith replaces work in the Thessalonians’ understanding of the Torah. But when Paul gives us a parallel (X and Y), Y is usually to be interpreted in light of X. That is, in Hebrew, it’s common to say the same thing twice, from two perspectives or in two ways, that is, in parallel, and so we should not read “work of faith” as independent of “every desire for goodness.”

That is, I think quite clearly, Paul is simply referring to the works Christians are expected to perform, not to be saved, but because they are God’s people, love God, love one another, love their neighbors, and want to do good. If I desire to do good, I’ll do good — especially if God empowers me by the Spirit to do so.

It is noteworthy that in this case Paul considers such deeds as resulting from their faith, which again, as elsewhere in these two letters, refers to their continuing faithful trust in God.

Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 265.

(2 Thess. 1:12-2:1 ESV) 12 so 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.  

Why is it important that Christians do works of faith? So that the name of Jesus may be glorified! What we do as Jesus’ followers reflects on Jesus, either good or bad. Once we become Christians, we can’t change the fact that Jesus will be judged  by the world based on our behavior — like it or not, believe it to be right or not. It happens, and so Paul prays for God’s power to accomplish what we presumably want to do because of the Spirit’s indwelling.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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