I have been reading through the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians in my devotions recently, and what rich books these are! A few interesting themes have stood out to me as I’ve been studying them, and God has been encouraging my heart with these truths as I seek a balance in my life between working and trusting in God, between acting and waiting on God. How can we know whether what we're working for or pursuing in prayer is truly God’s will and whether our desires are His desires for us?
In the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians, there is a close connection between our work and God’s work. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Paul expresses his thankfulness to God for the believers’ work of faith, labor of love, and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then in chapter 2 verse 13, he thanks God for their acceptance of the Word of God, which is at work in them.
In 3:8, he talks about the believers “standing fast,” and in verses 12-13 He asks God to make them increase and abound, and to establish their hearts in blamelessness and holiness. To establish something can mean either to make it firm and stable or to show the proof or genuineness of it, to confirm or verify it. While the believers are actively standing fast and working out their faith, God is the one making them firm, confirming the genuineness of their faith, and causing them to grow in holiness.
God’s work in us involves moving our hearts towards that which He desires for us and confirming the desires that He gives to us. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3 we again see Paul giving thanks to God for the growing faith and love of these believers and their steadfastness. And then a few verses later he prays that God might fulfill their every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, for His glory and through His grace (1:11-12). As God does His work in our hearts, He gives us desires that align with His will for us, and then he gives us the grace to work towards those things and fulfills those desires. When Paul commands the believers in Philippi to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, he reminds them that the only reason they can do so is because God is the One at work in them to give them both the desire and the ability to do His will (Phil. 2:12-13).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Paul thanks God for His sanctifying work in the believers by His Spirit and then goes on to admonish them to stand firm and be obedient to what they were taught. He later encourages them that God is the one who will comfort their hearts and establish them in every good work and word, because of His love and through His grace.
In both 2 Thessalonians 1:12 and 2:14, we see that the purpose of both God’s work and our work is that God might be glorified in us and that we might obtain the glory of God. We can compare this to passages like Rom. 8:29, which tells us that God’s ultimate purpose for us is to be conformed to the image of His Son; or 2 Cor. 3:18, which shows us God’s work of transforming us from glory to glory by His Spirit; or Eph. 1:6, 12, and 14, where we see that God’s primary purpose for our salvation is the praise of His glory.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 we again see the interconnectedness of God’s work and our work as His children. Paul encourages the believers that “God is faithful” and “will strengthen and guard [them] from the evil one,” and he prays that God will direct their hearts to His love and the endurance of Christ. Right in the middle of these verses, he says that he is confident in them, that they are doing what he commanded them to do. We can be obedient and confident as we seek to do God’s will, because God is faithful and will direct our hearts towards His purposes for us and strengthen us with His grace to accomplish those purposes!
I'm reminded of Psalm 90:16-17, where again we see God's work and our work side by side. Here Moses prays that God's work would be made evident to His servants and that they might see His glory, and then ends with asking God to show His beauty in us and establish the work of our hands.
We can be encouraged in our daily lives with the knowledge that our efforts are not in vain as we let God direct us, because He is the one Who establishes and confirms our work and causes it to be fruitful for His glory! It is His grace that enables us to do what pleases Him and accomplishes His will in and through us.
“Therefore my dear brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Cor. 15:58