May God Make You Worthy (II Thessalonians 1:11-12)
I. Give the Gift of Prayerd
Did you know there are only twenty-six shopping days until Christmas? I mention that because I wanted to share a gift idea with you this morning. Have you thought much about what you might get for your brothers and sisters in Christ this Christmas? Let me offer a suggestion: give them the gift of prayer. Not only is it free, but interestingly, it's also incredibly valuable.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Well, prayers for one another are something we can offer all year long.” And yes, that's true. But hey, it's the holiday season. It's a time when most people are thinking and talking about giving gifts. And I think it's fair to say that giving a gift is not always the image that comes to mind when we think about praying for one another. So what better time of the year to use this image and encourage you in this way.
But let me get even more specific about my gift idea: give your brothers and sisters in Jesus the gift of prayer, specifically, the prayer we find II Thessalonians 1, verses 11 and 12. Turn there if you haven't already. Let's think about what God wants to say to us this morning.
II. The Passage: "That... Jesus May Be Glorified in You" (1:11-12)d
The prayer we discover in these verses is one of many prayers that the Apostle Paul offered up on behalf of the churches scattered across the Roman Empire, churches he often helped establish. Let me first read through this amazing prayer, and then we can look for more closely at some of the pieces with which it was composed. Paul writes in verse 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,  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.
Amen? Amen! Using the immediate context, as well as some of Paul other's writings, let's think together about the different parts of this prayer.
1. “Worthy” (1:1b)
For example, notice the opening request of this prayer. Paul asks that “God may make [them] worthy of his calling”. Now, if you stop and think about it, when is the last time you prayed that prayer for someone else, or for yourself, or had someone pray that prayer for you? That's simply not a pray I've ever prayed, nor can I recall anyone ever praying it for me. But look! There it is, right there. So if this is a biblical prayer, why is it such a uncommon prayer?
I think the reason that prayer is so rare is that the language seems to 'rub' against our theology. Here's what I mean: one of the foundational ideas of the gospel itself is that you and I are NOT worthy, and we NEVER will be worthy, of God's deliverance and divine favor. Why? Well, according to Paul in Romans 3:12, because of sin, “all... have become worthless”. Only through the worthiness of Jesus, the Righteous One, can we hope to stand before God.
So if that's what Paul taught (and it is), how can he then pray for the Thessalonians, that “God may make you worthy of his calling”? Well, to understand this idea (and thus this prayer), let's investigate the context a bit. For example, look back at verse 5 of this same chapter. Having just pointed out their “steadfastness and faith” in verse 4, endurance and trust in the midst of “persecutions” and “afflictions”, Paul continues by pointing out that (v. 5)...
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered [or counted] worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering...
So there's the same idea, but this time, it's not a prayer. It's a statement of what God is already doing. But there's more. In his first letter to the disciples in Thessalonica, Paul reminded them, in 2:12, of how...
...we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
And Paul talks this way in several other letters. In Philippians 1:27 he writes about lives “worthy of the gospel of Christ”. In Colossians 1:10 he calls them to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”. And in Ephesians 4:1, we hear the same language as the prayer here in our main passage: Paul urges the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”.
So in one sense, Paul is simply praying for that which he is prescribing. Let me suggest that a prayer for God to “make you worthy of his calling” is just another way of praying for you to “walk in a manner worthy of [that] calling”. Okay. But... what exactly does it mean?
I think what would help us with this word “worthy” is to think less about behavior that is deserving and more about behavior that is fitting or befitting. Did you notice how, in all of these examples, the word “worthy” is always used in connection with some other great and glorious reality? “Worthy of...” his calling... of his kingdom... of his gospel... of the Lord Jesus... or... of God himself.
You see, this prayer is not about God making us great and glorious. This is a prayer about God working in and through us, so that our lives reflect his greatness and glory (“Father, make it clear we are living for something great and glorious.”); Paul is asking that they live in a radically distinct way, one that fits (or befits) the radical distinctiveness of Christ and his gospel.
A rough and tumble peasant may not be worthy of a position in the king's court, but by the king's gracious decree, he can be plucked from his life of poverty and violence and be placed in the king's court. Has he earned that position? No. But he can live his life in an honorable way, a way that is consistent with the honor of his position. Does that somehow make him worthy in the sense of earning or deserving his position? No. But he can become worthy in the sense of reflecting the worthiness of that position. Brothers and sisters, that is precisely what Paul is praying here, and precisely how we should pray for one another.
2. “Resolve” (1:1c)
Now with that in mind, lconsider how Paul simply expands on the initial request. For example, look again at his second request in verse 11: Paul prays for these disciples, that God “may fulfill every resolve [or, desire] for good”. What exactly does that mean? It means the worthiness for which Paul prays begins with our resolutions, our desires, our intentions, our commitments.
I've been so blessed in recent weeks to hear participants in our Tuesday Topical study talk about their resolve to pray for and share Jesus with an unbeliever in their life. I've been so blessed in recent months to talk with many who are committed to God's 'blueprint' for their lives, a 'blueprint' that does not include things like crippling addictions and destructive anger. I've been so blessed to know followers of Jesus who earnestly desired a faith-filled posture toward that frightening diagnosis or chronic condition.
How is Paul praying in light of such resolutions and desires? That God might fulfill them! That such resolutions become reality. Do you have resolutions and desires this morning? Resolutions and desires for change in your own life? For change in another's life? Resolutions and desires for what is true and good and right? For God's will, for God's best? If you do, then I want to pray for you as Paul prayed for the Thessalonians. If you do, share those with others in our church family, so that they can also pray this prayer for you.
3. “Work” (1:1c)
But notice how Paul connects that word “fulfill” to yet another request. May God “fulfill every resolve for good AND every work of faith by his power.” Whoa! Do you see how the Apostle is moving here from mere desire to actual deed? Paul mentioned in verse 3 of this chapter how the faith of his readers was “growing abundantly”. And as the prayer indicates, that faith was being manifested in actual works, not just resolutions or intentions. Speaking of works, in his previous letter, Paul wrote about their “work of faith and labor of love” (I-1:3), and in this letter, he goes on to pray (in the very next chapter) that God would “comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (II-2:17).
But again, to be clear, Paul isn't praying here that they would be doing works of faith. They already were. No. He is praying that God would fulfill those works of faith. How? “...by his power”! Isn't that incredible?! So what might it look like when God answers a prayer like that? Well, remember the examples of resolutions and desires I mentioned earlier:
This prayer is fulfilled when a desire to share Jesus is not only met with an opportunity to share Jesus, but when God, “by his power”, stirs the heart of that listener and draws them to Jesus.
This prayer is fulfilled when resolutions to abstain in light of an addiction are not only fulfilled in healthy choices, but even more so, in the progressive transformation of both the heart and mind.
This prayer if fulfilled when commitments to honor God in our suffering are not only realized in our attitudes and actions, but also become powerful in encouraging others as grace is revealed.
Brothers and sisters, what greater prayer could we pray for each other's hearts and habits than that God would “fulfill” them? That He would move our resolutions into reality, and then fill that reality with divine power, in order to accomplish his gracious purposes... for our good.
4. “Glorified” (1:12a)
But wait! There is a greater prayer we could pray. It's the very next request in Paul's prayer: may God fulfill your desires and deeds... “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”. Now look at what Paul has done. He's brought us back to this idea of reflecting worthiness, specifically the worthiness of Jesus. When God is at work in Christians, fulfilling “every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power,” it is Christ who should get the glory. Right? Christ is God's blueprint for our lives, right?
But Jesus being glorified assumes our desires and deeds are Christ-centered, right? Remember Paul's wording here: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you”. Paul is talking about others, both believer and unbelievers, giving the credit to Jesus for something they see in us. He's talking about people being in awe of (or at least, thinking highly of) Christ because of our desires and deeds.
Brother, sister, do your desires and deeds point to Jesus? Are they inspired by him? Do they conform to his example? And above all, are they focused, not on your glory... but His? There's no need to glorify yourself. As we read here, we will be glorified, but we will be glorified “in him”. That can be true in a sense right here and right now. But it will truly be true in the end, when (as verse 10 reminds us) Jesus will come “on that day to be glorified in his saints”.
5. “Grace” (1:12b)
Now look at how the last part of this prayer explains the previous point. Jesus gets all the glory because... he gives all the grace. The glory is fully God's because it is God who “fulfills”. It's all and only possible (v. 12) “according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” That deals with any misunderstandings about worthiness, doesn't it? Yes, we are saved by grace as Paul stressed in Ephesians 2:8. But we are also empowered by grace. Paul spoke about this clearly in I Corinthians 15:10...
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
III. Pray It!
So having delved into the details of this passage, why wouldn't this be a prayer that we begin to pray for one another, maybe even personalized for each individual?
God may you make [Christian, Joy, Laura, etc.] worthy of [your] calling and may you fulfill every resolve in him [in her] for good and every work of faith by [your] power,  so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in [him/her], and [he/she] in [Jesus], according to [your] grace and the [grace of the] Lord Jesus Christ.
Fellow believer, if you're interested in getting me a gift for Christmas, please put this at the top of my wish list. Will you give this gift, not just to me, but to others? Will you resolve to pray this prayer this Advent season, for all of your brothers and sisters? If you'll make that resolution, then in light of these verses, I will pray for you, that God will fulfill that resolve, and every one these prayers “by his power... so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”.
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