May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).
Have you noticed that Paul likes flowery benedictions? He does this in most of his letters; why? Simple: praise and encouragement.
In these verses, (as you can see) that theme of encouragement is especially prevalent. Think about it: in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he spent considerable time teaching about patterns of living in a pagan world (which was what Asia Minor largely was). In this second letter, Paul used his time to talk about the end of times and the persecution that would happen. Persecution was a subject his friends in Thessalonica would understand because they lived in a Roman world hostile to the nascent Christian faith. Their city was a cosmopolitan trade hub, the largest city between Rome and Byzantium and they saw first-hand the worst the Empire could offer. They were familiar with the brutality lashed out against anyone who ‘made waves.’ And they were familiar with people who had known Jesus of Nazareth personally, had seen and heard Him, in person and had followed Him and His teachings in the few short decades since He departed.
If you or I lived in first century Asia Minor, we might need some encouragement, too.
That’s why Paul moves to end his letter this way. He gives praise to God, stating the reason we should do so (“who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope”), then prays encouragement over the reader (the rest of the verse).
By the time Paul ministered to the new church in Thessalonica, that city was already almost 400 years old; today it is nearly 2400 years old and is the second largest city in Greece. His friends there understood that they would need to praise God and be encouraged in the time to come because persecution would indeed come. Within 20 years, all the apostles except one would be murdered (including Paul), and the church scattered. Those who held onto believing in this Jesus would need to focus on praising Him in adversity while being encouraged by constantly learning and re-learning the truth of His encouragement.
Two millenia later, have things really changed? Thessalonica is still a major city. Some people still follow Jesus while most of the world does not. People overseas are still dying for Christian faith and people here are blacklisted for it. And the gospel is still on the move, teaching about God’s grace and His eternal encouragement of how His eternity matters most here and in the here to come. I’d say Paul’s flowery benediction has served well.
For further reading: Philippians 4:20, John 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:1.
Lord Jesus, thank You for these words you inspired Paul to share. Let them encourage people to faith in You today.