Therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5
Paul is acknowledging the suffering that the believers in Thessalonica are enduring. Paul considers their endurance to be a sign that their faith is “greatly enlarged” (v.3), and encourages them by reminding them that all their “persecutions and afflictions” are not random and in vain. Rather, they are an indication of God’s providential work in their lives. Their sufferings are meaningful because through them God is refining their soul, righteously judging any remnant of sin in order to sanctify them and make them worthy of the prize that they have already received by God’s grace through the work of Christ.
It is important to know that their suffering is not buying them grace or salvation. Their righteousness is imputed to them through the redemptive work of Christ. However, the sanctifying work of Christ is progressive and will continue until they are fully united with Him. The goal for them is to become more and more holy until they are fully conformed to the image of Christ (2 Cor.3:18, Rom.8:29).
God offers the gift of salvation to those who put their faith in Him and brings them to the household of God of which Christ is the cornerstone (Eph.2:19-20). But none of us is worthy of that gift. Instead, salvation is a gift given to us in the midst of our sinfulness and rebellion. Yet those who have truly joined the household of God have the seed of God planted inside them (1 John 3:9), those whose soul longs for holiness and greater intimacy with their Redeemer, have to die to themselves that they may experience the fullness of Life given to them through Christ.
The fire of sanctification burns and destroys the impurities of our soul. It humbles us and softens our hearts toward the ways of God. When we suffer we become more empathetic toward others who are suffering. When we fail, we become more forgiving of others who fail. When we are helpless, we are more willing to reach out a hand to those who are helpless. When we see that none of our idols can save us in the midst of our sufferings, we turn to Christ, the only true Savior. In our weakness we understand those who are weak and vulnerable. When we need mercy we become more merciful ourselves. When we experience the pain of rejection and stigma, we choose to turn aside from such ugliness. When we die to ourselves, something amazing—a new Life—sprouts up in our souls. Paul is telling us here that all these afflictions are toward one goal: that we may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God. Amen!