Two words sum up the Christian life -- Grace and Glory; and both are associated with the two Comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace particularly with the first Coming, and Glory especially with the second. This twofold aspect of Christianity comes before us in the prayer of the Apostle which we now have to consider.
1. THE REASON OF THE PRAYER.
This thought is brought before us very clearly in the Revised Version: "To which end we also pray." In the Authorised Version it is: "Wherefore also we pray." Following the original, the R.V. refers definitely to what has preceded. The whole context is a reason for the prayer which now follows.
The Triumphant Future is part of the reason of his prayer. "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believe in that day." The Apostle looks forward to "the crowning day" that is coming, and bases upon this glorious hope the prayer that follows.
The Testing Present is another part of the reason for this prayer. The Church of Thessalonica was suffering persecutions and afflictions, and was passing through the fire of testing (vers.4-7); and it was this fact -- their then-existing severe experiences -- that prompted the Apostle to pray for them, as well as to express the hope concerning their deliverance from the furnace of affliction.
Thus present and future are blended in his thought, and form the ground or reason of his intercession.
2. THE NATURE OF THE PRAYER.
Two elements sum up this beautiful prayer.
He asks for the Divine Approval on their life: "That God may count you worthy of your calling." God's "calling" is His summons into His kingdom. The kingdom may be regarded both as present and future. In the Gospels it would seem as though the "calling" were limited to His invitation or appeal, while in the Epistles it appears to include the believer's response to the call. For this reason it is sometimes spoken of as God's "calling," and at others, as in this case, as "your calling." The thought of a Divine calling responded to by the believer is prominent in the teaching of St. Paul, and should be carefully studied. Even in these Epistles to the Thessalonians, the idea is frequently found (1 Thess. ii.12, iv.7, v.24; 2 Thess. ii.14).
"Count you worthy" is a notable phrase repeated from verse 5: "Counted worthy of the kingdom of God." Seven times this verb is used by St. Paul. As we ponder it we catch something of the wondrous glory of our life as contemplated by the King of Kings. Surely, it may be said, the believer can never be "worthy"; and this is true if he is considered in himself. But just as it is with justification, which means "accounted just," so with sanctification -- by the unspeakable grace of God we are actually "counted worthy." Hooker's well-known words about justification may be quoted in this connection as illustrating the thought of worthiness in sanctification. "God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for His worthiness Who is believed." So we may say, God doth count the believing man worthy, yet not for any personal worthiness, but for the worthiness which is wrought by grace. We must, however, not fail to notice that the believer is responsible for his use of grace, and that the very thought of God counting us worthy has included in it the thought of scrutiny with a view to decision.
He seeks the Divine Blessing on their life: "And fulfil every desire of goodness and every work of faith with power." This, which is the rendering of the R.V., seems, on the whole, the more intelligible and appropriate. It means, "all that goodness can desire, and all that faith can effect." It blends together the two ideas of aspiration and activity -- the aspiration of goodness and the activity of trust -- and it prays that God would fulfil with power, or powerfully, every aspiration that comes from goodness, and every activity that springs from faith. Just as in the familiar words of the Collect for Easter Day, God first puts into "our minds good desires," and then by His "continual help" we are enabled to "bring the same to good effect." By "His holy inspiration we think those things that are good, and by His merciful guiding we perform the same."
3. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE PRAYER.
Notice the twofold consequence here stated.
He expects that God will be glorified in us. Glory in the New Testament, and, indeed, in the whole Bible, is the outshining of splendour, and the Apostle seeks in answer to prayer that Christ may reveal in our lives the glory of His grace. This includes both our present and future lives. Christ is to be manifested by and glorified in us here, and He will be manifested by and glorified in us hereafter (ver.10). What an unspeakable privilege and what a profound responsibility lie in this simple fact that Christ is to shine forth from our lives, and that men around us are to see something of Christ as they associate with us. One of the most beautiful testimonies ever given to a Christian was that of a poor dying outcast girl to a lady who had befriended her: "I have not found it hard to think about God since I knew you."
He also expects that we shall be glorified in Christ. This is, in a way, more wonderful still. There is to be a reciprocal glory; and, actually, marvellous though it seems, we are to have our share of glory in Christ. This, again, has its application to the present, as well as to the future, for every life that is loyal to Christ is glorified in union and communion with Him. And in the great future it will be seen and known on every hand who have been faithful to their Lord and Master. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as stars in the kingdom of their Father."
4. THE GUARANTEE OF THE PRAYER.
The Apostle scarcely ever prayed without reminding himself and his readers of the secret whereby prayer is answered. Accordingly he closes this prayer with a reminder that the guarantee of its fulfilment is the grace of God -- "According to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
God is the Source of all grace. How lovingly the Apostle speaks of "our God" and "our Lord Jesus" in this verse! Elsewhere in his Epistles we also find this appropriating phrase, "Our God" (1 Thess. ii.2, iii.9; 1 Cor. vi.11). As in the still more personal phrase, "My God," which we find about seven times in his writings, St. Paul expresses his consciousness of personal possession and the blessed reality of fellowship with God. "This God is our God," as the Psalmist says.
Christ is the Channel of grace. The Lord Jesus Christ being associated with God in this connection is a reminder that it is "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" as much as the grace of our God. He mediates grace to us, and through faith in Christ we are linked to God as the "God of all grace."
What a cheer and inspiration it is to have the assurance and guarantee that even a prayer like this, with its high standard and far-reaching possibilities, can and will be answered. Christianity provides not only an appeal, but a dynamic. He Who bids, enables; He Who calls, provides. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is at once a precept, a promise, a provision, and a power. The religions of the world often tell us to "Be good," but it is left for Christianity to proclaim that "He died to make us good." As a result, the Christian can say with Augustine: "Give what Thou commandest and then command what Thou wilt." That is: "Only give me the spiritual power, and then I can do anything that Thou requirest of me." As the Psalmist cried: "I will run in the path of Thy commandments, when Thou hast set my heart at liberty."
Thus the Christian life is at once a life of Grace and a life of Glory. "First Grace, then Glory." "No Grace, no Glory." "More Grace, more Glory." "If Grace, then Glory."
"Grace, 'tis a charming sound,