C. Prayer (1:11–12)

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power 66  he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus 67  may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this letter Paul follows his thanksgiving with a prayer report. Thus what was separated by some distance in 1 Thessalonians, because of Paul’s greater concern to set forth the narrative of his and their past relationships, is brought in at what will become the more standard practice in his later letters—a prayer report immediately following the thanksgiving report. 68  The prayer itself picks up three concerns from what has just preceded: first, echoing the concern of verse 5, he prays that “God may make you worthy of your calling”; second, echoing verse 3, he prays that God by his power will bring to fulfillment their every desire for goodness and work that flows out of their faith; and third, echoing verse 10, he prays that the eschatological “glorying in [God’s] holy people” will begin to be accomplished in a mutual way in the present. With this prayer, therefore, Paul basically ties together the whole of these opening concerns.

11 Paul’s way of connecting this prayer to what has preceded is with a slightly ambiguous “unto this,” which the English translations have rendered variously as “wherefore” (KJV), “to this end” (NRSV, NASB, NAB), “in view of this” (NJB), or, as the TNIV and NJB have nicely put it, “with this in mind.” The ambiguity lies with determining the antecedent of Paul’s “this,” which may cover the whole of the preceding “thanksgiving” or, perhaps more likely, the positive conclusion expressed at the very end (v. 10). In either case, Paul echoes language used in his thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, that he (and his companions) “pray for you” and do so “constantly.” What follows spells out the basic content 69  of his prayers and their ultimate goal.

The content of Paul’s and his companions’ constant prayer on behalf of these beleaguered believers is basically threefold, although it is expressed by way of two verbs (“make you worthy” and “fulfill” [TNIV, “bring to fruition”]). The first concern, which probably functions as the “thesis sentence” for the rest, is that “our God may make you worthy 70  of his calling.” Although it is possible to read this as having to do with their final glory, the rest of the sentence makes certain that Paul is concerned with God’s doing this in and for them now. In referring to their becoming believers as a result of God’s “calling,” Paul is echoing what he had said about them in his first letter (1 Thess 2:12). Thus even in such a passing moment as this, Paul regularly puts one’s relationship with God in terms of God’s call, not of one’s believing in Christ. For Paul our believing is always understood to be in response to God’s prior calling.

The second concern is the first way he desires God to make them worthy of his calling, namely that God “bring to fruition” 71  their “every desire for goodness.” Thus the TNIV has (almost certainly correctly so) understood Paul’s ambiguous “every desire of goodness” as an objective genitive; that is, “goodness” is what drives the Thessalonians’ various desires. The alternative, a subjective genitive, would point toward every desire that “goodness” prompts in them. Although in a sense these both come out at the same place, Paul’s emphasis in prayer is most likely on God’s “fulfilling” their every desire to be and do what is good for the sake of others.

The third concern is expressed as the second way he desires God to make them worthy 72  of his calling, in this case that God “may bring to fruition … your every deed prompted by faith.” Thus the emphasis in both cases lies with what the Thessalonian believers are to do as God “fulfills” these virtues and deeds in and among them. It is difficult not to see here, and in verse 12 that follows, that Paul is anticipating the issue that he must take up once again in 3:6–13. It is noteworthy that in this case Paul considers such deeds as resulting from their faith, which again, as elsewhere in these two letters, refers to their continuing faithful trust in God.

That this is the case seems all the more likely when one comes to the final phrase in the clause, “by his power.” This unexpected moment would seem to put a special onus on the disruptive-idle, who can hardly claim “inability” as a reason for their not working with their own hands. At the same time, and probably for emphasis, 73  Paul adds that God will accomplish these things in them “with power,” 74  a phrase that is just ambiguous enough to require special attention. 75 

First, that Paul is not thinking here of “power” as a more abstract expression of one of the attributes of God 76  (that God is the all-powerful one) seems certain since he has just referred to God in this way (v. 9, “the glory of his might”); there he used the more appropriate word ischys. Second, in the thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians 1:5 (q.v.), Paul has already referred to his preaching as coming to them “with power,” which is immediately qualified as referring to the Holy Spirit. Finally, and perhaps more significantly, Paul elsewhere attributes these divinely wrought activities among God’s people to the activity of the Spirit. Indeed, both “goodness” and “faith-(fulness)” are included, together and in this order, in Galatians 5:22 as fruit of the Spirit. Thus, even though because of the context Paul expresses it only in terms of “power,” one may be reasonably sure that the Spirit’s power is in view.

Two other features of this text are worthy of further note, having to do with some basic “tensions” in Pauline theology. (a) A healthy tension between divine activity and human responsibility runs throughout Paul’s letters. Our present text indicates that the Pauline emphasis lies with God’s prior action. 77  The Thessalonians’ being made worthy of God’s call, as evidenced by their goodness and faithful work, is first of all something that God brings about in their lives, and God does so by the power of the Spirit. This does not remove the imperative in Paul—not by a long way. Elsewhere he will urge such activities on his believing communities, often without mentioning the prior activity of God.

(b) Even though one may be quite sure that lying behind the word “power” is the divine Spirit, nonetheless Paul does use the Greek word for “power” here, not pneuma (Spirit), because that is his present emphasis. He is truly grateful to God that they are patiently enduring their present persecution and suffering; but he also knows that what they need in order to continue is God’s power at work in their lives. In contrast to so much of subsequent Christianity, in which ethical life is very often taken much too lightly, Paul knows no genuine Christian life that is not also lived in such a way as to be worthy of this calling. But the church—and its individual members—are not left on their own, to their own devices as it were. Rather, God has committed himself to them to empower such a life through the indwelling Spirit.

12 Finally, verse 12 gives the reason for all of this, namely, that Christ himself will be glorified through those who walk in his ways and thus bear and share his glory. In so doing Paul once more appropriates language from the Septuagint where the divine name Yahweh has been rendered Kyrios and applies it to Christ. In this case the borrowed language echoes Isaiah 66:5, so that Paul thus concludes with an echo from the same Isaianic oracle with which he began in verse 7.

 

Paul:

so that

might be glorified

the name of our Lord Jesus

in/among you

Isa.:

so that

 

the name of the Lord

might be glorified

Although at first sight this usage may seem more tenuous as a case of genuine “intertextuality,” there are especially good reasons for viewing it as such. First, Paul’s language is that of the Septuagint Isaiah, a book with which Paul shows thoroughgoing acquaintance. Furthermore, second, Paul has just used language from this oracle earlier in verse 7. Third, Paul’s wording in this instance differs considerably from the Hebrew, since the Septuagint translator was here trying to make sense of some difficult lines in the Hebrew text. Thus original words of taunt by the postexilic “aristocratic religious” to Yahweh’s faithful ones (“Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!”) had been turned by the translator into a promise to the faithful that “the name of the Lord might be glorified” and their persecutors will thus be brought to shame.

What is significant in this case is the similarity of the Isaianic context with that of the Thessalonians. Toward the end of his “thanksgiving” Paul had set forth the demonstration of God’s justice (vv. 7–10) with echoes from this same Isaianic oracle. At the same time he also picked up language from Isaiah 2 and from the Psalter to emphasize the contrasting eschatological futures of the Thessalonian believers and their tormentors. “Indeed,” he says, God intends for Christ “to be glorified in his saints.” Now Paul prays for the fulfillment of that promise by returning to Isaiah 66—with language spoken into a context similar to theirs. And again, “the Name = YHWH” now belongs to Christ Jesus through the Septuagint’s use of the anarthrous Kyrios 78  for the divine name.

But Paul’s concern is for reciprocity of “glory”; that is, his primary prayer is for the name of the Lord to be glorified in you (believers). Although there is often an inherent ambiguity to this phrase in Greek, as to whether it means “in” or “among,” in this case that ambiguity seems to be removed by what follows immediately, where Paul prays that they in turn will be glorified in him (the Lord Jesus). And all of this is in keeping with divine grace, grace which, as in the salutation, is simultaneously that “of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This would hardly need further comment, except for the note in the TNIV: “Or [the grace of] our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Although this note renders what is a grammatical possibility, two matters stand strongly against it as a probability. First, despite how some would read this passage, as well as Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13, there is simply no incontrovertible evidence (a) that Paul ever used theos to refer to Christ—rather, it is the word he used exclusively to refer to the Father—and (b) that Paul ever used kyrios to refer to the Father, since this divine name is reserved exclusively for Christ. The definitive moment for these distinctions in Paul occurs in his next letter, in 1 Corinthians 8:6, where the theos of the Shema is applied to God the Father and the kyrios to Christ the Son. Second, this doubling of God and Christ is so thoroughgoing in these two letters that one would need especially strong evidence to think otherwise here, and such evidence is precisely what is lacking. So while my theological sensitivities would love to have it so, my exegetical sensitivities will not allow it—even as an alternative in this case.

Thus indirectly through prayer Paul concludes these opening matters to his letter by anticipating his final concerns in 3:6–15. But before that he must deal with an issue that has brought about considerable distress within the community—the timing of the day of the Lord.

As always there is much to learn from Paul’s prayer reports. Thus even though this prayer could easily be cast off from its contextual moorings and still be understandable—and useful—it is especially significant in its present context. One can thus learn a great deal about prayer for others from this example. In the midst of the Thessalonian believers’ pain and suffering, Paul’s prayer for them focuses ultimately on God and his glory. Yet God’s glory will be manifest as he fulfills in his people the desire of this prayer. And one should never lose sight of the fact that God’s glory is intimately tied to Christ’s being glorified in and among his people.

 

FOOTNOTES
 

 66 This phrase (ἐν δυνάμει) occurs at the end of this sentence; it has been brought forward in the TNIV and most other contemporary English translations (the ESV being a notable exception).

 67 Typically, a large number of MSS, some quite early, add Χριστοῦ (“Christ”) so as to fill out the Lord’s “name” (A F G P 0278 33 81 104 365 1505 1739 1881 lat sy bopt); it is missing in א B D K L Ψ 0111 6 323 630 1175 1241 2464 pm.

 68 It should perhaps be noted that this is the only feature in 2 Thessalonians that anticipates the rest of the corpus—which only adds to the difficulties for those who opt for pseudepigraphy. How could the forger know only this much about Paul from his other letters, without a hint of knowing anything else?

 69 Cf. O’Brien (Introductory Thanksgivings, 178), “ἵνα introduces the certainty, not the purpose, of Paul’s prayer.”

 70 But see Lightfoot (105), who argues that the verb means only “to account you worthy”; for advocacy of the meaning adopted by the TNIV, see Best, 268–69; cf. O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings, 179.

 71 Gk. πληρώσῃ, which often means “fulfill,” but in this case, as the TNIV and most English versions have it, means “bring to completion.”

 72 Gk. ἀξιώση, a verb that can mean either “make worthy” or “consider/deem worthy.” For later Christians this choice is full of theological pressuppositions; for Paul the options probably were not in view. His concern is that their “being worthy” is ultimately the result of divine activity.

 73 So also Rigaux, 640.

 74 Without justification F. W. Hughes (Early Christian Rhetoric and 2 Thessalonians [JSNTSS 30; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989], 55) translates this phrase by incorporating it into the preceding one, “every work of faith and power.” This seems both careless and impossible with regard to Paul’s Greek phrase.

 75 So Whiteley (indirectly), Frame, and Bruce. Many would translate it adverbially, “that he powerfully fulfill” (e.g., Lightfoot, Ellicott, Best; most recently, Wanamaker), but this seems to miss Pauline usage elsewhere as well as its emphatic position here.

 76 Cf. Hiebert, 297: “the characteristic power inherent in His nature.”

 77 In this regard one should note further how the prayer report finally ends in v. 12: “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.”

 78 That is, the way the translators kept from confusing this rendering with the more common Adonai (“Lord”) was consistently to avoid using the article “the” with κύριος = Yahweh while keeping it when ὁ κύριος = Adonai.