Christians love to sing of the worthiness of our Lord Jesus Christ. The hymn Thou Art Worthy is a good example of a praise song. However, we never sing of, and rarely even think about, our own worthiness. And in one sense this is fitting, if we are speaking of being worthy to spend eternity with God due to our works.
Yet there is a sense in which it would be proper to sing of our worthiness or lack thereof, because this too is a biblical theme. The Scriptures speak of the fact that we can be worthy of the kingdom of God.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians concerns God’s justice in light of the persecution of Christians. The believers at Thessalonica were suffering under persecution. Paul used this letter to urge them to continue to maintain their Christian testimony in spite of the persecution. He reminded them that when the Lord returns He will reward believers who endure, and He will take vengeance on the unbelievers who persecuted them.
There is a potentially confusing reference in the prologue to Second Thessalonians. Paul wrote:
We ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.
—2 Thess 1:4-5, italics added
Paul is writing to and exhorting believers (“your faith,” v 4; see also v 10), yet he indicates that they might not be counted worthy of the kingdom. In order to be counted worthy, they would need to endure persecution. How can this be if the only condition of entering the kingdom is faith in Christ?
Entering Requires Faith Alone
Second Thessalonians 1:5 speaks of being counted worthy of the kingdom. Whatever that means, it certainly is not talking about being counted worthy of entering the kingdom; the only condition of that is belief in Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47).
Only believers can endure persecution for their faith in Christ. Since an unbeliever doesn’t yet believe in Christ, he can’t possibly endure persecution for faith in Christ until he becomes a believer. This is not to say that unbelievers have never been persecuted for their identification with Christ. Rather, it is to say that the persecution they endured was not specifically related to faith in Christ in the biblical sense.
Ruling Requires Enduring in the Faith
The Lord Jesus and His apostles all spoke of the fact that there will be eternal rewards for believers who endure persecution for Christ’s sake:
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you…for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven…”
“If children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together with Him.”
“But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.”
—1 Pet 4:13
“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”
—2 Tim 2:12
Ruling with Christ in His kingdom will be a tremendous privilege. It will be something every believer will want to participate in. However, many will not be found worthy of that honor. Only those believers who endure persecution and continue to confess their faith in Christ will be permitted to rule with Him.
The same basic idea is found in discipleship teaching elsewhere. The Lord said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). The believer who turns back and ceases to walk as an open disciple of Christ is not fit to rule with Christ in His kingdom.
Similarly, when Paul was charging the new believers at the end of his first missionary journey, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith,” he said, “We [i.e., disciples of Christ] must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). If a Christian remains an open disciple of Christ, he will be required to endure many tribulations.
Believers can escape persecution by being silent about their faith (John 12:42‑43; 19:38‑42). Paul is warning his new charges not to do that, lest they miss out on joy now and ruling with Christ forever. As Dr. John Hart put it so well at our recent conference on faith, “You can be a secret Christian, but you can never be a victorious secret Christian.”
Jesus clearly modeled this very principle in His own life. He willingly accepted suffering before glory (cf. Matt 16:21‑27; Heb 12:2). In order to share His glory in the life to come, we must share His sufferings in this life.
How Do We Suffer for the Kingdom?
If you’re like me, your first inclination is to think you rarely ever suffer for the kingdom. No one is throwing us in jail and beating us for our faith. Compared to the apostles and the early Christians, or people in other countries around the world today, we may feel we don’t suffer at all. Yet that isn’t true if we are spiritually minded believers.
Have you ever received odd looks from people when you tell them that you are a born- again Christian? Maybe you’ve even received verbal jabs like, “Not another holy roller,” or, “Oh, you’re a Jesus freak, huh?” You may shrug off the looks or the remarks, but they do indeed hurt and they are persecution.
Recently after I had prayed before a meal, an unbelieving friend joked that when they are with me they have to endure my praying before every meal. Everyone laughed and I felt the sting of a slight rebuke.
When you share your faith surely you aren’t always met with smiles and thanks. Some people are offended if you simply offer them a tract. No matter how sensitive you are, some people will take offense and some will be happy to let you have it with both barrels.
Believer, Will You Be Counted Worthy of the Kingdom?
So, the question is will you be counted worthy of the kingdom? You will if you hold fast your confession of faith in the midst of persecution.
Y2K looms large on the horizon. But while that day will certainly be important (if the Rapture doesn’t occur first), the day when we stand before the Lord Jesus and hear His evaluation of our Christian lives will make that day seem relatively insignificant. Will we hear His “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17), or instead, “You wicked servant” (Luke 19:22)? Remember we can only hear His “Well done” if we remain an open disciple of Christ and endure persecution without shrinking back. Hang in there. He’s coming soon.