…since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you,
2 Thessalonians 1:6
Paul’s words here are actually given in a hypothetical sense. The Greek reads, “…if so be that it is a righteous thing…” However, the words leave nothing uncertain, and there is nothing conditional in them. Rather, it is simple a tool Paul uses from time to time in order to argue a fact that will be recognized as true by his readers. Thus, the English does carry the correct sense. It is “a righteous thing with God to repay.”
If the words stopped there, one might think that every type of tribulation and suffering would be recompensed by God, but God is also at times the initiator of tribulation. He is perfectly just in His decisions, and when afflictions come from Him, they are a part of what is ordained from His eternal mind for various reasons, and to meet His ultimate end. However, there is repayment from God which Paul speaks of here which is based on the suffering of His saints. Thus he says that God will “repay with tribulation those who trouble you.”
The affliction of His redeemed people may appear to go unpunished, but it never will be. God, in due time, will repay all such things, and He will do so with tribulation which comes from Him. All of this is given as a support for the words of the previous verses. God is wholly just, and He will dispense judgment based on His perfect nature. Albert Barnes gives four logical reasons for Paul’s words here now –
1. It is inconceivable that God should threaten such punishment unless it were just.
2. People themselves believe that it is just that the wicked should be punished.
3. If it is right to punish wickedness here, it is not wrong to punish it in the future world.
4. It will be a righteous thing for God to punish the wicked in a future state, for they are not always punished here as they deserve.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that punishment of those who cause the Lord’s redeemed trouble will come, and so we know it will be as he has said. He is fully in control of all things; it would be wrong for Him to say He would do this and then not do it; and it would be wrong for Him to allow His people to suffer if their suffering wasn’t repaid on those who caused them to suffer. Therefore, because we serve the perfect, just, and righteous God, our sufferings will be repaid upon those who cause us to suffer.
Life application: The book of Romans says, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”says the Lord” (12:17-19). The Lord will, in fact, judge the evils rendered against us. Though it is difficult to not retaliate, it is for this reason that we are then admonished to tend to our enemies. Maybe we can convert them before their just punishment comes. This is what we are called to do. Lord, give us strength to so act.
Lord God, it is a tough thing for us to wait on Your righteous judgment upon those who mistreat us. But this is what Your word asks of us. Grant us the ability to feed and care for our enemies that maybe some of them might be converted. If they are, then their just punishment will have been executed at the cross and not in them. Isn’t that a better, more happy end? Help us to respond in the way which would be most pleasing to You. Amen.