Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Text: But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Think for a moment back to the playground days as teams were being chosen. The two team captains would go back and forth, choosing players for their team. If you were the captain, on what basis would you choose your team? Usually, you would choose the children that were the better players. They had the skills that you thought were necessary to win the game. Our text takes us to a time that we were chosen, or called, by God. GOD CALLED YOU. 1. How Did He Call You? 2. What Has He Called You To Do?
Paul begins this section with a prayer for the Thessalonians, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (Verse 13) Paul thanked God for the fact that God had chosen the Thessalonians to be saved. This is an important point for us to consider. God must choose us to be saved. We cannot, on our own, choose to be saved. This is shown to us in verses such as Ephesians 2:1. In speaking of our state before we were saved, Paul wrote, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” By nature, we are spiritually dead. We could no more make a move toward God or receive his gift than a dead body lying in a casket. We were spiritually dead. We could not save ourselves, nor did we even want to be saved. We would have been lost forever.
However, God called us. He chose us to be saved. Paul notes the instruments through which we were saved: “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (Verse 13) It was through sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The word “sanctify” means to “make holy” or to be set aside for God’s purposes.” The Holy Spirit sanctified us the day that we were brought to faith. On that day, because faith was created in our hearts, we were able to accept the gift of salvation that Jesus won for us. This salvation comes from Jesus, because he earned it for us. He lived a life that was perfectly in line with his Father’s will. The freedom from our sins was accomplished on the day that Jesus gave up his life on the cross. This salvation was announced to the world in unmistakable tones on the day that Jesus rose from the dead. Yet, this salvation would have been of no value to us, if it were not for the fact that the Holy Spirit created the faith in our hearts that makes this salvation our own. God choose you to be saved. You are saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul reminds us that the Holy Spirit doesn’t work in a vacuum. He doesn’t interact with us out of the blue. Rather, “He called you to this through our gospel.” (Verse 14) The Holy Spirit works through, what is often referred to as “The Means of Grace.” These are the means or instruments through which God conveys his undeserved love to us. The gospel, which is the message of our salvation, comes to us through God’s Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By means of these instruments, faith is either created in our hearts, or that faith is strengthened. Through the hearing of the gospel message or through the use of the sacraments, the Holy Spirit sanctifies us.
What is the ultimate goal of this sanctification through the gospel? “He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Verse 14) We receive the goal of Jesus’ work, when we are brought to faith. He tells us of his mission in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus came to give you a full life. It is a life that is free from the accusations of sin, because Jesus paid for those sins. It is a life that can be free from worry because Jesus has promised that he will provide all that you need. It is a life that we will enjoy, when we will stand before our Lord in the glories of heaven. Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil become ours when we are brought to faith. Because of this, we share in the glory that is his.
This calling, this choosing has already happened. As a matter of fact, you were chosen by God before the creation of the world to be his. During your lifetime, God showed that he had chosen you by making you his own through the working of the Holy Spirit. You have been chosen. Now, what? Where do we go from here?
Paul writes in verse 15, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Just prior to our text, Paul had written to warn the Thessalonians about the son of lawlessness and false teaching that would appear. What was the way that they could combat this impending threat? “Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you.” We need this imperative, as well. Our Christian faith is constantly under attack. There are many false teachings that have arisen in the world. It would be so easy for us to start to listen them; especially if they excuse something that I have been doing that was wrong. We exchange the harder teachings to understand for explanations that make sense to our human reason.
However, look what’s at stake if we let loose on one teaching of the Scriptures. For example, there is the teaching that the world was created in six twenty-four hour days. You might wonder if it’s really all that important to hold to this, especially when there are so many scientists who would disagree. The answer is an absolute “Yes, it makes all the difference.” If the world were created in millions of years rather than six days, it would mean the Bible is wrong there. If it’s wrong there, what else is wrong? Can you trust any of it? Maybe, the story of salvation is wrong, too. Or, if God wasn’t able to create everything simply by the word of his mouth, then God isn’t all-powerful. That would lead us to wonder if God was really able to help us in all of our needs.
You see that it is absolutely vital that we hold fast to the teachings that we learned. We have to know what God says, so that we can recognize false teaching when we hear it. Of course, the only way that we can do that is to be in his Word. Look for the opportunities that God places in front of you. Take a few minutes every day to read his Word or a devotion. We look forward to the times that we can get together with our brothers and sisters in the faith to hear and study God’s Word together, whether in our worship services or Bible classes. “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Paul does not only urge the Thessalonians and us to stand firm in the faith. He also prays that their faith and our faith may be put in action as he speaks about “every good deed and word.” (Verse 17) Standing firm in the faith includes more than clinging to God’s pure word taught in the Bible. It means living that faith. We want our lives to be filled with words and actions that are pleasing to God. We want to live for him. We want to share the good news of salvation with others. We speak words that are helpful to those around us. We do deeds of kindness to those in need, so that they can see Christ in all that we do.
The encouragement to live this way comes from God himself. We read in verses 16&17, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (Verse 16) The first phrase that encourages us in our life of faith toward God is “who loved us and by his grace.” There is the ultimate motivation for living for God. God loved us. God loved us, who are, by nature, unlovable. God loved us so much that he sent his Son to be our Savior. God loved us so much that he created faith in our hearts to make us his own. As we are reminded of God’s amazing love for us, it is only natural that we want to thank him, and we do so with our words and actions.
Paul also speaks about “eternal encouragement and good hope.” (Verse 16) First of all, there is the good hope that comes from God. It is his assurance that he will be with us every step of our life. He promises to be with us both in good days and in bad days. He promises that he will make everything that occurs in our lives work out for our benefit. This good hope is linked to eternal encouragement. God bids us lift our eyes heavenward and see all that is waiting for us. This is such a wonderful encouragement, especially when we are going through those difficult times. God encourages us by saying, “Just keep going. What you are going through now is such a small thing compared with what’s waiting for you. There’s peace and joy. There is your room in my heavenly mansion.” When we are reminded of these things, we cannot help but want to give our lives over to every good deed and word. God has given us the motivation and the encouragement to do so.
Going back to the playground, do you remember, hoping against all hope, that, as the teams were being chosen, you weren’t the last one chosen? It was embarrassing. It meant that the two captains valued the contributions of everyone else above yours. How thankful we are that God doesn’t operate that way when it comes to choosing those who would be with him in heaven! If God were to choose on abilities or possible contributions, no one would be saved. However, in his grace, he has chosen us to be saved, to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. My prayer for you is this, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” Amen.
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