Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
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.
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Waiting. It is one of the hardest things to do. From little on, we are told that we have to be patient. Yet, it is so hard to do, especially, if you are waiting for something neat, like a visit from your grandparents or waiting for something to come out of the oven. It helps us all, if we have something that we can do while we are waiting. Parents might tell their children to go and play or read a book. It is so hard to wait for something special to happen. It helps to have something to do while you wait. As Christians, we are all waiting for something special, and that is the return of our Savior. However, it gets so hard to do. It sure would help is there was something to do while we wait. So, today, we are going to look at the question “WHAT SHALL WE DO UNTIL JESUS RETURNS?” In answer to that question, Paul told the Thessalonians, and us as well, to pray and he gives us three things to pray for. 1. Pray That The Holy Spirit Preserves His Church. 2. Pray That the Holy Spirit Increase His Church. 3. Pray That The Holy Spirit Protect His Church.
Recall again that Paul was writing to the Thessalonian church that was being persecuted for its faith. In addition, some had come in and stirred up the congregation by telling them that the day of the Lord had already come. Paul showed that this was not possible, pointing out certain things that had not happened yet. However, in the meantime, as they waited for the day of the Lord to come, Paul told them to pray.
Note, first of all, what Paul says to the Thessalonians in verse 13. He wrote, “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.” First of all, Paul thanks God for these Christians. As a matter of fact, he looks at this as an obligation, something he ought to do. He did not consider this to be a nuisance. These were confused and misguided sheep, that were in need. Rather than complain about them, Paul thanks God that they were saved.
Just as a side note, here Paul is a good example for us to follow when we think about our fellow believers. It is easy for us to complain about them, especially when they do things differently than we think they ought to. Rather, we want to follow Paul’s example and thank God for them, that they too have been saved, just as we are.
Note also when Paul speaks of this salvation happening. He wrote, “God chose you as firstfruits to be saved.” God chose us to be saved before the creation of the world to be his children. What a comforting thought that God knew each of us before the world even got its start! He saw to it that we were rescued from our sins. “Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” God saw to it that a saving faith was worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, that is, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. Through these Means, God reached out to each of us and cleansed us from all of our sins. Through these Means of Grace, the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed us from our sins. We are his own children, chosen by God from all eternity.
We have been called by the Gospel message. Now as we wait for Jesus’ return, we pray that the Holy Spirit would preserve us in the faith. That is what Paul is praying for 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.” The Thessalonians were in need of encouragement as they faced persecution. We also need encouragement as we face the everyday difficulties of life that threaten to rob us of our hope. However, as we recall the love of the Father, which was shown so beautifully in his sacrifice of his Son for our sins, we are encouraged to live for him. Our hearts are encouraged and we are strengthened in our “every good deed and word.”
Through God’s help, we will then be able to “Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (Verse 15) The church will be preserved only if we hold to the teachings we have learned. When we start to lose our grip on them, the pure Word of God becomes corrupted among us, and we follow teachings, not taught by God, but taught be men. As God’s people, we want to hold on to his pure teachings. In this way, the church is preserved. We pray that the Holy Spirit would preserve his church by allowing us to hold on to the pure teaching of his holy Word.
However, that Word is not just to stay for our use. We also pray that the Holy Spirit would increase his Church. That is the essence of the second part of Paul’s prayer in verse one of chapter three, “Brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray that the message of the Lord would spread, that is that more and more people might hear the beautiful message of God’s Word. Paul prays that it would not only spread, but also honored, in other words, that people not only hear the words, but that the Holy Spirit would work through those words to bring people to faith. God’s Word is honored, when it is believed.
You and I are part of the answer to that prayer. The word has spread since Paul’s day, and today we believe it. However, we are not the end result. There are still many people who do not yet know the beauty of the Gospel message. We pray that many more would come to faith, that the message of the Lord would continue to be spread and honored. This is partially what we are praying for in the Lord’s Prayer, when we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Here, in this instance, God allows us the joy of working together with him. You see, we do not only pray that God’s Word would be spread. God also wants each of us to spread the Gospel. We note that Paul uses the word “rapidly.” “That the message of the Lord may spread rapidly.” The word “rapidly” reminds us that we do not know when our Savior will return. For that reason, we pray that the message would spread rapidly, and is doing so, we are praying that God would strengthen and encourage us to spread the message. We pray that the Holy Spirit would increase his Church as we go forward in his name with the Gospel message.
In the third part of his prayer, Paul speaks of the protection that the Lord would give his Church. He wrote in verse 3, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” He reminds the Thessalonians that the Lord is faithful, that is, you can count on what he says. So, when he promises to strengthen and protect from the evil one, you know that you can count on it happening.
Indeed, the devil is constantly attacking the church. He attacks from outside the church, as Christians are belittled or condemned because of their faith. Many people are allowed to say whatever they wish. However, if you bring in the biblical view of things, you are condemned as being uncaring, old-fashioned, hateful or no fun. The world in which we live attacks the morality that is found in God’s Word and promotes a lifestyle that quite different from it. Because of these attacks, it might seem as though, at times, the church and its teachings have been swallowed up.
However, as insidious as these attacks are from the outside, there are even more troubling attacks from those who call themselves “church.” There are those who are willing to say that the Bible contains God’s Word, but are unwilling to say that the Bible is God’s Word. They will pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe. There are also the attacks of the devil, which try to get Christians to snipe at each other, rather than working together. The devil attacks from outside and from inside the church. If we were to try to stand on our own, the church would not survive.
Yet, we are not alone in the fight. The Lord does not only strengthen us in the fight. He also protects us. He rules over the world and sees to it that all things that happen are for the good of his Church. The devil, though he blusters and blows as he might, has been defeated. When Jesus died and rose again, he completely and totally defeated the devil. He won the victory. Moreover, when you and I were brought to faith, he shared that victory with us. As we wait for Jesus to return, we pray that the Holy Spirit would protect his Church.
Today is called “Saints Triumphant Day.” It is a day on which we focus our attention on the victory that will be ours when we reach heaven. There are already some who are enjoying the bliss of heaven. They no longer have to wait. We praise God that he preserved and protected them while they were here on this earth. We, however, are still waiting. Yet, as we wait, God has given us something to do. We are to pray. So, as we close our sermon, we will do just that. “O Holy Spirit, preserve, protect and increase your Church.” Amen.
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