2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 - Thanksgiving and Prayer
Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
In the previous verses of this chapter the Apostle had dealt with the man of sin and all the ills which will accompany his coming. This was necessary for these Thessalonian Christians because they had a wrong conception concerning these things and because they were fearful as a result of their misconceptions. Paul is never afraid to deal with the difficulties which may bother a church at a particular place nor is he afraid of dealing with particular sins which may be present in a church. However, his interests lie elsewhere. He would rather deal with the marvelous salvation which has been revealed by the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh! These other matters need attention because the people might be led astray and consequently lose the joy of salvation. Then the Apostle attacks the things which would be injurious to them. He defends the believers from all the attacks made on their faith. But, the condemnation of falsehoods and of a sinful life is not separated from the positive declaration of the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. This is instructive for all those who come later. Evil must be condemned fearlessly and the gospel must be proclaimed in all its beauty!
People the Lord Loves
So he begins the verses before us. Those who follow the man of sin will fall into deeper errors as time progresses, but we are bound to give thanks to God always for you! What a blessing that, even though there were wrong views present at Thessalonica concerning the doctrine of the last things, the members of the church would not fall into the clutches of the evil one! These are the beloved of the Lord. That is the proper name for the church of Jesus Christ. They are not 'friends' or 'hearers,' they are His beloved. That church is by no means perfect, but it is the beloved of God! Naturally they are his brethren because they confess the same faith in Christ. God has chosen them to salvation from the beginning. From earliest times, or, as he says in another place, from before the foundation of the world, He has chosen them. The doctrine of election is very practical in the thought of the New Testament. It is not a doctrine divorced from all reality; in fact, it is the reason for their salvation. Long before they were aware of it, God was busy in their salvation. Those who deny election cut away the foundation of the salvation for His people.
Saved by God Through Faith
This election of God has even further practical benefits. He indeed chose them to salvation but this is not to be thought of in such a way as though it has nothing to do with the present manner of life. The sanctifying work of the Spirit is given to those whom He has chosen. These will live a life of which He approves. The whole person is affected by it. The whole man is claimed by the Christ and the Spirit does His work so that the whole man is brought in service to Jesus Christ. Those whom He has chosen come to believe the truth of the gospel. For the non-elect the gospel is but a dead letter while the elect hear the voice of their God speaking peace to them in this gospel. Why this difference in attitude? God's election makes the difference.
Called Through the Gospel to Glory
From the election of God the Apostle now concludes to the effectual calling of His people. These are closely related as he has also taught in Romans 8:30. Election does not exist by itself but has consequences. Election is but the first link in the chain of salvation. Those whom He has chosen will also share in all the other benefits which have been promised to His people. The means for calling them is the gospel. It was the glorious responsibility of Paul and his helpers to preach that gospel. In this he rejoices that he may be a co-laborer with God. He never wearies of bringing this good news to the men of his day. It reveals to us that the election of God will bear fruit. Those elected are called by the gospel of salvation. They were called "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Between the effectual calling and the "glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" there are various other steps, but the Apostle fixes the eyes of the Thessalonians on the ultimate future. They will share in the glory of Christ. Despite all the evils which may come during the time of the man of sin, they can rest assured that theirs will be the glory of their Savior because God has chosen them to be His own. He is here called our "Lord Jesus Christ" to emphasize the complete sovereignty which is His so that they may realize that no one shall snatch them out of His hand. Although that glory is future when He shall come again in power, there is also a present glory given to His people. They already share in the benefits He has come to bring so that their lives have been renewed. What glory shall it be when they shall be like Him for they shall see Him as He is!
Stand Fast and Hold Fast
Therefore, because of all he has taught in this chapter, they are called to stand fast. Not even the man of sin will be able to overthrow the work of God begun within them. They may indeed rejoice that God has chosen them, and that is the only reason they will be able to stand in the evil day, but they are also called to responsible action. They must not be shaken by any of the interpretations which some have given concerning the doctrine of the last things. They must stand fast upon the foundation which has been laid for their faith. They must also cling to the traditions they have been taught. They must hold fast to the gospel. The person who is fully aware of the fact that he has been chosen of God will have the desire to cling to His word. It is true, of course, that no one can believe his election nor the gospel unless God causes him to do so. Paul, however, never falls into the intellectual trap which teaches that man cannot have any responsibility if it is God's work from beginning to end. Man is called to believe! He is called to hold fast the teachings which have been given him! He honors both God's complete sovereignty and man's complete responsibility.
God's Word Spoken and Written
The author further defines "the traditions which ye were taught" as the word which he had spoken to them while he was in Thessalonica or the epistle which he had addressed to them. Paul was convinced that he was writing the word of God. That epistle (1 Thessalonians) was a part of "the tradition," of the gospel. All too many in our time have reduced the epistles of Paul to interesting historical documents which show us how a certain man, brought up in the Jewish tradition, thought about religious matters. His own claim is that he is writing the word of God to which men must cling for their salvation! This honor may not be given to other writings which may have been present at that time, no, it must be an "epistle of ours." Not only the things which he has written them are to be believed, but also the words which he spoke to them. He never makes any distinction between the written word or his spoken word as being the word of God. The church of today must realize that those who come in His name to preach the word are actually bringing the word of God! They may not come with anything other than this! Paul desires that the faith of these Thessalonians may flourish and prosper and therefore has spoken and written to them. Only then will the faith of believers be built up when the word of God is accepted from the sacred page and from the pulpit.
We stand amazed at the manner in which the Spirit of God is able to say so much in so few words. The Apostle needed only a few verses to make known to the Thessalonian church (and thereby to the church of all ages) the nature and times of the Antichrist. Many books have been written about this matter later but Paul gives us all we need to know. The safety of His people in such times and the marvel of their salvation is then spoken of in very few words. Much more could, of course, be said about the salvation of men and he has done so in other places, but here, in capsule form, he gives us the revelation of the glorious salvation of God's people. He knows that salvation so well that he can speak of all its parts at great length or can give a summary of it in very few words. That is the nature of the word of God.
The Concluding Prayer
It is no wonder that he ends this chapter with a prayer. In fact, prayers are found throughout his writings. The responsibility which he has placed on the shoulders of these Thessalonians will never be met unless God gives the ability to meet it. The strongest will not be able to stand nor to hold fast the word of God in their own strength when the days of persecution come, how much less these Christians who have but recently come to conversion? This fact does not remove the responsibility but he points them to the Source of their strength when these days come.
The Help of Son and Father
He prays that they may receive the help of "our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father." Notice that he has placed the name of the Savior before the name of the Father. This is not the usual order of the New Testament nor of the Pauline epistles. In 2 Corinthians 13:14 and in Galatians 1:1 he also follows this order. Why does he use this order? Seeing that he is dealing with the doctrine of salvation it is most probable that Christ's name is mentioned first because He stands in the foreground in our salvation. It also shows us that the Deity of Christ is so much a part of his theology that he can use either order. The Father and the Son are indeed one. Both Father and Son have revealed their love to the people of God. God, the Father, so loved that He gave His Son. The Son loved them so much that He emptied Himself of His glory and assumed the nature of man for them and carried it to the cross. Surely, they need not doubt the love of either Father or Son as they come to them in prayer.
Pray for What is Promised
He prays that Son and Father who have given them everlasting comfort (or encouragement) and good hope may give them encouragement and strength. Here it is a prayer for those things which they already have. But, that is the nature of the prayer taught us in Scripture. We are to pray for our daily bread while we are promised that bread and water are assured us. We pray for the forgiveness of sins while we are taught that our sins have been forgiven. Here the Apostle reminds them that God has given eternal encouragement and good hope and now prays that God will give them these things! Is this not the very nature of prayer as the Scriptures have taught us? Are we not to pray for the things which have been promised us? Then we can pray with confidence.
These believers need this encouragement and hope. All believers do. Whether they have the proper view or an erroneous view of the doctrine of the last things, they must all realize that faith will be tested before the end of time. God graciously gives them what they need. He is able to speak to the heart of man and is able to encourage their hearts. The hope He gives is based on all the events in the history of their salvation and on His promises which will always remain true. Their hearts will therefore be strengthened by God — and for that the Apostle prays.
"In Every Good Work and Word"
As they receive these gifts in answer to the prayer of the Apostle, they will be moved to a life of gratitude. The salvation has been wrought and the strength has been given to endure even in difficult times. The believer then responds in gratitude to his Maker for all he has received. This is expressed by Paul in the concluding words "and establish them in every good work and word." The works and the proper words must follow upon the gifts of God. He gives His gifts for the welfare of those who receive them but also expects the thanks from them. But, gratitude must be learned. Unbelievers are accused by Paul of not giving thanks for the gifts they have received (Romans 1). He will strengthen their hearts so that the good work and word will not be lacking.
So ends this very important chapter. In greater clarity than anywhere else the author has revealed the man of sin, the Antichrist. But, he doesn't end there. The salvation of God's people stands on solid rock! Regardless what the future may bring, they are safe. He prays that God may give these Thessalonian Christians, and all who come later, the grace to stand when the evil day comes. He is confident that they will.
Questions for Discussion:
Is the warning against sin and various evils gospel? Did the people of Nineveh come to true conversion? Give reasons for your answer.
Must election be preached? Does the Heidelberg Catechism deal with it?
Is there enough emphasis in our circles on human responsibility? In which areas are we responsible? In justification? In sanctification?
Would you say that some preaching is not the word of God? Should such "preachers" be allowed on the Christian pulpit?
Are parts of the New Testament time-conditioned? What standard should be used to determine this?
May we pray for everything? Do some prayers give the impression that we come to One who is a dispenser of gifts and that we ask for our share? Is this prayer? See Lord's Day 45 of the Heidelberg Catechism.