Stand Firm in the Love of God
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
Hello, my name is John Shields, and I’m the music ministry director here at Stonebrook. I’m not as comfortable with a pulpit in front of me as I am with a guitar in front of me, but I’ll do my best here. Let’s open in prayer and then we’ll jump right into our passage.
B. Openning Prayer
God our Father, there is little that I have to say apart from you that will be of much use this morning, but you have given us your Word. You have told us that all Scripture is profitable for us, so give us the focus and energy, the mental sharpness to receive the words of the Bible today. Spirit, give us hearts of obedience; help us to welcome and respond to You, knowing that you may call us to some difficult things, you may call us to change. Jesus, help us to be more like you, to follow in your footsteps of serving and suffering for the sake of others and for the glory of God, knowing that on the horizon is great satisfaction and reward, and knowing that you are coming back soon.
II. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
A. Setting and Context
In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church, so far in our series, we’ve looked at chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. In these sections, Paul has addressed an issue that the Thessalonian church was having: they were confused about the second coming of Jesus. They were getting misinformation from false teachers, they weren’t considering the authoritative teaching they had received, and that was causing them to be filled with doubt, discouragement, and distraction. Paul addresses a church that had been “shaken in mind” and “alarmed” (2:2). Consider the fact that this church was so shaken, that this is the focus of the report that Paul received, and this is what Paul thought it necessary to address in this short letter.
Today, we often find ourselves filled with the same problems – doubt, discouragement, and distraction, even though the way we experience them is different than this church did almost 2000 years ago. In this letter to the Thessalonians, Paul offers help that speaks both to this ancient church and to all of us today.
What is the ammunition he gives to fight these problems? Let’s read and find out!
B. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits [from the beginning] to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
A. The Thessalonians Doubt
This church of Thessalonians had started strong. Remember that in Paul’s first letter to them, he gave thanks for them and was constantly mentioning in his prayers their work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ. But something had changed: false teachers had trying to deceive this church by saying that the second coming of Jesus had already happened. Even though this church should have known that this was false (because of what Paul had already taught them), they begun to be alarmed and shaken in mind. They became filled with doubts.
How does Paul address these people who had begun to doubt that Jesus might come back at all? Does he reprimand them? Does he accuse them or berate them? He actually does something very strange. He tells them to give thanks.
Verse 13: “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters.”
He gives four reasons for them to give thanks:
- “beloved by the Lord”
- “because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth”
- “He called you through our gospel”
- The aim of his call was “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”
And flowing out from that, he tells them “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.” (taught by God)
Let’s break down these reasons:
First, he tells them that they’re (1)loved by the Lord — loved by Jesus. How do they know that they are loved by God?
Because (2)“God chose you from the beginning to be saved.” This was not a new concept for this church — being chosen — it was something that we see throughout the Scriptures, and is repeated in Paul’s writings.
Paul wrote in the greeting of his first letter to this very church “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he [God] has chosen you.” (1 Thess 1:4) And in his other letters:
- Ephesians 1:4 “For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him.” (CSB)
- Romans 11:5-6 “In the same way, then, there is also at the present time a remnant chosen by grace. 6 Now if by grace, then it is not by works; otherwise grace ceases to be grace.” (CSB)
i. Chosen by God
What does it mean to be chosen by God? This might well up all sorts of feelings in you when you hear “chosen.” It might make you think of being chosen for part in a school play, or chosen for a particular role at work, or chosen to go out on a date with someone.
We all have this built-in desire to be chosen. This concept of “The Chosen One” is prevalent in epic storytelling.
- We’ve got Harry Potter – the boy who lived – the chosen one
- Neo from the Matrix – the chosen one with the unique ability to rescue people from their robotic overlords
- Frodo Baggins – the one little hobbit brave enough to carry the seducing ring of power into the fires of Mordor to destroy it and save all of Middle Earth
- And you can’t forget the Star Wars universe, the one to bring balance to the force: my man Jar Jar Binks. Where would the franchise be without him? — I mean, Anakin Skywalker, – the one who would be able to bring balance to the force. My mistake…
- Vader: how did that get in there?
Why do we resonate so much with this desire? Because someone who is chosen is someone who matters. And who the chooser is makes a big difference. If I’m chosen by my local cable company to receive a limited-time offer for a new service, that means a little something. If I’m chosen by the local community to receive a “best in Story County” award, that’s pretty significant. If I’m chosen by a girl to spend the rest of her life with me in marriage, well that’s a whole lot of something. But if I’m chosen by the creator and ruler of the entire universe to join his family and share in the inheritance of his Son, that means everything.
If you are a believer in Christ, you are hand-picked. God saw your every fault, mistake, defect, and failure, and still said “I want that one.” Whenever you begin to doubt that you matter to God, remember believer, that YOU ARE CHOSEN! You are in the family as a son or daughter of God, and there is nothing anyone can do to take that away from you. Let that truth wash away your doubts like a fresh spring rain.
So, the believers were (1) loved by God and (2) chosen, but they were also (3) called through the gospel (4) so that they may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus.
They weren’t called with a telephone, they were called with the words of a gospel messenger, Paul. And what were they called to? What exactly was this glory that they were to obtain? Paul tells us about this earlier in this letter (1:10) – “when he [Jesus] comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who believed…” Paul is saying that the glory of Jesus will be seen in his people when he returns in his second coming. It will be a glorious day that will change the whole world forever, and the people of God will get to be a part of that.
+ Believer: When you are doubting, remember that you are chosen and loved by God, and stand firm in the Word of God.
ii. To Unbelievers – the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Now, if you’re sitting there watching this thinking “I’m not loved by God, chosen, called through the gospel to obtain the glory of Jesus, because I’m not a Christian” I want to speak to you for a minute here. I want you to know that God cares about you.
Before this world was here, God was. He made this world and everything in it. Every shining star, every spiral galaxy, every celestial comet. And he made the earth, sculpted the mountains and valleys and the oceans and lakes, painted every landscape better than Bob Ross. Crafted every flower and fruit, every vegetable and herb. He imagined and fashioned every fluffy bunny and rambunctious kitten. He made a fish that has a sword for a nose and a shark that has a hammer for a head. The of God creativity is endless.
He made all of that and He said: “This is a good place.” But then, he did something amazing: He made man and woman. He made them “in his own image.” He made them special. God was filled with creativity, so he filled mankind with creativity. God was full of love, so he gave mankind the ability to love. God has an eternality, and he gave mankind a soul that will live on beyond when our bodies fail to give us breath.
And after he made man and woman, he looked at them and said “this is very good,” better than all of the rest. God doesn’t see you as a number, as a statistic, as a heap of bones and muscle and skin that is useful for a time and then to be tossed aside. He sees you as special to him. He sees you as his creation.
So, God made man and we all lived happily ever after. The end. Right? NO!
Unfortunately, the story took a different turn. Because as it turns out, man can be a knucklehead. Long story short, God gave man a task to do – a fun one – to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, to gently subdue and cultivate the earth. But man messed that up, and that brought a curse onto this earth. Sin was like a plague that infected every crevice, and every heart of every man and woman. Instead of loving and caring for the world, man was selfish. And the sin of man lead to the greatest atrocities of human history: slavery, tyranny, starvation and genocide, countless wars, stealing people’s dignity, abuse, and even to smaller evils that still hurt and destroy lives and relationships: lies, unkind words, greed, pettiness, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, and the list goes on.
We used our creativity for evil even this it was meant for good. We used it to find ways to use and abuse others for our gain, to get ahead regardless of who we leave behind, to make life easier for ourselves and harder for others.
Any sin against an infinite God who gave us everything including life itself, is infinitely evil, and infinitely punishable. For God to stop the evil in us is to protect the good around us, and would be the right thing to do. Romans 6 says this another way: “The wages/punishment of sin is death.” If life often seems hopeless to you, it’s because we live in a very broken world, and there is only one hope.
God could have turned his back to us and said, “you get what you deserve,” but instead, God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. You’ve probably heard that before from John 3:16.
God himself came to this earth in the form of a baby, lived the perfect life that we were unable and unwilling to live and died the death that we deserved that we could be made right with God. He took on our punishment, and gave us something we call righteousness – right-teousness. Everyone wants to be right, don’t we. But Christians don’t stand saying “look at how right and good I am,” we say “look at how right and good Jesus is.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus didn’t die to give us a ticket to heaven and send us back into a broken world to fend for ourselves. He gave us the Holy Spirit to work inside of believers in Jesus — a Helper that will always be with us, able to give us strength in our weak times and peace in our scary times and hope in our darkest times.
So, how do we receive this salvation and new life? What does it cost? The answer is: everything.
Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life?” The Scriptures say: “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” It’s belief that saves us in Jesus — a belief that demands that our lives be transformed, changed forever.
This is the gospel that Paul preached, and delivered to the Thessalonians! This is how someone is, as Paul says in verse 13 “beloved by the Lord,” “chosen,” and “saved.” It was “through sanctification by the Spirit,” and “belief in the truth.” Just as Paul said in verse 14: “To this he [God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” so I say to you that God is calling you to lay down your life for Jesus today. It doesn’t matter where you’re at right now, what you’ve had to walk through, how old you are, how much money you have, how many skills or gifts you have; what matters to God is you, that you would lay down your life for Jesus.
I have found that to be true — that when I gave up my life, that’s when I really started living it. If you’re unsure about what that looks like or what that even means, or if you feel stuck, like that doesn’t describe your life at all, talk to me or one of our pastors or a community group or your friend that brought you. You’ve got all kinds of people who would be absolutely thrilled to talk to you about what that looks like, so please setup a time to talk to someone about that. We can do digital meetings, and if there’s a a particular pastor or leader that you want to contact, check our website for how to get in touch with them.
A. The Thessalonian’s Discouragement
Now we’re going to look at the next section, where Paul addresses the discouragement of the Thessalonian church.
Let’s look at verses 16 and 17.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”
The Thessalonian church had become discouraged. This church was facing persecution in ways that most of us have never experienced. False teachers were confusing them about Christ’s return. Some of them may have feared that Christ had already returned and that they were not really saved – that what they had believed and received was not enough. They were not standing firm in what God had taught them. They were stuck in discouragement, and as we’ll see in chapter 3, that lead them to avoid their responsibilities of work and ministry. Many of them had stopped loving and meeting the needs of those around them.
i. Paul’s Prayer
In that place, Paul wrote this prayer for them: That Jesus himself and God our Father would comfort them and establish them in every good work and word. Paul shared that Jesus himself was the ammunition to fight apathy and despair. He told them to remember the one who loved them, to remember the comforts of eternal salvation, the surety of a hope in a grace that was secured for them. He believed in the power of God and the reminder of that truth to establish them once again in good works and good words, to pick them back up off the ground and get after it! To get back to doing the things that he was encouraging them for back in his first letter, where he called them “imitators of the Lord” who had “become an example to all the believers in [the entire region].” (1 Thess. 1:6) They had lost their way, but God wasn’t ready for them to be done yet. They had work to do! Good work! God’s work!
B. Our Discouragement
How are we like those Thessalonians? Discouragement can seep in to all of our lives.
Discouragement is a lack of courage — an unwillingness to jump back into the fight after you’ve been knocked down, and there are plenty of ways for us to get knocked down these days. We can be:
- discouraged about our jobs,
- discouraged about not seeing our friends and family with COVID-19,
- discouraged by not having a swimming pool to go to
And even some deeper discouragements:
- discouraged by loss: the loss of a friend or the loss of a brother or uncle or sister or wife or husband or grandpa or granddaughter or beloved pet that was as much a part of the family as anyone.
- discouraged by unfulfilled desires: the desire for a family to grow, the desire for a job that you’re good at and love, the desire for a husband or wife, the desire for a best friend, the desire for a lost relationship to be made whole again
- discouraged by the death of a dream, that life isn’t going the way we planned and hoped
- discouraged by a physical or mental malady: cancer or chronic pain or illness or impairment or depression or chronic anxiety
- discouraged by living in a world that is broken and just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to
Now, I need to say that grief and sorrow over the brokenness of this world, of the things that I just listed, is normal and healthy and right. To be saddened by the effects of sin and this cursed world that we live in, is to see this world for what it really is — to look it in the face and be honest. Romans 8 speaks of this in verses 22 and 23 “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit — we also groan within ourselves…” So, Paul says that there is a groaning that is Christian; there is a groaning that is good. But not a groaning of discouragement or sulking. It is not a groaning that swallows us up. It is not a groaning that leads to inaction. We don’t stay there.
i. Paul’s Exhortation
Paul finishes that section in Romans with the same encouragement that he did in 2 Thessalonians! He says “…eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved…we eagerly wait for it with patience.” We have a hope that grants us the courage to carry on in every good work and word, and that hope is secured and eternal and glorious and beautiful and is coming. Are you hoping in that today right now? Do you believe in this hope? Are you speaking into your soul and heart and mind to believe in this hope today?
A you groan from the aches and pains of a world without hope, look to the one true hope, Jesus.
+ Believer: When you are discouraged, find comfort in the hope of your eternal forgiveness as you stand firm in every good work and word.
A. The Thessalonian’s Distraction
Let’s read from our last section today, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5.
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
The Thessalonian church was distracted. They had taken their eye off the ball. They had stopped focussing on the primary things of first importance, and instead were letting themselves be carried to and fro like jellyfish floating through the ocean. It’s not that they didn’t know the truth. It’s not that they needed more clarity or more direction. They had everything they needed, but they got distracted. They forgot that they were in a fierce battle, a battle with life-and-death consequences — the very souls within the church and outside of it.
Paul said back earlier in this book: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” The church had become distracted with a deception about the second coming of Jesus, distracted by the persecutions and afflictions that they were enduring. It’s like this had lead to fogginess and blurred vision.
But Paul snaps them out of it in 3:1 – “pray for us, that the word of the Lord (the gospel) may speed ahead and be honored/glorified, as happened among you.” Paul brings their focus back on the gospel. They needed prayer for the battle. Notice that he doesn’t pray that God would grow their speaking abilities. He doesn’t pray that God would raise up the resources for a new building or a new traveling camel (Paul was still probably riding the older Camel 40AD model instead of the new and shiny Dromedary 51 with the optional heated seats and moon roof). These would be good things, but instead he prays that the gospel would spread quickly, and that it would be received with honor, that people would believe it and saved and be changed forever, just like it did in the Thessalonian church. This message was urgent, and it was important. People desperately needed the gospel.
Not only that, the gospel (the good news of Jesus) was facing opposition. Paul and his team, as well as the Thessalonian church were being opposed by “wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.” So Paul tells them to pray for deliverance.
And even though Paul asks for prayer, he isn’t afraid; he isn’t shaken. Notice in verse 3: “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command.”
We see a resilience, a resolve, a fortitude of will not because of their own strength, but because the Lord is what? The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you. Not “he might establish you.” Not “he very well could establish you.” He WILL establish you and guard you against the evil one.
We see this concept echoed in Philippians – “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
And in Galatians – “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.”
B. Our Distraction
I am convinced of two things:
- We have more to be distracted by now than at any point in human history
- The biggest enemy of focus and contentment we have today is comparison
Has anyone here watched the show “Monk?” This is one of my favorite TV shows, and it’s about a guy who has insanely acute powers of observation and recall, but the reason he has those powers is because he has extreme obsessive compulsive disorder. So, he can solve crimes, but normal regular life things are really hard for him. He’s bothered by almost everything. Anyways, he has this famous line that he always says to people about his powers of observation: “It’s a gift…and a curse.” He says it just like that.
We live in an era of absolute information overload. The fact that we can share information instantaneously with the entire world/our friend group is, like Monk’s skills both a gift… and a curse. We get the joys of seeing our cousin’s new baby girl, but then we think “I wish I had a cute kiddo like that.” We get to celebrate our friend’s new house, but then we think “I wish my house were that big.” We see our coolest friend hanging with their posse, and we think “Why don’t I have hair like that, clothes like that, charisma like that, influence like that, talents like that, dream job like that, money like that, lifestyle like that, education like that”…and the list goes on and on. Before we know it, we’re distracted from the blessings that God has given us, from the tasks that God has given us, from our calling. We get focussed on the “if only” instead of the “really is.”
So, what is the solution? How do we get refocussed (or maybe focussed for the very first time)?
God has the same solution for us as he had for the Thessalonian church (3:5):
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
God’s love is so powerful, so strong, so vast and wide, so eternal, so sweet, that when we have our hearts directed at it, it can clear away any distraction. Consider the ways that God has shown his love to you, personally. If you can hear me speaking, it’s because God has given you breath and life today (can you guys hear me okay? — okay, then this applies to you). He has given you food and shelter and the opportunity to live in a world full of beauty and creativity and goodness. He has given you a family, as broken as it may be.
But most importantly, he has given you an invitation to be in his family. He loved you so much that he gave his only Son, who in the greatest act of love in all of human history, laid down his life to save you and to bring glory to God the Father. Songs will be sung and poems written and books published and rousing conversations had and smiles enjoyed and tears cried for the rest of time about this great act of love, and it will never be enough to exhaust the fullness of it.
So, direct your hearts to the love of God!
The second part to this is to direct your hearts to the steadfastness of Christ. Think about what Jesus was willing to go through, what he was willing to give up, and what he was willing to put up with for your sake, and for the glory of God. When his disciples were petty and selfish and slow to understand, Jesus was patient and kind. When he was swarmed by mobs of the sick, he didn’t send them away or hide, he had compassion on them and healed them. When he was betrayed by his closest friends, he didn’t seek retribution, he carried on. When Jesus met opposition from the Scribes and Pharisees and from Satan himself, Jesus didn’t back down, he didn’t give up. When he suffered, he carried on. The accusations against Jesus were completely unfair. The pain that he endured on the cross was excruciating and undeserved. It was an outrage that the highest king of the universe was condemned, butchered on a cross, considered the worst of the worst, mocked and spat on, killed by men claiming to be godly, righteous, and pure.
If Jesus was able to do all of this, to bear this burden and push on through it all, surely we can follow in his footsteps. He has paved the way for us. We simply have to follow him. Just stay right behind him. Stay with him. And when you fall, he’ll be right there with you to pick you back up and help you keep going.
+ Believer: When you are distracted, remember the battle, pray for the gospel to spread, and follow the endurance and example of Christ.
Thomas Fuller — a great English churchman and historian from the early 1600s said “He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.”
We are going to face dangers. We will encounter doubts, discouragement, and distractions. But by the power of God, we can do this. We can press on.
+ When you are doubting, remember that you are chosen and loved by God, and stand firm in the Word of God.
+ When you are discouraged, find comfort in the hope of your eternal forgiveness as you stand firm in every good work and word.
+ When you are distracted, remember the battle, pray for the gospel to spread, and follow the endurance and example of Christ.
I’m going to close with this quote from one of my favorite franchises, Lord of the Rings. Frodo was doubting and discouraged, wanting to go home, wanting to give up. He had lost most of his friends, and it was just him and Sam.:
Frodo said: “I can’t do this, Sam.”
Sam replied: “I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo said: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”
Sam responded: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”