The Present Age of Deed and Word
“…saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Paul’s letter to the people in Thessalonica who responded to the gospel with belief has been filled with words of affirmation for their growing faith, prayer for their ongoing faithfulness and assurance that they have not missed anything that God is planning to do. The future holds a victory day when all of Satan’s plans and power will be overthrown when Christ returns. Paul sets the attention of the church, not on the future, but on the present where the evil one is presently at work although restrained. We live in a present age of restrained rebellion.
- 13-14 – Firstfruits of the gospel
- 15-17 – The present assignment
13-14 – Firstfruits of the gospel
“…we ought always to thank God for you…” See 1:3. Paul is compelled to thank God for what has happened in the creation of a church in Thessalonica.
“…loved by the Lord, because God chose you…” When the world is under the secret power of deception and anti-truth/anti-law (2:7-10), God has chosen some to come to the knowledge and trust in the truth. This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us (he chose us – 1 John 4:10). Here we see the characteristic of someone whom God loves and that is that they are saved by grace.
“…as firstfruits…” Earlier in the chapter we saw that the present age is defined by restrained rebellion – all the world is under the secret influences of lawlessnes to deny to the truth and embrace wickedness. But the age we are in is also, and more profoundly so, defined by the consequences of the cross and empty tomb of Christ. The book of Acts tells of the years that followed the ascension of Jesus with the outpouring of the Spirit and the spread of the gospel. Thessalonica was visited by Paul in Acts 17 in about 48 or 49 AD where he met persecution but also founded the church there. They are the first generation of Christians in the world. They are the firstfruits of the harvest for Christ’s mission. The Thessalonians were worried that the coming of Christ had already happened and that they’d missed it or it was not what they expected or something like that. Paul assures them that they have missed nothing and this is only the beginning!
“…to be saved through…” Here is the first real place to pause in the passage. Two things are listed as the method of salvation and neither of them are the cross of Christ, repentance, baptism or the like.
Firstly, the sanctifying work of the Spirit. This describes the ongoing, life changing transformation that occurs to every believer. 1 Peter 1:2 says, that God’s elect ‘have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.’ The goal of election is for obedience to Jesus Christ and this work is done by or via or with the Spirit. Without the Spirit, there is no progress for the Christian toward holiness and righteousness. These Thessalonians that Paul is writing to are of the first generation in the history of mankind to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus. The Spirit dwells in them and works with their spirit to put to death the evil deeds of the flesh (See Romans 8). Sanctification is a word that describes holiness or being set apart. We cannot see God without being sanctified. This is both an ‘already happened’ word as in 1 Corinthians 6:11 as well as a purpose for the future word as in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and also an expectation of maintenance word as in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. We are made God’s by the blood of Christ and sanctified as well as charged for ongoing sanctification as we live according to the Spirit. The latter may be better referred to as Christian progress.
Secondly, belief in the truth saves us. This was made clear in the previous section (2:1-12). How important it is to believe the gospel and nurture that belief. It’s not our opinion that saves but it is knowing who is Lord and responding to that. This also, by the way, leads back to a life of sanctification. What we believe will modify the goals of our heart.
“He called you to this through our gospel…” Now, isn’t this interesting. Christ died for our sins and the Spirit dwells in us for the work of Christian progress. And now we hear that God called us. This has all been the work of God from beginning to end. And what did we do? We believed the word. The gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). And it was the gospel that Paul shared (our gospel) so be careful not to add or transform what has been taught and received.
“That you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The gospel was shared by Paul to the Thessalonians in order that the glory might be shared also.
What has been mentioned in these three verses? That they are loved by God; chosen by God; saved by God; being sanctified by the Spirit Himself; summoned by the gospel message in order for them to respond in faith and share in the glory that belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. And this is why Paul is burdened to thank God!
15-17 – The present assignment
“So…stand firm…” Where else have they to go? They’ve been given the words of eternal life. They have nothing to do but to hold their ground where God has delivered them.
“…hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you…” Standing firm is described as giving unwavering attention to the gospel that they heard. That is the teaching passed on and that is what they must cling to. They were described as ‘unsettled or alarmed’ in verse 2 about some teaching that they had heard or misheard. The gospel is not something that should shake them. Cling to this message and don’t go far from it. Don’t let other people distract you in their teachings. Don’t have other letters written to you cause you to stumble. Hold everything you hear up against this teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ…gave us eternal encouragement and good hope…” The list of credentials for God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are given as cause for what follows in verse 17. Look at who you are trusting. He is the Lord who is known as Jesus the chosen one – King Jesus. He accompanies God our Father who is OUR Father – a title only received after Jesus became known. And God is good because he loves us and have gifted us with eternal encouragement and good hope. These last two phrases talk, not of God’s character, but of what he has promised to deliver in the future. Our strength through trials comes through the eternal hope that we have in Christ.
“…encourage your hearts…” Having our hearts set on something which is guaranteed is a light load to bear. Imagine the encouragement that a wife gets when she is told that her husband is on a boat right now heading back from the war. Her heart is full of encouragement and joy. She delights in what is promised and the delivers is on the way. Imagine now that your heart is set on making a million dollars in under a year. It is a possibility but there is no encouragement from a hope that is uncertain and will take all your motivation and commitment and single-mindedness and also selfish ambition. Now think of the reality of know that God has you covered and your future is secure with him. No obstacles or persecution or trials will crush you when you are encouraged by the knowledge of the promise keeper who has chosen you and called you and saved you and delivered you and sanctified you.
“…strengthen you in every good deed and word.” It is not just a good deed but a good word. “In every good thing you do or say “ (NET version). What we do and say ought to be flavoured and pouring from the fountain of our hope. We are not like infants who react when we don’t get our way. We are rather wise people who know that we have everything already coming our way. The Thessalonians, as we noted in chapter 1, are in the midst of persecution and trials. Paul has been thanking God for the work that he is doing in them and he now commits the Thessalonians to God in prayer that they will do everything and say only what is good. We only have choices to do what is good or bad. The good is spurred on by love for God and others. The bad originates from selfish desires and the like.
What we believe will affect what we do and say. If we believe that we are spinning freely in this universe without a secure hope or future then we will get on board the earth’s so-called mantra of ‘survival of the fittest.’ If, however, we believe that God has loved us, chosen us, called us, saved us, sanctified us, is perfecting us, and promising us to share in the glory with Jesus for all eternity, no catches, then this will give our hearts great courage and conviction to do what is right and say only what is true and loving.
- Share how God has been perfecting you over the last few years or months. What can you say about the process of becoming more Christ-like? How has it been occurring? What part do you play in the process?
- Spend time in prayer now and then practice over the next few days to thank God for all the blessings listed in this passage. For example, thank God firstly that God loves you. Reflect with God in prayer over that before acknowledging that it was God that chose you and not the other way around. Use 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 to shape your prayers about yourself but also for everyone in your group.
Prayer of the Week
Our Father and our God, we thank you for the love that you have shown on us by sharing the gospel with us, helping us to believe, sending your Spirit to us, confirming in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and helping us to become more and more like him. Strengthen us and encourage us to love you and others more and more, especially as the Day of Christ’s return draws nearer. Amen.