Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Comfort and Strength

Preached by Ben Bechtel

Comfort and Strength

Open your Bible with me to 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. Before we dive into our text, let me make one quick comment. If you are following along in your own Bible, you may recognize that your Bible says something different than what will be on the screen in verse 13. Your translation probably either says there “firstfruits” or “from the beginning” and has the other in a footnote. This is what Bible nerds call a textual variant, where there are copies of the New Testament that differ on what is said there. By placing the other in a footnote, the translators want you, the reader of the Bible, to know this and have both options before you. This particular variant comes about because of whether or not there is a space in between two words or not. In this instance, which almost never happens, I actually think the reading in the footnote is more persuasive. Just know this: I’m not changing the Bible, our Bible is trustworthy, and there are incredibly gifted Bible scholars who love God’s people and labor hard so that you can have God’s word in your hands. With that said, let’s read 2 Thes. 2:13-17:

Scripture

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 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.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.


As we studied last week, the Thessalonians were facing the threat of false teaching about the end times. This false teaching, Paul says in verse 2, is tempting the church to abandon the teaching of the apostles and be overcome with doubt and worry. This is why Paul commands the church in v. 15 of our text this morning to hold to the traditions of the apostles. Their false beliefs or false traditions if you like, threatened to derail them from the truth and overcome them with anxiety and worry.

Into this climate of worry and judgment, Paul spoke a word of comfort that we find in verses 13-17 and the Spirit of God wants to speak that same word of comfort to us this morning. There is something that we can believe in that will not fail us, that will not cause us to worry about the future. (BI) Holding onto the God who holds onto us provides us with eternal comfort and the strength we need to live every day and be confident about our future. 

1. A Thanksgiving of Love (vv. 13-14)

Verse 13 begins with the word “but.” As good readers we know that “but” is a contrastive word. It interjects a rebuttal to what was stated previously. So let’s go back and read vv. 13-14 with vv. 9-12:

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you recall Benjamin’s sermon from last week on verses 1-12, you will remember that there is a lawless one, a climactic end-time figure under the influence of Satan who will be revealed before Jesus returns. However, the power and deception of this one, what verse 7 calls “the mystery of lawlessness” is at work in the world even now. In verses 9-12 Paul describes those who have been deceived by this mystery of lawlessness as those who have not loved the truth. Because of this, God gives them over to their own blindness to be further deceived and judged. So, this is one side of this contrast: those who have despised the truth of the gospel, believed the mystery of lawlessness, and have been handed over by God to their own blindness.

Verses 13-14 contrast the Thessalonian church with this first group. Here again, as in 1:3, Paul thanks God for this church. In fact, he uses the exact same language to begin this thanksgiving. However, notice the change in focus from the thanksgiving in 1:3-4 to this thanksgiving. There, Paul thanked God for their perseverance, the evidence of their salvation. Here, Paul thanks God for his action on their behalf, the substance of their salvation. Paul emphasizes the role of God, past, present, and future, to bring about the total salvation of the Thessalonian church.

In the past, in his love for us, God chose us from the beginning and called us into fellowship with him through the gospel. Notice, the beginning of your salvation is God’s love for you, not anything you brought to the table. It all originates and begins in him. How great is that! God has been singing of his love for you from before creation, before you even had the chance to mess it up!

In the present, God is working out our salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. Sanctification, the process of us becoming more and more holy as we follow God’s commands, and belief occur together. Our salvation in the present is not us working really hard to impress God. Rather, it is us continuing to submit to the Spirit of God and believe in that same good news that called us originally. It is us doing good works in dependence upon God’s grace which is ours, not in order to earn God’s grace. 

In the future, God promises us that the ultimate goal and end of our salvation is the glory of Christ. Think about this: God doesn’t just love you and doesn’t just save you from destruction. He wants to crown you with the very glory of the resurrected Christ! The glory that belongs to Jesus by right will be given to you for all of eternity by grace as we share in the joy of his resurrection life forever. What God starts, he finishes. If you submit to God, your past, present, and future are all in his hands and all part of his plan to bless you in Christ. 

In contrast to those who are deceived, despise the truth, and are destroyed are those who have been loved by God, called into his family, and are promised an unshakeable future and as a result of that, delight to believe in this truth. Paul wants to give them and us the hope today that no matter what you are facing, God’s got this! He really does. That may sound simplistic, but it is true. No matter what sufferings rage in your life, no matter what disappointments you may face, no matter what you are tempted to believe in this life that causes you anxiety, God holds your destiny in his hand and in Christ, your life has a glorious, promised, assured outcome! Who is like our God?

2. A Command to Stand (v. 15)

In light of the temptation to believe lies and become anxious about the future1 and on the basis of the reality and certainty of salvation this is what Paul commands us (v. 15):

15 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.

This verse is the crescendo that all of chapter 2 has been building towards. This is the apostle Paul’s main exhortation to the Thessalonians and us. 

We hinted at this in the introduction, but what does Paul mean by the “traditions” here? The traditions are the teachings of the apostles, those who saw Jesus and were inspired by God to communicate the history and meaning of Jesus the Messiah to the world. For us, very simply, the “traditions” are the Scriptures, the inspired words of the apostles and prophets that have been preserved by God for his church. In hard, uncertain circumstances Paul calls the church deeper into the truth of Christianity as a place to take our stand.

The world we live in today is a world that is overcome with anxiety and worry about the future. In one study I read this week, teenagers see anxiety and worry as the biggest problem facing their peers at school, more than bullying, drug or alcohol use, and teen pregnancy.2 I think part of the reason for this, although there are so many reasons that could be given, is that in our fast-paced world, we are constantly faced with what we are not, with what we fail to be.3Think about these examples: Instagram posts reminding us of the body we don’t have or the places we aren’t able to travel. Facebook links to blogs that remind us of the mother we are not. The resounding drum of the clueless husband in TV sitcoms reminds us of the husband we are not. The constant news cycle of violence and hatred reminds us of the country we are not. 

And what is our society’s answer, our society’s tradition that we will believe in order to help us cope this? Believe in yourself. And yet we are faced everyday with the impossibility of this reality, driving us further into anxiety. This is like trying to do ballet in an 8.2 earthquake. The traditions we all attempt to stand upon, other than the truth of the gospel, provide us with constant anxiety and worry, leading ultimately to our own destruction.

Paul helpfully makes a similar point in Ephesians 4:11-14

11 [The Holy Spirit] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to…the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

In the body of Christ we are to labor to understand the Scriptures together, each using our own unique gifts in this pursuit, in order to present one another mature in Christ. Trying to live the Christian life without standing on Christ is like trying to stay standing on a surfboard in the middle of hurricane Dorian. We need to be mature and anchored so that every wind and wave of error and deceit doesn’t threaten to upend our faith. God wants us to have confidence and assurance in the truth that no tradition of man can bring.

Notice too that God’s mechanism for stabilizing us is not just pumping us up with knowledge. This is why the structure of this passage in 2 Thessalonians is so vital. Paul reminds the church of the good news of their salvation in verses 13-14 before he commands them to hold to the truth in verse 15. God wants us to hold to the truth of the gospel because of our joy in the gospel. He doesn’t want to just fill our head with a lot of true doctrine. He wants us to love and delight in the truth because we love and delight in him. The relationship between joy and truth are reciprocal. God wants us to come to the Scripture together as a church in faith, desiring to see and know Jesus because we love him. And as we do that, we will find that our joy in the gospel grows. And as our joy in the gospel grows, we will be driven back to the truth of the gospel and so on. As we love Jesus more, we will want to know him more; as we know him more, we will love him more. Knowledge and love, truth and joy go together. 

Church, in an age of new, new, new, let’s rest on the ancient, steady, and sure anchor of the Scriptures. Even when everything around us feels transient and in flux and we feel our hearts growing anxious, the truth of God’s word and the reality of what God has done for us in Christ will never change. Run from the fads of our self-obsessed world! No matter what our lives look like, what will bring us stability and strength is the truth that Jesus will come back, win victory over evil, and crown all of us who believe with the glory of Jesus. Let’s hold to Christ. In him there is joy, there is assurance, there is a steadfast anchor for your soul (Heb. 6:19).

You might say, “that’s all fine and good, but what room is there in the Christian life for doubt?” Doubt is something that seems to be trendy to talk about, especially among my peers. As Christians, there are two opposite extremes in thinking about doubt. On one side are those who treat doubt as inherently sinful. Some will say any doubt about the faith you have should be silenced because it is sin that needs to be repented of. On the other side, reacting against this type of thinking, are those who see doubt as an intrinsic good. They would say that as Christians we are always supposed to be doubting and questioning things. 

As you can probably guess by the way I’ve framed it there is a middle ground here. It is not our doubts themselves that are either a vice or a virtue but what we do with our doubts that is most important. The Psalms teach us this. God doesn’t want us to fake it when we have doubts. He also doesn’t want us to be perpetually doubting. He wants us to bring our doubts before him honestly and lay them at his feet. If you are doubting your faith this morning, know that this is okay. God wants to hear your prayers, concerns, and distresses about life and faith. But he also wants to move you from a place of doubt to a place of comfort and assurance in the truth of the gospel.

3. A Prayer for Comfort (vv. 16-17)

After thanking God for his steadfast love for his church and commanding them, because of this, to stand firm in their belief in Christ, Paul prays that this church would experience what he has just written of (vv. 16-17):

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

My wife Whitley grew up as a military child. Her father was in the military for 30 years, up until just a few years ago. During her childhood, her father was deployed a number of times, but the most significant deployment was 15 months long when she was 14 and 15 years old. Whitley’s father loved her from before she was born and has been a loving father to her throughout her life, even during those deployments. However, during those 15 months, there were times when it was incredibly hard for Whitley and her family. The love she knew her father had for her didn’t feel experientially as real when he was gone. But the moment she saw him after returning from that deployment and entering into a large hangar to the sound of some awful Toby Keith song, she felt deeply that he loved her. She could look into his eyes. She could hug him. He could take her to get Starbucks after school. What never changed, his love for her, became experientially more real to her in that moment when he returned home.

That is exactly what Paul is praying would be true for the Thessalonian church in this difficult time. He prays that the eternal comfort and love they received from God at their salvation, which has not objectively changed, would subjectively come alive in their hearts and give them comfort. He is praying that they would truly know, concretely and experientially, the love and comfort given to them in the gospel. He wants them to feel the love of God for them which has been set upon them from before time began and will continue on into eternity. No matter their anxieties or concerns about the end times, he wants them not only to embrace the truth of the gospel but experience the joy of the gospel.

This is what God wants for us this morning in Christ! This is his heart for you. He wants to comfort you and give you strength. He doesn’t want you to live in constant anxiety, being ever-reminded of your own failures and shortcomings. In Christ, he wants to comfort you and strengthen you to go out into the world to work for his glory as one confident and assured in his love for you. He wants to calm your fears and put you to work. If you’re here this morning and have never felt this type of comfort and hope, someone who is always worried about what the future might hold, cling to Jesus. Turn your back on believing in yourself and run to the one who can actually uphold you through this life and out the other side. If you’re here this morning and are a Christian but are not experiencing the comfort of Jesus, know that his love for you has not changed. He isn’t going anywhere. Stand firm upon him as he is revealed in his word and in that we pray the Spirit would make his love and comfort known. 

What Jesus did at first in our lives, he can do again. May we experience today the comfort and strength Christ bought for us on the cross, a comfort and strength that allow us to take on the terrifying realities of this world with no fear because our God chose us, called us, is sanctifying us by his Spirit, and will return one day to shower upon us the glory of Jesus. May we go forth from here holding fast to the truth and ready to take on anything that hell throws our way because of the hope we have in Jesus.


Beale, 231.

2 https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers/

3 This is an adaption from this tweet by John Starke https://twitter.com/john_starke/status/1166459668325179392

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