The Strength That Lasts

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

December 1, 2002 | Brian Bill

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving!  How many of you ate too much?  Here’s a sign that you may have overdone it.

  • When you had your blood drawn to check your cholesterol, only gravy came out.

Let me give you a quiz to see how much you know about this national holiday.

Q: What are unhappy cranberries called?

A: Blueberries!

Q: Why didn’t the turkey eat dessert?

A: He was stuffed!

Q: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

A: Pilgrims!

Q: What kind of music did the Pilgrims listen to?

A: Plymouth Rock!

Q: When the Pilgrims landed, where did they stand?

A: On their feet!

As we come to our text this morning, we’re going to see that Paul’s desire is for the Thessalonian Pilgrims to land on their feet.  We learned last week that these young believers had lost their footing and were unsettled and alarmed because they thought the seven-year Tribulation period had already started.  Paul assured them that this was impossible because the Rapture will come before the Rebellion and the Revelation of the antichrist.  Believers in Jesus Christ will not be left behind.

You can’t miss the breath of fresh air in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 as Paul shares with us his own giving of thanks.  He might not have sat down at a table and overdid it like the rest of us on Thursday, but he certainly outdid himself in one of the most beautiful and concise statements of theology ever written.  We’re going to break this passage into two parts this morning.  We’ll focus on verses 13-17 as a way to help us get ready for another meal — the feast of communion.  We’ll pick up the first five verses in 2 Thessalonians 3 as our after-dinner dessert.

Notice verse 13: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord…”  The word, “but” serves to introduce a transition from the bad news to the good news as Paul describes his obligation to offer thanks for the work of God in their lives.  Based on everything that God has done, Paul tells them to “stand firm and hold to” the truth in verse 15.  When circumstances arise that are alarming, and when the powerful winds of persecution start to knock you off the ground, it’s imperative that you take tenacious hold of something and not let go.

Several years ago, a pilot named Henry Dempsey was flying his 15-passenger plane from Maine to Boston.  At 4,000 feet he heard a noise where the rear stairs were located.  He turned the controls over to his co-pilot and walked to the back of the plane.  As he was making his way to the back, they hit some turbulence and he was slammed against the door and it fell open.  He was sucked part of the way out, fell face down on the steps and grabbed for something – anything that might save his life.  His hands caught a railing and he held on with everything he had.  

The co-pilot thought he had fallen out and diverted the flight to a nearby airport.  When he landed he found Dempsey with his face 12 inches above the runway, with his hands so tight around the rails that his fingers had to be pried off, one by one.  

Friends, the life and death grip with which Henry Dempsey held on to that railing is the kind of grasp we should have on the revelation of God, the Word of Truth, the Bible.  Now let’s suppose the railing that the pilot held on to was a cable instead of a piece of metal.  And let’s say that this cable was made of three thick strands of steel that are set forth in this passage of Scripture.

1. The strand of salvation. 

Look again at verse 13: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved…”  When the turbulence of life is knocking you around, remember that the Lord loves you and that he selected believers to be saved.  I can’t think of anything more comforting than to know that I am the object of God’s unconditional love and that according to Ephesians 1:4, my salvation has almost nothing to do with me and everything to do with Him: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  He said the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 1:4: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you…”

If the doctrine of election bothers you, let me give you some assurance: There is no one who wants to be saved who cannot be saved!  If you have the desire to know God, you can be confident that He gave that longing to you.  Sometimes we become way too human focused in our evangelical churches.  God is always the initiator.  He has taken the first move.  All we can do is respond to His offer of reconciliation.  And, even our ability to believe is ultimately a gift from Him.  Jesus put it this way in John 6:44: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”

2. The strand of sanctification. 

The last part of verse 13 establishes the strong strand of sanctification: “…through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  Here we see that the Holy Spirit is doing His work of transforming us, day-by-day.  This work is entirely of God but it is activated when we put our belief in the truth.  Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both taught in Scripture.

The entire Trinity is involved in moving us toward Christlikeness so that we can reflect Him in deed and word, in what we do and what we say, in our work and in our witness

Our sanctification is spelled out in greater depth 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 entire Trinity is involved in moving us toward Christlikeness so that we can reflect Him in deed and word, in what we do and what we say, in our work and in our witness.  

As we’re hanging on by our fingertips, we realize that God is hanging on to us, encouraging and strengthening us.   I love the comforting words in John 10:28-29: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

3. The strand of sharing in His glory. 

Look at verse 14: “He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In order for God to activate His eternal plan in their lives, He positioned Paul, Silas and Timothy to preach the Word of God to them.  Likewise, we are called through the Gospel – we can’t be saved apart from someone sharing the good news with us.  And we are saved in order to share in the glory of Christ.

What begins with grace always leads to glory.  You and I will have the privilege of sharing in the glory of Jesus according to John 17:24: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” This third strand should give us great comfort.  While those who refuse to believe the truth are faced with everlasting destruction, those who believe will be singing the eternal doxology.  

The word “glory” refers to the “heaviness,” or “weightiness” of Jesus.  According to 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Jesus will be revealed in the “splendor of His coming.”  And those of us who are saved as spelled out in Romans 8:30, will experience the exhilarating exuberance of the exalted one’s ecstatic glory: “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” 

As we come to the table, grab on to this three-stranded cable – salvation, sanctification, and the sharing of His glory – our past, our present, and our future.  As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let me draw your attention to verse 15: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”  To “stand firm” means “to brace yourself,” like you do when you play tug-of-war.  We need to dig in and hold on.

What were the teachings that were passed on to them?  In some of your translations, the word “traditions” is used.  Before the Bible was written down, God’s truth was transmitted orally.  Thankfully we now have it in written form.  The Greek word used here for “letter” is the word that is translated “epistle” in English.  One of the traditions that we have today, which helps us stand firm and hold on, is the celebration of a supper.  

This is one of God’s visual aids to jog our memory of the mystery and marvel of the death of another in our place.  To honor His redemptive work, He marked the moment with a meal so that whenever we eat we will remember what He did for us.

Most of us offered up thanks before we dove into our turkey.  Paul gave thanks for the growing believers at Thessalonica.  According to 1 Corinthians 11:23-24, Jesus broke out into thanksgiving before he feasted on some food with his friends: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’” 

It’s pretty difficult to share a meal with someone when your relationship is ruptured, isn’t it?  Some of you may have experienced some tension this week as you sat down with friends or family members.  The Bible makes it clear that before we sit down at this table we need to make sure our relationship with Christ is OK and that we’re not out of fellowship with fellow Christ followers.  1 Corinthians 11:28: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.”

Why don’t you take a minute right now to examine yourself?  Confess any sins to the Lord and determine to make things right with anyone you may be in conflict with.


[Distribution of Bread]

[Distribution of Cup]

A Plea for Prayer

Chapter two concludes with what Paul is thankful for – salvation, sanctification, and the sharing of glory.  We come now to chapter three where we will see that Paul is making a plea for some prayer.  When we spend time thanking, we can’t help but pray.  Look at verses 1-2: “Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.”  

It is not unusual for Paul to ask for prayer for himself.  There are at least five other times in his letters where he personally asks for prayer (Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:9-11; Ephesians 6:17-21; Philippians 1:15-20; Colossians 4:3-4).  He was a man committed to the practice of prayer for others and he longed to have people pray for him as well.  In his mind, his preaching could not be separated from the prayers of people.  Notice however, that Paul isn’t asking for his situation to improve, or for his health, or anything like that.  He basically wants believers in Thessalonica to pray two things for him and his team located in Corinth.

1. Pray for proclamation. 

The first thing he asks is that people would pray for the proclamation of the gospel.  He wants the message of the Lord to spread “rapidly,” which conjures up the image of a runner who is racing at full speed.  Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is alive and active.  Paul may have had Psalm 147:15 in his mind when he wrote this: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.”  His desire is for the gospel to have free course as it hurries into the hearts of hurting people.  

God’s Word will always accomplish God’s work

He also wants this message to be “honored,” which means to “be magnified” or “to be rendered glorious.”  As the gospel does its work, lives are radically changed and Jesus is made “bigger” in believers.  Acts 13:48 describes how the Gentiles rendered the gospel glorious: “…They were glad and honored the word of the Lord…” God’s Word will always accomplish God’s work.  The Thessalonians certainly honored the gospel as we learned in 1 Thessalonians 1:8: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia-your faith in God has become known everywhere.”

2. Pray for protection. 

Paul asked for prayer for the message.  Next, he asks for prayer for the messenger in verse 2.  Specifically, he desires to be delivered from “wicked and evil men.” The word “wicked” describes those who were out of line and out of place, men who direct themselves and others away from that which is good and right.  “Evil” means malignant, a word that was used to describe Satan himself.  

  • Paul expected to find many opportunities; therefore he asked them to pray for success.
  • Paul expected much opposition; therefore he needed prayer for safety.

Paul is in Corinth, a city filled with both opportunities and opposition and the Thessalonians are in another location with their own ministry and mishaps.  Do you see the missionary application here?   We’re located here in this community with our own struggles and successes and yet we have missionaries literally scattered around the globe who are in desperate need of our prayers.

About 10 days ago, I emailed all of our missionaries and asked them to let us know how we can pray for them in two specific ways – for the proclamation of the gospel and for their protection.  For the rest of our time this morning, I want us to engage in intercessory prayer for our missionaries who have been sent out from us so that the Word of God can sprint swiftly and be honored by people on the various continents.  

Before we do that, I want to encourage you to not take this lightly.  Let’s pray earnestly and fervently for the message and the messengers.  This is a tough task and a holy honor.  

In 1620, Governor William Bradford described the Pilgrim’s departure from Holland to England, where they would board the ship bound for America.  After talking about the voyage, this is what he said: “…The rest of the time was spent in powering out prairs to ye Lord with great fervencie, mixed with abundance of tears.” 

Isn’t that great?  Let’s power out some prayers right now with great fervency and maybe even with some tears…

Now, let’s spend some time praying for the upcoming opportunities that each of us will have during the month of December to proclaim the gospel message.  Let’s also pray for protection against any opposition that may come our way.  As we pray for our missionaries and for our own ministry, verse 3 gives us great comfort: “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

Please stand as I read verses 4-5 for our closing benediction this morning: “We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”  Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?