June 3, 2019

Easter 5 - 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Caught in Between Time and Eternity
Through God’s Choice and in God’s Comfort

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, so that you might obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word. (HCSB)

It’s no fun to be caught in the middle. We like to have our freedom of options. If something doesn’t satisfy or stimulate us, we like to move onto something else. But, to be “caught” means to have no other options.

There are times when we’re caught in the middle because of necessity in reaching an end to something. Take the dentist’s office. No one wants to be there. When you have a cavity it’s not like any other legitimate options exist. You’re caught. Caught between denying the reality of the situation and the drill and Novocain. But, there’s a purpose. No one wants to be there but at least there’s a positive meaning behind it. [airport]

Other times, however, we’re caught in the middle simply because something is beyond our control. Think of a natural disaster or a health crisis. It’s not that God can’t work good out of those situations but they’re not things we enter into willingly. They are out of our control.

It’s never enjoyable to be caught in the middle – no matter what the situation is – no matter what the purpose is. There are plenty of examples of this in life – but there are also many in our faith. We see an example today in the second letter to the congregation of Thessalonica. The text divides nicely into three sections, and we’ll take a look at them individually.

To start, there’s one call to action in this section – what we might call a command from God. This is His expectation for us. This is something He is telling you to do in your life. The call to action is in verse 15: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

This is the middle. This is where you feel caught in your faith-life. What you’re in the middle of, however, is God’s abundant mercy through His Son, Jesus, as given to you by the Holy Spirit. In case you’re unsure – that’s a good place to be. You see, we’re caught in the middle of time and eternity – but it’s not a precarious situation because God tells us that He is in control.

God’s control of the matter is structured as His choice and His comfort. Verses 13-14 describe choice. Now when that word is used most people immediately think of faith as a choice they make for God. Catchy illustrations like an ignition switch or opening the door to God’s mercy are often used to describe choice. If that’s what we understand, our hope in these verses is severely limited. Rather, the choice described here, as it is elsewhere in the Bible, is God’s. God chose to save us. God chose to send us spiritual aid when we were in need. God chose to give His only begotten Son. That’s what these verses are telling us.

In a way, we could call verses 13-14 the staples of our faith. In these brief words we’re taught that God called us, that He brings us salvation by faith, that this is based on the power of the Holy Spirit, that this is a truthful message which is contained in the Bible, and that through faith we share in the glory of our Savior Jesus. These are well-known teachings but they have profound meaning for our lives, and these first two verses are packed with valuable information about being a believer.

Verses 13-14 center around God’s action – the choices He made for our salvation. And that’s really what our faith rests upon. When we say that God made a choice, there’s much more to that than just planning salvation beforehand (as amazing of a teaching as that is). It also means that God made the choice to carry that plan through to completion – an act which involved sentencing His own Son to death on the cross. It also means that God made the choice to transmit the blessings of faith through the gospel – an objective, unchangeable measure of His grace that applies to all people. This choice also determined to give this blessing by the power of the Holy Spirit, working with and through the Word of God wherever it is proclaimed in its truth. These are all actions that God alone chose to do.

God describes these things both from His perspective and from ours. Verse 13 is about eternity – the realm of God’s working. Verse 14 is about time – the realm in which we receive God’s blessing.

This is why feeling caught in the middle is tough. God’s in eternity. We’re in time. His blessings are true and certain, but they must also be received. It’s so easy to get impatient and want to move onto something else. But the reality is that there’s nothing comparable out there. There’s nothing worth moving onto. So, sometimes in life we just have to stay where we’re at – and take God at His Word.

Jump to the last two verses. Here we see the other side of God’s work, which is centered on comfort. May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word.

Yet, we have the same connection that we had in choice. God frames comfort from both His perspective on ours. Our faith gives us and eternal encouragement through Jesus. But it also encourages our hearts and strengthens us in every good work and word today. Think of verses 13-14 as what God does and verses 16-17 as the effect it has – both in eternity and in time. When we see, believe, and trust in the gospel (what God does) and we combine that with heeding and following the call of God to treasure this – we receive the blessed effect – comfort (encouragement) for our faith.

Sometimes, people resist the place of faith because of the tendency to move on to new options. Again, that’s why we naturally hate to be caught in the middle. We want the freedom to express ourselves with different options. We want to keep that back door open just in case things get too uncomfortable. We want the choice to take an easier path.

But faith keeps us in the middle. And that’s a good thing. Faith does not leave us any extra options. There is no escape route when things get too difficult. In trial, faith leads us to trust. In temptation, faith leads us to obey. It always keeps us centered between God’s choice and God’s comfort.

Overall, the message here is that God has us covered. To be caught in the middle of His choice and His comfort is a blessed place to be. It’s not restrictive or demanding. There’s a purpose behind all of God’s work to keep us centered in this place. To keep us from falling from His grace, God gives us something to do while we are sheltered.

And that’s where we come back to the one command of this section: Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.

God calls you to stand firm in this place – the place of your faith. Don’t be distracted by the other options for spiritual living in the world. Don’t allow Satan to tempt you into thinking that God doesn’t mean what He says. Stand firm. Hold your ground. You do that by clinging to God’s Word. That’s what Paul meant with “the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.”

When we hear “tradition,” we think of some custom or ritual that’s part of the culture we live in. Many traditions, while useful, are not necessary. Many traditions in the church have come and gone. Some are new, some are old. Here’s an important point to remember – this is NOT what Paul is talking about.

At his time, the tradition was the truth which was passed down from one generation to another. Think of Paul’s generation. They didn’t yet have a complete Bible. The truth was not transmitted through pages and ink; but from fathers to sons, and mothers to daughters. This tradition was not a custom or ritual. It was the truth of God’s revelation through Jesus. It was the gospel – the message of salvation.

Paul wrote similarly to the Corinthians: For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1Co 15:1 CSB) This was the tradition – the message of Christ. Paul wasn’t imploring the Thessalonians or Corinthians to hold to this tradition because it was their generation’s identity as Christians. He implored them to do this because it was the truth just as much as it is for us. Today we say, Scripture, or God’s Word, or the Bible – but it’s the same tradition which was passed down to Paul, and which he passed down to others.

It’s the Word of God – whether spoken through a message like this, or learned by a letter written in the Bible, that’s going to keep you in the middle of God’s grace. The Word is a protective thing. It destroys the ploys of Satan. It shatters the misconceptions of the world. It casts down the pride of your heart. Only God can do that, and He chooses to do so through His Word of truth. This is not a bad thing – we need protective from God’s Word more than we want to admit. But even as good as this gift is, it’s still not the best thing about God’s Word either.

The best thing about the Word is that it makes God’s faithfulness your own. Did you notice how personal Paul got? He tells the reader that it’s OUR gospel, OUR message, OUR letter, and OUR Lord Jesus Christ. You’re included in that group because you have faith in Jesus. The greatest treasures of His grace, even His very own Son, are yours. You partake in the greatest that God has to offer. Even though He made the choice and He earned the comfort – it is yours. That’s what you have when you’re caught in the middle of His love.

The struggle between time and eternity is real. It’s tough to be a sinful, mortal human who strives to follow a perfect, almighty, eternal God. Sometimes it’s so tough you want a way out. You want an easier option. You want to follow the masses. Don’t. Any path apart from Christ is a lie. There is nothing better. There is nothing more you can earn or choose. There is no greater comfort – no better balm for life’s woes that you can find. God has you covered. To protect you and to encourage you in your faith. When you are in His grace, you’re exactly where you need to be. Amen.

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