Powerful Praying with Paul (2) – 3. Strength for the Journey
2 Thessalonians 2: 13 - 17 Life is a journey for all of us, and that journey is not always easy. There are hard days and difficult nights and sometimes there are weeks and months and years where the road seems to lead from one hardship to another. If we live long enough, we’ll have plenty of chances to get battle scars. No one gets a free ride and no one is exempt from the troubles of the world. Sometimes when we are discouraged, we can feel like giving up and walking away from the Lord. We’re not the first generation to feel like that. Our passage ends with a prayer by Paul for the young congregation at Thessalonica. It helps to remember that these new believers were just recently rescued from paganism. Now they were under intense pressure to leave Jesus and go back to their old life. So Paul prays that they would be encouraged and stabilised by the Lord. In order to grasp the full impact of his prayer, we need to back up to v. 13. There we will find a message of encouragement that speaks to us in the 21st century. 1. A Doctrine We Need to Believe v. 13, 14 The whole system of Christian theology can be found in these verses. Everything we believe is here in tightly compressed fashion. Key phrase - “God chose you to be saved.” That speaks of the sovereign grace of God in salvation. Did you know God chose you to be saved? If he had not chosen you, you would never have been saved at all. Sometimes we speak of “finding” the Lord, but if he had not found us first, we would never have found him at all. Salvation begins with God - not with us. He chooses us - and then we believe. I am simply declaring that salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. At times we are confused about predestination. I think I would use the word “mystery” to describe the relationship between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Some things that God understands are simply not fully understandable to us. After all, “He’s God and We’re Not.” So when Paul says, “God chose us for salvation,” I am happy to believe it just as it is written. But that doesn’t mean I can fully explain every nuance of how our choices fit into God’s sovereign plan for the universe. But they do. I believe that God arranges the circumstances of life (and the movements of the heart) to bring us to the place where we have no other choice but to freely choose to trust in Christ for salvation. To some that will seem like a contradiction, to others it will seem like a simple statement of biblical truth. Is there a mystery here? Yes, of course, and I would much prefer a theology with some mystery in it than a theology that claimed to fully explain the mind of God. When it comes to salvation, we bring the sin that makes salvation necessary, and God brings everything else. Yet we are not robots or puppets on a string, and when we come to Christ, we do not come by compulsion. We come by faith because we want to come. In our coming, we discover later that God was drawing us to himself all along by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you are troubled by this, or wonder how it could be, just remember that you are on the right track when your view of salvation gives all the glory to God. Magnify the Lord as Saviour, give him the credit, and you will be moving in the right direction. From Eternity to Eternity These 2 verses lay out the 5 stages or steps in our salvation in the broadest possible sense: A. You were loved - Salvation springs from the heart of God who loved us and gave his Son for us. The message of the gospel is always, “God loves you. God loves you. God loves you.” And this should be the church’s message as well. B. You were chosen - This is sovereign grace, divine choice, divine election, predestination. This means that when it comes to salvation, God always makes the first move, and if he didn’t make the first move, we would never make any move at all. C. You were called - The “sanctifying work of the Spirit” refers to the wooing of the Holy Spirit whereby he creates in the heart of the lost sinner a conviction of sin and a desire to come to Christ for salvation. Without this work of the Spirit, no one would ever come to Christ. D. You believed the gospel - This is where our responsibility comes into play. We are not saved simply because God chose us. We still must believe the gospel. No one goes to heaven apart from the work of Christ on the cross. E. You share in Christ’s glory - The final step in our salvation. It is a step still in the future. One day we will be with the Lord in heaven and we will share in his great victory. This is the whole sweep of salvation from “eternity to eternity.” There is great comfort in seeing things from this perspective. It tells us that God has a purpose in history. He’s not just “making it up” as he goes along. Everything in the universe plays a part in the outworking of God’s plan. This ought to give us enormous confidence as we face the uncertainties of life day by day. If you believe that everything in your life is a hit-and-miss affair, if you think that the events of each day just happen by chance, then you will be a prisoner to your circumstances. You’ll be up when things are good and you’ll be down when things are bad. How wonderful it is to rest in the knowledge that our God is working out his plan for us in everything that happens to us - the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, the happy and the sad. By the way, don’t let this doctrine worry you about who can or can’t be saved. God desires that all should come to repentance. God loves the whole world. The gospel is to be preached to every nation. There is no one who wants to be saved who cannot be saved! Rest assured on this truth. No one will be in hell by accident. No one will be in hell who should be in heaven. No one will be in hell who says, “I wanted to be saved but God would not save me.” Such a thing simply cannot happen. If you have the desire to know God, you can be confident that he gave that longing to you. God is always the initiator in salvation. God calls, we respond. God calls, we believe. God calls, we come to Christ. He sent his Spirit to draw us. He gave us his Word so we would know the truth. He even gives us faith to believe the gospel. Salvation is of the Lord! Life is hard for all of us and we all have so many questions, doubts, fears and worries. Even the best among us struggle with questions we cannot answer. So many people struggle with hurts and pains they can hardly express. “The story isn’t over yet.” If you are a believer, history doesn’t end with a question mark but with an exclamation point. Tony Campolo - “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming.” This is the message of the Resurrection: Your doubts are not the end of the story. Your fears are not the end of the story. Your worries are not the end of the story. Your uncertainties are not the end of the story. Your unbelief is not the end of the story. If we suffer with him, we will reign with him. Better days are coming because Jesus rose from the dead. The grave will not have the last word. We do believe that Jesus died and rose again, therefore we have no doubts that one day the dead in Christ will rise and we will rise with them to meet the Lord in the air. Between now and then, we are living on the edge, waiting for what God has promised. It’s like a TV cliffhanger where the end of the episode says, “Come back next week to see how the story ends.” Stay tuned, child of God. The best is yet to come. All of this, the certainty of eventual victory with our risen Lord, all of it goes back to the great purposes of God that stretch across the centuries, that span the ages, that reach from eternity past to eternity future. All of it goes back to the first truth that our God is absolutely sovereign and that our salvation rests not in our own puny strength but in the mighty hands of God whose purposes cannot fail. If you believe that God has a plan for your life, then you can find the strength to keep on going. The sovereignty of God puts iron in us. It makes us stand up straight for God. It’s a wonderful thing to say, “This is God’s will, and I have found it. And I’ve given my life to it.” 2. A Command We Need to Obey v. 15 The command flows directly from the doctrine. If you understand the purposes of God, then you will have every motivation to do what Paul commands. Stand firm! Hold on! So many believers are jumpy, jittery, worried and uncertain. Who can blame them? If you watch too much TV, you’re bound to get jittery sooner or later. In times like these, we need to stand fast on the truth of God’s sovereignty and we need to hold on to the truth written down in the Word of God. When the ground seems unsteady under your feet, remember what you have learned. Go back to the first principles. Good theology can save your life. In the time of trouble, if you know the truth and if you remember the truth, what you know and remember can save you from despair. What things are we talking about? Here’s a short list: God is good. God is faithful. He will never leave me. His mercy endures forever. This is no mistake. God has a purpose. He is working out his plan for me. God still loves me. The Holy Spirit lives in me. Jesus is alive today. He will return someday. Sometimes all we can do is dig in and hold on. When trouble comes, sometimes that’s the best thing we can do. More than anything else, our generation of Christians needs to hear these words again. “Stand fast.” Remember what you have learned. Stand on the truth you already know. Take God at his word! There is no reason to quit or to give in to evil. 3. A Prayer We Need to Pray v. 16, 17 The context is crucial because the prayer flows directly from the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and from the command to stand firm. A. Remember that God is the source of all power. He alone can help us in the time of trouble. All the resources of heaven are at our disposal. B. Remember what God has already done for us. He loved us—that’s in the past when he gave us his Son. He encouraged us—that’s in the present through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He gives us hope—that’s in the future when we will share in his glory. He has solved every problem by taking care of our past, our present and our future. In light of all that, pray for 2 things: i. Pray for an encouraged heart. ii. Pray for a stable heart. When we are encouraged, we will face the trials of life with hope. “Cheerfulness ought to be the atmosphere you breathe, and if you believe that God loves you, you cannot but be happy” (Spurgeon). When your heart is stabilized, you won’t be swayed back and forth by circumstances and emotional mood swings. The latest headlines won’t throw you for a loop one way or the other. The stable heart is fixed on the Lord and is not swaying to and fro. The mark of the stable heart is consistency. You are the same because Christ is the same no matter what happens around you. The result of the prayer is wonderful. You are able to do every good work and to say every good word the Lord wants you to do and to say. Your life and your lips act in perfect harmony with the Lord. Here’s the passage in a nutshell: Since God has chosen you for salvation, stand fast amid all the trials of life, knowing that God will encourage you and make you strong on the inside so that your life will be filled with good words and good deeds. It’s all there and it all flows together - doctrine, command, prayer. Here’s another way of looking at it: You are greatly loved—Stand fast! You were chosen by God—Stand fast! You were called to salvation—Stand fast! You believed the gospel—Stand fast! You will one day share in Christ’s glory—Stand fast! You have received God’s comfort—Stand fast! You have good hope by grace—Stand fast! You were established in every word and deed—Stand fast! Only one thing needs to be added. Get Christ into your heart and you will be stable. All that I have said about the doctrine, the command and the prayer doesn’t matter without Christ. Unless he is in your heart, the rest is just good religious advice. Do you know him? “Run to the cross!” That’s not just a good word for the lost. That’s great advice for believers. In the time of trouble, run to Jesus. Cling to him! Believe in him! Trust in him! Rest your soul in the Lord and all will be well. Amen.