God’s Calling and Our Commitment

God’s Calling and Our Commitment While We Wait

This Week: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Date: September 25, 2016

Series: While We Wait

This Week’s Resources:


This Week’s Lighthouse Lesson

Overview of this Lesson

This week’s lesson is the conclusion to 2 Thessalonians 2, which is the centerpiece of Paul’s letter. After having described the utter ruin of the disobedient through willfulness and deception (2:11-12), Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by placing them in an entirely different category. They had believed the truth, were loved by God, and were called to share in his glory. Paul wanted them to stand firm in the truth of what he taught them, not shaken by false rumors.

Memory Verse for This Week

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.– 2 Thessalonians 2:13

Core Practice

Bible Study (Hebrews 4:12): I study the Bible diligently to know God, to become like Christ, and to discern His will for my life.

This Week’s Take Home Truth

“A settled church, in contrast to a shaken church, is a church rooted in the work of God (theology) and responding in glad obedience through the power of God (doxology).”

Introduction

1. What’s something you did this past summer that was fun or enjoyable? (i.e. going to a concert, swimming, family gathering, vacation, barbeque, etc.)

2. Who was your most memorable teacher in elementary school and what made him or her so memorable?

3. When did the “gospel of Christ” first become “my gospel”?

4. Looking back at your notes from this week’s sermon, was there anything that particularly caught your attention, challenged or confused you?

Read the Text (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)

This passage is a contrast between the followers of the antichrist and the followers of Christ. It is the followers of Christ who have chosen the line of life. Thus, this is a passage that should speak with force to the heart of the believer. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 (ESV)

Stand Firm

13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

Digging Deeper

In this section, feel free to develop your own questions to help guide your group’s discussion. Below are some suggestions.

5. Verse 13 begins with the contrasting word, “But.” Who is Paul drawing a contrast to in verses 13-15 and what is the difference he is highlighting?

But in this second thanksgiving Paul remembers the divine election of the Thessalonians that resulted in their salvation. This thanksgiving for those who responded to the gospel should also be read in light of the rejection of the call to salvation by others who had heard it in Thessalonica and who, as a result, became subjects of God’s judgment (vv. 10–12). The author signals this contrast between the two groups in v. 13, which begins with the adversative “but” (de). In fact, the apostle contrasts the action of God toward the two (v. 11, God sent them “powerful delusion”; v. 13, God chose you), the means used to bring about his purposes (v. 11, “powerful delusion”; v. 14, “through our gospel”), and the ultimate destiny of both (v. 12, “all will be condemned”; v. 13, to be saved).

6. What role does each person of the Trinity play in predestination, election, salvation, and sanctification (2:13-14, see also Romans 3; Galatians 5; Ephes. 1:3-14; Col. 1:15-19; 2 Peter 1:1-11)?

Father

Son

Holy Spirit

Paul now gives a marvelously comprehensive statement of God’s saving purpose. As Denney rightly put it, here is ‘a system of theology in miniature’. In it the apostle alludes to the three persons of the Trinity, and in particular makes two parallel affirmations. The basic statements are as follows:

2:13 God chose you from the beginning to be saved through the sanctification of the Spirit.

2:14 God called you through the gospel to share in Christ’s glory.

We notice that, in relation to both God’s election and God’s call, Paul specifies the end and the means. God chose us ‘unto’ (eis) salvation ‘through’ (en) the Spirit’s sanctification, and God called us ‘unto’ (eis) the obtaining of Christ’s glory ‘through’ (dia) the gospel. We had occasion, when commenting on 1 Thessalonians 1:4, to note that the biblical doctrine of divine election has always perplexed Christian people. Yet, although it perplexes our minds, it greatly comforts our hearts, and it is entirely consistent with our experience. We know the truth of Jesus’ words ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you’. For we remember, before God laid hold of us, how wilful, wayward and weak we were. There is, therefore, no option but to trace our salvation back beyond our ‘decision’ or ‘commitment’ (i.e. conversion) to the gracious initiative of God, and say ‘God chose us … God called us …’.

First, from the beginning God chose you. ‘From the beginning’ translates ap arches, which has strong manuscript support. Bruce Metzger explains that, nevertheless, the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies preferred the alternative reading aparchen (‘as firstfruits’) mainly because Paul uses the word on six other occasions. Yet ‘as firstfruits’ has no obvious meaning here, and the context seems to demand ‘from the beginning’. Next, he chose us to be saved (in contrast to those who are ‘perishing’, v. 10, and will be ‘condemned’, v. 12), our ‘salvation’ embracing the fullness of God’s purpose to deliver us from the ravages and consequences of sin, culminating in our final, heavenly destiny. And the means by which he will accomplish this will be the sanctifying work of the Spirit (who indwells and transforms us) and our belief in the truth (13), for he opened our eyes to believe it, in contrast to those (10-12) who closed their minds to it and refused to believe.

Secondly, he called you to this through our gospel. Paul proceeds naturally from God’s eternal choice to his historical call. To this must mean ‘to this salvation just mentioned’, and through our gospel, shows that the gospel is the means by which God’s call comes to us and we respond to it. It is evident, then, that the doctrine of divine election, far from undermining evangelism, actually makes it essential, since it is through the preaching of the gospel that God calls us to himself. And the purpose of his call is that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (14), the glory which (as Paul has expounded in chapter 1) will be seen at the Parousia, by which Christ’s people will themselves be glorified, and from which unbelievers will be excluded.

We need now to step back and survey this noble landscape. ‘God chose you from the beginning for salvation…. God called you through the gospel for glory.’ There is nothing narrow-minded about the apostle Paul! His horizons are bounded by nothing less than the eternities of the past and of the future. In the eternity of the past God chose us to be saved. Then he called us in time, causing us to hear the gospel, believe the truth and be sanctified by the Spirit, with a view to our sharing Christ’s glory in the eternity of the future. In a single sentence the apostle’s mind sweeps from ‘the beginning’ to ‘the glory’. There is no room in such a conviction for fears about Christian instability. Let the devil mount his fiercest attack on the feeblest saint, let the Antichrist be revealed and the rebellion break out, yet over against the instability of our circumstances and our characters, we set the eternal stability of the purpose of God. We glance on to 2 Thessalonians 3:3 and declare with Paul, ‘The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you …’.

Nevertheless, Paul’s confidence in God’s stability of purpose did not prevent him from taking sensible precautions. He did not conclude that because God had chosen and called the Thessalonians, and would establish them and bring them to glory, he and they could sit back and do nothing. On the contrary, he had previously sent Timothy to ‘establish’ them (1 Thes. 3:2). Now he passes immediately from his confident thanksgiving first to an earnest exhortation to them to stand firm, and then to an equally earnest intercession that God will establish them.

7. What part does time play in becoming settled Christians?

If there is a crucial element that plays a part in becoming settled Christians, it is the application of God’s Word and prayer over time. Nothing can speed up the process or cause it to happen faster. This is the way God has designed it.

If there is a picture of a settled Christian in the Bible, it is that of a tree. Psalm 1 uses these words to describe a “blessed man”–

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The prophet Jeremiah uses the same description

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

What makes a strong tree? There are many elements–water, sun, a piece of earth conducive to grow–but you cannot deny the importance of time. A tall-standing tree speaks of years of grown. There is no way to speed up the process or hurry it along. All the systems in the world cannot do what God does naturally.

So it is with Christians. A settled Christian takes time. The Puritans clearly recognized this fact:

The Puritans highly valued the Bible’s accent on faithfully, consistently, tirelessly pursuing the Christian life with a view to the long haul. Key to this is the role of the ordinary means of grace (chief among them the reading/preaching of the Word, the right partaking of the sacraments, the engagement of the soul with God in prayer). If we are to manifest the constancy of the Christian pilgrim’s life then we will also place much stock in the ordinary means of grace.

8. What are warning signs we are trying to take the wrong road to becoming settled Christians?

We live in a culture obsessed with time. Our grandparent’s generation (those alive and working during the Great Depression) placed great emphasis on frugality. We all can tell stories of a grandparent, aunt, or some other older relative who squirreled money away “for a raining day.” They would drive across town to save a few cents on a can of beans, but died with a million dollars in their bank account.

Our generation doesn’t value money in this way, but we do value time. While our grandparents would cringe at a wasted penny, we cringe at wasted time. In many ways, nothing is of more value to us than time.

As a result, as Christians, we look to bypass God’s process of becoming settled Christians and seek the fast lane of sanctification. We equate knowledge with wisdom and accomplishment with character.

The problem is God does not give a fig newton about time. He is outside of time (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). Our “wasted minutes” mean nothing in the scope of God’s plans for our lives.

A clear warning sign of pursuing the wrong road to becoming a settled Christian is when you are pursuing the fruit of Christ apart from spending time in His word and communicating with Him through prayer.

One of the downsides to our day and age is that we have access to a multitude of products designed to help us acquire the knowledge of being a Christian apart from the person of Jesus Christ. Becoming a settled Christian means our foundation is in Christ and His Word (the Bible) and our focus is on His Work in our lives and in the world around us. We pay attention to His actions more than trying to seek His approval and assistance with our actions.

9. In this week’s message, we highlighted two ways we can become settled people in a shaken world. How can we give these application points prominence in our life?

Embrace learning doctrine deep down.

There is no shortcut to daily spending time in God’s Word and communing with Him through prayer. In emphasizing this point, Eugene Peterson states,

There is virtual unanimity among our Christian ancestors that the means of Christian spirituality consists precisely in the fusion of Scripture and prayer. The fusion is accomplished by reading these Scriptures slowly, imaginatively, prayerfully fully and obediently.

This is the way the Bible has been read by most Christians for most of the Christian centuries, but it is not commonly read that way today. The reading style employed more often than not by contemporary Christians is fast, reductive, information-gathering and, above all, practical. We read for what we can get out of it, what we can put to use, what we think we can use–and right now. “We … we … we … we…” all the way home.

If we are serious about following Jesus and living out the gift of his life in detail in our bodies and circumstances, we must swim against this whitewater river and familiarize ourselves with the world in which Jesus and his gift of life are revealed to us. We do it by reading our Scriptures slowly, imaginatively, prayerfully and obediently. Each adverb is important.

Enjoy watching doctrine show up.

A clear outward sign of a settled Christian is the presence of joy. True joy is almost impossible to manufacture. It is a instinctive response of a Christian in the presence of her Savior.

In “The Abiding in Christ,” an article published by Grace to You, the authors observe,

One of the chief elements of the abundant life is fullness of joy, which is an outgrowth of abiding in the true Vine. Jesus says in verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

God wants us to be consumed with joy, but few Christians are. Churches have many people who are bitter, discontent, and complaining. Some people think the Christian life is monastic deprivation and drudgery—a bitter religious pill. But God has designed it for our joy. It is when we violate God’s design that we lose our joy. If we abide fully, we will have full joy.

When David sinned, he no longer sensed the presence of God. He cried out in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” He had allowed sin to hinder the pure abiding relationship. He did not lose his salvation, but he lost the joy of his salvation.

That joy returned when he confessed his sin and accepted the consequences of it. His guilt was removed; he returned to a pure, unhindered, abiding relationship; and his joy was made full again.

The joy of abiding in the true Vine is unaffected by external circumstances, persecution, or the disappointments of life. We can experience the same joy Jesus had. And His joy flows through those who abide in Him.

Galatians 5:22 tells us Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and this fruit cannot be produced a part from the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. At the same time, Joy can be cultivated through a heart of praise and thanksgiving. Watch for God’s work in your life and praise Him when you see His providential hand moving on your behalf.

Concluding Thoughts

These questions are given to prompt both reflection and learning on a personal level, and should likely be completed individually and apart from your regular group time.

10. Is there any area in your life where you need to “stand firm” (2:15)? How will you do that?

11. What can you do to “hold to the teachings” Paul gives in this section of 2 Thessalonians?

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