2 Thessalonians Sermon Series:
Return of the King
“Hold What Ya Got”
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Growing up in the church can be wonderful but it can also be very difficult. On one hand you have the blessings that come from a Christian family (provision, love, order, godly instruction, an extended church family), but the draw-back is that you are not allowed and certainly not encouraged to question the doctrines and traditions that you have grown up under.
So, predictably, when a young person, who has grown up in the Christian home begins to question and ask, “How do we know this to be true?” the church squirms and looks down and believes that all is lost. This generation is lost to the world because they don’t want to do things the same way we did things – but all they want is an answer to a very reasonable question.
The danger of passing the baton from one generation to the next is that man made tradition (the method) is held on the same level as God’s Word (the message). So, when the younger ask the older, “why do we do it this way?” and “Can we do it another way?” there erupts arguments. Today Paul is telling a young church to hold to the traditions they have received – but it’s not the traditions that you may be thinking of.
It is Going to Be Ok (vv. 13-14)
13 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. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This new church had endured horrible persecution. Many in the church services would have been nursing the wounds of that persecution. Then, they had received the false teaching that Christ had arrived, and they had the emotional relief that all their suffering was over, they would be with Christ in moments.
Then Paul writes them back, saying no, Christ will return, but there are things that have to happen first. So back down the emotional roller coaster they go again – figuring out how do they stay faithful under the weight of persecution and hardship. It is not enough just to correct people’s doctrine – Paul also understands that he needs to address their spirit, they need to be encouraged.
Timothy Dwight once said, “The Bible is a window in this prison-world, through which we may look into eternity.” Paul is wanting the church to look through the window of his words to remind them of the eternal glory of being with Christ.
So Paul goes back in eternity, and will end in the future kingdom. “God had planned their place, and their final glory is Jesus Christ.” Firstfruits is an agricultural term of where a crop will come in, and there will be several more yields in the season. Paul is thankful for the believers at Thessalonica because they are “firstfruits” of many more that are to come.
When discussing the salvation of those at Thessalonica, he points back to them being chosen way before the establishment of the church, and then to their being able to experience the glory of the Lord in eternity. His view of salvation is an eternal, high-level perspective. It is much bigger than the difficulties and hardships that they are currently enduring. Their lives and the work they are to be doing has been established “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Paul says, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. . . he called you through our gospel” – The process of salvation seems to follow this order; God chooses a person in eternity past to be saved, they are called through the sharing of the gospel, the Holy Spirit sanctifies them, and they then believe the truth.
God chooses you, then through “sanctification by the Spirit,” – sanctification is act of making something or someone clean or holy. We see a picture of this when Moses encounters the Spirit of God in the burning bush. Exodus 3:5 “Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
God wants Moses to come into His presence “For God so loved the world”, so he takes the first step (the burning bush). Moses chooses to investigate “this strange sight” then God tells him how to be clean in his presence (take off your shoes). Moses then removes his shoes – there is a relationship where man enters into the presence of God – God draws and man follows the direction.
Sanctification occurs in the beginning of salvation, where the blindness of sin is removed enough so that a person may respond to the gospel – but it is also a life-long process of removing sin and becoming like Christ in holiness. But this same process of man cooperating with the Spirit in dealing with sin – it remains a choice their entire lives.
There are two sides in the matter of salvation. The initiative and the power are God’s; the necessary response is man’s. In these verses there is a movement of God first, then we respond to that calling and the movement of the Holy Spirit. And, as first-fruits, there is more to come. Their work in the church will lead to others coming to saving faith.
Also, before we move on from these verses, we do see that all three of the Trinity are involved in the salvation of people. All three are involved in the work of salvation. Gould says, “It is clear that our salvation is rooted in love, planned in eternity, initiated in time, and consummated in glory. Essentially, salvation is all of grace since it is originated in God’s loving choice, wrought through the power of God’s Spirit, bestowed by answering God’s call, and perfected in the glory of God’s Son.”
All that is needed for salvation, God has provided (with all that he is).
Hold What You Got (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.
When I was a kid I would go and help my grandfather, who learned to be a carpenter after he retired. He would hold one end of the board, and I would hold the other and place it on the desired mark. He would check it for level, and they he would always say, “hold what you got” – in other word this is exactly where I want the board to be, just hold it still.
(v. 15) Paul says, “stand firm and hold to” – “to have a masterful grip on a thing” the same word for take hold is used in Mark 1:31 where Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, “And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” We are to hold on masterfully to the traditions.
2 Timothy 2:15 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” You take God’s word and hold it up where it needs to be – “hold what you got.”
The word for traditions (meaning to pass on something from one person to another) can be used in a bad sense such as Col. 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
And the word tradition can be used in a good sense such as, 1 Cor. 11:23 referencing the Lord’s Supper “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,” and here in our passage today.
When we say tradition, it is not a reference to a way of doing things (like contemporary or traditional music, or order of worship). This is not what is being passed along. Paul is referring to his, Silas and Timothy’s teachings they have received while they were there.
So there are things that tend to get passed on from one group to another group, one generation to the next generation, and we must discern if it is empty human tradition, or the teachings of Scripture. “Sound doctrine is vital. The Thessalonians are to disregard the voices of theorist and fanatics, and keep “the word.’”
For them, they had Paul’s spoken word as he stayed with them, and then later wrote them with letters. Robertson says, “The worth of the tradition lies not in the form but in the source and the quality of the content.” Consider the source, where is this tradition (body of teaching) coming from?
Jesus even said several times, “You have heard it said (meaning other teachers), but I say to you. (Matthew 5-7).” Many of the religious teachers in Jesus’ day had not interpreted the Scriptures correctly.
He criticized the Pharisees for slavishly following their traditions (their interpretations and additions) and making them more authoritative than the Scripture (Matt. 15:2; Mark 7:3). Our ultimate source of tradition is the Bible, it is our ultimate source of authority.manuscripts,
How do we know that what has been passed on to us today, has not been corrupted with time? Like the children’s game of telephone.
There are several ways to establish the reliability of the Bible. The first is manuscript evidence. So a manuscript is a copy of a section of the Bible. “There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Add over 10,000 Latin Vulgate and at least 9,300 other early versions and we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence.” These manuscripts stretch out over many years and yet remain incredibly the same.
The differences that are found among these thousands of manuscripts are changes to the spelling of words (which would count as a variant), and repeats of words as they were being copied (and and, the the), and there are no variances that would change any doctrinal concepts. Today you can go to the British Museum and see the Codex Alexandrinus that was written in AD 400, and it contains almost the entire Bible.
There is also many archeological examples of cities or personalities mentioned in the biblical text, and then those cities being discovered, or the names of the person being mentioned in texts found on the site of the archeological discovery. In other words we see again and again this field of study proving the Bible to be accurate. Archaeologist Nelson Glueck asserts, “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference.”
Also, in 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy was out looking for a lost goat, threw a rock into a cave on the west side of the Dead Sea. He heard the sound of shattered pottery and went in to investigate, where he discovered ancient copies of various books. They were leather scrolls, rolled up, placed in linen coverings, and sealed in clay pots where they had sat for 1,900 years (AD 68).
There were several other caves discovered and many other copies of Old Testament books – one example is that it placed a manuscript of Isaiah 1,000 years earlier than before; and it was incredibly accurate to the earlier version. These Dead Sea Scrolls push the time line of the dates of manuscripts even earlier than before.
We Have a Job to Do (v. 16)
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.
Paul closes this section with a prayer. Everything relating to salvation and the church ultimately comes down to God’s power working within it. Through God’s grace we know that we have an eternal home, and in that have a “good hope.” But we are still here in this world, having to face the reality of a sinful fallen world – and in that we have a work to do, a word to share.
Paul is praying that God will comfort the church and to settle them down to focus on the important work they are to be doing – sharing the gospel.
Esther 4 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.” 12 And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. 13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
 “The artificial and strenuous excitement of the hope of Christ’s immediate return, and their disappointment at his delay, had left their minds fatigued. The irritation in their midst caused by a few incorrigible busybodies and confirmed loafers had left their nerves frayed. They needed uplift, so Paul takes them up to a high place where they can have a conspectus of their own state, the religion in which they believe, and God’s purpose for them in the present and in the future.” George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 11 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1955) 331.
 Buttrick, 331.
 See also 1 Thessalonians 1:4 – Chosen by God.
 David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdman Publishing Company, 2000) 1166.
 J. Glenn Gould, Beacon Bible Commentary, Volume 9 (Kansas City, Missouri; Beacon Hill Press, 1965) 524.
 Gould, 524.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 4 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1931) 54.
 Gould, 525.
 Ronald F. Youngblood, General Editor, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tennessee; Nelson Publishing, 1995) 1272.
 Suggested reading on this topic: Norman L. Geiser and William E. Nix, From God to us, How We Got Our Bible (Chicago, Illinois; Moody Press, 1974)139 ff.
 Josh McDowell, Compiled by Bill Wilson, The Best of Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (San Bernardino, California; Here’s Life Publishers, 1993) 43.
 Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville, Tennessee; Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999) 89.