Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 11, 2008

Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

STEWARDSHIP STARTS WITH GOD’S GIFTS TO YOU
1. Look at what God has given you
2. Don’t lose hold of what God has given you

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

The first in a three-part stewardship series

Other sermons in series: Haggai 1:1-8, 2 Cor. 9:6-11

Introduction

My father-in-law was a Lutheran elementary school teacher for many years.  Each year, on the first day of school, he gave his class a little speech about breakfast.  He wanted his students to eat a decent breakfast before they came to school each day.  “You can’t run a car on an empty tank, and you can’t run a child on an empty stomach,” he used to tell them.  Of course, his observation is correct.  You need to fuel your body if you’re going to have a good morning.

Today we begin a three-Sunday series of stewardship services and sermons.  The observation my father-in-law made about fueling your body with a good breakfast applies quite nicely to our stewardship discussion.  I’m not suggesting that stewardship requires that you have a good breakfast each morning.  But stewardship is really another way to look at our entire Christian life.  We are stewards, or managers, of all the blessings God has given us.  If we’re going to manage everything God has given us well, then our faith needs strength every day.  A good breakfast will give your body and mind the fuel it needs to start the day well, and a good dose of God’s Word will give your soul the fuel it needs to maintain healthy Christian stewardship.

Most of the time, the word stewardship conjures up images of offering envelopes, fund raisers, and pledge drives.  But today, in our first stewardship service, we want to remember how Christian stewardship is fueled.  What does it take to start a good, godly pattern of Christian stewardship in our life?  In the Bible reading chosen for this sermon, from 2 Thessalonians chapter two, the apostle Paul will teach us that Christian stewardship starts with God’s gifts to you.  Look at what God has given you, so that you don’t lose hold of what God has given you.

I.

Thanksgiving is only a month and a half away (and is approaching too quickly if you ask me!).  I know one family that has their own Thanksgiving family tradition each year.  The family members take turns, going around the room or the table; each person mentions something that he or she is thankful for, working through all the letters of the alphabet.  The first person comes up with something that starts with A, the second person with B, and so on.  That’s not a bad family tradition.  But I wonder what most families’ lists would look like.  Would letter F be food or football or faith?  Would letter S be sweets or salvation?  Would letter C be credit — something in rare supply these economically trying days — or Christ?

There’s nothing wrong with thanking God for daily, physical blessings.  That’s actually a very good thing, given that so often God doesn’t even get credit for that.  But in today’s reading, the apostle Paul thanked God for the Christians in one of the congregations he founded.  And when he thanked God for them, his attention was entirely on spiritual blessings.  Look at the spiritual blessings God had given them.  “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul wasn’t just thankful for his reader’s spiritual blessings.  He said that he owed God continual thanks for the fact that his readers had received the Lord’s love.  If you read the previous chapter and a half in 2 Thessalonians, you know why Paul felt this way.  Paul just finished talking about persecution they were enduring, an anti-Christian influence coming within the church, and wicked people who opted for evil deeds over the eternal salvation that comes through Jesus Christ.  With all these influences around them, it was no small miracle that there was a group of Christians in ancient Thessalonica whom the Holy Spirit had made holy and who believed that the gospel about Jesus Christ was factually true and not just a religious fable.  That was reason enough for Paul to thank God for his readers!  On top of that, he could thank God that one day they would possess the same heavenly glory that ultimately belongs to Jesus Christ.

Do we think the same way Paul did?  Do we wake up in the morning and pray, “Lord Jesus, I am eternally grateful that you have put eternal glory in my future,” or do we think, “Dear God, I’d really be glad if the stock market wouldn’t drop any more today”?  Do we pray, “Heavenly Father, I am so grateful that you sent Jesus into this world to bail me out of hell,” or do we think, “Dear God, I’d be really grateful if you bailed the country out of our mortgage lending mess?”  Do we look at how much God has spiritually given us, or do we think about how much we want God to physically give us?  Again-it’s not wrong to pray for physical, earthly things, but can a Washington bailout bail you out of your sin, and can a stock market turn-around turn around the future that rightly awaits all sinners in hell?

We have real reason to thank God, and it starts right with Paul’s words.  “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord.” Before this world began, God called you to be his own son or daughter.  Before you were born, God sent his son to be born into this world as your Savior.  Before you breathed your first breath, Jesus Christ breathed his last on the cross to free you from the sin you would be born with.  Before you had the ability to love anyone else, God loved you and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the sins of the whole world.  Before you came out of your mother’s womb, Jesus came out of the tomb and defeated the sin that would have otherwise bound you in the grave.  So put these truths in perspective when it comes to Christian stewardship!  Look at what God has given you!  There you will find the food that fuels your stewardship.

II.

Some of you noticed last week that I was a little under the weather.  I was fighting a cold last Sunday and the preceding week, so I was a little stuffy and a little hoarse when I led last week’s service.  Whenever I catch a cold, I inevitably shape up my health habits for a little while.  I take my vitamins more regularly.  I avoid foods that will prolong the cold and drink lots of water and tea.  But I have to admit that I don’t think that way when I feel well.  When I feel well, it’s easy for me to forget about taking my vitamins or not to be concerned with eating foods that will keep me healthy.  And I know I’m not alone in that tendency, either.  It’s easy to be concerned about our health when our health isn’t so great, but to forget that concern when everything seems just fine.

It’s easy to forget about our physical health when we feel fine.  It’s just as easy to forget about our spiritual health when we feel fine.  That’s the concern Paul shows in the last three verses of our reading.  Paul thanks God for the blessings he had given his readers, but he also doesn’t want the Thessalonians to lose hold of those blessings.  “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  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.”

Our reading today comes from 2 Thessalonians.  Paul had written a previous letter to this group of Christians, 1 Thessalonians.  Between these two letters, someone else sent another letter, claiming to be from Paul and his fellow missionaries.  The problem was not just the forged letter.  The problem was that contents of that forged letter taught the exact opposite of what Paul had taught them in person and in his prior letter to them, 1 Thessalonians.

Paul didn’t want them to put their faith in an unstable lie.  He saw the threat to their faith.  So he told them right out: “You Thessalonians need to constantly built your faith on the foundation I gave you; you need to constantly cling to the doctrines I taught you in my last letter and whenever I preached to you.”  And after he told them directly what they needed to do lest they lose the gift God gave them, he prayed for it.  He prayed that God the Father, who loved them, and God the Son, who showed them a tangible display of divine love at the cross, would stand beside them and make them stand tall and strong in Christian faith.  And with God’s grace filling their hearts, God’s love would reflect into their lives.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Once saved, always saved”?  The phrase originates from a branch of Christianity called Calvinism.  Historically, those who held to this view believed in the “perseverance of the saints”-the idea that once you were brought to faith in Jesus Christ, you really couldn’t fall away from faith.  Scripture doesn’t teach that.  You can even sense that from Paul’s concern in this section, although he doesn’t speak to the matter as directly as other sections of Scripture.

Lutherans don’t teach “once saved, always saved,” but I wonder if we don’t inadvertently think that way.  “I got confirmed in eighth grade and learned everything I need to know.”  “I went to Lutheran elementary school (or high school, or both) and got my education then.”  “I took Pastor’s 20-lesson Bible Information Class, and we really covered a lot of material, so I’m good to go as far as my Christian knowledge goes.”  In the meantime, Bibles sit on house bookshelves unopened.  Devotional opportunities during the day pass by.  Children’s Sunday School classes don’t take place, because there are no children in them.  Adult Bible classes have empty chairs, because no new participants have replaced the ones who used to attend and now have moved out of the area.  Pews are left empty on Sunday, because the beach blanket or the bedroom pillow or the restaurant booth or the football broadcast seemed more inviting than the Word and Sacrament.  And Satan and his cohorts come one step closer to snatching away the faith that we thought we couldn’t lose.

So heed Paul’s encouragement!  Don’t lose hold of what God has given you!  Don’t put down your guard!  Take up your Bibles and open them!  Open them at home and open them together with your fellow Christians at church.  Take a spot in your pew and take in God’s gospel promises.  Take a spot at the altar with your fellow believers and take in the body and blood of Jesus for strength and forgiveness.  Take a look at the baptismal font and remember how the water used on your baptismal day did more than wash your head; it washed sin and guilt away from your heart.  Take a look at the cross and remember with gratitude how much it cost your Savior to take hell out of your future and replace it with the perfect holiness and happiness of heaven.

Conclusion

I haven’t talked much about stewardship in this sermon.  Or have I?  Perhaps not in the traditional sense of financial stewardship.  But remember what Paul said at the end of our reading: “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.” When you focus on the love and grace of God, you grow in faith.  And when you grow in faith, Jesus himself is there to “strengthen you in every good deed and word.” Put those thoughts together.  If you want to encourage people to give generously to the Lord, you’ve got to give them the gospel first.  If you want to make your life shine with God’s love to others, you’ve got to fill yourself up with God’s grace first.

Stewardship starts with God’s gifts to you, and God has given you his all-even his own Son-so that you could have a place with him for all eternity.  Let that gospel message equip you to be the kind of steward God calls you to be.  Amen.

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