Posted by: Johnold Strey | January 15, 2012

Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15


  1. The gospel that first called you to faith
  2. The gospel that calls you to stand firm in faith

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15


A little perspective can change us from people filled with complaints to people filled with thanks.  On Monday we had our monthly study meeting with the other WELS pastors in our region.  One of them asked me how I was doing, and I responded with complaints about the illness that has bothered me since the first week of the New Year.  Later in the meeting, one of the pastors talked about some of the difficult personal crosses that his family has had to bear.  Hearing his story, I thought to myself, “What right do I have to complain about being sick?  This man’s difficulties far surpass a cough and cold!”  A little perspective can be helpful, can’t it?

The section of God’s Word that we are going to look at today is one of those “perspective-changers.”  Today we will study the opening verses of the Second Lesson from 2 Thessalonians.  This excerpt immediately follows a section where the apostle Paul warned his readers about “the man of lawlessness,” who is called the “Antichrist” elsewhere in the Bible.  Talking about a terrible force within the church that would try to take the place of Christ and draw people away from Christ was a frightening thought.  But it was also a perspective-changer.  It certainly made the questions and problems that this ancient congregation dealt with pale by comparison.  It certainly made Paul thankful for the believers in Christ who belonged to the Christian congregation in ancient Thessalonica.  In the section of 2 Thessalonians that we will look at today, Paul gives thanks to God for these believers.  But in reality, he’s giving thanks to God for the gospel that had made them believers.  That’s the same thought we want to take home today.  Give thanks to God for the gospel!  Give thanks to God for the gospel that first called you to faith.  Give thanks to God for the gospel that calls you to stand firm in faith.


Paul begins our section with a fresh perspective of thanks for his readers.  He wrote, “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.”  Obviously Paul is thankful for the people he is writing to, but he’s especially thankful to God for the way the gospel had worked in their hearts.  He calls them “brothers loved by the Lord.”  The way Paul wrote that phrase indicated that God had shown them his love in a concrete way in the past, and God’s past actions of love had ongoing significance in the future.  In the past, even before time began, God had chosen these Thessalonian Christians (and all believers) to be saved from sin and to become members of his family.  God made sure they received these blessings “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”  When the good news about Jesus Christ was proclaimed to them, the Holy Spirit gave them faith in the gospel facts of Jesus’ life so that they stood before God holy and righteous. 

Paul was very thankful for their faith!  He had been privileged to play a role in their coming to faith.  He said, “[God] called you to this through our gospel.”  When Paul said, “our gospel,” he didn’t mean that the gospel was a message that he and his missionary coworkers made up; he meant that the gospel was a message that they had the opportunity and privilege to proclaim.  As a result of that message and that proclamation, Paul’s readers “might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  A way we could picture that thought is through the ceremony we include during a baptism.  Whenever we have a baptism in our service, the paschal candle is lit.  That large candle is a symbol of the risen Jesus.  Light is a symbol for life, and so we light the candle during Easter to remember how the risen, living Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.  The Bible also tells us that when we are baptized, we are connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We become sharers of the glory that Jesus’ resurrection brings.  And so we light a baptism candle from the large paschal candle and give it to the baptized person or their family to symbolize that the newly baptized believer now shares in Jesus’ glory and life.  That is a visual way to depict what Paul says here: “He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How thankful are you for this gospel message that first called you to faith?  How thankful for you when you hear that Jesus Christ came to earth, did battle with sin, and overcame death to win your forgiveness and your freedom from hell?  Truth be told, there are many times when our response to that message is anything but thanks.  Especially if we have been Christians all or most of our lives, we can get tired of hearing that same old seemingly tired message.  Yes, all these things happened in the past, but they have little significance for us today—so it seems.

Perhaps the best way for us to renew our appreciation for the gospel is for us to realize where we would be without the gospel!  What would happen if we rewrote the first two verses of our reading?  What would they say if Jesus Christ had not come to earth to be your Savior?  Paul would have wrote: “We have no reason to thank God for you sinners, condemned by the Lord, because from your conception you were sinful in God’s eyes and disobedient to his laws.  God’s law condemns you, and you will suffer eternally, separated from all his glory and goodness.”

Sound ridiculous?  Actually, that would be reality apart from faith in Jesus Christ!  And that is all the more reason to give thanks for the gospel which first called you to faith.  How amazing to think that God chose you to be his own before time began!  How incredible that God used the gospel message of Jesus Christ to bring you to faith in his Son who has rescued us from hell itself!  How astounding that God erased the shame of your sin through Jesus’ shed blood and placed heavenly glory in your future through Jesus’ resurrection victory!


There are some things in life that we stand by in good times and bad.  We stand by our family members and support them when one of them has to go through a difficult personal challenge.  We stand by our biblical values and morals when they are under attack by the culture around us.  We even stand by our sports teams—like our own St. Mark’s Lions during yesterday’s basketball tournament.

In our reading for today, Paul encouraged his readers to stand by the gospel—that is, to stand firm in their faith in the gospel.  He wrote, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”  Paul told his readers to continually do two things.  One was to “stand firm”—to remain firm in their faith and not move from the gospel message about Jesus that they had come to believe.  The other was to “hold to the teachings we passed on to you.”  That’s another way of saying, “Stand firm.”  The word translated “hold to” has the picture of clinging very tightly to something because it is so important and precious.

Parents often pass things down to their children.  Those “things” could be family heirlooms.  Those “things” could be family photos.  Those “things” could be stories from the family’s history.  In our reading, Paul says that he and the other missionaries who founded this congregation had passed something else on to them.  He urged them to “hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”  The word for “teachings” here is sometimes translated “tradition.”  The idea behind the original Greek term for tradition is something that is handed down from one person to another.  We usually don’t think of Christian teaching as a tradition.  We usually use the word “tradition” to refer to our human customs.  But Paul described Scriptural teaching as a tradition, something that needed to be handed down from one person to another.  That description does not at all undo the truth that Scripture is also the perfect and inspired Word of God.  Paul’s words simply remind his readers that he did not keep this message to himself, but he handed it down and passed it on to them.  Paul had done that in two ways: by his previous letter to them (1 Thessalonians), and by his preaching and teaching in person when he first founded this congregation on his second missionary journey.

If you want to get good at a sport, you have to practice.  If you want to get good at playing piano or organ so that we can add you to the roster of fine church musicians here at St. Mark’s, you have to practice.  If you want to do well on the next test that’s coming up in class, you have to study faithfully.  All of that goes without saying.  And so does this: If you want to stand firm in your Christian faith, you have to immerse yourself in the Word of God.

The amazing truth about God’s Word is that it accomplishes in you what it calls on you to do!  I cannot believe in Jesus on my own, but God’s Word has made that happen.  You cannot grow stronger in faith by yourself, but God’s Word makes that happen.  We cannot find strength to live a godly life inside our own hearts, but God’s Word enables us to live honorably for the One who lived and died and lives again for us.

When you have gone through one of those valleys in life—difficult and trying circumstances—you know how much you appreciate the family and friends who stand by your side through it all.  And when you have family members or friends you stand by your side in the tough times, you naturally want to stand by their side, too.  Friends, you have a good and gracious God who has stood by your side and done more for you than anyone else could ever dream of!  He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into this world for you.  He sent Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty of your sin.  He raised Jesus from the dead to declare your divine acquittal from sin and guilt.  Can anyone else love you like this?  Can anything else inspire you to dig into the Word regularly and to live in a way that honors God daily?  There can be no greater reason to give thanks for the gospel, because that wonderful gospel message of forgiveness enables you to stand firm in your Christian faith.


We have a bedtime prayer routine with our children.  The final prayers of our routine are prayers that they make up; ideally, each family member asks God for one thing and then thanks God for one particular blessing.  Sometimes it is hard for kids to come up with an item to thank God for.  Of course, it’s not just kids who have that problem.  Adults can easily think of all sorts of things to ask from God, but struggle to come up with reasons to thank him, even though we really have no shortage of reasons for thanksgiving.

Paul’s words in our Second Lesson show us that we have about 200 reasons in this building to thank God.  Every believing soul here represents someone in whom the gospel has done its work.  And that’s also a reason to thank God for the gospel itself.  The good news of Jesus’ death that paid for our sin and his resurrection that opened heaven is not some stale, old message for yesterday; it’s the very reason to give thanks to God today, tomorrow, and every day.  Friends, don’t ever take the gospel for granted.  Give thanks for the gospel!  Amen.



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