Thursday, December 03, 2009

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

V13-17 – 13But 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. 14He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings [or traditions] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Paul closes out this chapter with a return to thanksgiving, contrasting Christians with unbelievers yet again. And there’s a lot of meat in his explanation (1 Peter 1:2). Beginning with “but,” Paul excludes his Christian audience from those described in v11-12. He says, “God chose you to be saved” (v13; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:4; Ephesians 1:4). Calvin notes, “In short, Paul here does two things; for he confirms faith, lest the pious should give way from being overcome with fear, and he exhorts them to gratitude, that they may value so much the higher the mercy of God towards them.” Paul says that God did this “through belief in the truth,” not because of belief in the truth. Again, in the words of Calvin, “In order that we may know that we are elected by God, there is no occasion to inquire as to what He decreed before the creation of the world, but we find in ourselves a satisfactory proof if He has sanctified us by His Spirit – if He has enlightened us in the faith of His gospel. For the gospel is an evidence to us of our adoption, and the Spirit seals it, and those that are led by the Spirit are the sons of God (Romans 8:14), and he who by faith possesses Christ has everlasting life (1 John 5:12)… Hence it becomes us to rest satisfied with the faith of the gospel, and that grace of the Spirit by which we have been regenerated.”

Then in v14, Paul says that God called believers “to this,” that is, salvation, through the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:12; Romans 1:6; 8:28-30; 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9,24-26; 7:18-21; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 4:1,4; John 10:3-4; 1 Peter 5:10). In reminding the Thessalonians of God’s calling, Calvin notes that Paul “repeats the same thing, though in somewhat different terms. For the sons of God are not called otherwise than to the belief of the truth.”

Vincent Cheung says, “Doctrines make the difference between heaven and hell, but it is God who causes those whom He has chosen for salvation to believe the right doctrines. The gospel is made effective in the soul of man by a divine inward action, a power that God applies directly to the mind as He controls the thoughts and dispositions of man. Paul credits to this work of God the initial belief in the gospel, the sanctification of the believer, encouragement in the heart, and strength ‘in every good deed and word’ (v17).” Gordon Clark writes, “The Arminians usually hold that God does not cause people to despise the truth nor does He purpose to condemn them for doing so. But this verse says, note carefully, that God plunges them into error in order that they shall be condemned. Non-calvinists will say that God permits, but does not cause, unbelief.” Cheung comments on that saying, “The last sentence implies that Calvinists would say that God does not merely permit, but that He causes unbelief. In other words, he implies that Calvinists affirm the biblical position.”

In v15, Paul commands the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the teachings,” or traditions. He’s not referring to the traditions of the church, as is often considered to be the case in the Roman Catholic Church (Matthew 15:6). But Paul is referring again to his own words (complete and sound doctrine) – either spoken or written – as being divinely inspired (Romans 6:17; 1 Corinthians 11:2,23; 15:3; 2 Timothy 1:13). Cheung concludes, “We ask God to make His word effective in us and in those who hear us. We ask God to sanctify us by His Spirit and through the truth. We ask God to help us stand firm and hold to the doctrines that have been passed on to us in the apostolic and biblical traditions. To strengthen our brothers, we remind them of the promises and the faithfulness of Christ, and then we ask God to encourage their hearts by a direct action in the soul through these doctrines. Thus Christian life and ministry place all the emphasis on intellectual doctrines, but place all the expectation on gracious divine action to render these doctrines effective in us and in others.”

And finally, if you didn’t catch it, there’s a clear testimony to Christ’s divinity in v16-17. Calvin concludes, “When [Paul] ascribes to Christ a work altogether Divine, and represents Him, in common with the Father, as the Author of the choicest blessings, as we have in this a clear proof of the divinity of Christ, so we are admonished, that we cannot obtain anything from God unless we seek it in Christ Himself: and when he asks that God may give him those things which he had enjoined, he shows clearly enough how little influence exhortations have, unless God inwardly move and affect our hearts. Unquestionably there will be but an empty sound striking upon the ear, if doctrine does not receive efficacy from the Spirit.” And so we, along with Paul, give thanks to God “because from the beginning God chose [us] to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

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