Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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Don't Panic and Don't Check Out

2Thessalonians 2:13-3:18

Paul ends his second letter to the Thessalonians by making two strong exhortations: 1) don’t let anyone or anything dissuade you from living out and sharing the gospel and 2) don’t let the expected Day of the Lord dissuade you from living responsibly in this present age.

Paul has just completed a section where he outlined what must take place before the Lord Jesus returns to rapture His church off planet earth and then touch down in Jerusalem and begin His thousand-year reign. This kind of information is very exciting and could lead to two things:

  • If Jesus is coming back soon I guess I shouldn’t worry about sharing my faith
  • If Jesus is coming back soon I guess I needn’t worry about working to make money

In the final verses of Chapter 2 and through Chapter 3, Paul combats these tendencies and gives us some great encouragement about how to live in this age, with an eye to the coming one.

13 – 14

Encapsulated in these two verses are really the balance between the Calvinist and Armenian positions when it comes to salvation. Calvinists sway strongly towards election—that God chooses who He will bring into His kingdom and there’s not anything we can do to enter that decision. Armenians argue that we have free will and so we are the ones who choose God, who makes salvation available to anyone who will receive it.

Here I think we get both sides of that coin. We see God “choosing” from the beginning for salvation through that transformation of character the Bible calls “sanctification.” But later in verse 13 we see “belief in the truth” and in verse 14 we see that God made this call “through our gospel. So that you might obtain glory.” This is clearly something that we do in response to hearing the gospel.

For lack of time I can’t go into much detail here but suffice it to say that Calvary Chapel has mostly gone down the middle on the issue of election vs. free will. One pastor put it this way: “God makes choices and we make choices”.

I think what’s most important is to realize that 1) God does not wish to punish anyone and wants everyone to be with Him but 2) no one can apart from the saving work of Jesus the Messiah. A person who comes to that relationship gets there by God’s call and by a listening ear—both are important I think.

15 – 17

Paul is contrasting the Thessalonians with those who will believe the delusion that you don’t need Jesus, and in fact, everything that is the character of God should be thrown out. That’s the pressure of the culture around us and was for them as well. Paul says to “stand firm” and hold onto the truths of the gospel either the in-person talks that he gave or the letter he sent (1 Thessalonians).

Paul’s benediction in verses 16 and 17 is meant to encourage them that despite tough circumstances and pressure from the culture they need to know the encouragement and hope that comes from a relationship with the Lord. His prayer is that would have encouragement and strength for “every good work and word” which comes back to my opening—that it is vital to keep sharing the gospel and living a good, responsible life as an example.

3:1 – 5

This is a great prayer for all of us—that the gospel, “the Lord’s message” may be honored, not ridiculed. Secondly, he asks for prayer for deliverance—knowing that there are many, inspired by the Devil, who will want to thwart the gospel at any and every turn.

So, Paul then turns that prayer back to the Thessalonians: that they too will find strength and deliverance from the evil one.

Despite their concerns, despite the confusion over the Second Coming, Paul is confident that they will continue to be about the business of God’s kingdom. His final prayer is that they find God’s love and Christ’s endurance. That’s what we all really need, isn’t it? We need to know that no matter what we face, God loves us eternally and that because Jesus faced His trials with endurance, so can we.

Hebrews 12:1 “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”

So, there’s one more issue Paul needs to address—to those that are not seemingly running the race at all anymore but have checked out.

6 – 13

Apparently, some in the Thessalonian church had decided that since Jesus was coming back soon, they’d quit their jobs and just sit around waiting. When He didn’t come, instead of going back to work, they began to rely on the church for support.

While there is nothing wrong with getting help, it should only happen in response to a true need. If you can work, you should. If you can earn your way, then you should. Paul used himself as an example. Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 5:18) that a worker for the gospel can be paid for that work. Paul decided that he would not avail himself of that opportunity and worked as a tent-maker to earn money while among them.

Paul had this saying that “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” It wasn’t harsh like he would starve people, but his point was that why should you expect charity from others when you are well able to earn a living yourself. Apparently, some in Thessalonica had forgotten about this.

Not only that, but they were actively encouraging others to check out as well and end up as a burden to the church. And just because there were loafers in the church should not be a reason to stop doing good and working hard.

14 – 15

Verses 14 and 15 give us a good example of church discipline, which should be employed sparingly, lovingly, and gently. Paul tells his brother and sisters that if the warning of this letter isn’t headed, the next step is to avoid them. Not ex-communicate them, not ostracize, them, but not “associate” with them. In the Greek, this means “don’t get mixed up with him.” So, I think the idea here is that if they continue in this behavior, don’t let yourself get caught up into their game.

We humans tend to overreact. When someone does something to harm themselves or others we react strongly. Paul urges a gentler approach. The idea of the person feeling shame is that they will repent and come to their senses. He goes on to make sure they don’t completely disown him, but realize he is a brother in Christ, only one acting in an unhealthy way

I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Galatian church:

Galatians 6:1-2 (HCSB) 1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

The end goal of church discipline is always restoration, never punishment.

16 – 18

I love how Paul ends the letter. The end should always be peace. Some of the folks were getting everyone riled up and unsure how to act. Working with them, trying to bring correction based on the Apostle’s teaching, and then gently pulling away until they came around—that’s the way of peace.

Then Paul ends with his own signature. Paul dictated his letters so in the end he took the stylus from his stenographer and penned his signature. He ends as he began, with the grace of God. How much should we remember that when dealing with difficult people!

Conclusions

I think by and large the message of Chapters 2 and 3, and the whole of 2 Thessalonians really is two-fold: Don’t panic and don’t check out.

  1. Don’t panic

There were two things that caused the Thessalonians to panic. One was the presence of pressure. The other was the absence of rescue. They felt the persecution around them, pressuring them to give in and stop sharing the gospel. At the same time, they worried that the return of the Lord had already occurred and somehow, they’d missed it.

To the first worry, Paul says: “stand firm!” You were called, chosen, set apart and equipped for “every good word and work.” Pray for deliverance from evil people and effectiveness of your life and words for the gospel—absolutely! But don’t lose heart. God’s got this! God’s got you!

  1. Don’t check out

The pendulum can swing the other way. Instead of running, we can become so complacent that we think God will do it all and we can just sit back and wait. Not so. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” This doesn’t mean you earn it but you need to participate in what God is doing in and through you. The word “work out” has its root the word where we get the English: “energy.” “Put your back into it” could be another way of saying it.

Just as you are partners with God in coming to Him, you are partners being changed into His image and sharing His love with others. Part of that means being a responsible person, living a quiet life, minding your own business, working hard, providing for yourself if you can, and being a willing and eager participant in the family business. 

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