15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. 16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
2 Thessalonians 2:15-17
Daniel held it in his hands.
An edict. Signed by the King. “No man was to pray to any god or man, other than the king. The penalty for breaking this law? A night in a den filled with hungry lions.”
It was scary. What was Daniel to do? Would he abandon his God? Would he change his traditions? Would he break the very first commandment that his mother had taught him, “You shall have no other gods,” and worship the king? If he didn’t, he would certainly die. The deal had been sealed with the king’s ring. It was irrepealable.
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Luther held it in his hands.
A demand had been made by the Holy Roman Emperor. “Recant your writings or you will be excommunicated. You will not be in the church. You will be rejected. Your writings burned, and with the power of the state in our corner, you will be an outlaw. Arrested. Convicted."
What should he do? Should he go against his conscience? Should he go against God’s Word? If he didn’t, he would face imprisonment…or worse…death! It wasn’t unlike the Emperor to have heretics burned at the stake. Should he suffer the same fate?
What should he hold on to: His life or God’s Word?
Have you held it in your hands too?
Maybe it’s on an iPhone. Maybe it’s the headline of a newspaper: The definition of marriage has been changed. Evolution is preached as fact. Mentioning Jesus in a grade school can get you into more trouble than dropping an F bomb. Your friends storm any Facebook message mentioning Jesus, call you an ‘idiot’, and threaten to UNFRIEND you.
What should you do? You know the Bible. You know what it says. You know what this cross up here means. But if you hold on to it, you could be ridiculed, mocked, unfriended, even despised! The more transparent you are about your faith in today’s society, the more it will change your life – and not for the better!
What should you hold on to: Your life or God’s Word?
Before you make a decision, because I’m sure you’ve heard the world’s opinion on what you should do already. Could you take 10 minutes and consider what God’s would have you do? He created you. He died for you. It may be worth a look to see what the One who loves you more than anything would have you do.
Take a look at 2 Thessalonians 2 and hear God out as to why you should hold on to His Word. It says, “Brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”
Now you might say, “God wants me to do that? That’s a little strong. Isn’t the author Paul? Wasn’t Paul a man? Isn’t he just recommending that we hold on to his teachings? How is that teaching special? Why should I hold on to it? Why is it any more special than Gandhi's or Buddha's?”
It’s like trying to figure out whose word to trust more: Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis. My mail tells me that Thom Tillis hates kids. And I believe it. Until I read the next piece of mail that tells me Kay Hagan hates kids.
How are you supposed to know?
In the same vein, what makes Paul’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible so important that I should hold on to them?
Do you know who the main figure in the Bible is? It’s Jesus. Remember last week, many struggled with why they should trust Jesus. But Jesus was not short of reasons to do so:
Give me some reasons not to trust Jesus and I’ll give you hundreds more to trust him. (Or just one really good one!) Jesus was God! No one else ever did the things he did. No one else ever taught the things he did. And what he taught is recorded in this book. It is God’s Word.
God’s Word backs up it’s claims for truth with divine miracles of incredible proportions and thousands of witnesses to the works of the central figure of it’s story: Jesus Christ. Why would you doubt it? Why not believe? Hold on to His Word!
Of course, it’s very easy for us to misread this passage. It’s easy for our sinful mind to warp God’s command here and make us think we are holding onto God’s Word, when we are really holding onto something else entirely. Here are just a few of the pitfalls:
1) Your Desires. This is a common sentiment into the world today. “God loves you. He couldn’t possibly ask you to do anything that would make you feel bad. So anytime you see the Bible telling you to do something different than what makes you feel good, just ignore it."
But defining truth by your desires is a terrible way to define truth:
Think of your kids. On Halloween, did they stay up late on Halloween night? Maybe you were on a candy rush and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the TV. When you looked at them and the clock that said “two hours past normal bedtime,” plus the whiny voice that they had, did you say, “They can’t be tired, because they told me they didn’t feel tired.”
Or try this. Take a look at the color shirt you are wearing. Say you think that it’s white. Now ask your coworker what color he thinks it is. If he says, “hot pink” is he wrong? What if he says, “green with yellow polka dots.” If he feels that’s the color, does that mean that is the color it is?
Of course not.
Feelings and desires are not truth. Not in mundane things like colors of clothing. Certainly they aren’t Divine Truth either. So stop holding to your own desires instead of God’s Word.
This is a second things we substitute into 2 Thessalonians 2. We love to “hold on to tradition.” This was a huge problem in the Catholic church at Luther’s time. They valued tradition over God’s Word. Tradition was that whatever the Pope said was truth. What the pope said was that you could literally buy your way out of purgatory and into forgiveness, even while you provided the church with a good way to make some money and build a brand new facility.
But tradition is not always God’s Word.
Of course, this isn’t just a 16th century problem. It has modern applications. We need to be careful that we don’t say,
§ “I go to church, because I always have; not because I think it’s true.”
§ “I’m Catholic because my family is, I know they don’t teach God’s Word, but I don’t want to abandon tradition.
§ “I can’t go to church to learn God’s Word, because traditionally I sleep or I work on Sundays.”
Tradition is not truth. It’s not even divine truth. So don’t hold onto it like it is!
3) Your Desires Disguised as Tradition.
Sometimes the last two combine in our minds to produce a brand new thing to hold on to. This happens especially among long time church goers. We like to hold onto desires disguised as tradition. For example,
“That’s not the right size of cookie to serve after church. I don’t like it. I’ll tell that person: You can’t serve that.”
“That’s not my favorite kind of music to hear in church. It must be from the devil.”
“That’s not the normal way of filling out a council report. I need to give that newbie a piece of my mind so they never do it again.”
Isn’t it interesting? We get angry and upset with a fellow, active church member for serving in the church in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but when a relative or friend is openly living in sin against God’s Word, we think, “No big deal. That’s just the way this world is.”
How sad. Again: your desires disguised as tradition are not God’s Word!
4) Your Pride.
This leads to the most dangerous substitution. In fact, this one is related to the other three. It is the foundation of the other three. Pride.
Humans love to hold on to pride. It was the problem for the king who told everyone to bow down to him. It was the problem for the church at the time of the Reformation. They didn’t want to hear what God’s Word said about them. They didn’t want to hear that they were sinners. They didn’t want to hear that their good works were nothing before God. They didn’t want to hear that God demanded perfection and couldn’t be bought back with a few dollars to the visible church leaders.
This is the same dangerous thinking that can attack you today:
“I don’t need Jesus. I’m a pretty good person on my own and I’m sure God’s cool with me.”
“I don’t need to repent, this sin isn’t that bad and even if it is, I’ve done plenty of other things good in my life to make up for it.”
“I can’t turn to the Bible for salvation. I never have before and I don’t want to admit that I’m wrong. Mostly because I’m never wrong.”
But your pride isn’t God’s Word. In fact, it is only in the way of God’s Word. It’s the very thing that God’s Word doesn’t want you to hold on to at all. Because pride says you can save yourself. Pride says that’s traditionally how I’ve thought. Pride says I desire to be able to save myself, so it must be truth.
But God says differently. If you hold to your desires, tradition or pride over against God’s Word, that doesn’t make it truth!
It just makes God angry.
Imagine for a moment facing God at the end of your life. What will you say to him for all of those times that you totally and completely disobeyed him and went against him because you didn’t feel like it or you didn’t think you needed to listen?
I don’t want to find out either.
So listen again to 2 Thessalonians 2: Hold on to God’s Word.
II. Why Hold on to the Word?
At my home up in my top dresser drawer is a little chest. Inside this chest, is a little tie tack. It is a tad tarnished. There’s a picture of a Ford truck on it. It isn’t worth all that much money on eBay. I have shinier looking tie tacks and more modern looking ways to wear my tie. Why do I hold on to it?
It came from someone special. My grandpa. Maybe you have something similar. Something special because it was given by someone special.
This is the first reason to hold on to God’s Word. Because it comes from God! Verse 16 says, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our father…gave this.” They gave you his Word. It is a gift from the divine, incredible, world making, universe shaking, Creator of the universe to you, came down to do die on the cross, so you wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell, God given to you!
Why would you throw it away as a tarnished relic that holds no value in modern society? Instead hold on to it as it actually is: A divine book of love written to you by your Father above! In this book he gives you the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gives you his life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of peace with God.
Verse 16 adds to the benefits: “God… gave us eternal encouragement.” Eternal means unending. It means that it always lasts.
Now your desires may change. Punk Rock may no longer be your favorite type of music to listen to and your favorite kind of Dorito might change from Nacho Cheese to Cool Ranch.
Same thing with traditions. It probably takes only one year of not finding the Pickle on the Christmas tree for you to forget all about it.
And pride only lasts as long as you are foolish enough to believe it. You can be proud that you are so good at basketball until you try out for the high school team and get cut. Then, your pride is gone.
But God’s Word? That lasts forever.
Think about it. If you open Colossians 2:13 in your Bibles, it will still say, “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins."
Ok close it. If you open up today after you read an article online about how the Bible isn’t true, God’s Word will still say, "Christ died for sin." If you get addicted to a sin, but then stumble upon it months from now it still says, “Christ died for sin.” If you ignore God’s Word for years, but after lots of goading and ‘pestering’ you join us at church and the pastor just happens to be preaching on this passage, it will still say, “Christ died for sin.” If all the Bibles in America were destroyed, but a friend came to you in a conversation at night and said, “Christ died for your sin,” it’d still be true!
Because God’s Word is forever. Put your hope in it. Hold on to it!
It will provide you with “Good hope.” Because without the Word of God, what would your hope be?
“I hope to have a family and get a good job…until I die then maybe I’ll impress God with my life. I don’t know. I hope. I think. I’m not sure. I hope God isn’t real because then I’m in trouble and I hope hell doesn’t hurt all that bad.”
That’s hope? Not so much. Not when compared to the true and real hope that God’s Word gives us. It’s nothing compared to the good hope of forgiveness that the prophets promise you when it says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds you are healed” (Isaiah 53:5-6). It’s hope of eternal salvation from your sins when God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life!” (Jn. 3:16) It’s the hope that comes from Jesus’ promise, “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it weren’t so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And then I will come back to take you there with me.”
Finally, this eternal encouragement and good hope strengthens our hearts – which in turn – strengthens you in every good deeds and word.
Let’s go back to Daniel. Know what happened to him? He went to his room and prayed like always. He didn’t care if he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. He held on to God’s Word. God kept him safe through the night and he brought the good news of our saving God to the King! He’s in heaven now.
Know what happened to Martin Luther? He came back the next day and confessed, “It is not wise to go against God. So…here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.” God kept him safe for a long period of time and Luther brought the saving news of God’s grace to many people! He’s in heaven now.
Know what will happen to you? If you hold on to God’s Word, you will find comfort. You will hear of the awesome power of God. You will hear of your Savior's dying love for you. You will be reminded of your God who died but then rose from the dead for you!
Besides. All this talk about having to give up your life to hold on to God's Word is a misnomer.
Jesus said, "I am the Life. Whoever believes in me, will live even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me, will never die." (Jn. 11:25-26)
Because, when you hold on to God’s Word, the truth is, God is holding on to you. Amen.