How Should We Live For Christ In Tough Times?
How Should We Live For Christ In Tough Times? Join Dr. Marty Baker as he takes us through 2 Thessalonians 2:14-17 to understand more of what God has called us to do and who He calls us to be.
How does a good coach function? He prepares his players to perform well, especially when he knows the game will be tough and challenging. My Varsity baseball coach, Coach Middleton, prepared us well when we went against Hoover High School in San Diego. They were the state champs the prior year, and many players were still on the winning team. Our coach notified us that after high school, the catcher, the starting pitcher, and the first baseman had all signed to play professional ball. Yikes.
Hitting 90 mph fastballs was something we were accustomed to because we had pitchers who threw this fast on our team and other teams. The starting pitcher from Hoover High threw around 95 mph, and he had a great curve ball and a wicked change-up. Believe me, that combination of pitches made him hard to hit. Batting seventh in the line-up that day, I vaguely remember several great hitters in front of me striking out.
When my turn came, I swung at a blazing fastball after it hit the catcher’s dusty, well-conditioned mitt. As he threw the ball back to the pitcher, he said, “Hey man, you want to see that same pitch again in the same spot on the plate?” Being a cocky competitor, I said, “Sure. Let me see it.” I eventually hit a single to right field, but when I rounded the base and returned to the bag before the next pitch, I quickly realized I would have a short lead off the bag. Why? The first baseman towered above me like Goliath. He must have been six foot six of solid muscle.
From start to finish, it was a rough game, a pitcher's duel, but we won 2-1 in the end. We were most excited about our hard-fought victory, and we were quick to thank our coach, who had mentally prepared us for the battle on the baseball field.
Writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul acted much like Coach Middleton. After prophesying how tough the game of life would get before and during the Tribulation, he wisely paused to prepare his players mentally so they’d play like victors, not victims. Two thousand years later, we can still learn as we play against fierce foes in a challenging cultural and spiritual field. And as in Paul’s day, we can make sure we play well by listening to Paul’s wise answer to the following question:
How Should We Live For Christ In Tough Times? (2 Thess. 2:14-17)
In our last study, you learned you need to . . .
Understand Your Position (2 Thess. 2:13)
The God who chose you to be on His team before the worlds were formed and the Lord who has given you His Holy Spirit to give you positional holiness and the power to enjoy practical, everyday holiness will undoubtedly be with you as you seek to play hard for Him against a team that hostile, deceptive, lawless, selfish, and prideful to the core. No matter what happens. No matter how hard and demanding the game becomes as we head toward the arrival of the lawless one, you should never question whose team you are on. You are God’s child, and He will be with you as you head into the wild, wicked game (2 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place (Isa. 43).
In addition to this point, Paul adds three more in the ensuing four verses:
Understand Your Prospects (2 Thess. 2:14)
As usual, let’s first read the text and then offer some salient observations:
14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Greek text has no coordinating conjunction “and” at the beginning of the sentence. What is present is the preposition eis (εἰς), denoting primarily either the purpose or result of the election and the sanctification given to them by God. Suppose you take this preposition as denoting purpose. In that case, Paul is saying God’s purpose of making some sinners into saints by means of election and sanctification was/is accomplished by their positive response to the gospel. If you take this preposition as denoting result, Paul is saying God’s divine desire to save some sinners resulted in them believing the gospel. Either way, the emphasis is on the gospel call the elect to receive. What does this mean? Let’s dig a little deeper.
The process of salvation starts when the sinner is convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin and false view of how to obtain righteousness (John 16:8-11). You can remember the Spirit’s convicting work if you are a saint. He left you with the complete understanding you were a sinner in need of forgiveness and salvation. This convicting work of the Spirit can be related to the general call of the gospel. Various verses speak this call:
14 "For many are called, but few are chosen"(Matt. 22).
The story Jesus gave about a big dinner also speaks of this call:
16 But He said to him, "A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; 17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' 18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, 'I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' 19 "And another one said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' 20 "And another one said, 'I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.' 21 "And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, 'Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' 22 "And the slave said, 'Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 23 "And the master said to the slave, 'Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 'For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner'" (Luke 14).
The call is genuine and is open to all. The majority, however, make (flimsy) excuses as to why they don’t want to accept the call. The offended master then tells his servant to call anyone and everyone to his excellent dinner. You can easily see how Jesus speaks about the gospel call and how it is received. It freely goes out to all, but most reject it. What excuses are you currently making to keep you from accepting the gospel call to be saved by Jesus? The Bible is anti-science. The Bible has too many contradictions. Christians are too hypocritical. The gospel is too narrow and exclusive. Your excuses will cost you eternity if you don’t lay them at the foot of Christ.
On the contrary, only a few hear and act upon it and are made recipients of the divine dinner (salvation). This would denote the effective or efficacious side of the call, and it is, as MacArthur states, “irresistible” for the elect. Speaking about this, Theissen remarks,
“God is able to work sovereignly in the hearts of men to cause them to respond personally and by their own volition to the call of God to salvation. The coming together of sovereignty and free will as they relate to the call of God are shown in an amazing way in John, “11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1).
God chooses and calls some; they eventually hear His gospel call, respond freely, and are saved. In Thessalonica, Paul knew the preaching of the gospel was “God’s means for realizing in time what He had planned in eternity.” Many of you today are a current illustration of this beautiful truth, too. Thank God for showering His mercy and grace on you when He didn’t have to.
What is God’s ultimate purpose in electing, calling, and sanctifying you? The final purpose clause in this verse gives you the answer:
14 And it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Again, the preposition eis denotes purpose or the result of God’s salvation of saints. He wants them; rather, He wants you to “gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What does this mean? Two things.
One, it means in heaven we will possess the shining glory of Christ. You read about his blinding glory in His transfiguration on the mount with Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:1-13). We will all pulsate in heaven with the brilliant light emanating from Christ’s purer, unadulterated holiness. Yes, you will be conformed to Christ’s very image (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:42-49; 1 John 3:1-2). I remember purchasing those glow devices at the country fair as a child. I couldn’t wait to get home, stick it under a lamp, and then watch it glow in the dark when I eventually turned the lamp out. I know this illustration is only a faint description of what our resurrected bodies will do in heaven, but it at least gives you a little glimpse at what Paul is talking about. Your white robes and body will reflect the brilliance of Christ’s presence, much like Moses’s face when he came down from the mount where he had spent quality time with God (Ex. 34:29, 30, 35).
Two, it means in heaven, you will enjoy the stunning, jaw-dropping light that Christ’s presence brings to this place all the time. Isaiah saw this magnificent glory when God allowed him to peer into His heavenly throneroom (Isa. 6). Isaiah was forever changed by what he saw. Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse (Isaiah 24-27), or a short version of the book of Revelation, reminds us how the Lord’s glory will be present when He rules in the millennial kingdom and in eternity in the New Jerusalem. No sun or moon will be needed for He is the light, and all of His saints will enjoy perpetual light (Isa. 24:23; Rev. 21:23). While the lost will be locked in a place of eternal darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Pet. 2:4, 17), the saints will enjoy the bright light of the Lord’s presence. Where will you be?
With this prospect waiting for us, how can we lose heart or be discouraged as we deal with the hardness down here on earth? You are glory-bound, so keep a smile and fear not what man can do to you in the meantime. And if you are not glory-bound, I encourage you to drop your excuses for rejecting Jesus right now and turn to Him in faith. And, then, you can join us on the glory train.
Next, Paul reminds us of our purpose in the here and now:
Understand Your Purpose (2 Thess. 2:15)
What is our purpose?
15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
The opening phrase in Greek is ara oun (Αρα οὖν) and is a purely Pauline device employed to demonstrate the logical consequence of what has just been taught and communicated (Rom. 5:18; 7:3, 25; 8:12; 9:16, 18; 14:12, 19; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 2:19; 1 Thess. 5:6). Paul follows up this phrase with two present tense imperatives that give us our marching orders. We are to “stand fast” and to “hold fast” in relation to the traditions or teachings given to us by godly and divinely inspired men like Paul, Peter, James, Moses, Isaiah, and so forth. The present tense nature of the imperatives underscores their constant mandate on the life of each saint. “Standing fast” reminds me of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetary. These Old Guard soldiers are a unique detail from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Twenty-four hours a day, they guard the white marble tomb. Nothing deters them from their assignment: not cold weather, not unruly visitors, or even attacks by terrorists. Nothing or no one moves them from their sacred duty.
In the same way, we, as God’s soldiers, must stand fast to the biblical doctrine handed down to us. Are you? Or are you slipping in a particular area? What area are you losing your footing on?
- Is the culture’s twisted view of race calling you to get tripped up? Is the culture’s view of sex and gender causing you to lose your footing on how God says you should view it?
- Has the culture’s illogical and unfounded hatred of Jewish people, who happen to be God’s chosen (Gen. 12; Deut. 7), and blind embrace of a terrorist organization all for the sake of “stopping the genocide” caused you to rethink your position on Israel?
- Has someone so profoundly hurt you that you feel like you don’t want to go to church anymore? I’ve been there and done that.
- Are you purposefully watering down biblical doctrines to avoid offending others who find those doctrines offensive, exclusive, and narrow?
- Are you writing a term paper at your university in a fashion that upends your biblical thinking but will not upset or contradict your progressive professor?
- Did you marry someone from a non-biblical faith, and you now find yourself backtracking on Christian teaching all for the sake of marital bliss?
- Do you find yourself celebrating what is biblically condemned and condemning what used to be celebrated?
- Are you siding with anarchists whose feet run to evil (Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7) while opposing police as the oppressors? What about respecting those who are in places of authority (Rom. 13)?
- Do you bristle when a pastor relates biblical truth to real-life situations? Do you think that the pastor should be quiet?
- Do you bristle against the biblical teaching that God does not dispense blessings and favor equally? Do you have a problem with the fact the Lord will reward each saint differently based on how they performed on earth as His kingdom members?
- Do you embrace CRT as your new gospel despite contradicting the true, life-giving, relationship-building gospel?
- Have you embraced socialism, the new religion of our day, which rewards laziness, stifles free speech, and restricts God-given liberties? Have you recently compared the tenets of socialism to the teachings of Scripture? Maybe you should.
- Do you find yourself pushing for justice in many areas while remaining silent regarding the coming divine judgment concerning sinners (Matt. 7:15-27; Rev. 20:11-15)?
If you lose your biblical footing in areas like these, what is God’s counsel to you? “Boldy and courageously stand your ground.” And if you are not doing that presently, confess that to the Lord right now, seek His forgiveness, and ask for His power to stay at your post (1 John 1:9; Eph. 5:18). So, stand, don’t stoop. Daniel’s three friends stood when everyone else stooped before the godless artificial statue of the king. They wound up in a fiery furnace, but the Lord delivered them (Dan. 3). The Lord will also deliver you in powerful, never-to-be-forgotten ways.
Paul also commands us to hold tightly to the biblical teaching we’ve received. The verb krateo (κρατέω ), according to Friberg’s Analytical Greek Lexicon, has four lexical nuances:
κρατέω impf. ἐκράτουν; fut. κρατήσω; 1aor. ἐκράτησα; pf. κεκράτηκα; pf. pass. κεκράτημαι; from a basic meaning be strong or possess power; (1) take hold of (forcibly), seize, grasp (MT 9.25); (2) take into custody, seize, arrest (MT 14.3); (3) take control of, hold (fast) (AC 2.24); (4) hold back, restrain from, hinder, prevent (LU 24.16); (5) of following a doctrine, creedal confession, or course of life hold fast to, keep hold of, continue firmly in (HE 4.14); of causing a state to continue retain, keep (JN 20.23).
I listened to a man explain how he boarded a radical roller coast with his son the other day, only to find out that this shoulder harness was too small for his boy as they got going. At first, he said he held his son down in the seat so he didn’t slip out, and then he looked ahead and saw that the cars would do a loop. At that point, he REALLY held his body down with his grip. Throughout that entire radical ride there was no way he would stop holding onto his son.
Likewise, we must have a perpetual grip on sound biblical teaching and doctrine. We know the Devil and the world will hammer us and seek to cause us to release that grip so we can stop bothering them with truth. But God calls us to keep our grip flexed and tight on biblical truth . . . no matter what. Many of our universities were founded on Christian principles and doctrines. Over the years, however, they had stooped when they should have stood and have slowly and now rapidly released their hold on biblical truth. Harvard University is one of those schools. A few years ago, they had so let go of biblical truth they hired Greg Epstein, an atheist, to head up the chaplaincy department. Listen to the “spiritual” leader speak about his version of truth, “We don’t look to a god for answers. We are each other’s answers.” If man is the measure of truth, then there is no truth, just truths . . . and total societal and personal chaos. His statement sounds like the closing words of the book of Judges, “ 25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21). When there is no absolute truth, chaos ensues, along with brutality and exploitation of people by the more powerful.
Are you losing your grip on biblical truth? It usually never starts with a radical release of the grip. No, it is typically a gradual, almost unnoticeable release, and then the next thing you know, you are anti-biblical in certain areas of your life. What should you do if this is the case? Keep your grip. Do they intimidate you in your university class? Keep your grip. Do they threaten you with ostracization? Keep your grip. Keep your grip by staying in Bible studies with other saints. Keep your grip by keeping away from ideologies that threaten your grip. Keep your grip by having a daily Bible reading program. This week, I read through 1 and 2 Peter and James. I also just finished reading through Judges in my Hebrew Bible. Keep your grip by reading good, sound doctrinal books. Presently, I’m reading Dr. Dwight Pentecost’s The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. Yes, keep holding on to biblical truth until the Lord calls you home, for the world needs to know truth so they can which way they should walk to find God.
Finally, you can prepare yourself to live well for Jesus in dark days by remembering Paul’s ancient prayer.
Understand Paul’s Prayer (2 Thess. 2:16-17)
Paul understood the importance of giving saints sound biblical doctrine and a constant call for them to implement it into their daily lives. He also understood the utter importance of prayer. Without prayer, there was no power from on high. Without prayer, the Devil’s forces would not be held in check. Without prayer, saints would not develop an intimate relationship with their Savior. Without prayer, saints don’t show God how serious they are about a given request. Without prayer, saints don’t ask God for specific things they want Him to do in their current environment. So, Paul prayed for the Thessalonian saints and us, too.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word (2 Thess. 2).
The personal pronoun, himself, autos (Αὐτὸς), stands strategically at the head of the sentence. Why? For strict emphasis. What or who was Paul emphasizing? He emphasized that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Lord.
16 Αὐτὸς δὲ ὁ κύριος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς καὶ [ὁ] θεὸς ὁ πατὴρ ἡμῶν, ὁ ἀγαπήσας ἡμᾶς καὶ δοὺς παράκλησιν αἰωνίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα ἀγαθὴν ἐν χάριτι, (2 Thess. 2:16 WHT).
Jesus was “the Lord,” a term used in the Greek version of the Old Testament for God. For example, in Exodus 3:7 the English text reads:
NAS Exodus 3:7 And the LORD said, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. (Exod. 3:7 NAS).
The Hebrew translates LORD here as Yahweh:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה רָאֹ֥ה רָאִ֛יתִי אֶת־עֳנִ֥י עַמִּ֖י אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וְאֶת־צַעֲקָתָ֤ם שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙ מִפְּנֵ֣י נֹֽגְשָׂ֔יו כִּ֥י יָדַ֖עְתִּי אֶת־מַכְאֹבָֽיו׃ (Exod. 3:7 WTT).
The Greek translates LORD, or Yahweh here as Kurios:
7 εἶπεν δὲ κύριος πρὸς Μωυσῆν ἰδὼν εἶδον τὴν κάκωσιν τοῦ λαοῦ μου τοῦ ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ καὶ τῆς κραυγῆς αὐτῶν ἀκήκοα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐργοδιωκτῶν οἶδα γὰρ τὴν ὀδύνην αὐτῶν (Exod. 3:7 LXT).
By making this statement, Paul, steeped in the Old Testament as a rabbinical scholar, knew precisely what he was articulating. He left the saints with no doubt that the God he prayed to was the living Christ. Further, by using singular verbs (loved, given) to denote two members of the Godhead when plural verbs should have been employed, Paul leaves no doubt that Jesus and the Father are divine and form the first two members of the Holy Trinity.
And what has the Godhead done for us? Their grace moved them to redeem us, and in so doing, this new status perpetually (eternally) gives us encouragement and hope in tough, trying times. Why? Because we know the entire God-head is with us and is guiding history to its glorious consummation when Jesus is revealed first to His Church in the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and next in His jaw-dropping and spectacular Second Coming (Matt. 24; Rev. 19). Are you encouraged? You should be. Are you hopeful? You should be because “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King! Soon, and very soon, we are going to see the King! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King!”
With all of this rich theology in mind, Paul finally gets to the heart of his prayer for saints:
17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word (2 Thess. 2).
He wants saints not to be fearful, upset, anxious, or nervous as they see the day of the Lawless One approaching. On the contrary, he wants believers to be comforted, especially as they think about the fact the living Lord is with them, He is working in their lives, and He is guiding the nations to His intended destination point, not theirs. He also wants saints to “strengthen [their] hearts in every good work and word.” What does this mean? It means fear of the present and future opposition to the faith and the unraveling of society before the arrival of the Lawless One is best replaced with bold, resilient faith when saints perform good works and speak good words. In a day when good works and good words are in short supply, what more extraordinary things can we be about? When people are selfish, we should be selfless and sacrificial. When people are vindictive and vile and engage in evil works, we should be committed to good works. So, what are your works? What are you doing? What will you do? How about your words, your language? Is it calming or caustic? Does it build up others or blast them? Inner peace amidst the worldwide chaos comes to those saints who constantly remember the Trinity is with them, and they give themselves to good works and good words . . . just like Jesus did.
 Henry Thiessen, Lectures In Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 263.
 D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles: A Call To Readiness (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 325.
 Leonardo Blair, “Harvard chaplains elect atheist as new president: ‘We don’t look to a god for answers,’” The Christian Post, August 27, 2021, https://www.christianpost.com/news/harvard-chaplians-elect-as-new-president.html.