Stand Firm and Hold to the Faith – 2 Thessalonians 2:15

“So then” (Ἄρα οὖν) is a common Pauline way of drawing a logical conclusion to a section. Since his readers have been chosen by God as the first to share in the Gospel, they will be glorified at the time of Christ’s return (2:14). If this is true, then they ought to respond to this reality in the following two ways:

Image result for stand firmFirst, the Thessalonians are to “stand firm” (στήκω). This verb has the sense of being firmly committed to something (BDAG). This stands in contrast to Paul’s description of the church at the beginning of this chapter: they were unsettled and alarmed by a report that then Day of the Lord already come. Rather than be shaken by the teaching which contradicted what Paul had taught them, they ought to stand firm in what they know to be the truth.

Second, the readers are told to “hold on” (κρατέω) to the traditions Paul has passed along to them when he was with them or by his earlier letter. Once again, this is necessary since it is possible the disturbing report came to the church from a letter claiming to be in Paul’s name. In 1 Thessalonians Paul was very clear his appeal to the church was not motivated by greed nor was he using rhetoric to fool them into believing something which was not true.

It is very important to notice here that Paul says he passed along traditions (τὰς παραδόσεις). This implies there was a body of teaching Paul could “hand down” to his churches, some of which Paul says he had received from those who were before him. This includes teachings about the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:23) and the resurrection (1 Cor 15:3-5). Although there are some things Paul says he received from the Lord directly (1 Thess 4:15), others are part of a growing doctrinal and ethical tradition Paul delivers to his churches and expects them to hand down to the next generation of believers.

Third, Paul tells the Thessalonians to be encouraged and strengthened in both deed and word (2:16-17). This benediction is something of a conclusion to the first part of the letter. The benediction in 2:16-17 is a prayer to the Lord himself to give the readers strength to hold on to Paul’s teaching. There are two parts to Paul’s wish for the church. First, “Encourage your heart…” This is an inward action, although “encourage” might be a bit soft. In 3:12, Paul uses the same verb to strengthen a command (translated “we urge.”) What is in mind is the Lord prodding and urging the heart to keep the command to hold tight to the teachings Paul gave them.

Second, Paul prays that the Lord would strengthen his readers. This is an external action, an enablement to do the action commanded. Even if the Lord nudges you to do the right thing, it is still possible for you to ignore that urging. The point of this part of the prayer is to actually follow through and do what must be done.

The encouraging and strengthening is to be done “in deed and word.” There is a relationship here “between inward encouragement and outward behavior.” (Wanamaker, 1-2 Thessalonians, 272). Paul does not want his congregation to say one thing and do another.

This section of 2 Thessalonians has some very real application to the modern church. There are occasionally strange teachings which do not conform to the “traditions handed down” and cause some in the church to be unsettled or alarmed. The recent weirdness about the solar eclipse is a case in point. Even a few reasonable people I know were seriously considering this as a “sign of the end.” (Short answer: it was not a sign of the end). Sometimes a popular writer will publish a book with a new or radical reading of Scripture, the church ought to evaluate it in the light of the “traditions handed down.” But from a contemporary perspective, what are those traditions? Is this just Scripture? The Nicene Creed? Do denominational commitments matter? How does the church strengthen itself so that it can stand firm and hold fast to the “traditions handed down” yet still respond to a culture where traditions like this are meaningless?

7 thoughts on “Stand Firm and Hold to the Faith – 2 Thessalonians 2:15

  1. The statement “stand firm” is a strong statement to not only Paul’s audience but to us as well. Just as you pointed out at the end, what does this mean to the modern times? To hand down tradition is not a bad thing. Especially since Paul wanted them to keep them for if they were to let go then they would fall prey to any false doctrine. I do not think this is the kinda “tradition” that Jesus was so against. For that tradition desensitized their awareness of God and His grace. So Scripture does matter, it is to be spoken, taught and lived. It is a map that warns of the traps and leads us in the path of life.

    Would denominations today be okay then? If these traditions are legalistic and far from the heart of God then no. Yet, whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is another reason why “stand firm” is a strong statement for why would you stand firm in something that is not even effective or impactful?

    How the Church can respond is to stand firm what God has said and what He is saying now. Whatever our culture, Christian or secular, we are to be countercultural because God is countercultural to this world. He is not a God of tradition but of grace and life. We are to hold fast to that life in order to remain free from yeast that affects the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9).

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  2. Standing firm is something even our generation of Christians struggle with today. With all the outside distractions such as non believers, people who believe in other religions, and possible sins that could be tempting to some. I couldn’t imagine how difficult their faith was tested when the letter came in describing that it was from Paul, so it is almost like why wouldn’t they believe what the letter was saying? I think that Paul asking praying for the Lord to push the readers to take heed of what he is saying is a little pointless because God gave mankind free will for a reason so even if he gives hints to put someone in the right direction, if the person doesn’t want to listen to something then they won’t.

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  3. “Standing firm” and “Holding on” can be hard things to live by. It is our human nature to so what we want and to lean on our own understanding. This though is not how God wants us to lead our lives. Paul wants the people of Thessalonica to do these two things regardless of where the world is or what is said. Standing firm in what we know can be hard if there are others saying something totally different but that is the way of life. Never is there going to be a situation where everyone is a group gets along or agrees about the same thing. Holding on to the truth of God can also be hard as we all go through struggles some worse than others but in those times, we blame God for them rather than praising Him for the difficult times that we can grow in and learn from.
    There are times where we struggle in trusting in God with all of our hearts and that is when we need others to help redirect us to what is true about our God. “Indeed, he devotes over one-third of the letter seeking to calm, correct, and redirect his Thessalonian brothers and sisters regarding the Lord’s coming” (TTP, pg. 75). Just as Paul did for the Thessalonians everyone has a person that can help then grow and move their eyes back on got so we can indeed “stand firm” and “Hold fast” to what is true. This is where the church must come together and help each other as we falter and at times lose our way.

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  4. When evaluating new ideas, I do not think the church does a good job at it in general much less through the scope of tradition and culture. It seems to me that “traditions” in the church have become nothing but grumbling about worship style, carpet color, and order of service. If we look at the way the church interacts with the current culture there are on the one side, more “progressive” churches that embrace the culture so much to the point that it becomes a show of who looks the most hipster/attractive and there’s the other side of the spectrum where they refuse to put drums into their worship time because its too loud for their hearing aids. That is definitely a generalization and this might be a cynical point of view, but it seems to me that some of these biblical traditions that Paul wanted passed down, have already been thrown out the window by the church today.
    Church has become a performance. A routine. A building we go to for 2 hours a week to justify that we are good people without actually looking at our hearts and evaluating what is really going on. The culture today is much more progressive than the church and that is probably the reason that Millennial’s are statistically the lowest attending population. That is no excuse for Millenial’s by any means, because there are many who have weak and watered down theologies because they would rather just attend somewhere that makes them feel good or not attend at all.
    It seems to me that the church has started to reject culture rather than redeem it. The church will only begin to strengthen itself when it really embraces the bible again and re-learns how to stand firm in the faith rather than standing firm in the same exact seat week to week. This is obviously easier said than done, but we have an opportunity to use the current culture to our advantage. To embrace new patterns of thinking that will challenge the church. A different perspective that will make us realize what traditions we need to hold to and continue to pass on and what we need to let go of in order to be healthier for the future of the church as a whole.

    (I dont even know if that makes sense)
    ((feel free to tear me apart, that was all word vomit))

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  5. As any ‘good’ Christian child would say, the answer is always Jesus. For the church to strengthen itself so that it can stand firm, believers need to be in the Word—completely. Every single aspect being written in these comments is true. Yes, we are supposed to look different than those of this World. Yes, trusting God is difficult. Absolutely! —a great amount of the traditions which are trying to be upheld, are not even a sliver of what Christians’ lives are meant look like. Galatians states “…it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say ‘it is through faith that a righteous person has life” (Gal 3:11). Later, Paul expresses “…may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Gal 6:18). In today’s day, Christians have plagued themselves into two categories: either one follows the law to a tee and completely forgets to address the stronghold sin has on our culture or one gets sucked into the culture while attempting to revive it because their foundation is not yet firm. One could argue that both upholding traditions while still loving those who do not know Christ are correct. As Christians, we are meant to follow Christs’ teachings. Yet, still we are also told not be lukewarm and rather go preach the Gospel. I would argue that if one made Christ and His Word the absolute most important thing in their life, there would be no room for both stubbornly following useless [easy] traditions or believing that the World needs something other than Christ himself. The Bible should show us how to demonstrate to our culture which traditions [becoming a new Christian in Christ and through grace, pursuing a life without sin]. are to be upheld, rather than the false idea that we need worldly shaming traditions.

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  6. There are a lot of situations that life throws at us. Some annoying and petty, but others fill us with doubt. That doubt can cause everyone to question if they are doing the right thing. When Paul is telling them to “stand firm” and “hold on,” I think it is truly a message that we all need to be absorbed, no matter how hard it may seem, God calls us to be bold and know the truth. “God wants believers to be joyful, prayful, and thankful. These are marks of Christ’s rule and reign amid the nitty-gritty realities of life,” (TTP, pg. 73). Paul wanted them to stand firm in what they know to be true and what he had taught them. And how we know if the message is received or not, is how they responded to different life situations. In reality, the dumb little problems in life should not consume us if we are holding on to what God is calling us to do. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hears and strengthen you in every good deed and word,” (2 Thess. 2:16-17). When it comes down to it, in order to stand firm and hold fast, there needs to be a change of heart. And with that comes with trusting in God to give you discernment on what is right and wrong.

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