This is the sermon and related scripture that I gave on Sunday, October 22, 2017. The format is a bit different so I hope you can follow it easily. This also concludes the series of Paul’s letters and the message that still applies to today’s churches. Thank you all for reading along. I appreciate your interest and hope these words speak to you.
How many times do you say something to someone and then discover that maybe they did not really hear what you were saying? All too often, correct?
Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians because that is what he thinks may have happened when the church received his first letter. He was afraid that they were not understanding what he said about Jesus’ second coming.
Imagine Paul’s sense of urgency when he learned that members of that Thessalonian church were not following the list of do’s and don’ts that his first letter listed because they only heard that Jesus was returning soon.
Consider the scriptures of this second letter as though you were misunderstanding Paul’s first letter:
Opening scripture: 2 Thessalonians 1:2, 11-12, NLT
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
11 So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. 12 Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.
Reflection continues: But just in case . . .
Communication always has the potential to be heard through a wide range of filters. What one says may not be heard the same way as the speaker intends. How come? There are many reasons the message can become twisted.
For instance, the forecast for the weekend might be partly sunny and that would be fine for an outdoor event. But maybe the partly sunny also means partly cloudy and those clouds might be filled with rain. If you are planning on a day outside, you might hear that forecast as ruining the weekend’s plans while someone who may not need to be outside would hear that same forecast and it would not be an issue.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians tried to address the issue of Jesus Christ’s second coming, but some did not hear Paul’s emphasis on the do’s and don’ts that one should live in order to be prepared at any time for Jesus’ return. What some heard was only that he was going to return at any time. Nothing else mattered to them except that he was coming.
Now Paul hurriedly sent the second letter because he did not want the Thessalonian Christians to continue being idle. Those who thought all they had to do was sit and wait were not living their faith as testimony to Jesus’ teachings.
Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4, NLT
2 Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 3 Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. 4 He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God.
Reflection: . . . you misunderstood my first letter, let me restate . . .
Addressing any misunderstanding is awkward. If one is the message sender/speaker, the words chosen make sense to that person and even if written out and re-read, there is a potential for misunderstanding. The misunderstanding can develop from a range of possibilities.
For instance, maybe there is a translation issue. Paul new more than one language, but who knows the native language the different members of the Thessalonian church making it necessary to translate the letter. Another possibility is that as the listener hears that first letter, the selective hearing only catches Paul’s statement that Jesus will be coming soon.
The same thing happens in communication efforts today. We may hear a news story through a personal filter that is different than the main purpose of reporting that story. Or maybe we have a prejudiced feeling toward one of the people (or party) that is central to the news report. That filter may “color” how you understand the story.
Reading on into the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians needs to be read with care, too. Reading this portion of the chapter might cause us to do the same thing that the early audience did concerning the second coming.
Hear Paul’s words with open minds, and try listening carefully through the filter of the earliest church and be alert to possible filters of today such as being an American:
Sermon scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12, NLT
5 Don’t you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you? 6 And you know what is holding him back, for he [Jesus] can be revealed only when his time comes. 7 For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it back steps out of the way. 8 Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming.
9 This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. 10 He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. 11 So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. 12 Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.
Reflection: Let me restate what I mean.
Paul’s primary message is just as critical today as it was when he wrote that first letter to the Thessalonians which had to be why he felt so much urgency to write a second letter. This places today’s reader in a position to read it carefully—listen to it carefully.
Only one thing matters at all: live each day in the same way that Jesus lived his. Love one another. Read scripture. Worship. And live each day to the fullest: don’t be idle or lazy; work hard. In fact, Paul stated what he recommended very straight forward:
we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us . . . [2 Thessalonians 3:6]
Paul did not want any misunderstanding. He wanted these believers who were new to their faith to fully understand that waiting for Jesus’ return did not mean to quit living.
As Christians still waiting for Jesus to return, we must follow the same advice that Paul gave the Thessalonians in both of his letters. God’s timeline does not match our human timeline; so, while we wait, we live. We live a Christ-like life doing all we can for one another in love. We live a Christ-like life studying scripture and worshiping. And, as Paul tells all the churches in his letters, we pray.
Closing scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, NLT
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we ask you to pray for us. Pray that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you. 2 Pray, too, that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people, for not everyone is a believer. 3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one 4 And we are confident in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we commanded you. 5 May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.
Dear Patient Father,
May we honestly hear Paul’s ancient words
as words of advice for us yet today.
Help us to listen carefully without filters
so we may learn to live Christ-like lives.
Guide those who share the scriptures’ message
so your words are not misunderstood.
Show us how you want us to share the news
of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection
and how our faith leads to salvation.
With these words, and the words of Paul,
may we hear the promise of eternal life. –Amen.