2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
With all these things in mind, dear brothers and sisters, stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter. – 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT
Have you ever wondered why Paul took the time to write so many letters? What was he trying to accomplish? What was his purpose? He wrote 13 letters in all. Some of them were personal letters written to individuals, like Timothy and Titus. But most were written to the early churches in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica and Rome. But virtually all these letters were intended to be shared. They were circulated around the regions in which these churches existed, and shared with other fledgling congregations. And Paul's purpose was simple. He wanted to encourage and sometimes admonish these new believers in their walk with Christ. He wanted to provide them with sound teaching, refute false doctrine, encourage them to remain faithful and do whatever he could do to make sure these young believers matured in their faith. Paul was not just content to see people come to salvation, he wanted them to experience sanctification – ongoing spiritual maturity and growth in Christ-likeness.
Paul was grateful to God that the Thessalonians to whom he was writing were among the first to experience salvation. This was a work of God "through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13b NET). Their salvation had taken place as a result of the Gospel message proclaimed by Paul and Silas on their first visit to Thessalonica. And as a result of their having accepted God's call, they were assured of getting to share in Christ's glory. For Paul, there was salvation and, ultimately, our glorification – the future time in which we will be fully transformed into the likeness of Christ when we go to be with Him. But in the meantime, there is our sanctification. That was the basic gist of all of Paul's letters. He wanted to see these new believers grow up in their salvation. Peter had a similar desire and expressed it in his letter. "Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation" (1 Peter 2:2 NLT).
Paul wanted to see all believers grow in their faith, and he knew that it was essential that they be taught sound doctrine and truth based on the Word of God. If left to themselves, they would be easily deceived. Without sound teaching, they would have remained immature and unspiritual – saved, but unsanctified. Paul expressed this concern to the believers living in Corinth. "Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to fee you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready to anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT). Pretty harsh words, but they reflect Paul's passion for and belief in the non-negotiable nature of spiritual growth and maturity. For Paul, it was non-optional. So he wrote these letters with the full expectation that those who read them would take the truth written in them and grow. He told them to "stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter" (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). They were to hang on to the words of Paul. They were to apply them to their lives. Those things he had taught them in person and expressed through his letters were essential to their growth from gullible spiritual infants to maturing believers. But Paul also knew that it was ultimately up to God to bring about their sanctification, just as He had their salvation. So he prayed, "may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say" (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 NLT). Ultimately, it is God who brings about our spiritual new birth and our spiritual growth. But He does it through sound teaching and the indwelling presence of His Spirit, who uses the truth to convict, encourage, and direct our lives to reflect the nature of Christ Himself.
Father, You want me to grow. While I might be content with salvation alone, Your desire is that I grow up. You saved me so that I might become increasingly more like Your Son. Your obsession is my holiness. You want me to go from spiritual infancy to adulthood. You have given me Your Word and placed Your Spirit within me. You have surrounded me with other believers. There is no place for complacency in my spiritual life. Keep me growing Father. Never let me become satisfied or complacent when it comes to my spiritual growth. Amen.