|December 30, 2001||Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
Hold Fast To The Truth and Pray for Us
How the Spirit and the Word Produce Change
(2 Thessalonians 2:13 - 3:5)
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 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. 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. 3:1 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
Sermons on prayer and meditation are like books on marriage. They may help point the way to the reality of a deep and precious relationship, but the reality is discovered and experienced in the act of marriage, not in talking or reading about marriage. The reality of communion with God – you speaking in prayer and God speaking through his written Word by his Spirit – is discovered and experienced in the act of prayer and meditation. If you want this reality – and Christians do want this reality – you will find it this year when the Word this morning moves you to the act of prayer and meditation where the reality is. You learn the secrets of prayer and meditation – communion with God through Christ – by doing it. Oh that God would use this message to move you to do it. And to keep doing it until it becomes as indispensable in your life as eating and drinking.
Here’s my main point this morning: Prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as
are the Spirit of God and the Word of God. First, a word of explanation, and then I will show you where I get this
truth from the text. I am implying four things in this main point.
God’s Work Happens through the Word in Your Life, which Happens through the Spirit
First, I am saying that the work of God’s Spirit in your life happens through
the Word (the Scriptures), and the work of the Word in your life happens
through the Spirit. The Spirit and the Word are inseparable in producing
change in our lives (call it obedience, or sanctification, or fruit of
the Spirit, or holiness) – from the first act of regeneration to the final
act of glorification. God works by this Spirit through his Word to accomplish
his saving purposes in our lives.
Prayer Involves Reliance on His Spirit; Meditation Involves Reliance on His Word
Another thing I am saying in this main point today is that prayer is our response to God in reliance on his Spirit; and meditation is our response to God in reliance on his Word. In prayer we praise the perfections of God through his Spirit, we thank God for what he has done by his Spirit, we confess our failures to trust the promise of his Spirit, and we ask for the help of his Spirit – all in Jesus’ name. Prayer is the human expression of treasuring and trusting the Spirit of God.
Meditation is hearing and pondering and prizing the Word of God. It is
reading the Bible and chewing on it to get the sweetness and the nourishment
from it that God designs to give. It should involve memorizing the Word
so that you can chew on it and be strengthened by it during day and night,
like Psalm 1 says. ("On his law he meditates day and night,"
v. 2.) The essence of meditation is to think your way into the very mind
of the inspired writers who were granted by inspiration to think the thoughts
of God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16f; 2 Peter 1:21). Think and mull and ponder and
chew until you see what they see the way God wants it to be seen, namely,
as precious and valuable and beautiful and desirable.
Prayer and Meditation Are Inseparable in Living the Christian Life
And a third thing I am saying is that prayer and meditation are inseparable
in living the Christian life. Prayer without meditation on the Word will disintegrate into humanistic spirituality.
It will simply reflect your own fallen ideas and feelings – not God’s.
And meditation without calling on God in prayer will create proud legalism or hopeless
despair. You will try to live the Word in your own strength and will think
you are succeeding, and become a proud legalist; or you’ll know you are
not succeeding, and will give up in hopeless despair. Those are not the
only alternatives. My point is: God’s will is that prayer and meditation
always stay together. In prayer we call on God’s Spirit for his help to
change; and in meditation we see the truth that inspires the change when
the Spirit is at work.
Change Comes through the Word so that the Truth of Christ in the Word Will Be Honored
A fourth and final thing I am saying in this main point is that the reason the Spirit produces change in our lives through the Word (and to keep Himself, as it were, hidden behind the Word) is so that the truth of Christ in the Word will be honored for the change in our lives. The Spirit has been given to glorify the Son of God (John 16:14).
Let me illustrate. In Luke 2:10-11 we hear a word from God to the shepherds: "But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; (11) for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’" Now what was the aim of this word? It was, at least, to produce joy. "We bring you good news of great joy." Huge joy! In other words, the truth about Jesus – that he is a Savior and Messiah and Lord and that he was born in the prophesied city of David – this truth was to inspire great joy (and it did, Luke 2:20). And when it did, who got the glory? Jesus did. He is Savior, Christ, Lord. This is what the Word revealed, and this was what inspired the joy. Therefore the change brought about by the Word gets glory for the truth of Christ in the Word.
But suppose the shepherds were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night and suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them with great joy with no news at all. No Word. No revelation. Only the feeling of joy. Who would be honored for that? Nobody, except maybe the Shepherds for being so resilient against the cold winter’s night. How would it honor and glorify Christ if the Spirit created in us all kinds of good feelings and good resolves with no reference to Jesus and his cross and resurrection and the great acts of God in history? It wouldn’t. So the way the Spirit brings about change in our lives is to quietly enable us to see in the Word the beauty of Christ and his ways. Then our motivation consciously flows from the truth about Christ, and he is glorified, and the Spirit remains the behind-the-scenes power that opened our eyes.
So you see why my main point says, prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as are the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Prayer is the human act that corresponds to the Spirit of God, and meditation is the human act that corresponds to the Word of God; and just as Word and Spirit are inseparable in how God changes us, so prayer and meditation are inseparable in how God changes us.
So I plead with you as a church this morning: make 2002 a year of joyful, disciplined, undaunted year of prayer and meditation on the Word; meditation on the Word and prayer. Don’t let either slide. And if it does, pull them back together again.
Now let’s look at the text to let it inspire this conviction and change in our lives.
There are four illustrations of my point in these texts. I will simply
point you to them and say a brief word of explanation and exhortation over
2 Thess. 2:13-14: The Spirit Works through the Word to Awaken Gratitude
First, in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 we see how the prayer of thanks depends on the revelation in the Word of how God works in our lives. First Paul says, "We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren." Thanks is a duty – we should feel it and say it. And it is one of the happiest duties in the world, because real gratitude is one of the sweetest experiences the human heart can know. And when we experience it, we are to say it in prayer to God, and before others, so they can say, "Amen," and join us in thanks (1 Corinthians 4:16).
Then Paul gives four reasons for feeling thankful. And this he does by the Word. 1) Verse 13b: You are "beloved by the Lord." 2) Verse 13c: "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." 3) Verse 14a: "He called you through our gospel." 4) Verse 14b: The aim of his call was "that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
You see how this works: our duty is the emotion of gratitude. "We should always give thanks to God for you." But the reasons to give thanks that waken the emotion in us are revealed in the Word about how God saved us. So the Spirit works through the Word to stir up the gratitude God demands.
You can see the explicit reference to Spirit and truth in the last part
of verse 13: God saves us "through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Not just truth. And not just Spirit. But Spirit and truth. Both together. And my point is that since Spirit and truth are
always together, prayer and meditation are always together.
2 Thess. 2:15-17: Strength for Good Works and Words Comes by Praying for God to Make the Word Effective in Our Lives
The second illustration of this is in 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17. In verse 15 Paul tells us to stand firm and hold fast to the Word. Then in Verses 16-17 he prays that Jesus and the Father would strengthen us in every good work and word. So he shows that there is a connection between holding to the Word and praying for God to make the Word effective.
Verse 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." How would he say this today? Not: be sure you have a Bible on the shelf at home. He would say: read it and memorize it and take hold of it as you go out of the house in the morning, and meditate on it and use it to fight the fight of faith during the day. Use it to "stand firm."
Now, to show that the Word, without the help of God through the Word, is not sufficient, Paul speaks a blessing or a benediction, which is a kind of prayer: Verse 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." He calls on God to do the comforting and strengthening. So in verse 15 he says to us: "Stand firm." How? By holding fast to the Word! But in verse 17 he says, "Lord Jesus and God the Father, strengthen them for every good word and work."
So how does our strength for good works and good words happen? By meditation
alone? No. By prayer alone? No. By prayer for God to make the Word effective
in our lives. Word and Spirit. Meditation and Prayer. Not either-or, but
2 Thess. 3:1-2: Praying for the Triumph of the Word in the Lives of Others
The third illustration of keeping prayer and word together is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2. "Finally, brethren, pray [!] for us that the word [!] of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; (2) and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith." The Word has had a powerful effect in the lives of the Thessalonians. Now Paul wants the Thessalonians to be engaged in spreading a passion for the supremacy of God through the triumph of the Word in the lives of others.
So what does he do? He says, pray! Pray for what? Pray for the bearers of the Word. "Pray for us," he says. Something needs to happen in us for the Word to run and triumph. So Paul has the Word of the gospel in him, which is the power of God unto salvation and which produces hope and joy (Romans 15:4, 13). But it is not automatic. Not even for Paul. Oh how dull our eyes and hearts can be at times! No matter how mature we are in the faith. So Paul pleads for them to pray for him and his team. Amazing! Ask God to open our eyes and see the glory of Christ in the gospel so that when we preach it there is a reality and a power rooted in Christ that will cause people to see and hear and believe and glorify the truth of Christ in the Word.
Missions and evangelism are not carried forward by Word only or by prayer
only. They advance and triumph by Word and Prayer. Spirit and Truth. And
this is the way it will be in the lives of those you love. Don’t ever stop
praying for them. And don’t ever stop telling them the truth about Jesus.
There are thousand of ways to do it so that it doesn’t sound canned and
phony. If are living by the Word yourself every day, there will be fresh discoveries
for your loved ones, too.
2 Thess. 3:4-5: The Word and Prayer to Produce Change
The final illustration of how Word and prayer go together is in 2 Thessalonians 3:4-5. Verse 4: "We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command." So notice that here we have a reference to the apostolic Word: "what we command." So Paul says he is confident that they have heard this command and will go on walking in it. But then look what he does in verse 5. He prays again one of those prayers of blessing or benediction: "May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." Why does he do this if he is so confident that they will follow his apostolic Word? The reason is because his prayer for them is part of why he is confident in them – he knows the Lord must do some powerful "heart-directing" if they are to continue in obedience. So he prays: "O Lord, direct their hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ."
He gave commands, it says in verse 4, and he prayed for them in verse 5. Not Word alone to produce the change. And
not prayer alone to produce the change. But the Word and prayer.
Prayer and Meditation Are as Inseparable in Living the Christian Life as Are the Spirit of God and the Word of God
So the point stands clear and powerful in this text: Prayer and meditation are as inseparable in living the Christian life as are the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
Therefore, I beg of you, for the sake of your own growth in grace, and the transformation of your life and family, and the impact of your life on your neighborhood and work and school and extended family – give yourself this year to prayer and meditation. Ponder the Word day and night, and pray for the Spirit’s help day and night.
Come to pray in the mornings at 7:00, and come to pray at noon. Come to pray all night on Friday. Get a Bible reading plan from the table. Buy a copy of the Valley of Vision and let the great saints model for you how to pray. God will be pleased. This is the way he has designed to set his church on fire and make her bright for his glory in the world.
Copyright 2001 John Piper
Sound of Grace | Desiring God Ministries | Piper's Notes