Established in Good Works and Words
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.”- 2 Thessalonians 2:16–17
If there is anything that we can say about the Apostle Paul, it is that he was no “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” theologian. That is to say, Paul understood that our knowing what we should do is no guarantee that we will do it. Since the fall, we do not possess the inherent power to fulfill God’s commands. We cannot work up in ourselves the will to obey the Lord; rather, if we are to heed the Apostolic instruction, God must grant us the will and ability to do so by His sovereign grace.
There are many ways that this is evident in the epistles of Paul, but one of the clearest proofs of his understanding of our need of grace is found in the prayers scattered throughout his correspondence. His letter to the Ephesians, for example, contains several prayers for God to open the eyes of the believers in Ephesus and to empower them by His Spirit (Eph. 1:15–22; 3:14–19). In today’s passage, we find another prayer from Paul that reveals his awareness that people will heed his instruction only by God’s grace.
Having exhorted us not to be shaken by false teaching regarding the return of Christ and having called us to stand fast in the truth (2 Thess. 2:1–15), Paul prays that God, who has given us eternal comfort in Christ, will comfort our hearts and establish in them every good work and word. The Lord must bless the teaching of His Word if that Word is to bear fruit in the good work of obedience and trust in His truth. Because of remaining sin, even we who believe in Jesus are constantly fighting against doubt and against desires that are contrary to the Lord. This would be a losing battle if it were not for God’s gracious work to keep us in the faith and to root out and destroy the remnants of our fallenness (Rom. 7:7–25). Without this, there is no hope. Sinners do not need merely more information about what is right and true but need new hearts that the Lord sustains in love of Him and His Word (Ezek. 36:26). As John Calvin comments, “Unquestionably there will be but an empty sound striking upon the ear, if doctrine does not receive efficacy from the Spirit.”
Finally, note in Paul’s prayer the close connection between Christ and the Father (2 Thess. 2:16). Here we see Paul’s high view of the Son of God as the source of blessing and the only way to God’s sustaining grace. Calvin writes, “We have in this a clear proof of the divinity of Christ, so we are admonished, that we cannot obtain anything from God unless we seek it in Christ himself.”
Divine grace is not something that we need only at the start of our Christian walk but at every step of the journey. Thanks be to God, He not only brings us into the faith, but He also sustains our faith and will complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6). Let us thank the Lord for His grace this day and admit our continual need of His sustaining work in our hearts.
Passages for Further Study
2 Peter 1:3–4