A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:15. b). Paul continues with an appeal.
*So then, brothers, stand firm…* We need to absorb the apostle’s unexpected logic. For we would probably have drawn a different conclusion from what he has just written. We might have said: ‘We are bound to give thanks for you … because God chose you…and God called you to share in Christ’s eternal glory. So then, brothers, relax and take it easy!’ But Paul’s appeal is the opposite. Far from relaxing, they must brace themselves. Far from lying down and falling asleep, they must stand firm. That is, Paul’s assurance regarding God’s stable purpose for his people, instead of justifying irresponsible slackness, is the very basis on which he can urge them with confidence to be stable themselves.
The apostle’s exhortation is a double one: ‘Stand firm!’ and ‘hold to!’ He seems to picture a gale, in which they are in danger both of being swept off their feet and of being wrenched from their handhold. In face of this hurricane-force wind, he urges them to stand their ground, planting their feet firmly on *terra firma*, and to cling on to something solid and secure, clutching hold of it for dear life. Both verbs are present imperatives. Since the storm may rage for a long time, they must keep on standing firm and keep on holding fast.
Moreover, what they are to hold on to is specified. It is *the teachings (*paradoseis*, ‘traditions’). *Paradosis* ,means truth which, having been received, must be faithfully handed on. In this case it is Paul’s own teaching, which he had received from God (cf. 1 Thess.2:13) and which subsequently, he writes, *we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth (his oral instruction when present with them) or by letter* (his written instruction when absent). So these *paradoseis* are not later traditions of the church, but the original teachings or traditions of the apostles. It is vital to preserve this distinction between the two kinds of tradition. The apostolic traditions are the foundation of Christian faith and life (Cf. Eph.2:20), while subsequent ecclesiastical traditions are the superstructure which the church has erected on it. The primary traditions, to which we should hold fast, are those which the apostles received from Christ (either the historic Christ or the living Spirit of Christ), which they taught the early church by word or letter, and which are now preserved in the New Testament. To ‘stand firm and hold to the teachings’ means in our case to be biblical or evangelical Christians, to be uncompromisingly loyal to the teaching of Christ and his apostles. This is the road to stability. The only way to resist false teaching is to cling to the true teaching.
One other point may be made. Paul’s appeal for stability is made to the Thessalonians as *brothers* (15). This is a recognition that the context within which they are to ‘stand firm and hold to the teachings’ was the Christian fellowship, the family of God. In other words, we need each other. The church is the fellowship of faith, the society for sacred study, the hermeneutical community. In it we receive teaching from pastors who are duly authorized to expound the tradition of the apostles, we wrestle together with its contemporary application, and we teach and admonish each other out of the same Scriptures. To be sure, private and personal bible study is essential, and the Reformers were correct to emphasize ‘the right of private judgment’. Nevertheless, it also has its dangers. Left to ourselves, it is easy for us to misinterpret the Word of God, to put on it constructions it was never intended to bear, and even to manipulate it to suit our prejudices. So we need the checks and balances of the Christian family, in order to help restrain our rampant individualism and establish us in the truth. It is the Bible in the church which can develop our Christian stability, and so strengthen us to withstand the pressures of persecution, false teaching and temptation.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. c). Paul concludes with a prayer.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.