The Opposite of Name It, Claim It
Last Sunday my family spent the day in Frederick, Md, so we attended the PCA church there. Rev. John Armstrong has been preaching through 2 Thessalonians, and the text for the day was 2 Thess. 2:16-17:
Now 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.
If you didn't know better, you may read this thinking it is the end of the epistle. Isn't that when the benediction is usually given---at the end? Like Pavlov's dogs slobbering away at the sound of the dinner bell, we are trained by our good liturgy to stand up and sing our last song of worship when we hear the invocation of blessing. But here is a benediction in the middle chapter of 2 Thess. What's the deal?
Rev. Armstrong reminded the congregation what he had been preaching through in the previous weeks. Paul has been dealing with very hard topics such as persecution, judgment, and the man of lawlessness. And so, as he is exhorting the Thessalonians to stand firm, he adds a benediction. They're not just for the end of epistles and worship services.
Before the actual blessing, we hear something about who God is and what he has done. Rev. Armstrong pointed out that here we see the Lord Jesus Christ mentioned before God our Father. Just by the order of words, we have a bold statement about the deity of Christ and our doctrine of the trinity. But I'm going to leave that kid in the study and move on to the next part of the verse on what God has done. He has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.
The pastor pointed out that this word comfort means more than consolation. It also means strengthening and encouragement. God has given us eternal consolation, strengthening, and encouragement. Wow. He has loved us indeed. Along with eternal comfort, our God has given us good hope through grace. This is a hope well founded on God's promises in Christ. It is a hope that we can hold fast to because we know our God is faithful.
But this blessing comes with exhortation. Paul invokes a benediction that God will comfort their hearts and establish them in every good work and word. As I was reflecting on the sermon the next day, I couldn't help but think how different a Christian benediction is from the Word of Faith movement's "name it, claim it" mentality. Our "positive confession" is what God says, not what we creatively speak. And the good news of the gospel is not that we can demand what we want from God and he is then required to give it. No, it is that despite our wretched, sinful condition and rebellion against God, he has lavishly given us Christ and all his blessings. Therefore, we are in his service. His demands are good, and we must obey.
As Rev. Armstrong was proclaiming God's love, he asked, "Do you live in light of God's love?" He gave application of what it is like to walk in the love of the Father, and the freedom and joy that brings. He exhorted us to be encouraged in our high calling to serve Jesus, because in this benediction Paul encourages and equips the Thessalonians to receive God's blessing, along the indicative to be a blessing.
We are receivers of grace. And this gracious work of God establishes us in every good work and word. As we receive the benediction, we are exhorted to live as we are called. And it is a blessing to do so.