Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”

II Thessalonians 2:15

Paul had just said that he knew the people in the Christian church in Thessalonica to be elect! And he knew that they were loved of God (II Thess. 2:13, 14)! They stood in sharp contrast to those who belong to the kingdom of Antichrist (II Thess. 2:11, 12). Paul also knew that these Thessalonian saints would, like all the other of God’s elected loved ones, believe the truth and walk in sanctification.

Now the inspired apostle lays before these saints an obligation. This obligation is to stand fast and hold the traditions.

When the inspired apostle presents this obligation or responsibility, it becomes obvious that such does not conflict with, but is in perfect harmony with, divine election unto salvation. Right after speaking of their election he gives them an obligation. As long as the church has proclaimed the doctrine of predestination, she has always heard the charge that predestination removes human responsibility. In response the church, following the lead of the Scriptures, has always maintained that the decrees of God’s sovereign counsel do not destroy human responsibility. She has always maintained that the sovereign God determined that election would be carried out in the way of the elect believing and being holy. The striving of believers, by the power of divine grace in them, to love God with their all, and specifically to stand fast in the Lord Jesus, is exactly the way God realizes His decree of election in His people. The church has taught that responsibility is determined, not by predestination, nor by providence, but by God’s commandments. So here God gives a command to His beloved elect, namely, that they are to stand fast.

The calling which God gives to the believers in Thessalonica is that they “stand fast.” To stand fast means to be firmly rooted in one place. This is not something done once and then it is finished. This is an on-going action. The Thessa—lonian believers must keep on taking a firm position. It is interesting to note that in his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul spoke of their standing fast “in the Lord.” The idea is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one in whom they are to be rooted. They will be firmly in one place when they are loving Him, trusting in Him, and hoping in Him.

The reason this specific command is given to the Thessalonian saints is evident from the first part of this chapter. These believers were experiencing some trouble. They were being disturbed by a false teaching concerning the end of time. As a result, they were shaken and troubled in their minds (II Thess. 2:2). They were being told that Jesus could come back at any time, and very soon, without any precursory signs. This teaching caused doubts and frustration. The believers were in a state of agitation and nervous excitement.

There are a few factors which help us to understand the agitation being experienced by the Thessalonian believers. The first was that they were young in the faith. They had not been long converted to Christianity. This is evident especially from Paul’s first letter to them. Secondly, Paul had not been long in Thessalonica before he was chased out of the city. The history is recorded in Acts 17. Therefore Paul did not have time to give the believers there all the instruction he wanted to give them. As a result, those who were converted to Christianity were zealous but immature in the way. They especially were short on their knowledge of the end times. Paul had to clear up some confusion concerning Christ’s return in his first letter to them. The third factor was that false teachers were confusing them (II Thess. 2:2), specifically stating that Christ’s return was imminent. Some thought that the suddenness of Christ’s return meant that it would be completely unexpected by all. Some feared concerning their loved ones who died before Christ’s return. And some quit working at their daily job, either because they did not see the need to work if Christ would be coming back soon or because they wanted to be ready when He returned.

So it was concern about the return of the Lord and the possibility of facing the Man of Sin that shook up the Thessalonians. Therefore Paul urges them to stand fast. Don’t be quickly and easily shaken, as a grass in the wind. Be firmly rooted and not easily shaken!

How is it that the Thessalonians, and believers in the year of our Lord 2001, can stand fast? What will keep them and us from being upset by the false teachers? By holding the traditions!

A “tradition” is a teaching which has been passed down either by word or by writing over a period of time. It has been helpful in the past, bearing up under the test of time. The idea of traditions is used in Scripture both in a good and in a bad sense. Jesus condemns the “tradition of the elders” in Mark 7and Paul condemns that “of men” in Colossians 2. A tradition is bad when the teaching handed down from one generation to the next is bad (not in harmony with God’s Word and not to God’s glory), or when one adheres to the tradition merely because that is the way it has always been. On the other hand, a good tradition refers to truths of God’s Word which are held knowledgeably and are preserved from one generation to the next. The teachings passed down from a previous generation are biblical. And the tradition is held with knowledge, that is, the basis and arguments are understood.

When the inspired apostle admonishes the Thessalonians to hold the traditions, he is referring specifically to the teachings and practices that he, Silas, Timothy, Luke, and the others in his party had communicated to them when they were in Thessalonica. Paul identifies his teaching of doctrines and practices as traditions because he had, in turn, received them from others. The traditions to which they must hold is the “apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). And it was the teaching of the Old Testament Scriptures. The specific tradition that Paul has in mind for the Thessalonian believers to hold concerns the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why does Paul refer to these teachings as “tradition”? Because new teachings had created confusion about what to believe concerning the end of the world and how to live in anticipation of the end. He wanted the believers to understand that what would keep them from being shaken in mind and troubled is their remembering and tenaciously holding to the teachings which have the weight of history behind them. The instruction of the Old Testament as fulfilled in Jesus Christ had proven the test of time. The Spirit of God led the church of the past into the knowledge of truths that were maintained, preserved, and handed down from one generation to the next. They were valuable instructions which had provided stability and comfort to the church of the past. Paul believes that these traditions would provide stability and comfort to the young believers in the church at Thessalonica. They will provide stability and comfort to the church today too.

Confusion was created by new teachings, teachings which contradicted the good, old teachings. The same confusion about the end of time is present today in the book series “Left Behind,” which has been made into a movie. The perspective of this book series is dispensational. Dispensationalism is relatively new in the history of the church of Jesus Christ. It certainly is not a teaching which was present at the time of the Reformation. It is a perspective which frightens, both because it describes a very sudden and unexpected return of Christ and because it leaves the false assurance that Gentile believers will not face the persecution brought on by the Man of Sin. On the other hand, the traditional view of Christ’s return is a Reformational view, it is set forth in the Belgic Confession (Article 37) and in the Westminster Confession (Chapters 32 and 33), and it does not frighten but comforts and assures.

Good traditions for Reformed believers are the truths of Scripture, which are summarized in the creeds of the Reformation, the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards. They provide a wonderful summary of Scripture, giving what is the thought-current which runs through Scripture. They give to us all the counsel of God as presentedin Scripture. It is this counsel of God which Paul preached from house to house when he was in Ephesus (Acts 20:27). This is our tradition. Holding these traditions will enable us to stand fast and not be easily shaken in mind or soul.

How are we to “hold” to the traditions? It is interesting to know that the word translated “to hold” means to take full possession of something, to become master of something. Everyone knows that to master something one must know it thoroughly, must understand it well. In order to hold the good traditions, we must know the truths as summarized in the creeds. We must know the creeds. We must not just know them, but know how they summarize Scripture.

It is also interesting to note that the admonition to hold the traditions speaks of a constant, on-going calling. We are to keep holding the traditions. We must never stop learning them and growing in our understanding of them. We may never rest on our laurels, assuming that we have the truth. Often the Lord gives troubles to His church so that she will not become presumptuous about her hold on the good traditions.

The danger is always that we lose a thorough understanding of the doctrines and practices of the apostles. This happens when we are too busy to keep studying them. This happens when we set them aside for something which seems to be more interesting and fascinating. Most often this happens when a position is held without knowing why, or it is held just because that is what has always been done!

What are proper ways to hold the traditions, ways which will enable us to stand fast no matter what the Devil may hurl at us? First, we must be faithful in our worship attendance, striving always to attend in adoration of the God we worship and with all readiness of mind to receive the Word preached (Acts 17:11). This means that we come to worship the King in the humble frame of mind that we need to learn from our only Teacher, King, and High Priest. Second, we must study the Scriptures—not just read them! We must study the Scriptures alone, with our family, with a friend, or with our fellow-saints in Bible studies. Thirdly, we must read. And then read some more. The responsibility to read is not altered by the fact that we may not like to read. The comfort of our souls is at stake.

There are many good benefits to standing fast by holding the traditions.

Holding the good traditions and holding them correctly removes unnecessary fears. It answers questions and removes many doubts. Usually the answer to fears is knowledge. Knowledge of the truth frees believers from many fears. Holding the traditions concerning the return of Jesus Christ and the end of the world, believers know that there will be signs which clearly indicate the return of their Lord, that they will not be among those who fall away, and that they will not be deceived by the wiles of Antichrist. In the way of our standing fast by holding the traditions, God gives us faith and sanctification, preserving us so we can manfully fight against sin, the devil, and his whole dominion.

Standing fast by holding the traditions also provides stability in our lives. These doctrines, and the practices which arise from them, have endured the test of time. They have provided tremendous comfort in the trials endured by God’s children. Throughout history these doctrines and practices have guided the church into the haven of rest with a sense of great peace and joy.

The devil may be sending Antichrist, but that is not reason to fear. It is the occasion for standing fast by learning (or re-learning) the truths God taught His people in the Scriptures as they are summarized in the creeds. Know them and by the grace of God you will be able to stand!