As Paul turns in 2 Thessalonians 2 to a relatively lengthy teaching section on the topic of the Day of the Lord and the Man of Lawlessness, I thought it would be helpful to use this reflection to think through the function of the knowledge that Paul is giving his readers. We’ll reflect on two things: the steadying and steeling functions of knowledge.
First, knowledge helps to steady our emotions. Second Thessalonians 2 presents truth that must be known and understood in contrast to the deception that very well may have arisen (or had the potential to arise) in the Thessalonian church with respect to the Day of the Lord. There was at least a potential that false information pertaining to the time of the end could shake up the church, throwing it into confusion. For that reason, Paul urges the church in 2 Thess 2:2 to remain steady. No good would be done if the church were to be shaken in mind or alarmed. In fact, quite the opposite was possible. Such deception regarding the timing of the Day of the Lord might render the church ineffective in the world, as it either scrambles to prepare for the end or nervously works through the implications of the advent of the Day of the Lord.
To say it another way, if you’re all tied up in knots about the signs of the time of the end, then you’re far less likely to be of any earthly good for Christ. I’ve witnessed how distracting and upsetting such an alarmist attitude can be on more than one occasion. The pulpit ministry can be distracted by silly theories about blood moons and why this or that President or pope is the Antichrist. The people can be parties to empty talk about doom and gloom on account of some political maneuver or another. In the end, nothing good comes of it.
Much of the anxiety can be attributed to ignorance. Without solid knowledge about matters, especially in the arena of end times things, believers can wear themselves out worrying without any credible basis for that worry. Thus, Paul writes to the Thessalonians to steady their emotions. He teaches, or rather reteaches, them the basic doctrines of the end times, especially what has to happen before Christ will come again. This instruction is explicitly meant to steady their emotions by developing the knowledge of God’s revealed will in this matter.
Second, knowledge helps to steel our minds. That is to say, instruction in the truth serves to prepare us as we test everything so that we might hold fast only to what is good (to reflect Paul’s language from his first letter to this church). This aspect of the importance of knowledge is reflected in Paul’s description of possible sketchy messengers who very well may have delivered a deceptive message to this church.
In 2 Thess 2:2, Paul seems to be covering his bases as far as the potential sources of deception. He mentions the sources of a spirit and a spoken word—the NIV translates this as “prophecy” which seems to get at Paul’s meaning well. Again, this reflects back to Paul’s final pep talk in his first letter when he balanced two things: not quenching the Spirit and testing everything. The point I made in that sermon is that we must have a reliable standard by which to test everything. God has given us such a standard in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Here, we can extend this idea to say that you have to know the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament in order to avoid being deceived by a spirit or a spoken word. Knowledge, especially knowledge of the Bible, is important because it steels our minds to withstand deceptive suggestions that have the potential to be our undoing. Indeed, Paul even reminds them in 2 Thess 2:5 that he’s already given them this knowledge while he was with them!
So, then, knowledge of the truth and of God’s revealed will is not something that gets filed away in our brains as nice but generally useless items of information. It is, rather, equipment to steady and steel us as we face a world that constantly seeks to suggest that evil is good, right is wrong, and Christ is never coming back. A thorough washing in the truth of the Scriptures, however, will steady our emotions when we encounter false teaching, and steel our minds to hold fast to what is good and to reject every form of evil.