Sunday, July 19, 2020
2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
The Glory of Work
I am going to utter a dirty, four-letter word. My apologies in advance to parents with young children. Plug their ears and cover their eyes. Here is my dirty, four-letter word:
Work. That’s a bad word, right? Well, it was to me when I was growing up. I was a lazy teenager. “WORK” was like a curse word to me.
When I was 19-years old, I finally relented to the call of God to believe in Jesus Christ. When I believed, I entered into a whole new world. A whole new world of how to live. A new economy. Part of that new world was an economy of WORK.
My attitude toward work didn’t change instantly. But God began working on my heart in many ways, including seeing the beauty and glory and necessity of work. The glory of hard work. Of productivity. Of provision. Of giving. Of bringing good to our world through work. Of reflecting God to our world. Looking back, it seems like I was a slow learner. But by the time I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I could finally describe myself as a hard worker.
We are finishing a sermon series going through a letter written by the Apostle Paul. Open your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians. Chapter 3. Our passage has as its primary focus the topic of work. More on this in a minute.
As an aside, while you are turning to 2 Thess 3, next week Matt will speak on our mission as the church.
What God calls us to as his people.
Then in two weeks, we will begin a new series going through the Book of Acts and how that connects with the mission Jesus has given us as the church.
2 Thessalonians 3
Let’s read in Chapter 3.
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
First, Paul is quite strong here: “We command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is not Paul’s opinion. This is not optional. This is not a suggestion. Paul speaks again of “commanding” in vs. 10 and 12. So we get the strong, blunt point that our Lord Jesus wants us to listen and obey. Jesus Christ has a directive for the church: keep away from any brother—any fellow Christian— who is idle. Who won’t work. That strong language shows how important this topic is.
The word “idleness” is worth spending a few minutes on, for it is the key word in this section.
First, the word can also be translated as “unruly.” Disruptive. It could refer to “laziness,” but from the context of the passage, Paul means more than simply someone who sits around lazily. He is speaking of someone who is ABLE to work but UNWILLING. And more than that, this person is causing trouble. Mooching off others. He is a busybody, interfering with others’ business.
And Paul’s stern conclusion: “keep away from this brother.” Don’t have normal fellowship with him as you would other Christian brothers (and sisters).
This is a very serious command to the church. Jesus Christ commands us to have “Tough Love” on fellow Christians who won’t work to provide for themselves and who are causing more trouble because of it. Such a Christian is, by his actions, rebelling against Jesus’ own command and is denying what Christian brotherhood stands for. Even if that brother’s words sound right, he is rebelling by his actions.
Why were some being idle and busybodies? Paul gives no explicit reasoning.
Some believe it is because they have a warped view of Christ’s Second Coming. Since Christ is coming back soon (a major theme of both these letters) why bother living normal life? Why bother working?
Others believe it was because of a general Greek societal view that mundane daily work was demeaning and beneath them. Only slaves and servants did that.
And there are other speculations as to why some were idle.
But from how I read it, Paul doesn’t speak of reasons behind the idleness and disruptiveness. And largely, it may not really matter why. The fact is, they are being lazy, unwilling to work, and they are causing turmoil among believers. That is enough for Paul to say, “In the name of Jesus Christ, STOP!”
7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,
8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.
9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.
Here Paul speaks of his own example of hard work, industriousness.
During the short time he was in Thessalonica, even though he had a right to earn a living as an apostle—just as any one of us has a right to a paycheck when we work for our employers—Paul didn’t utilize that right.
So he essentially worked TWO FULLTIME JOBS:
- An apostle (without pay, though he had the right to an income, just like every other job)
- Another job (perhaps a tentmaker) to earn pay to provide for himself.
His goal: To be an extraordinary example of hard work. Of providing for himself. So he went way beyond what is required.
So if Paul, having the right to an income from them, chose not to burden them, how much more should the idle man not burden others.
10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
It’s important to note: Paul is not talking to people who are UNABLE to work due to some disability or illness. Nor is he speaking here of temporary unemployment. We lose our job, and we have a period where we are unable to find a new job.
He is talking to those who are UNWILLING.
Paul now gets very specific on how to deal with the unruly, lazy person who refuses to work to provide for himself: Very simply: “Don’t feed him.”
Some of us may feel that is harsh, but such behavior of idleness flies in the face of how God designed us.
From the very beginning of Creation in Genesis 1-2, God told the man and the woman to work. And this was BEFORE sin entered into the world and God judged it.
Work is simply part of our lives. To work is to walk in the image of God.
John 5:17 ESV “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
So for anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for us.
As a teenager and even in my early 20’s, I had a bad attitude about work. I had jobs and I provided, but I was constantly tempted to find the easy way out of things. Or I would procrastinate on tasks because they were “TMW.” Too Much Work!
But such an attitude misses the beauty and glory of work.
From the beginning when man was created in the image of God, he was to work. He worked in the Garden. He was to fill the earth and subdue it.
Then along came sin, and God brought a curse upon the work. Man was now to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, and the land would have thorns and thistles.
So work is much more challenging now because of sin and God’s curse on this world.
Our jobs bring many trials to us— whether we are a stay-at-home mom, an engineer, a daycare worker, a programmer, a business owner.
But work is still glorious and necessary.
11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.
These Christians who are idle are not doing nothing. They are going around to people in the church bugging them. They are not BUSY with work. Instead they are BUSYBODIES. They are disrupting others. They are mooching off others.
12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
So Paul’s solution to this problem is a commandment and an encouragement: “Work quietly. And earn your own living.”
Working quietly here is not a reference to noise, but to distracting behavior — to a noisy life that infringes rudely on the attention of others. They should instead live in a way that promotes order and peace in the church and in society.
In Paul’s first letter to this church, he made the same point. (1 Thess 4:11-12) Such quiet living and work to provide for ourselves is proper behavior to “outsiders,” that is, to the non-Christian world.
A lazy, idle, busybody Christian is a dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ while our world watches us.
13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
Paul knows how challenging it is to work and to do good. He knows the temptation to be idle and be a busybody. And he knows the temptation to simply let others’ idle behavior go unchecked. It’s easier in a way to simply let others go their own way in sin. At least in the short term.
So he encourages them: “Don’t grow tired in do what is good and right.” Don’t quit. Keep persevering by the power of God. It’s worth it. It’s necessary.
14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.
15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Paul repeats the seriousness of this matter. If I or any of us ignore this instruction from Jesus Christ in this chapter (or anywhere else in this letter), we need to have loving but stern words with one another.
Now in the last 3 verses, Paul brings the letter to a close.
16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
I like to pay attention to Paul’s words in his letters that are like this. He offers up blessings to them that are sort of in the form of prayers. What Paul prays for and blesses us with, we should imitate.
We can pray for and bless others to have the peace of God in all our circumstances.
And we can pray for the grace of Jesus Christ to be poured out on one another.
So I want to finish up by answering the question, “So what?” What do I do with this?
The first thing is brief:
APPLICATION 1: Work!
If any of you have an ability to work but you are unwilling, take heed of the Lord’s commands here.
I am unaware of any of you at Stonebrook who are in this camp, but this topic needs to be reflected on, obeyed, and taught.
If you are in this situation, talk to someone immediately. Give me a call.
(Again, this is not addressing those who are unable to work. Or those who are temporarily unemployed due to a layoff.)
All of you at Stonebrook that I know well are working, and are working diligently. So let me offer some thoughts for us all.
APPLICATION 2: Understand and practice biblical work
I want to ensure we have a good understanding of the biblical value of and the need for work.
Even if it’s unpaid work.
And not only do we need a good understanding of this, we must be living this way.
- Do we know that God has created us to work?
The reasons are plentiful.
- God is a worker, and we are made in his image. So we imitate him.
- We can provide for ourselves, which is the will of God.
- We can bring good to others. We bring good through the work of our hands, what we produce from our work. And we bring good through the money we earn that we can give away to those who are in need.
- Do we know that Jesus Christ is our Boss?
Colossians 3:23–24 ESV Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
We work for him. Whether you’re a pastor, a sales rep, a student. Even if you’re a business owner—you don’t work for yourself; Jesus Christ is the True Owner of your business.
- Do we work diligently?
Again, Colossians 3:23-24 Work with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.
Not just when the boss is watching.
There is much more on the theology of work. We have some sermons on Stonebrook’s website on this topic of Vocation. VO-cation, not VA-cation. Listen to those on our sermon library at www.stonebrook.org. I can send you a manuscript from one of my sermons. And Matt Heerema wrote a lengthy paper on this topic I can send you.
So we all want to develop good understanding and practice of what biblical work really is.
APPLICATION 3: Train the next generation (in the theology and practice of work)
Part of discipleship for us is to grow in conviction and practice in work, so the next step is that we train the next generation in these truths.
To all of us, we can reach down to those who are younger and do our part in understanding and living biblical truth concerning work. And passing it on. We need to be good examples like Paul was. We need to actively teach the next generation.
Someone you know who is younger than you— make sure part of your conversation is the biblical value and practice of work.
Parents: Train your children while they are young. And if your children are grown and are not willing to work, do NOT help them. You may feel mean. You may feel guilty for some reason, but God earnestly commands us to work and provide for ourselves.
When I was growing up, I had relatives who would not make their children work. The reason from one of the parents was, “It’s simply easier if I do it myself.” Those parents did their children no favors. My parents trained me somewhat in work, but I was rather stubborn, too. So I had a strong lazy streak in my flesh.
Many practical things you can do for your children.
- Don’t complain about your own work. Work cheerfully and diligently. Complaining teaches your children many bad habits and attitudes.
- Get them to value and enjoy work early. And reward them for it with praise and even money.
They need to learn that much of work (though not all) is about providing for ourselves.
When our daughters were young, they were doing their own laundry. I taught them to mow the lawn by about age 8 or 9. (So I hardly mowed the lawn until we were empty nesters!) Our daughters had jobs early: delivering newspapers. They babysat. We taught them how to handle money. The Envelope System: envelopes for spending, saving, giving. (Many of you are already doing these things, so I commend you!!)
So whether we are discipling our children or an adult who is younger than us, we must train the next generation.
APPLICATION 4: Rest and enjoy the fruit of your labor!
This is a topic for another time, but it’s necessary I at least mention it. So many of you are very hard workers. You even love to work. But many of us don’t rest well. We don’t know how to slow down, find rest for our bodies and souls and minds.
I won’t get into it more today, but it is a crucial topic. So I throw this out there as an addendum.
So in summary, God the Creator of heaven and earth who is working all the time for our welfare calls on us to work.
We work to honor him.
We work to feed ourselves.
We work to bring good to this world.
Our work is done in the midst of a broken world, and we will encounter all sorts of trials and tribulations in our work.
But we bring glory to God through our attitudes toward work and through the work itself.
Like Paul said in vs. 15, “Let us never tire of doing good,” strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, the insights from the Word of God, and the fellowship of the people of God, the church.