Pentecost 23C - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 (NIV)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

          One of the big differences between Christianity and many other religions is in the value and attitude to work. The typical heathen idol is shaped in the likeness of a solid, fat, lazy image of one of God’s creations. The graven image or idol is usually seated and receiving offerings of food and treasure from human worshippers.

          Greek and Roman mythology praises passive pleasure, not active labour as the most God-like state. The Greek and Roman mythical gods are thought to dwell in ease and luxury on Mt Olympus, indulging themselves in luxurious flippant revelry, food and wine.

          Again we also often find that the pagan religions promote idleness and respite as the highest form of blessedness for the hereafter.

          But Jesus said, John 9:3–4 (NIV) … “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed … we must do the works of Him who sent Me.

In creation, God worked, and in reflecting on His work the Scriptures tells us in Genesis 1:31 (NIV) 31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

          It has been popularly taught that work is a curse which came upon Adam and Eve after the Fall and that if they had not sinned there would have been no need for humanity to work. This is in fact a devious lie of Satan.

Our first ancestors were given the task of working in the Garden of Eden before the Fall when God commanded them to work in Genesis 1:28 (NIV) “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it...” To “subdue” is to engage in work which has to be done.

          The Word of God frowns upon idleness and slothfulness warning of its dangers: Proverbs 19:15 (ESV) 15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. The Word of God holds work in high esteem. Thus we are to 14 …, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (ESV)

          The Scriptures give us many examples of industrious employment. Abel worked as a shepherd. Noah was industrious in building the ark. Joseph was an administrator ensuring there would be food for the masses. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were shepherds. Even Moses tended sheep.

          David too, was a shepherd before his becoming king. Many of the prophets had regular jobs. Jesus called His disciples from the boats where they were professional fishermen and Matthew was an accountant for the Roman tax department.

The Apostle Paul earned his living making tents and Dorcas was a seamstress.

          Jesus Himself was the son of a carpenter and was no stranger to the trade. Work is good and everyone who can work is called to work – to put in an effort and be productive.

          Today’s text is about work. To properly understand it let’s do some maths. On the screen you can see a maths problem ( 6_6=_ ). We don’t know what the answer is because we can’t see the whole formula to solve the problem. We can’t work out the answer until we know what goes in the first empty spot (                         ).

          If I put a “minus” symbol ( 6-6=_ ) between the sixes the answer is zero ( 6-6=0 ). But if I put a “plus” sign in there the answer is “12” ( 6+6=12_ ).

     Now listen to the problem in the Bible Reading:

10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

          St Paul isn’t just talking about lazy people – he’s talking to lazy Christians – people who use their faith in Christ as an excuse for doing nothing.

For the early Christians the problem was created by their thinking Jesus was returning so soon that there was no need to make provision for the present or the future here on earth.

          We can illustrate this with the maths problem. Christians know that Christ has saved them by “Grace’. Now our maths problem looks like this; (Grace __ 6 = __ ) .

          We also know that Christ is coming to take us to live with Him in heaven so we’ll put “Christ’s Return” (Grace __ Christ’s Return = __ ) in place of the second “six”. Now what’s the answer?

          Of course the answer depends on what symbol we put in the blank spot. If I put in a minus symbol, we say that we are saved and Christ is coming to get us soon, so the answer is (Grace - Christ’s Return = Wait for Christ ) “Wait for Christ”.

          The people in Thessalonica to whom Paul was writing, were waiting. Some of them didn’t want to work. They were dependant on Jesus so their thinking was to sit and wait for Jesus to show up.

          But St Paul says they had not understood correctly and were wrong (Grace - Christ’s Return = Wait for Christ).

X

We should see God’s grace in Christ and His promise to return with a “plus” sign (Grace + Christ’s Return = __ ) between them. God has given us both His Grace and His promise to return. If we add them together, rather than subtract one from the other we get the answer, (Grace + Christ’s Return = Work for Jesus ) “Work for Jesus.”

          Because God has saved us – because He is coming to take us to be with Him in Heaven we can work with Him. We can use the gifts and abilities He has given us to work for our ‘daily bread” which He provides for us and for those who are unable to work. (Grace + Christ’s Return = Work for Jesus )

          It’s important that we note that the Scriptures don’t say, “whoever cannot work is not allowed to eat.” Some people are unable to work because of illness or disability. God provides enough for everyone to eat.

Jesus encourages us to work and provide not only for ourselves but also for those who cannot provide for themselves. It used to be called “giving alms”. Now it is called “charity”. It’s not just about constant giving which perpetuates dependence.

Remember how Jesus healed the lame who were begging in the streets. He sent them on their way so that they were no longer dependant on charity. It’s about helping and enabling people to receive God’s gifts in the manner He created for them to do so.

It’s about helping and sharing with people so that they know how to receive God’s gift appropriately – whether it’s through employment or knowing how to better manage their own resources. The same principle also applies to faith in Christ.

Those who are without the gift of faith in Christ need to be introduced to Him by those of us who already have this gift. Our work is to share Jesus and the Gospel message – what Jesus has done for us personally by dying on the cross to pay for the sin of the world and how this helps us now and into eternity.

Thus, we are workers in ‘God’s vineyard’ so to speak – training and preparing for the harvest of souls when Christ returns for all who are baptised and believe.

The work is as simple as sharing what God has done for us personally with those who do not yet know or believe, who have not been baptised or who are sceptical and then encouraging them to grow in faith and Christian service.

The work is to show our faith active in love, giving a hand or two up to someone who is not yet there with Jesus and helping each other stay with Jesus.

          When we know that God’s grace in Jesus, our Messiah, is part of us and that He adds His promise to come back for us, we won’t get tired of doing good for others in Jesus’ name – thus bringing glory to His holy name.

          Amen.