If you were with us last week, I spoke to you concerning intentional living that other than perhaps work…whether work is school or whether it's a job in the home or away from the home…other than that, what we do recreationally occupies the bulk of our time. So we certainly need to pay attention that we are doing all things to the honor and glory of God.
Well, when it does come to that matter of work…again, whether working in the home, outside of the home, at school, in training, whatever it might be…we find ourselves in contact with those who are probably our primary witness, those before whom we are to display Christ. Our work ethic and what the Scriptures have to say about our mindset when it comes to work certainly affect our witness to others, not only to the lost, but also to others even in our own fellowship, which is the focus of the text that is before us today.
The apostle Paul is writing to the Thessalonians and is going to discuss before us today the attitudes that had developed among some of the Thessalonians concerning work. It was a doctrinal error that had developed concerning the coming of the Lord, and that doctrinal error concerning the Day of the Lord had caused some to think they no longer needed to work at all… they could just simply live off of others because of the fact that the Lord may come at any day.
So Paul dealt with that, and in so doing, we get an insight into this matter of iWork or Intentional Work. What would God have us to do? How would He have us to view what is sometimes the most mundane part of many people's lives? That is what they do for a living, what they do Monday through Friday, what they do in anticipation of their playtime. The Bible has something to tell us about that.
So I invite your attention this morning to 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3, the last chapter of the book. We want to begin down in verse 6 of that to look at this matter of work and what the Bible has for us to understand about this issue.
Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3, in verse 6, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us."
Now, this disorderly walk is something that Paul had addressed actually in the previous letter. He wrote 1 Thessalonians, and there in 1 Thessalonians 5, in verse 14, he said, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all." Notice: "warn those who are unruly." Well that's a Greek word that means to be idle.
Idleness is the sin (actually) that Paul hones in on and focuses on here beginning in verse 6. He says in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, "…that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly..." This disorderly walk is the idleness that some of these church members had adopted where they were no longer engaging in their own income. They were no longer earning enough to buy their own bread but were simply depending on other members of the church for that.
Now this is a serious charge. We live in a day when idleness is something that maybe we see as a goal. We'd like to make enough money or have enough money or inherit enough money that we don't have to work. Yet the Bible is particular about this…not working, being idle is actually a serious charge. Listen to how serious it is. The seriousness of it is seen in Paul's appeal to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ when he gives this command. In other words, on behalf of everything that Jesus Christ is, they should do as Paul said.
You notice that this is a command, not a suggestion. Paul, when he had written earlier, had told them to warn those who were idle. Apparently, they'd not heeded the warning. So now what he's doing is he is commanding them…what? …to withdraw…harsher discipline…excluding them from the fellowship.
Now when we hear of people being excluded from fellowship, normally we think that they've committed a gross public sin that falls under that category. It might be some open, sinful lifestyle. It might be a heresy they have adopted. But I want you to notice Paul puts idleness at that same level.
Now why do you think that is? Well, Paul let's us know what the problem is down here in the text, if you just jump ahead a few verses with me down to verse 11. Notice: "For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies." You see, the problem with idleness that makes it so sinful (that those who are idle and will not heed the warning about it, actually need to be removed from the fellowship)…it is that idleness (having that kind of time on your hands) leads to getting involved in everybody else's business…leads to being a busybody.
Now busybody…that word in the Greek literally means to work around. It's the idea, if you will, of fooling around. They have time to get involved in things that they should not be involved in. Indeed, sometimes some of the biggest problems a congregation will have will be by those who are otherwise idle. Rather than serving in a congregation, rather than volunteering in a congregation, they choose to be involved in the business of everybody else's service, everybody else's volunteering, and everybody else's personal life. Paul and (in fact) the Holy Spirit see that this is a gross sin worthy of church discipline.
You see…our attitude toward work, our attitude toward being gainfully employed, doesn't just impact us and our pocketbook, but they impact the people who are around us. How we choose to spend our time…if we get involved in the offense of idleness…this deliberate loafing which, as verse 11 said, led some to interfere in the work of others.
As he goes on down to verse 12, it says, "Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread." In other words, they also were mooching off the other church members. They were letting other people provide for their needs. It was a two-fold sin because they were choosing to be deliberately idle.
What does the Bible say about work? What does it teach us about work? Well, for one thing, if we go all the way back to Genesis, we see that work…labor…was a part of man's life before sin entered into the world. God created mankind to be employed, to work, to labor, whether it's manual labor or mental labor…that is how we were created. God created us perfectly. In creating us, he wanted Adam to till the Garden. He wanted man to work. So work was part of our DNA. We are created to do that.
That may surprise and it may even upset, but that's what we were created to do. We were created not to simply sit on a cloud and play a harp but to get ourselves involved in some type of industry. God gave Adam the job of dressing and guarding the Garden. Though sin entered into that (and as the result of sin it becomes an almost hopeless toil), it must never be thought that work is the result of sin. Work is what we're made to do.
You know, it's interesting man needs work for the fulfillment of his or her own person. God created us to do that. Have you ever noticed that God called people who were already busy at work? Moses was caring for sheep in Exodus 3. He wasn't idly sitting by a rock and God said, "I could use a volunteer." He went to a man who was already working. Joshua was already Moses' servant when he became Moses' successor. Gideon was threshing wheat when God called him to be a mighty man of valor. David was caring for sheep when God appointed him to be the next king of Israel.
Our Lord called four fisherman to serve as His disciples gainfully and successfully (we believe) employed in that industry. They didn't become disciples because they weren't good at something else. They were actually very good at what they were doing, and the Lord called them to follow Him. Jesus Himself modeled work for us because He Himself was a carpenter. Paul was a tentmaker and even used that trade to support his own ministry (we learn in the book of Acts).
Now work is not the result of sin, nor is work something to be avoided. Work is part of who we are. I'll even dare say that sometimes the misery and the distractions people have, the seeking through pleasure to fill gaps and holes in their life, is sometimes the result of simply not working…of simply not finding the natural fulfillment in doing something which they can gainfully do.
Now gainfully doesn't always mean make a profit. Gainfully doesn't always mean being the richest on the block, but it does mean doing something productive. God uses people who are productive already to further His ministry in these examples we've seen, and he does so today as well. If he doesn't call you, if he's not leading you, it may be that your mindset is one of idleness…that you don't have those work DNA genes going. So as a result, your mind is just in neutral, so to speak. So God is not able to use you because you're not using yourself, you're not doing what God has created you to do to fulfill your purpose and your passion in life.
As we look through here, go down to verse 10. It says, "For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat." This was a command the apostles, Paul and his companions, had already taught the Thessalonians…to be industrious, to be a good example. Paul wanted no one to forget exactly what the apostles had said. So he says it again. Really, this is a firm…listen…a firm rule of Christianity: "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat."
Now we may not like the sound of that. Listen, the individuals in view here are not those who could not work, but the onus here is on the will not work. Paul is very careful to word it that way. The ones who will not work were not to be supported by other Christians out of some sense of charity. You see, people can play on the Christian's sense of love. They can take advantage of it, can't they? They can, because of their own idleness, actually lean on a brother or sister to provide for them. Paul said, "This must never be."
Now notice Paul is talking to idle church members. He's talking to those the others know are able to work. Paul's not talking about those who are not able to work because of the way he words the sentence. He recognized the fact that some people could not work, maybe because of physical handicaps or family responsibilities. What he is saying (and the way he words it) is if any man is not willing to work…It's not a question of ability but willingness.
My friends, when a believer cannot work and is in need, it's the privilege and the duty of the church to help them. James tells us that. 1 John, chapter 3 tells us that in verse 16. It says, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for…" Who? "…the brethren." Okay. "But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth."
It is our duty…it is our privilege to help the brethren who are in need of help. But it is also our duty and our responsibility not to help those who can work but choose instead not to. That is actually a statement of love to refuse to help those…to encourage them to get out and fulfill the mission and the purpose God has for them.
Now, the apostles had heard more than once about the idleness of this minority. Really, by the wording of the text we can tell that it's a minority of them because Paul, speaking to the majority, tells them to withdraw from them. But when you look down here to 2 Thessalonians 3:11 where it says, "For we hear…" That word hear in Greek is in the present tense. Really it means we are hearing. It's a continuous type of verb here. In other words, they have heard more than once about this. In fact, Paul wrote about it in 1 Thessalonians and now he's writing about it again. There is a persistent group, it seems, who were not working to support themselves.
As he goes on to say, they were busybodies instead of being busy. So instead of tending to their own business of earning a living, they were meddling in the business of others. Paul speaks about the sinfulness of this in 1 Timothy 5. He talks about the sinfulness of being a busybody. He mentions it here as well.
Paul and his companions both commanded and exhorted them on the basis of their union with Christ. You look down to verse 12: "Now those who are such [those who are busybodies…], we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread." Now why all of this? Because God knows what is best for us.
You know, Christ came to give us abundant life. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. This Bible is so much more than just instructions on how to get to heaven. It's also instructions on how to live abundantly…to live the life that God intended. Paul is very aware of that, and the Holy Spirit superintending this text is very aware of that. So he is very concerned to the level of commanding and exhorting that you need, if you're able, to be busy working. You need to apply yourself.
Now students don't get out of this because your work is your school, okay? You're in training. Your work is your training. You're working out of the home…your work is those duties and responsibilities. But God knows that your fulfillment will be when you begin to see that positively and not as something to continually escape from.
You meet the people who hate their job. You meet miserable people. You meet people who are always complaining about having to do something. There are people that have just a bitterness, a root of bitterness deep within in their heart. Oh how it affects! Not only does it affect that individual, but as I said, it affects other people as well. That's what Paul addresses in the last verse before us today, verse 13.
He says, "But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good." You know, like so many sins, the sin of idleness…sometimes people think…Well, that's just my sin, and I'm not hurting anybody. You know, we think that way with our sins, don't we? The sins that we sort of do in secret…we think…Well, that's not hurting anybody. When it came to idleness, sometimes we think…Well, if I'm lazy, I'm just lazy. If I'm idle, I'm just idle…I'm really not hurting anybody. But Paul says that that's quite different in verse 13.
Now I want you to understand this. Idleness in the fellowship discourages those who are working. It is a discouraging thing. He turns here to the faithful majority, and he's urging them to continue doing what they know to be right regardless of the leeching of the disobedient ones…not to let that discourage them. When other Christians take easy paths of irresponsibility…when they even seem to prosper in them, it's easy to get discouraged and even to be tempted to join them.
You work hard, you see other Christians who are not, and sometimes you want to give up. Though one may tire in doing what is right, we should never tire of doing what is right. We should continue to do what God has planted within us to do. You notice here that he addresses the working as brethren and the others as they. You see, those who are idle…they tend to automatically separate themselves. When they don't engage life as God intended for it to be, you divert from the Christian walk anyway.
So Paul, in addressing the brethren and speaking of the they, is just simply recognizing a division, really, that already existed, but he is encouraging those who are there not to let that cause them to lose heart. The faithful Christians were discouraged by the conduct of those careless saints. They probably developed the attitude…Well if they don't have to work, why do we have to? The idle ones were anticipating the return of the Lord, and so they were giving up and just eating off the common bread and the offerings of other people. That was discouraging those who were still working. So Paul nipped it in the bud.
My friends, sin in the life of a believer, even the sin of idleness, affects everyone. It affects everyone. As members of the body, we belong to each other. We affect each other. The bad example of a few will affect everyone else. It will discourage them. It will destroy devotion. It will hinder service. So it has to be nipped in the bud. The Lord knows this and raises that to such a high, high standard.
You know, almost every culture has something to say about idleness. The Romans said, "By doing nothing, men learn to do evil." The Jewish rabbis taught, "He who does not teach his son to trade, teaches him to be a thief." Instead of noisily running around and meddling in other people's business, Paul was encourage them that they should with quietness work and eat their own bread…that they needed to stop and to change.
Their false views about the return of Christ had worked them up into a fever pitch of excitement, but it was the wrong direction. Their over emotional attitude was wrong. Paul says, "Settle down and get to work."
My friends, work is the great antidote to an unbalanced life…a life of speculation, a life of mere idleness. God intends us to serve Him. He intends us to be busy. He intends us to be about doing what God is leading us and calling us to do. Sometimes we fear that it's going to take away from God, but actually our work is course-center to what God wants us to do and should be as much a part of it as even what we do here on a Sunday morning.
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