2Thes3v6to15: WARNING AGAINST IDLENESS
Introduction. Read 2Thes3v6to15
Paul writes some stern words at the end of his second, shorter letter to the Thessalonians because several of the converts had given up work. Timothy probably returned from his visit to Thessalonica and reported this worrying trend to Paul. So in his first epistle he writes: Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you. 1Thes4v11.
It appears that Paul found out that this advice fell on deaf ears! There were probably three reasons for the growing numbers of idle Christians in the church. Some thought it was unnecessary if Christ's return was imminent. Greeks considered work was demeaning and should be left to slaves. Idleness is catching. Why should I work if others have given up and sponge off the church. (Or state!)
In Britain we are remarkably tolerant of laziness. You can tell this by all the jokes told about it - jokes like this: Two council workers arrived on site and realised they had forgotten their shovels. One of them phoned the foreman and asked him to bring their shovels. He replied, "No problem boys, you can lean on each other 'til I get there!"
But laziness should be taken seriously because we were made for work. The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Gen2v15.
Paul makes six main points in this passage:
(1) Good role models.
Paul reminded his readers that while he was with them he and his companions: worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. v8. Paul hastened to assert that he was entitled to financial support but he worked above and beyond the call of duty to set an example - to be a model for the Thessalonian Christians to follow.
As a school teacher I was very conscious of how important it was to set a good example to my pupils. If my lessons were poorly prepared, books left unmarked and reports badly written how could I expect my students to give of their best. So it is in the church. We cannot have high expectations of others if we, ourselves, are slackers.
Hard work is often the key to success. It is instructive how often Paul mentions it in his greetings to the Christians in Rome. The apostle commends Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis all of whom worked hard in the Lord. See exposition on Rom16vto16.
My friend Tommy with whom I go bird watching frequently says as we set off on our weekly jaunt, "Better than work." Well at our age it definitely is but if I was 30 again I would definitely prefer to be at work. Work is good for us!
Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about a day in the life of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, a prisoner in one of Stalin's Siberian labour camps. In spite of the meagre diet, bitter cold and a day's forced labour Solzenhitsyn writes that Shukhov went to sleep fully content. ..... He'd built a wall and enjoyed doing it. ..... A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day. The prisoner took enormous satisfaction in his work.
(2) The appropriate response.
Paul expected the Thessalonian Christians to follow his example and work hard. Doubtless some did and others didn't.
We mustn't think because we set a good example others will follow it. Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who gave his servants varying amounts of money to use on his behalf while he went on a journey. Some of the servants worked hard and doubled their original stake but one servant dug a hole and buried his master's money. He took absolutely no notice of the example set him by the industrious and enterprising servants. When the rich man returned and found out what the lazy servant had done he had him thrown out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mt25v30.
Sadly in all walks of life there are going to be those who are quite content to let others do all the work. They are happy to flog a willing horse to death. I can remember when I was nearing the end of my cricket career the new, young, brash first team captain saying: "We'll let you old codgers do all the work and we young ones will just do the playing - suits us fine." It didn't quite work out this way!!
The idlers in the church have no excuse. They see others giving of their best. They are set the best of examples. Do you really want to be called a worthless servant by Jesus and expelled from his presence. Someone has written that sloth isn't a sin. I don't know what else a failing so roundly and comprehensively condemned by Jesus could be called.
(3) An adage to live by.
Paul, with admirable bluntness, tells the Thessalonians: If a man will not work, he shall not eat. This saying does not apply to those who cannot work but to those who need to work but refuse to do so. We cannot expect help if we are not prepared to help ourselves.
Today in Britain far too many sponge off the state. They would rather live on handouts than earn a living.
The church has always been a refuge for what are called, 'loaves and fishes disciples'. After Jesus had miraculously fed the five thousand crowds of people sought him out. Jesus was not happy with their motive. He said to them: "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Jn6v26.
In Britain the generosity of the State means few people attend church for free food. However there are still those who will attend a free barbeque or harvest supper who do not darken the church doors on a Sunday. Young people attend the youth club who are never seen at a worship service.
There are certainly people who attend church for emotional support. They use it as a crutch. Now there are times when we need our fellow Christians to support us. But it is equally important to mature spiritually so that we are able to comfort others. No true believer will take, take, take and never give.
(4) The dangers of idleness.
Paul wryly comments: We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies." v11.
Every teacher realises the importance of keeping pupils busy. He must set exercises that keep every child occupied until the end of the lesson.
Isaac Watt's poem, 'Against idleness and mischief,' was popular in schools for nearly 200 years. I think it still contains a clear message for all of us:
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!
How skilfully she builds her Cell!
In Works of Labour or of Skill
It is often church members who do least who are most discontented, fractious and troublesome. Sometimes the church leadership is at fault for not finding a suitable role for talented brethren. On other occasions it is a case of lazy members choosing to be idle and refusing to take responsibility for anything.
Keep busy - and keep out of temptation.
(5) Keep right on to the end of the road.
When I was a boy I used to love to hear Harry Lauder singing, "Keep right on to the end of the road." I really enjoyed hearing him sing it again just now on 'youtube'. Here is a reminder of the chorus:
Keep right on to the end
Tho' the way be long, let your heart be strong
Keep right on to the end
Tho’ you're tired and weary still journey on,
Till you come to your happy abode
Where all you love, you've been dreaming of
Will be there, at the end of the road
Paul would surely concur with these sentiments. He tells the Thessalonians: And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. v13. He urges the Galatians: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal6v9.
There are several characters in the Old Testament who started better than they finished; men like Gideon, Solomon and Hezekiah. But there were others whose commitment was sustained till their deaths. No one could question the sustained commitment of Moses, Joshua and Caleb. And nor could anyone doubt the unwavering dedication of Paul - God's apostle to the Gentiles.
I know several Christians who are as keen to serve Jesus now in their 70s and 80s as they were when first converted: David Piper is still administering our Association of churches well past retirement age, Ken Busby takes two or three services a week, Peter Chaffey is determined to keep going so long as God gives him health and strength, Joseph Hewitt preaches with undiminished enthusiasm and my friends the Skulls helping out in many different ways in the church at Shepherd's Drive, Ipswich.
We need the spirit of Caleb who at the age of 85 said to Joshua, "Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said." Josh4v12.
(6) A call for discipline.
Paul told the Thessalonians to be aware of those who didn't pull their weight and not to get mixed up with them. They were to keep their distance from bone idle brethren in order to show their disapproval of their conduct.
There is a real danger of fraternising with Christians whose behaviour is reprehensible. A farmer took his shotgun and fired into a lot of crows picking up seed he had sown in his field. All the birds flew away except one that lay wounded on the ground. Going to the wounded bird the farmer discovered that it was his own pet parrot. It had escaped from its cage and flown to join the crows in the field. Its wing was wounded from the shot. Picking it up the farmer said, "Polly, this is what happens when you keep bad company."
Paul did not want the hard working Christians at Thessalonica to forget that the idlers in the church were their brothers. He hoped a show of disapproval would shame the lazy Christians into changing.
One can only hope the tactic worked. From my experience lazy people are very, very hard to shame. It is far better to give them something to do; supervise them; encourage them and hope that they get such satisfaction from doing good work and the approval of others that they are motivated to continue. This was the sort of strategy that worked well in school! I see no reason why it shouldn't work in the church.