Idle Lives or Faithful Work?

callus-hands26th Sunday After Pentecost
November 13, 2016

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 | New Living Translation (NLT)

And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you.We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”

Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.

This morning we have a curious passage from Paul.  Several times in this passage, Paul uses the word “idle,” as in don’t live idle lives, some of you are living idle lives.  Paul even says that he wasn’t idle when he was with them.  If we looked at this scripture on the surface, we could say that Paul is commending those who work hard.  And I believe you could easily make an argument for that.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul writes, “As we pray to our god and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul commends the church at Thessalonica for their faithful work and he goes on to commend their faithful spreading of the gospel.  As you look at both letters, you can see that there must be something deeper going on here.  Paul is not speaking to the whole church family about the importance of work – because many are already doing it – many are already faithfully taking the gospel to those who need it.

The key to this passage comes in verse 11. “Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other peoples business.”  How many of you like others who meddle in your business?  Not many, I can be sure.  So we have a trifecta of badness here.  First, they were living idle lives.  In our workaholic world, we need to be careful, because many of us are not idle – we are quite the opposite of that.  Paul is not saying that we need to be busy every hour of every day.  Or that we need to be working every hour of every day.  I feel that I have a good, healthy work ethic – balancing work and rest.  Paul is cautioning against being idle – he adds emphasis by saying refusing to work.

This week I started driving bus for the local school transportation company, thus ending about 3 months of searching for a job to supplement my income here.  I have been anything but idle and anything but refusing to work.  Yes, it requires a little bit more planning on my part to make sure everything gets done, but I am enjoying it.

It’s the third thing that Paul mentions that really is the kicker here – those who are refusing to work and being idle are meddling in other peoples business. It appears that they were causing a disruption in the work of the church – they were creating mischief in the church – they were creating chaos in the church.  These whom Paul was writing to were content to sit back – refusing to get involved in the ministry of the church (and if we want to but it into modern terms,) then they were criticizing those who were doing the work, or worse yet they were sitting there and creating dissension in the church.  Paul says, bothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the way it should be.  This happens even in the church of today.  I think we need to be very careful – if you are just sitting there and not involved in the life of the church and then want to cause dissension and division among those who are actively involved – you are sitting in dangerous territory.  This is not what God wants for his church. Enough said.

So what does God want? “Dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good” Paul writes in verse 13.  Several weeks ago we heard these words from Paul, “We keep on praying for you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him.”

This is the way that Christ wants his church to work.


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