Today Jeremy and I are continuing the topic of work. This time we'll be covering the example of the apostle Paul as he writes to the church at Thessalonica in, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. From those verses we'll see that Paul offers advice to a growing church, much like this one, to give them instructions on what to do with those who are not pulling their own weight. Jeremy and I will give some insight into work, from the dangers and pitfalls of working too much, to the shamefulness and dishonor of working too little. On that broad spectrum we'll highlight Paul's advice on work and how his example is an example of balance between those two extremes. So, with that, let me ask you to do a little thought experiment...
Imagine a church where nobody works. There is no one who preaches a sermon, there’s no one who plays a song, there’s no one to set up the chairs. No one works. There’s no one who puts words on a screen with a computer and projector, because there’s no one who sets up the screen to put them on. There’s no one who goes to the printers to get communication cards, there’s no one who watches the kids, there’s no one who smiles and greets people as they come in. The only thing in this lazy church that even remotely resembles work is that everybody shows up. They all show up and what will they get? As we heard a couple weeks ago they might hear an improvised sermon from David, but what else would they get? What else would expect them to get? Nothing! Work makes things happen, obvious yes, but sometimes it’s hard to remember the purpose of work. Work is meant to create. We were made in the image of God, and he creates. We were made to create, therefore we were made to work. Whether that work creates anything tangible or not is not the point. God created the world and part of that creation involved simply separating light from darkness. Sometimes at work you may simply organize papers into categories to be placed into folders. God created the world and part of that creation was simply speaking. Sometimes your job might just be speaking, but those words create new thoughts in the minds of those who hear them. My point is, work is creation, whatever that form may be.
Now imagine a church where the pastor and one other person does everything. He preaches the sermon, he plays a song, he sets up the chairs, he gets all the communication cards, his friend somehow manages to simultaneously watch the kids and change the words on the projector. The pastor greets everyone that comes in, he prays for everyone before they leave, he brings in coffee, he gets donuts, he juggles not 2, not 3, but 4 cats, he sings an aria. You get the point. Thankfully, God can do anything and everything, and thankfully he understands that we can't. He can do everything and even he rested on the seventh day of his creation. So what is the balance between overwork and outright laziness? Maybe the bible can give us an idea.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
Let's read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 together and see what it has to say “6In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
11We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
14If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. 15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
The apostle Paul visited Thessalonica for several weeks (as it says in Acts 17:1-10 vs. 2 says for “three Sabbath days”) probably in the early summer of 50 AD. Eventually, opposition forced him to leave the city before he was able to deliver all the instruction that he thought was necessary for a new Christian community (1 Thes. 3:10 talks about his desire to return to them). The new church in Thessalonica experienced persecution. Paul sent his student Timothy back to Thessalonica. When Timothy returned to Paul he reported that the Thessalonian Christians were standing firm in spite of persecution. However, there were several topics on which they wanted further teaching, in particular, teaching about the return of Christ. The first letter to the Thessalonians is mainly a missionary’s letter to new Christians which includes teaching on eschatology (end-times) and the parousia (the personal presence, the coming of Christ)
The second letter to the Thessalonians to a large extent deals with a similar situation as in the first letter. The persecution of the Thessalonian Christians seems to be less, but excitement and confusion about the return of Christ exists. A primary reason for writing Second Thessalonians was to clarify a misconception about the coming of Christ “its main aim is to tell them certain things which will calm their hysteria and make them wait, not in idleness, but in patient and diligent attendance to the day’s work.”
Paul’s instruction about work in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 must be seen in combination with his teaching in his first letter. In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 it says “11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
This teaching on work brings me to my experience growing up. My main example of work, and how it should be treated, is my father. He’s a hard working guy. Even now, in his retirement he’s never just “lazing” around the house. There’s always a project in progress. He’ll fix the cars, service the lawnmower and run the snow blower (honestly I have no idea why he does this, to keep the oil from congealing in the engine I guess). When he’s not in the garage he’s in the house doing laundry or cleaning dishes. When those are done he finds something to occupy his mind, like a book or a sermon. He’s usually never too still. So, growing up I was taught that work was valuable and important. My mother also worked hard to earn money for the house and for the bills. But, in contrast with my father, the main message I received from my mother was: work = money = freedom.
Why did she think this? Let me explain a little. My father is manic-depressive so every so often, for awhile it was on a 6 month to yearly basis, he has a manic episode. This causes him to completely change. He’ll go from a happy, relatable person, to a strange and confusing, hard to talk to person. In the process of doing so he’ll spend money like crazy, he’ll stay up all late or get up really early. He’ll work on stuff in the garage late at night, and he’ll basically disrupt the entire house. My mother in these times is usually the only one who deals directly with this. In many cases he ended up committed to a hospital until he stabalized. He would then come home for awhile until the process happened again later. It’s not this bad anymore, but it had been like this for years.
This kind of activity obviously makes it hard for him to make money, so thankfully he has a pension from the government, for his time in the Navy 30 years ago. But these manic episodes disrupted my mother’s ability to maintain a sound budget. So throughout my childhood and into my teen years I had it in mind to get out of the house as soon as possible, and find a job. I began to form the conclusion that my mother had always been indirectly teaching me that work = money = freedom. Work became my functional savior it promised to get me out of that situation, so I worked hard, but for the completely wrong reasons. I thought that if I had enough money, I would never have to face these kinds of problems. I also thought that if I had enough money, I could live far away from them and far away from their problems.
For anyone, work can be used as more than it was intended for, more than just to create, or more than just to earn a living, it can be used as a savior like it was for me. It can also be used as an identity. Although Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3 is warning against laziness and idleness, the opposite extreme, over-work, is just as bad. If you think about it, this isn’t that hard to fall into. When you ask someone, who are you? One of the first things that they might tell you is, what they do as a job. They might say “I’m a computer programmer” or “I’m a nurse” “I’m an engineer” or “I’m an accountant.” Most of the time this is not a bad thing. It's ok to define yourself by what you do, at least partially. But for some people it can become ALL of who they are. It can be where they find worth, where they find fulfillment, where they find value. That is when it becomes more than a job, it becomes an identity. Ephesians 2:10 helps us realize where we should find our identity, it says “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” So you see we are God’s workmanship, we were created by him to “do good works” works that he “prepared in advance for us to do.” Our work in ministry, our work at school, our work in our jobs is all included in this. So we work hard as servants, as God’s workmanship, that is who we are. If you are working from this point of view, I believe you will find it easier to work for anyone or for any organization. Working as if you are working for God moves your value and worth to it's proper place. God gives you his thoughts about you and his purposes for you. Then you can work, without trying to find those things in your job. The point is We don’t find who we are in what we do rather What we do is because of who we are! We work as secrataries or programmers or preachers because we desire to serve and do a good job for God. We don't work as secrataries and programmers and preachers to find out who we are. My favorite quote on this concept is "Standing for hours in an empty garage does not make you a car." We start out as children of God and then do things, none of the things we do will give us a true identity.
Not only can work become our identity but it can also become an idol or a god. I talked earlier about how I turned work into my functional savior, essentially an idol. For others work can become that and more. It can be where they go to find meaning, to find order, to find purpose, to find validation. All of those things are good, but when they are derived from a job, or our grades, or our church, and not God, they are not coming from the right place. Work is simply meant to provide us with the means to be independent of others. To not be a burden on anyone else for our food or our clothes or our housing.
As kind of a side note there's a verse in 1 Timothy 6:6 that says “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” And I just want to make a point that gives some good wisdom for work in general.
So godliness with contentment is great gain. To give this verse a little more context, in verse 5 it says there were those who thought godliness was a means to financial gain. Paul is correcting that misconception. Godliness can be considered a form of work. You have to read your bible, you have to faithfully follow what it says, you have to pray and communicate with God. The problem arises when you start to treat godliness as a means to gaining God's favor, or as a means to blessings or money. The purpose of godliness is simply to be with God and grow closer to him, nothing else. Godliness as a means to anything defeats the purpose of following God. Godliness is the end in itself, abiding with God, being in his presence is the end, not the means to anything else.
So what's the balance? The verses Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians give us the correct model of work; from the extremes of laziness and over-work. He says “7For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
Work, so you’re not a burden (whether a burden because your never home or because you don’t carry your own weight with a job). Work for your food and your shelter and then be content with that. Work, don’t find excuses not to. Work, don’t find “work” in meddling with other people’s problems.
What do I want you to take away from this?:
1. Work is meant to create
2. What we do is because of who we are. Work, because God made you to create a difference in this world. He put you here to do good works that will make his purposes come into being here on earth.
3. We are to find our identity in God and what he says about us. We are to work as children of God that were crafted as his workmanship, and not be defined by our work.
4. Godliness is the end in itself, it’s our end goal, not the means to anything. Our work in the church, what could be called “godliness” is not meant to bring about financial gain, or prestige. Godliness with contentment is great gain. The only profit and gain we need to seek is that which comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
5. Don't be idle or a burden on anyone.