Monday, August 3, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 29: Work

Day 29: Work

I have to confess that I've been looking forward to getting into this passage. Over the years I have heard verse 10 used repeatedly, out of context I believe, as an excuse for why Christ followers or churches should not help the poor and needy. I studied this passage after the first time someone in my church quoted it to me because I have a strong passion for serving those in need, and feel just as strongly that it is a call by God for the Church and for his people. I look forward to digging deeper into this passage with all of you.

6 "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, laboring 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.
14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
So, first we need to discover what brought Paul to this teaching about work. This is not his first mention of this topic in these letters. In 1 TH 2:6b-9 we learn that Paul and his disciples worked to support themselves while they were in Thessalonica. Twice in these letters he states that they "worked day and night" (1 TH 2:9 & 2 TH 3:8),  "laboring and toiling" (2 TH 3:8), not wanting to be a financial burden on the Thessalonians (1 TH 2:9, 2 TH 3:8. Also see 2 Corinthians 11:9, 12:13-16). Although it seems in their day that being financially supported by the churches they visited (1 Corinthians 9:3-14) was acceptable, and even expected, Paul chose instead to lay aside his privilege and set aside his rights for the sake of preaching the gospel. In Acts 18:34, stating to the Ephesians, "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions". Paul went from town to town preaching, but at the same time making tents (Acts 18:3) in order to support himself and his disciples. Paul lived among the Thessalonians showing them the example of working to support himself and encouraging hard work in them as well (1 TH 4:11-12, 5:12).
So when Paul comes to this point in his second letter why is he speaking about those who are idle and why does he say, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat"? Well it appears it was connected to the other theme we have seen in these letters: The Second Coming of Christ. While not stated implicitly in these letters, many commentators believe, based on the placement of this topic in this letter, that some of the Thessalonians, believing that Jesus would return soon had determined that working was a waste of time, and they should just prepare for His coming. Instead they were living off others in the church, and their idleness was leaving them too much time to the point that they became "busybodies" (2 TH 3:11), bothering others as they tried to work. There are two things we also need to note here: Paul is talking about fellow Christ followers in these passages. He is explicit, calling them brothers in 2 TH 3:6, some translations saying "believers". And the second thing to note is they are not unable to work, but rather unwilling (2 TH 3:10). They felt they had more spiritual things to do than work to earn a living.
Paul has some pretty tough words on how to deal with those who are idle. He is pretty kind about in in the first letter simply telling them to "warn those who are idle" (1 TH 5:14). But apparently by his second letter the problem must have gotten out of hand because his instructions take on a much tougher tone. He now tells the Thessalonians to "keep away from every brother who is idle" (3:6). He urges the idle to "settle down and earn the bread they eat" (3:12), and goes on to urge the church to "not associate" with those who do not change their behavior in hopes that they will "feel ashamed" (3:14). With his final exhortation  to "not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (3:15).
For Paul this whole issue was one of love and unity. Those who were not working were acting in unloving ways toward their brothers and sisters who were supporting them, and placing unnecessary burdens on them. For Paul, he sacrificed the rights he had as an apostle to be supported by the church financially, because to him this was both loving and an expression of the gospel of Christ. The idle in the church may have even been taking resources away for the helpless and needy in the community. Paul had a heart for and taught often about helping and providing for those in need. See some examples in Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Galatians 2:10.

This is why context is so important to understanding meaning in Bible Study. When we pull out one single verse and use it to define our theology and practice, we actually can put ourselves in the position of disobeying God's Word. We are called to serve the poor and needy around us. We should do so with wisdom and stewardship and with love. Poverty in our nation is systemic and often not as simple to overcome as simply getting a job. As God's people we can also strive to be a part of the solution, seeking justice to change systems that do not actually help people get out of them. Most importantly, we can remember Jesus' own words in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew's gospel:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
Matthew 25:35-36, 40, 45.

Paul's theology is one of hard work, holy living, serving and loving others - those in God's family and everyone else.

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