Sunday, October 12, 2014

2 Thessalonians 3 No Place for Idleness

2 Thess 3:6-15 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 

Christians are never to be idle, depending on handouts from church or government. Christians are called to be hard-working, to work for their own living. The principle Paul gives here is: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (v.10). From the first day of Creation, God has given Adam work to do--to tend the garden of Eden. We are created for work--creative and good work. We are not created for idleness. Paradise is not a place of idleness but of work.

We need to work because working is a reflection of the divine image within us. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God was at work--He created the Universe and every living thing in it out of nothing. We are not told  how long the creation process took, but we are told that it took six "days". But it's unlikely that the "day" means a 24-hour period, since the concept of a 24-hour day could only have meaning after the sun, moon and stars were formed on day 4. So, the first three "days" may not refer to a 24-hour day.

But the point is that God is revealed as the God of work. He rested on the Day 7 only after he has completed all his work in six days. Work is not opposed to God; because we are created in His image, we are also to do work. Not to work (idleness) is a sin. Biblical "rest" is not idleness, but a period of of time set aside to enjoy our work.

The common saying, "Let go and let God" may have some truth in it. But if it leads to idleness and passivity, then it's not biblical. A more biblical saying should be: "Let's go and let God!" We have to become actively involved as co-workers with God in any human or divine endeavour. If we do not work, we should not expect any food to eat. If we do not reap, we should not expect any harvest. Grace does not mean no work. Grace means the power to do God's work.

There is no such thing as "effortless" spirituality. While it's true Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest", He also says, "Take my yoke upon you... for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Jesus is calling us to exchange our work for His. If what we are doing is our work, then it's stress-work. But if what we are doing is Jesus' appointed work (implied in the invitation to "take my yoke"), then it's rest-work. Either way, it's work and work requires effort. Paul discovers that if he wants to experience Christ working in and through him, he also needs to be an active co-worker: "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col 1:28-29). As we work, Christ works!

Father, what a privilege to join You in Your work, for indeed Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light. Grant us discernment to know the difference between stress-work and rest-work. Amen.

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