During the season of Advent, I am translating from Greek to English the weekday epistle readings out of the Daily Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer.
Saturday, 12 December 2020 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
6. And we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah, avoid any brother or sister walking without discipline and not in accordance with the traditions you received from us.
7. For you yourselves know how necessary it is to imitate us, because we were not undisciplined among you.
8. We ate no one’s free bread. Instead, we worked in labor and toil night and day to not be a burden to you.
9. Not that we do not have the right, but we gifted you an example in how to imitate us.
10. Indeed, when we were with you, we commanded this to you; if anyone doesn’t want to work, neither shall he eat.
11. We hear about some among you who walk around idly working at nothing and bothering those who are working.
12. To those doing these things, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Messiah that they work quietly and eat their own bread.
13. Brothers and sisters, do not grow tired of doing what is right.
14. If anyone does not obey our word in this letter, you must take note not to associate with him so that he may be ashamed.
15. You must not consider him an enemy but as a brother.
16. Now may the Lord of peace give you his peace through all time and in all places. The Lord be with you.
17. This greeting is in my hand – Paul – it is the signature in every letter I write.
18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Messiah be with all of you.
The Thessalonian correspondences end with a shocking turn. Way back in the beginning of 1 Thessalonians (1:3), Paul commended their hard work ethos. It was one of the attributes he was thankful for and that helped the Thessalonians become so famous. But now, things have changed. Reading the text it becomes clear that A) Some people are not working. Paul calls this ‘undisciplined’ behavior. B) These people are begging for food (and money) from others who are working. C) The people who are not working are disturbing the labor of others. D) This behavior is contrary to what Paul taught and demonstrated when he was with them and it has made him angry they are using his words to justify their laziness. To show this frustration, verse 8 has two words that both mean work and taken together kind of mean something like “we worked our tails off” I modern vernacular. I used ‘labor’ and ‘toil’, but you get the drift.
The question for Bible students is, “What happened at Thessalonica?” The answer seems to be theological in nature. It appears that people had come to the conclusion that since Jesus was returning very soon then there was no sense or need at all to work and prepare for the future. It is the, “If I knew I was going to die next month, I’m going to quit my job and spend as much money as fast as I can” kind of thing. This is the plot to more than one book or movie.
Paul calls them out on this and tells them, in no uncertain terms, to knock it off. One of my favorite lines in all the Bible is found in verse 10: “If anyone does not want to work, neither shall he eat.” Within the community of faith there is zero tolerance for freeloaders. This is a different from helping the poor or needy. We are not talking about that situation or benevolent needs. What we are talking about are brothers and sisters who can work, should work, but instead choose not to and rely instead on others hard work.
I see two very practical applications here. The first is the obvious economic incentive that teaches us labor and work is good. Work is not bad, and we were made for meaningful productivity. The second, though, is a little more nuanced to get at. Dare I even say, it takes a little work. Just as a person who is lazy and uses theology to justify it is wrong, so too is it an abrogation of our commitments to not take work and care for things because we think the end is near. I’d like to point out the general feeling among most Christians in the 1970s and 80s was that Jesus would soon return and therefore, things like saving money for the future, environmental care, and debt spending were ignored. What did it matter if Jesus was coming soon?
Well, Jesus didn’t come.
To be sure, he will someday, but the result was ill prepared people, a decimated environment, and debt as a way of life.
Oh, you want another example? How about this one: Since God will take care of me and protect me (a theological excuse) it doesn’t matte whether I wear a face covering to protect others from COVID-19. After all, I don’t have a spirit of fear (theological excuse). Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are full. You see the connection here? A person’s lazy theological excuse which justifies their inaction has caused a great deal of labor and strife (even death) for someone else. This is the opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Questions For Application
- Can you think of someone who has used theological justifications to not do something difficult?
- Would you work if your livelihood (food on the table paying bills) didn’t depend on it? If yes, what kind of work would yo want to do?
- Paul writes, ‘Do not grow tired of doing what is right.’ This pandemic has worn me down and worn me out — I find myself weary. If you are like me, what we do to maintain our spiritual stamina?