Sermon for Sunday, July 30th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Pro 24:30-34 ESV] 30 I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, 31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. 32 Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. 33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, 34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.
New Testament reading:
[2Th 3:6-18 ESV] 6 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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 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. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
[Jhn 6:22-29 ESV] 22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
I. A Biblical Warning against Laziness
II. How to Discipline the Idle
III. Be Willing to Work
IV. The Work of God
In my High School German class a student once raised his hand and said “Frau”—that was the teacher, Mrs. King who we called Frau—he said “Frau, what does (the word) fleissig mean?” And she responded, “Fleissig means industrious.” A few seconds passed and the student again raised his hand and ask, “Frau, what does industrious mean?”
This incident is perhaps a reflection of our society in general, knowing neither the word industrious nor what it means to work hard.
There was of course a time before all of our modern appliances and inventions when most people worked most of the day. They worked from sun up (or before sun up) until sun down (or even late into the dark). But even in those eras, not all people were industrious. Indeed many were idle; they were lazy.
This is the situation Paul now addresses in the third chapter of his 2nd letter to the church at Thessalonica.
He warns against laziness.
I. A Biblical Warning against Laziness
6 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.
What is that tradition? The tradition is hard work.
Paul himself is the example. He could take payment from there for his Gospel labors, but instead works with his hands, making tents.
It is not just Paul, but Silas and Timothy as well, for he says “WE were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bead 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.”
We must consider that ALL food, even all furniture, clothing, and every good we buy, comes from the labor of some person or persons. Even though fruit grows on a tree, someone has to pick, wash it, transport it, etc. And so when you see a government program that intends to make something “free” or more available, you have to realize that it comes from somewhere; there is some person who must do the work.
So it is good and right to work for your food rather than to take from another who has worked. Paul and the other evangelists sought not to be a burden on others; with toil and labor they worked night and day.
But others in Thessalonica were not working. Paul says, “we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” And so he repeats a command he had given them before in person: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Now there is a debate as to WHY these Thessalonians were not working. And there are two leading theories. One says that they had fallen victim to the Roman patronage system. This was a system where, rather than getting a steady job, people waited for a wealthy client to hire them for some task and give them a large reward for their services. These large rewards made it unattractive to work day by day. Laziness ensued. That’s one view. The other—and this is supported more by the context—is that some Thessalonians had come to believe that the Day of the Lord was upon them, and if the end is near, why work?! Paul had already corrected the error earlier in this book, saying that certain things (the apostasy and the revealing of the man of lawlessness) must occur before the Day of the Lord. Now, he’s saying, “So, get back to work!”
Incidentally, and I don’t advocate gambling, but if someone offers you a bet and they take the position that the world is going to end by such-and-such date, and offers you the side that the world will not end by the date, ALWAYS take that bet! You’ll either win the bet and collect your money, or not be around anymore to pay your losses. You might not even consider this “gambling.”
Well, Paul doesn’t actually identify for us the reason (or reasons) for the laziness of the Thessalonians. But he does warn against it.
II. How to Discipline the Idle
And so troubling to the church are these idlers, that Paul calls for discipline. The discipline comes in a number of ways.
There is first, that natural discipline, that even the squirrels know, “if you don’t work, you won’t eat.”
But what Paul is calling for in addition is action on the part of the Christians who ARE working.
The industrious Christians are to (1) “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness.” This is a punishment upon the person, to disassociate from them, but it is also to the working person’s benefit to keep away from the idler, meaning to keep away from falling into their sin. We have a tendency as human beings to join in on what others are doing, or in this case NOT DOING. There were perhaps men idling in the streets, sitting on the corner eating the food of others all day and gossiping. And we are to avoid joining in their revelry. The Psalmist says do not sit in the seat of mockers, not walk in the way of the wicked.
Then (2) discipline is also by way of command to the idlers. WORK! “12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” You see this isn’t a shunning, not outright anyways. The lazy are to be spoken to, not merely ignored. And they are to be told to work. And to do so quietly and earn their OWN living, so as not to be a burden on others.
Then (3) discipling is also in regards to making the idler “ashamed.” Christians are to “not grow weary of doing good.” We are to continue to work, and by comparison shame those who refuse to work as they see our good deeds. And we are to “have nothing to do with him.” But this isn’t absolute, for look at the next line. “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” We are indeed not to imbibe in their idleness, but we are to interact with them by warning them as a brother. Speaking the truth in love.
The goal of Christian discipline is always to restore a brother. Here that restoration means bringing them from laziness to a willingness to work.
III. Be Willing to Work
Work is actually a good thing, and we are to be willing to work.
Like most other doctrines, it all starts in the book of Genesis. In chapter 2 verse 15 we read “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to WORK it and keep it.” This was before the fall, in that creation which God call “very good.” While the fall brought the curse of the ground with thorns and thistles, thus making work difficult, work itself remains a good thing.
This the Biblical view. Work is good. This is contrary to the view of the Greeks and the Romans and many cultures influenced by them, where work, especially physical work, is looked down upon as something for the lower class. Work, in the view of many, is a cause of our troubles. Work is, at best, a necessary evil, enlarged by our greed for things, and made miserable by our employers.
But the Christian view is much different. Rather than a necessary evil, work is a gift from God.
While the world laments with the coal miner singing “16 tons, what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt”, the Christian is honored to work because through it he provides for himself and for his family and gives glory to God. And while some religions elevate life in the monastery over life in industry, Biblical Protestants have always advocated that we may (and should) both pray AND WORK.
The worldly vs. Godly perspective on work is most clearly seen in the book of Ecclesiastes.
There is presented the worldly or human perspective when Solomon at first says:
[Ecc 2:11 ESV] 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
[Ecc 2:18 ESV] 18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me,
But the Godly perspective when he says later in the same book:
[Ecc 2:24 ESV] 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,
[Ecc 3:13 ESV] 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil–this is God’s gift to man.
Work is indeed a gift from God, to enjoy and to provide for ourselves and for others. And it also has the benefit of keeping us out of trouble. Work is the antidote to being a busybody. The word here is used only once in the Bible. Busybody. In the Greek it means “to bustle about uselessly.” It is “used of a person aggressively inquisitive about other’s affairs.”So work helps us to “mind our own business” which was one of Paul’s admonitions in 1st Thessalonians.
There is an opposite problem though, that Paul doesn’t here address, but which we have in society our present day. That is, some people work TOO MUCH. Work, and often the seeking of wealth, becomes an idol. For some, work is WHO THEY ARE and they hardly ever leave the office. But while we, as Christians, are to be willing to work, we must never see it as an end in itself, but rather one way in which we give glory to God.
So we are to be willing to work.
But what of those who are not employed? Children, the unemployed, retired, disabled, what are you to do? If the message is “Work” but you can’t work, what are you to do as a Christian?
The broader question then in view is “how should we use our time?” The time that the Lord has given us. We are indeed to work, if we are able, but there is more to life than employment. From our text then, I want to three suggest things that all Christians should focus on, in redeeming the time that the Lord has blessed them with. Whether you are working or not, you should always do these:
(1) Work hard at praying.
(2) Work hard at being a good example
(3) Work hard at sanctification.
First we see “work hard at praying.” If we go back a few verses we find Paul saying “[2Th 3:1 ESV] 1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you.” Pray for the word to be spread. And pray for those who preach the word. And you don’t need to be employed to pray. Everyone can pray. You just have to be awake, that’s about the only criteria. So work hard at praying. For others, for yourself, for the church, for all things.
Then, “work hard at being a good example.” Whether you are working or not, you can be a good example. Paul refers the Thessalonians to his example while among them. It is as if he is saying “Don’t just hear my word, but see my actions.” He gave the good example by working hard. If you’re not able to physically work, however, you can always be a good example with your attitude and with your prayer and with your presence and encouragement and conversation and listening and … you get the point. There is much that you can do as you “redeem the time” and work for the Lord.
Then, third, “Work hard at sanctification.” Work hard at applying the truths of God’s word to your life. Work hard at being Holy as God is Holy. Work hard at mortifying sin and putting on the robes of righteousness and the armor of God.
In all of these things —hard work, prayer, being a good example, and striving for sanctification—in all of these things we should show that we have a different boss. Not ourselves, not another person, but God himself. Doing all things for his glory. Earthly gain is not the end for which we toil, but the end of all right living is to glorify God in all we do.
Be not slothful, but be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. (Romans 12:11)
Now finally, our willingness to work must be based on the work of God, completed in Christ.
IV. The Work of God
The obedience of Christ, actively in his life and passively in his death on the cross, is sufficient for the salvation of sinners. Our work cannot add to our salvation. But yet we are called away from sloth and called to hard work for the glory of God, all the while depending on the Holy Spirit working in us to will and to do.
And Christ’s obedience, his work, he did willingly. He was willing to work for our salvation. He endured the cross, for the joy that was set before him.
In our reading from John’s Gospel we heard this:
27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
The WORK OF GOD. He works our salvation in Christ and worked our very faith through the Holy Spirit.
While we are to keep working for the Glory of God, day by day, with a “to do list,”
We are to always remember that regarding our salvation, God has only a “done” list.
He has saved us. So we work with joy. Willing to work, for Him who called us through Jesus Christ to a new birth and life eternal.