Letters to the Thessalonians

This devotional is written by Matt Coombs. Matt wrote this despite not being well. Matt's great.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 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.

Reflection

Here Paul provides instruction regarding those unwilling to pull their own weight in the community and how to deal with such people. 

Paul makes clear that he and his co-workers in the gospel worked to earn their keep while with the church in Thessalonica (8). The church should, therefore, follow their example and work for the food they eat (9).

Why are these people not working?

There are a number of theories:
  1. They think Jesus is returning soon - this passage comes in the context of 'the end times'. So why bother working?
  2. They think Jesus is returning soon, and therefore, have committed themselves to the work of evangelism. Very noble. 
  3. Some people, before they were Christians, found it easier to beg for money from wealthy benefactors rather than to work. The early church was set up in such a way that the poor were cared for, so some may have replaced one wealthy benefactor for another - the church. 

All three of these theories can be justified in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. Whichever one is true, Paul is having none of it. Paul is the master evangelist and yet worked to support his ministry (8). He also knows that idleness is a matter for the Christian community and not simply individuals. A few people can really undermine that community by not working and expecting others to support them. He also recognises that the idle find other more disruptive ways to keep 'busy'. He calls them disruptive busybodies (Grk. periergazomai) who meddle in other people’s affairs. Paul cares deeply about the gospel going to the gentiles and all of this undermines how the pagans saw the church.

Paul has already spoken about idleness in his first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12), so this time he writes in even stronger terms. He encourages the church to challenge idle behaviour by disassociating from those who shirk their responsibility to work. This presumably meant excluding them when they gather together in Christian fellowship (14). The early church breaking bread was more than dipping a wafer in non-alcoholic wine - it was a time when everyone was fed. Let's be honest - disassociation seems quite harsh. Presumably this is intended to be a sharp shock to these individuals designed to bring them back onto the straight and narrow.

There is no room for passive-aggression in the church. We are to be direct in our warnings to people and call them to live appropriately (15). 

Reflect & Question

Are you currently working in such a way that you can provide for yourself and support others in your church family?

How does it make you feel to have your behaviour called out by your church? If you would really find that difficult, ask yourself why?

Final thoughts.

Paul still acknowledged that those who are truly unable to work ought to be cared for by the community (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He also encourages the church here to never tire of doing good (13). 

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