Warning Against Idleness

August 6, 2023 Speaker: Reid Strahan Series: First Thessalonians

Topic: Work Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:9–12, 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12

We’re back in Thessalonians today.  The church at Thessalonica was one of the best NT churches,  one of the most loving. But every church has it’s weaknesses.  And the weakness of the Thessalonian Christians was idleness, being irresponsible to meet their own needs, and becoming unnecessarily dependent on others. Not everyone had this problem but it’s enough of an issue, that Paul addressed it in both letters to them.  

This fault, SEEMS to flow from a misapplication of the Lord’s return.  Apparently some thought, “if the Lord is coming soon why should we settle down and do the routine things of life, like work!?”  Well, Paul puts at stop to that thinking. He COMMANDS them to work in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The return of Christ should motivate us to holiness. It should make us full of hope for the future. It should NOT make us irresponsible for our lives, our needs, or our future. 

The other thing, that could have tempted them to avoid the routine of everyday work, was persecution! Serious problems, can cause us to lose focus or interest in taking care of ordinary responsibilities.  

Whatever the reason...Paul wanted them to settle down and get back to work.  He taught believers NOT only to love and pray and be filled with the Holy Spirit, but ALSO to work and even to work hard!

The inevitable result of NOT working is to become dependent on others to take care of you. And Paul was not a fan of that! Also IF you are NOT busy with your own work, you tend to meddle in other peoples affairs.  Or you try to manage other people’s lives.  Paul called people like this busybodies.

And he was adamantly opposed to this way of living.  2 Thessalonians 3:7 “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.”  

Paul worked hard because he loved them, and didn’t want to be an extra burden to them. But ALSO because he wanted to show them HOW Christians work, and seek to avoid being a burden to others. He gave himself as an example for them AND for US to imitate! He was saying to them, by his example: This is what a Spirit filled life looks like!  This is what a Christ-centered life looks like! It looks like labor and toil!  At least part of it!

And there IS a connection between loving people and work.  Paul said, We urge you to love your brothers more and more, AND to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.”

A PART of loving people is taking responsibility for your own affairs. You are loving them by NOT being a burden to them!  Alexander MacLaren said, “We show a loving heart with diligent hands”.

Paul was probably also warning against using “brotherly love”, to presume on your brothers to meet your needs. Some people think, “Hey we’re supposed to love each other, so meet my needs!”  Some use love as a weapon to accuse other people of not doing enough for them.  Paul was correcting all this wrong thinking.  

Of course the Bible DOES teach us to bear one another’s burdens, to learn to meet pressing needs, and to remember the poor. Our scriptures this morning should never be used to justify heartless indifference to other people with real needs.  There are the elderly, widows, the sick or disabled, and those faced with disaster.  When there was a famine in Jerusalem, the other churches all kicked in to support the believers in that crisis.

Any one of us can be overwhelmed with trial, or financial need. And because we are a body when one member hurts we all hurt and we help each other out. But some people, go too far and expect others to step in and meet their needs.  We have a word for that: entitlement. Or they create their own neediness, by being irresponsible or idle. Paul wouldn’t let that go on!! 

Also BECAUSE we are to love and care for one another, Christians sometimes assume a false sense of responsibility for rescuing other people from the consequences of idleness or irresponsible living.  But Paul wants believers to meet their OWN needs as a general rule in the body of Christ. He even tells the church NOT to help those who will not work.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” The love of a church family should never enable those who won’t work to keep on living that way.  That’s not love and grace.  That’s feeding a problem in that person’s life. 

In 2 Thess. 3:6 Paul said, “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.”  

Paul does not want idleness, or irresponsible living, to infiltrate the church.  He didn’t want the church to affirm this kind of living! So he said, “Don’t fellowship with this person like nothing is wrong!” Real love doesn’t help people continue in bad habits and disobedience. He went on to say “Don’t regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother.”  Let him know, as a brother, this is no way to live!  

Galatians 6 reveals the tension that we all feel here. Verse 2 “Bear one another’s burdens.” So we should do that! Then in verse 5 he says “Each person should carry his own load.” So which should we do?  Both! We aspire to bear our own load, but we also make every effort to bear the burdens of others. It  takes wisdom, discernment and prayer!

But in this letter, Paul’s EMPHASIS is that the NORMAL pattern of life, is for each of us to manage our own lives and attend to our own needs.  A dear man at DMFC was doing a major home remodel and Sunday after Sunday would make an appeal for people to come help him. That was great for awhile but before long it got to be like, “Hey brother, you need to take care of your own business.”  The Apostles dealt with issues in the church just that practical!!   

**Okay let’s get into this. Verse 11 “ASPIRE to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.”  NASB Make it your ambition to live quietly! The word means peaceful, or calm. It’s the opposite of living in turmoil, and upheaval.  We are to pursue a quiet, or calm, well-ordered life. 1Tim. 2:1-2 “Pray that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all dignity and godliness”.  

This quiet life applies to our activities, what we do. We should resist being hyper-active, and a kind of frantic, hectic pace of living.  Life can often be busy, but we should seek to order our lives in a way that leads to peace.  Proverbs 17:1 “Better is a dry morsel in quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.”  There is just something good about a quiet life and home. 

Some live in a way that tends to create calamity, emergencies exhaustion and chaos.  Some of us just take on too much without thinking about the impact on ourselves or our families. Paul said, Don’t live like that. Live quietly.  

It’s a choice! Make it your ambition…. Make it your plan. You have to decide to live a quiet life or not.   

A quiet life also applies to our emotions.  Paul said, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.” We should aspire to this kind of quietness and calm in our hearts no matter what is going on in the world around us.

A quiet life could apply it to our relationships: Romans 12:18 “If possible as much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” We are urged to live in harmony with one another.  In Philippians 4 Paul commanded two ladies in the church to “agree in the Lord”. IE Resolve your conflict, restore your relationship to peace and quiet.

All those are Biblical applications we could and should take from this. But in this context, Paul primarily means the quietness that comes from being diligent to manage your own life and needs.  Quiet living flows out of working steadily, faithfully, and regularly to take care of your own life. Idleness creates drama and crisis. If you don’t work, or manage your own affairs, life WILL become a series of emergencies, needs, and crisis. 

Paul picks this theme of quietness up again in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” Gill said, “He commands them to work with their hands, support themselves, provide for their families, (by doing this..) they will live peaceable and quiet lives, in godliness and honesty, and not disturb the peace of neighborhoods, churches, and families.”  It makes life quieter for themselves and for everybody around them!

*Verse 11 Live quietly and “Mind your own affairs” Or attend to your own matters NASB. Or I like the KJV here, “Do your own business.” IE Take responsibility for your own life.  

That solves a lot of problems. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”  If you’re busy taking care of your own life, you don’t have time to disrupt other people’s lives.  You have less time to complain, less time for gossip, less time cause trouble or division. 

So the idea is to attend to your own affairs without interfering in the affairs of others.  Or manage your own life without trying to manage other people and tell them what to do. 

Throughout the years of home-building we found that it was generally harder to build for a retired person. Not all, but some had so much time on their hands that they meddled in the process and made the project harder and more painful for themselves and for us.  

In other passages it’s clear that Paul sees too much free time as an open door for Satan. He wanted the younger widows to re-marry, have children and take care of their own homes, because, without managing children and a home, they may “learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, as gossips and busybodies”.  1 Tim. 5:13 Work protects us from bothering other people, from having time to talk too much, gossiping, talking about others and their affairs.

*Verse 11 “Work with your own hands as I instructed you.”  Work is godly!  It’s the will of God for you to get up and do your work or go to your job. It’s spiritual to work! Working hard to provide for your own needs is part of God’s holy and acceptable will for you.

During the middle ages the monastic or contemplative life was considered the spiritual idea, or the most spiritual.  All you other guys out there farming, gardening, whatever, are so much LESS spiritual.  The Reformers came along and taught the spiritual dignity of work.  And they taught that no job had greater spiritual dignity than another.  They taught work was the will of God for ALL believers, even the rich. 

The Biblical command here is work with your own hands! You can glorify God by cleaning houses, laying bricks, swinging a hammer, or by managing a business or running an office.  

Tozier said every kind of work is sacred for the Christian! “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it... Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 

Luther said, “Christ worked as a carpenter. The virgin Mary went back and milked cows and swept the house like any housemaid. Peter worked as a fisherman.  Paul made tents.  “Even so we must labor in OUR callings.” and “The lowlier the task the better. The milkmaid and the man hauling manure are doing a work more pleasing to God than the Psalm singing Carthusian (monks).”  

What was Luther’s point? He wanted people to know that working with your hands pleases God!  So be willing to work with your hands to meet your own needs if that is required. 

*Then Paul wraps up with two final reasons to work. First: “So that you may walk properly before outsiders.” Working hard, carrying out your daily duties, week after week, is part of a good witness for Jesus Christ!   

Paul CARED about the reputation of the church with outsiders, unbelievers.  Peter did too.  He said, “Your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you.” Working hard, living a quiet, and tranquil life wins the respect of others. It helps silence the critics of Christians.  

*Final reason: So that you may “be dependent on no one”.  This same thought is repeated in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”  This last phrase is literally “eat their own bread”. NASB  This doesn’t mean we don’t share our bread with others.  But it commands us to work so that we will have our own bread to eat, (and to share) and NOT presume upon others, to do things we should be doing for ourselves. 

Apparently some in Thessalonica didn’t pay much attention to the command to work in his first letter.  So he comes with a much stronger command and warning in the second letter. So we would do well to pay attention to this word this morning.   

*I believe that in the heart of every Christian is a desire to serve the Lord, and to please the Lord.  The problem is we sometimes think we can only please him by doing some grandiose thing. But in the Bible we see that so much of what God commands, and what He wants us to do is just ordinary daily obedience, like going to work and meeting our own needs. Of course we glorify God in singing, praying, in using the gifts of the Spirit, seeing people saved and baptized!  All that!  BUT we also glorify God by how we living quietly and working to take care of our own affairs. 

This is practical.  It’s important. Let us heed the word and let it’s perform it’s work in us this morning. 

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

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