October 19, 2017

Labor Day

Jim Oesterwind

2 Thessalonians 3.6-13

“…We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13)

Is it really possible to be so heavenly minded that one no earthly good? It depends upon one’s definition of heavenly mindedness. A heavenly minded person is aware of temporal responsibilities and fulfills them as he is led by the Holy Spirit. He understands his obligation before God while waiting and watching for the return of Jesus Christ. Some of the believers in Thessalonica were so caught up with the return of Jesus that they failed to fulfill temporal responsibilities and needed to depend upon others to live and eat. This caused problems. Paul addressed these problems by commanding everyone to work and provide for their own needs. If there was a refusal, discipline would follow.

The command in 2 Thessalonians 3 is to withdraw from disorderly brothers. This is the best course of action for everyone. It produces shame and repentance in those who are serious about living the Christian life. It also eliminates strife and disharmony within the body of Christ. This is part and parcel of church discipline with a view toward restoring a disorderly brother or sister in Christ.

Paths often diverge (e.g., Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13) even though the destination may be the same. Often people separate from us and we find ourselves clinging to them in desperation. When we finally let go, we find peace and the blessing of God’s grace once again. The disorderly among the body of Christ must face the consequence of sin. Their true hearts must be revealed before they are able to repent.

Paul had already written this church to warn the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5.14). These believers refused to obey the authority over them. They could support themselves, but they neglected their responsibilities and expected others to care for them.

As a missionary to this church, Paul worked hard to establish it and support himself (toiling night and day). He took a bi-vocational approach. He so affectionately loved them, he was well pleased to impart not only the Gospel to them, but his life. They were precious to him. Paul wanted the believers in Thessalonica to imitate him. He had not exploited them; they should not exploit one another. Capable believers must not become dependent upon the generosity of others.

This is a good, bracing challenge for those in full-time ministry. We must be unrelenting in our work for others. Even if we have to become bi-vocational ourselves, our fervor for ministry should not wane. We must not be a burden to others.

A pastor might refuse the support of a congregation in order to make himself an example that all believers should follow. A pastor’s testimony before the community and church must communicate orderliness in a loving, affectionate fellowship. Those who are lazy and meddlesome must be dealt with so that the church may continue to pursue the glory of ministry for the honor of Jesus Christ.

People in ministry today must work hard so that they cannot be accused of greed or materialism. If those who work in a particular ministry are not exemplifying a generous spirit, woe to that ministry. Hard-working pastors and missionaries have the authority or right to receive support from a church body. But if they are lazy, they have no rightful claim to anything.

The Thessalonians had been commanded this before. Now that they had disobeyed, Paul repeats the command: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. Now, what about Thessalonians who were too sick to work or widows in dire distress? This command did not apply to them. Paul directed his command to those who would sponge off others when they were able to work but thought the work was beneath them. They had ‘spiritual’ reasons after all. Paul saw nothing spiritual at all in it. If you’re capable of work, any other course is wrong. This philosophy would end the welfare and entitle problems many western countries face.

Paul has been talking about work and laziness. Late in the passage, he focuses his comments on the result of laziness: disorderliness and acting as busybodies. Busybodies get busy with the lives of everyone else and fail to take care of their own lives. The remedy? Stop meddling, start working, and eat.

These comments are for everyone in the church of Jesus Christ. We should all be faithful and tireless in doing good! Paul also didn’t want these lazy, disorderly brothers to influence others in the church.

If we can work, we should do so with integrity and great zeal. As Christians, we should exemplify hard work in our families and communities. Let us build a reputation in our community as a hard-working church, filled with a leadership and membership that has good integrity and character. Let us go beyond what our co-workers do – not just doing the minimum to get by – but setting a blistering pace at work.


Jim Oesterwind is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Antioch, CA. He blogs at Sun and Shield.


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