Today David brought our ‘Living In-between’ series in 2 Thessalonians to a close, beginning by asking us two questions:
- If you knew Jesus was coming back next week, what would you do?
- What is your attitude towards work at the moment?
Paul has identified an issue with some of the Thessalonians’ attitude towards work that needs to be addressed in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
Notice how Paul is not simply giving advice or a suggestion, but explicit instruction, commanding the Thessalonians to keep away from idle believers; from those who walk disorderly and live undisciplined lives. This is not a call to avoid those who are lazy, but Paul is identifying a deeper issue, revealing that there are some believers who live out of step with God’s word and teaching regarding work.
There are three possible underlying reasons as to why some believers were ‘idle’ and ‘disruptive’.
1. The sacred-secular divide
They believed that only those who performed religious duties had worthy work, and that all other ‘secular’ work was not worthy or a form of worship to God. Therefore, if they weren’t doing religious work, they didn’t see a purpose to do any other work. They had this divide between the sacred and the secular.
2. Underlying beliefs about work
Some of those with a Greek background held the belief that work was demeaning and belonged only to slaves.
3. Jesus’ return
Some didn’t see the point in working as Jesus would soon return.
Although we live in a different culture, we are not immune to these beliefs about work. It is very easy to become disillusioned in our work and fall into the trap of thinking it has no purpose and is separate from our spiritual lives. However, the biblical view of work does not separate work from worship, but rather views work as an expression of worship to God. Work is a key part of God’s good, created order; it is not the result of the Fall. Although sin’s unwelcome intrusion into the world has affected work, it is still part of our purpose and what God commands us to do. To work is to reflect the image of God. This can raise many questions, such as ‘what if I’m in the wrong job?’ or ‘what if I don’t like my job?’ Although these are important questions that need answered, they don’t negate the importance of work, and they do not limit our worship of God, as Paul says elsewhere:
Next Paul highlights the danger of not working:
Paul is not directing these strong words towards people who cannot work for certain reasons such as health and other life circumstances, but rather towards those who are able to work, but do not, and instead use their time in ways that are harmful. Paul encourages these people in verse 12 to ‘settle down and earn the food they eat’.
He also gives guidance to those believers surrounding them:
The challenges, demands and brokenness of the workplace can often make it a source of stress, anxiety and concern, rather than a place of worship. However, whatever your attitude is towards work right now – whether you are burnt out, or disillusioned – embrace Paul’s call to ‘never tire of doing what is good’.
Verses 14-15 provide a difficult challenge to admonish those who are idle and disruptive. Paul calls us to not condone their behaviour by getting too close, but rather to admonish and encourage repentance, warning them as fellow believers from a place of love, not judgement. We must be careful not to misinterpret the purpose of this command. The purpose is not to humiliate our fellow believers caught in harmful idleness, but to restore them. This is a difficult command that requires wisdom and courage, as often it is easier to say nothing. So, let’s turn to God for our source of help as we navigate the world of work, as Paul finishes in 2 Thessalonians 3:16:
All of this is only possible because of God’s presence, peace and grace with us.
Examine your attitude towards work. What does it look like to worship God as you work this week?