A Theology of Work

A Sermon Transcript: 

An Exposition of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

Introduction:

In 1874, a man by the name of Richard L. Dugdale was commissioned by the the New York Prison Commission to visit various state prisons. It was on these visits that Richard was surprised to find criminals in six different prisons whose relatives were mostly criminals, and even more fascinating was that these six criminals in six different prisons all descended from the same family tree. Talk about a family business.

This discovery led Dugdale to begin tracing the family genealogy of these six criminals back to one man, born about 1720, named Max Jukes. The results of this study found that Jukes had roughly 1,200 relatives since 1720. Of those 1,200:

  • 7 were murders
  • 60 were thieves
  • 128 were prostitutes (50 of those women, making a 15 year career of the trade)
  • 140 of Juke’s descendants were convicts
  • 440 were alcoholics
  • 300 died in infancy due to poor care or living conditions
  • 67 contracted Syphilis

It is estimated that the Jukes family tree cost the state of New York approximately $1,308,000.

About twenty five years later, after Dugdale began his research, a man by the name of A.E. Winship was asked to prepare a paper on Jonathan Edwards, the famed American theologian, missionary to the Native Americans, and even president of the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton). It was through the course of Winship’s research that he discovered the descendants of Jonathan Edwards presided over the same New York Prison Commission that employed Mr. Dugdale to make a study of the Jukes family. This led Winship to a study of his own contrasting the Jukes family tree and the Edwards family tree. Through the course of his study, 929 descendants of Jonathan Edwards were identified, and the results included:

  • 430 ministers
  • 86 university professors
  • 13 university presidents
  • 62 physicians
  • 75 Army or Navy Officers
  • 75 authors
  • 5 elected officials to the United States Congress
  • 2 Senators
  • 1 vice president of the United States of America

Winship’s research concluded that “the Edwards family never cost the state of New York one cent but has contributed immeasurably to the life of plenty in this land today.”

After publishing his findings in his book, Jukes-Edwards: A Study in Education and Heredity, A. E. Winship described the Juke’s family like this, “The almost universal traits of the family were idleness, ignorance, and vulgarity. They would not work, they could not be made to study, and they loved vulgarity…. It is very difficult to find anyone who is honest and industrious, pure and prosperous.”

Honest, industrious, pure and prosperous. The Jukes family embraced none of those virtues and yet the Edwards family epitomized them. I think we can draw the conclusion that faith had everything to do with the presence of honesty, industry, purity, and prosperity.

You know, that’s a very fitting description of how we are called to live as believers.

In fact, where the Word of God reigns supreme, and when you have a proper understanding of work, a good theology of work, a Christian is called to be nothing less than honest, industrious, pure and prosperous.

It should not surprise us that where the Word of God does not reign supreme, an improper understanding of work will lead to “idleness, ignorance, and vulgarity” … When your theology of work is wrong, when you fail to believe in the God who himself is a worker, and designed you to work, you will not work… you will not be taught to work, you will not study, you cannot be taught to study…and you will love vulgarity.

You know, this opening illustration so perfectly introduces our text this morning, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. I invite you to open your copy of the New Testament to Paul’s letter.

The apostle Paul is writing his second letter to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica. Paul is near and dear to this fellowship of believers because Acts 17 records how the church was started by the Apostle as he ministered in the city there. The book of Acts records how both Jews, God-fearing Greeks, and the leading women of the city came to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior through the apostles’ ministry.. Well, as was customary on Paul’s missionary journeys, mobs often formed after the mission and Paul and his companions were forced to leave. Pastoring his flock was now regulated to letters, and the issue of idleness began creeping up into Paul’s fledgling church.

In fact, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul condemned an idle lifestyle, urging the believers to walk in a manner pleasing to God and this included, “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).

He’s saying, don’t find ways to manipulate the system, work with your hands, keep to yourself, mind your own business, and oh yeah, let me remind, you have to have a business or be a part of a business to work with your hands and to mind your own business. Paul says don’t be an idle Christian, because there is no such thing as an idle Christian.

Now, before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand what Paul is talking about… the word idle, spelled i-d-l-e, not idol… let’s put that word away for now, no American idol here… that show retired, remember, praise the Lord… no, the issue Paul mentioned in his first letter, and is now about to bring to light again in his second letter is the issue of idleness, or inactivity. It is the issue of laziness or, a refusal to work.

The Thessalonians were quickly becoming the Jukes family… and Paul knew just what their future generations would become if he didn’t intervene. Paul knows that a sliver left in the finger can become infected and cause a toxic condition so serious that surgery may become necessary.

As I mentioned earlier the service, those Mexico deposits and forms are due for our summer trip. A great opportunity to serve if you are still on the fence about it. However, if I may speak from experience and say that if you don’t properly treat your seemingly insignificant cut at summer camp with your middle school students, the week before your mission trip to Mexico… you will find yourself diagnosed with cellulitis, and receive a dumbfounded look from your doctors when you tell them you’re hopping on a plane the next morning and flying to Mexico for a weeklong mission trip. Needless to say, the Lord is faithful, but the principle is still true… if you don’t treat something that is infected, even something small, it can and most likely will become a serious problem… and so Paul begins to take the surgical scalpel and remove the irritant of idleness… but, like any good doctor, Paul first diagnoses the problem…

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3: Paul’s Diagnosis

“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,”

Paul’s diagnosis is that some of the Thessalonian believers had misinterpreted the apostle’s teaching concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ… Their understanding of the end times was wrong and there was much confusion, much disillusionment, and much alarm… The possible reason for this confusion as Paul says was either a spirit, or a word wrongly spoken, or even a false letter that was circulating and being presented as the authentic words of the Apostle Paul… apparently fake news was also an issue in the first century…
Regardless of the source, Paul says listen… don’t let anyone deceive you … the day of our Lord’s return, when he will gather all of the believers to him, will occur only once the rebellion comes first, and then the antichrist is revealed… not before… and it was this confusion regarding the end times that had caused some Thessalonian Christians to leave their jobs and simply wait around for the return of Jesus. Not only did they leave their jobs but they began relying on the generosity of the church and other wealthy Christians. Due to fake news, or bad theology, they became idle while others remained active… they became lazy while other worked… they ate the bread that others worked and payed for.

And so, these Thessalonian Christians in essence threw out their theology of work that is very prevalent throughout all of the Scriptures in order to wait for the return of Jesus… They exchanged God’s command for man to work, for someone else’s command to wait for Jesus. Instead of driving to the destination God has determined for you… while also simultaneously waiting for Christ to arrive at the time designated for Him by God himself… Someone said, put the car in park, He’ll come to you and you don’t need to meet Him.

One commentator on this passage makes a very important point, “Any teaching that encourages us to disobey another divine teaching is not Bible teaching.”

These Christians had parked the car and traded a new teaching of waiting for God’s teaching of working… they had in essence thrown out their theology of work and accepted a lifestyle of laziness…  and so, Paul diagnoses their problem as bad teaching… or bad theology… which then leads to Paul prescribing the solution… within this solution, Paul is going to present two antidotes… a good theology of work, and a good example of work.

The first antidote to the diagnosis of idleness is…

Anitodote #1: A Good Theology of Work

2 Thessalonians 3:6

“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.”

Notice this is a command, the apostle says don’t even associate with an idle person… keep away from those who are lazy and not walking in accordance with the tradition or teachings that we have given you. In other words, they have forgotten the teaching about work in which we shared, their theology is bad and so now, even if they are attempting to masquerade their laziness in religious fervor… sitting on the couch, eating your food, and saying “Well, I’m waiting for the Lord…” … Paul cuts through this seeming devotional display and calls out the sin for what it really is… you’re being lazy. And, Paul says that any believer will recognize laziness and will stay away from it, even from those who claim to be hard working but are really not. He mentions this further in v. 14, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

I have to admit, I read these verses and was astonished… the apostle says that laziness is the cause for disfellowshipping with others. He says, don’t treat them like an enemy but warn them that they are walking down a dangerous path… and if they don’t stop, you need to stop associating with them in God’s house…

This leads to the obvious question, is laziness really that detrimental to your life that you should separate yourself from those who are… the apostle Paul says yes… and the reason that Paul elevates work, and denounces laziness, is because of his theology… in other words, the first antidote for the problem of laziness is knowing what God says about it in the Scriptures… these Thessalonians had forgotten what God had said about work and the lack thereof, perhaps you and I need a good reminder as well…

We need to remember that God first modeled work by creating the earth in six days … Jesus also, being the agent of that creation was invovled, and even the Spirit was present and involved in the act of Creation… (Genesis 2:2).

We need to remember that Adam and Eve were first placed in the garden of Eden to “work the garden” and keep it (Genesis 2:15).

We need to remember that work wasn’t introduced after Adam and Eve sinned, the nature of work was merely changed…

One author said “man was a gardener before the fall, and he was a farmer after”
It was only after the fall that man would work the ground with his hands and produce food to eat. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).

We also need to remember that in the theocracy of Israel, the government ruled by religion, God laid down in the constitution that the work week would include six days, and rest on the seventh day for refreshment (Exodus 23:12).

Even King Solomon… the third king of Israel, would pen numerous wisdom sayings including the following:

“Proverbs 6:10, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man”

Proverbs 12:11, “Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.”

Proverbs 14:23, “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.”

Paul himself would charge the Ephesian believers in 1 Timothy 5:8 that if they did not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own children and spouse, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever…

Work matters to God… and the blessing of work is that it provides for our own needs and the needs of our family. Furthermore, work provides for the needs of others in times of legitimate need.

These idle believers in Thessalonica were cheating the system, they were not legitimate needs. Able-bodied men were rejecting God’s calling on their lives to work, in order to wait on the Lord, and taking valuable resources from the church and from wealthy Christians that could go to legitimate needs… Paul says, have nothing to do with them, separate and keep yourself away from them because their theology is bad… and if their teaching is bad… their example will certainly be bad…

This leads Paul to give the second antidote to the diagnosis of laziness…

Antidote #2: The Example of Work 

Now, in verses 7-9, Paul moves from the teaching he and his companions, Timothy and Silas, have imparted to the Thessalonians to the example they had left for them… he says, you know what we said, we talked the talk, now remember how we lived… when we walked the walk…
Please hear me… doctrine is important, teaching is important, what you believe is important… it’s the first antidote against laziness according to Paul, and the reason for its importance is because if you don’t know the manner in which God desires you to live, you will never live it… it’s foundational… you have to start with teaching, but, once you know the manner in which you are supposed to live… now you have to live it…

I remember walking through Colonial Williamsburg, speaking with a dear friend of mine regarding marriage, purity, and faithfulness both to God and one’s spouse… as we were walking discussing the very subject of faithfulness in marriage… a woman walked by the two of us… and I recall noticing my friend fix his gaze on the sidewalk as we walked by her… my mind began putting two and two together… and our conversation after the matter confirmed my assumption… here was a man, who was not just talking the talk with me about being faithful to one’s spouse… here was a man, who was walking the walk and not even allowing a second glance, a longing look, at a woman that wasn’t his spouse… it was a very formative experience for me…

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul seemingly fixes his gaze to the ground and says let’s keep talking, but remember, how I walked while I was with you… faithful even in my work habits… and worthy of imitation…

v. 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.”

Paul says listen, we practiced what we preached… we worked hard, and we didn’t take any food without paying you for it. We payed for our own room and board, working day and night, so that we wouldn’t be a burden to you.

v. 9, interesting, “It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.”

It’s worthy to mention that as an apostle Paul had the right to expect financial support. He mentions this right in 1 Corinthians 9:7, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?”

Paraphrasing v. 10-11, “Just as oxen were fed for their work…so the apostles who sowed spiritual things, were allowed to reap material things (9:11)… and so in his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul is reminding them of his, Silas, and Timothy’s work ethic saying, “we had the right to ask you for bread, housing, support due to our labor… but we wanted to set an example for you” … perhaps because these were fairly new Christians… Paul says don’t you remember? We walked the walk after we talked the talk…

In fact, don’t even associate us with those teachers who “peddle their wares” for what they could earn. Paul says don’t associate us with those teachers who “peddled their wares” for what they could earn. Don’t think that we stood before you and proclaimed the Word of God for a nice dinner, a paycheck, and a good bed to sleep in. That’s not the gospel, and if anyone tells you otherwise… if anyone tells you to give some money and God will bless you with health, wealth, and prosperity… don’t believe them for a second, and don’t give them any money…
Paul says, don’t you remember the first antidote to laziness… our teaching and tradition concerning working hard. To God, your work matters. Don’t you remember our second antidote to laziness… our example of a godly work ethic?

In the spring of 1609, Captain John Smith cited these immortal words to the Jamestown Colonists under his command, “You must obey this now for a law, he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled). For the laborers of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers.”

Many may walk through the Jamestown historical site and think that these words originated with a Virginia colonist, but they were first uttered by the Jewish apostle Paul while he was teaching and serving the Thessalonian Christians.

2 Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

Notice that the apostles put a requirement on the reward of labor. In order to eat, to receive the fruit of your labors, to receive the reward of your labors, you had to work.

This philosophy flys directly in the face of everything the world upholds. Take the lottery for example… You could have the chance to win it big… and you don’t even have to break a sweat. You know what the lottery really is, it is a temptation for the idle… and a costly temptation. I found an article by CNN citing that Americans spent over 70 billion dollars on lottery tickets in 2014. In fact, Americans spent more money that year trying to get richer than the amount of money they used to enjoy on hobbies, date nights, and leisure time with their family.

The lottery has no requirements of labor, but it has all of the rewards of it, and more. That wouldn’t fly with Captain John Smith, with the Apostle Paul, or with God…

You see Paul notes this lottery lifestyle Paul in 3:11… to those Christians waiting to hit the big-time… and pertaining to these Thessalonians, those waiting for Christ to return but letting others take care of their needs until He does…, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life (a lottery lifestyle), doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.”

These idle Christians were turning into gossiping Christians, meddling Christians… The danger with a lottery lifestyle, with a lazy lifestyle, with neglecting what God has called you to do is that nothing inevitably leads to something, and that something that comes from nothing is inevitably evil…

Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary, “if we are idle, the devil will soon find us something to do.” That something… according to Paul, was gossip. One commentator on 2 Thessalonians wrote, “Someone who has no business of their own to do, or who neglects it, busies themselves in other men’s matters.”

When you lead an undisciplined life, laziness is only the beginning of many sins that are bound to come after it. When you have no responsibilities, or you neglect your own, it’s easy to tell someone what their responsibilities should be. Now, please hear me, I’m not sitting here saying mothers, you should not take a break from your kids or family to get a massage. I’m not saying Father’s, you shouldn’t be saving up for vacation, or even enjoy your vacation, you should be working all the time. No, God rested and declared for us to keep the Sabbath holy… to rest, but what I am saying is that the lottery lifestyle, the lazy lifestyle, is not what God has called Christians to do. This kind of thinking first and foremost flys in the way of God’s teaching concerning work, as taught by the apostles. This kind of lifestyle flys in the way of the apostle’s example to the Thessalonians, and this kind of thinking leads to an undisciplined life and further sin.

“For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11).

We’ve diagnosed the problem… idleness or laziness…

We’ve offered the first antidote according to Paul, a good theology or teaching concerning work.

We’ve given the second antidote, the apostle’s work ethic, where they walked the walk …

and so, building his case, Paul now takes the surgical knife and cuts away any argumentation and objections these idle Christians living the lazy lifestyle may have and and Paul says,

“Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
Paul charges these believers to get off of the couch, by the command of your savior Jesus Christ, and work for your yourself, to provide for yourself, and to provide for your family, and to provide for others in their times of legitimate need.

Paul also turns his attention to those who have a good work ethic and says, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).

Conclusion:

So you’re working hard at your job? Good… keep working hard, don’t grow weary. So you’re working hard at raising godly children? Good… keep working hard, don’t grow weary. So you’re working hard at being faithful to your spouse? Good… keep working hard, do not grow weary.

Remember the words of Colossians 3, “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, because you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:23-24).

Are we men and women who will be known for our work ethic. Are we men and women who will be known for working in our jobs and in our homes as those who work for the Lord and not for men. The true attitude of a believer is waiting for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to return, but not waiting while neglecting the responsibilities that have been entrusted to us… fatherhood, discipleship, service, evangelism… as one author said, “the true attitude of waiting for the Son is unending fidelity and faithfulness to all of the responsbilities of the present”

The true attitude for a believer is a work ethic that honors the Lord Jesus Christ because He has both called, created, and modeled a good work ethic for you. Often we forget Jesus was a carpenter for thirty years before beginning his itinerant ministry.

A man was negotiating to buy a house and bought it without even seeing it. When asked why he would take the risk, the buyer replied, “I know the man who built that home and he builds his Christianity in with the bricks.”

Whatever you do… work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men… Don’t get caught up in a lottery lifestyle… stop idling in this life and move in the direction God has called you to move… don’t forget the apostle’s teaching, don’t forget the apostle’s example… and don’t forget the reward promised to you in heaven, an inheritance for serving the Lord Christ… so whatever you do, give it your all for God and not for men… really, at the end of the day, the question is, would you rather be known as Max Jukes or Jonathan Edwards… one man had a good work ethic, good teaching, and a good example… and the other did not… Whatever you do… work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men…

Prayer:

The words of Scripture are alive, breathed out by God, and affect every aspect of our lives… even our work ethic. May we take whatever it is we have been entrusted with… children, families, marriages, and even our jobs… and work at them with our whole being… not for men but for You… guard our hearts from yearning to idle in this life… but perpetually move us forward by the power of your Word and the work of the Holy Spirit… may we be good and faithful servants who will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Amen

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