Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:9, 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
Last week we talked about the car manual of our faith. We learned that there was a body of teaching that new Christians were to be instructed in and master as they continued their establishment in the faith. Theologian C.H. Dodd identified for us a basic outline from the epistles of Paul, Peter and John that young Christians were taught.
1) Vices: First the new convert was ordered to set aside certain destructive actions or attitudes, some of which were common and condoned in their pagan environment.
2) Virtues: Then he was instructed as to some of the virtues of the new life he was to cultivate. This is sometimes expressed in the terms “to put off the old man and put on the new.”
3) Relationships: Next, he is given instruction concerning various social relationships.
a. Family: He learns how to order his home,
b. Church: then also how to relate within the family of families, the church.
c. Outsiders: He also is given instruction on how to behave toward outsiders (neighbors)
d. Authorities: And how to relate to civil authorities.
4) Return: Finally, he is reminded of the shortness of the times and how to live in view of Jesus’ return.
This is the body of teachings that Christian converts were expected to master and conducts themselves by: and do so more and more. Of course, every situation was different and so in each church certain values and vices were emphasized more than others. Thankfully this is the case, so as we study the New Testament, we get full-well rounded instruction as how we are to live. Last week we started looking at some of God’s specific instructions to us through the Thessalonian church, specifically, we looked at the vice of sexual immorality.
Today we are going to move on to another topic addressed in the book of Thessalonians, the issue of work, which is both a virtue (be industrious, not idle) and also is connected in the letter of Thessalonians to relationships with others outside of the church.
Three times in his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul brings up the topic of work.
1) In their initial visit to them, the missionary team set a model for them, and laid out a simple command, not to be a burden:
a. 1 Thess. 2:9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (ESV)
b. 2 Thess. 3:7-10 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. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (ESV)
So they modeled the type of hard work that they expected the new Christians to follow, even as they instructed the new believers.
2) In his first letter to them, he goes a step further, connecting how the Thessalonians work to the reputation they keep before before outsiders:
a. 1 Thess 4:11-12 and 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. (ESV)
3) Finally, in the second letter, Paul reveals this to be a disciplinary offense:
a. 2 Thess. 3:6, 13-15 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. (ESV)
b. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (ESV)
c. In fact, later in 1 Timothy 5:8 it is written that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives and especially for members of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.”
Theology of Work:
God is a worker: Early on in Scripture, we see God, the worker. He is separating, making, calling, setting, forming, planting, blessing, speaking, and ordering, and filling. Though on the seventh day he rested from his creative activities, he still works today, as Jesus said in John 5:17, “My father is working still and I am working.” God’s not on vacation. Even when he came as a man, he was a worker. A carpenter. God’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and get to work. Guess what? If God’s not above hard work, you’re not above it either.
We were created to work: Because we are created in his image. As Pope John Paul II said correctly, “Man ought to imitate God, his creator in working, because man alone has the unique characteristic of likeness to God.” The link between God’s work and our work is made explicit in the ten commandments. Commandment number four states, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work . . . for in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.” . Work came before the fall – not an afterthought or a punishment. We worked before the fall, we now work for the advancement of his rule on earth as it is in heaven, and after our redemption we will continue to work as we rule and reign with him. As humans, we were created to be workers.
Work is not God: That said, we find in the fall that work became more tedious and difficult. While technically this is a curse, we also find it to be a blessing. For where we once might make work our God and ultimately try to derive our significance or security from it, we find it to be a hard master and a precarious endeavor – pointing us to find our significance and security in God alone.
We work for His glory: God placed man in the garden to take the order and administration of Eden and cultivate the rest of creation under God’s orderNotice that it is the creation mandate that defines for us what work is: work is the task of cultivating and keeping the earth, bringing it under God’s rule for his glory. This helps to understand that all of the work that we do must be connected to that work.
1) Work Well For People Are Watching: Paul knew that as a missionary, there would always be people criticizing his work habits. Vocational Christian workers must be extremely diligent in how they control their finances and conduct themselves with even more integrity for people watch how they work. Paul never opened the door for people to criticize him as lazy or as a person who lived off of the hard work of others. He knew that if he did so, his integrity as a minister of the gospel would be impugned. For our young adults in missions – 1/3 support raised from the church, 1/3 support raise, 1/3 of support you work for yourself. I found it a blessing to have worked before entering the ministry. I know I could support my family if need be. I thank God that the church frees me for ministry, but that is a blessing, not a requirement. Some of you guys looking to get in to full time ministry, prove yourself first, that your not just going into ministry with the expectation that people will support you, but that you know before God you can support yourself.
a. Younger Christians: Paul didn’t just work hard to protect his reputation and his ministry, but to set an example for the younger Christians. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (ESV) Younger Christians need to see a proper work ethic they also need to see a proper balance. To train the next generation of young men to be workers in their homes and in society. We’ve lost a generation of fathers bringing up sons and young people. I look at this as one of the most important tasks in this church in the next 5 years, is taking this group of young adults and shaping them into mature, responsible adults. It is crucial not only for OCBC but for the church at large.
b. Outsiders: This is the focus in Thessalonians 2:11 in a culture that was antagonistic to the faith. 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. Money talks. Society will put up with us as long as we are good workers. You work hard and save your boss money, and I guarantee he will respect your faith.
c. God: Ultimately it is God to who we answer to and for whom we work. Ephesians 6:5-8 makes this explicit, when it says this, Slaves, be “Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, not like those who do their work only when someone is watching – as people-pleasers – but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. Obey with enthusiasm, as though serving the Lord and not people, because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good, this will be rewarded by the Lord.” Obeying with enthusiasm, it says, because you are actually working for the Lord. If thin command is given to slaves, who were considered their master’s property, how much more does it apply to us when we are actually paid for the service we do. Anything less is actually stealing.
2) Work to Bless Not to Burden
a. Not a burden on the church: Paul says twice in the two letters that he worked so that he would not be a burden to the church and did this as an example for others in the church to follow. The idea was that the church looked out for its members who were uniquely in need. The early church had widows lists and took care of the needy. An idle brother who was able to work but was lazy was draining the resources of the church which limited the church to help the people who actually needed help.
b. Not a burden on society: In speaking of relations with outsiders, Paul writes in 4:12: that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependant on no one. If its bad for a member of the church to be needlessly dependant upon the church, how much more of a shame would it be for a Christian to be a burden on society. This has been one of the things that has redeemed Christianity throughout the generations even in contexts where there beliefs weren’t welcome, was that instead of being a burden on society, they blessed them.
c. Consider how you can bless the world through your work:
i. Be a blessing in your work (work as mission)
1. Work Hard
2. Pray for/with your coworkers (be a priestly worker)
3. Encourage others
4. Listen and Quietly Testify to Jesus
5. Be a respectful worker
ii. Be a blessing through your work (work as ministry)
1. Select a career that will bless others What is the end result of the work you do everyday? Choose careers in which you can build up society while doing secular work.
2. If God blesses you, live modestly, give generously. Set out early on how much you fell you need to live off of and try to refrain from exceeding that standard of living while blessing others. If you can live off of $60,000, but find yourself making $100,000, don’t live a $100,000 lifestyle (or a $120,000 one these days). Live a $60,000 lifestyle and bless others with the rest.