Keep working - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 31st May 2009.

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We all know of those serious situations that call for drastic action. During the Second World War windows were blacked out and food was rationed. A serious situation demanded drastic measures to be taken. Or consider what happens when a food company discovers that a harmful chemical has somehow appeared in their product? What happens? Thousands of products are withdrawn from shops across the country. Serious situations demand drastic measures.

We can all think of situations when someone has overreacted and drastic measures have been taken but they are completely inappropriate as a response to what has happen. About two years ago I reversed my car into a supermarket. If as a response the government had decided to close down all supermarkets as dangerous to cars then this would have been an over reaction and the measures completely inappropriate as a way of dealing with my incompetence.

When reading what Paul says in chapter 3 of 2 Thessalonians it’s very tempting to conclude that he is overreacting to the situation and the measures he advocates seem very inappropriate as a way of handling the situation. Let me show you what I mean.

Verse 6, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”

He tells them why this is necessary in verse 7. “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have a right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.”

The model is work hard as a Christian. The Christian view of work. The danger of over work – that is when we are enslaved to our careers and worship them. There is also the opposite danger of laziness. Paul knows that there will always be some Christians want to work but cannot get a job. He is not having a go at them. He is pointing the finger at those Christians who are lazy. Those who don’t want to work to earn their living and are happy to live off the generosity of others.

These people existed in the church at Thessalonica. Look at what Paul writes in verse 11. “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”

What if they don’t? Paul couldn’t be clearer in verse 14. “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as a enemy, but warn him as a brother.”

Are these drastic sanctions for a serious situation or is Paul overreacting to the situation and suggesting sanctions that don’t correspond with the problem in the church?

At first sight it is easy to think that Paul is overreacting. These members of the church are to be excluded from some of the joys of belonging to the church. And why? Well, because they are lazy and don’t want to work. Is this an overreaction?

Let me show you why it’s not. The other week I said a good thing to do when reading the Bible is to remember that other parts of the Bible can help us understand the particular section we are reading. Where should we turn? If we are reading 2 Thessalonians then a good place to look is 1 Thessalonians. Let’s do that now and flick back a page and look at Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Paul writes, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Every day they carry around with them the reputation of Jesus. Paul has made it clear that Christianity is not a religion of good works. Getting to heaven is not based on our own moral performance. However, how Christians behave is very important. How we behave impacts what people think of Jesus.

The lazy person reflects badly on Christ. Christianity is supposed to transform our relationships now. We are to work hard and rest well. We are to allow Jesus to rule over every aspect of our existence. The person who doesn’t, who is lazy and who bears the name of Jesus is bringing his name into disrepute.

We know the type of things that are said. “Look at so and so. And he calls himself a Christian.”

This was a serious issue. And now the situation required drastic steps. Paul had spoken about it when he first met them. He had written about it clearly in his first letter. He had not been listened to. He wrote again. And if they did not listen to him this time then even more serious sanctions were to be taken. The idle people were to be excluded from the fellowship of the church.

This topic is normally called church discipline. This can be seen as very negative. Another way of understanding what Paul is talking about is to see it as simple one aspect of pastoral care.

What do you think about when you hear the phrase pastoral care? Someone is lonely or lost a loved one and they need a chat and a hug.

The word pastor is a Latin word which means shepherd. Pastoral care is shepherding the sheep. What does a shepherd do? He finds the sheep, he feeds the sheep and he also looks after the sheep because they are sheep and sheep do stupid things.

Pastoral care happens every Sunday, at home groups, in one to one conversations.

What Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 3 is one aspect of pastoral care. It is all done for the greater good of the sheep.

What does this mean for us? It has something to say about our commitment and something to say about the quality of our fellowship as a local church.

•    Our commitment

Often when church leaders talk about commitment they mean commitment from members of the congregation. There is need for this to be said. In our throw away culture there is need on loyal commitment.

Stop dating the church. How would you respond if a friend of yours said they were dating a number of people at the same time?

It is vital to get committed to a local church.  However, commitment is two way and it’s this second aspect I want to focus on this morning.

Local pastors need to be committed to the welfare of their sheep. Look after them and go and find them if they do something stupid.

Who is a member of this church? Some churches have a membership list. People sign up and agree to various commitments. We don’t have such a system here. It’s much more informal. We have a very good idea of who would count themselves as members.

Here’s the deal. We want to be committed to you. Because we love you and because you bear the name of Christ we may at certain points need to rebuke you on some point. This doesn’t mean that we go to the last resort first. Let’s have our expectations right – expect that from time to time your behaviour may be called into question. If it is then don’t take the huff but see it is as loving pastoral care.

•    The quality of our fellowship

The end of the process. Much has happened before this point. Eventually Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.”

Why is this done? Christian fellowship is all about sharing our lives together. This sanction involves separating people from this sharing. The purpose is to make the person feel ashamed and so really want to alter their behaviour and come back into the fellowship.

The question this raises for me is about the quality of our life together as believers. Would it be a big deal for you if you were excluded from church life? Miss out on singing, on hearing God’s word, of eating with Christians. How would you respond? If it ever happened then please see the purpose. It is loving pastoral care.

This goes against the grain for many of us. We think the best thing is always to tolerate the sinful behaviour of a deviant Christian and we hope that our love will win them round. Paul is saying there comes a time when the most loving thing to do – if we love Christ’s glory and the other person – is to exclude them from church life in order to shame them into repenting.

Let us be encouraged by the quality of our church life. Do you remember how Paul started 2 Thessalonians? “We ought always to thank God for you brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.”

Let us pray that this will continue all the more and we will have a fellowship that we never want to be separated from.

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