Laziness is not a Virtue

Posted: September 15, 2008 in 2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18, “Laziness is not a Virtue”
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Introduction:
So everyone knows that 1&2 Thessalonians are books that deal with the subject of the endtimes. Whole prophecy conferences have been dedicated to the things Paul wrote about concerning the resurrection, rapture, imminency, God’s judgment, the great apostasy, the Great Tribulation, the Antichrist, etc. But with all the focus we put on those sections of Scripture, was that all Paul needed to write to the Thessalonians? Of course not. Paul did teach them a great deal about future events, but he was also greatly concerned about their present-day walk with Christ.

So what’s included with that walk? Surely Paul is going to write on some really spiritual things like fasting and prayer, or spiritual warfare right? Wrong. 🙂 He writes about our jobs – our industry – what we do to make a living & put bread on the table. “That doesn’t sound very spiritual…I didn’t think we were supposed to talk about normal stuff in church.” (1) It IS spiritual – God is the One who equips and gifts you for the work we do & whatever occupation we might have, it’s the closest mission field you’ll ever see. (2) Our work is very much a part of our walk with Christ…because our whole lives belong to Him! If you trusted & received Jesus as your Lord, you turned ALL your life over to Him. So how we go about providing for our families is very important to Him.

Before Paul gets there, he starts with both a prayer and a prayer request…

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 (NKJV)
1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you,
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A. Paul doesn’t only offer prayer for the church; he doesn’t hesitate to ask for it…and that’s a good thing! We are utterly dependent on the Lord, so we shouldn’t hesitate to pray for God’s will to be done in every area of our life.
B. Request #1 – that the gospel would go forth… Both in magnitude (“run swiftly”) and effectiveness (“be glorified” – be honored). Amen! Pray that gospel would go to many people around the world & that once they hear it they’d be saved. (We should be praying the same for our outreach.)
__a. Why do we pray for the gospel? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16)! When people hear the word of God, it convicts them & cuts them to the heart (just as it should do). And we can have confidence that God’s word will have the effect that God intends: it doesn’t return void (Isa 55:11).
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2 and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.
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A. Request #2 – that the gospel would be unhindered by the actions of others. For some, they hear the good news that their sins can be forgiven through Jesus Christ & they rejoice & repent to receive Christ as Lord. For others, they hear the word of God and continue in their rebellion – actively seeking to oppose the truth.
B. The fact is, “not all have faith” – we shouldn’t be surprised when that act that way. Sinful people sin…it’s what we do. And sinful people without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can (and do) sin in dreadful ways. We shouldn’t be surprised; but we should be watchful & prayerful.
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3 But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.
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A. Whatever happens, God is faithful! Despite the persecution that has taken place in Thessalonica – despite the wicked men working against the gospel of Christ – despite any attack of the enemy in whatever form it may take – God is faithful! Deuteronomy 7:9 “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; [] It is part of His very character & name…
__a. Attacks & trials WILL come… But our faith is in God! We trust in Him to empower us to endure every situation. He is the one who establishes us & gives us strength – He’s the one who sets us on His firm foundation to guard us from every wave of attack from the enemy.
B. If persecution & tribulation are facts of life for Christians, what does it mean that God is faithful to guard us from the evil one? Is God incompetent or weak? Perish the thought! We need to change our understanding of what it means to be protected from the attacks of the devil. … We often think that if God was guarding us from the enemy, that we would never experience attacks at all. But we can also be protected while we’re enduring the attack from the evil one! Hence our instructions in Ephesians to take up the armor & stand. (Eph 6:13)…
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4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. 5 Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
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A. Need we be worried about the attacks of the enemy & wicked men? No. They sometimes tend to consume our prayer life, but we need to trust God is faithful. Instead, we turn our attention God & His work in us as we follow Christ.
B. Into what will God direct us?
__1. The love of God: That should be enough to occupy our attention for eternity. 🙂 Whatever attacks are thrown at us by the enemy, we can rest easy in the truth that we are loved by God! …
__2. The patience of Christ: We normally say we need the “patience of Job” – but what we really need is the patience of Christ. Christ Jesus not only endured His trials, but He endured them with confidence and faith knowing that God was 100% in control & that God would be glorified as a result.
____i. That in itself is pretty amazing. The events surrounding the Lord Jesus’ crucifixion seem to be anything but controlled at 1st glance. Mock trials – mob rule – puppet government – physical torture… Yet what was Jesus’ response to Pilate in the midst of it? John 19:11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” [] As awful as a time it was, God had a planned purpose for how He would use the pain.
____ii. Whatever it is we’re going through – whether it’s caused by a fallen creation in natural disasters or whether it’s caused by someone’s blatant sin against us – if we are in Christ, we can have a confident faith that God is in control & WILL use the situation for His glory. (Rom 8:28)
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6 But 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.
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A. Even the disorderly had originally received the tradition from Paul. Note “brother” – this was a Christian to whom Paul was referring.
B. “disorderly” vs. “idleness”: Greek word (???????) was often used outside the Scriptures as a military term to describe soldiers marching out of order, or not submitting to their rank. IOW, it describes an ‘active’ (not passive) action. When used to refer to work, it describes an irresponsible attitude about working – that someone is actively rebelling against their obligation to work…something that would be outside the order of not only Christian communities, but outside the order of secular communities as well.
__a. If disorderly, rebellious idleness is something that is outside the norm of the secular world, how much more should it be outside the norm of those who follow Christ? These may be the endtimes, but it’s not a time to be lazy! We’re about to meet our Lord & King – we don’t want to be found in disorderly idleness by Him… (Matt 25:26)
C. What does it mean to “withdraw” from these people? Simply to not fellowship as the church with them. Perhaps this involved communion, perhaps something else. Paul does NOT give the impression that this person should be “shunned” to the point of complete ex-communication… Simply that they would experience the consequence of not being received into full fellowship…which would also exclude them from receiving financial benevolence.
__a. Keep in mind this wasn’t Paul’s 1st step. In 1 Thess 5:14, he warned against unruly living…only when they didn’t follow through does he go to the next level of withdrawing fellowship. (We tend to go out of order…)
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7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 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,
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A. They don’t need to be taught this (or retaught by a false teacher) because they had already seen Paul’s example with their own eyes. And they knew Paul never got something for nothing.
B. Work. HARD work. Tentmaking was tough manual labor & Paul continued practicing it wherever he went in the Roman empire as a missionary. (Every rabbi learned a trade.)
__a. Interesting that hard work/practical labor is part of the “tradition” passed on by the disciples. We might normally assume “tradition” only to refer to so-called “spiritual disciplines”…and sure that does include some of that (communion, baptism, how to study the Scripture, etc). But Christianity was never supposed to be a “Sunday morning” religion… Christianity is an ongoing daily eternal relationship between the Savior and those He’s saved. If our Christianity never leaves Sunday morning, it’s worth examining if it’s true Christianity at all!
__b. Why should work be important to the Christian? Because that’s what our Lord & Master does…beyond His finished work at the cross, He is our mediator with the Father – He’s preparing a place for us & more. Our Father works every day drawing people to Christ (among running all Creation). The Holy Spirit works in convicting people of sin, righteousness and judgment – He sanctifies us… A servant is not greater than his master; if our God works, so must we.
____i. Note what we DON’T work for: grace. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
C. Paul never wanted to be a burden. He was called by God to go plant churches; not to be enriched by them. Not that he didn’t receive support from them – he did…even from the Thessalonians while at Corinth (2 Cor 8:1). But while the church fellowships were being established, he supported them; not the other way around (2 Cor 12:14).
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9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
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A. Paul had the right…: Any time Paul writes about on the subject, he’s always sensitive to the idea that Christian workers have a right to be supported by the church. Like any apostle, he had the right to a wife & family (1 Cor 9:5); he simply didn’t exercise that right.
B. …He just had a different priority. Wanted to teach them the importance of working. Imagine the example being set: Most ‘spiritual’ people aren’t known for doing work… They’re ‘gurus.’ They sit on a mountaintop while other people work for & serve them. They ride in the best cars b/c they’ve been ‘blessed’ with a special ‘anointing.’ But Paul comes along & says “Baloney!” Here’s a guy that’s so anointed that he’s had several personal visions of the Lord (including a visit to heaven) – he’s participated in countless healings…even with people using his sweatrags to heal the sick – he’s been known to raise the dead – he’s even been the mouthpiece of God Himself for the writing of much of the New Testament… But Paul is not some high & mighty guru… He’s a regular joe who works night & day like anyone else to make a living.
__a. And there’s the example. The more the church grows in the Lord, the more they’re going to be set apart by Him (made holy). BUT that doesn’t give them license to be spiritual snobs among their neighbors. They’re not to act ‘holier-than-thou’… They’re simply supposed to be holy, but still be among the world as witnesses (salt & light…).
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10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
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A. There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone if they’re poor. Paul makes no such inference or indictment against poor people (as opposed to the teaching of some). If someone can’t work for whatever reason even though they are willing to, Scripture overwhelmingly exhorts us to come alongside one another and help each other in times of need… But something IS wrong if they’re willingly lazy & expect others to support them simply because they’re ‘Christian.’ Better for that person to go hungry so they learn the value of work. Proverbs 19:15 Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, And an idle person will suffer hunger. []
__a. Note that Paul keeps the idea of “work” broad here. Some folks get the idea that, “Unless I can find a job doing ____, then I can’t work.” That’s not a cause for ongoing support from the church…according to the Scripture, someone has to at least be willing to work.
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11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.
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A. Apparently, some had fallen into this trap. Started poking their nose into everyone else’s business instead of taking care of their own.
__a. Be careful of the tendency to be busybodies! Christians are especially susceptible to it…only we call them “prayer requests.” 🙂 …
__b. Those of us in the premill/pretrib camp also have a susceptibility to this. Because we know that the Lord really could come back at any time for His church, there’s a tendency that we might not do any preparation for the future. (Job, kids’ college, etc) We need to live like Christ will call us home today, but prepare like He might not do it for years to come.
B. The Greek actually uses a bit of word-play here. Literally “doing nothing but doing around”. Busy-ness in business keeps us from being busy-bodies. There’s enough going on in our own walk with Christ to keep us plenty occupied – which is basically what Jesus told Peter… John 21:21-22 (21) Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” (22) Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” []
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12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.
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A. Here’s the solution to the dilemma: everyone work quietly! Eat your own bread; not someone else’s because you didn’t bother to bake it…i.e., buy your own food.
B. How important is this? Enough to be commanded AND exhorted on Jesus’ authority.
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13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
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A. Contextually, Paul’s addressing those who may have been taken advantage of by idle brethren. Even though there may be those who ‘abuse the system’, the rest of the church wasn’t to get discouraged from helping people in need.
__a. It can be tiring to keep helping people in need, because there will always be people in need! (Hurricane season is a perfect example! Just as Gustav ended, Hanna hit the east coast & Ike came up through us…all have vital areas that need to be addressed.) But helping those in need is a good thing!
B. Broader than the immediate context… Don’t grow weary in doing good in ALL things. Whatever we do for the Lord (which should be everything), keep it up…
__a. (Guzik) “The older King James Version has this, be not weary in well doing. There is plenty of well-wishing in the world, well-resolving, well-suggesting, and well-criticizing are also found in plenty. Many people are good at well-talking, but there is not enough of simple well doing.”
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14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
How to deal with a Christian who’s fallen into laziness:
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A. Note him: Recognize the sin for what it is & address it appropriately. It’s easy (and tempting) to ignore sin – but it’s like leaven/yeast…it’ll always grow.
B. Don’t fellowship with him: Inviting a person over to dinner who’s deliberately trying to mooch off the church isn’t helping anyone. This was especially appropriate advice for the early churches that regularly had ‘agape feasts.’
C. Help him understand the sin: Shame isn’t always a bad thing. When someone’s conscience convicts them of sin – that’s good! But with that in mind, we need to be careful that the church isn’t the one shaming him. Paul specifically warns the church not to treat the person as an enemy – because they’re not! They simply need loving correction.
D. DO pray for & work towards restoration. The church may be admonishing him, but it’s done in brotherly love. Galatians 6:1-2 (1) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (2) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. []
__a. Whatever New Testament discipline we’re dealing with, the goal is always the same: repentance & restoration.
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– Benediction
16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.
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A. “Lord of peace”: There’s a reason why we can experience the peace that passes understanding in Christ…because He’s the Lord of peace who gives peace. He IS our peace (Eph 2:14) – the only way we can have peace with God through forgiveness of sin!
B. No limit to the peace He offers. He is Lord over all, so He can give you peace in every situation…which is everything!
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17 The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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A. Did Paul always close with a personal signature? Not every epistle indicates it; this may have been done with every correspondence to Thessalonica due to potential forgeries.
B. Grace. Extremely common for Paul to end his epistles in this way, but very appropriate! He always began with grace & peace, and it only makes sense to end with grace. Why? Everything in between is due to grace!
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Conclusion:
I don’t agree with Martin Luther’s view of the end-times, but he did have a proper attitude concerning it. He supposedly said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.” That’s not to say he would ignore the situation – but simply that he would live life every day as God had called him to live. We have a glorious promise from Christ Jesus that He will be returning for His church! We will see all Christians throughout history raised from the dead or participate in the Rapture – we will be ushered into heaven with Christ in worship & praise – and we will return with Him when He comes back to defeat the Devil, Antichrist, and judge the world. All of this could be begun at any given moment – what a glorious promise to expect!

But until that takes place, there’s a harvest we’ve been called to participate in & our families to provide for. So plant your apple tree – do your work diligently – be about doing what is right & good – all for the glory of Christ Jesus. Take the opportunity every day provides to glorify God in ordinary ways through His extraordinary grace.

If you’re not a Christian, you’ve also been given an extraordinary opportunity today: you can be saved! The Bible declares that now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2)…don’t waste the opportunity God is giving you; grab hold of it!

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